• Published 27th Aug 2012
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Live by the Creed - FoughtDragon01



Rainbow Dash discovers a dark secret in her family's past that could change her life forever.

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3: Reliving the Past

The overwhelming aroma of burning incense filled the mare’s nostrils as she entered the building acting as her informant's bureau. The building itself was disguised as a humble antique's shop, a way to avert any wary eyes, and it certainly had the feel of one.

Smooth, polished wood covered every square inch of the building’s interior. Overhead lanterns kept the room lit with a dull, orange glow. Tables and shelves full of various knickknacks such as books and statuettes, all coated with a fine layer of dust, lined the walls. And to complete the look, a haze of smoke lingered all throughout the shop, thanks to the abundance of incense sitting atop every single shelf in the store.

Thankfully, activity in the store was virtually nonexistent. After that stunt that she pulled at the execution, most ponies were probably cooped up inside the safety of their homes. Well, the ones who had homes were, at least. Given the state that Manehattan was in, most ponies were probably hiding in their favorite, obscure alley somewhere. Regardless, it gave Shadow some quiet time, and even though all of the incense smoke was giving her a headache, it was better than dealing with a shop full of talky ponies.

Ahead of her was a counter lined with more of the same novelties that littered the store shelves. There was also more incense, much to her annoyance. Because there obviously wasn't enough. Honestly, there needed to be some sort of law limiting how many of the accursed things a single building could hold. With all of the wood in the place, it was a miracle it hadn't burned down yet, but she was just getting distracted.

Behind the counter was a stallion, the same one who gave her that task in the first place. He didn't look up, or greet her, or anything of the sort. He was far too busy reading a ridiculously large tome to notice anything else.

The mare could've simply waited for him to finish whatever he was reading, but that would've implied that she was patient.

"Ahem."

The stallion’s head snapped up from his book as he slammed it shut, sending up a rather thick cloud of dust. "Shadow Streak! I… I didn't hear you come in," he said, putting on one of the most forced smiles that Shadow had ever seen.

Even then, she could hardly hear him over her own coughs as she batted away the cloud of dust in her face. "Perhaps if you weren't so engrossed in that book, you would be more aware of your surroundings. What in Equestria are you even reading?”

She tried to get a look at the book in question, but the stallion placed a more-than-suspicious hoof over the cover. "It is nothing important, Shadow. Honestly."

Despite his pleas, Shadow kept her eyes on the book. "No, you’ve piqued my curiosity." She tried to get an even closer look, but the shy stallion hid the book behind his counter.

Unfortunately for him, that didn't stop her from catching a glimpse of what seemed to be the outline of a heart. When it finally clicked, Shadow couldn't hold back an amused smile. "Were you reading a romance novel?"

The stallion's eyes darted all about the room, a noticeable sweat trickling down his forehead. "O-of course not! To make such a ridiculous claim!" If he weren't already a deep crimson, Shadow was positive that she'd see him blush in embarrassment. "It was a… a manual on how to manipulate through seduction, yes."

Shadow's smirk only grew. "Of course it was." As much fun as she was having, she came here for a reason other than to torment one of her colleagues, entertaining as it was. "Very well, then. Enough games." The smirk on her face vanished in an instant. "I've done as you asked. The target is dead. Now, it is time for you to fulfill our agreement.”

The sudden change in tone reached the stallion as well. "Of course. Just give me a moment." He reached down and took out another large tome, not that 'romance guide'. He dropped it on his counter with a hefty thud. "You are here for Buckeye, the buffalo merchant, yes?"

Shadow nodded. “What do you know of him?"

"Let me see what I can find." He flipped the tome open and scanned his eyes over the pages. "As his name implies, he is the one responsible for the capture and selling of buffalo throughout Equestria, forcing them to work under whoever pays the most."

Shadow could only shake her head, a faint grimace on her face. “And the public is okay with this?"

"Not at all. Far from it. There has been resistance. Ponies and buffalo alike have rebelled, but unfortunately, it was all for naught. They only added to the number casualties this land faces every day. If this continues, war will certainly break out. We obviously cannot allow that to happen."

"Then it ends today. Where can I begin my search for Buckeye?"

The stallion sat back as he pondered for a moment. "Hmm. The ponies in the poor district have a tendency to hear very interesting things. It would be best if you began there. I'm positive that more than a few will have something to say about him."

Shadow nodded. "Thank you. I will return once I am aware of Buckeye's whereabouts."

The stallion eased back into his seat. "I shall wait here, then."

After another nod, Shadow turned and started for the door. But before she reached it, the stallion felt the need to speak up again.

"And Shadow." Shadow stopping at the door prompted him to continue. "Please, for Equestria's sake, be careful."

Shadow turned her head back towards the stallion. "You simply relax and read your romance story. I shall return soon." She didn't stay long enough to see his reaction, but as she left, she just knew that the stallion shrunk back in embarrassment.

----

Even though the castle's halls were like a maze, Twilight knew her way to the library like the back of her hoof. After just a few minutes, she found herself standing outside the door leading into what was essentially her playground. Stepping inside, Twilight felt a wave of nostalgia wash right over her.

Before her stood countless shelves filled to the brim with books of all kinds. Spell tomes, historical records, non-fiction, these were all things that made her heart leap with excitement. Just standing in this room brought back so many memories of sleepless nights, where she would absorb vast amounts of knowledge from the countless number of books here. She would’ve loved to do it again, but she needed to get a hold of her emotions; she wasn’t here for herself, she was here for Rainbow Dash. Now she just needed to find the appropriate books.

Though, as much as she hated to admit it, she had little to go on. The most she had was a single, obscure symbol that Celestia herself seemed unfamiliar with. For all Twilight knew, there wouldn’t be a single book in there that could help her. Still, that wasn’t enough reason for her not to try.

Beginning her search, the unicorn levitated several books towards herself, skimming over their titles. Any that weren't relevant to her search were simply placed back on their respective shelves before Twilight grabbed a new one. Any books on things such as Equestrian history or various historical organizations were placed in a neat pile next to her. She went through the process for longer than she cared to admit, looking over book after book.

"No, no, no. Oh, goodness, no. Hmm, you could be interesting."

Twilight was already through the first shelf, and only gathered three books that may not have even discussed what she was looking. For a moment, she paused, breathing a long sigh.

As she continued sifting through the shelf, one book in particular caught her attention. It was a worn, white book. Its cover and pages were tainted a light yellow due to age. The front was faded, but Twilight could make out what seemed to be some type of symbol. When she finally realized what it was, her heart practically leapt up to her throat.

It was the same symbol as the one on the candle box.

She may have finally been onto something. But that wasn't all. Beneath that logo were words. They were faded as well, but Twilight was still able to read them.

“Assassins of the Eclipse.” Yes. She was definitely onto something.

----

As far as Shadow was concerned, there were only two types of cities in Equestria. The ones that thrived, and the ones that didn't. Cities like Canterlot, with their pristine aesthetics and high-class citizens were obviously in the former. Places like Manehattan, not so much, and although the city as a whole could’ve been considered average at best, its poor district was the quintessential example of a dying city.

Manehattan was a city suffering from a plague, one that went beyond a simple illness. It was plagued by fear, poverty, and death. To those with power, Manehattan was just a training ground, the perfect place for the powerful to vent their frustrations out on the powerless. To them, it was just a city full of noponies that nopony would miss.

Buckeye was among those who treated the weak and poor like playthings, buying entire families, bringing them up as slaves only to sell them to the highest bidders. Any who fought back were killed, and those who didn't were simply sold away to be killed later. With his death, a message would be sent. A message that these ponies have long since been pushed past their limits. They were ready to explode, they just needed a spark. Buckeye's death would more than enough to be that spark.

Shadow just needed to find him.

Luckily for her, traversing the streets was easier than she expected. The ponies either just didn't care, or had the attention span of brain-dead goldfish, because they seemed to have forgotten about what happened just over an hour ago. Even the guards seemed to have turned a blind eye to her. Not that it mattered. That just made things easier for her.

The ponies themselves were no better for wear. Disease ran rampant, and it showed through those who were unable to find the proper treatment. Numerous ponies stumbled through the streets, most suffering from malnutrition, and others already at death's door. Each step they took seemed to drain them of what little energy they had left. There were even a few lying on the cold ground, either already dead, or waiting for its sweet embrace to take them away.

As Shadow walked amongst them in her clean robes and healthy stature, she couldn’t ignore the pang of guilt niggling in her mind. But she couldn't let her emotions cloud her vision. Somewhere amongst these ponies were a select few who knew what she needed to know. It all just came down to finding them.

As she continued down the street, an old stallion slumped on the side of the street, shivering, starving, and missing patches of his brown coat, used what little energy he had left to get up and staggered towards black mare. "Miss! Miss!" he cried.

Shadow stopped in her tracks and looked towards the stallion as he stumbled towards her. "Yes? What is it?"

As soon as the stallion reached her, he practically collapsed onto his knees, staring up at her with tearful, pleading eyes. "Please, miss, I am but a poor soul trying to survive in this cruel world of ours, but fate has taken everything from me and left me in the street to starve. Could you please find it in your heart to spare a mere bundle of bits? Just enough to find myself a room for the day? Or a bit of food, perhaps?"

A small smile graced her face. It wasn't the first time that a pony asked Shadow for a donation, and it certainly wasn't going to be the last. Shadow was rarely ever even bothered by it. After all, it wasn't as though she was giving them her bits, but rather, the bits of snooty nobles who made the mistake of leaving their coin purses unattended.

Digging into her robes, Shadow took out small bag of bits and dropped it at the stallion's hooves. The stallion's eyes lit up like the sun itself as he stared at the small, leather pouch. "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, you divine soul!" Tears were welling in his eyes as he threw himself down at Shadow's hooves.

As much as Shadow enjoyed helping those in need—it was essentially her job to do so—even she had to admit that this was a bit embarrassing. It certainly didn't help that the few ponies passing by shot angry, envious stares at both her and the stallion. Gently, she tapped the stallion on his shoulder. "Please, sir, could you possibly pull yourself together?"

The stallion quickly complied, picking himself out of the dirt and wiping the tears still running down his eyes. "My apologies. I didn't mean to break down like that. But you must understand how rare it is to meet a pony who doesn't look down on others simply because of they look. Anypony else would've looked at me and assumed I'd use these bits to buy alcohol or time in a box with a disease-ridden mare."

With that pleasant imagery branded in her mind, Shadow narrowed her eyes. "That is not your intention, yes?”

The stallion quickly shook his head. "Oh, no, of course not! I am not that kind of stallion. In fact, I used to be a revered artist in these parts."

"Really? I believe that I failed to learn your name.”

Apparently, asking for his name was very much like asking him to present himself to the king himself, because the stallion immediately took up a much taller, prouder posture despite his less than proud appearance. "I am—well, was—Paintbrush, one of fifty royal painters for King Neptune himself." His posture quickly drooped as a frown formed on his face. "Now, I am merely Paintbrush, the struggling artist left to starve in the gutters."

Shadow took a moment to let the name sink in. It did have a sense of nostalgia about it. "Paintbrush. Yes, I do remember that name. I loved your work as a filly. In fact, you were one of the only painters whose work I truly appreciated."

Paintbrush chuckled at her sentimentality. "Well, it is always nice to meet a fan, I suppose. But as you can see, I doubt that I will create another masterpiece in the upcoming years."

"But I still fail to understand. How could an artist such as yourself end up in such a pitiful position? Your work was worth of envy."

Paintbrush nodded in agreement. "And that was what the higher powers despised. You see, painting is a form of self-expression, and that can, at times, lead to rebellion. In order to prevent such a thing, the cowards ordered mass burnings of any and all paintings."

"Unacceptable!"

"And it did not stop at paintings. Books and even clothing have been burned as well. Rumor has it that some have been saved, but if I can be honest with you, I believe that would sooner discover an alicorn before another painting. But that is as much as I know, and that is why I am where I am." He sorrowfully looked back at his flank, specifically the path of missing fur where his cutie mark was supposed to be. "I no longer even have the one thing that gave my life purpose."

Shadow placed a comforting hoof on Paintbrush's shoulder. "Worry not, my friend. I intend to change this place for the better. Not just Manehattan, but all of Equestria."

Another chuckle left his muzzle. "As much as I admire that fire of yours, I must ask how you intend to do that."

"The changes will come slowly, perhaps long after our own lives have ended, but I do intend to play my part."

"And what is it exactly that you intend to do?"

Shadow took on a more serious tone, glancing left and right before leaning in closer to the stallion. "I need to find the one known as Buckeye the Swift. Do you know of him?"

As soon as he heard Buckeye's name, Paintbrush's eyes widened with a sense of unbridled fear that Shadow rarely ever saw. His already pale face seemed to have grown even paler as he backed away from her. "The Buffalo Merchant," he muttered, his voice dripping with shock and disbelief. "W-why do you want to find him? You… Ar-are you—"

Shadow was quick to cut him off. "I am no acquaintance of his, I assure you. In fact, I may very well find him just as disgusting as you do."

That did little to calm the artist. "Then why do you wish to find him?"

Again, Shadow took another quick glance around to ensure that there were no eavesdroppers. "I seek to end his life."

There was a long silence between the two, the only noise being the blowing wind and the beating of hooves against the cobblestone paths. Finally, Paintbrush responded, though not in the way Shadow expected. He held a hoof up to his mouth, trying and failing to stifle his laughter. It didn't take very long before he couldn't handle it, and simply broke down in laughter, drawing more than a few eyes from the passing crowd.

Shadow, in the meanwhile, simply glared at him, her glare growing angrier as the seconds ticked by. "Do you see this as a joke?" she asked, her voice barely holding back the anger.

Paintbrush was far too busy laughing to immediately respond. Much to Shadow relief, he finally stopped and picked himself back up. "I apologize for that, I truly do."

Shadow simply snorted. "I was unaware that death was such a joke in this city."

"No, it is not, but are you aware of the number of times I have heard ponies plotting to kill that waste of breath? If I had a bit for every occurrence, I would not be sitting in this gutter."

"And have they tried?"

"Oh, countless have tried, and countless have failed. Many have even died in their attempts."

"Hmm." Shadow took a moment to ponder on that. "Did their plans ever go beyond 'rush him with the sharpest stick they could find'?"

"Well… no."

"And there, you have your problem."

Paintbrush couldn't help but chuckle once again. "And you think that you can do better?"

Shadow took up her own proud pose. "I know I can. Just simply point me in his direction and watch."

"Ah, unfortunately, I know not of his exact location. However, I do know that the city square is an area brewing with talk of him. Perhaps going there would produce more helpful results."

Now that was idea Shadow could get behind. She graciously bowed to the artist. "Thank you. You will not regret this, I assure you."

"You need not assure me anything, Just be a mare of your word and kill the bastard."

Shadow couldn't agree with that anymore if she tried. With a final nod, she turned and trotted off towards the city square. She already had an obligation to kill Buckeye due to it simply being her mission, but now she had even more reason not to fail. She had a promise to keep. Granted, she didn't know Paintbrush personally, but if Buckeye was part of the reason why he and others were in such dismal conditions, then that was more than enough for her. After all, a promise was a promise.

----

Manehattan was a city with quite the interesting history behind it. For Shadow, the details were murky at best, but she knew that the king commissioned its construction so that it could serve as a haven for travel between Canterlot and Buffalo Bay. Due to his already busy schedules, the king left Buckeye in charge of managing trade between the cities. Relations between the two cities were healthy for all of a year before Buckeye decided to implement his own corrupt business into it.

At least twice every month, he, along with a band of soldiers, went to Buffalo Bay. Invaded it, more like. The raids were sudden and brutal. Numerous buffalo were captured and caged; any who put up resistance were usually killed without question. There always seemed to be an odd preference for the stronger buffalo despite the added challenge of overpowering them. Nopony ever knew where Buckeye took the buffalo, only that he always paraded his haul through Manehattan before holding an auction where he'd sell them all to whoever offered the most. How the king was ignorant of such a thing was a mystery to ponies as well.

Regardless, the history mattered little. It was set in stone, and there was nothing Shadow could do to change what had already happened. The most she could do now was prevent other buffalo from falling victim to Buckeye's greed. As soon as she could track him down, she'd be able to do just that.

Finding the city square was nothing difficult. She stopped at the edge of a large plaza that served as the border between the poor district and the rest of Manehattan. Thick crowds of ponies trotted all across it, most in tatters while others were properly groomed and prepped for the day ahead of them, neither paying attention to the other. The sight only served to show just how divided the city really was; ponies were either poor, sick, and dying, or rich and dandy, turning a blind eye to all the suffering as if that'd make it all go away.

There was little Shadow could do for them, at least not without an endless supply of bits, medicine, and housing. She didn't like the thought of it, but she'd have to leave them to their own devices for the time being. If what Paintbrush said was true, then somepony in that crowd knew something about Buckeye, maybe even what he was doing that very moment. She wasn't going to find out just standing there, so Shadow stepped further into the plaza, entering the depths of the crowd.

'Sensory overload' best described the feeling she felt as she slowly walked amongst the others. Ignoring the fact that she had to go out of her way to avoid walking into anypony, it was nearly impossible to focus on any one thing.

Amongst the loud, never-ending clopping of hooves on stone, Shadow could barely make out any of the dozens of droning conversations happening around her. The impenetrable sea of colors threw her perspective completely out of whack; she didn't know if she took five steps or six, nor what direction she was even facing.

And then there was the smell.

Shadow had to deal with some rather disgusting smells in her lifetime. On more than one occasion, she had to hide in a pile of hay that was sprinkled with pellets, the kind that went out rather than in. But those experiences were like slow walks through a field of flowers compared to the smell in that crowd. The combination of musk, dirt, sweat, and expensive cologne was enough to make her gag. Needless to say, the experience certainly wasn't what she expected. If she was going to find an inkling of useful information, she was going to have to change her strategy.

Shadow slowed to a stop, still amidst the crowd. Taking in a slow, deep breath, she closed her eyes. Slowly and meticulously, she cleared her mind of all thoughts and distractions. She focused on the slightest of sounds and smells, her senses becoming crisper as her mind became clearer.

Everything, from the slightest gusts of wind, to the quietest of murmurs from a passerby, were crystal clear. Granted, the horrendous smell, was worse than ever, but that was a small price to pay. Even those multiple conversations, the very same that Shadow had difficulty making out just seconds ago, were easily distinguishable. In fact, one in particular caught her attention.

"Do you have a death wish?" a mare hissed at somepony. "What if one of Buckeye's guards saw you? What if Buckeye himself saw you?"

Immediately upon hearing Buckeye's name, Shadow opened her eyes and turned towards the conversation's source. Through the thick of the crowd, she spotted a pair of ponies, an older mare and a younger stallion. The mare glared at the stallion, her face fierce and seething. The stallion either didn't care, or was simply too tired to muster up a shocked response. It looked as though he just finished galloping for his life, if his quick, shallow breathing was any indicator.

Once the younger stallion regained enough of his breath, he gave his answer. "I was curious. I wanted to know if all these rumors about Buckeye were true."

The mare hardly seemed satisfied by this answer. "And? Did you find out?"

The stallion smiled as he used his magic to take a piece of paper out of his saddlebag. "I know not if the rumors are true, but I did find this." He unfurled it and held it in front of the mare. "It seems to be a schedule for Buckeye's trips to Buffalo Bay."

Upon observing the paper, the mare's eyes widened in pure fear. "Where did you find this?" she quietly asked.

The stallion simply shrugged. "It was lying in the street. One of the guards must have dropped it."

"Get rid of this right now!" she hissed. "If the guards find you with this, it will be your head!"

The stallion backed away from his friend's sudden outburst. "Fine, fine. If you insist. I will throw it away somewhere." He rolled up the paper and placed it back in his saddlebag.

"Please, do it quickly, and meet me back home." The stallion nodded, and the two parted ways.

Shadow kept her eyes fixated on the stallion, both out of interest and disbelief. Nothing short of him giving Buckeye's exact location would've been any better. This was as good of a chance as she was going to get. She needed to get a hold of that schedule, but had to do so without causing a scene. That was simple enough.

As the stallion walked away, Shadow followed behind, making sure to keep her distance. Thanks to that mare's talk of guards, he remained a bit more aware of his surroundings, looking behind his back every so often. If he caught Shadow sneaking up on him, she'd have a much more difficult time getting her hooves on that schedule. Thankfully, as time went by, the stallion seemed to grow more comfortable, not looking around nearly as often. It was the perfect chance for Shadow to close in.

She picked up the pace, closing the ground between her and the stallion in considerable time. As she neared, she brought her pace back down, eyeing his saddlebag. A single rolled up piece of paper was sticking out of it, making for easy access.

Slowly, she reached out with her muzzle, opening her mouth just enough to bite down on the paper. With it in her grasp, she carefully and smoothly slid the paper right out, the stallion remaining none the wiser. Shadow immediately turned tail and walked in the opposite direction, her pickpocket a success.

Once she was a safe distance away from her victim, she veered off to the side of the street, where she placed the paper on the ground. Unrolling it, she began to read. As her eyes scanned across the words, a smile crawled onto her face. It was perfect. It had everything she expected. Explicitly listed dates and times when Buckeye would go to Buffalo Bay for another raid. As far as Shadow knew, the best way to Buffalo Bay from Manehattan was through the east gate, so that'd be where she'd wait for him.

That simple piece of paper made planning her strike all too easy. Buckeye's death was imminent, and a new dawn would finally shine over this dying city. Shadow rolled up the paper and placed it in her robes. With her planning done, she trotted back to her informant.

----

Returning to the bureau, Shadow made a beeline for her stallion ally. He was busy reading another book, and was actually surprised to see her again. "Shadow? Returning so soon?”

A sly smirk was plastered on her face. "Some targets make this far too simple for me. Buckeye is one of them."

The stallion promptly put his book away, placing his full attention on the mare. "So, I take it you have enough information on your target?" Shadow nodded. "Very well. Tell me what you know."

Before speaking, Shadow took out the schedule and placed it on the stallion's counter. "Buckeye and his guards all possess a schedule detailing their visits to Buffalo Bay, where they no doubt capture more buffalo to sell. Not only are there dates and times listed, but routes as well as the number of guards present. It seems that he will be leaving through Manehattan's east gate tomorrow at high noon with a unit of twenty guards. This is when I will strike."

Her stallion friend took a moment to look over the schedule, going over it and everything Shadow just said. Soon, he nodded as he came to a decision. "Very well. You seem to know what to do. Not surprising, I suppose." He reached under the counter and took out a white pegasus feather. He gave it to Shadow, and she placed it inside her robes. "Just be careful. He did not earn the name 'Buckeye the Swift' without reason. If he sees you approaching and decides to retreat, you may find catching him very difficult."

Shadow hardly seemed phased by the warning. "He will never have the opportunity to flee." Her confidence made the stallion chuckle.

"I can only imagine." He motioned towards the smaller room. "You can stay here until the time comes to strike. Until then, I suggest that you rest. You will need the energy."

Shadow nodded. "Thank you." She followed her friend's advice and entered the small room. She approached one of the small beds, where she lied down for a much needed nap.

----

As Rainbow sat there, limp and still as the memories played out in her mind, Celestia patiently waited, counting the seconds as they ticked by. It wasn’t that she needed to, but it was the only thing keeping her mind off of other things, and it was still doing a poor job at that.

Celestia simply couldn’t believe that this day had finally come; a day that she had only dreamed of. For countless years, her nights had been plagued by the thoughts of what could happen were the Apple to fall in possession of those meaning ill intent. As unlikely as the scenario seemed, the fact remained that it was still a possibility.

The fact remained that Celestia simply didn’t know. She didn’t know if it was still lost to all. She didn’t know if it wasn’t already found. She didn’t know if someone was already on their way to it that very second. She just didn’t know, and that was what kept eating away at her.

But there was still hope. After all of these years of blindly searching, she finally found a path to follow, long as it was. The pegasus before her was the key to finally ensuring Equestria’s safety for the millennia to come. Through her, she would finally find the object she’d been searching for. Finally, it would all come to an end.

Celestia looked back up at the clock. Five minutes had past. Rainbow’s first session was over.

With a soft sigh, the alicorn reached out with her magic, wrapping it around the slithering, green flame. There was a slight burn in her horn as her magic made contact, but it was nothing that she couldn’t handle. In a single flash, the flame dissipated into nothing more than a few green wisps floating in the faint breeze.

As soon as the connection between her and the flame broke, Rainbow came back to her senses, though left somewhat drowsy. She nearly collapsed as all of her senses rushed back into her head at once. She rubbed her head with a hoof, shaking the remaining dizziness out of her system. “Whoa,” she muttered. “That was crazy.”

Celestia walked up to the pegasus. “How do you feel?”

“A lot better than the first time,” Rainbow admitted, still rubbing her head. “Still got a bit of a headache, though, but that’s about it.”

Celestia nodded. No ill effects. That was good. Still, there was one other question she wanted to ask, though she saw little point. It had only been five minutes. Even with the memory’s accelerated time, that wouldn’t serve as much time to yield interesting information. She couldn’t help but to ask, though, if only to see where their progress was.

“What did you see?”

Rainbow scratched her head as she recalled what she’d just been through. She had to admit, it was shocking how clear those memories were, considering they didn’t even belong to her. Thankfully, there was no killing in that one, but it still felt unnerving. That experience—reliving the past—served to put things into perspective.

That city, that pit of misery, despair, and disarray, full of poverty, disease, and the dying, was Manehattan. The sprawling, thriving, industrial giant that she’d been in just a week ago used to be a corpse of a city, its citizens barely clinging on to life. Just how long ago were those memories? How far back in time did Celestia need to go to find… that ‘Apple’ thing?

More than anything, however, Rainbow focused on her ancestor, the one that she couldn’t help but hate. The one that had to possess a heart of ice. So cold, so calculating. She didn’t just kill on random whims, she planned her attacks, carefully calculated down to the detail, and executed without hesitation.

But that wasn’t what bothered Rainbow. What bothered her was the fact that her ancestor actually believed that she was helping everypony as a whole with her killings. By killing that buffalo merchant, What’s-His-Face, she actually thought that she’d be doing Equestria a favor. That just couldn’t be right. Nopony could think that something like murder could do anything to help. Yet here Rainbow was, related to that very kind of maniac. And she finally learned that maniac’s name.

“Shadow Streak,” she muttered.

Celestia’s ears perked up. “What was that?”

“My ancestor,” Rainbow spoke up. “Her name’s Shadow Streak.” If she didn’t know better, Rainbow would’ve sworn that she saw Celestia—the Princess Celestia—swallow down a nervous lump built up in her throat, as though she was growing uneasy.

“I… I see,” was all that Celestia finally said after an awkward pause.

Rainbow couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the princess’ odd behavior. “Is something up?”

Celestia shook her head. “No, no. I merely had my suspicions, is all. It’s both relieving and a bit unnerving that I was right.”

Unfortunately for the princess, Rainbow wasn’t one to drop a subject cold turkey. “Why’s that? Did you know her or something?” Rainbow was no stranger to Celestia’s personal familiarity with famous historical figures. She had been around for a very long time, after all. It wouldn’t have been much of a stretch for her to have some kind of connection with this Shadow pony.

As if to confirm her suspicions, Celestia visibly tensed up, even though her face didn’t betray her mask of composure. “She was somepony that I knew, yes. As far as I know, she was the last one in possession of the Apple. That likely means that she was the last one to see its final location.”

Rainbow felt a pang of fear shoot through her chest. A pony like her holding something so powerful? “A nutjob like her with that Apple? That doesn’t sound good.” Rainbow’s face scrunched in confusion when she saw Celestia try and fail to conceal a pained look on her face, not a reaction she expected to garner from the princess. She didn’t need to do much deducing to figure out that something was off. “You’re not telling me something, are you? About this Shadow pony.”

Celestia opened her eyes, staring straight into Rainbow’s. “I suppose that you want answers, yes?” Rainbow silently nodded her head. “And I’ll be willing to give them to you. However, you must remember that this is a day that I never imagined would come, so it is quite a lot for me to take in as well. I… I simply need time to put together my thoughts. You understand, yes?”

Rainbow had to admit, even with things as unpredictable as they were, she didn’t expect a turn like that. She already had reasons to believe that her ancestor and Celestia had some kind of connection, but it wasn’t hard to see that things went far deeper than that. What that something was, Rainbow wanted to know before she dove headfirst into another ancestral mind probe. Still, she was bound to find out herself eventually. Somehow, she suspected that she wouldn’t like what she found.

After a brief pause, Celestia sighed, getting her mind back on track. “This will end our session for today, Rainbow. I don’t think I’ll be able to properly thank you enough once this is all over.”

A few choice thoughts niggled at the back of Rainbow’s mind, but she decided that it was best if she allowed Celestia to answer Rainbow’s questions at her own pace. “Yeah, don’t mention it. I guess I’ll get used to it as long as things don’t get too crazy.”

As Celestia nodded, her mind drifted over to other matters. “I assume Twilight is still perusing the library. I suppose I can send you on your way now and simply send her back once she finishes.”

“Sounds good to me,” Rainbow said, already approaching the nearby balcony. However, Celestia was quick to cut her off.

“That won’t be necessary. I can send you home,” Celestia offered.

Rainbow shook her head, politely denying the offer. “Nah, it’s no big deal. I can get back myself.”

“You need your rest,” Celestia insisted. “Physical exertion is no good for a tired mind, magically-induced or not.”

Rainbow only rolled her eyes. She knew when she was fighting a losing battle, and this was one of them. “Alright, alright. Whatever you say.” Rainbow couldn’t help but feel a bit annoyed as she felt Celestia’s magic wrap around her body. As handy as teleportation could be, it just didn’t have the same thrill as flying.

In a single flash of light, Rainbow disappeared from the princess’ bedroom.

----

“Yeah, you clean up all of the trash, then throw it all over the floor again. Thanks, Twilight. Thanks a lot.” Spike really didn’t like thinking negatively about Twilight in the slightest, but sometimes he just couldn’t help it, especially when the unicorn pulled things like that.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that she completely creamed him with the trash ball she gathered, the trash had the sense of mind to scatter all over the floor, practically ending up back in the same exact spots they were in before. He had spent the better end of ten minutes cleaning it all up, mumbling a few child-unfriendly words under his breath. Again, he couldn’t help it sometimes.

As he was approaching the trashcan with another bundle of trash, a loud, bright flash of light startled him. He wasn’t too scared, though; he just ended up on top of a nearby bookshelf in the blink of an eye, shivering in his scales. For him, that wasn’t too bad.

However, he was quick to calm back down when he recognized the pegasus regaining her bearings in the middle of the library.

“Man, still not used to that,” Rainbow muttered. After shaking the daze out of her head, she looked up at the dragon perched atop the bookshelf. “Doing some dusting up there, Spike?” Rainbow teasingly asked.

“Ha ha. Good one,” Spike flatly replied. He hopped down from the shelf, landing back in the mess he still had to clean up. “Where did you guys go? You went off somewhere before I could find out.”

Rainbow scratched her head as she considered the question. Now that she thought about it, it probably wasn’t the kind of thing for her to go blabbing off about to anyone who’d bother to listen. “Celestia wanted us for something pretty important. I think that’s about all I can say about it.”

Spike only rolled his eyes. “Figures,” he muttered. “Anyway, I’m kinda glad you showed up.”

Rainbow couldn’t help but raise a confused eyebrow. “You are? Why?”

Spike walked over to Twilight’s desk. “Somepony was just here looking for you. Said that he had a letter for you.”

Rainbow’s curiosity only increased as Spike picked up an unmarked scroll. “A letter? From who?”

Spike handed the parchment off to Rainbow. “He said it’s from your parents.”

Rainbow’s body froze in place right then and there. Her eyes went wide as her pupils shrunk to pinpricks, the color draining from her face.

Spike took the sudden change about as well as anyone else would: with confusion and worry… but mostly confusion. “Uh, Rainbow? Are you okay?”

Spike’s words never reached Rainbow’s ears. The pegasus just stood there on shaky legs, her breathing anything but okay. She couldn’t have heard him properly. Her parents… She hadn’t heard from them ever since she arrived in Ponyville years ago. She wrote letters to them, but they never responded. She never even knew if they were still alive, so to suddenly receive a letter from them, their first form of contact in years, hit Rainbow with the grace of a raging train.

With a shaky hoof, she took the letter out of Spike’s grasp. Gulping down the fear she unfurled the scroll. With reluctant eyes, she read the letter.

Dearest Rainbow Dash,

I cannot express in mere words how truly sorry your father and I are for not contacting you sooner. We’ve both been going through rather difficult times and we just didn’t want to get you wrapped up in it all. We just wanted you to enjoy your life without having to worry about us. I know that isn’t the best of excuses; you must be worried sick. I don’t know if you feel the same, but we feel as though we need to make up for all of the years we missed. For all of the achievements, both personal and public, that you’ve made and that we weren’t there for. I know that there can’t be much for us to do to properly make up for all of that, but we hope that this letter can be the first step in at least mending the wounds. Just know that even though we weren’t there to show it or there to say it, we still love just as much as we did from the day you were born.

We’ll be arriving in Ponyville on Friday. Maybe we can get together and have a nice dinner together, like old times. And while I can’t force you to, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to forgive us.

With undying love,
Your Mother, Ocean Breeze

Rainbow slowly lowered the letter as tears dotted the parchment. It had been so long since she’d heard from them, and they sounded so sincere, so regretful. They felt terrible for what they did, and wanted to make amends. Rainbow wanted to as well, but if that was the case, then why didn’t she feel like that. Why wasn’t she… happy that they finally contacted her?

Rainbow barely noticed, but she gritted her teeth together. Something bubbled up inside of her, boiled in the pit of her stomach. It took her a moment to realize what that something was, but as she tore the letter in two, she knew exactly what it was. Absolute anger.

“Who the hay do they think they are?!” Rainbow shouted, ripping apart the letter. Every rip and tear did nothing to satisfy the complete rage raging inside of her. After so many years, they thought that they could just reappear out of the blue as though nothing happened? They thought that mere apologies would be enough to make Rainbow forgive them? They thought that feeling bad was going to earn Rainbow’s sympathy? They were supposed to feel bad. They practically abandoned their own daughter for Celestia’s sake!

And now… Now, they just come back, hoping to have a nice dinner with their precious, little flyer. Yes, she was going to see them. She wasn’t going to hesitate for one second about seeing them. However, if they honestly thought that Rainbow was going to take them in with open arms and that things would be like ‘old times’, then they were in for a rude awakening.

Without another word, Rainbow darted out of the library, the wind from her takeoff scattering the torn pieces of parchment all across the library, adding to the mess that Spike had to clean up. It wasn’t as though the young dragon notice, though. He was far too busy cowering in a corner, still hesitant to move even after the raging pegasus left the building.

“Uh, s-see ya later, Rainbow.”