• Published 21st Dec 2012
  • 6,346 Views, 200 Comments

Doctor Whooves - A Hearth's Warming Tale - Loyal2Luna



Alone for the holidays, Scootaloo is drawn into a strange adventure with Spike and the Doctor as cheer and goodwill disappear from Ponyville's residents. Can they uncover the cause and fix the problem in time to save Hearth's Warming?

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Ch. 1: The Worst Hearth's Warming Ever

Chapter 1: The Worst Hearth's Warming Ever



Equestria Train Depot #18
Ponyville, Everfree Province of Equestria
23rd of Winter, 1002 C.R., 6:56 p.m.

Box Office, the ticket clerk of the Ponyville Train Depot, would never say that his job was boring. On the contrary; He tended to keep quite busy with the coming and goings of the ever-expanding town on Equestria’s southern frontier. With trains coming through at a greater rate bringing tourists, supplies, and the occasional Everfree wildlife enthusiast, all of whom needed to be tracked and accounted for, he often had his hooves full.

However, there were two exceptions to this constant flurry of activity throughout the year, which left his relatively new, but already well-worn boarding platform and the attached clerk’s office all but devoid of any pony presence beside his own.

They were the occasional crises of Equestria, which tended to range in scale from local pest infestations to national disasters, and the annual blizzard conditions that always accompanied Hearth’s Warming.

Pulling his scarf a bit more snugly with a tug of his magic, the tan unicorn stallion shivered as he stepped out of his warm and cozy office to do a quick sweep of the depot before he closed up for the evening.

His first order of business was attending to the only pony that had been there that day aside from himself.

“Closing time, kiddo,” Box Office spoke up, drawing the small orange pegasus filly’s attention away from the empty tracks.

“Already?”

“Same time as last night... and the night before that,” Box Office shook his head, a mild twinge of concern his his voice.

The filly’s head dipped slightly, a severe look of disappointment painted on her face.

“Isn’t the train from Canterlot supposed to run every day?” she asked, her tone grave. “Like, several times a day?”

“It’s supposed to. But as advanced as the railroads are, it’s still a developing technology. Sometimes there are setbacks even under the best of conditions.” Box Office shook his head, looking out towards the one way track that moved north, connecting the Everfree frontier town to the more heavily industrialized Royal Capitol, which in turn connected to Manehattan, the center of the Equestrian Railways. “Between the holiday, the blizzard, and Celestia-knows-what sort of complications at the Canterlot station...”

The filly let out a soft, resigned sigh as she pulled herself up on all fours, keeping her head low as she started to move towards the platform’s stairway and back to Ponyville itself.

Box Office felt his heart sink a bit more at the sight of her expression, the sort which cried out “disappointment,” and yet was reserved and calm enough to denote the filly had ample experience in dealing with it.

“Hey. You okay, kid?” Box Office asked, watching her as she slowly walked away. “You need somepony to take you home?”

“Thanks, but I’ll manage on my own, mister,” Scootaloo nodded back, attempted to inject a degree of independence into her voice.

A degree that faded somewhat as she muttered to herself.

“Not like it would be the first time.”

————————

Scootaloo the pegasus foal absentmindedly kicked at the ground, gently propelling her scooter down the snow-covered streets of Ponyville.

She usually flew (so to speak) down these familiar roads, finding obstacles and challenges where she could to show off to passersby (whether they appreciated her stunts or not). But the conditions of the roads today kept even her daredevil tendencies in check. Patches of ice for skidding and large mounds of snow piled on either side of the street made for obstacles she had no desire to test herself against today.

She simply wasn’t in the mood.

Turning a corner into Town Square, the orange pegasus cringed slightly as several of her classmates came into view, taking large chunks out of the snowbanks and patting them into place on a line of practice sculptures for one of Ponyville’s many Hearth’s Warming contests that would take place in a few short days.

She kept her head down, hoping to pass without attracting any attention as she made her way home.

“Hey! SCOOTALOO!”

Well, so much for that, the filly thought as she turned her head towards the lisped voice, which instantly identified the pony calling out to her as she suppressed an annoyed groan.

She wasn’t in the mood for this either, she realized, as two familiar foals ran towards her, leaving behind the others who were still focused on their sculptures.

They were both earth ponies that she knew fairly well. One, a bespectacled filly, was an off shade of white, wrapped in a red striped jacket that sported a perfect reflection of her cutie mark: two candy canes laid over one another into a heart shape. The other, a foreign-looking dappled pony that was still a little smaller than she was, had a very distinctive brown spot over one eye and was wrapped from snout to tail in a restrictive parka that immediately screamed “mama’s colt.”

“Hey, Twist… Pipsqueak... What’s up?” Scootaloo nodded, trying to keep her expression friendly, but her mood kept dragging it down.

“Just practicing our snowponies.” Twist pointed back to an admittedly poor attempt to create a four-legged snow sculpture with a large, somewhat dubious smile.

“Uh, guys? Hearth’s Warming isn’t till day after tomorrow,” Scootaloo shook her head, trying to figure what the pair of ponies were playing at. “Nothing you make today is gonna last that long.”

“Oh, we know that,” Pipsqueak spoke up, his slight Trottingham accent muffled by the feathery down around the edges of his tightly-drawn parka hood. “We were just brushing up and saw you all by yourself over here and--”

“Wanna join us?” Twist grinned widely, cutting to the chase. “We could use a third for our team.”

“Uhhh…” Scootaloo looked away, recognizing what was going on here. Revving her wings up, she prepared to propel herself away from her fellow foals. “You know what? I’m not really feeling like snow-sculpting right now. I think I’ll just--”

“Oh, no you don’t!” a slightly cracked, very dopy-sounding voice that matched its owner’s grade level called out.

“EGH!” Scootaloo gritted her teeth as she realized she was trapped, with Ponyville’s dumbest double-act somehow managing to get out in front of her.

“Scootaloo’s on our team this year!” Snails nodded with his usual oblivious smile, a motion that nearly made the blueish green earmuffs that matched his mane almost fall off of his head.

“Awww, Scoot, what are you teaming up with them for?” Twist sounded hurt and disappointed.

“I’m not teaming up with them!” the pegasus countered, shaking her head.

“You’re taking their side?” Snips asked pitifully, his partner in crime suddenly looking as if he himself was on the verge of breaking into tears.

“I’m not taking anypony’s side, guys!” Scootaloo snapped as she brought a hoof to her head. “Look, I’m not entering the Snow Sculpting Contest at all this year.”

“Awww, why not?” Twist asked, looking hurt. “Come on, Scootaloo. First prize is a huge jar of Chocobee honey, all the way from Hoofany.”

“That stuff’s almost impossible to get around these parts,” Pipsqueak piped up, matching Twist’s grin as he felt his mouth water. “Chocolately honey goodness.”

Scootaloo had to admit, that did sound good.

Chocobee honey was rare outside of Equestria’s northern Hoofany Province because it spoiled quickly unless kept in absolutely perfect conditions. In fact, Diamond Tiara’s dad, Filthy Rich, was probably the only pony in town who could actually afford a jar just to donate such a prize to the town; which would make it all the sweeter provided his own spoiled foal didn’t simply win it back.

Licking her lips slightly, Scootaloo could almost see herself enjoying a third of such a honey pot on Hearth’s Warming.

“And seeing how the Cutie Mark Crusaders won the Sculpting Contest the last two years, we can’t lose with you on our team,” Snails spoke up, breaking Scootaloo out of her moment of temptation.

“Yeah, what with the Apples and Sweetie Belle’s family both out of town, everypony figures they’ve got a shot,” said Snips.

Scootaloo felt her heart sink in her chest, accompanied by a shiver that had nothing to do with the snow on the ground.

“Not interested,” the pegasus snapped, revving her wings again as she brought her hind legs back up onto her scooter.

“Awww, come on, Scoot.” Snails set a hoof up on the handle of the orange filly’s scooter, oblivious to the scornful look it drew to him. “Maybe you could just show us some of those cloud sculpting techniques for--”

*BBBBZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTT-SHOOOOOM*

Darting forward, Scootaloo caught Snails squarely in the wake of her sudden propulsion, sending him spinning on the icy road for a few moments like a tan and aquamarine tornado. He eventually fell out of the spin, landing on his belly with legs splayed, a horrible shade of green coloring his face as a dizzying set of stars ran circles in front of his eyes.

Twist, Pipsqueak, and Snips watched her go, puzzled for a moment as to her behavior.

“Was it something we said?” Snips asked innocently, drawing a shrug from the Trottingham colt (or as much of one as he could manage) while Twist merely tilted her head in confusion.

————————

Scootaloo turned the corner away from the square rather recklessly, eager to get away from her classmates and their transparent hopes to capitalize on her friends' holiday plans.

“No, it’s okay. You go. You have fun.” The foal rolled her eyes, repeating what she had said several days earlier. “I’ve got big plans for Hearth’s Warming here in Ponyville anyways, it’ll be great. Sorry you’ll miss it.”

She grunted a bit, her eyes clenched shut as she gritted her teeth.

“I should have known better than to--”

“Get out!”

Scootaloo opened her eyes, turning her head towards the Phrench accent as her scooter buzzed past Lotus and Aloe’s Spa.

Stumbling back down the stairs and away from an irate-looking blue earth pony with a pink mane, the pegasus filly caught a fleeting glimpse of a brown stallion that she and her friends had become very familiar with over the past few months, along with something purple and green hiding behind him as several items were thrown at the pair from the spa doorway.

“...Doctor?”

“GAH!!”

Scootaloo twisted her head forward at the sudden cry, but was unable to react before…

*FWOOMPH-CRASH!*

“Oooowwww…” Scootaloo managed, having to take a moment to take stock as she found herself facing up towards the heavy grey clouds overhead. She blinked a few times as several large flurries fell onto her stomach and opened wings.

She had crashed.

The thought took a moment to process, allowing her to sit up and remove her helmet, wincing as she did so.

What the hay just happened?

Oh, right. She had crashed.

Shaking her head to try and clear the fuzzy cobwebs, the pegasus looked down and around herself, trying to get a fix on the state of her scooter.

Oh, there it was.

Pulling herself uneasily to her hooves and grateful that she had managed to avoid what happened to Applebloom a couple months back, she managed a few steps towards the scooter before looking around to see an older stallion pulling himself to his hooves.

“Eheh... Sorry, mister… I was kinda…”

Then she caught sight of the dusty grey coat and black mane, a specific combination that belonged to only one unicorn in all of Ponyville. That realization, along with the inherently creepy cutie mark of a spindly black spider emblazoned on his bare flank, was more than enough to snap the filly out of her post-crash giggles.

“Uh-oh… Gloomy Gus…” she whispered before recovering, forcing a smile as the stallion managed to stand up enough to turn on her. “Uhh… Sorry... about that. Really. I was distracted and--”

“WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU!?” The stallion bore his teeth, glaring at her with his baggy red eyes which did little to detract from the older pony’s intimidating demeanor. “DON’T YOUR EYES WORK!?”

Scootaloo cringed at the shout, looking up and down the street for anypony that she might be able to to call over to mediate.

“Look, I’m sorry. I just--”

“Just what? What are you thinking, riding around on that deathtrap on these roads like that!? Are you trying to put somepony in the hospital!?”

“No, I was--”

“Wait just a gosh darn moment! I know you…” The grey pony’s eyes lit up with recognition. “You’re one of those foals that tried to tear my house down.”

“Uhhh…” Scootaloo’s eyes shifted down as she cringed, memories flooding back of her short-lived moment as part of the “Cutie Mark Crusader Demotion Crew” just over a year earlier.

To be fair, they had heard rumors that the tumbledown old house on the west end of town was abandoned, and had just happened to overhear that the “eyesore” needed to be leveled.

They had managed to break a few of the stairs leading up to the door before they learned that the small shack was far from abandoned. And two days later, with Applejack to hide behind, they thought they had managed to make amends. (Well, mostly Apple Bloom, but she had helped).

“Well, we did fix what we broke...” Scootaloo offered, still trying to keep the smile on her face and not show how concerned she was as she backed closer to her scooter. “Good as new, right?”

“No, not good as new. You can’t fix things ‘good as new.’ Once something’s broken, it’s never the same...” Gloomy Gus trailed off, and for the briefest of moments, his eyes wandered off to the side of the pegasus, and seemed to dull slightly. Then, as quickly as it came, the moment passed, and the pony’s eyes regained their sharpness. “Those new steps, they don’t creak the same way they used to. I can’t even tell when I have visitors at the door no more.”

You get visitors?”

The comment slipped out before the filly could stop herself, and clearly the amused tone with which had she said it was far from endearing to the stallion, who gritted his teeth as the filly felt her hind hoof kick into something.

Turning about, she took note of something small, the size of a jewelry box perhaps, laying cracked open just behind her and emitting a tiny, warbling, rattly kind of noise.

*Tzzzzcccchhhhhhhh*

“Huh?”

The foal had only a fraction of a second to puzzle over the strange sound before she felt herself pushed backwards by a solid set of legs. Her hooves slid across the frozen dirt, scrambling for purchase before they fell over the cold metal of her scooter.

Stunned from the sudden rush, the filly had lost all composure, having to look around for a few seconds to get her bearings again before she realized that those two ominous red eyes were now glaring directly at her. The musty-smelling stallion was nearly snout to snout as he raised a hoof and pointedly pressed on the lid of the box, snapping it shut. He then growled intimidatingly at the clumsy foal from the back of his throat, before he raised his voice in a raspy shout.

“GET OUT OF MY SIGHT! GO ON, GET!”

Scootaloo wasted no time meeting the demand, pulling the blue scooter back, ignoring the bent handle, and quickly kicking off, her wings buzzing hard as she raced down the street and away from the angry stallion. After watching her disappear into the distance, the pony known as Gloomy Gus shook his head with an annoyed grunt, and bent over to inspect his dropped cargo.

“Delinquent…” he muttered, shaking his head before picking the box up in his teeth and returning to the task at hoof.

————————

The small single-story home situated on the corner of Derby and Bismarck would have been considered modest by most ponies’ standards. It had all of the comforts that a modern pony family could need, of course: Indoor plumbing, utilities, and enough space for a small family to live comfortably.

But as the orange filly burst into the door, cold sweat matting her fur, she quickly swung her scooter to the side and slammed the door closed behind her, reaching up to push the oft-neglected lock into place before sinking to the floor, gasping for breath.

Gloomy Gus was well-known around Ponyville for having a short fuse and lashing out with almost no provocation, but he came out of his house so rarely that most ponies had never encountered him face to face. The simple fact that he was one of the very few ponies that even Pinkie Pie gave space was enough to prove to her that it wasn’t a case of being misunderstood.

Some ponies really were just plain mean.

After a moment to collect herself and making sure again that the door was locked, Scootaloo sighed and looked around the house, the dim light of early evening fading in the window as night drew closer.

“I’m home~” she called out weakly to nopony in particular as she moved forward, stepping into the kitchen. She paid no mind to the deflated balloon she had to step over, or the brightly-colored banner that hung morosely overhead. Her heart was finally beginning to calm as the familiar safety that had been her home for the last two and a half years gave her some peace of mind.

Moving to the fridge, the filly pulled the door open with her mouth and considered her options for dinner.

She had the ability and the ingredients to make something hot; perhaps some stew or jambalaya. But that would take time and work, and after quickly considering what was in her current allowance and how she felt after her encounter with Gloomy Gus, she realized she wasn’t in the mood for eating out, either.

With a sigh of defeat, the filly reached in and drew out a half full glass bottle of milk before she moved quickly up to the counter. There, she pulled out a bowl and carefully scooped into it some dry oats out of a cereal bag.

“Dinner of champions...” she sighed, her eyes half-lidded as she poured the milk over the generic meal and then replaced the bottle in the fridge.

————————

The fire in the fireplace was nice. It was small, crackling and smoldering in places, but still gave the otherwise dark living room a healthy glow and a warm feel.

It was not entirely necessary, since pegasi didn’t feel the cold anywhere near as acutely as unicorns or even earth ponies, but it was a nice little fire all the same as Scootaloo lay splayed out on the chaise lounge situated in front of it. A clipboard lay on her belly as she held the end of a pencil in her lips.

They (meaning herself and her fellow Crusaders) had taken upon themselves a secret duty: to document everything they noticed in regards to one mysterious pony. A duty given to them by none other than the Princess of the Sun herself.

A duty that, for some reason, Scootaloo found she just didn’t care to fulfill tonight.

“Ungh...” The filly spit the pencil out of her mouth and tried to brush the taste of eraser off her tongue.

What would she say, anyways?

Dear Princess Celestia,

Today I think Dr. Clockwork got fresh with Aloe and got himself kicked out of the Ponyville spa. By the way, I hope you’re having a nice Hearth’s Warming.

-Your loyal subject, Scootaloo

Yeah, like that would be worth interrupting whatever feasts or royal banquets were going on in Canterlot right now.

Scootaloo shuffled her shoulders and small wings against a lump in the chaise for a moment before she laid her head back.

“One cloud bed in the house. Would that be too much to ask for?” the filly grumbled. “What I wouldn’t give... for an actual bed... made of actual clouds.”

She could have gotten up and moved to her own room with her own bed, but that would require more effort than she felt like making right now. Besides, the fire was warmer than her blankets could ever be.

She turned on her side, the lump in the chaise refusing to go away, and faced the fire, her eyes moving up towards the mantle and settling for a moment on a single picture frame that sat there. She stared for a moment before turning away and putting her wings towards the fire, curling slightly as she brought her tail up around her front.

“Maybe tomorrow?” she muttered quietly before she started to drift into an uneasy sleep. “Yeah... right...”

And as she slept, she had no way of knowing that something else was in the room with her. A tiny something, barely distinguishable to the naked eye in most cases, but in the wan light of the fire, was nearly invisible as it watched the small pony through sight that was like looking through a mosaic of broken mirrors.

It remained hovering above Scootaloo for only a few seconds more before, as if there was really no reason it needed to stay, it made its way over to the slightly cracked window that led outside and into town.

*Tzzzzcccchhhhhhhh*

————————

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Daring leaned forward, taking the blanket with her as she sat up and drawing a united protest from her fellow Crusaders. “What the hay is that thing!?”

“All in due time. It’s called building dramatic tension, my little pony,” Luna nodded, giving the filly a smirk before pushing the blanket back and recapturing her audience under the covers. “All of the best storytellers do it.”

“But why was Scootaloo sitting at the train depot?” Dawn asked cautiously, surprised by the amount of detail that was being given. “And why was she all alone like that on Hearth’s Warming? I mean, where are her friends?”

“Maybe they were eaten by timberwolves!” Cream piped in, clearly too excited about the prospect. “Or an ursa! Oh, wait! Maybe they were attacked by an ursa, then eaten by timberwolves! That’s twice as bad!”

Dawn, Daring, and even Luna gave the filly a sideways, cautious glance before subconsciously edging away from the grinning pony.

“Cream, how much sugar was in that cookie you were eating?” Dawn asked bluntly.

“Just a little..” The earth pony filly looked away sheepishly, rubbing her forelegs against themselves. “Or... maybe more than a little... Or maybe a lot.”

“They’re the original Crusaders, Cream. You’ve met them. I kinda doubt that’s what happened,” Daring pointed out. “But I’m more worried about that ‘Gloomy Gus’ guy. What’s his deal?”

“Well, girls, if you’ll let me continue, I just might be able to tell you.” Luna smirked before she nodded at the three. “Now, the story really begins the next day... on the morning of Hearth’s Warming Eve.”

“Then why did you start on the day before?” Cream tilted her head.

“Dramatic tension, my dear,” the Princess of the Night grinned.

————————
Just outside Sugarcube Corner
Ponyville, Everfree Province of Equestria
24th of Winter, 1002 C.R., 8:03 a.m.

The snow was falling a bit heavier today than the night before, which was strange, given the fact that it wasn’t scheduled to be so by the Ponyville Weather Patrol. But as she walked slowly through the quiet streets of Ponyville, Scootaloo found she had other things on her mind than some slightly inclement weather.

She had thought it would be a good idea to leave her scooter behind following her “run-in” with Gloomy Gus the evening before, and now, a still yawning Scootaloo was already regretting leaving her lumpy chaise behind.

She wasn’t even sure what it was she was doing. Did she really have to sit out at the boarding docks waiting? Surely if the train did come in, she would find out soon enough without sitting out there waiting for it. And besides, after she was being made to wait like this, maybe she didn’t want that train to show up so badly anymore.

*grrrrrrr*

————————

“Ohhhh, is that the monster?” Daring asked quickly.

“No... that was her stomach growling,” Luna quickly corrected.

“I don’t think a stomach makes a noise like that. Shouldn’t it be more of a gurgle?” Dawn spoke up.

“Didn’t she just eat a bowl of milk and oats? I mean, really, Scootaloo must have been one pudgy filly,” Cream pointed out.

“No, that was the night before and...” The princess sighed, her shoulders drooping a bit as she realized she was getting off topic.

Perhaps adding sound effects was not the wisest of decisions...

————————

*grumble*

“Well, I guess I can always think about it over some cocoa and a honey bun,” Scootaloo mused as she approached the faux-gingerbread building that was the sweetest place in all of Ponyville.

*SLAM!*

The orange foal scrambled back as the door to the bakery was thrown open, revealing a tall, lanky yellow stallion. His lack of a baker’s apron and hat, as well as the heavy bags under his eyes, caused the filly’s brain to freeze up on recognition as she heard the cries of two foals from inside and a familiar voice filled with a very unfamiliar malice.

“WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING!?” Mrs. Cake called out from inside the bakery, having to practically scream to be heard over the two crying foals.

“OUT!” Mr. Cake shouted back, perhaps louder than he needed to in an angry tone that certainly didn’t suit the master confectioner.

“LIKE CELESTIA’S FAT FLANK YOU ARE! GET BACK IN HERE!”

“STOP RIDING ME, MARE!” Mr. Cake shot back scornfully, causing Scootaloo to take a step back and flatten her ears. “I NEED A LITTLE SPACE!”

“YOU ARE NOT LEAVING ME HERE ALONE WITH--”

*SLAM!*

*crack*

Scootaloo stared in shock for a moment, stunned at the harsh language and harsher words shared before Mister Cake had bucked the door to his bakery closed with enough force to crack the window.

Quickly, she scrambled to the side to get out of the stallion’s path as he moved away, his heated breath easily visible as steam in the cold air before he turned a pair of tired, bloodshot eyes to the filly, who immediately cringed.

“We’re closed today,” Mr. Cake stated, and although he didn’t shout or project it towards the filly, it was clear there was still a heavy degree of anger in his voice. “All the milk and cream got soured by the witch living here.”

“I HEARD THAT!” a muffled Mrs. Cake’s voice came from the window, the pudgy blue mare also lacking her usual garments and, like her husband, had heavily bagged eyes.

“OH, NOW YOU’RE LISTENING TO ME!? WHAT A SHOCKER!”

The filly backed away slowly as Mr. Cake turned away from her, the shouting match now continuing through the cracked window in the front of the bakery.

Scootaloo didn’t know what had gotten into their feed this morning, but one thing was for sure:

She had lost her appetite.

————————

“What in the wide world of Equis?” Scootaloo narrowed her eyes as she looked up at the note posted on the locked gate leading up to the Ponyville Train Depot.

Kid,

Train’s not coming.

Go loiter somewhere else.

-The overworked, under-appreciated Box Office

“Just like that?” Scootaloo shook her head, the shock still not wearing off as she read the short message obviously intended for her. “A ‘closed’ sign would have been enough.”

She didn’t know the ticket clerk all that well, but she did know he seemed to be the dependable type at least; always at work and pleasant enough to talk to. He hadn’t once asked her to leave or shooed her away over the last couple of days, except for when his shift was up and he needed to lock the place up for the night.

With a sigh, the small pegasus shook her head. Sure, she could easily just walk around and climb up onto the boarding dock from the tracks, but really, what would be the point? Even the pony who’s job it was to wait for the trains had given up and decided that he had better things to do.

Speaking of better things to do, she sure felt like she could use some.

She could go back home and make it a lazy “do nothing” day.

...Nah, boring.

Or perhaps she could head up to the Crusaders’ clubhouse in Sweet Apple Acres.

...Nah, that wouldn’t be any fun without the other girls.

The library?

...

“Ugh!” Scootaloo facehoofed. Really, how bored would she have to be for that to sound like a good idea? The last thing she needed was to get a reputation as a bookworm. And besides, last she had heard, Twilight Sparkle had also left town, the reclusive Queen of the Bookworms making her own holiday trip to Canterlot this year.

Wait, there was still the Snow Sculpture Contest and all of the other events that City Hall put on for the local foals on Hearth’s Warming Eve. With the kind of day she was having, it might just prove to be a suitable distraction. And she still should have had an open invitation from Twist and Pip, assuming they hadn’t already found a third member.

She might not win anything without Sweetie’s artistic flair and Apple Bloom’s freakish attention to detail, but at least it would be something to do.

————————

Scootaloo’s eye twitched slightly as her mouth hung open, a position she had been holding for more than a minute as her brain tried to absorb what was written on the enormous sign standing planted in the dirt on the edges of City Hall. Just past the sign, and surrounding the whole of the building itself, the lawn was a mushy mess of grass and half-melted slush, as the entire area was being bathed in an intense beam of sunlight cast through the only hole visible in the cloud cover for miles around.

All Hearth’s Warming events canceled indefinitely.
Mayor’s Office closed for Administrative Tanning.
Keep all complaints to yourselves.
Violators will be prosecuted.

-Mayor Mare

“What the hay is going on around here?” Scootaloo finally asked after having stared at the sign for a full two minutes before she stepped out on the lawn and felt her hoof sink in the dripping wet ground.

The rest of Ponyville was caked thick in snow still, but for some reason, a huge hole had been opened in the clouds right over City Hall and a single stream of sunlight seemed to have been at work since daybreak to melt down the snow.

Looking up, Scootaloo took note of a small team of pegasi, many of whom appeared to be grumbling and complaining, working constantly to maintain the hole in the clouds as they naturally tried to spread out and fill in the empty patch of sky.

The ticket clerk at the train depot getting fed up and closing his office down for a day was one thing, but the Mayor’s Office? Mayor Mare always talked about how she loved the Hearth’s Warming events; how they were a Ponyville tradition that stretched back for decades. Why in the world would she cancel them?

And what the hay did “Administrative Tanning” mean?

*PAF*

“Ungh!” Scootaloo felt her head jerk forward as she was impacted just above her neck by a cold, soft sensation that could only have been a snowball. “What the...?”

She recovered quickly, running a hoof over her mane and confirming the wet remains of snowy artillery before turning to face her attacker, expecting any number of foals from school to be responsible.

Just about any of them save this one.

“Bet you’re happy now, at least,” Pipsqueak glared, gritting his teeth as he stomped a hoof indignantly in the snow.

Scootaloo drew back. “Pip?”

Ever since she had met the limey pony just before Nightmare Night last year, the pegasus could not think of a single time she had seen him with such a spiteful expression. He was always such an innocent, pie-in-the-sky goody-two-hooves, always talking about how being a perfect gentlecolt was the most important thing when dealing with others, especially girls like herself.

It was probably the thing she liked most about him.

To think he was even capable of raising his voice like that was paramount to the idea that Pinkie Pie was a sadistic, crazed poisoner of confectioneries. (A rumor from which Pinkie’s reputation still suffered after what had been dubbed the “Baked Bad” incident at Sugarcube Corner).

“That’s ‘Pippin Lockhooves Esquire!’” the dappled colt huffed in agitation. “Why can’t anypony ever bloomin’ remember that?”

“I... did,” Scootaloo partly lied, having honestly forgotten the whole thing, but giving the colt a sideways look anyways as she took a step closer to him. “I thought you hated being called Pippin.”

“Oh, and Pipsqueak is better because I’m small? Is that it?”

“Um... You always said to call you...” Scootaloo paused as she looked the colt up and down, now a few steps closer.

He had bags under his eyes, which were slightly swollen although it was only visible on his non-spot-covered eye. And judging by the way he was breathing, his heart must have been racing.

“Pip, err... Pippin, are... are you okay?” she offered, sounding concerned. “You look tired.”

“Well, I haven’t got any Chocobee honey, thanks to you!”

“Chocobee-- Pip, it’s not my fault Mayor Mare cancelled the Snow Sculpture Contest!”

“Well, I think it is! You had to go about being all sour and ruin everypony else’s good time!”

“Hey, don’t you holler at me!” Scootaloo spoke up, her own heart speeding up as she reached the limit of her patience.

“Scootaloo, I am from Trottingham. We do not ‘holler’ in Trottingham. We are more refined than that.” Pipsqueak put a hoof to his chest in a manner that immediately made Scootaloo think of one of Sweetie’s impersonations of Rarity.

Then opened his eyes with a renewed glare.

“We SCOLD!”

Scootaloo flattened her ears and unfolded her tiny wings. She’d had enough of this.

“Oh yeah? Well, I’m from Cloudsdale. And you know what we do in Cloudsdale?”

“Why should I care what you do in--”

*BZZZZZZZTT-THUMP*

“UNGH!”

Pipsqueak was on his back before he even realized what was happening. The pegasus’s small wings, still incapable of adult flight, easily propelled her the short distance between them with enough force to take the wind out of his sails as she now kept one hoof planted on his chest.

“We take care of BUSINESS in Cloudsdale!” Scootaloo stated triumphantly. “I once fought a dragon and walked away with just a couple of scrapes, Pipsqueak. What have you got?”

*PAF*
*PAF*
*PAF*

Scootaloo recoiled and drew back under a sudden barrage of snowballs along her flank and the side of her cheek. Those wouldn’t have been a problem to her, but one of the icy slush balls had scored a direct hit on the inner edge of her ear, which stung worse than a bee and sent a flash of white across her eyes.

Taking a few steps to steady herself and shake her head clear, Scootaloo looked up and in the direction from which the snowballs had flown, as Pipsqueak pulled himself up on his hooves.

About twenty feet away stood more or less her entire class, every one of them sharing a tired, angry expression and more than a few readying another volley.

Her bravado sufficiently punctured, the pegasus folded her ears back fearfully.

“Okay... So that’s what you got...”

Then the avalanche began.

————————

“WHOA!” Scootaloo ducked between two houses and then made a quick turn down another alleyway as two more snowballs smashed into the wall over her head.

Panting heavily, and sure that there were going to be welts under her coat come tomorrow, the filly found herself realizing that she wasn’t going to outrun her entire class on hoof like this. She had to think of something, and now more than ever, she was grateful to have picked up that one book series that Rainbow Dash was so fond of, as a similar chase scene, and the adventurous Daring Do’s solution to it, came to mind.

Seizing a trashcan lid by the handle in her teeth as she ran forward, Scootaloo jerked it free, sending the full bin of garbage across the narrow alleyway to slow down her pursuers before turning another corner among the tightly-packed houses in the center of town.

She had only a moment to act as she came to another intersection in the alley, quickly taking aim and flinging her head to one side, sending the metal lid flying down the left turn and into another set of trashcans, knocking them down with a loud bang while she dove to the right. Rushing as quickly as she could to the next intersection, she turned right again and came to a stop at the next corner, trying to still her racing heart and quiet her panting as she listened.

There was a rush of hoofbeats down the alleyway... then they stopped for a moment... before they continued down the path of the commotion she had raised, in the opposite direction and away from her.

After a few more seconds, the pegasus filly let out a sigh of relief, slipping down the wall as her haunches planted in the slushy, dirty snow in the back alleys of Ponyville’s residences. It was easy at the moment to ignore the sting from the one-sided snowball massacre and the burning in her chest as she came to a single conclusion.

“Everypony’s gone completely NUTS!” she panted, shaking her head as she tried to run down her options. Gasping suddenly, her hoof shot to her muzzle, and she slowly moved forward to pitch her head around the corner of the alley, watching for possible danger. After she was certain she hadn't been heard, Scootaloo then breathed another sigh before considering what to do next.

Who could she go to?

Her friends were out of town, so she couldn’t rely on them.

She had been practically stampeded in the streets and not a single adult had so much as taken notice, so the usual help from a responsible pony was hardly an option.

The Mayor’s Office was clearly suffering from the same craziness that had affected the Cakes and her fellow classmates.

She could forget about Zecora. The zebra mare’s hut in the Everfree Forest was hard enough to get to in the best of conditions, let alone the winter months. And especially by herself.

And she hadn’t seen any of the mares that usually intervened in what a normal pony would call an “emergency situation” in days.

Going for help elsewhere would take days on hoof, and what with the train out of Canterlot apparently out of commission, there was also a chance that whatever had happened here wasn’t isolated to Ponyville.

She had to find somepony to help.

Anypony that could...

Scootaloo paused, looking down at the ground and taking note of the shadow that was now looming overhead.

Then her neck snapped upwards and she let out a startled shriek as a heavy net fell down around her.