• Published 11th Nov 2012
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The Wrong Place at the Right Time - Little Jackie Papercut



Why weren't the Elements of Harmony in a museum after a thousand years? What if they HAD been?

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Act 2: The Elements of Harmony

Twilight stood paralyzed with fear, the true direness of the situation having just set in upon her. She was vaguely aware of Honey Do creeping off the stage and toward the door, and nearby, Blossomforth standing protectively in front of a group of cowering foals.

"Halt!" Mayor Tux cried out, pointing a hoof at the villain, as the combined forces of the Royal Guard and the Neigh York Police Department converged on her. "You will tell us where our Princess is, now!"

"Stand back, you foals!" In an instant, Nightmare Moon conjured a storm that blew away the guards and pinned down the police.

At that moment, Honey Do returned, swooping toward the stage with a sun-shaped symbol clenched between her teeth. Whatever she was expecting the object to do, though, it never got a chance to do it. Nightmare Moon swatted the curator aside easily, then, as suddenly as she arrived, she had become a dark mist once more and swarmed away.

Octavia turned toward Twilight, looking like she might comment. She stopped herself, however, when she realized Twilight wasn't there anymore.

~#~#~#~

"Uh... we gotta stop Nightmare...!" Spike declared, raising a claw in the direction of the door, before he toppled over, the day's exhaustion catching up with him.

Twilight shook her head as she set him on a couch and draped a blanket over him. "You've been up all night, Spike," she said gently. "You are a baby dragon, after all." Now she turned to the nearest bookshelf. "Elements, elements, elements... how can we stop Nightmare Moon without the Elements of Harmony?"

"You!"

Twilight jumped nearly a foot at the voice behind her. When she turned around, she found an angry blue unicorn bearing down on her.

"New in Manehattan? On the day Nightmare Moon takes over? And you knew she was coming? What kind of foals did you think we were?!" Trixie spat.

Twilight reeled back, a little too stunned to catch the implication Trixie was making. "I don't under—"

Somepony standing in the doorway cleared her throat politely. Twilight and Trixie both turned to look. Octavia offered a smile as she knocked on the doorframe, trotting inside. Blossomforth and Orange Sherbet followed, supporting between them a recovering Honey Do.

"Twilight, please, do go on," Sherbet said, nodding to the unicorn. "If you know how we can solve this... share it with us."

Twilight looked around the group, then bowed her head before answering. "I read all about the prediction of Nightmare Moon," she explained. "Some mysterious objects called the Elements of Harmony are the only things that can stop her, but I don't know what they are, where to find them—I don't even know what they do!"

As if the words triggered something, Honey Do suddenly perked up and darted to a bookshelf, scanning it quickly and selecting one particular tome. "Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide," she declared, lifting herself out of the way as Twilight rushed to see.

"How did you find that?!" Twilight asked, pulling it hastily from the shelf and opening it.

"Studied it. For months. I could find that one blindfolded," Honey replied. "Part of the prep work, you know. I'd skip it if I could, but then..."

Twilight barely heard her, focusing on the book.

"There are six Elements of Harmony, but only five are known: Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Honesty and Loyalty. The sixth is a complete mystery. It is said, the last known location of the five elements was in the ancient castle of the royal pony sisters. It is located in what is now... the Everfree Forest?!" She looked up, eyes wide. "But that's halfway across Equestria! We'll never make it, not with—"

"Whoa! Take it easy!" Honey said, placing a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "We don't need to go there!"

The look Twilight gave her was the look one might give a three-headed ettin with a monocle, tophat and gentlemanly mustache.

"Don't need to...? Weren't you listening?! The Elements are the only thing that can defeat Nightmare Moon! There! Is! Nothing! Else!"

Honey held up her forehooves in a defensive gesture, fluttering away slightly. "No, listen," she said. "We don't need to go there because the Elements aren't in the Everfree Forest." There was a pregnant pause at that, during which the assembled ponies almost thought they heard the gears in Twilight's head grinding to a halt.

"But how would you know that?" she asked quietly.

"Because for the last six months they've been in..."

~#~#~#~

"The Equestrian Museum of Supernatural History!"

Twilight gaped at the building. They had been right there, the whole time? She could have just asked for them! Her hoof met her face for a moment, but then she brightened. Easy! Just walk in and take the Elements! Use them against Nightmare Moon! Then this whole ordeal would be over!

"Okay then, Madam Curator," she said, starting toward the door, "show me the way to the Elements, and..."

She was cut off by a low rumbling sound. Quickly, she became aware that the ground under her hooves was vibrating... and so was the museum. With a deafening roar, the building began to sink, inch by inch, into the earth.

"My museum!" Honey Do wailed, watching in horror as the first floor was slowly, completely submerged beneath street level. Then, to seal the deal, everything above simply collapsed, creating a mountain of rubble where the museum had stood.

The ponies stared on in disbelief. Twilight and Honey both gaped at the loss of their only hope of bringing back the sun, plus a thousand years of supernatural history. Blossomforth averted her eyes as Octavia patted Honey Do with a gentle, comforting hoof. Auntie scanned the wreckage, reaching out with her hoof as if to feel around for something, but not leaving her spot, and Trixie seemed to be about to speak, but repeatedly faltered and said nothing.

"...is there still a way in?" Twilight asked at length, approaching the ruins cautiously, looking for any gaps in the debris. "A window or... a door!" She spotted a metal door surrounded by a column of concrete poking out of the detritus, rushed over to it, and gave it a pull...

Nothing. It was the remnant of a fire escape, the metal grating that used to connect it to the ground now stripped away and lying useless; the door automatically locked from the inside for security purposes. Twilight gave a strangled cry and beat her head against the metal. "Why? Why did it have to be locked?! Now we don't have any way to get in!"

"That's not entirely true," said Auntie.

Twilight turned slowly, hardly daring to hope.

"Please, take a look over there," said the earth pony, gesturing beyond the field of destruction. Obligingly, Twilight turned her head in the indicated direction, and there, she saw something wonderful. Green rails surrounded what appeared to be a great hole in the road, and from this angle, she could barely make out the outline of stairs leading down.

It was a subway entrance. "From the look of it," said Auntie, "the building sinking should have put its back door in the subway station..."

"Perfect!" Twilight yelled, rushing down the stairs without a moment of hesitation. All five of the others exchanged a glance, then hurried after her.

Twilight was only familiar with subway stations from descriptions in her books. The lights flickering on as they entered, the only ones who would tonight, startled her, but not enough to stop her. The slate tile floor beneath her hardly registered, nor the faint lingering smell of hay fries. Even the fossils embedded in the wall and the beautiful mosaics, which normally would have sparked her curiosity, didn't slow her down.

What did get her attention was the sound of screeching brakes, and she came to a complete stop as a subway train barreled past, suddenly wrenching itself off the tracks, twisting and crashing with a massive explosion.

When the smoke cleared, Twilight was once again at a loss. The wreckage stood from floor to ceiling, completely blocking their way into the museum. There were gaps, yes, but they were twisted, narrow, jagged, and had flames pouring from them.

"Was anypony on board?" Blossomforth asked, alarmed.

"No, it was totally empty," Trixie replied. "Trixie didn't even see an operator."

"No..." Twilight groaned. "We were so close! The Elements are right there! Tell me there's another way," she said, turning to the others. "Tell me there's something we can do to get rid of this!"

Auntie shifted uncomfortably. "Er... there's a lever that will trigger an emergency system designed to clear large blockages from the tracks, yes," she said, "but it's... on the other side. And nopony could get through this..."

A moment of silence passed before Honey Do stepped forward. "I could," she stated calmly.

"You?" Twilight looked at her skeptically. "How? Would you even fit...?"

"I've been through tighter squeezes," Honey replied. She reached out and touched the nearest opening, then quickly withdrew her hoof and examined it. "Pointier ones, too." She stepped back and prepared to go in, but paused and looked over herself. "...I'm gonna have to lose this, though," she said, slipping a hoof under her sweater. "No way I'll make it with this fire hazard on my back." She pulled it off and tossed it aside. As the sweater cleared Honey's flanks, Twilight gasped.

Honey Do's cutie mark, previously covered by the hefty garment, was a compass rose. With that revealed, and her body no longer artificially puffed up by the woolen bulk, a spark of recognition fired in Twilight's mind. "You're—!" she began, but the pegasus raised a hoof for silence.

"Talk later," she said, charging forward and diving through the opening.

~#~#~#~

The pegasus rolled into the subway car, already feeling the intense heat as she stood. It wasn't much more recognizable on the inside than it had been from the outside. It still looked as if it had been pinched in half, and the floor clearly corkscrewed. The doors were completely trashed. Her entrance had been the remnant of one door, broken slightly ajar, but the opposite door was twisted shut, permanently.

Glancing up, she spotted a hatch in the ceiling. She dropped near the ground and drew in a breath of relatively clean air to hold against the smoke, then flew up and gave the hatch a good turn. It slid aside, revealing that it was Honey Do's lucky day—another hatch! This too she pulled aside, then flew straight up through it.

She was now in an upside-down subway car, and the fire was closer to her than it had previously been. But there, within sight, was an open door, leading to her destination!

A creaking above her drew her attention, and as she looked at the floor she realized that in a moment she was going to be hit with molten slag. She grabbed a chunk of wood that had previously been part of a bench and used it to shield herself...

~#~#~#~

The rest watched in silence, only hearing the clangs of hooves on metal. Twilight held her breath as an especially loud sizzling sound came from inside the car.

Slowly, that sound faded. The five strained to listen, anxious for any hint of their friend's safety. They heard only the crackling and popping of a slowly burning fire. Twilight bit her lip nervously and turned to the others. She wanted to say something, anything, but words wouldn't come.

As she struggled to organize her thoughts, there was a clicking sound from below the train. A great groaning and whining issued from the mass of metal, and with a shower of sparks, it began to move. The wreckage was pulled away down the track, revealing Honey Do watching from the other side. The five practically flew across the track to meet her.

"You made it!"

"I didn't think you'd get out of there alive!"

"..."

"Honey, are you really...?"

The tan pegasus nodded. "Yeah. They call me Daring Do," she said, managing to not show any major change in her expression as she did.

"So..." Twilight ventured, "why hide it? Covering up your cutie mark... calling yourself Honey..."

"Obviously," Trixie interrupted, placing her forehooves on Honey Do's shoulders, "it's because she wants to escape the terrible burden of her fame! Trixie sympathizes, really..."

"Uh... no," said Honey. "It's actually kinda nice being famous. But have you read those books? Sure, the artifacts they talk about are real, but beyond that, they have no basis in reality! I'm not some brash loudmouth hero like how the books portray me... but even my old friends started to think I'm like the character after they read the books. So, I just don't tell ponies, and it's all good. Besides, it's not like I lie to ponies. Honey's my real name, even if Daring Do is really catchy."

There was a second as they absorbed this, Honey being the first to turn her attention back to the great door in front of them. "Girls, we've still got a mission," she reminded them. "Whenever you're ready."

With a general chorus of "Ready," they all proceeded toward the massive door.

Twilight hung back a bit, nudging the pegasus as the other four opened the door. "Hey," she said, "really, thanks for letting us know, Honey."

Honey shook her head. "It wouldn't be right to put my own little secrets ahead of everyone else. The truth will set you free, right? And anyway, you guys... you can call me Daring."

~#~#~#~

The door led into a room lined with couches; Octavia set her cello down on one to rest for a moment. The room wasn't as large as Twilight was expecting, an impression strengthened by the fact that the far wall was rounded, extending back into the room. There was a ticket booth in the center of that wall, with several doors on either side. A light flickered within the booth, threatening to go out.

"This is the planetarium. The doors are automatic," Daring said. "Need a ticket to get in this way."

Twilight approached the booth, peering around for a way in. A sudden motion inside startled her and she jumped back a bit as a face sprang up on the other side of the glass.

"...Trixie?" Twilight asked. "When did you...?"

"Trixie used to hang out here over the summer when she was in school," Trixie explained. "Getting in and out of places unseen was one way Trixie amused herself." She flipped her mane with a hoof as she leaned against a machine with a clock on it, which showed that the next ill-fated show was supposed to be in two hours.

Twilight opted not to ask what the other ways were. "So you can let us in, right?"

"Hm," said Trixie, reviewing a chart. "It would seem admission has gone up since Trixie was last here. Ten bits for a ticket? Truly outrageous."

"Trixie..."

"Trixie supposes she will have to charge you the sixty bits, though. Policy is policy! Wouldn't want Trixie to get fired from her new job, would you?"

"Trixie! Just give us the tickets already!"

Trixie snickered as she pressed a button and several tickets were dispensed from a slot. "Relax. Trixie has you covered," she said, taking one for herself and distributing the rest. "Lucky us, these are the last of them."

With a puff of smoke, Trixie disappeared from the booth, rejoining the group in much the same fashion. Tickets ready, they approached the doors.

Out of their direct line of sight, the clock sparked, flickered, and went dark, wisps of shadow beginning to leak from it.

The doors had slots on them, too, and it was into these that the tickets were inserted, granting each pony entry. Twilight struggled to see in the dim light filtering into the planetarium. Scanning the far end of the room, she spotted what might have been the doors leading into the museum proper, and started forward, accompanied by the others.

Behind them, the doors swung shut. The sudden pitch-blackness of the dome elicited screams and shouts of confusion from the group.

"Okay, okay! Nobody panic!" Twilight said a little belatedly. "I can use a quick light spell, we should be fine!"

The glowing of her horn quickly illuminated the dome. Just as quickly, the ponies dropped to the ground, screaming, covering their heads with their hooves. Above them, indistinct phantasmal shapes could be seen swirling about, now and then resolving themselves into extremely large bats, with dark reddish fur covering their bodies, and sharp, exaggerated faces reminiscent of foxes.

Blossomforth swatted at the air above her head blindly. Octavia shielded herself with her cello. Orange Sherbet tried to take cover under a seat. Daring simply tensed up and watched, clutching at the sides of her head as if to hold on to her missing pith helmet. Trixie was standing.

Trixie was standing? "Trixie, what are you doing?" Twilight shouted.

Shadowy claws slashed at the blue unicorn, leaving deep gashes. She seemed wholly unperturbed, though, until Twilight jumped to her feet to pull her back, and got raked across the eye by a creature. "Augh!" Twilight stumbled back, wincing.

By way of response, Trixie laughed. It was a long, loud, confident sound, which startled the others almost as much as the creatures had. A moment later, Trixie conjured an eyepatch over Twilight's eye, and gestured to the creatures. "We have an audience! Perfect! Welcome to the Greatest Show in Equestria!" she announced, launching a single firework from her horn.

With angry screeches, they began to swirl around her, but Trixie reached up with a hoof and grabbed one, pulling it to her side. "Tell Trixie, what's your name? Where do you come from?"

The creature hissed.

"Oh, that's a nice place. Sunny weather. Trixie likes you, have a cigar." She shoved a cigar in the creature's mouth and released it, leaving it looking confused as it hovered over her. A few moments later, the cigar exploded in its face, leaving a stunned-looking flying fox covered in soot and ash.

Daring Do chuckled.

"How about... you?" From under Trixie's cape, a cane extended, grabbing and reeling in another creature, still cloaked in shadow. "You know, hold that thought. I really don't think that color works for you." Her horn sparked, and suddenly the shadow had become an aura of neon pink.

There was a general chorus of uncertain giggles from the mares still on the floor.

Poof! Another creature was now wearing a funny hat.

Zap! Now that one over there looked like it had been dunked in a swamp.

Ping! Whiff! Zoop! Three of them now found themselves inexplicably seated around a floating table, with teacups in front of them.

Sherbet stifled a laugh in order to remark, "I never would have guessed bats could be so... erudite."

"Oh, certainly," Trixie replied. "They're positively dripping with class."

As she said this, three teapots appeared above the bats and tilted, pouring out their contents onto the hapless beasts.

"They have to be, of course," she continued. "They could never have such a smashing time otherwise." The teapots proceeded to break themselves over the creatures' heads.

The mares now erupted into peals of laughter, even Twilight, once she had recovered from the shock. The beasts reeled in confusion, bumping into each other as they scrambled to regroup, almost as frightened by the laughing ponies as the ponies themselves had been moments before. One by one, they began to find cracks in the dome and slip out.

Trixie turned to the others with a grin. "Well, that takes care of that," she said, tossing her mane. "They won't be bothering us again."

Twilight nodded as her giggles subsided, then took a deep breath and looked at Trixie's side. "Uh, Trixie?" she began. "Your wounds, they're... gone..."

"Illusions," Trixie said. "Flying foxes use illusions to hunt. They only strike for real when their victim is too paralyzed with fear to fight back." She smirked. "They're as afraid of you as you aren't of them."

Twilight absorbed that for a moment. Slowly, she lifted a hoof to her face. "Then... my eye..."

"Your eye was all in your head," Trixie confirmed with a laugh.

"Then... why did I need the eyepatch?" Twilight asked.

Waving a hoof, Trixie snickered. "Because it's funny," she explained, as if it were perfectly obvious.

Twilight groaned, removing the eyepatch and discarding it as the others giggled once more.

The doors at the far end of the room swung open, as if beckoning them deeper into the museum.

"Shall we?" Trixie asked.

"Ready!" said the rest.

Twilight considered Trixie for a moment, then, finally, gave her an approving grin and a nod. "Let's go."

~#~#~#~

Outside the planetarium, the lights were dim and flickering, but there was at least enough light to see by without magic.

Twilight entered first, cautiously, Daring Do hovering over her as they made their way forward. Behind them, Trixie was still making little jokes to Auntie Sherbet about her victory over the flying foxes. In the rear, Blossomforth was talking to, or possibly at, Octavia, who nodded politely along with everything the pegasus said. Above them, a mass of darkness creeped along the ceiling, unnoticed.

"I guess we should've known it was dangerous from the start," Blossomforth was saying. "It's not like some big nasty who took down Celestia was going to make it easy on us. Still... we can get through this, right? We've got to. I mean, we WILL. We'll bring the sun back. Right?" Her cheery expression wavered for a moment before reaffirming itself. "Right. We've got nothing to fear. Did you see how Daring Do handled that train wreck? Or how Trixie chased those bats off so easily? If they can do that, nothing can stop us."

All those words sounded hollow to her.

Octavia reached over with a hoof and patted her on the shoulder, offering a gentle smile. Blossomforth chuckled. "Heh, thanks, Octavia. You always know what to say, don't you?"

"Girls," whispered Twilight, as they walked through the Commander Hurricane Memorial exhibit, "do you hear that?"

Everypony went silent. Blossomforth fluttered forward, listening carefully.

Somewhere above them, something was definitely creaking.

Sherbet grimaced. "It sounds like it's about to..."

She was cut off by a horrendous crashing noise, as a column of stone and metal from the ruins of the upper floors crashed down into the room. Daring Do pulled Twilight to the side, while Blossomforth zipped forward to avoid being flattened. Trixie and Auntie Sherbet were close behind, their course weaving about the room as they dodged chunks of death from above. Octavia, further back, hurried to reach the wall, following it around the hazardous zone.

A cloud of dust billowed into the Mammals of Dream Valley exhibit, carrying with it several ponies. After a few seconds of coughing, the dust began to settle, and Twilight brushed herself off. "Is everypony okay?" she asked.

"Fine and dandy," said Daring Do, patting herself down to check.

"A little roughed up, but I'll make it," Sherbet noted.

"Still great and powerful," Trixie said, beaming.

"I think I'm in one piece," Blossomforth confirmed.

"Good," Twilight sighed. "What about you, Octavia?"

Silence.

"Octavia...?"

"She didn't make it?!" Sherbet cried, horrified, turning back to the now sealed-off door. A panicked murmur spread quickly among the group.

"I-I think I saw her running around the cave-in," Daring Do stammered. "She must have reached the Biology of Giant Invertebrates exhibit..."

Twilight nodded, her mind clicking into gear. She stepped toward the wreckage. "Octavia!" she called out. "Can you hear me? I... I can't see a way through... we're going ahead, so try and meet us at the main entrance!"

~#~#~#~

Octavia stood, shook her head to clear it, and then gasped and scrambled back slightly as she found herself staring at a very large circular maw full of very large pointy teeth. A moment passed, and she realized it was a display that had been knocked over, a variety of sandworm. She picked up her fallen cello as she stepped gingerly over it, scanning the room. There was a door, barely visible in the darkness, at the far end.

She spared a glance behind her, confirming that there was no way but forward. Twilight and the rest must have been trapped in another part of the museum; Octavia had been at the back of the group when the cave-in started, so the others would have had more time to escape. With that settled in her mind, she moved forward slowly.

The sound of something clattering to the floor drew her attention, and she whirled to face the source.

~#~#~#~

Twilight eased forward, past various displays of strange-looking animals. Her wary eyes scrolled over a group of puffy, hairy creatures, identified on a placard as "bushwoolies", an extremely docile species of subsapient rodents, and across from them, some lumpy, gray-skinned bipeds called Grundles—"No recent sightings," this placard noted, "thought extinct."

In the dark recesses of the exhibit, she was unable to see an even darker mist seeping into a large stuffed display shrouded in the shadows ahead.

A roar brought the entire group to a halt, and was quickly echoed by a second. A snort followed, and everypony backed away as the creature stepped slowly out from between a pair of overlarge monkey-bird shapes. It sniffed at the air for a moment before noticing them, then turned and padded forward to meet them, its lion and dragon heads licking their lips in anticipation, goat head tossing irritably.

Twilight's jaw unhinged for a moment, but she quickly recomposed herself. "Girls, it looks like we've got a fight on our hooves," she said.

~#~#~#~

Octavia approached the giant centipede cautiously. As she rounded it, several ponies gasped in unison and held up their hooves defensively.

"Please, don't hurt us," said a cream-colored earth stallion. "We got trapped in here after Nightmare Moon wrecked the place. We're just looking for the exit..."

Octavia nodded and reached out to them with a hoof, beckoning them closer. They began to gather around her, and she looked them over to see if any of them were hurt. One mare, a blue pegasus, lay on the ground and nursed a slightly reddened foreleg. Octavia offered a hoof to help her stand.

That was when somepony behind her yelled something she couldn't quite make out. Before she could turn around, she felt a sharp pain in her hindleg.

~#~#~#~

The five mares gathered around, readying themselves as the chimera stalked closer. The dragon head gave an angry snort, a wisp of flame escaping its nostrils. Behind the chimera, something green and scaly rose up—a snake, where the creature's tail should be.

Despite her instinctual fear Twilight's eyes narrowed, giving the creature a glare of determination. The chimera returned the gesture, all eight eyes fixed forward as the group braced themselves for the attack.

"Twilight? Trixie? Can you do something about this?" Sherbet asked.

Daring Do shook her head. "Chimeras are part dragon, and adult dragons are extremely magic-resistant. All we can use is hoofpower, and this thing has us beat four ways there."

"We can't beat it head-on, no," Twilight said. "We'd have to trick it. In fact... I have a plan... but it's too close, we'd need to distract it somehow."

Blossomforth took a deep breath.

"And your plan will work? If it's distracted?" she asked.

"Well, yeah," Twilight replied, "but it's got us where it wants us, so I don't know how we're going to—"

Before Twilight could say any more, a white streak had darted past her, and over the chimera's heads. The beast looked confused for a second, then nearly tripped over itself turning to chase the pony.

~#~#~#~

Octavia glanced behind herself and saw a young pegasus colt, almost the same shade of blue as the mare in front of her, rearing up to strike her again. "Don't touch my mom!" he shouted. The huddled ponies looked shocked at this, but Octavia didn't wait for them to act. With the fastest reflexes she had ever displayed, she turned and grabbed him firmly with her forehooves.

She held him there in a gentle hug. He struggled and squirmed for a minute, so she whispered soft reassurances in his ear. Slowly, he began to calm down. Slowly, Octavia swept him up, set him in front of his mother, and raised her cello. The bow touched the strings again, and she began to play a slow, familiar melody. The foal smiled as she began to sing.

Hush now, quiet now, it's time to lay your sleepy head
Hush now, quiet now, it's time to go to bed
Drift, drift, off to sleep, leave the exciting day behind you
Drift, drift, off to sleep, let the joy of dreamland find you
Hush now, quiet now, it's time to lay your sleepy head
Hush now, quiet now, it's time to go to bed...

Wavering slightly, the colt yawned. His mother clapped lightly, careful not to disturb him. Octavia smiled at the sound, but she wasn't done. She bowed to the mother, turned to face the rest of the ponies, and played on.

See now, how the world is full of peaceful, quiet bliss
See now, how the world has felt sleep's gentle kiss
Dream, dream, dream of what the morning's magic light will bring
Dream, dream, dream of all of nature's wondrous things
Hush now, quiet now, it's time to lay your sleepy head
Hush now, quiet now, it's time to go to bed...

Hush now, quiet now, it's time to lay your sleepy head
Hush now, quiet now, it's time to go to bed
Drift, drift, off to sleep, leave the exciting day behind you
Drift, drift, off to sleep, let the joy of dreamland find you
Hush now, quiet now, it's time to lay your sleepy head
Hush now, quiet now, it's time to go to bed...

~#~#~#~

The lion's jaws snapped shut inches from Blossomforth's heel. Blossomforth rolled out of the way as best she could, and received a smack from the goat's horns that sent her spiraling out-of-control into a nearby display of a pair of monkeys.

"No, not the Gizmonks!" Daring Do cried out. "That's the only pair we have!" Blossomforth stood and shook off the impact, then darted into the air again. The chimera's beady eyes watched her hungrily. Hovering out of its reach, she waved to Twilight.

She was surprised when the dragon head opened its mouth and a stream of fire issued forth. There was barely enough time to dive out of the way and avoid being scorched. The air wasn't safe. Blossomforth was going to have to get closer.

With a deep breath, she zipped directly between the dragon and lion heads. Each turned to try and bite her, but just missed; they roared in pain as their teeth dug into each other. The snake tail twitched, then sprang at Blossomforth. She gave it a kick, and it reeled away momentarily. When it recovered and came at her again, she ducked under it, then around. The desperate snake managed to twist itself into a knot trying to catch the pegasus.

"Any time now, Twilight!" Blossomforth called. The chimera was fast, faster than any pony could hope to be in this tight space. She knew it wouldn't be long before it actually caught her, that only determination and luck could pull her through. Despite that, she remained defiant. She flew out of its reach once more, giving the lion head a quick rap on the way.

Twilight braced herself, mustering all her magic. As the chimera jumped to catch Blossomforth, a diagram depicting the ecosystem of Dream Valley swayed once, twice, then toppled on top of it, twisting itself to trap the creature.

"Now what should we do with it?" Twilight asked, approaching the downed beast.

"It's just an exhibit, a display," Daring Do said. "It was never alive before. Must be one of Nightmare Moon's tricks. Can you reverse the spell?"

Twilight nodded. "The Come-To-Life spell is pretty simple, I should be able to undo it." She focused her magic into the task, and within seconds, the vicious look in the chimera's eyes gave way to the foggy, unknowing stare of simple glass beads.

Blossomforth landed. "Wow, that was easier than I thought it would be," she remarked, poking at the display.

"Blossomforth!" Twilight gave a sigh of relief and hugged the pegasus. "I thought that thing was going to catch you for sure! That was one of the riskiest moves I've ever seen!"

"Well," Blossomforth replied with a shrug, "You said you could do something if it was distracted. I just... believed in you. Now, I think we were going to meet Octavia?"

~#~#~#~

Octavia gently patted the sleeping foal's head. She looked around at the others, and saw that all of them had visibly relaxed. The stallion who had first encountered her stepped forward and placed a hoof on her shoulder. Octavia smiled, then turned and beckoned for them to follow her.

The path took them through the Shimmerwood Forest exhibit. The trees here, all taken from magical groves within the historic forest, were known to love music. Octavia began to hum, and the trees glittered with a beautiful light. The path through was made clear.

The rescuees followed closely, still awed by Octavia's song. None of them spoke until they reached the end of the path. Just beyond the trees, a metal door was visible. Octavia walked slowly to it and pushed it open. On the other side was another door, warped shut, and a flight of stairs. This was the first-floor fire exit. Glancing up, Octavia saw the stairwell was still mostly intact. A valid escape route.

She motioned them forward. "'If we do meet again, we'll smile indeed; if not, 'tis true this parting was well made,'" she said with a bow. "Hurry home. Be safe. I still have something to do here."

"Thank you so much," said the mother pegasus. "I'll repay you somehow, I promise." With that, she disappeared up the stairs, and one by one the rest filed after her, all pausing to give Octavia a grateful nod on their way out.

The last escaped, and Octavia let the door swing shut and returned her attention to the path. She hummed again, a different tune, and a new path lit up.

She walked with a purposeful stride and a quick pace. Her friends would be waiting for her. It would be wrong to make them wait. Therefore, nothing must delay her. Ahead lay the Shamanic Rituals of the Buffalo exhibit, and the idea that Nightmare Moon might have laid a trap briefly occurred to her, but she closed her eyes and pressed on.

She was fortunate. It seemed Nightmare had better things to do than lay traps for troubadors, and as the main entrance came into view, she could see the others waiting. Trixie was waving animatedly, Daring and Sherbet more reservedly; Twilight and Blossomforth just smiled at her.

"You made it... what a relief," Twilight said, putting a hoof to her chest. "What happened in there? Did you run into anything?"

Octavia thought for a moment, then cleared her throat to recount what had just happened.

~#~#~#~

"And just up ahead," Daring Do announced, indicating the same corridor she had led Twilight down earlier in the day, "is the Early Equestrian Relics wing, where we'll find displays on founders, explorers, and Elements of Harmony." She bore a practically giddy expression at the realization that they were so close, shared by the entire group.

That look fled as the lights flickered and a series of faint popping noises echoed through the museum. A second later, all the lights simply died. From up ahead, there was a shrill, metallic screeching, followed shortly by a thunderous crash like an entire kitchen full of pots and pans hitting the floor at once.

"What? What's happening?" Trixie demanded. "What was that?!"

A few rapid breaths were audible from the curator's position before she managed to reply. "That," she explained, "would be the security door."

"Security door?" Twilight repeated, perplexed. "What kind of door makes that noise?"

"The kind that's a massive sheet of metal designed to drop into place when the power goes out," Daring clarified. "There's some sensitive stuff in that wing, and the door's to make sure nothing gets stolen or broken while we're all in the dark."

Twilight sighed. "I see. So... how do you open it?"

"By turning the power back on. We need to get to the maintenance office. Can you give me a light?"

Obligingly, Twilight lit up her horn, bathing the six in violet illumination. With that, Daring Do set off, back toward the entrance, the rest following behind her.

~#~#~#~

We're so close...

Orange Sherbet found, not for the first time since this mess started, that she was unconsciously holding her breath. She may have been panicking just a little internally. Perfectly understandable, since there seemed to be a trap around every corner.

No, better not think about traps. That'll only make it worse. Let the experts handle the traps. Think about the way things were before tonight. The way things should be. The future.

She had been planning to take a vacation with a few friends soon. Someplace warmer than Neigh York, just for a few days. Now, she decided, if they won, she'd ask Twilight and the others to come along; they were certainly more pleasant company than her usual social circles. But that would have to be postponed. Nightmare Moon had interrupted a beautiful celebration with a beautiful banquet, so the first order of business would be to arrange another, grander, to replace what was lost.

She was already envisioning the scene. Upon a mosaic of trays and tables would be an elegant arrangement of orange salads, orange crepes, orange tarts, orange marmalades, orange puddings, and of course her specialty, orange sherbets. She would gather all of Manehattan and they would feast until everypony agreed that the celebration had been perfect, as though this night had never happened.

A click brought her back to reality. Daring Do had opened a door and beckoned them down a narrow, darkened corridor.

Oh yes. Save the world first, then we can plan the feast.

The world above... Sherbet thought of her family, of her husband, her sister, her niece. Apples and Oranges. The rest of the city, cowering from the memory of the dark mare. The rest of the world, wondering why the sun hadn't risen yet, perhaps beginning to really fear the reason now.

She imagined how they would all react, when at last this oppressive night rolled away and the gentle dawn replaced it. Would they cheer? Dance for joy? Fall on their faces and thank Celestia? Or perhaps they'd all just give a sigh of relief and go on with their lives.

Sherbet wouldn't blame them for that.

~#~#~#~

They had stopped moving. Daring opened a panel, peering in with the light from Twilight's horn. Her hoof hovered over something within the panel, then began moving rapidly along the rest of the space. Even from behind, that hoof gave a pretty clear image of the motion of her eyes, scanning, searching, pleading desperately to show her what she wanted to see.

The others could hear a hiss. It was a strange, frightened sound coming from Daring Do herself, as she flipped open another panel, then another. "No... no, not this one too!" she growled. She whirled around suddenly and darted past her friends, snatching a box from a shelf and tearing it open—it was empty. She gave a strangled cry of frustration and slumped over.

There was a general hesitation following that outburst.

"What is it?" Blossomforth asked cautiously, raising a hoof.

"The fuses," muttered the defeated curator. "They're all blown. Every. Last. One."

Sherbet approached the first fusebox and examined it closely.

"So what about the spares?" Trixie asked. "Surely you keep spares around."

"We keep one box in the maintenance office, and it's fresh out. The rest are all in storage."

Sherbet had found the spot, a slot marked 'Early Equestrian Relics'. "Storage where?" she asked, glancing back over her shoulder.

Daring Do simply pointed straight up. It took a moment for the others to register her meaning. Even if they could get out to the second floor and back in again, all they'd find digging through the rubble would be shards of glass and pulverized metal.

Sherbet's hoof slowly rose to her mane as she turned back to the fusebox, fidgeting nervously.

"There have to be more," Blossomforth was saying. "We can search for..."

"Blossom, I know you don't wanna give up," Daring interrupted, "and I don't either, but if there were more, they'd be right here."

A sound of cardboard sliding across a hard surface indicated Daring had kicked the box for emphasis.

Slowly, Sherbet lowered her hoof. It was curled around a small object. Her mane now fell in loose strands around her face.

"Then we'll find some other way in," Blossomforth responded. "I'm sure we can..."

In one quick, smooth motion, Sherbet raised her hoof and slammed her jewel-encrusted golden hairpin into the fuse slot, withdrawing her hoof quickly to avoid a subsequent electrocution.

There was a sizzle and a pop, and flying sparks illuminated the room. Far away, a groaning sound echoed, as if something huge was being lifted by some tremendous force.

In an instant, Daring Do was airborne. "What? How...?" she said, then laughed. "Yes! We're back in business!" As soon as that was out of her mouth, she zipped out of the room. Behind her, Trixie, Octavia, and Blossomforth exchanged a grin, then hurried after her.

Sherbet remained staring at the fusebox, as if still processing what had just happened.

Twilight trotted up to her. "Are you okay, Auntie?" she asked.

Sherbet drew in a sharp breath, turning her head away from the lost jewelry, hesitating for a second before answering. "That hairpin," she explained in a somber tone, "was the first gift my husband ever gave me. It wasn't a wedding gift or an anniversary gift or to celebrate this or that holiday. It was just... a gift. Something amazingly wonderful he gave me because he could. Barely, at that. Back then, he was a grocer. It was six months' pay for him, and then some." She shook her head sadly. "I've not parted with it since then... not until now."

Twilight only nodded her understanding. There was nothing else she could say, nothing anypony could say.

A moment of silence passed between them. Then, Sherbet straightened her posture, brushed her mane out of her face, and turned. "I'll have time to dwell on that later," she said, gently, with some semblance of composure restored. "Let's hurry. After all this, I don't want to miss the conclusion."

As they started out of the room, Twilight offered her a smile. It was small, sad, but sincere and hopeful. Without missing a beat, Auntie returned it in kind.

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