• Published 18th Oct 2019
  • 9,880 Views, 539 Comments

Time Enough For Three - Valtyra

Twilight finds herself wanting to know more about Celestia and Luna. So she ends up time travelling!

  • ...

Arc 1: Chapter 10

Despite that rocky re-introduction, the group had fallen into relative silence, with only the sounds of their hoofbeats to keep them company. Twilight, for the most part, had been able to keep her emotions in check. She was so unbelievably happy to see the two younger Princesses that she was worried that her heart would burst.

Yet, her emotions were not reciprocated like that of the older, wiser Princesses. They were rebuked and met with suspicion and anger, causing a swirl of negative thoughts to surface inside her. Twilight knew they were baseless, but they still stung and removing them would take a hell of a lot more work than it took to gain them.

Not that Twilight really cared a whole lot; she still had her Princesses back in the present, if all went well.

Looking out across the rocky landscape, she frowned ever so slightly to show her displeasure at fate. Nopony but the other Princesses would have even noticed it. How many times had she really tempted the fickle mare? Too many times by her own count. No, if she was going to see them again, she would take fate into her own hooves.

This also pushed a familiar thought into her head, one which consistently provided a migraine each time: If she was here and they had succeeded, was she simply going through the motions and her own free will was simply an illusion, akin to a book that had already been written? Was she doing this because she had done so in the past?

Ruffling her wings, she glanced back at the sisters and her frown fading upon seeing them talking to each other. They were obviously trying to keep it secret, considering even Twilight couldn’t hear them, but it was nice to see the pair so close and with Celestia’s revelation that closeness took on a whole new meaning for the Alicorn.

With a tense sigh, she rolled her neck to turn her attention to Sunset, who seemed to be in her own little world, judging from the way that she had spent much of the walk muttering runic equations.

“Are you okay?” Twilight asked, slowing down so that Sunset was next to her. “I must apologize for my prior dishonesty. I was convinced that admitting such a thing wouldn’t be beneficial to any pony.”

Sunset blinked as she was pulled out of her own head and gazed up at the Alicorn. “Oh, it’s quite alright, Moonlight” she replied, her tail flicking a little. “Though, it was quite the surprise. I am a lucky mare to have met you when I did.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Twilight remarked, shaking her head. “Those ponies were looking for me for some reason. I inadvertently brought them to the town and possibly destroyed valuable research.”

“It’s just research, Moonlight. It can be remade. What’s important is that you three are safe.”

Twilight looked unsure of what to say but settled with glancing back at the sisters. “I should speak with them, shouldn’t I?” she asked, turning back to the front and grimacing at the thought of seeing them angry at her again.

Sunset hummed, then nodded. “If you still want them as friends, yes- yes you should. It’ll be a long walk to Springwallow anyway. Plenty of time to discuss our plan once we arrive.”

With a tenuous sigh, Twilight slowed and fell in line beside the sisters.

Seeing their escort pull back to walk with them, they hushed up. “You’ve been quiet for a while there, Moonlight,” Luna asked, showing her concern. “Head in the clouds?”

In that instant, her awkwardness was gone. A low groan left the Princess as she looked over to Luna, who was grinning and rolled her eyes. “I’m not even that much taller than you, Moon Butt,” she huffed, before a slight smile appeared to show she wasn’t really that annoyed at the tease.

Luna smirked while Celestia was left stunned by Twilight’s attitude shift. Her eye travelled across Twilight’s body, appraising the changes that she had revealed barely half a day prior. “I still can’t believe that you’re actually one of us,” she exclaimed, her eyes lingering on the mare’s strong wings. “We didn’t think anypony else could have existed. But I guess the world is massive and we are but two ponies.”

“From what you said, you had only spent most of your lives travelling in this area,” Twilight added. “The world may be massive- no, the world is massive, but I’m sure it holds secrets that are only for our eyes.”

“Other Alicorns, I hope,” Luna spoke up as she moved to Twilight’s other side. “If you were out there, then maybe there’s others?”

Twilight quickly glanced away, her brain shooting off warnings. "Maybe-" she replied, "Maybe we'll find some on our travels."

"That would be great. 'Tia and I were so pleased to meet another immortal. How did you ascend?" Luna asked, brushing up against Twilight's side.

Despite Luna's optimism, Celestia didn't show the same glee. She was looking out across the horizon in front of them, her ears flicking every so often to indicate that she was still listening, if only slightly.

Twilight felt as if she had broken all of the trust that Celestia had shown her in the college and that hurt. It cut deeper than any dagger and made her wish that she had never come back. Unfortunately, she had a job to do, whether the sister's wanted her or not.

Switching her gaze back down to Luna, Twilight tried to put on her best smile for the mare. She knew that lying to her wouldn't be the best way to start this new chapter in their relationship, but she couldn't simply tell her the truth.

"I kind of helped my teacher with a spell that went wrong. I didn't know it, but I think she had planned for me to ascend, but it's hard to tell with her sometimes."

Luna giggled and glanced over to Sunset, who had begun to mutter to herself. "I know the feeling."

Several hours of walking later and the group had decided that it would be best to settle down for the night, just as Luna's moon peeked out from under the horizon. One by one, the night sky was filled with bright stars and Twilight couldn't help but marvel at the sight. None of the constellations were the same and she felt grateful to have seen Luna's early work. Slowly, as the night deepened and Twilight was honoured with nebulae slicing across the sky.

Having found their own cosy clearing, they had taken to camouflaging the area from any bandits which might have been taking advantage of Stonewall's defencelessness. Quickly building up the foliage around them, the ponies had bundled up to help Sunset survive through the night. While they were resistant to the cold; she was not.

Twilight was in the middle of the bundle, her wings outstretched to cover Sunset up in fluffy warmth while Celestia snuggled up beside Sunset on the other side. Luna had quickly found her way to the other side of Twilight and was happy as can be under her own blanket.

"Warm enough for you?" Twilight asked, looking down at Sunset.

"Oh, yes. Your wings insulate quite well. Not to mention they’re soft."

"You never said mine were soft," Celestia mumbled, rolling her eyes.

"Well, you never asked."

Twilight giggled and rested her head on her forelegs, feeling rather tired from the fact that she had essentially been awake for two whole days. "Let's get some rest. It's going to be a long day of walking tomorrow," she yawned, then turned to look at Luna. "It's a lovely night."

"Oh, thank you," she stammered, looking away. "I made it just before we lost control."

Twilight watched Luna's reaction for a second, then closed her eyes.

It didn't take long for her to fall asleep, but it took even less time for her to wake up again when Celestia's sunlight filtered through the canopy and struck her directly on the face. Letting out a groan, Twilight opened her eyes and instantly clenched them shut, feeling her eyes water from the eyeful of light.

Bringing a wing up, she covered her face and opened her eyes once again. Looking around at the ponies, she saw Sunset had cuddled up tightly to her side for warmth, with Celestia having trapped her with her body. Luna, on the other side, was sleeping silently, a subtle smile adorned on her face.

For the first time since arriving back, she felt calm. There wasn't any lying to the Princesses, there wasn't any strange cult trying to kill or capture her, there was just calm.

Unfortunately for her, that calm would have to end and they would need to start on their journey once again. Using her wings, she gently rocked Celestia awake, allowing the small peace that they had obtained to talk to her. "Celestia?"

"Hm, what?" the mare mumbled, slowly opening her eyes. "Moon?"

"Yeah, uh-" Twilight began, taking the wing away and wrapping it securely around Sunset. "I thought we should talk a little. About yesterday, I mean."

"What about it?"

"I know I apologized already, but I didn't want to break your trust. I just didn't know how you'd react and not every pony I've interacted with have been as nice to me as you have."

Blinking, Celestia looked down at the ground and sighed. "I still trust you. It's just a lot to take in. Honestly, I should have seen it from the beginning. No pony is just immortal."

"Yeah, that would have been obvious under different circumstances I guess," Twilight said, shrugging.

Celestia smiled and nodded. "I'm glad I met you, Moon. Not just for saving us, but for coming along." She nodded her head towards Luna. "I think Luna needed something to believe in."

Twilight turned to look at Luna, then back at Celestia. "I said it at the College, but I'll keep you two safe, no matter what. If that means traveling across the world and knocking some sense into whoever stole your sun, I will."

"Well, we better get to it. It's nearly noon," Celestia giggled, rising up from the ground and stretching out.

Watching Celestia only spurred Twilight on. Unfortunately for the ponies cuddled up to her, that meant a quick dose of cold when her wings furled up.

"Come on you two!" Twilight giggled, rocking the pair with her hood when they stood up. "We should get going."

"Another five minutes, 'Tia," Luna grumbled, then let out a huff as her eyes opened. "Fine..."

Sunset shivered at the lack of wing and kept close to Twilight in hopes that some warmth would transfer. "What time is it?" she asked, looking around at the Alicorns.

"Just about noon. How far is it to Springwallow?" Celestia asked, rolling her wing around her sockets.

Sunset frowned in thought. "At our current pace, we should arrive in the morning. That's assuming we walk through the night?"

"How long would it take if we fly?" Twilight asked, unfurling her wing and wrapping it around Sunset.

The mare smiled gratefully and let out a hum. "I guess we'd get there faster... maybe about late evening if we fly. You would have to carry me, of course."

"That goes without saying," Twilight replied, rubbing the mare to warm her up. "I should be strong enough to hold you. If not, I could always just cast a cloud-walking spell on you and push the cloud."

"You- you can do that?!" Sunset gasped, looking up at Twilight in awe.

"Would you like to learn it?"

"Yes please!"

Twilight chuckled, then blasted off into the sky to collect a sufficiently large cloud for the Unicorn to test the spell on. As the group began to walk once again, Twilight recited the cloud-walking spell to Sunset as she carried it between her outstretched wings.

"Alright, make sure that you firmly flow your magic through you. Don't miss a single part of you, or the spell will collapse," Twilight explained.

"I... It's a bit hard without actually looking at the spell itself, Moon," Sunset grunted as her horn glowed bright and a bead of sweat trickled down her brow from the exertion. "Nearly there, I think!"

"Good, keep going. You'll feel a tingle pass over you if you did it right!"

With a pop, Sunset's glow travelled down her body, covering her with a skintight, transparent layer, which quickly faded from view.

She inspected her legs and spin around to check her body and jumped with joy, laughing. "It actually works!" she gasped, looking up to Twilight, before she settled down quickly, a flush appearing in her face. Upon seeing Twilight's warm smile, she cleared her throat and shrugged. "Would you kindly pass me that cloud."

Giggling, Twilight did as she was asked and let go, so it floated back, only for Sunset to stop it with her hoof.

"Looks like it worked," Luna said, smiling.

"How long does it last for?" Celestia asked. "Will it last until we get to Springwallow?"

Twilight shook her head. "The spell, when cast by a unicorn only lasts about half a day. But you can renew it while we're flying."

"Okay," Sunset nodded, hesitantly pressing down on the cloud and watching it spring back up after. "This is unreal. It's too soft!" Climbing up, she felt the cloud tilt under her weight and lowered herself onto it. "But it's not very stable, is it?"

"Pegasi quickly get used to it. Plus, they're lighter than unicorns," Twilight replied. "Remember to hold on though. We'll probably be flying quite fast."

Sunset nodded once again and made sure to tighten her grip on the water vapour. "Done. Let's go. I wouldn't want to be out here at night again."

Twilight quickly scooped up the cloud and began to rise up into the sky with the help of her powerful thrusts. The princesses followed behind, making sure that they would be ready in case the unicorn accidentally fell off.

"Follow the trail for now. We'll eventually come to a crossroads, take a right when we do!" Sunset shouted over the sound of the wind. "The city's built in an impact crater on the side of a mountain. You'll know when you see it!"

The group pushed on throughout the day, only stopping for a quick rest and a water break. But after several more hours, Sunset suggested that they land and travel into the city by hoof.

Settling down, Sunset jumped off her cloud and stretched. "Alright, so we're nearly there. The city will be just over those few hills," she explained.

"Why can't we fly in?" Twilight asked, looking around.

"One main problem," Sunset began as she started to walk towards the hills. " that Gryphon's have been especially hostile so the guards will fire at anything that flies by, be it Pegasi or otherwise."

"Oh, that sounds bad," she mumbled, not enjoying the project of having to wade through a war to get to their goal.

Cresting the hill, Twilight laid eyes on Springwallow. The city itself was built inside an Asteroid impact crater which had hit the side of the mountain. That normally wouldn't be so strange, considering Canterlot, but the asteroid was still embedded at the center of the city, pulsing gently with a warm orange glow that seemed to radiate warmth.

Most of the built-up areas were directly around the rock, with at least half of it covered up by noble houses that spread upwards rather than outwards. The majority of the rock was covered in scaffolding and metallic cables that covered the city in a spider-web.

Nearing the base of the mountain, Twilight spotted a tall archway carved out of the side, with soldiers and barricades set up to cover the entrance. Plenty of Pegasi soldiers were patrolling around above the group, keeping a close eye on them.

Thirty paces off, one of the Earth Pony stallions, clad in a gleaming iron armour, raised their sword and shouted, their voice rough and gravelly, "Halt! Identity yourselves!"

Twilight stepped forward and deftly lowered herself into a respectful bow. "My name is Moonlight and my travelling companions are Celestia, Luna and Sunset Swirl!" she called back.

"State your business!" he ordered, just as several Pegasi dropped from the sky to surround the ponies, their spears pointed at them.

Seeing the spears, Twilight took a step back. "We require shelter. Stonewall was attacked and our home was destroyed!"

Upon hearing that, murmurs began to spread around the soldiers and the Pegasi looked at each other, unsure of what to do.

The soldier sighed. "Come on through," he ordered and the Pegasi scattered, returning to their previous patrols.

The ponies neared the grand entrance, each of them, barring Sunset, were taking in the sight of the intricately carved archway with glee.

As they passed by the first set of barricades, the Solder rushed up to them, a grim expression on his face. "My apologies," he said, a trim expression on his face. "We received word that the town was attacked and rallied the fortifications. Are there any other survivors?"

Twilight shook her head. "Not sure, sir. I would presume there will be, but they will take much longer than we did to get here."

A sigh left the Pony's mouth, but he took a deep breath and relaxed. "At least you four made it," he said, gesturing to all of them. "Sorry, I'm not entirely familiar with what you three are."

"Oh, we're Alicorns," Luna chimed in, fluttering her wings.

"Alicorns? Hm, that's new," he muttered, eyeing them up. "Either way, you're free to enter the city, but don't make any trouble, okay? The last thing the guard need is more trouble on their watch."

"We'll try our best, sir..." Celestia trailed off.

"Oh, how rude of me. My name is Silver Tongue. Captain Silver Tongue," he replied, scooping up Celestia's hoof and placing a single, delicate, kiss on it.

"Charmed," she giggled, pulling away. "Thank you, Silver."

Twilight and Luna frowned at Celestia for a second, then glanced at each other, realising what they were doing and looked away.

"You said you were looking for shelter, right? There's plenty of inns scattered about. Though, they will be a bit pricey, on account of the Gryphons."

"What have they done now?" Sunset asked, venom oozing from her words.

"Same old. They launch predictable raiding parties on us. But lately they've been stepping it up with new weapons. We've been losing a lot of good Ponies to them."

Twilight glanced from Silver to Sunset and saw the pair of them holding the same long stare at the ground. Filing it away for later, she cleared her throat.

"I think it's high time we enter the city," she suggested, grinning. "I can't wait to see that crystal from up close. The magical resonance must be insanely high!"

With a giggle, the rest of them followed twilight into the city, leaving Silver to watch them, until he too was forced back to work.

Walking through the other side of the archway, the four ponies found themselves on the edge of the city; a great mishmash of shanty-towns having crashed together.

Around them, the buildings were several levels high and only seemed to rise higher and higher the closer to the centre they were built.

The majority of the buildings were constructed out of stone, but some of the lower buildings were built out of iron and steel, with various sheets having been bolted together for walls.

The group wandered through the packed streets, looking for an Inn to stay at for the night.

Twilight couldn't help but be amazed at the sheer ingenuity of these ponies. Each city seemed more and more strange. Though, knowing that these places like this wouldn't be here in the future left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Yet, just as the day was fading, the whole city lit up in the glow of the crystal.

Raising a hoof to cover her eyes, Twilight lowered it slowly after a second to find the glow not as overbearing as she thought it would have been.

Celestia and Luna gasped, then brushed up against Twilight in awe. "It's beautiful," Celestia whispered. "I feel like a fool for not leaving Trottington. If there's sights like this out here."

"At least you're here now. Who knows, maybe we'd get to see a lot more after we finish?"

"That would be nice, wouldn't it? I don't think I'd enjoy staying in one place after leaving."

"Oh, I don't know. I'm sure the right motivation would come along."

Celestia stated at a Twilight for a few seconds, then looked back at the Crystal. "We really need somewhere to sleep. Unless you wish to be a vagrant."

Sunset pushed through the middle of them. "Let's find one then! Then you two can get a room," she joked, winking and causing the two ponies awkwardly look away, rubbing their legs almost identically.

"Celestia and Moon sitt-" Luna sang, but a quick, white, wing to the face forced her to stop.

Twilight giggled, then followed Sunset up the street, ignoring the frowns at having blocked other ponies.

Thankfully for Twilight, being slightly taller than every pony else was a huge help as she quickly found an inn off to the side: The Prancing Pony.

Opening the door, the ruckus of laughter, banter and playfulness filled the air, helping Twilight’s mood improve. The combined scents of fresh cooking and the warmth of a fire spurred the tired Alicorn in and embraced her.

The inn itself was, predictably, packed. Most of the occupants were ponies, but a few goats and even a changeling or two sat around, simply soaking up the atmosphere and socializing. Moving through the patrons, Twilight did her best to not knock into anyone and stumbled over to the bar, which was covered by an old stallion with a grizzled orange coat and grey mane.

"What can I get you lovely mares?" he asked, giving the three Alicorn's a curious gaze.

"How much for some rooms?" Twilight asked, levitating her saddlebag in front of her. "Three, to be exact.

"Three?" Celestia asked.

"Of course. I'm sure you and Luna would want to relax," Twilight replied, only to have the pair shrug. "I doubt anything will happen anyway."

"W-What do you mean, happen?" Luna asked, glancing between her sister and Twilight.

"I doubt anyone will," she said, lowering her voice to a whisper as she leaned in. "You know, attack us again."

Luna blinked and nodded. "Oh, yeah- I knew that," she mumbled, her cheeks turning rosy.

"Three rooms?" the stallion asked, giving her an annoyed look. "Thirty bits."

Sunset grimaced at the amount.

"Oh, right, sorry. Here you go," Twilight said, passing the money over.

"Here are the keys," he grunted, passing over three sets of keys. "You'll find your rooms at the top of the stairs, third, fourth and five rooms. Don't make too much noise," he warned, looking at the sisters.

"They won't; thank you," Twilight said, smiling as she pushed the shocked sisters towards a free table, Sunset close behind. "Just ignore it, okay," she whispered.

"The insolence of that stallion," Celestia huffed.

"Are you alright, sister?" Luna asked, taking a seat and frowning over to Celestia.

Celestia opened her mouth, then closed it, before nodding. "Of course, Luna. I didn't expect such a remark is all."

Twilight tapped her hoof on the table and looked around once everypony was seated. "Alright. We're in Springwallow. Now what?"

"We have to get across the border, which will be harder than it sounds. With King Titas increasing patrols, it'll be impossible without somepony already on the other side," Sunset explained, stretching her neck.

Twilight sighed. "Okay, let's assume we get over the border, how far is the capital?"

"I would guess at roughly a few weeks travel, by air; a month by hoof. Most of the Gryphons don't share their king's enthusiasm for the war and I doubt that you'd have much trouble actually getting to the capital."

"What's the Gryphon kingdom like?" Twilight asked, leaning forwards to listen.

"It's mixed," Sunset started, thinking of the right words. "Most of them are soldiers or farmers. A rather militaristic nation, but surprisingly welcoming if shown respect."

"That makes sense, I guess," Twilight muttered, chuckling to herself.

"What's funny?" Celestia asked, smiling.

"Oh, nothing really. Just remembering a Gryphon I know."

That really caught the two sister's attention. "Oh? Pray tell?"

Twilight scooted the stool closer and took a breath. "His name is Gallus and he enrolled at a small school I knew. He had accomplished so much even before I left and I hope he'll be still be around once this is over," she wondered, trailing off before looking over to Sunset. "What happens when we get the crown?"

Sunset froze for a second. "Well, uh... the crown bonds to the wearer and slowly crumbles their sanity," she explained, tapping the table. "It's never been forcefully removed from someone, as far as I've read. Best case, the King would slowly regain his sanity. Worse case-" she paused, frowning. "Worst case is a huge magical backlash, either frying his brain or outright killing him."

Twilight grimaced at the prospect. "It's never easy with magical artefacts, is it?"

"Not in the least," Sunset chuckled, rubbing her hoof along the table's grooves. "But, I think it's time for bed, don't you?" she asked, looking at everypony. "We'll have a long day tomorrow."

Finding an unexpected yawn escape her, Twilight nodded. "I agree."

The two sisters pulled away and followed Twilight up the stairs and across the hallway that overlooked the main room. Standing outside of their rooms, Luna rushed across to Twilight and wrapped her legs around her neck, hugging her.

"I didn't show it earlier, but I'm glad you're okay, Moon," she whispered, gently kissing her cheek. "Don't scare me like that again."

Celestia stood there, watching the two, before sighing and entering their room.

"I can't promise I won't do something completely dumb in the future," Twilight replied, blushing a little. "But I'll try my best. I keep my promises."

Glancing back to see her sister missing, Luna nuzzled against Twilight's neck and squeezed her, before rushing over to her door. "Good night, our Moon," she said, giggling and closing her door.

Twilight's attention then switched to the smirking Sunset that was simply standing outside the door on the other side of Luna's room. Opening her door, she entered without a word, leaving Twilight alone in the hall.

Entering her own room, Twilight lowered herself onto the bed and let out a long sigh. She spread her wings and began to preen her ruffled feathers. Her mouth pulled and tugged them back in place while the tensions that she had felt since sitting down with the rest of her group melted off her back.

As she laid there, her ear twitched and it soon became apparent that she could hear talking coming from the next room. While quiet, it was unmistakably the two sisters locked in a discussion.

Sliding off her bed, Twilight did her best to not make a noise and levitate a glass against the wall to get a better listen.

“Luna, I’m telling you that the mare is hiding something,” Celestia began, just as a hoofstomp could be heard. “She teleports us away, then turns up as an Alicorn. Doesn’t that strike you as strange?”

Luna let out a snort. “Think about it, Sister. Why would she hide anything else? What would she gain from doing such a thing?”

“Well, us for starters,” Celestia pointed out. “We don’t know anything about her. We just trusted her because she saved us. For all we know, she could be the one to have stolen the sun and moon from us!”

A quiet overcame the next room for several seconds, then their bed creaked.

“’Tia, do you trust me?” Luna asked.

“Of course.”

“Then trust me that I trust her. She’s-” there was a small pause. “I feel that she’s genuine in her cause. If she wanted to hurt us, she would have had plenty of chances, even with Sunset there.”

Pulling away from the wall, Twilight placed the glass down and frowned, a pit opening up in her stomach. She didn’t realise Celestia felt that negatively against her.

Tip-hoofing her way over to the bed, she slid under the covers and curled up, her wings wrapping around herself to allow for another layer of protection from the outside world. She knew there wasn’t much chance of completing this quest, let alone wooing the Princesses, if they didn’t even know her.

Twilight was suddenly woken up by an impatient banging against her door. Letting out a groan, she glanced out of the window, as she climbed out of bed, and judged it to be early in the morning. Wandering over to the door, she reached out with her magic and inched it open, only to see Sunset standing there with an apologetic smile.

“May I come in?” she asked, looked up and down the hallway.

Twilight opened the door slightly to allow the mare in, then shut it afterwards. “Why’re you up at such an hour?” she asked, peeking out into the hall, before closing the door and sliding the latch shut.

“I needed to talk to you,” Sunset replied as she wandered over to the window to peek out into the street below.

“Oh? Should I get the others?”

“No- I mean… this is something that I need to say.”

Twilight made her way back over to her bed and laid down, confused. “You’re getting me a little worried here.”

Glancing back at Twilight, Sunset sighed then closed the curtains and used her magic to light the candle sat on the desk.

“Thank you,” she began, turning properly to face Twilight. “For giving Celestia and Luna hope. They might have understated how much they had truly given up on getting their sun and moon back.”

She moved over and sat in front of Twilight.

“Without their celestial bodies, they won’t last another five years. Their lifespan has already far exceeded any other ponies and they’re living on borrowed time.”

Twilight looked down in shock from hearing just how long they had left. “I will get them to Eden, Sunset, and we’ll stop whatever is happening there,” she stated.

“I know you will. But we’ll need to secure passage into the Badlands first if we want to have any chance of getting that crown.”

“Well, how do you suppose we do that?” Twilight asked, raising a brow. “Unless you know of some shady underground ponies.”

“Well…” Sunset said, tapping her hoof on the ground as she looked away.

“Wait, seriously?”

“I didn’t really want to bring it up around the others, but sometimes my experiments require a few ingredients, or specimens, which may or may not be contraband. So yeah, I know a few ponies here and there. They’re nice ponies… most of the time.”

Stepping outside into the cold of the night, Twilight glanced over to Sunset, then scanned the empty street.

“Follow me,” Sunset ordered, gesturing down the street towards the centre of the city. “We should be quick. The city guards don’t take kindly to ponies being out early.”

Nodding, Twilight followed behind Sunset, making sure to keep an eye on their surroundings. Turning a corner, Twilight kept close as they entered and travelled down a dark alley, slowly descending into what she assumed to be the sewers.

The sound of rushing water overwhelmed the mare at first, causing her to flick her ears down and her muzzle scrunched up at the smell. It didn’t take long for Twilight’s eyes to adjust to the dimly lit sewers which were occasionally lit up by the glow of the crystal lights from aboveground.

Two stone walkways ran parallel to the waterway, allowing the mares to traverse deeper into the city. At various points, the pair switched to the other side when the walkway had crumbled away or looked too weak to support their weight.

“What sort of experiments did you do?” Twilight asked, spreading her wings to help keep her balance as they crossed over once more.

“I,” Sunset began, pausing for a second as she slowed. “I was doing applications of thaumaturgy on living tissue. I had been studying Celestia and Luna for so long and after seeing their healing abilities, I wanted to replicate them.”

“That’s… understandable.”

Sunset stopped and turned to her, a surprised look on her face. “I wasn’t expecting that reaction, to be honest.”

“Let’s just say that I have some experience with spells that I shouldn’t be using,” Twilight said, smiling. “Though, I assume that the college weren’t so understanding?”

Sunset shook her head. “No, they threatened to revoke my license if I continued.”

“Well, I guess that’s fortunate for us,” Twilight laughed, gesturing forwards. “Shall we? I wouldn’t want the others to wake up and for us to not be there.”

With a strained smile, Sunset continued on with Twilight close behind.

A few minutes more and the pair arrived at an unassuming iron door with a covered window. Sunset knocked three times, waited a second, then knocked two more times and then backed up next to Twilight.

Glancing at Twilight, Sunset mumbled, “Let me do the talking.”

After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, the window slid across with a scrape and two aqua-coloured eyes stared out towards the pair.

“Sunset?” a gruff, gravelly voice growled out. “I thought the boss told you to never come back?!”

Sunset winced. “Well yeah- But I need Ruin’s help. Tell him I’ll do what he wants this time,” she pleaded, hanging her head low. “He’ll know what it means.”

The stallion on the other side of the door stared at her. “You’re lucky I like you…” he grunted. “Don’t move.”

Sunset grumbled to herself for a little bit, then stopped as the door opened up to reveal a rather portly stallion with a light blue mane, and tail, with a darker green streak running through the center, and green coat.

"I'll take you to the boss. Don't try anything," he growled, moving aside and letting the two mares pass by.

Sunset and Twilight moved through and down a narrow, damp hallway which led into a rough, open cavern filled to the brim with crates. Crystal lights had been fitted around the room, as well as cables which had been run through holes in the ceiling, that allowed a small amount of orange glow to fill the room.

Slowing slightly, Twilight let out a yelp as she felt the stallion push her forwards. "Keep moving," he said, moving past the Alicorn.

"He's right. We should really try to stay on his good side- well, what little he has left for me," Sunset whispered over to Twilight.

Nodding, Twilight sped up and followed behind the stallion as he led her through the cave.

"Did something happen?" Twilight asked, glancing to Sunset, concern evident.

With a sigh, Sunset nodded. "I may- may have declined a proposal from Ruin," she explained, grimacing. "It wasn't pretty. I was younger and too focused on my work."

"Oh. So what he wants to do..."

Sunset grimaced. "Looks like like it," she agreed, shrugging. "Anything for my friends."

The pair turned the corner and entered an even larger, circular cavern that was dimly lit. Unlike the previous cavern, the floors and most of the walls had been smoothed down with lit sconces placed at even intervals around the room. The center of the room was taken up by a grand, circular table that was covered with gold, weapons and playing cards.

Off to the side sat weapon and armor racks, as well as bookshelves lined, sparsely, with tomes. Further than those were a set of closed double doors.

Several chairs surrounded the table, upon which sat two ponies; a yellow Pegasus mare and a black, Unicorn stallion. The mare glanced over with a cocky grin and flicked her black mane back while the yellow maned unicorn simply watched. The stallion escorting them wandered back, leaving them alone with the two new ponies.

"Oh looky here," the Pegasus laughed, throwing her cards on the table, much to the Unicorn's annoyance, at least until he looked over as well. "Look who's come grovelling back. I knew you'd want Ruin."

Sunset rolled her eyes as she neared the table, annoyance evident on her face. "Oh buck off, Cloak. It's been a long few days, alright."

"Someone's grouchy," she teased as she left her chair and moved past Sunset. Upon seeing Twilight, she froze for a second, then raised a brow. "What are you then? Some sort of Pegacorn?"

Twilight blinked, then shook her head. "I'm an Alicorn."

Cloak rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I'll go and get Ruin. Don't touch my stuff," she warned, giving a cursory glance to Sunset as she wandered off to doorway a the side of the room.

The Unicorn leaned back and brought his back legs up onto the table, then stared over at Twilight. "Maybe your friend could stay here with us?" he asked, smirking as his eyes passed over Twilight's body.

"No," Sunset replied, glaring at him.

"I'm sure we could find something she's... suited for."

"Dagger," Sunset warned.

"Oh please. That's not really my thing anyway," Dagger mumbled, shrugging. "Besides, Ruin would... well, ruin me," he laughed, shaking his head. "Besides, why are you back?"

Sunset sighed and sat down in Cloak's chair. "Stonewall was attacked. We barely made it out and I," she began, smiling over to Twilight. "I need to arrange passage for three ponies."

Dagger whistled at that and looked between the Sunset and Twilight. "Wait, passage? Where? We can only get ponies out of the badlands not in."

Sunset stared at him until it clicked.

"You know he'll never agree to that," Dagger continued, looking shocked. "Getting out is hard enough; getting in is suicide."

"We have to," Twilight spoke up, having walked over beside Sunset. She placed a hoof on the back of the chair and let herself relax. "I heard that the Gryphon's are aggressive with the city? It is due to their king?"

Dagger scoffed. "What isn't due to their king?!" he began, shaking his head with indignation. "He raises their taxes, causing revolts. Then when he squashes their revolts, he finds out he has no food left and declares war on us, the Elks and the Yaks. This whole war is a mess and each month it becomes harder to ponies out of their territory."

Twilight certainly didn't expect that out of a pony like him and tapped her hoof on the chair. "You're a good pony, Dagger."

"Me? Nah. It's just hard to get paid nowadays," he grumbled, looking away.

The double doors opened and Cloak skipped out. "Oi, Sunny. Out of the chair," she ordered, quickly falling back into it as soon as it was free.

Walking out behind her was Ruin, a hulking pony ever so slightly larger than Bic Mac. His brown fur was littered with small scars here and there, most notably around his legs, though one ran across his milky, right eye. His jet black hair was smoothed back, and combed, while his tail was impeccably brushed and curled at the end to not rub against the ground.

Upon seeing Sunset, Ruin's lips curled into a smile and he quickened his pace.

"Sunset!" he greeted with a low, rumbling voice. "I didn't expect you back."

"Honestly," she mumbled, rubbing a leg anxiously. "Neither did I."

Ruin lost his smile and frowned. "Then why are you here?" he asked.

A deep silence filled the room.

"My-" Twilight paused, catching herself', "friends and I require passage into Gryphon Territory."