• Published 18th Jul 2014
  • 1,331 Views, 76 Comments

The Balance of Harmony - Thornwing

Discord's lost his mojo. Can the ponies help get it back? What happens if the balance of harmony can't be kept? Another adventure begins.

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Chapter Eleven - The Center of the Universe

Twilight and Pinkie Pie sat on their haunches across from Discord as the train they were riding started to ascend into the Canterlot foothills. Twilight was trying not to make too much eye contact as her thoughts were focused on the condition and current whereabouts of her friends. Pinkie Pie was engaged in an epic stare contest with Discord - not even wincing at the pain caused by trying not to blink. Discord had a painted-on expression over his eyelids and was fast asleep.

They were fortunate to have caught the evening train to Canterlot. It had left Ponyville only a few short minutes after Discord’s revelation was pronounced. If they had missed it, they would have had to wait until morning for the next one.

A muffled {thud} could be heard as something or someone crashed against the door. Spike struggled to open the sliding door to their boxcar as he balanced a tray of hayburgers in either hand. Eventually he was able to open the latch and slide the door out of the way. Without any further delay, he carried the food over to the hungry ponies.

“Dinner is served,” he called out as he set the trays in front of Twilight and Pinkie. As an aside to Twilight he whispered, “I would have gotten Discord something, but I’m not sure what Chaos Lords are supposed to eat.”

“Thank you, Spike,” said Twilight. “I’m sure Discord can take care of himself.”

“I’m so hungry I could eat a… hayburger,” smiled Pinkie as she dove into eating her food.

They ate in relative silence as the train clip-clopped its way up the tracks. The sun burst into lovely streaks of red-gold as it quickly set beyond the horizon. The moon raised up into position shortly afterwards. The ponies watched most of the event through the window of the train only briefly interrupted as they passed through short tunnels in the mountainside as they climbed. It wasn’t long before they arrived at Canterlot Station.

“We’re here, sleepy head.” Twilight poked Discord as she rose from her seat and reached up to gather her belongings.

“Another five minutes, mommy…” Discord mumbled to himself as he came around.

Pinkie had settled on a more sensible assortment of personal items for this trip – not going with the double load of rock candy this time around. Her bags were easily tossed over her flank as the mostly happy quartet unloaded themselves from the traincar.

Without a formal notice or invitation preceding their arrival, no royal escort awaited them upon their disembarkation. They proceeded to travel up the path leading into Canterlot City without any royal fanfare. They passed by a good number of shops - which were mostly closed at this point. Before long, they found themselves at the foot of the castle. The royal guard standing watch recognized Twilight almost immediately.

The Sargent of the Guard saluted and shouted his greeting to the approaching travelers, “Princess Twilight, we were not expecting you. To what do we owe the honor of your visit - and may I assist you with your saddle bags?”

“Thank you sir, but that won’t be necessary,” Twilight felt her cheeks start to redden as she was unused to this level of formality and attention. “Could you please inform Princess Celestia that we are here to see her?”

“Most certainly, your highness,” the guard stammered, “but I do believe she has retired for the night. Would Princess Luna be an appropriate substitute?”

“I guess it can wait until morning,” Twilight responded with a yawn. She hadn’t realized how late it was getting and how tired she was from being up most of the previous night planning and preparing for the party. “Could you please inform the Princesses that we are here and that we would like to speak to them both, first thing in the morning?”

“Consider it done, your highness.” The guard gave a deep bow and continued, “I will also see to it that sleeping accommodations be made for your entire -- uh -- group.”

“Thank you very much, Sargent,” said Twilight with a bashful little giggle.

The guard led the way as Twilight, Pinkie Pie, Discord and Spike hopped up the steps and filtered into the castle.

Applejack was fast asleep in her sleeper car bunk shortly after the train pulled out of Manehattan Central Station. It had been an exhausting day and she was certainly entitled to some much earned rest. Rarity sat on a stool opposite the bunks as she worked her magic on a bit of knitting as she wound down her own day. The glowing gemstone in Applejack’s necklace acted as a nightlight giving Rarity just enough light to knit by.

The ponies had chosen to take the red-eye train back to Ponyville rather than spend the night in Manehattan. Flim and Flam had graciously offered to let them stay at their place, but were disappointed when their old antagonists turned friends had declined. Although it was a tempting offer to meet and visit with the mares that had decided to marry the kooky twins, Applejack impressed upon them all that their mission was a pressing one. They needed to return to Ponyville and see about tracking down the element of greed.

They had already spent longer than they probably should have helping Flim and Flam rebrand their store that afternoon. The big reopening that evening had been a marvelous success. Manehattan ponies had built up a tremendous amount of hype surrounding the mysterious and sudden closure of their favorite store. When it reopened, they emptied the shelves and the entire store room of all the product stock.

A few ponies who were feeling starved of the chance to partake of the miracle beverage they loved, popped open the top of their barely purchased item and drank the entire bottle right in front of the register. When asked, they exclaimed it tasted even better than before and had lost the weird aftertaste that nopony seemed to have found to have been a problem up till then.

Applejack helped run the cash register while Rarity used her magic to keep the back-room stock moving to the front showroom and the waiting customers. Flim and Flam spent much of the evening trying whatever they could to procure more fresh ingredients for the next morning as well as exhausting what little supplies they had on hand to finish as many of the current orders for the waiting customers as they could.

At the close of business, an exhausted pair of ponies said their goodbyes and hurried to the train station so as not to miss their ride. Right on schedule, the train pulled out of the station and began the return journey to Ponyville via Canterlot. It would take the rest of the night just to make it as far as the capitol city. They had a small layover there before the train would continue on to their home and final destination. Rarity looked forward to being able to spend a little time perusing the shops in Canterlot, this time while it was still light out.

Rarity finished another row and decided to turn in. She got up and walked over toward her bunk. The tired mare paused a moment as she looked down at Applejack, still remembering her friends’ caring words in her time of struggle. She reached down and pulled a blanket up over Applejack’s flank before whispering a belated, ‘thank you’, and then slipping into her own bed and quickly drifting off to sleep herself.

The train rumbled on into the night as the ponies slept – every moment bringing them closer to Canterlot and home.

On the other end of Equestria, another pair of ponies and one very tired Griffin were making their way to Canterlot as well.

Even though she was loaded with both sets of saddle bags, Rainbow Dash turned to see how far behind her friends were. She hung in the air and waited for the others to catch up. Her own wings were getting a little tired after so much flying, especially while carrying the double load, but it wasn’t much considering what Gilda had to deal with.

“How’s it going back there?” she called out to her struggling Griffin friend.

“This is much harder than it looks, Rainbow Dash,” came the strained reply.

Gilda slowly closed the distance between them as she struggled to maintain altitude, pitch and balance. A relatively large yellow passenger clung to her back in constant fear of falling.

“We could try and trade for a bit if you want,” suggested Rainbow Dash as she grabbed a quick drink from the canteen in her pack.

“I’m not sure that would work very well, Rainbow,” said an unsteady and wide-eyed Fluttershy. “Maybe we should find a place to land and rest for a bit.”

“Good idea,” grunted Gilda still struggling to carry the weight of a full grown pony on her back and still remain airborne.

“Fine,” replied Rainbow Dash, “let’s set down near that grove of trees over there.” She pointed in the direction of a small group of trees situated in the undulating flow of grassy hills below.

Gilda gratefully glided in for a landing, trying as best she could to accommodate her still injured passenger. Rainbow Dash swooped in moments later and landed beside them. Fluttershy melted off Gilda’s back still clutching a few Griffin feathers in her hoof.

The group had made it about three-quarters of the way to Canterlot and could see the castle off in the distance. It was hard to miss with the striking silhouette jutting proudly from the edge of the mountain cliff. It would be dark soon. Celestia’s sun was due to set at any time and Luna’s moon would soon act as their compass to guide them on their journey home.

Gilda may have been having second thoughts about volunteering to help Fluttershy travel home. Her bravado quickly melted within the first hour of flight once they left the comfort of Griffin’s Nest. It probably didn’t help that Gustave had given the ponies enough food to put a normal Griffin in a sugar coma for weeks just before they left.

Fluttershy felt like she needed to get the element of malice back to Ponyville as soon as possible. Still, she felt bad that she was being such a burden on her friends due to her condition. It would have been so much easier if she was able to flap her wings without it causing her significant pain. It would be a while before she would recover and even longer until she would think to attempt another cross country flight that she hadn’t built up the training for.

“How long do you need?” said an anxious Rainbow Dash as she passed around the canteen for the others to take a drink from. “The castle’s right there. We’re almost home – almost.”

Gilda lay on the ground panting as she tried to regain the strength to stand up straight. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash hovered close by waiting for a response.

“I don’t… know if… I can… make it… any… further… tonight,” huffed Gilda.

“Well, I guess we better try and make ourselves comfortable then,” sighed Rainbow Dash. “We can try again in the morning.”

Rainbow Dash slipped off her packs and flew up into the nearest tree trying to find a comfortable spot to spend the night. Fluttershy nestled up close to Gilda and helped hold the canteen for her as she had a bit to drink.

“Thank you ever so much for carrying me home, Gilda,” said Fluttershy.

“Don’t mention it.” Gilda finally caught her breath and was able to sit upright. “It’s the least I could do after treating you so badly.”

“Don’t’ blame yourself too much,” came Fluttershy’s response, “I bet this little guy had a lot to do with it.” She pointed at the glowing gemstone hanging around her neck. The pink butterfly shape gave off a soft glow that intensified with the setting of the sun and rising of the moon.

“I’m sure my attitude had a pretty big part in it too, Fluttershy,” replied Gilda. “I still want to apologize for being such a lame meanie.”

Fluttershy gave Gilda a bashful smile. “I forgive you, Gilda, because that’s what friends do.”

“Thanks, Fluttershy,” answered Gilda. “It feels kind of nice to know I have such good pony friends after all.”

The trio each found a comfy spot and settled in for the night. Sleep came easily after a long hard day of flying and trying not to fall. The gentle rustling of the breeze as it swept across the grassy meadow helped to calm their minds. Canterlot would still be there in the morning and they could continue their travels at first light.

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