• Published 25th Aug 2012
  • 10,436 Views, 561 Comments

Lost and Found - Cloudy Skies



AJ and FS are lost, trying to get home. Meanwhile Dash struggles to understand what FS means to her.

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5. Ponyville

Rare were the moments when Ponyville received royal visits. Sure enough, those rare moments were a little less rare after Twilight had relocated to live in the library there, but such visits were still events to be meticulously planned for and around. With one notable exception, one that made Twilight cringe to this day, Celestia always arrived as princesses should; with ample warning, a team of guardponies and a royal host.

Two princesses landing on her porch in the early morning hours; that was decidedly not the norm. At the sound of hooves on wood, Twilight put aside the book that had held her attention and moved to admit them, sparing only a single glance and a wince at the state of her room.

Things were a mess. In the past ten or so hours, she must have gone through half her personal collection. Not knowing what she was looking for, it was a rather useless gesture, but she sincerely doubted she’d missed anything downstairs after her self-imposed exile; as well as her friends meant, none of them knew the least about metamagical theory. That, and when you’d been awake for a full day, being around Pinkie Pie quickly got frustrating.

“Twilight, my faithful student,” Celestia said, smiling in that pleasant and soothing manner nopony else could ever pull off. Backlit by the sunrise, she looked positively radiant as she ducked inside. “We received your letter and came as fast as we could. Are the others here?”

Twilight nodded and moved to give Celestia a brief hug. “Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie and Spike are all downstairs. I—no offense, and I’m glad, but you didn’t have to, uh—”

Her eyes had slipped to Luna, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed. The night princess closed the door behind her with a brief glimmer of magic and raised an eyebrow. Only now did Twilight notice that she carried several large books and tattered scrolls wedged under a wing.

“No offense taken, Twilight Sparkle, but we do believe this concerns us, as well. Where is the object? We much desire to see it,” Luna asked. Something about the way she said it made Twilight’s coat stand on end.

“One step at a time, Luna, please,” Celestia suggested, smiling still as she indicated the door leading to the ground floor. “Shall we?”

Twilight nodded dumbly and led the way with practiced steps. It was absurd, leading a royal procession down from her bedroom like this. She was racking her brain trying to find a scenario in which both of the princesses responding within the hour was a good thing, and she was failing.

When Rainbow and Pinkie had arrived at the library a few hours after Twilight and Rarity had gotten back, they’d hoped it was as simple as Fluttershy and Applejack being slower in getting back home from wherever they’d ended up. Given that Fluttershy wasn’t as proficient a flier as Rainbow Dash, and since the others had appeared in pairs nearby, it wasn’t much of a stretch. There was a tendency, and Twilight had been content with this. A pattern in the nonsense that had occurred, even if the sample size was small.

As dawn broke, Twilight had sent a detailed letter to Princess Celestia, hoping for some insights. None of the girls were strangers to adventure, but this was different altogether, and with every hour that passed, the worry grew.

Down on the main floor, Spike, Rarity and Pinkie Pie were all sleeping by the embers of the fireplace. Pinkie Pie had fallen asleep halfway atop Rarity, and Spike lay by their feet, all in a small pile. Rainbow Dash was pacing, looking up as Twilight and the princesses entered the room. When she saw Celestia and Luna both, she sketched a quick bow whilst glancing a query at Twilight. Twilight could only shrug.

“Hey, girls, Spike, wake up,” Dash called, before lowering her voice a little. “What’s going on, princess? Uh, princesses, I guess.”

Celestia shook her head gently as she moved to the center of the room, waiting for the others to wake. Once Dash poked her, Pinkie was up on her hooves and beaming brightly in a second. No doubt, she was thrilled to see so many princesses so soon again after the wedding. Rarity was furiously yet covertly straightening her mane, and Spike rushed to Twilight’s side.

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what happened,” Celestia finally said. “And we are very glad you are safe.”

“Indeed, we are, Princess,” Rarity said. “But—”

“Is this it?” Luna interrupted. The princess of the night stood in front of a cooking pot upended in the middle of the circle of pillows.

“Yeah,” Spike confirmed, taking a few steps towards the ominous kitchenware. “I heard a noise, and when I came downstairs, everypony was gone. I saw that freaky glowing whatever-it-is, so I took care of it!”

Rainbow Dash snickered. “By covering it with a pot. What a hero.”

“I think he was super brave!” Pinkie said. “When you don’t have war-pies or battle bread, pots are a great defense!”

“I still don’t understand what could cause glittercoal to have such a violent reaction to a light spell,” Twilight said, desperately trying to steer the conversation back on track. “I thought I’d wait for you to check, but there are no properties of glittercoal that explains this!”

“This is no lump of coal, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna muttered, her voice crackling with barely restrained anger. Twilight made to warn her, to tell her to be careful—anything similarly useless—but the night princess flicked the pot clean into the kitchen with a burst of magic. A second later, she gripped the hidden object in her aura, hovering it before her snout.

“It—it isn’t?” Twilight finally managed. Luna paid her no mind, and Celestia closed her eyes. Desperately, she sought her friends. Rarity stared, Pinkie Pie tilted her head a solid ninety degrees, and Spike shrugged. Rainbow Dash’s mouth hung open as the pegasus glanced every which way.

“I told you to fetch—” Twilight began.

“Thingy on the table by the blinking whatever, yeah!” Dash snapped. “I did!”

“Two months hence, we released this from our study on your insistence because your student wished to research it,” Luna growled. “And now, this?”

In an instant, the blood in Twilight’s veins was replaced with ice. She stepped closer, but she already knew what the little object was. “The other table,” she hissed. “The other table, not the one by the magimeter, Rainbow.”

“How the hay was I supposed to know?” Dash protested, paling.

“Guys, what’s going on? Hi, hello? What’s with the angriness?” Pinkie asked, frantically waving a foreleg in the air.

“Anger,” Twilight automatically corrected her.

“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” Rarity admitted.

“Sister, we are going to go confirm our theory. We shall be right back,” Luna said, locking eyes with Celestia for one brief moment while depositing her books onto a nearby table. Celestia nodded, and just like that, the princess of the night left. Before anypony could question her, Luna galloped out the door and took off with such force that the door rattled on its hinges.

The budding tension in the room was palpable. Eyes flitted between Twilight and Celestia both, four sets of eyes bearing varying degrees of confusion and frustration.

“The thing,” Twilight began, sitting down on her rump and facing her friends. “It wasn’t the coal I meant to use. It was a piece of Nightmare Moon’s armor. I asked Princess Celestia if I could study it, so she had it delivered. I’ve run a few tests, but nothing suggested—I mean, it’s never done that before.”

She knew why. Rather, she knew what was different from all the other times she’d cast spells on it and interacted with the armor shard. Without thinking, her eyes drifted to the six jewelry pieces, the Elements, where they still lay on the nearby pillows. As she watched, they were all enveloped in a golden light, floating over to hover in front of Princess Celestia. The alicorn was utterly expressionless as she deposited them on a nearby table.

Twilight had expected a comment. She feared that the princess would be angry with her, or even worse, disappointed. She scanned her mentor’s eyes for any signs of disapproval, but there was absolutely nothing there. Still, she couldn’t keep quiet after Luna’s reaction.

“We shouldn’t have brought them out,” Twilight blurted. “It was wrong, if that’s what caused this, and now Luna—”

“Luna is angry with herself,” Celestia interrupted. “And that is not something you should worry about. Nopony could have foreseen this. I don’t blame you. I don’t blame any of you,” she continued, seeking their eyes one by one. Twilight’s heart caught in her throat as she made herself nod. The silence held while Celestia led the ponies over to the fireplace, sitting down only after the others were all settled.

“Where are they?” Dash asked, voice hoarse. “If they were far away, like in Appaloosa or something, couldn’t they have sent a message?”

“Like I said, that is what we are still trying to figure out,” Celestia replied, levitating over the volumes and scrolls that Luna had brought. Twilight tilted her head and scanned the titles.

History of Cloudsdale,” she read aloud. “‘Architectural trends and masonry topics of the early days’. How is this supposed to help?”

“I shared the letter with Luna the instant I got it. She has a theory and is seeking to confirm it right now. If you listen, I will explain.”

“Listen? Shouldn’t we be out there looking for them?” Dash protested. “They could be anywhere!”

“As fast as you are, Rainbow Dash, you cannot search all of Equestria alone,” Celestia said with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “And besides, that may not be enough.”

“Then stop speaking in riddles!” the pegasus cried.

Twilight glared at Dash, and Rarity look mortified, but if Celestia took offense, she showed none of it. The princess opened various books and lay them out in a semicircle around herself as she went on.

“In the letter, you say that you two—” Celestia indicated Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, “Ended up in Cloudsdale. Cloudsdale is very old, but what very few ponies know is that the first clouds that went into its construction, the core clouds, are older still. Older by far,” she said, launching into that rhythm, that manner of speech that Twilight recognized from countless lectures.

“Stable clouds like those are rare, and some speculate that they were brought in from someplace else, gathered over hundreds or even thousands of years. Some speculate,” she repeated with a small smile. “Some know. At any rate, Luna had the idea of inspecting the stones at the old castle for something similar.”

“You think the stone was similarly... imported?” Rarity asked.

“That sounds rather inefficient,” Twilight remarked.

“Not quite, but a few cornerstones may have been brought along as a symbolic act, and such stones may be old as civilization itself, just like the clouds. I suspect they may be from the kingdoms that only thousands of years later became Equestria.”

The room became deathly quiet. When Rainbow Dash made another token protest, it was with far less conviction. “Yeah, well, okay. So where are they?” she asked, again.

Before Celestia had the chance to reply, the room darkened a smidgen. It was as if though somepony muted all the lights for a moment, and with a sound not unlike a small thunderclap, Luna appeared in the middle of the room. The alicorn entered mid-stride out of nowhere, throwing to the ground an unremarkable square stone with rounded edges. The rock cracked the woodwork where it landed, but the night princess paid it no heed.

“They are the same,” Luna declared. “It is as we suspected.”

“You’re being rather dramatic. You could have flown or used the door,” Celestia offered.

“You feel time is a luxury we have, sister?” came the reply, voice sharp. Celestia sighed and turned away from her sister to once again face the little fireplace assembly.

“We think that you were sent to these locations because they are keyed to you. The clouds of Cloudsdale are the same as those that have been the heart of pegasus society since its birth. The same is true of the forgotten castle. Before Nightmare Moon—” Celestia explained, and Twilight automatically glanced at Luna at the mention of the name. The night princess did not so much as flinch. “—the castle had significance to the unicorns. All ponies, really, but the unicorns had brought parts of their first home with them.”

Luna nodded at her sister’s words, once again levitating up the armor shard. It looked very different in the light of day, but it was easy to see how she could have made the mistake in her haste and in the darkness. The flat, bent piece rotated in Luna’s grip as she stared at it with thinly veiled loathing.

“This is not us anymore,” she muttered. “But it remembers. Hatred has seeped into this thing, and when it felt the Elements, it lashed out in fear. Sought to throw you as far away as possible. Distance and time, either or both. It’s not self-aware, but clearly it is potent.”

Pinkie Pie’s eyes were wide, and an unsettling grin spread across her face. “Oh wow, Dashie, you weren’t kidding when you said I’m not an earth pony. I’m totally a pegasus! You’re smart!”

Rainbow Dash only blinked, but Twilight caught on. While she remembered the joking comment from Rainbow to Pinkie back at the spa, there was something that didn’t add up with the theory the princesses proposed.

“Why Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie? Why Applejack and Fluttershy?” she asked. “Rarity and I, we ended up in the castle because we’re unicorns, but why them? Pinkie Pie isn’t a pegasus.”

Pinkie Pie deflated and pouted at Twilight.

“The Elements have a very long history,” Celestia explained, her eyes drifting to rest on the last of the glowing embers in the fireplace. With a flare of her horn, she re-lit it, flames burning brightly again with no fuel at all.

“When Equestria was founded, there were no bearers. What we found out then was that they are, or were tied to the different ponies, earth ponies, pegasi and unicorns all. When I, ah, found you six, recently, I was surprised. I had thought that connection was solid.”

“It seems I was wrong. Perhaps it is proof of how far Equestria has come, that the Elements and the virtues do not feel so confined to the tribes that birthed them.”

“Feel?” Spike remarked, squinting at the jewelry pieces where they lay on the table nearby. “The Elements are alive?”

“Not quite, Spike,” Celestia smiled. “But there may be a grain of truth to that. At any rate, as special as you all are, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie are quite unique in this respect.”

Pinkie Pie giggled and grinned at what she no doubt saw as the highest compliment ever given, but Rainbow Dash was quick to jab a hoof in the princess’ general direction.

“What are you trying to say, huh? What do you mean ‘unique’?”

Luna sighed. “She means to say nothing except that Fluttershy is an amazingly kind pony who exemplifies a lot of virtues traditionally associated with earth ponies, thousands of years ago, before the pony tribes started mingling in earnest.”

Rainbow Dash stared at Luna, then over at Twilight.

“No, it’s not an insult, Rainbow,” Twilight said.

“I knew that,” Dash muttered.

“Oh, oh, and does this mean I can fly?” Pinkie asked, hopping on the spot. “I’ve tried, but it’s really hard like you wouldn’t believe without balloons or something!”

“I would say no, but I would not put it past you to surprise me, either,” Celestia chuckled, glancing down at the books splayed out in front of her. All the while as they talked, she kept turning the pages of multiple books, evidently reading snippets here and there.

“Don’t encourage her,” Dash groaned.

Rarity cleared her throat. “So. The symmetry may not be perfect, but this all seems very simple. We need to go get them from wherever the earth ponies made their landing here in Equestria, then.”

“That was the idea,” Celestia murmured, a rather unsettling frown crossing her face. “The problem is, we found very little in the royal library on the topic.”

“It is as we said. Earth ponies have always believed in giving back to nature, in a cyclical approach. It is likely they brought nothing,” Luna retorted. “We told you this.”

The ponies in the room exchanged a set of glances. Those who didn’t make the same mental connections Twilight did picked up on the tone of the voices of the royals in the room.

“So they could be anywhere?” Rarity asked, aghast.

“No,” Twilight interrupted, eyes on Celestia as she preempted her mentor’s response. She’d read more than one volume on the subject of pre-Equestrian history, and they all said the same. Rather, they all had topics on which they had precious little to say at all.

“Not anywhere. A specific somewhere, but a somewhere that nopony knows of, any more. They could be back in the cradle of earth pony civilization.”

Celestia chewed her tongue. It was a ridiculous, mundane gesture that seemed entirely out of place on her, but at length, she finally nodded, once. “That is one theory,” she admitted.

“Well, where is it?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Just point me in the right direction.”

“I couldn’t say for sure,” Celestia admitted, averting her eyes.

“You don’t remember?” Twilight asked, and before she knew what she was doing, she found herself frowning at Princess Celestia, her mentor and ruler. Something about this was very odd.

“We still need to go look for them!” Dash shot. Pinkie nodded vigorously.

“You don’t seem to understand the gravity or the scope,” Luna said. “We don’t even know where to start, whether we go east or west, north or south. The world beyond the borders has changed.”

“So we’ll need lots of ponies to help!” Pinkie said.

Luna rubbed a spot between her eyes with a hoof. “You are still missing the point—”

“Then you do something!” Dash suggested. “You’re princesses, you’re super-magical and awesome, right? Can’t you just cast a spell or whatever?”

Twilight sank further down between her cushions. Spike leaned a little closer and Rarity looked every bit as lost as she did as the little quarrel escalated. These were words Twilight herself wanted to say, but she knew the possible counterarguments, too.

“It’s not that simple,” Celestia said, confirming her fears. “There are politics to consider. The Griffin Kingdoms are still unstable after the last change in leadership, and many of our neighbours would take it as an act of aggression should Luna or I enact some great spell.”

“So you’re not gonna help us?” Pinkie Pie asked, blinking. “But—”

“There is nothing to help with, until we decide on matters,” Luna said. “You are not to leave Equestria’s borders.”

“Oh yeah? Says who?” Dash asked, puffing out her chest.

“I realize you’re trying to be sensible here, but you cannot expect us to sit idly by if you think Fluttershy and Applejack are stranded,” Rarity chimed.

It was all Twilight could do to hold her tongue and watch as it devolved. Before long, it looked as if though it would turn into a shouting match. Dash was alternating between challenging the princesses and sulking, Pinkie Pie was talking too fast for anypony to actually catch what she was saying, and Rarity was stuck trying to mediate between the other two and the princesses who didn’t quite represent a unified front themselves.

Twilight shook her head slowly and sighed, her ears drooping. At her side, Spike was looking up at her, seeking her attention. Perhaps he was hoping for answers or support, but she had none to give.

“Enough!”

Celestia rose to stand. It wasn’t quite a shout or a yell, but it did the trick; the sun princess scanned the room as they all, to the last pony, quieted down.

“I understand you are worried,” she said, her frown slowly melting and giving way to a gentle smile. “It is testament to the strength of your bonds, and that in itself is something wonderful. Still, we cannot act. Not yet. Trust in your friends, and take care of each other. Luna and I will do what we can. For now, we must return to Canterlot.”

Twilight tried to give Celestia a smile, but the corners of her mouth weren’t cooperating. The sun princess leaned down to nuzzle her and nodded to the others. “Take care, my little ponies. I am sure it will all be fine in the end.”

Luna looked less convinced. The younger of the two sisters nodded curtly and followed Celestia as the pair made for the door. Five pairs of eyes followed them as they barely cleared the threshold before taking wing. It was only once they were out of sight that the dam truly broke.

“So, they intend to do nothing, yet they’re convinced it will be ‘fine’?” Rarity asked, arching a brow as she turned to Twilight. “Is that supposed to be comforting?”

“I don’t know, you know as much as I do, you saw me send the letter,” Twilight retorted. While Rarity nodded and seemed placated, Rainbow Dash was still looking at her, and the pegasus did not look pleased. “Okay, what?” Twilight asked, some of the irritation, the fear and the helplessness creeping into her voice.

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Nothing,” she muttered, looking away. “Okay, I’m just gonna go take a nap, and then I’ll start looking.”

“Look, Princess Celestia said they’re probably not even in Equestria,” Twilight said, sighing.

“I’ll help,” Pinkie said, perking up.

“I, as well,” Rarity added.

“You’ll just slow me down,” Dash snorted, completely ignoring Twilight. “I’ll begin with the mountains or something, I don’t know.”

“Aw, well, I can start looking in Ponyville, I guess?” Pinkie suggested, cupping her chin in a hoof. “You never know. Maybe they’re at Sugarcube Corner enjoying a snack?”

“At the very least, let me, ah, knit you a scarf, perhaps?” Rarity asked, clearing her throat.

“Are you even listening?” Twilight cried. “It’s pointless!”

“So you’re gonna sit around and do nothing?” Rainbow Dash asked, crossing her forelegs. It was impossible to read her, to determine whether there was an accusation in there somewhere. Pinkie and Rarity were looking at her as well, but none of them said what Twilight thought they would say. What she wanted them to say.

None of them blamed her, even though she was the one who had cast the spell. None of them pointed out that it was her fault.

Twilight opened her mouth to reply, but what could she say? Princess Celestia and Luna both had admitted they had no real plan yet. Not long ago, she would have been content to let her mentor handle this, but now? It didn’t take long before she realized she couldn’t rest easy like that anymore.

At length, Twilight took a deep breath and let her eyes rove over the library’s different sections, her brain shifting into gear.

“No,” Twilight finally said. “I’m going to ask Luna to return the shard that caused this, and I am going to figure out how this happened. When I know that? I’m going to figure out how to bring our friends back.”