• Published 9th Dec 2012
  • 10,151 Views, 1,126 Comments

Hot Heads, Cold Hearts and Nerves of Steel - Trinary

AU Dashverse: The Crystal Empire has returned and the foals of Equestria have gone missing!

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Chapter 2


By mid-morning, Rainbow Dash and her friends had gathered in Ditzy’s house, in Dinky’s room. Applejack and Rarity were both bloodshot and looking frazzled, clearly panicked over the disappearances of their little sisters. Applejack, due to her early-morning habits, had been the first pony in town to realize that something was wrong, as she was now explaining to her friends.

“…the first sign Ah got that something was wrong was when Ah went outside. Usually as soon as Ah open the door, Winona comes racing outside barking fit to burst. But she didn’t, so Ah went up to Apple Bloom’s room to see if she’d been sleeping on her bed again. A-and…and Apple Bloom was just gone. Gone, just like that!” Applejack looked at her friends, her worry etched lines revealed on her face. “And Winona—oh th’ poor darlin’—she was whimpering and hiding under the bed. She had the nastiest cut on her leg, like something tried to get her! A-ah kin only imagine that it t-took Apple Bloom…” The normally strong pony’s face crumpled as she fought to maintain her composure, on the verge of tears.

Rarity had no such restraints as she burst into loud wails at the possible fate that befell her sister. “Oh my poor Sweetie Bee-elle!” She started bawling in a manner that was at once sincere and completely over dramatic. The two ponies, different in almost every way, embraced each other; united in their grief. “W-who would want to steal all the foals?” Rarity cried. “W-what sort of beast would do this to us?”

Fluttershy whimpered. “What if they’re hurt, or sad or scared?” Pinkie Pie sniffled and started to hug her, the two of them holding each other for comfort. Twilight lowered her head and pursued her lips. But Rainbow Dash cast a frantic look at the door. “Keep it down!” She whispered harshly. “Ditzy’s downstairs and we don’t need her hearing about a monster grabbing Dinky!”

“A m-monster?” Fluttershy’s knees knocked together with an audible clatter. “Ohmygoodness!”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions.” She looked over the room. “If it was some sort of monster from the Everfree Forest, then why would it come into Ponyville? They don’t do that often…and why target foals and only foals? How would it even be able to reach them in their own homes without anypony noticing? There’s no sign of any damage and no bl—er, sign of any injuries.” she amended quickly, seeing the expression on Applejack and Rarity’s faces. “So there probably wasn’t a fight. That points to something with intelligence, maybe even magic.” She trotted over to the window, looking outside.

Rainbow looked around. “Yeah…and there’s no way Dinky left through the front door or out the windows. They’re all locked at night. The windows weren’t broken either.”

“Hmmm…curiouser and curiouser!” Pinkie rubbed her chin as she blew some bubbles out of a pipe. She was also wearing an old-timey detective hat. Nopony even questioned it at this point. “It looks like we’ve got a mystery on our hooves, gang.”

Twilight looked at Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow Dash. “None of you heard anything?” They all shook their heads.

“Ah’m afraid I was too busy sawing logs to hear a thing.” Applejack rued. “Whatever happened, it must’ve happened fast: Ah didn’t even hear Winona bark or raise a fuss until it was practically morning.”

Rarity nodded sadly. “Sweetie Belle was staying with me this weekend…how can I face my parents and tell them that I lost Sweetie?” Her lip trembled.

Rainbow hung her head. She knew that feeling all too well. “I didn’t hear anything either. I didn’t even know she was missing until I heard all the ponies outside start yelling for their kids. That’s when I went to check on Dinky and…” she groaned. “I should’ve stayed with her.”

“Rainbow Dash, you can’t—” whatever Twilight was about to say got lost as Rainbow slammed her hoof down on the floor.

“I was right THERE!” She exclaimed. “We were…she asked me to stay with her! If I had, then—”

“Then whatever took Dinky might’ve gotten you too.” Twilight put in. “You can’t blame yourself for what happened.” She trotted over gave her friend a supportive nuzzle. “It’s not your fault.”

The agitated pegasus hung her head. “…she looked up to me…and Ditzy trusted me…” She snorted angrily. “We’ve got to get her back—all of them.”

“Sugarcube, we’re both feeling the same thing.” AJ traded a look with Rarity, who nodded in agreement. “And we will. But if it was a simple as going outside and looking, we’d still be doing that.”

“What we need is more information.” Twilight chimed in. “We need to figure out how this was done, by whom, and why. That’ll tell us where the foals are.”

“But where are we supposed to get it?” Rainbow demanded. “Nopony’s found a single clue! No tracks, no signs—we still don’t even know how they all got out of their houses when they were all locked up tight!”

Rarity nodded. “It is quite the mystery…could they have teleported them out?”

“I don’t think so.” Twilight shook her head. “That much magic would’ve gotten somepony’s attention…and that doesn’t explain why none of the fillies or colts made any noise.”

Hesitantly, Fluttershy leaned down and reached out a shaking hoof to gently peer underneath the bed. She didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath until she let it out with a sudden exhale. “Phew…I-I guess it wasn’t a monster under the bed.”

Pinkie frowned as she walked over to the window. “Oooh, this is making my pink little coco go all loco!” She smushed her face against the window pane, then went limp and slide down it, producing a horrible noise.

Everypony grabbed their ears as Rainbow yelled. “Pinkie, cut that out!”

“That’s worse than hooves on a chalkboard.” Applejack complained, tugging her hat down. “Ah’m surprised the glass didn’t break.”

Something perked Rarity’s interest. “Glass?” She trotted over as she delicately ran a hoof over the window. A softer, tinkling chime was heard. “This is delightful…” Her eyes lit up. “Oh ideee-aa!”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Really, you’re gonna go on about the glass while Dinky and Sweetie and the others are missing?”

“Hmph! I’ll have you know that this is extremely important!” the white unicorn proclaimed grandly. “This isn’t glass at all!”

The rainbow pegasus snorted. “What are you talking about? It’s the same cheap glass as every other window in the house. Ditzy can’t afford to have any expensive windows; she keeps breaking them.” she pointed out.

“As may be,” Rarity delicately agreed. “But this is most certainly not glass—look!” Everypony gathered around to look at it. She wrapped her hoof on the window pane. It held firm, producing a cacophony of soft tinks.

Twilight frowned as she critically examined the window. “Rarity’s right. This…this isn’t glass.” She dragged her hoof across it, making a faint hum. “It’s crystal...” Her eyes widened. “Rainbow Dash—go to the other house’s with missing foals. Go check the windows in their bedrooms! Quick!”

Rainbow nodded. “Right, be right back!” She opened the window and zoomed out. A scant few minutes later, she was back looking excited. “You were right, Twilight!” Dash announced. “And look at this!” In her hooves she held a pane of regular glass. “I found this right outside, buried underneath the snow!”

“So some…thing took out the entire window pane to grab the foals. Then they replaced it with some sort of crystal. But why not use put the actual glass back?” Applejack wondered.

Twilight grasped the window pane with her magic. “A hah! Look, they left claw marks around the edges when they pried it loose and gripped it. I guess whoever it was wanted to remain hidden as long as possible.”

“So this wasn’t a pony, that’s for sure.” Rainbow observed as she looked at the marks on the glass. Long thin marks, the kind made by claws were readily observable.

“That still don’t tell us who snatched Apple Bloom!” Applejack stomped her hoof in frustration. “Doggone critters tracks got buried by the fresh snowfall! Ah want to know one thing: Where. Is. Apple Bloom?”

Pinkie Pie looked out the window. “Ooh, maybe she knows!” Everypony crowded around to see who Pinkie was looking it.

It was Princess Celestia.

Rainbow Dash zoomed out of Ditzy’s house, careening to sudden halt in front of the Princess and her retinue. “Celestia!” The Princess used her wings to shield herself from the snow Rainbow had kicked up. Her guards were not as fortunate. “Eheh, sorry guys.”

Celestia lowered her wings, letting the snow drip off them. “Rainbow Dash,” she lowered her head to lay her neck across her student’s before wrapping her wings around Dash. “It is good to see you. I only wish that the circumstances were better.”

“You mean about the foals’ disappearing?” The blue pegasus looked up at her. “What’s going on? Dinky—my godfilly—she’s gone too! Please, we have to get her and the others back!”

“And we will.” Celestia promised. Casting her eyes around she saw a crowd of ponies starting to gather around, each desperate to find their lost foals, their children and younger siblings. They needed to know that it would all be okay. Celestia drew herself up to her full magnificent height. “I solemnly swear, as Princess of Equestria, that we will not rest until each and every filly and colt is safely returned to their loved ones.”

A flicker of hope crossed the faces of the worried ponies. Celestia nodded once to Rainbow Dash and her friends. “Please, follow me. I need to speak to you…in private.”

Falling into step beside her mentor, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help asking, “What’s this all about? What’s doing all this?”

Celestia’s eyes narrowed and her lip curled downwards. Her answer was a single word, packed in with as much loathing as she could muster. “Sombra.”

& & &

It had taken some doing, but the Princess had managed to procure a quiet spot in Town Hall where she could talk to the Elements of Harmony alone. The royal guards positioned themselves at the doors and windows to ensure their privacy.

“Please…Princess Celestia, can you truly get our sisters back?” Rarity implored, her eyes shimmering.

The Princess sighed. “I wish that I could…but I’m afraid that task will fall to you.”

“What? Why?” Rainbow asked. Celestia closed her eyes.

“Because I cannot leave Equestria,” She looked out one of the windows. “My absence in the face of these attacks could provoke panic. I need to keep my ponies calm, in case this is just the beginning. And Luna has yet to recover her full strength. That leaves only you.”

Rainbow stomped her hoof. “Who is this Sombra creep anyway? What does he want with

Celestia’s horn glowed as she gently floated a large pink crystal out from under her wing into the middle of the room. “I trust you are all familiar with the Hearth’s Warming tale…the unification of the three tribes and the founding of Equestria?” She looked around as everypony nodded. “The story actually condenses what took place. It took years for ponykind to be united and for Equestria as we know it to come into being. When my sister and I ascended to the throne, there were elements of the old unicorn royal family who wished to continue their rule unimpeded. Back then Luna and I sought to govern and advise, not to rule. The leaders of individual cities and settlements had a wide range of autonomy to rule as they saw fit. One particular city in the north called Tambelon was ruled by a cadet branch of the unicorn monarchy. Its ruler was a cruel tyrant named King Sombra.”

The crystal flashed, conjuring forth an image of a red-eyed, black-coated unicorn in armor standing atop a tower, eyes narrowed as he looked out over Equestria. “Sombra believed that he should be the rightful ruler of all Equestria. He desperately sought a way to increase his own power so that he could seize control.”

The crystal glowed again, revealing Sombra walking side by side with a female earth pony with a most…unique complexion. She looked almost translucent; shimmering as she moved in the light. “He reached out to a particular subgroup of ponies called the Crystal Ponies and promised them a home; even taking their leader as his bride. Together, they rebuilt the entire city out of magical crystals, renaming it the Crystal Empire. This greatly enhanced Sombra’s prestige.” The crystal shimmered, transforming the image of the city from one made of stone and mortar to one made of pure crystal. It was stunning in its beauty, marred only by the image of Sombra leering over his subjects with the look a dragon has for its hoard.

“After his wife passed many thought him a fitting…consort for me.” Celestia looked disgusted. “As soon as it was appropriate—or, thinking back, even before it was appropriate—he approached me with talk of uniting our two great houses. But I saw underneath his façade, there was no love or compassion in his heart: only greed and a lust for power. I spurned his advances.”

An image of the enraged unicorn appeared; fire in his eyes, as he bellowed angrily to the skies. “Bitter, Sombra sought to seize the throne by force. When designing the city, he crafted the crystals of the city to amplify Sombra’s own magic by diverting it from the Crystal Ponies, enslaving them to his will.”

“Sombra’s non-Crystal subjects fled the city, including his only foal; spreading word of his dark tyranny. Luna and I set out to overthrow the King. Our magic overpowered his, but he had a contingency plan we did not forsee. Not wishing to slay a fellow pony, we instead banished him to the realm of darkness. What we did not know is that just as his magic was bound to the Empire, the Empire was bound to him. To our horror, the city and the Crystal Ponies were also banished to the realm of darkness…” The city flickered and then vanished into the ether. “…until now.”

There was a pregnant pause as the weight of all this history pressed upon the six young mares. Rainbow dispelled it by shaking her head. “But…what does he want with Dinky and the others?”

“I don’t know,” Celestia admitted. “It could be a ruse to lure me away from Canterlot so he can attack. Or there might be another purpose behind it. I’m afraid the task of retrieving the foals falls to you.”

Twilight hesitantly raised her hoof. “But, why us?”

“For the same magic that bound Sombra to the Crystal Empire, and the Empire to the crystal ponies remains. I fear that the magic my sister and I wield, powerful as it is, is unsuited for the task of stopping Sombra without harming the Empire. The only thing that can undo his dark magic and defeat him once and for all is the Elements of Harmony.”

Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes. “All right…so let’s go pound him!” She smacked her front hooves together.

“Hold on!” Applejack objected pragmatically. “Ah got no problem with going out there to bring Apple Bloom back myself, but that seems like a mighty tall order for just the six of us.”

Celestia dipped her head in acknowledgement. “You will not be alone. Sombra’s curse also made it impossible for anypony to enter the city without his permission. Any pony…except those of Sombra’s bloodline.” She slowly walked over to the door. “Accompanying you will be two ponies whom I trust you remember, particularly you, Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash.”

A golden glow surrounded the doors, forcing them open. Inside stepped two unicorns, one mare and one stallion. The mare was tall and pink; the stallion was muscular and white, with a two-toned blue mane. Twilight’s face lit up joyfully, a matching expression appearing on Rainbow’s as they ran over.

“Shining Armor! Cadence!”

Shining Armor hugged his little sister tightly. “Hey Twiley. I’ve missed you.”

“Me too.” She hugged him back just as tightly.

After giving the two of them a moment alone, Rainbow Dash approached Shining Armor. “Hey Shiney hiney. ‘sup?”

The captain of the royal guard snorted. He winked at his little sister before pulling Rainbow Dash into a headlock and proceeded to give her a fierce noogie. “THAT’S what’s up Dashie!”

“Ack, hey!” The cyan pony squirmed. “Lemme go!” Her friends tried feebly to stifle their giggles. Finally, Rainbow pried her head loose. “Thanks a LOT Shining.” Dash grumbled good-naturedly as she tried matting her mane down. She bit her lip as she surprised herself by lunging forward to suddenly embrace him. “I missed you…”

Shining Armor took a half-step back, casting a quick glance at Cadence before looking back to Rainbow Dash. He relaxed and returned her hug. “I missed you too, kid. Canterlot’s become way too boring without you.”

Rainbow felt a familiar lump in her throat. “I—”

“Cadence!” “Twilight!”

Rainbow Dash and Shining Armor turned to see the princess and the eager unicorn doing their own little dance. “Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!”
Whatever the prismatic pegasus was about to say to Shining Armor was lost by the thought-destroying sight of Twilight shaking her rump in a way that most exotic dancers would say was too blatant. Stupid sexy Twilight.

After her little ritual with Twilight, Cadence turned to Rainbow Dash just as Shining Armor let go. Cadence beamed. “Dashie, Ooh it’s been so long since I’ve seen you!” With a startling quickness and strength for the slender princess, she swept Rainbow off her hooves and into the air where Cadence proceeded to squeeze the daylights out of her.

“Hngh! Hi…Cadence.” Rainbow winced as the air was forced out of her lungs.

“Aww, hugs for everypony!” Pinkie announced as she wrapped her hooves around Rainbow Dash and Cadence…how they stretched long enough to envelop the both of them, the pegasus didn’t want to think about.

Applejack dipped her head to Shining Armor. “Good t’see you again. Do you happen to know just how this Sombra character stole away all our foals or which whey they went?”

Frowning, Shining Armor shook his head. “It wasn’t Sombra himself…we know that much. We found some claw marks but no tracks. We’ve already ruled out the Diamond Dogs and gargoyles—the claw marks were too different—but our best ponies are still examining the scenes.” He paused. “It wasn’t just Ponyville that was raided. A number of towns were hit last night, all with the same procedure. In total, there are about one-hundred twelve foals missing from all over Equestria.”

Fluttershy gasped softly. “Oh my goodness…that’s so horrible.”

Rainbow snorted angrily. “This Sombra is really asking for it. Which way did they go?”

Shining Armor reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a map that was marked with a number of red spots. “These are the towns that were attacked. Whoever it was, they made sure to avoid Canterlot…but look. All the locations have one thing in common: they were all close to…”

“The Everfree Forest!” Twilight exclaimed, noticing the pattern first. Her brother nodded.

“Tactically, it makes sense. Nopony goes into Everfree Forest, so nopony would’ve known they were coming and it makes tracking them back to where they came from all but impossible.”

“Y-you mean, we can’t follow them to find Sweetie Belle?” Rarity scrunched her nose as she fought to keep from crying. Cadence walked over and gently nuzzled the distraught unicorn.

Shining Armor sighed. “Whoever—or whatever—Sombra got to abduct the foals is already too far ahead of us for us to reasonably be able to catch up to them.”

“Speak for yourself.” Rainbow flared her wings meaningfully. “I could fly out and look for these creeps and then come back once I found them.”

Celestia stepped forward. “That would be ill-advised.”

Her captain agreed. “We don’t know what these forces are capable of. For all we know, they’re just waiting for somepony to try that. Our best chance is to stay together. If something happens to any one of you…” He looked out over Elements of Harmony and Princess Cadence. “Then we can’t stop King Sombra.” Reluctantly, Rainbow Dash folded her wings against her sides, grumbling. Shining looked out at Applejack and Rarity. “That goes for all of you. I know how worried you are for your little sisters, but one wrong move could ruin everything. So for their sake, and all of Equestria, we have to stay calm and stay together…no matter how much you want to rush off. Agreed?”

“Agreed.” Rarity nodded.

Applejack was a bit more hesitant, but seeing the seriousness of Shining’s expression, she sighed. “Agreed. Apple Family’s honor.”

Nodding once in acknowledgement, Shining looked back at the map. “Fortunately, whoever has the foals are operating on hoof. Combined with the number of prisoners they have, that means their progress will be slow. That means we can head them off and intercept them before they reach the Crystal Empire.”

Twilight examined the map herself. “Where is the Crystal Empire?” Wordlessly, Shining Armor pointed to the extreme northern reaches of the world. “…oh.”

Pinkie smiled. “Ooh! Now I have a reason to wear my socks, my scarf, my hat and my sweater! Fan service! Yaay!”

Everypony just looked at her.

It was Celestia who regained her voice first. “I shall leave you to you’re your preparations. I will try to give what comfort to the devastated families as I can.” She walked over and laid her wing on Dash’s back. “The fate of Equestria is on your shoulders. Look out for one another and remember the magic of friendship; it can carry you through anything. I believe in you.”

“We won’t let you down.” Dash mumbled, her voice even raspier than usual.

“I know.” The Princess smiled encouragingly at all of them and then stepped outside to the grief-stricken ponies in desperate need of comfort. The doors closed behind her with a soft click. Then there was silence.

Shining Armor breathed heavily. “Pack your things. We leave in half an hour.”

& & &