• Published 1st Dec 2011
  • 23,181 Views, 517 Comments

Doctor Whooves - The Series: Episode Two - Game of Stones - Loyal2Luna



Twilight, Rainbow and Applejack travel 3000 years into the past with their new friend the Doctor, to the ancient city-state of Roan. They meet the famous Leonard DiHoovsie, and find themselves embroiled in a deep mystery with dark implications.

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Ch. 2: When in Roan

Chapter 2: When in Roan




Countryside of Prance
Baguette Province
15th of Autumn, 1631 A.R. (Astrolia's Reign)

The Phrench countryside shone brilliantly in the morning sun; a vast, unharvested field of wheat glistening with morning dew. But in spite of the scene before them, one of the two stallions overlooking the bountiful crop was less than enthusiastic.

“You and your big mouth, Tige de Blé.” The red-maned, dull orange-colored earth pony, his back leg trousers cut to expose a loaf of bread as his cutie mark, shook his head. The concern was already thick in his voice as his Phrench accent trembled, feeling more than slightly overwhelmed just by the sight of the massive task before them. “There must be over a hundred acres here… There is simply no way that two ponies can reap and gather all of this in only two days.”

“Just think of the rewards, Pain de Blé, my brother,” said the larger of the two, his coat a deeper shade of red while his mane was a soft grey. Forsaking any outfit entirely (much to his brother’s discomfort) the large stalk of wheat that adorned his muscled flank was easily seen. “The Duke of Château Terre has promised this land to any common earth pony farmer and partner who could clear it in that time.”

“Oui, and in ten seasons of harvest, no pair of ponies has gotten half of it done in two days.”

“All we need is hard work and perseverance and it can be ours, brother.” Tige de Blé nodded, taking a deep breath as he dug absently at the ground.

This was good, fertile farmland. Far from any township and yet still firmly in the tamed area that surrounded Lady Astrolia’s Phrench home in Ver-Sai. It was a place where a proper, decent family could set down roots and create something amazing. Where the simple dream of a rural farm pony could come true.

“It is a foal’s errand to be done by us lowly 'ground-pounders' while the pegasi and unicorns laugh from on-high at our backbreaking work, all while we chase the carrot on the stick! It is impossible, brother!” Pain de Blé stomped his hoof again, growing frustrated and again wondering why he had agreed to even try to take part in this.

Tige de Blé took a breath as he turned to his younger brother, steadfast and stubborn in his resolve. “Impossible things happen everyday, Pain de Blé,” he explained stalwartly.

“Oh, really? Name one!” the younger brother challenged.

Before the elder of the Blé Brothers could say a word, a sudden breeze kicked up around the hillside, causing the grass and wheat below to churn. This by itself would not normally have been a strange thing, but the noise that seemed to accompany the strange wind was. Their manes whipping a bit in the wind, the two earth ponies turned towards the hilltop behind them…

...just in time to see a large blue box simply appear out of thin air, accompanied by a heavy thump.

There was silence for a moment, before the door popped open a crack to the sound of a lilting stallion’s voice. “Alright, alright, I’ll ask! Cripes! You know, for a species that hasn’t invented cars yet, you lot sure know quite a bit about backseat driving.”

A rather thin-looking stallion pony with a chestnut coat, darker, spiky mane, and some sort of large, dark spectacles above his eyes stuck his head out of the side of the door and looked around the scene before settling his gaze on the Blé Brothers.

“Oh, hello!” The newcomer nodded in a friendly fashion. “Is this Roan?”

The two earth ponies of Prance looked at one another for a moment, then shook their heads before Tige de Blé found his voice, albeit somewhat low. “Prance.”

The brown earth pony looked stunned for a moment. “Really? My word… Trottingham, Hoofany, Prance... I’m just going right through the Pony European Union, aren’t I? I wonder if there’s a Belgium. That would just be icing on the already pun-coated cake, right there. Hmm, let’s see… Twilight? Prance? Am I getting warmer?”

From inside the box, a definite mare’s voice could be heard, though neither of the Blé Brothers could see inside. “Warmer. A bit more northeast, though.”

“What’s the date this time!?” another, hoarser voice called out with a bit of excitement.

“‘What’s the date this time?’ she asks…” The stallion rolled his eyes, his tone torn between amusement and annoyance. “Oh, don’t mind me, just navigating through a completely unexplored and unmapped space-time continuum. Bound to get a little lost to start with. If you don’t like it, you can drive... Actually, I take that back. I’d rather not have to tow her out of a quantum distortion… again.” He huffed slightly before turning back to the two stallions, who remained frozen in place. “Mares. Can’t live with them, can’t let them near a glue factory. Now, ahem... If you’ll beg my pardon, what year is it?”

Although they both remained completely still in shock, the larger pony again answered. “The… The year of Her Ladyship Astrolia’s Reign, 1631... W-who are…?”

Right! Getting into the ballpark now, aren’t we!?” The brown stallion nodded enthusiastically. “Just a slight shift of the temporal converter should do the trick. Thank you for your time, you’ve been very helpful. Also, I would greatly appreciate you not mentioning this to anybody--”

“ANYPONY!” came a combined shout from the inside of the box.

“Anypony... Still need to get used to that. Right, appreciate you not mentioning this to anypony. Promise to make it worth your while once I get things set. And since I’m here in a new version of France anyways, might as well say it: Allons-y!”

Before either of the Blé Brothers could react, the mysterious stallion pulled his head back into the doorway and closed it shut. A few moments later, the blue box emitted a dull thud as it began to let off that strange, indescribable sound, fading right before their eyes in a gust of wind.

For a long moment, neither of the stallions said a word, until Pain de Blé took a deep breath and started to trot down the hill towards the wheat field. “Your… point is taken, brother. Shall we… get started then?”

Tige de Blé could only smirk as his brother walked off, leaning down to catch a bit of tall grass in his teeth as he considered what two days of hard work might gain their family.

“Ooooo-ui...” he drawled on as he started down the hill, certain that they could make at least two impossible things happen that week.

————————
The TARDIS
-In Transit-

The Doctor moved around the control panel of the TARDIS frantically for a moment, the shaking and rumbling of the time machine greatly reduced from before as all sorts of noises came from the monitors and gadgets that were attached to the controls.

“Reference point plugged in… Mapping temporal indicators… Aligning with static anchor... Aaaaaand…” The Doctor flipped a switch, and the shaking stopped entirely with a ding from the console, allowing the three mares to release their grips again. “There we go, plotting new coordinates. And in just a few minutes, it should have us in roundabouts the right area. Enough time for a few questions, I suppose. I’m sure you’ve all got something you want to ask, so why don’t we try to get it out of the way before we get to where we’re going?”

“Uh... Have we landed again?” Rainbow asked quickly as she steadied herself, still somewhat surprised at how quickly the machine seemed to move.

“No. Although Prance seemed to be a bit more steady-minded, I wanted to avoid the kind of panic we caused in Burr Glen. Didn’t realize that the defenses needed to be reset. Real frantic lot, those Hoofans. Explain to me again why you thought it would be a good idea for me to say I was from there the other day?” He directed his question towards Twilight, who had been watching him input the controls again, obviously doing what many of his companions did and trying to figure out for themselves the method to the apparent madness.

“I was under a lot of stress when I said that, Doctor. And to be fair, you did crash right into that big wall they were building in Burr Glen,” Twilight answered.

“Okay. Technically, we didn’t ‘crash’ into it. We materialized and rather unfortunately displaced and atomized a small area of the wall’s structure that happened to hold a support strut, resulting in that section crashing down. Really, could have happened to anyone.”

“If we haven’t landed, then why aren’t we still flopping around? And why do we keep missing, anyway?” Rainbow interjected, leaning forward to look over the controls. “The last three tries have put us all over Northern Equestria and we’re still lost. Maybe this thing could use a swift kick to the--”

“To answer those questions…” the Doctor cut Rainbow off, giving her a slight nudge away from the controls before leaning against a rail as he kicked one foreleg across the other in a restful position. “Tell me this: What is the shortest distance between two points?”

“A straight line,” Twilight answered without hesitation.

“Not so.”

“...What?”

“When you’re dealing with a sheet of paper, sure. Now, the TARDIS doesn’t need the line because she doesn’t physically travel from point to point. She skips the trip, folds the paper as it were, and goes straight to the destination. But in order to get an idea of time travel, you have to understand that to find any exact point in a three-dimensional universe like this one, you need six points of reference: the planes surrounding the destination on all sides. To find that point in a specific area of the time-stream is even more complicated as you have to rework the coordinates in seven constantly shifting variant dimensions for a total of forty-two oscillating points of reference to land in an exact time and location. If just two numbers are off in a sequence, then you could land in the right time, but a hundred thousand miles from your destination… or in the right destination, but centuries before or after you intended to. Now, back in my home universe, I had just about the entire place memorized, so I could get pretty darn close to an exact point by entering those coordinates free-handed… er… free-hooved, so to speak. Short jumps, like a matter of hours or a few miles, require very little calculation, but the farther we travel, the more complicated and varied the reference points get. Follow me so far?”

Rainbow couldn’t have looked any more confused if she had enormous red question marks hanging over her head, but much to the Doctor’s delight, Twilight nodded; obviously straining but still keeping up with his oversimplified explanation of how the TARDIS moved.

“So… while we’re traveling… you’re using the places we land as points of reference?” Twilight thought aloud. “You’re building a map of how to get around Equestria in both space and time!”

“Precisely!” The Doctor grinned, impressed with Twilight’s deduction. Not many of his companions could have picked it up that quickly. “Now, any given area on a single planet is easy, but for most who attempt time travel, it’s all trial and error beyond that. You’re often considered good if you can hit the right century in one go. Brilliant if you can land in the proper decade on the first try. But, given where we’ve been, and your direction, the TARDIS is able to set about processing what she can find out about her surroundings in the time-stream and along the planet’s timeline to form a more detailed landing setup and hopefully get us into the Renai-- Oh, I mean, ahem... Reneighssance… properly.”

The three mares gave the Doctor a strange look as he tried to imitate the whinnying sound that they made with that word, apparently failing abysmally.

“In any case…” the Doctor moved the attention away from the faux pas. “We are currently suspended in the time vortex while she is fabricating a new coordinates system. The more we travel together, the more ‘precise’ we should be able to get. After she gets a few trips under her belt, we’ll be able to narrow down long-distance targets almost to the hour. Anything else?”

Rainbow shook her head violently, her eyes rolling a little bit she tried to unscramble her brain while Applejack moved past her.

“Ah got a question. Y'all said we was in Prance just then? Then why weren’t them two stallions talkin’ fancy?” the farm pony asked. “Ah mean, they had them fancy Phrench ack-cents, ya could tell, but they was speakin’ in Common Equestrian.”

“Oh, no. It’s not Eng-- I mean, ‘Equestrian’ they’re speaking, it’s Equestrian you hear,” the Doctor explained, “It’s a gift of the TARDIS: a low-level telepathic field that gets inside your head and translates everything for you.”

“...Come again?” Applejack tilted her head slightly.

“Whoa! Doc! Hold on, there! You mean to tell me your box is in my brain?” Rainbow Dash put her hooves to either side of her ears as the concept seemed to hit home.

“In a good way.” The Doctor sighed, obviously having encountered this reaction before. “All she’s doing is translating things for you and nothing more, don’t worry. It’s simply a perk. As long as you’re in range, you can understand and be understood by any speaking creature we encounter. A fringe benefit of coming along.”

Anything, Doctor?” Twilight was obviously intrigued, one of her biggest concerns about visiting areas outside of Equestria laid to rest with this news, as well as opening up new considerations for her. “Including writing?”

“That’s right. It’s not foolproof, but she’s only met her match twice before: High Gallifreyan and Ancient Daemonic.” The Doctor nodded as the console pinged, bringing his attention back to it. “And on that note, if you ever see words that you can’t read while we’re traveling, bring it to my attention immediately. Ah-ha! And we have a materialization projection course laid in. Hang on, girls! Off we go!”

Pulling a switch without any more warning than that, the TARDIS began to buck and shift yet again, catching Twilight and Applejack off-guard as the two ponies went sliding and falling about, with Rainbow launching herself off the floor and riding out the rolling waves with her flapping wings.

————————
Back alley
The Pony City-state of Roan
25th of Summer, 1491 A.R., 4:02 p.m.

With a lyrical, warping sound, the blue box came into existence tucked away on a cobblestone side street. Overcast skies above, there was nopony in sight as the door of the TARDIS opened and the brown stallion stepped out, three young mares coming out behind him.

“And fourth time’s the charm!” the Doctor exclaimed with a giddy delight. “My word... The similarities are outstanding! Multistory structures of predominantly heavy stone materials, symmetrical designs with Gothic façade and open roofs, absolutely indiscriminate usage of geometric classical styling... It certainly looks the part. Twilight, care to confirm for us?”

“Roan… the Crown City of Astrolia, the Lady Lunar… Center of art, culture, magic, and scientific advances in the most defining age of Equestrian history!” Twilight couldn't contain her excitement as she looked up and around with a sense of wonder.

“Uhh... It’s just a mite closs-tro-pho-bic here, ain’t it?” Applejack observed, looking up the walls of the buildings on either side and noting how the narrow alleyway was barely large enough for the TARDIS to stand and still allow other ponies to pass. “Feels like a maze. Why're the buildin’s so close together?”

Before the Doctor could so much as formulate a response, Twilight jumped to the front of the group, her mouth running on automatic. “At this point in history, there were all sorts of hostilities between the City-state of Roan and the Northern Barbarian Roosts. Protective walls were built around the city to keep them out, and the ponies that moved here just kept building inside the walls.”

“Wait, Northern Roosts? That’s Gilda’s people!” Rainbow spoke up. “You’re telling me they built walls to keep out griffins? That’s kinda dumb, you gotta admit.”

“Well, do keep in mind that the walls serve as launching points for the Roan Centuri-pegasi; the origins of Princess Celestia’s Elite Pegasus Guard. Besides, they're more for practical protection against monsters, anyway. Hydras and chimeras were particularly common around this time period.”

Before the Doctor could inquire as to who "Gilda" was, something else that Rainbow said occurred to him. “Griffins? You have griffins here as well? Hold on just a moment. If I remember my Earth-based mythology correctly, don’t griffins... eat horses?”

Rainbow and Applejack gave the Doctor a puzzled and concerned look, then looked to Twilight urgently as she answered. “Well, according to historical sources, these griffins weren’t exactly friendly…”

“Neither was Gilda,” Applejack reminded her friend, getting a nudge from Rainbow although Twilight let the comment pass.

“…but eating ponies… Ugh, I don’t think so. They weren’t nice, but they also weren’t monsters. Mostly it was territorial disputes and a desire for pony-crafted treasures that motivated them.”

“I see…” The Doctor nodded as they started to move down the alleyway. “You know, this is actually a very nice change. Normally I’m the one giving the tour information, but you know, it’s actually quite exciting not to know the details of what’s going on. It makes every second a new discovery.”

The three ponies started after the Doctor for a moment before a thought occurred to Twilight. “Oh! Wait, Doctor! What about the TARDIS?” Twilight came to a stop, looking back to the blue box that was standing plain as day in the middle of the alley. “Shouldn’t we try to hide it?”

“Yeah, what if somepony tries to break in, or something?” Rainbow shared her friend’s concern as she flew slightly overhead. “Aren’t you worried about what might happen to it?”

“Of course not.” The Time Lord shook his head, intending to set their concerns at ease. “The defenses are up, the perception filter is in place, and the door is locked.”

“Per-sep-shin… what now?” Applejack asked.

“It’s a self-protection system. You see, the TARDIS can use the same telepathic field that it uses to translate for you and subtly tells ponies that see it that it’s not important enough to pay attention to. So, unless a pony is specifically looking for a blue box, they tend to just walk by it without noticing. Even if somebody--”

“SOMEPONY!” Applejack and Rainbow Dash corrected.

“I’ll get that eventually… Even if somepony does notice it, they won’t be able to get inside. They can try all they like -- and believe me, there are those who have -- but there are only two forces I’ve ever encountered that can open that door without a proper key.” The Doctor nodded contently. “And one of them is me.”

“Wait, if it can do that, then why can we see it?” Rainbow asked, pointing a hoof to her eyes. “And what about those ponies that we kept running into on the way here, in Trottingham and Prance and all?”

“Well, you see, when I first came here, Twilight couldn’t help but notice it because it had crashed into the center of her library. I deliberately pointed it out to Pinkie, breaking the perception filter’s effect on her, and just as with you and Applejack, it’s rather hard to miss a blue box appearing out of nowhere when it happens right in front of you. Now that it’s landed and settled though, the filter is on, but since the three of you have been inside of it, that officially makes you time travelers. The TARDIS has identified you as such and lets you see past the illusion.”

“Cool! Hey, I think I see the street!” Rainbow exclaimed, pointing a hoof towards the end of the alleyway.

“Alright, then. Well, come on, girls! Let’s see if we can’t get our bearings, then it's off to find Leonard DiHoovsie!” The Doctor grinned excitedly and started to canter forward at a strong beat. Rainbow rushed forward in the air to keep up with him while Applejack held Twilight back a bit.

“Twi… Just a sec. Ah gotta ask y'all somethin’.”

“Sure, Applejack. What do you need?” Twilight was grinning in spite of herself, as the Doctor’s enthusiasm was downright contagious.

“You’re sure as sugar that we can trust ‘im, right?” Applejack was again feeling conflicted. Torn between her own curiosity to see more of this ancient, beautiful city, and the still-unsettling feeling she had following the Time Pony.

“Applejack, if you want to stay back in the TARDIS, I’m sure that--”

“No! No… it’s not that. Ah jus’… Twi, tell it to me straight: Do y'all trust ‘im?”

Surprisingly, Twilight found herself having to think about her answer to the simple question.

Since the Doctor had come crashing into her life, it had been one crazy event after another. She had been scared more deeply than she had ever been before. She had seen things both horrible and fantastic. Felt a rush of life that rivaled even the celebration of their victory over Nightmare Moon.

Taking a short breath, Twilight answered as sincerely and honestly as she could.

“I do, AJ. I don’t know when exactly that happened and I don’t know why… but I really do,” the unicorn said with conviction. “I can’t figure out the exact reason, but… I’ve seen the things he can do and I’ve seen him jump to the defense of Equestria for absolutely no reason except that it’s the right thing to do. Whatever else I might say about him or as much as I might complain and poke fun... Applejack, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I trust him.”

Looking her friend in the eye for a moment, Applejack nodded, relaxing a bit. “Good ‘nuff fer me.”

“HEY, SLOWPOKES! COME ON!” Rainbow Dash shouted from the street. “WHATCHA WAITING FOR!?”

Looking back to one another again, Applejack and Twilight Sparkle shared a small grin before galloping forward.

Onwards to adventure.

————————

The Lower District Marketplace Bazaar of Roan was normally full of hustle and bustle at this time of year as traveling merchants and local craftsponies touted their wares and goods. Small stalls were set up in rows divided by tall stone pillars while customers -- predominantly earth ponies -- browsed the selection of fruits, breads, luxuries, and crafts. Every one of these ponies was properly covered, even if the dressings were of a less than tidy nature, their midsections wrapped in burlap or coarse wool cloths acting as skirts and rough shirts for mares and stallions, respectively.

One of these ponies, an elderly mare with her grey coat and white mane covered by a shawl and cloak that obscured her from head to hoof, took note of the odd quartet that came moving down the side of the street. An upright and handsome-looking earth pony in a strange brown vest, his backside and cutie mark completely exposed, led a trio of mares: a purple unicorn, an orange earth pony, and a light-blue pegasus. Between the three of them, only the earth pony had a stitch of clothing on her, and even that was only a strange, foreign-looking hat.

“For shame,” the aged mare admonished under her breath, turning away as the ponies drew closer.

Noting how the locals of Roan seemed to be going out of their way to turn their heads and ignore them when they were looking, Rainbow landed and walked alongside the Doctor. “Whoa, I heard ponies say that cloudy skies make ‘em moody, but this is ridiculous! And why are they all dressed up like that?”

“Oh… Oh, no. I forgot to mention,” Twilight realized, looking to one side just as a young colt in a rather filthy-looking smock and set of trousers over his rump looked away, a deep blush on his face. “The Reneighssance was the most self-conscious era of pony history. It was considered ‘uncivilized’ to walk outdoors unclothed, even for the common working pony. In fact, the nobility prided themselves on the lavishness and complexity of their outfits.”

“Heh, maybe we should go back and get Rarity,” Rainbow snickered. “She would love this place.”

“Nah, Ah don't think we should. She’d never wanna leave,” Applejack noted, looking around in time to see a small group of mares giving them dirty looks. “Not very friendly folks, are they?”

“Here’s a tip,” the Doctor offered as he kept moving, his head held high. “Don’t worry about them. Just walk like you belong. You’d be amazed what a little projected confidence can do.”

“Ya know, we don’t normally wear clothes, but the way them colts keep tryin’ ta look over here, Ah’m startin’ ta get a bit… uh... What’s that word, Twi?”

“Self-conscious?”

“Yeah, that. Maybe we should ask around about…” The farm pony stopped in mid-sentence as the Doctor halted in mid-trot right in front of her.

Looking around for a moment, his initial smile had faded, replaced by a determined frown as if he had noticed something upsetting. “Girls, look around... What do you see?”

“A marketplace?” Applejack answered, unsure where the Doctor was going with this.

“A lot of ponies in bad outfits?” Rainbow Dash replied.

“We must be in the Lower District, where the working class ponies live,” Twilight observed.

“Right. A market for goods and services that liven up the day for the common pony. Stands chock-full of fresh-from-the-field foods and lovely trinkets to distract them from their troubles.” The Doctor cast his eyes about the scene. “Dozens of ponies in sight, both customers and sellers, all trudging around in mute submission, going along with their daily lives like there's nothing wrong...”

The three mares looked again, noting how the heads of the ponies around them were hung low, more than a few of them looking around anxiously. Twilight observed as one mare kept her filly moving almost right under her hooves, refusing to let her out from the shelter of her body, while Applejack noted that none of the merchants were speaking up or hawking their wares, something that she herself did on a daily basis to attract attention to the Sweet Apple Acres cart.

“…Except that there is something wrong,” the Doctor pointed out, his hard blue eyes scanning the streets in front of them. “Nobody saying any more than they have to, refusing to acknowledge it and not wanting to talk about it. They don’t talk about what’s wrong... because they already know what’s wrong. Look at their eyes. Something has them all scared. Something they can’t explain and feel powerless to do anything about, and so they try to carry on with their day and pay it no mind.”

Rainbow, noticing how the Doctor had lowered his voice, moved to one side of the Time Pony, now seeing more and more what he was talking about as a nearby stallion had taken notice of her watching and turned around, hurrying at a determined trot away from the strange ponies.

“What is it?” Applejack asked, her tone matching his.

“I don’t know yet…” The Doctor started to move again, cantering a bit more determinedly now down the street towards the center of the market. “...but I intend to find out.”

A short walk later brought the Time Pony and the three mares to a large, ornately-carved marble fountain, shaped in the likeness of a tall, beautiful alicorn rearing on her back legs, a swirling robe adorned with stars carved around her with a masterful talent. Cool, clear water bubbled from reliefs of earth ponies pulling carts that adorned the base of the statue, pooling in a clean stone bowl.

“The earth pony fountain of Lady Astrolia,” Twilight remarked, amazed at how new the fountain looked, the marble white and pure. All of the images of the fountains she had ever seen had the definite look of age and were damaged in one way or another, one missing a whole leg while another had the reliefs defaced in an event that had yet to take place. “One of three nearly identical fountains set around the city of Roan, sculpted by Don a’Tello and enchanted by Astrolia herself to provide clean drinking water to the three outer sectors of Roan.”

“Is it just me…” Rainbow flew up to eye level with the statue. “...or does she look a lot like Nightmare Moon?”

“Now that y'all mention it…” Applejack tilted her head, looking up at the statue.

Turning to the Doctor, Twilight spoke up to alleviate his anticipated confusion. “Nightmare Moon was an alicorn who…” She stopped, blinking as the Doctor walked away from her, paying her no heed. “…who… Doctor?”

“I’ll hazard a guess that these are not part of the artistic charm,” the Doctor said solemnly, bringing the trio of fillies' attentions down away from the amazing sculpture and to the rim under the fountain itself.

Closer to the ground, initially ignored in their appreciation of the larger-than-life effigy of the acclaimed leader of Reneighssance Roan, there were dozens of pieces of parchment; some torn, faded with age and weathering, while others were quite new. And on them were sketches displaying varying degrees of skill: pictures showing ponies of nearly every age and type. Young fillies and old stallions and everything in between, earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns, their names marked along the tops of the posters along with recreated images of cutie marks and descriptions of clothes.

Her eyes widening in recognition of what they were looking at, a faint magical aura surrounded Twilight’s horn as she pulled free several of the most recent additions to the stone, stuck into place by what she assumed was wax or, in some cases, tree sap.

“Lost: Lotta Bragg, unicorn mare. Last seen Twentieth of Spring in the Academia District,” Twilight read aloud while Applejack looked over another.

“Have ya seen this pony? Taggin’ Burly, age thirty-one, green coat, lime mane. If seen, report immediately ta Roan Guard.”

“What the…?" Rainbow shook her head in disgust. "Reward: five hundred ponarri bits for information leading to the recovery of Sing Along, pegasus. Contact Walk Along, Fourteen Timber Way, Craftspony District... Dear Celestia, she’s just a filly. Five years old...”

Twilight looked up from the depressing display. “What happened to them, Doctor?”

“Gone missing...” The Doctor snorted, his tone edged harshly. “Or taken away.”

“But… so many ponies… I’ve never read anything about this! I mean, there must be two or three dozen… Wait, some of these are dated. 1491… this one looks most recent, must be this year. 1490… 1489…” Twilight's eyes narrowed in concern. “This has been going on for years… How could I not know about this!? I’ve read hundreds of books about this period!”

“Another fact of time travel, Twilight: you can’t trust even the most thorough historian to know every detail. And sometimes, things that people want to forget don’t tend to get included in the history books. That goes for ponies too, it would seem. And I would wager that the other two fountains are similarly plastered with these leaflets,” the Doctor soberly observed. “Dozens and dozens of their own people going missing for months and months. The local authority is likely baffled with no suspects and no idea how it’s happening. No wonder those ponies in the market are scared.”

Applejack looked at another poster: An earth pony filly drawn wearing a ribbon that reminded her so much of her own sister…

Putting a hoof to her hat, Applejack’s expression narrowed seriously while she tugged the stetson forward on her head. “We gotta put a stop ta this,” she said bluntly.

Rainbow nodded in agreement, the two of them then looking to Twilight, whose own expression had hardened as well. The stallion watched as, in mute agreement, these three ponies threw down their challenge to the unknown.

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, the Doctor couldn’t help but smile. “Oooohh, I am liking you girls more and more every passing minute,” the Doctor said, clopping his hooves together suddenly. “Alright! So, what do we need? First thing we need are details. What we should do is find somebody--”

“Somepony!”

“EVENTUALLY! Eventually, I will get that! Alright… Somepony who can tell us what’s going on.”

“Okay, what about the Guard? Roan had the first ever organized, dedicated police force that kept order inside the walls,” Twilight informed the Doctor.

“Whoa, hold on, these are the same guards that let this keep happening? Kinda doubt they’ll be talkative," Rainbow objected, speaking out a concern the Doctor would have raised himself. "What about those other ponies, the ones who posted these up? There are addresses right here.”

“Right, cuz they will be? We stick out like a sore hoof. Ah mean, look around us.” Applejack waved a hoof, not afraid of being overheard as anypony that was anywhere near the fountain when they had arrived had long since retreated away from the strangers. Sighing, she tapped her cheek thoughtfully, and although she hated to say it, maybe it was time to take a leaf out of Rarity’s book. “Maybe we oughta get some duds so that the locals will at least talk ta us? Doesn't hafta be nuthin’ fancy.”

“When in Rome, I suppose...” The Doctor shrugged his shoulders, drawing a strange look from the earth pony and pegasus. “Ahem... Never mind. Okay then, we’ll do all three! Twilight and I will find some outfits for you all. Rainbow, you get in the air above the roof-line and keep a lookout for anything strange. Applejack, you stay in the open under Rainbow so that if she sees anything, the two of you can move to help one another.”

“Wait, outfits just fer the three of us? What about you?”

“What are you talking about? I just got this suit and I do rather like it. Besides, I’m not the one getting the stares when I’m not looking.”

At this observation, all three mares blushed profusely.

“Can Ah keep mah hat, at least?” Applejack asked, looking concerned.

“Wouldn’t dream of making you part with it, AJ,” the Doctor assured her. “After all, stetsons are still cool too.”

————————
Craftspony District
The Pony City-state of Roan
4:25 p.m.

“How's he gonna to pay for those clothes, anyway?” Rainbow wondered aloud, keeping herself a good twenty feet above Applejack as the two moved up the street together, like the Doctor had recommended, while he and Twilight went into a tailor’s shop. “It's not like they'd start a tab for him.”

“Shoot, Ah don’t know. Maybe one a’ his pockets is bottomless an’ filled ta the brim with bits,” Applejack mused as she looked around.

This area of the city was even more splendid to look at, obviously being of a greater importance than the residences in the Lower District and allowing for wider streets. But even though the stalls of the market were replaced here with permanent shops advertising everything from fine, hoof-crafted jewelry, to glassware, to finely-stitched garments, it was even more empty than the Lower District market.

“That’s just silly.” Rainbow waved the comment off, but then, after a moment of thinking, added curiously, “...Do ya really think so?”

“Ah don’t know. But Ah wouldn’t be surprised at this point.”

Dropping a bit in altitude, Rainbow came closer to Applejack as she looked over her shoulder. “Say, AJ, do you think there’s anything going on between Twilight and…”

Whew, boy. This was not a conversation that Applejack wanted to have right now. Or ever, for that matter. Thankfully, before Rainbow Dash could even finish, Applejack saw a way out and exploited it.

“Hey! Lookey there! That must be one a’ them guards Twi was talkin’ about.” Applejack came to a dramatic stop as if she had only just noticed the pegasus pony in dull bronze armor.

He was much scrawnier-looking than the Elite Guards that Applejack was familiar with from Princess Celestia’s visits to Ponyville, and the armor, while bronze instead of shining gold, was more encompassing, covering the pegasus’ entire body save for his legs and his wings, the latter of which looked proportionally larger than they should have been on a pony his size.

“Whoa, it's a Sky Warder!” Rainbow Dash looked surprised as she saw the guard. “What’s he doing down here? I heard they never touched the ground.”

“A Sky what-now?”

“Sky Warders; ancient messengers and long-distance fliers. Like, seriously long-distance. Continental long-distance. See his wings? Massive overworking. In Flight School, they taught that those guys never stopped flying, even in their sleep. Didn’t rest on clouds or come to ground at all. They used to hang that over us whenever a student got tired during drills and wanted to take a break. ‘You think you got it hard? Just think of what Sky Warders had to do,’” Rainbow did an impression of a deep-throated stallion for a second before she gave a smirk and pumped a hoof as if in victory. “And yet, there one is, just standing around! Ha! Take that, Professor Cloud! Oh, I gotta talk to him!”

“Talk ta… Rainbow, wait!” Applejack tried to catch her friend, but it was too late. The blue pegasus was already launching forward towards the guardspony.

She had meant to have the guard distract Rainbow from an uncomfortable subject, not make her rush off towards the stern stallion. What was that featherbrain thinking!? Elite Guards back home were strict and more than slightly grumpy at the best of times, and the ones in this day and age were always on guard in an almost constant state of war.

The cowpony could see this one easily getting annoyed with Rainbow’s playfulness, and try to throw her into a stockade, or something. Twilight had said that ponies in Roan always wore clothes, but was that just an unwritten thing now, or were there actual laws against it? Fearing for her friend’s safety, Applejack rushed forward after her.

“Hey! You, there!” Rainbow meanwhile called out to the pegasus.

The guard started to turn, his expression annoyed at first, until he saw the blue mare flapping her wings towards him. His eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open in shock as Rainbow landed.

“Whatcha doin'?” she started to ask in a friendly manner as she walked closer.

“C-Captain!? But what are...!? How did...!?" The guard had turned to face her, but was now walking back fearfully.

It was Rainbow’s turn to look confused, tilting her head. “'Captain'? What are you talking about?”

“I didn’t… I-I mean…” A cold sweat had already broken out on the guard’s face as he backed up, hesitating. He trembled for a few seconds, then threw himself skyward with a panicked cry and made a break at full speed in the opposite direction.

“What in the world…?” Rainbow remained confused for a moment as Applejack caught up with her… until another alarming sound reached her ear, coming from down the alleyway.

————————

*THWACK*
*THUMP*

A red cap hit the ground as its owner went sliding back on the cobbled stones of the the alley next to the cobbler’s shop and hit the back wall with a heavy thud. Nearly collapsing on himself, the pony tried to push back up in spite of the fire that was running through his chest, legs, and head, as four larger earth ponies moved menacingly towards him.

“You just can’t take a hint, can you, signore?” The fifth, center-most figure, a much smaller tan unicorn in a white robe, trotted forward a bit, smiling all the while. “You don’t know when to quit.”

The pony before them managed to shakily get to his hooves again, panting heavily as he looked up in what he hoped was a defiant glare. Judging from the smirks of the surrounding brutes, he somehow doubted it.

“Oh, no reason to cry about it, signore,” the unicorn sneered. “It’s not like you’re losing anything. You’ve got no customers, no commissions, no investors… and no future. Really, at this point, you should be begging to walk away with anything you can get.”

The pony’s heart sank slightly for a moment, but still did not break. “I’m not… finished yet…”

“Stubborn. You must take after your mother’s side of the family. Typical.” The robed unicorn shook his head. “Very well. I’ve been told not to leave any lasting marks… but I suppose a short-term crippling may give you time to think things over.”

Two of the larger earth stallions began to move in as the pony their attention was centered on braced for pain.

Instead, he felt a rush of air and a bracing wind as he was grasped by a pair of athletic forelegs and pushed down the alley, only to come to a sudden stop.

“Hey!” a hoarse, androgynous, angry voice called out, as its owner set him down on the cobblestones. “Pick on somepony your own size!”

The abused, battered pony opened his eyes, trying to look through his wind-swept mane to his savior.

Clad only in her fur coat, an emblem of rainbow lightning highlighting her flank, the mare before him was a sight to behold as she reared back threateningly towards his aggressors, who were more than fifteen meters away now, much farther than the short rush of wind felt. As his eyes fell to her tail and mane, an even greater confusion set in, one echoed by the earth ponies who took a reflexive step back.

“R-Rainbow Sentry…” one uttered in concern, looking to their unicorn leader, whose eyes were wide at the unexpected interference.

“Guard Captain…” another took a breath, obviously less confident than before.

“Rubbish! There are no mares among the Rainbow Sentry!” the unicorn assured them, though, judging by the two steps that he took backwards, it was obvious he wasn’t too sure of that himself. “It’s just some wingling with a fancy dye job.”

Dye job!?” Rainbow Dash flared her wings angrily and brought her hooves crashing to the ground dramatically. In her lifetime, there had of course been the occasional dolt who had claimed that her rainbow locks were fake; the result of a fancy dip in a rainbow stream. And every one of those idiots had been at the receiving end of a Rainbow Dash High-speed Crash shortly afterward.

Still, there were four of these earth ponies, each nearly as large as Big Mac and looking far meaner. But in this instance, she was granted a rare opportunity. The Doctor had said that she would be surprised what a bit of projected confidence could do. Now was the time to see if he was right.

“Who are you calling 'wingling'!?” She puffed out her chest importantly and projected every ounce of confidence she could muster. “That’s Captain Dash, horn-head! And you know what!? I don’t need my armor to run you foals into the ground! You think that first move was fast!? Just try something! I’ll Sonic Bash you dolts right into next week! But I'll tell ya what, since I’m busy getting my gear shined, you can just trot right on out of here and maybe everypony can forget that any of this happened.”

The earth ponies seemed to be buying it, Rainbow's heart soaring as they took a few more steps back. But the unicorn, looking her up and down, seemed more suspicious.

“What on Equis is that accent?” the horned pony inquired. “Where are you from?”

“Hey! Captain Dash does not need to talk about her upbringing to the likes of you! In fact, you know what? I’m starting to think that maybe Captain Dash is being a little too soft with--”

“Uh, Rainbow, yer not a Captai-- Oh...”

Applejack had finally caught up, turning the corner and unfortunately speaking her mind an instant before she had taken in the scene around her: Four brutish-looking ponies the size of her brother looking all angry, with a still-incapacitated yellow-furred pony in a fancy getup behind Rainbow, who was mouthing off to a unicorn in a white robe.

Even though she didn't finish her sentence, it seemed enough to banish the concern from him as he sneered at the orange earth mare.

“Aw, shoot.” Applejack tensed, stepping next to Rainbow Dash and taking up a more defensive posture.

“You see? An impostor!” the unicorn declared, apparently increasing his henchponies’ morale and causing them to step forward with renewed confidence.

“Applejack, do you remember that talk we had about times when you’re too honest for your own good?” Rainbow asked flatly, deflating.

“...Yeah.”

“This, right here. I was talking about this.”

“Dozer, get those shameful madmares out of the way!”

Without so much as a moment of hesitation, the draftspony closest to the unicorn charged suddenly, intending to bowl over the two mares with brute strength.

*KA-POW*

Until he was sent flying back hard and slammed into the wall behind the unicorn, who had to duck under the larger pony’s trajectory..

Meanwhile, Applejack brought her hind hooves back down, turning herself around with a smirk as she crossed her forelegs in a relaxed motion. “Who's next?”

Behind them, the pony Rainbow Dash had rescued looked on in shock, amazed by the two apparently crazed, but formidable mares.

But the unicorn, it seemed, had tired of games, looking angry enough to spit a bit as he brandished his teeth. “That is enough! It doesn’t matter how tough you think you are! There are still five of us and only two of you! You lot, what am I paying you for!? Knock some sense into the failure and put these stupid fillies down for good!”

As the pony Applejack had kicked recovered and moved back into line with his compatriots, the four of them lowered their heads, preparing for a charge. Rainbow and Applejack followed suit, not backing down.

The gang of stallions ground their hooves forward, with the two mares opposite them doing the same.

“CHARGE!” the unicorn cried out angrily.

The four earth ponies launched themselves forward with a powerful whinny. And then stopped, all four of them suddenly hoisted into the air, encased in bubbles of purple energy. Applejack and Rainbow allowed themselves to relax, looking up and recognizing the aura instantly as the four thugs now floated, weightlessly and helplessly, above the unicorn’s head.

“Wha…? How!?” Needless to say, he was stunned.

“Can’t leave you two alone for a minute, can we?” Twilight Sparkle remarked casually as she walked up beside Applejack, her horn aglow as her two friends looked over her body. It was wrapped in a simple, but elegant toga that complimented her frame, covered her well, and yet still managed to leave her cutie mark exposed.

“What? We were just about to have a little fun.” Rainbow Dash smirked, her heart racing. In spite of her words, her expression was one of utmost gratitude to her unicorn friend.

Moving up alongside and then past her, one more pony stepped forward as the unicorn started to recover, his own horn glowing with a soft tan light as he faced off against the odd brown stallion.

The Doctor was not amused.

“Twilight, drop them,” the Doctor said. A simple statement that carried an authority that the pegasus and farm pony had only heard once before, from a princess who had been very disappointed at Twilight’s actions several weeks ago.

Twilight’s horn ceased to glow and four ponies, any one of them more than twice the Doctor’s weight, came crashing to the ground.

“You will leave… now,” he told them flatly, his expression devoid of emotion or mirth.

“You have the gall to give me an ultimatum, ground-pounder!?" the unicorn spouted angrily. "Do you have any idea who I… Why, one word of this to the Guard and I can…”

His eyes then locked on the brown stallion’s and his voice died in his throat. Nothing could describe the wrath and anger that was reflected in those ancient blue eyes.

The stallion’s tone was soft, barely more than a whisper. “What you are is a thug and a bully… and bullies tend to make me cross. Oh, yes. Very… very cross. You see, these are my little ponies you just said to 'put down.'”

In spite of himself, the unicorn began stepping back, his heart pounding and his knees trembling as his eyes remained locked on the earth pony’s, unable to turn away.

“I can assure you… You don't want to see me cross.” The brown stallion blinked and the unicorn found himself gasping for a breath he hadn’t even realized he had been holding. “Understood?”

Right away, the unicorn started nodding furiously. The Doctor then leaned close, almost nose to nose with him.

Run.”

There was no hesitation as the unicorn fell back over himself, slipping against the cobblestone alley for a moment before finding his hooves and galloping away at top speed. His four friends followed his lead, not looking back as they limped off after their apparent employer and still trying to shake off the sudden drop from moments earlier.

The three mares watched as the Doctor turned around, taking a breath and scooping up the hat on the ground before looking up again, seeming more himself with a slight smile.

“Have you been hanging out with Fluttershy, Doc?” Rainbow asked, both impressed and a bit terrified by the effect that the Doctor had.

“No, why?”

“Hey, it’s okay now. They’re gone.” Applejack’s attention had turned back to the other pony in the alley. “Y’alright, sugarcube? Can ya stand?”

The threat now gone, Twilight and Rainbow also turned to face the pony that they had rescued.

“Sí, sí... I think I will be alright... Grazi.” The pony’s accent was thick, much more-so than the other unicorn’s had been, but his voice lightened as he started to stand on wobbly legs. Smaller even than Twilight, the stallion looked about their age, give or take a year or two. In build and posture, he immediately reminded Applejack of her cousin, Caramel, who was always awkwardly fumbling around. Dressed in a complicated outfit of olive greens and greys, a red cape hung awkwardly off his back, tucked into his collar. Wearing brown suede lace-up boots on his back hooves, only his hind knees and forehooves were exposed, revealing a sandy yellow coat under his clothes.

As he raised his head, trying to shake his mind clear of his lingering aches, Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack all took a step back in shock.

“I think you dropped this, signore.” The Doctor moved forward, offering the red beret to its owner, who took it with a grateful nod.

Setting it on his head, he attempted to keep it upright, and the unicorn’s blonde mane, straight with slight waves along either side of his head, held it in place for only a moment before it slumped against one ear, awkwardly propped up by his horn. Although a bit thin, his face was nonetheless handsome with a rather unconventional growth of fur that formed a goatee-like beard a shade darker than the rest of his snout.

“Oh, dear. Apologies, signorinas. Did those brutes leave a mark? How bad is it?” he asked, hoping he didn’t sound too vain.

The three fillies remained quiet for a few seconds longer before Twilight began to stutter softly. “L…L…Leonard DiHoovsie…” Twilight’s heart was just about in her throat.

“Um... yes?” Leonard tilted his head to the side in confusion, wondering if perhaps he was suffering from some sort of mental delay. “I’m sorry, I may have suffered some recent cranial trauma… Have we met, my lady? Oh, wait. I’m not late on a commission for you as well, am I?”

Twilight merely gaped a moment more , looking the pony up and down and making the artist shy back a bit nervously, before the brown stallion moved up alongside the purple mare and brought up a hoof to push her mouth closed.

“Pardon her, slightly starstruck,” he explained fluidly, his tone friendly and jovial. “I’m the Doctor, by the way. Do you happen know why somepony’s trying to kill you?” The Doctor turned to the three mares with a victorious smirk. “See? Told you I would get it eventually.”

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