• Published 12th May 2014
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The Elements of Friendship, Book I: Harmony - Amras Felagund


Twilight fails to defeat NightMare Moon, and the world is plunged into eternal night. Twilight must travel the world with her friends to unlock the secrets of the Elements of Harmony.

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CHAPTER v: A Generous Spirit

“What?” Twilight caught herself; in her excitement, she’d almost forgotten about the hypnotized Guard pony.

Crescent Rose shushed Twilight, gesturing for the group to stay hidden behind the bush as she put her helmet back on. Peering through a small hole in the bush, Twilight saw Crescent Rose addressing the other guard keeping watch over the Diurnann.

“What was the disturbance?” he asked in a flat monotone.

“Nothing, really,” she said lightly. “Just a chameleon amongst the heliotropes.”

The guard nodded at this, seemingly satisfied with this answer. As he resumed his watch, Crescent Rose glanced back at the bush, and jerked her eyes towards the cliffs repeatedly. Realizing what it was that the Bat Pony was indicating, Twilight began to line up a spell matrix in her mind, her dwimmer shimmer lighting up.

“Twilight!” hissed Rainbow Dash.

“What in tarnation ‘re ya doin’?” asked Applejack.

“I need something to toss to distract the guards,” Twilight explained, “something that is sure to grab their attention.”

“How ‘bout a little thundercloud?” offered Rainbow Dash, producing one from a saddle-bag.

Twilight thought about it, scratching her chin with a hoof. “I don’t think so. Who’s to say if the thunder from such a small cloud will be enough to grab their attention?”

“If it’s attention you wanna get,” Pinkie said gleefully, “then how’s about a party popper?”

The pink Earth Pony produced one such item from her saddle-bag. It was relatively small, and Twilight had doubts as to its effectiveness.

“This is hardly any better than Rainbow’s cloud, Pinkie,” Twilight said shortly.

“Ah think ya got somethin’ there, Twilight,” whispered Applejack. “Ya ain’t heard one a’ Pinkie’s party poppers, have ya?”

“Well,” Twilight conceded, “Maybe if we had a whole bunch of them…”

“Oh, Ah don’t think so, Nellie,” Applejack replied. “Only if we wanna blow out ev’ry Bat Pony’s ear drums from here to Cloudsdale.”

Twilight looked down at Pinkie’s party popper. Could it really hold such a bang that one would be enough to catch the attention of all the Guards around the gates?

“Well, it can’t hurt, can it?” she said, taking the party popper in her dwimmer shimmer and winking it to a small distance from where they’d come up. She could see it, a small glimmer of pink magic just within earshot (hopefully) of the Diurnann.

“You might wanna cover your ears, everypony,” warned Pinkie Pie, doing just that.

“Better do as she says, Twi,” said Applejack, pulling her Stetson down tightly over her ears. Her three other fellow Ponyvillagers got down onto their bellies and pressed their ears to their heads.

Arching an eyebrow, Twilight decided to trust Applejack’s judgment and cover her own ears, ducking for cover just in case. With a quick little twist of her dwimmer shimmer, Twilight pulled the party popper’s string.

Even with her ears covered, it still felt like Twilight had heard a cannon blast. That was not a party popper; it was more like a party blaster! Twilight could even swear that she felt a miniscule sonic ripple across her muzzle as she lay in the dewy grass.

Removing her hooves from her ears, though, it seemed as though it had been a success.

“What in Equestria was that?” shouted Crescent Rose, sounding genuinely surprised. If she wasn’t a Guard, she’d do good on Bridleway! Twilight thought with a smile.

“It sounded like cannonfire!” shouted one of the hypnotized Unicorn guards… who somehow managed to shout in a monotone.

“Go investigate it!” ordered Crescent Rose. “I’ll keep watch over the Moongate!”

In an instant, every single member of the Nightmare Guard apart from Crescent Rose had abandoned her or his post, investigating off in the distance for a cannon that would turn out to not be there.

“Brilliant work, friends!” cheered Crescent Rose as the seven approached.

“So… how do we get in?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking up at the gate. It seemed to be wrought from a single piece, and had no apparent hinges.

Crescent Rose giggled to herself, extending her right wing, the one facing the gate. She wiggled her wing’s thumb teasingly, before touching her wing to the solid iron. To Twilight’s eye, trained to spot magic where it occurred, the iron of the Moongate seemed to go slightly less opaque, almost like it was smoke that was just beginning to clear.

“Quick, get through the gate, before they come back!” Crescent Rose hissed, gesturing with a forehoof for Twilight to pass through.

Rainbow Dash tilted her head, “I don’t see any― Wait, Twilight!”

Twilight had already galloped straight into the Moongate, passing through it with ease, as did Spike on her back. She felt no resistance, but an oppressive feeling came upon her as she passed, as though there were some will that did not desire her presence in the newly refurbished Canterlot.

Twilight trotted to the side, which caused Spike a small bit of confusion.

“Why did you move over here, Twilight?” he asked.

Twilight pointed with a cloven hoof to the gate, and immediately, the remaining five members of their party passed through at various speeds − Rainbow Dash first, Applejack second, Pinkie third, Rarity fourth, and Fluttershy last.

“Well, girls, now we’re in Canterlot,” Twilight said with a heavy air, looking down the street, taking in the darkened streetlamps and the empty windows. “Stay close to me; we’re gonna need to be careful not to trip any security alerts.”

“You might actually have an easier time than you think, Twilight Sparkle,” came a voice from the Moongate. Crescent Rose was passing through, the Moongate solidifying behind her as her leonine tail passed through.

“What are you doing here?” Twilight asked. “Won’t they get suspicious if you’re not there keeping an eye on the gates?”

Crescent Rose shrugged, “The Nightmare Guard is still young, so they won’t be in top form. The ones who NightMare Moon hypnotized will be too driven to summon backup to investigate that they won’t notice my absence, and the ones who she couldn’t hypnotize… well, they’ll be on our side anyway, won’t they?”

Twilight scratched her chin. “I guess…” She gestured towards Crescent Rose. “About how many of the Royal Guard have been mind-controlled by NightMare Moon?”

“Just under half, Twilight Sparkle,” said Crescent Rose. “Slightly more in the Day Guard, though, have fallen under NightMare Moon’s control. The Captain, however, is of his own mind.”

If Crescent Rose expected Twilight to respond favorably to her emphasis on the Captain, she was sorely disappointed. Twilight merely blinked and snapped, “What about him?”

Crescent Rose’s ears went back slightly.

“Well… it’s just… he’s in the prison block. I know his exact cell number. I thought that you’d want to free him…”

“NightMare Moon hasn’t hurt him, has she?”

“Well… no, but I’d thought since he’s―”

“Then he’s fine where he is,” Twilight said with a degree of cold finality that told the others that more than enough had been said on the subject.

“Umm, Twilight,” asked Fluttershy, the nearest to the lavender Unicorn and pale Bat Pony, “Shouldn’t we be on our way? Umm, I mean, if that’s what we’re doing?”

Twilight dug in her hooves. “You’re right. We have to find that book.”

“A book?” asked Crescent Rose. “Don’t you have the Elements of Harmony?”

“NightMare Moon shattered them,” Twilight answered darkly. “We need a book to figure out how to fix them again.”

“Which book?”

Studies on Pundamilia Culture.”

Crescent Rose tilted her head. “What would a book on Zebra culture have to do with the Elements of Harmony?”

“I’ll explain on the way,” Twilight said, pointing a hoof down the thoroughfare. “Let’s go, everypony!”


“I’ve always dreamed of going to Canterlot,” Rarity gasped, her breath misting in front of her muzzle in the chill of Canterlot’s air, “but never like this.”

“I never imagined that anything like this would happen,” Twilight said with a shiver, “not even in my worst nightmare.”

Once more, Twilight found her expectations of the horrors of the change to Canterlot to be lacking. The streets were empty, as she had seen upon passing through the rechristened Diurnann, but now that she was in the streets…

The windows all had the curtains drawn, and in many, Twilight could see the faint flicker of a fire burning. Any business she passed was more likely than not to have a banner across the door reading Business closed until further notice. There were propaganda posters declaiming NightMare Moon’s greatness and denouncing Queen Celestia as a tyrant. Twilight’s breath caught in her chest at the wanted posters set up of herself, Spike, and the five mares with her. They were plastered across walls, windows, lampposts, parked carriages… Each poster presented a startling likeness of each of their faces, representations of their cutie marks, and the heading WANTED for crimes against the Moon.

“It’s just awful,” Applejack murmured.

“I agree,” added Crescent Rose, her tufted ears flattening against her helmet. “We Bat Ponies have extremely sensitive eyes, so we were perfect for the Night Guard. But now, under NightMare Moon… there’s no daytime to rest in.”

“Really?” Rainbow Dash said, floating down lower to Crescent Rose’s eye level. “‘Cause I thought you Bat Ponies would’ve loved eternal night.”

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight snapped. “I thought we talked about this!”

“Did you?” Crescent Rose asked Twilight, a little too curtly.

“Yeah, just last chapter,” Pinkie answered.

Silence met Pinkie’s remark.

“Ya git used to it,” Applejack said levelly. “Jus’ Pinkie bein’ Pinkie.”

“Just ignore Rainbow Dash,” Twilight assured Crescent Rose. “She doesn’t know when not to speak her mind.”

“I understand, and no, I want to hear it from her,” Crescent Rose said tartly, rounding on the cyan Pegasus, her own vampiric fangs bared at Rainbow Dash, who alighted on the ground with flat ears. “Why is it you think that I would like eternal night?”

“Well… ‘Cause… you Bat Ponies… you’re only really awake at night, so I thought…”

“Well, maybe you’d like if there was daytime eternal, wouldn’t you? I mean, you Pegasi are only really awake in the day!” snapped Crescent Rose, her bat wings flapping and her hind legs leaving the ground. Rainbow Dash fell onto her haunches, looking ashamed of herself, rubbing a forearm.

“Please, just… let it go,” Fluttershy stepped in. “She didn’t mean it.”

Crescent Rose sighed heavily, her eyes closing for a moment.

“I know. It’s just… I don’t like this everlasting night any more than you diurnals. You’re stuck in a world where you feel you must sleep all the time; we Bat Ponies are in a world where we have to constantly stay awake. I… I…”

Twilight put a hoof on the dark-maned Bat Pony’s shoulder.

“It’s okay. I understand.”

Crescent Rose smiled warmly at Twilight.

“Thank you, friend,” she said.

Twilight returned the smile. For how short a time she’d known this Bat Pony, she felt as though she had found a friend whom she could confide in. If it were not for Twilight’s (perhaps willful) lack of meaningful interaction with anypony in the Royal Guard, she felt as though she had missed a long and beautiful friendship. Two friends, Twilight Sparkle and Crescent Rose, spending long nights together, reading about the stars…

“Umm, excuse me?” Fluttershy interjected, rousing Twilight from her reverie. “I’m sorry, Twilight, but we really should be going, right?”

“Oh! Right! The book on Zebra culture!” Twilight said, cantering with renewed purpose toward Mane Square. The six ponies followed her.

Soon they entered the residential areas of Canterlot. These areas, normally bustling with so many of the upper crust, were now deserted. Abandoned parasols fluttered by on intermittent winds, and half-eaten meals languished at the tables of restaurants’ outdoor seatings.

“So, just to refresh my memory:” Crescent Rose queried, “this Studies on Pundamilia Culture… you think it has a hidden message from the Queen in it?”

“I’m quite positive, Crescent,” Twilight said with aplomb. “Queen Celestia hid the message in the first letter of each sentence, and it spelled out Studies on Pundamilia Culture.”

“And… do you know where to look?”

“Below her signature, the Queen wrote down the letters XXV. Those are the Old Equus numerals for 25, so I can assume that the message is either on page 25, or in Chapter 25.”

“I see…” said Crescent Rose pensively. “That explains why NightMare Moon has dispatched her most formidable Nightmare Guard troops to all library entrances.”

Twilight skidded to a stop, Spike sliding off of her back. She heard a good number of thumps behind her as the other five mares came to an abrupt stop, bumping into one another.

“The library is guarded?” Twilight gasped. “It’s never been guarded before, except for the Star Swirl The Bearded wing!”

Crescent Rose scratched the back of her head. “Well, a change in the crown, a change in the rules.”

Rainbow Dash snarled at Twilight, “Tell me that you saw this coming!”

Twilight looked up at Rainbow Dash, looking so genuinely hurt that the cyan Pegasus actually found herself backing up.

“I just thought…” Twilight hung her head, “that NightMare Moon had the same respect for books as the Queen. They did rule together for grossenturies…”

“Ah guess all that changed when the Queen a’ th’ Night did,” Applejack suggested.

Crescent Rose nodded darkly. “Once the Miasma took hold of her, the Night Queen and her power over the night sky became mere puppets.”

Twilight perked up, looking at the Bat Pony. “The Miasma?”

“You’ve heard of the Miasmata?” Crescent Rose asked.

Twilight nodded her head vaguely. “I’ve read about them somewhere, but… it’s been so long… and the details were vague…”

“You won’t find anything on the Miasmata in any decent book. The less said of them, the better,” Crescent Rose said bitterly. “The Miasmata are an abominable race of eldritch beasts from The Far Beyond. They feed by taking control of a lifeform and all of its powers, until the victim is exhausted. A victim can be more easily dominated if they are twisted by anger or rage.”

Twilight looked Crescent Rose in the eyes.

“And it’s your belief that the Queen of the Night was possessed by a Miasma?”

All Bat Ponies know it to be true,” Crescent Rose said, her eyes falling into shadow. “You diurnals don’t know what nameless things appear in Equestria while you sleep in bed. The nameless beasts that we, the Night Guard of Canterlot, stand firm against! And I will stand firm against any eldritch horror that tries to sit the throne, even if it masquerades as our Queen of the Night!”

She finished this declaration with a stomp of her forehooves and a flair of her bat-wings.

Then she pulled off her helmet, holding it gingerly under a wing.

“Excuse me now while I strip myself of this armor,” she said. “We need speed, and this Nightmare Guard armor is too restricting.”

And with that she began to fiddle with a strap under one of her wings.

“Please give her some decency, girls!” cried Rarity, trying to drag the nearest mare − Applejack − into an alleyway.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Rarity,” Applejack said slowly, “But we don’t ordinarily wear clothes.”

“Says the only pony in the group who even wears clothes!” Rainbow Dash cut in with a sassy smile.

Pinkie giggled to herself at Rainbow Dash’s statement, pronking into the alleyway with the Applejack and Rarity. “I see what you did there, Dashie~”

Fluttershy followed after, a wing drawn up over her face to preserve Crescent Rose’s “decency”. Twilight trotted alongside the yellow Pegasus.

“It’s alright, Fluttershy,” Twilight said lightly. “We’ll be on our way soon.”

“Oh. It’s… not a big deal, Twilight,” said Fluttershy dismissively. “You don’t have to feel like you have to rush on my account. I’m perfectly fine with a reasonably slow pace… if that’s alright with you…”

“I always told you to quit bein’ such a doormat,” Rainbow Dash said to Fluttershy, crossing her forelegs in front of her chest as she hovered over the rest of their posse.

“Oh. Okay. I’m sorry, Dashie,” Fluttershy said meekly, ears drooping as she rubbed a forearm.

“See? There it is again! You gotta stop saying Sorry about everything, too!”

“Sorry.”

Rainbow Dash growled in frustration, but Pinkie couldn’t help but to giggle at the irony of apologizing about apologizing too much.

A metal something the size of a pony’s torso flung itself down the alleyway, landing just at Twilight’s hooves. In strode Crescent Rose, flicking her mane back and forth. Her cutie mark was of a thorny red rose, framed by a yellow crescent moon.

“That feels much better!” Crescent Rose sighed as she stretched her forelegs, then her hind legs. “I can’t believe that NightMare Moon thinks that this is a good set of armor to wear!” She gave it a none-too-gentle smack with a forehoof. She looked up at Twilight. “So, shall we go?”

Twilight nodded sharply.

“Let’s go.”


Eventually, the Royal Castle came into view as they entered Mane Square. The towering monument to Queen Celestia, set at the very edge of Canterlot so that it may overlook the Saddle Valley almost a mile below, had dramatically changed since Twilight had last seen it. No longer was the carven white stone visible, nor were the minarets and parapets lined with gold. Black steel, sharpened to razor edges, plated across the entirety of the surface of every tower. The highest towers, the Towers of the Sun and Moon, were now fused together into a single makeshift tower, a large gleaming white crescent-shaped stone floating in the space above them, rotating slowly around and showing different faces over the course of a minute.

Mane Square had changed as well. Gone were the tapestries showing the Sun and the Moon hovering over Queen Celestia, and the glorious golden statue of the queenly Alicorn at the middle of the square was gone as well. In place of the tapestries of old were newer, darker ones, displaying the Moon floating on high, with a fanged NightMare Moon crushing the Sun under an armored hoof. The statue of Queen Celestia was substituted with a demonic statue of her usurper, rearing and baring her teeth, carved from a solid block of icy obsidian.

“Are the Royal Archives inside the palace?” Rarity asked, agape at how different Canterlot looked from how she imagined.

“No, it isn’t,” Twilight answered. “They’re down a side-street from here, down that way.” Twilight pointed her alicorn down a street to their right… and could make out the shapes of patrolling guards. She cursed.

“Crescent Rose, dear, do you think you could ask those ruffians to stand at ease and―?”

“No can do, Miss Rarity,” replied the Bat Pony. “I’m sorry, but I can’t pull rank on these guards. They’ve been given explicit orders to not abandon these posts unless NightMare Moon herself gives the okay. All of them are Bat Ponies, to see in the absolute darkness, and are under hypnosis as well, so we can’t appeal to their better instincts.”

“Pony-feathers!” swore Applejack. “Ain’t there anything we can do ta throw ‘em off?”

Twilight rubbed a fetlock under her chin.

“Another party-popper?” Pinkie offered, holding one up in a forehoof.

Crescent Rose shook her head. “We’ve already done that once. We can’t afford to rely too heavily on one trick.”

“Crescent Rose is right,” Twilight said. “We’ll need to use something else. Not sound this time, but… smell? No. Maybe sight?”

“Ooh! Ooh!” Pinkie pronked. “I got fireworks!” She produced a bundle of firecrackers from one of her saddle-bags that looked at least twice as big as both put together.

“I don’t think so, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash muttered. “Then we’ll have a hard time getting in to the Archives.”

“Aww,” Pinkie sighed, sinking to her haunches. “But I like fireworks.”

“I think that fireworks are frightening,” Fluttershy breathed fearfully. “They scare so many of my animals…”

“Ah don’ reckon they’ll be lured from their posts bah mah apple wares,” Applejack mused aloud.

“Do you think thunder scares them?”

BOOM!

Pinkie clucked like a chicken and hid underneath Applejack. The group looked up sharply, and caught sight of a storm cloud circling around the minarets of the Royal Castle, sending off lightning bolts intermittently.

“Keeps the guards on edge, so that they don’t sleep,” Crescent Rose explained. “NightMare Moon is running us ragged. She needs to go down!”

“But what can we do?” Rarity asked. “Our options have run dry, we cannot figure out how to sneak past some hypnotized ruffian guards, and my complexion is being ruined by this lack of true sunlight! Oh, walking a razor’s edge are we!” Rarity fell onto her back, throwing a hoof to her forehead dramatically.

Her eyes blinked back open.

“I-dee-ah!” she trilled, her dwimmer shimmer lighting up and opening up one of her saddle-bags.

“What are you doing, Rarity?” Twilight asked.

This!” Rarity said loudly, her dwimmer shimmer drawing out from within her saddle-bag a single straight-edge razor. “Crescent Rose, darling, you said that all of the guardsponies down that particular street are your Bat Pony kin, did you not?”

“Yes?”

“And, if I recall correctly, Bat Ponies are typically sensitive to light, right?”

“They are…” Crescent Rose’s eyes widened. “Ohh!”

“Rarity, you’re a genius!” Twilight said brightly.

Rarity shrugged, “Well, I just happen to have a flash of inspiration every now and again…”

Twilight took the razor in her dwimmer shimmer, twisting it around, inspecting the way that light reflected off of the polished blade.

“You’ve really taken good care of this razor, Rarity,” Twilight said sincerely.

Rarity waved a hoof dismissively. “Oh well, you know…”

“So, we have the reflector,” Crescent Rose said. “But what of a light source?”

Twilight put a hoof to her chin for the umpteenth time in the past few hours, casting her eyes around Mane Square. There was nothing about the square which could conceivably output the sort of light they would need to incapacitate some Bat Ponies with. And it was difficult to think with those random shouts of thunder from up above…

“Twilight! Use that!” Rainbow Dash shouted, pointing up at the storm cloud, which was crackling with lightning.

Twilight’s eyes lit up.

“Of course! Lightning! Rainbow Dash, do you think you can fly up and grab off a piece of that storm cloud?”

Rainbow Dash smirked, “I don’t think so. I know so!”

And with a quick salute, she bolted off towards the storm cloud, dodging side to side to avoid being struck by bolts of lightning, before thrusting her forehooves into the dark cloud. Her wings flashed cerise, the light traveling down her forelegs and into the cloud, and a small clump about the size of Rainbow Dash herself came off. In moments, Rainbow Dash was back with her group, resting on a miniature storm cloud. Twilight could not help but to think of the moment when she’d first met this Pegasus, when she’d gotten knocked into mud, drenched to the bone and subsequently blow dried.

“Ready when you are, TS,” Rainbow grinned.

Twilight’s horn flashed pink, and the cloud the cyan Pegasus sat on began to shimmer the same color as well. Rainbow flapped off of it in surprise, but the pink glow had already faded. She tentatively alighted back upon the cloud.

“What was that about?” she asked.

“I cast a silencing spell on the storm cloud, so that we’re not deafened by the thunder going off right next to our ears,” explained Twilight.

“Good thinkin’, Twilight!” Applejack piped in.

Twilight nodded shortly.

“Okay, everypony, this is the plan: I will use Rarity’s razor here to reflect the light of the lightning bolts into the eyes of the Nightmare Guard. Given how sensitive their eyes are to light, it should be enough to incapacitate them long enough for us to pass.”

“But won’t it take a while to do that for each and every guardspony?” Fluttershy asked.

“And not to mention that any one of us could be hit by a lightning bolt, Twi,” Rainbow Dash added.

Twilight hesitated. The two of them raised good points. Lightning was not something that even master weather-ponies could control; it was simply directed. She would be making a big gamble with her fellow ponies’ lives if she carried out the plan as-is. Also, the idea of flashing each guard’s eyes individually was a perilous notion; if any one guard noticed one of her or his others going down, their stealthy entry was for nothing.

An idea flashed through Twilight’s mind.

“Rainbow Dash, get off of the cloud for a moment,” she said shortly.

Cocking a rainbow eyebrow, Rainbow Dash nonetheless heeded Twilight’s request.

“Rarity,” Twilight addressed her fellow Unicorn with a heavy tone, “I’m afraid your razor is going to have to become a lightning rod.”

What?”

“My new plan is this: to create a magical bond between the lightning cloud and your razor, so that lightning is only attracted to the razor. I will levitate the razor past as many guards as I can, and then Rainbow Dash will make the lightning cloud discharge. The lightning bolt will shoot out to the razor, crossing the paths of each guard’s gaze, blinding them long enough − hopefully − for us to slip past.”

Rarity looked at her razor with bereavement. For a moment.

“I gave you that razor, Twilight. Use it however you will,” she said with an air of dignity.

“But, Rarity. Keeping clean-shaven is important to you.”

“I must insist, Twilight. I would rather see you use that razor to save the day − literally − than see myself with a clean muzzle for the duration of this emergency.” She smiled sheepishly. “Besides… I could always just buy a new one.”

Applejack palmed her face in her hoof. “An’ ya didn’t think a’ this before we left Ponyville?”

Twilight gaped at Rarity.

“Rarity… I didn’t know you were so… generous with your things.”

“Come now, Twilight, darling. Do you think that I would be so selfish as to withhold something from a friend, when I know they really need it? And, if you recall, I didn’t charge you a single unbit for your fittings at Carousel Couture.”

“Why was that?”

“You were already marred by such a visually abrasive manestyle. I was absolutely loath to charge you for what was a greater inconvenience for you than for me.”

“But… those dresses! I have to pay you back for those!”

“Oh, pish-posh, darling. Most of those looked dreadful on you in hindsight. I have already dismantled them and disposed of what I could not use anymore.”

“So I do owe you money for them!”

“Twilight, please stop raising your voice. It’s unbecoming of a mare to shout. And no, I insist that you not pay me for those dresses. The pursuit of a true artist is in only one form of repayment: the satisfaction of the customer. Tell me, Twilight: did you like the last dress you tried on?”

Twilight thought back on it. She had not given it altogether that much thought at the time; she was altogether more occupied with trying to prevent NightMare Moon’s return. But now, looking back on the dress…

“I loved it, Rarity. Really. I did. Granted, the emerald was a bit of an odd choice, but… I never thought of myself as much of a fashion connoisseur, but even I could tell that it was a well-made dress.”

Rarity’s entire demeanor became as serene as a swan, and the smile on her face made Twilight realize just why Spike had been so enamored of the alabaster Unicorn.

“Thank you, Twilight. That is more than enough payment for me. Consider the two of us even.”

Twilight blinked. How could one pony be so beautiful inside and out? Rarity really was, well, a rarity.

“Now,” Rarity said with a new, sharper tone, “I think we’ve wasted enough time on pleasantries. Shall we proceed with the plan?”

Blinking, Twilight realized that they were still standing in Mane Square, that the night was still eternal, and that Applejack and the others were waiting impatiently. (Not Spike, though; he was staring at Rarity in absolute lovestruck awe.) Rainbow Dash had actually landed beside Fluttershy, resting on her haunches and folding her forelegs tightly, tapping a hind hoof.

“Oh!” she said sheepishly. “Right!”

As the appropriate spell matrix lined up in the nerve clusters in Twilight’s alicorn, her horn began to pulse with pink light, rather than glowing steadily. After a few seconds, the razor began to pulse with the same pink light, as did the cloud. At first, the pulses from the razor and cloud were out of sync with each other, but slowly, they began to fall into rhythm. In moments, the pulses slowed, and matched each other perfectly. The pulses of Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer faded out, and the light radiating from the razor and the cloud slowly dimmed as well.

“Now, the lightning should be attracted to the razor, and the razor alone,” Twilight explained. “Get ready, everypony.”

She levitated the razor down the street leading to the Royal Canterlot Archives, taking care not to let it pass the eyeline of the patrolling Nightmare Guard. The street itself was less than one gross paces long from Mane Square to the Royal Archives, but the guards’ patrol pattern allowed for a very short time frame when all of the guards were looking at the same spot.

“Okay, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said lowly, sweat beading around her alicorn. “Send off a lightning bolt on my mark.”

The razor lowered into position, just in front of the double-doors into the Royal Archives.

Now, we wait for the guards to fall into position…

The guards’ patrol was intended, Twilight imagined, to maximize the amount of time each of the guards was keeping watch over the road to the Archives. However, the semi-erratic pattern was still a pattern nonetheless, and very soon Twilight was beginning to tick off the seconds to the magic moment…

“Now!” she hissed to Rainbow Dash, who bucked the storm cloud as hard as she could.

A blinding and silent bolt of lightning shot down the street and connected instantly with the razor (Rarity winced as though struck). In an instant, all six of the guards, who were all facing their opposite side of the cobbled road, threw hooves or wings over their eyes, hissing and recoiling from the light, darting into the dark archways of the buildings flanking the road.

“It worked!” Twilight cheered, her dwimmer shimmer hold on the razor dissipating.

“Alright!” said Spike, perched on Twilight’s back, with a clenched claw.

“Yeehaw!” Applejack called out as she reared up.

“Whoo-hoo!” Pinkie squealed as she jumped into the air, wiggling her hooves.

“Yeah, that was, like, a super bolt right there!” grinned Rainbow Dash.

Yay,” Fluttershy cheered softly.

“No time for celebrating, let’s just go!” Crescent Rose shouted, already at a full gallop.

Without another word, Twilight took off at full speed after the Bat Pony, the five other mares following suit. As they passed the collapsed guards, Twilight could have sworn that she heard Crescent Rose uttering hasty apologies to her friends lying on the cobblestone. They barely stopped at the gates of the Royal Archives, Rarity slowing down only slightly to scoop the razor in her dwimmer shimmer before the seven of them galloped into the double-doors being held open by Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer. As soon as the last one’s tail had cleared the threshold, Twilight Sparkle slammed the doors shut, leaving them in the abandoned candlelit foyer of the Royal Archives.

Wasting no time, Twilight began lining up the spell matrix of another spell. In moments, the glowing pink shape of a keyhole had appeared over the door.

“There,” she panted as Spike hopped off of her back. “We’ve bought ourselves some time. Now we need to spread out and look for… the book…”

As Twilight turned around from the door and looked at the six mares and the drake, she noticed that their expressions were all of awe save Crescent Rose’s.

To Twilight, the sight of the Royal Archives was always amazing; after all, it was the single largest place to find a book in many grosses of miles. Twilight even doubted that the Manehattan Public Library was quite so well-stocked as the Canterlot Royal Archives… or at least, if it didn’t beat anypony in quantity of books, the Royal Archives at least had them beat in quality.

Regardless of what other libraries stocked, the Royal Archives were massive. The main chamber, just beyond the abandoned desk normally maintained by a librarian, was massively long and wide, and almost five-gross hooves to the ceiling, with bookshelves running at least that high. Almost all of the books at that level would have to be retrieved by a Pegasus attendee. And if one could not find a subject one wanted in the main chamber (unlikely), then one would search in the adjoining Restricted Section (with prior approval by the librarian, of course), or in the Star Swirl The Bearded Wing, which covered all of the successes (and failures) of the noted inventor of grosses of spells.

On any other day, it would have made Twilight’s day to come to the Royal Archives and attempt to solve some sort of riddle or cipher of the Queen’s. But this was not any other day.

“Okay, everypony,” Twilight said, gearing up to gallop to the ‘St’ section. “Take the ‘St’ section in pieces. Spike, Applejack, Pinkie, you take the bottom shelves. Rarity and I will take the next highest. Rainbow, Fluttershy, Crescent, you three handle the top shelves. Got it?”

“Got it!” came the six-voiced reply.

“Okay… Go!”

And they were off. But even with the six of them, and the fact that their search was narrowed to the ‘St’ section, there were still dozens upon grosses of books in that section alone. As fastidious as the staff of the Archives was about keeping things as close to alphabetical order as equinely possible, some errors still slipped through the cracks, and Twilight knew they had to account for this. Granted, the book Studies on Pundamilia Culture was likely to be close to the bottom, as there were few St words that were below Studies. Well, there were studio, study, stun, stunt, sturdy, sturgeon, style, Styx

Twilight rubbed the base of her alicorn, placing Stunning Spells for the Learned Magic-Maker on the nearest table. Thinking of so many St words was giving her a migraine. Was this what it was like to think like Pinkie…?

Pinkie bounced up and down on her tail like a spring, pulling out a book, looking at its cover, and placing it back on the shelf before she’d even fallen back to the floor. Applejack pulled books out with her teeth − spitting out dust − and inspected the cover before putting it back where she’d found it. Spike dusted off book covers with a brusque wave of his claw, though the dust tickled the insides of his nose and he had to sneeze fire… thankfully turning away from the shelves and only igniting an empty table. Rarity took down one book at a time in her dwimmer shimmer, while Twilight tried the same with at least a dozen apiece. Up above, Rainbow Dash was apparently pulling out books pell-mell, placing them back anywhere there was space. Crescent Rose used her wings to blow off dust, allowing her to inspect the titles on the spines. Fluttershy apparently had trouble keeping a grip on some of the thicker books, as Twilight had to catch many books in her dwimmer shimmer and set them aside for reorganization.

It seemed like an insurmountable task, and they had a narrow window of time. It seemed like they would likely be caught before anypony found the book. But mere moments after Twilight heard a tiny mouselike squeak from up above…

“Found it!” cried out Rainbow Dash, gesturing towards Fluttershy, who was holding up a musty old tome, four-gross hooves off of the tiled floor. “It was between Standards for Standard Carriages and Stark and Strand: A History of Two Great Pony Barristers. …Y’know, standard egghead flair.”

Ignoring this latest crack, Twilight smiled up at Fluttershy as she descended with Rainbow Dash and Crescent Rose, the book held in her forehooves. The cover, with faded black stripes and stained white stripes almost indistinguishable, read Masquerade’s Studies on Pundamilia Culture: Abridged Edition.

Twilight’s eye twitched.

“‘Abridged’?” Twilight breathed. “There was no unabridged up there?”

“Afraid not, Twilight Sparkle,” said Crescent Rose, alighting next to her Unicorn comrade. “I’ve checked every book cover, and it seems that this was the only book that was misplaced before we arrived.” She leveled a glare at Rainbow Dash, who replied by pulling down an eyelid and sticking out her tongue.

Sighing, Twilight placed the abridged Studies on Pundamilia Culture on the table, inspecting the table of contents. The abridged version contained only two-dozen-and-three chapters, 23 chapters. Grunting in frustration, Twilight rifled through the pages to page 25. Lying between pages 24 and 25 was a folded up piece of parchment that was, compared to the dry yellow of the book’s pages, relatively recent. It bore a simplistic, almost foallike, depiction of the Sun − a circle with eight lines pointing out from its sides.

In excitement, Twilight grabbed the parchment in her dwimmer shimmer and unfolded it. At last! Celestia’s secret to unlocking the secret of the Elements of Harmony! NightMare Moon would be defeated within the hour!

469 - 27 - 53

481 - 31 - 51

472 - 27 - 45

487 - 11 - 3X

473 - 6 - 37

48X - 35 - 10

485 - 28 - 36

488 - 13 - 59

676 - 24 - 4E

48E - 4 - 42

46E - 14 - 43

462 - 1X - 49

Twilight’s eye twitched. Twice.

“…That’s it?” Rainbow Dash groaned. “That’s what we went to all this trouble for? For just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo numbers?”

“That don’t look like no mumbo-jumbo to me,” Applejack said, pointing at the numbers. “They look mighty like coordinates t’ mah eyes.”

“Coordinates to where?” Crescent Rose pondered aloud.

“That’s an awful lot of numbers for coordinates, though,” said Fluttershy.

“Perhaps we are to travel to a large number of locations to extract the secrets of the Elements…?” Rarity thought out loud.

“That’s an awful lot of traveling!” Spike added.

“Traveling to one-gross-and-a-dozen-and-three places would take us a really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really―”

PINKIE!” Twilight shouted, snapping out of her stupor. Her mane was beginning to curl oddly at the ends.

“…really, really long time?” Pinkie finished lamely. “I really wanted to say really one-gross-and-a-dozen-and-three times, Twilight.”

“And why is that?”

“Because that cipher is exactly one-gross-one-dozen-and-three lines long.”

Twilight’s eyes widened, before she practically threw herself onto the page again. Sure enough, by her count, there were exactly 113 lines of numbers. But more than that…

“What makes you figure it’s a cipher, Pinkie?” Rarity asked.

“Just a hunch,” Pinkie shrugged.

“A hunch,” Twilight said with a bright smile, “that may be correct! Pinkie, you’re a genius!”

“No, I’m not. I’m a party pony!” And with that, Pinkie stood on her hind legs and threw her forelegs into the air with a boisterous grin, confetti erupting from seemingly nowhere as she spread her forelegs wide.

Twilight arched an eyebrow at this display.

“Mom… err, Twilight,” Spike asked, tugging at Twilight’s tail lightly, “I think I overheard you and Queen Celestia talking about ciphers before. But what is a cipher?”

“I’m glad you asked, Spike,” Twilight said with a smirk; answering questions was one of her favorite hobbies. “A cipher is a way of concealing a message in plain text, so that nopony but the pony with the code can read the cipher. This particular cipher,” Twilight held up the Queen’s cipher in her dwimmer shimmer, “looks to me to be the Bookworm Cipher.”

Rainbow Dash snorted, hastily disguising her laugh as a cough.

Twilight glowered at the Pegasus. “Laugh if you must, but I’ll have you know that Bookworm was a very learned scholar on linguistics.”

“He’d need to be, with a name like that,” Rainbow said in a strained voice, trying hard not to split her sides.

Sighing, Twilight continued.

“Anyway, the Bookworm Cipher works like this: the first number here:” the 469 on the first line lit up pink, “represents a page in a specific book; the second number:” the 27 next to that lit up, “represents a line on that specific page; and the third number:” the 53 lit up, completing the line, “represents a letter in that particular line.”

Noticing that her audience’s eyes seemed to be glazing over, even those of the normally quite willful Applejack, Twilight cleared her throat.

“Basically, on page 469, the 27th line down from the top, and the 53rd letter in the line, will be the first letter of the message the Queen has left us.”

Rainbow Dash groaned loudly.

“So! Many! Secret! Messages!” she shouted, her shouts echoing all around the Royal Archives’ main chamber. She thrashed her legs about wildly with each emphasized word. “Why in Tartarus doesn’t Celestia just tell us ‘Here’s how to use the Elements, don’t point ‘em at your face’? Why does it have to be all secrets all the time with you eggheads?”

“Calm your silly little self down, Dashie!” squealed Pinkie, squishing Rainbow’s muzzle between her rubbery forehooves. “It’s not a secret; it’s a surprise! Right, Twilight?”

Twilight scratched under her mane, just over her withers. “Well, if you want to put it that way…”

The lavender Unicorn looked back down at Studies on Pundamilia Culture, eyes narrowed.

“But I don’t understand,” she said uneasily. “The cipher indicates pages in the high four-grosses, but this book is less than three-gross pages long. What book does the cipher go to?”

“What book, indeed.”

Eight hearts quickly froze to ice, spinning to face the entry from the foyer.

NightMare Moon was striding in, along with a veritable army of her Nightmare Guard. She was not wearing the same simple armor she was on the night of her return. She wore a fuller, more complete armor set, polished black. Ear-guards stretched up and curled behind her alicorn like the horns of the Great Devil Lord of Tartarus. Narrow plates stretching from a steel saddle formed a ribcage-shaped barrier over her barrel. A black velvet cloak, bejeweled with white diamonds that shone like stars, draped over her hip and around her flanks. On her chest glowed a blue crescent-shaped gem, engraved with ancient runes of power. Her left foreleg was drawn up and slightly tucked under, in a sick parody of Queen Celestia’s usual stance when addressing her subjects.

“Well, are you surprised to see me?” NightMare Moon hissed, her mouthful of fangs bared in the candlelight.

“Not really,” Twilight snarled, already going through a cognitive list of spells that could get them out of Canterlot’s boundaries quickly so that they could wink out to somewhere safe. “And it seems an awful lot like you were expecting us as well.”

NightMare Moon chuckled, a chilling sound, as she began to prowl amidst the seven ponies and one drake, uninvited into her city. Up close, Twilight only just realized how tall NightMare Moon was; she had to be at least a dozen-and-a-half hooves tall at the withers.

“Why, of course I expected you and your subordinates to show up here in my city Endymion,” she said lowly, her misty mane caressing the muzzle of each pony that she passed by. “And it seems you’ve made… well, quite the impression upon my loyal guardsponies.”

“Loyalty, mah apple-spotted behind!” Applejack shouted, stomping a hoof with such force that the tiled floor actually cracked from the force. “Yer just a no-good tyrant, bendin’ other ponies t’ yer will like that!”

NightMare Moon’s eyes fell upon the Earth Pony farmer, and Applejack saw her death in those eyes, the dark Alicorn’s mane and tail splitting into tendrils as though to strangle her. Applejack found herself backing away with flattened ears.

“You would do well to hold your tongue,” the black Alicorn growled. “You have already squandered my goodwill in sparing you by sneaking into my capital and assaulting my Nightmare Guard. You will join the Captain of the Royal Guard in the prison block, and there will you rot, never to even see starlight or moonlight. Guards!”

The Nightmare Guard platoon behind Nightmare Moon saluted as one, moving to either side of their dark queen, moving to capture the seven conspirators…

Crescent Rose bolted in front of Twilight, Spike and the Ponyvillagers, standing firm before the Nightmare Guard.

“Ahh, Lieutenant,” NightMare Moon said in a lilting hiss. “I was wondering why guards reported your armor as being found discarded in an alleyway.”

“I won’t let you take these ponies prisoner!” Crescent Rose shouted.

The Alicorn tyrant chuckled evilly.

“Oh, I’m not going to take them captive,” she said in a low, almost seductive tone. Her mane billowed out, a fragment splitting off and descending towards Crescent Rose’s head. “You are.”

Looking up in surprise, Crescent Rose tried to dispel the cloud with her bat-wings, but it engulfed her head, forcing itself into her head through her ears, nostrils and tear-ducts. Her pupils narrowed to even thinner slits.

Crescent!” Twilight cried, reaching out for her Bat Pony ally. Crescent Rose turned towards Twilight with a stumble; the whites of her eyes were glowing a faint blue, a deep blue mist seeping from the edges of her eyes, running with fresh tears.

“There now, my pet,” cooed NightMare Moon.

“Let her go!” bellowed Rainbow Dash, attempting to bolt at the black Alicorn. The pink and periwinkle dwimmer shimmers of Twilight and Rarity kept her beating her wings in place. “Hey! Let me go!”

NightMare Moon’s bat wings unfurled ominously, “You’d do well to obey your friends, you brash one. You shall only live by one creed from now on: Praise the Everlasting Night!” Thunder cracked outside at that moment, lightning flashing through the skylights.

“Now, my little pony slave,” NightMare Moon said with a casual air, “Place your seven ‘friends’ here under arrest, would you kindly?”

Crescent Moon stood dumbstruck before them, her ears flickering up and down.

“I…” she breathed. “I…”

The Bat Pony jammed her eyes shut, the miasmic mist in her eyes dissipating. When she opened her eyes, they were completely normal, but before Twilight could so much as squeak in joy, Crescent Rose hissed to her, “Listen to me. Run, and don’t look back.”

Twilight hesitated. Was Crescent Rose suggesting what Twilight thought she was suggesting…?

“I’m a soldier; I’m expendable. If you fall here, so does any chance of the world going back to what it was. Just go.”

Applejack whispered in Twilight’s ear, “Ah hate t’ say this, but Ah think we should do as she says.”

Twilight was loath to agree, but she had to admit she saw the logic in this. She wanted to get Crescent Rose out as well, so that they might all plot against NightMare Moon. But if they failed here, then the Elements would be robbed from them, and they would rot in prison cells, never to see light ever again.

I never thought I’d hate logic quite like this, Twilight thought bitterly, but she gave a nod to Crescent Rose.

“Well?” NightMare Moon said to Crescent Rose impatiently.

“As a Soldier of the Night,” she said furiously, turning towards a baffled NightMare Moon, “I will live by this creed: Day and Night are equals. It is preposterous to suggest that the aspirations of the Queen of Everlasting Night should endure. That the night is there after a long bright day is a soothing thought, however. To believe that the night can surpass the day is a mere breezie-tale.”

NightMare Moon snarled, “Do not utter that archaic creed before the Queen of Everlasting Night!” Her alicorn lit up cyan, purple bolts of lightning lancing at Crescent Rose, who took flight, circling around NightMare Moon. At this point, Twilight scooped Spike up onto her back and led the herd of mares around the corrupted Queen of the Night.

Seize them! Do not let them escape!

The controlled guards stood at attention, the Earth Ponies standing firm, the Unicorns lowering their horns, and the Pegasi and Bat Ponies linking their wings together, attempting to block their path of escape.

“Spike?” Twilight said with a smirk.

Spike took a deep breath and exhaled violently at the guards, a twister of bright-green fire shooting towards them. Instinctively, the guards parted from the torrent of flames. Casting a dwimmer-shield before her, Twilight led the galloping charge down the path of fire, towards the exit.

Twilight’s shield shattered against a bright-cyan dwimmer-shield, Twilight herself skidding to a stop just in front of NightMare Moon’s shield. She felt muzzle tingling at how close she was to the shield, just as her fellow ponies skidded to a stop behind her.

“Great,” mused Rainbow Dash, watching the Nightmare Guard recovering and gathering around them, looking quite fearful with the green flames dancing around them. “Now what do we do?”

“I’ll try to break the enchantment on this shield,” Twilight said, spell matrices already lining up in her mind. “In the meantime, try to keep those guards at bay!”

“Easier said than done, darling!” Rarity said as she aimed a buck at a Unicorn guard diving at her, striking him in the chin and sending him stumbling.

“The Nychthemeron keeps the world in balance and harmony!” Crescent Rose bellowed to the dark Alicorn queen, a twister beginning to form around her foe. “The idea that the Sun should never rise because of a bitter heart is a delusion meant to keep me living in fear!”

“You know nothing of Fear, you foal!” NightMare Moon shrieked in return, trying to get a bead on Crescent Rose, her own bat-wings flapping in a counter to the recalcitrant Bat Pony.

Applejack lassoed a Pegasus guard by the legs, tripping her up. When she tried to fly up and tackle the farmer mare, she was met with a headbutt to the jaw, and she was out like a light.

Rainbow Dash utilized her patent-pending Rainblowdry to stir up a storm amongst the advancing Guard. At least a dozen were caught up in her makeshift twister, flailing about and trying to break free.

Crescent Rose continued her creed, “The night freezes, so the Sun shall keep us warm, but the night offers freedom that the day denies! We walk in the daylight, but we would burn under its rays over time! The Sun is not greater than the Moon in a world without eternal night! The Moon shall only gleam in subtlety! It is a ridiculous notion―”

An amethyst bolt struck Crescent Rose in the side, and she fell to the floor with a cry. The Nightmare Guard turned to face the fall of their queen’s foe, as did the six mares and drake she had smuggled into the city.

“CRESCENT!” Twilight screamed, wanting to gallop to her friend, but the collapse of the cyan field behind her tore her up inside. Crescent Rose was in mortal danger, but Twilight and her comrades needed to escape armed with new information. The smell of singed fur filled the air.

“It is a ridiculous notion…” Crescent Rose continued defiantly, “to think we should all live without the Nychthemeron, the cycle of Sun and Moon!”

NightMare Moon snorted loudly, clouds of black smoke emerging from her nostrils.

“The Moon cares not for the barking of a dog,” she growled gutturally. “I will only give you this order one more time: Take them down to the cell block.”

“No!” Crescent Rose snarled, pawing at the ground, exhaling sharply from her nose. “You can’t make me!”

“But I can unmake you,” NightMare Moon hissed, her mane swelling tremendously and reaching numerous tendrils towards the rebellious Bat Pony, who was snatched up before she knew what was happening. Crescent Rose shrieked in pain, before the miasmic cloud of NightMare Moon’s mane completely engulfed her. In a panic, Twilight fired a dwimmer-beam at the shield NightMare Moon had raised, but the cyan field held firm. Crescent Rose’s screams faded away, and the dark queen’s mane shrunk to its original size.

Crescent Rose was gone. There was no body to be found.

Twilight’s jaw was agape, her leonine tail gone slack. Crescent Rose couldn’t be… she just couldn’t be…!

“C’mon, Twilight!” Rainbow Dash shouted. “We gotta get outta here!”

On instinct, Twilight obeyed the flight of her fight-or-flight response, galloping past the desk in the Royal Archives foyer and out the double-doors into the streets beyond.

The street leading back to Mane Square was now full to bursting with Earth Pony and Unicorn guardsponies. The skies above were filled with Pegasi and Bat Ponies. Every single one of them looked to be under NightMare Moon’s mind control.

“We’re surrounded!” gasped Twilight.

“Oh no…” Fluttershy shuddered, huddling close to the ground.

“Now this is a fine mess,” Applejack muttered.

A miasmic mist tore over their heads from out of the Royal Archives, coalescing over the battalions of the Nightmare Guard into NightMare Moon, flapping her wings and hovering in place.

“Do not let them escape!” NightMare Moon ordered. “They must not be allowed to leave Endymion!”

“Look!” cried Pinkie, pointing up to the sky. “It’s a thingie, and it looks like it’s a fiery flamey thingie!”

Looking up, Twilight gaped at what looked to be a veritable twister of fire, a firenado, that was plummeting towards Canterlot. Specifically, the very street that they were standing at the edge of. NightMare Moon looked up, scowled at the incoming tornado of flame, and beat her wings to intercept it, her body trailing into miasmic mist as she shot upwards. In a collision of golden fire and blue miasma, the firenado and NightMare Moon collided, clashing with one another in midair over the capital. NightMare Moon shot blasts of cyan dwimmer energy and purple bolts of lightning, but her foe, whoever or whatever it was, was too fast.

The Nightmare Guard would have arisen to their queen’s defense… if it was not for the Wonderbolts.

Whether it was by great coincidence, or because they happened to glimpse the firenado descending on Canterlot, Twilight did not know, but the Wonderbolts dived upon the Nightmare Guard mere moments after NightMare Moon engaged the firenado. And it was not just the trio that had first attempted battle against NightMare Moon when the night became eternal.

“Omigosh, that’s Fire Streak!” Rainbow Dash had entered into fangirl mode so quickly that Twilight wondered if she would ever get out of it again. “And there’s his brother, Lightning Streak! They’re shooting fire and lightning at them! That’s so awesome!” She gasped. “And… Blaze? I thought she was still recovering from crashing in that race! Wait, is that Surprise?”

“Surprise?” Pinkie cut in. “I don’t see my Granny Pie.”

“No no no!” Rainbow Dash grumbled. “That white Pegasus over there, with the yellow mane, popping balloons in guards’ faces? See her? That’s Surprise the Wonderbolt!”

“Oooh! That’s surprising,” Pinkie lilted, causing Rainbow Dash to palm her face in a hoof.

Twilight gaped. Eleven Pegasi, holding their own against scores of Royal Guards. If her cursory knowledge of the Wonderbolts held true, then that meant that all eleven Wonderbolts were in battle right now. Even though she only really knew of them through the bets that Canterlot nobles placed on the races that Wonderbolts held against each other, and she was sure that Rainbow Dash’s idolization of them stemmed from something closer to that than to… this.

Captain Spitfire was casting fire, along with Blaze and Fire Streak; Fleetfoot, Rapidfire and High Winds darted with blinding speed; Soarin, Wave Chill and Misty Fly deflected attacking guards with erratic gusts of wind; Silver Lining sent mini-tornadoes flying with a flick of his tail; and Surprise had an uncanny ability to always be behind her opponent to POP a balloon.

Rainbow Dash was practically frothing at the mouth in excitement, her hooves clamped to either side of her muzzle. “So awesome…!”

The Nightmare Guard were soon on the retreat, and Spitfire took active notice of the six mares (and one drake) at the doors to the Royal Archives.

“Soarin, you get that rainbow-maned bronco!” Spitfire ordered.

“Wilco walnut, Captain Spitfire!” Soarin said with a snapping salute.

(“Bronco?” echoed Rainbow Dash in an insulted tone.)

“Fleetfoot, the yellow one!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“Silver Lining, the white one!”

“Aye-aye, Cap’n!”

“Surprise, the pink one!”

“Okie-dokie-lokie!”

(“She even has my catchphrase!” squealed Pinkie in delight.)

“Wave Chill, the orange one!”

“Already on it!”

“And I’ll take the purple one! The rest of you, keep the skies clear!”

Each order was given and followed up on in a surprisingly quick fashion, each Wonderbolt taking the pony they were ordered to carry under their forelegs, looping their forehooves under the barrel of the mare they were set to carry. Spike slid off of Twilight’s back to make room for Spitfire, and Twilight scooped him up in her own forehooves. The six Wonderbolts flew up over the retreating Nightmare Guard, passengers in tow as they soared between the minarets of Canterlot’s high-rises, beelining for the Diurnann.

“You know, I can fly by myself,” Rainbow Dash offered weakly to Soarin. The Wonderbolt stallion looked ahead to Spitfire with a tentative smile.

“Orders are orders, Soarin,” she said without looking back. “You keep that bucking bronco under control, and maybe she’ll learn that there’s more to being a Wonderbolt than being a good flyer.”

Excuse me?” Rainbow Dash snapped, struggling against Soarin’s grip around her barrel. “You think I’m not good enough for the Wonderbolts?”

“Humility. Self-control. Devotion to duty. Learning from one’s mistakes. Working well with others,” Spitfire recited from over Twilight’s head. “These are all attributes that we look into for new recruits, and I haven’t seen those qualities in you.”

“You’ve only seen me, like, twice!” Rainbow Dash said, wriggling free and spreading her wings, flapping alongside Soarin. “And I’ve been to all your shows since I was four!”

“Soarin, restrain that bronco,” Spitfire said. Twilight blinked; Spitfire wasn’t even looking back. Was she that attuned to flight that she could sense all these things happening without her eyes?

Soarin, for his part, clamped all four of his legs around Rainbow Dash’s barrel, his hind legs binding her wings to her sides. It looked remarkably awkward for Soarin to maintain such a hold, but he managed. Rainbow struggled for only a moment or two, before her ears fell and her legs hung slack.

“While I admire and appreciate your… tenacity,” Spitfire continued, “if you really want to join our reserves, you’ll need to take a test on our history. Then, you’ll be subjected to an aeronautics test, to see to it that your wings are in prime condition, that you preen them frequently enough, that you have the right body dimensions for our high-speed flying maneuvers. Then, you’ll need to take a personality test, to see to it that you have the right stuff mentally for our…”

Spitfire trailed off, and Twilight was unnerved. She could almost imagine Spitfire’s ears swiveling this way and that, trying to pick up some sort of sound.

Evasive action!” she bellowed, and each Wonderbolt-and-passenger looped around, narrowly avoiding what looked like lightning shooting up from the ground. Swinging her head around so fast that her head ached, Twilight witnessed the other five Wonderbolts in battle with at least a half-dozen other Pegasi in dark-purple flight suits…

“The Shadowbolts!” Spitfire swore. “We have to high-tail it outta here! This is Make-Your-Mamas-Proud Time, girls!”

“I love my Mama!” squealed Pinkie Pie, almost slipping out of Surprise’s grip.

“Alright, Wonderbolts!” Spitfire said through gritted teeth, and the wind against Twilight’s eyes suddenly intensified. “It’s time we show them where we got our name from!”

In a flash − or, at least, Twilight assumed that there would be a flash from where they were that others down below in Canterlot would see − the six Wonderbolts picked up in speed, the sound at their ears dying away as they entered a tunnel of wind and swirling lightning. Twilight almost felt Spike slipping out of her hooves, but a little adjustment on her hold on him with her dwimmer shimmer and he was fine. It seemed to last for an eternity, but in just seconds they were at the edge of Canterlot, the Diurnann passing by underneath. Slowing down to a modest speed, the Wonderbolts descended to the ground.

Twilight and each of her companions touched hooves to the ground tentatively. They were only in flight for less than five minutes, but each had lost their bearings to some degree. Applejack was almost green in the face, tipping back and forth, while Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie seemed almost unfazed.

“What was that thing that attacked NightMare Moon?” Twilight questioned.

“Yeah! That looked amazing!” Spike cheered.

“A Wonderbolts military technique,” Spitfire said shortly, rubbing a hoof on her chest. “Takes a lot of magic to pull of something like that.”

“I must say, that was quite a trip,” Rarity said, a hoof to her forehead.

“You’re telling me,” Rainbow Dash said, stretching her wings out. “My wings are still sore about that.”

“Sorry ‘bout that,” Soarin said with a nervous smile, scratching the back of his head.

“If you’d learned to follow my orders,” Spitfire retorted, “you wouldn’t have ended up in that position!”

“News flash, Captain:” Rainbow Dash snarled in return, “I’m not a Wonderbolt!” She smirked. “Yet!”

“At the rate you’re going, you wouldn’t make it into the Wonderbolts even if you lived to be a dozen-gross years old!”

The pair growled at each other, before Fleetfoot burst in between them.

“Captain, newbie, calm down!” she said, her cerise eyes flashing. “We already have enough enemies in the world of NightMare Moon; do we need to make enemies amongst ourselves?”

Spitfire and Rainbow Dash each rubbed a foreleg in shame.

“Sorry about that, Fleetfoot,” Spitfire sighed. “The Eternal General wouldn’t be happy to see that display.”

“‘Eternal General’?” Rainbow echoed.

“It’s what the Wonderbolts nickname their founder, General Firefly,” Twilight explained. “It’s symbolic of a Wonderbolt’s duty to follow the principles that she’d founded the Wonderbolts on.”

“But isn’t General Firefly, like, dead?”

Spitfire shook her head. “A pony never truly dies, as long as there’s somepony who remembers them.”

Applejack doffed her Stetson. “Words t’ live bah.”

Spitfire stood at attention.

“Now then. We’ve made sure you seven made it out safe.”

“We owe you our lives,” Twilight said, bowing slightly.

“Thank you so much for your help,” said Fluttershy, miming Twilight.

Spitfire waved a hoof dismissively.

“Think nothing of it. All in the line of duty.” She faced her five other compatriots. “Alright, Wonderbolts. It’s time to spread some more light to the corners of Equestria. Let’s bolt!”

In a shuddering boom, the six Wonderbolts took to the skies, leaving behind six identical streaks of sun-colored lightning which remained in the air long after they’d left the Saddle Valley.

“Whoa…” Twilight gasped in awe. “This is some advanced magic…”

“What is it, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked timidly.

“I don’t know. It looks like it’s… some sort of fire made out of lightning… or lightning made out of fire? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s providing daylight, and the warmth of day.”

This was true. The sky above seemed to be that much lighter, and the air seemed to be less chilled than before.

Rarity let out a deep, long sigh, stretching her hind legs, then her forelegs. “It certainly helps to loosen up these achy joints.”

“So,” Rainbow Dash addressed Twilight, “What did we learn from all of this?”

The past dozen-and-a-half minutes came rushing back to Twilight. In the rush of the advent of the Wonderbolts, the near-miss with the Shadowbolts, and the discovery of the sun-bolts, Twilight had nearly completely forgotten about what they came into Canterlot to gain… and what they’d lost.

“Crescent Rose…” Twilight sobbed, collapsing onto her barrel, her ears drooping. Spike clutched at one of her hooves sadly.

“Ah never knew any Bat Ponies,” Applejack said in a low somber tone, “but Ah’ll offer a free cider to any Bat Pony who drops bah Ponyville who knew Crescent ‘fore this happened.”

“That really was very brave of her,” Fluttershy sighed.

“A very bold soul to stand up to NightMare Moon in such a fashion,” Rarity said as she looked up to the stars.

“Or very stupid.”

Six pairs of eyes glowered at Rainbow Dash. She shrugged.

“What? I’m just saying. Why didn’t she pretend like she was hypnotized and sneak us out a backway or something like that, instead of trying to fight?”

When she put her issue with Crescent Rose’s sacrifice like that, Rainbow Dash’s point was more easily taken.

“Maybe she just didn’t think of that,” Twilight said, looking down at her hooves as she swished blades of grass through the toes of her hoof.

“I know, right?” Pinkie said, bouncing up and down. “It’s like on those days when I realize that I didn’t remember to buy any balloons for the party, and then I’m like−” She did a loud GASP; not quite so loud as the day she’d met Twilight, but very close. “−kinda like that. And then I realize that I always have six balloons on me all the time, so I just balance myself on the party table, and I let little foals hold onto my tail and pretend that it’s a balloony string!”

Upon realizing that she was getting odd looks, Pinkie slunk down to the ground, her pink color starting to fade to blue, her mane and tail seeming to deflate slightly.

“Sorry. I’ll just stop being happy.”

“No no, not at all, Pinkie,” Twilight said with a sad smile. “Crescent Rose might have been out of her head, putting up with a lot of pressure in standing against NightMare Moon, but in the end, we got out of Canterlot… or Endymion, as I’m guessing NightMare Moon is calling it now.”

“We’ll trah not t’ forgit what Crescent Rose did f’r all of us,” Applejack said, her Stetson pulled low over her forelock.

“We never would have gotten into the city without her help,” Rarity said pensively.

“Oh! Twilight? I’m sorry for asking, but,” Fluttershy began hesitantly, “but, you do have that cipher, don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” Twilight said, fishing out the sun-marked scrap of parchment from one of her saddle-bags. “I hid the cipher in my saddle-bag as soon as I heard NightMare Moon’s voice.”

“Nice one, Twilight!” Rainbow said with a smirk and a flexing foreleg.

“But… what book does it go to?” Rarity asked.

“Ooh! Ooh! Is this another guessing game?” Pinkie squealed.

“If I had to guess,” Twilight thought aloud, “I would think that this key goes for the unabridged copy of Studies on Pundamilia Culture. And one of the only copies that I know that anypony has, is in the ownership of A.K. Yearling.”

Rainbow Dash gasped; she was the only other one who seemed to recognize the name.

“No… way! The author of the Daring Do series owns a copy of that book?” She unfurled her wings as far as they would go. “What are we waiting for?”

Twilight snickered a little. “Rainbow Dash, your egghead is showing.”

Rainbow Dash’s muzzle scrunched up, her eyes darting back and forth nervously. She tried to save face by giving a cocky grin and saying, “Come on, Twilight. What I meant was, What are we waiting for? We need to get that book, and fast!.”

“We can’t go,” Twilight said shortly.

“What?” the cyan Pegasus asked indignantly. “Why not?”

“Because I don’t know where A.K. Yearling lives.”

Rainbow Dash was not the only one to give Twilight an incredulous look at this admission.

“You what?” Rainbow Dash echoed emphatically. “Wait up. Hold on. Back up a bit. You, Twilight Sparkle, the egghead, don’t know where one author lives?”

“Shocking, isn’t it?” Twilight replied flatly. “But honestly, have you ever read her autobiography?”

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “I don’t read any more than I need to.”

“Well, if you’d read her autobiography, you’d know that A.K. Yearling uses her copy of Studies on Pundamilia Culture for resources in her books. You would also know that she likes her privacy. Nopony knows where she lives, not even her editors. So, we can’t use her copy of the book.

“Thankfully, I do happen to know where a copy of the unabridged Studies on Pundamilia Culture exists.”

“Where?” her five fellow mares asked.

“Inside the Crystal Mountains, right on the edge of the Sea of Eris, at the northmost edge of Equestria.”

“The Crystal Mountains?” echoed Spike.

“The mountains themselves are hollowed out, where the Queen places items of utmost importance to the security of the realm. Security there is extremely tight, which is why I wanted us to come here to Canterlot first.”

“An’ now, under NightMare Moon…” Applejack mused.

Twilight exhaled sadly, looking down at her hooves. “Maybe we should have gone to the Crystal Mountains first. Security there will only have tightened…”

Rarity placed a hoof under Twilight’s chin, bringing her face up.

“Let it be, Twilight,” she said softly. “What’s done is done. We can take our time, figure it out at our own pace. The Wonderbolts can keep Equestria warm with those heavenly bolts of sunlight of theirs. In the meantime, we can figure out some way to work our way through the security of these Crystal Mountains.”

“Do you think maybe I could eat through them, Twilight?” Spike asked eagerly, salivating slightly. “Entire mountains of crystal… it sounds so delicious!”

Twilight took note of the odd looks that everypony was giving to Spike, and recalled that she was the only one with close experience with a dragon.

“Dragons eat gemstones,” Twilight explained shortly. “In addition to their normal carnivorous diet.”

“I see,” Rarity said curtly, examining a twisted piece of metal she had produced from her saddle-bag.

“Rarity… is that…?”

“I’m afraid so, Twilight. This is what remains of my razor.”

“Oh, Rarity… I’m so sorry. I know how important your looks are to you…”

“Oh, water under the bridge, Twilight,” Rarity said with a wave of her hoof, flinging the mangled razor off of the cliff’s edge beside her. “Your needs, and Equestria’s, were greater than my own. I had the means to your end, and I supplied it gladly.”

“Rarity…” Twilight said with a smile. “You really are a great and generous friend…”

Rarity giggled shortly.

“Thank you, Twilight, my dear.”

“Alright, enough with the sappy stuff,” Rainbow Dash said with mirth. “Let’s regroup down in Ponyville!”

“Right!” the six others said with joy.

Twilight’s alicorn began to glow with pink light, Spike, Applejack and Rarity the first at her sides, with Pinkie, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash also making sure to keep close so that Twilight could wink them all to Ponyville’s outskirts. As they disappeared from sight, a faint purple glow unseen by any of them began to emanate from inside Rarity’s saddle-bags…

Author's Note:

Whew! Almost missed my self-imposed Monday morning deadline by the simple act of over-sleeping. But I made it!
So, one Heroic Sacrifice later, the heroes have a cipher to a Door Stopper, looking to reactivate the Cosmic Keystones that can put down an Ultimate Evil. …Never thought I’d say all that.
This chapter had to be finished on Saturday because of Father’s Day, and I didn’t want this chapter going up late. I don’t want to start bad habits.
I hope that you enjoyed this! Please leave a comment if you have anything you’d like to say! Constructive criticism is always welcome!