• Published 27th Mar 2013
  • 6,346 Views, 280 Comments

Hope - TwilightSnarkle

Memories of the past can destroy even the strongest soul, but what happens when the past can visit in person?

  • ...

Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Snowdrop was cold, icky, and just covered in gunk. Worst of all, the little filly couldn’t move very much. She could see even less. Something heavy and warm was on top of her and she couldn’t seem to budge it. She wondered where she was. She wondered where Tea Blossom was. She was not enjoying this game at all.

“Tea?” she whispered. Wherever she was, her whisper echoed. Snowdrop could just barely make out some light from the other side of the heavy thing, and gave it another push. To her surprise, it slid off of her and flopped over.

The heavy thing was Tea Blossom, and she wasn’t moving. “Teeeaaa,” she begged, shaking her shoulders. Whatever Tea was doing, Snowdrop didn’t want her to do it any more. She was cold, and she was scared, and she wanted her Daddy.

The light shone from a hole on the far wall. It looked like she was surrounded by rocks and dirt. Maybe she was in a cave? If she was, it was a small one—she could barely stand all the way up.

“Tea? How did we get here? I can’t remember...” She turned back to her babysitter. From here, in the light, she could see something dark on her muzzle and chest.

Snowdrop reached out and gently pressed a hoof against the stain. It stuck to her hoof, and she held it up in the light. Red. Was it blood?

No. No, no no no nonono. Bleeding and asleep was bad. Snowdrop knew that from her books. She also knew she had to get a grown-up, but there weren’t any in here. Maybe the hole? Maybe she could squeeze out? But who would keep an eye on Tea Blossom? She couldn’t just leave her... but it wouldn’t hurt to look outside.

Snowdrop patted the unconscious pony on the shoulder. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “I’ll be right back.” Reluctant to leave her sitter’s side, she nonetheless made her way to the hole in the wall and peered outside. She could see some trees, and some dirt, and a tiny bit of pale sky, but what caught her eye was the strange blue creature pacing back and forth a little way from the cave.

It was tall, and spiky, and had gloves on its hands and strange things on its feet. It looked kinda like the dogs from her Daddy’s foun... fawn... metal-making place in the mountains, but with bigger hair. She remembered it. It was the thing that had been yelling at her Daddy.

Suddenly, it all made sense. This blue dog-thing had put her and Tea Blossom in the cave. He must have hurt Tea, too! Why was he being so mean?

“Hey! Doggie!” she shouted through the hole. “Let me out! You’re gonna be in trouble!”

The blue dog-thing looked up and then moved very quickly to the hole. It shouted strange, scary noises at her and looked angry. Then it turned around and ran away.

“Wait!” she cried at the retreating figure. She shoved her muzzle into the hole, but it was too narrow to let her squeeze through. She struggled against the wall, pushing and straining, but the stone wouldn’t budge. Snowdrop was all alone. Even though the blue dog-thing had been mean, at least it had been there. It was too much.

It was all too much. Snowdrop wanted to leave. She wanted more light. She wanted a hug. She wanted Tea to be okay. “I forgot about Tea!” she gasped.

She crept back to the older pony’s side and snuggled close. Choking back her tears, she tried to hum the song her Mommy did whenever she was sick, but she couldn’t remember it now. Outside, the sun was going down. Soon, the cave was pitch black, and the only noise that Snowdrop could hear was her own quiet sniffling.

Sonic paced back and forth, suddenly finding himself with too much time on his hands. Every moment that went by increased the risk of a response that would be too large to handle.

He was pretty sure the bigger pony was wounded. How badly, he couldn’t say, but he also couldn’t help her yet. The smaller one had fallen over with fright. She’d probably be okay, but either one was a liability now.

“What were you thinking?” he grumbled. “Assault? Arson? Kidnapping? To bring back a... a reformed Robotnik?”

He knew it was true. Robotnik had spent the last few decades building a new life, and avoiding most of the trappings of his prior existence. Including, apparently, his original body. “Knuckles was right,” he admitted. “He didn’t want to come back.”

How he was a pony was still an open question, unless... Sonic froze. He hurriedly checked his hands, feet, and felt his face. No changes. At least, not yet.

The panic subsided, but it left the larger question looming. What next?

“The pony needs help. Help I can’t provide. But I also can’t let her go. Then there’s the little one. I have no idea what to do with her. I mean, grab the kid, get Robotnik’s attention.” He threw up his hands in frustration and continued pacing. “Great plan, Sonic! Thought that one through!” Sighing, he stopped his circuit and stared into the sky. “Good thing she’s quiet, at least. The less attention, the better, right now.”

As if answering his fears, a small voice called from somewhere behind him.


Sonic dashed to the cave and shouted at its inhabitants. “Shut up! Just shut up! If you don’t shut up, I’ll... I’ll block up the hole!”

He took a step back and glared at the pony within. All he could see was a wide eye pressed against the opening, staring out. Growling with disgust — at the situation, at himself — he dashed off into the wood.

The only way to end this stalemate was to find Robotnik. Reformed or not, he still had to answer for his crimes. And you, said a tiny voice in the back of his head, will need to answer for yours.

Celestia strode through the darkened corridors along the palace’s southern wall. It was barely four o’clock—hours yet ‘til sundown—but her sister’s chambers in the palace were already empty. Luna must be preparing for the journey to come. This usually meant she could find her here, in the tower farthest from the city’s merry cacophony. Luna called it her aerie. The original meaning of the term was not lost on Celestia—a high refuge—but it had picked up a new definition in the past millenium.

The Sun Princess frowned, thinking back. The history between her ponies and the griffon tribes was a rocky one, and often unpleasant. They were, after all, predators, and in the grand scheme of things, ponies were prey. Well, they would have been, had she not intervened. Still, there had never truly been trust between their peoples since, and she knew it had been due to her decisions—her actions—centuries ago.

She arrived at the ornate door and smiled warmly at the identical silver-clad unicorns to either side of the portal. They, in turn, gave her the slightest nod of recognition.

“Is my sister here, good ponies?”

“She is indeed, your highness,” answered the guard to her right. With the glamour her sister preferred, it was impossible to tell the pony’s natural colors. When in uniform, every member of the guard had identical markings: a coat of grey, a mane of deep blue, and eyes a tawny yellow.

Despite the physical appearance, the clipped cadence of the guard’s voice seemed very familiar. “She is expecting you,” the guard continued, opening the door with the shimmer of her horn. It silently swung inward. “Please, do go in.”

Despite her sister being back for a good two centuries—or was it three, now?—it still took some getting used to: these rooms being occupied, these passages no longer freely hers to traverse, her need to ask permission—and the chance, however slim, of refusal—were nearly alien. She did not begrudge Luna her privacy, but she was naturally wary of any realm where her light could not freely shine.

Celestia nodded again to the pony to her right, spared a glance of acknowledgement for the one to her left, and entered the dimly lit tower. The door closed behind her without a sound, and she allowed her eyes to adjust to the darkness.

It was cool and quiet here. In truth, she imagined it would be perfectly silent were it not for the periodic squeak of a dormouse that had made its home under the ramps and balusters. The occasional enchanted candle or lamp glowed faintly along the spiraling path, each illuminating a particularly lovely pattern in the stone wall or a detail of a carving in the railing. Between these points of interest, however, there was more light cast by her mane than any device.

Still, the ramp to the upper landing was sturdy, and the rise comfortable. She soon found herself approaching a large trap-door, intricately carved of ash and inlaid with silver. The ramp ended abruptly beneath it. A large iron ring dangled from the leading edge of the door, and were it pulled down, the ramp would continue upwards.

The sudden flood of sunlight momentarily blinded Celestia as she opened the door. She stepped forward, blinking, and found her sister leaning against the parapet.

Luna peered out over the city, towards the horizon—and towards Pasofino. She alternated between chewing her lip and frowning. She did not immediately acknowledge Celestia’s presence. The two of them stood side by side, one gazing off into the beyond, and the other peering towards the city below.

A breeze picked up as the sun crept towards the horizon. Suddenly, Luna shook her head and sighed, then turned to address her sister.

“Celestia, I fear we will need to travel quickly.” Luna stepped away from the parapet, turning her back on the city proper. “There’s been a problem, and the visitor has done something rash.”

“Rash? What has happened?”

“It’s too early to tell, but at least one pony has been injured, and it seems another has been taken against her will.”

“Stop speaking in riddles, sister. Who has been injured? And who has been taken?”

“Direct it is. Tea Blossom, for the one. You may remember her; she’s Amaranth’s daughter.”

“I do, indeed. Amaranth and his family have done excellent work in establishing a school in their town. How severe are her injuries?”

“Severe enough that, for the moment, she can only speak to me, and I have no idea how long she will be capable of that.”

Celestia grimaced. “What of the abductee?”

“Snowdrop,” Luna growled. “Worker’s daughter.”

“Oh no.”

“I have taken the liberty of informing my guard that we may be travelling to Pasofino without hesitation. If we do depart, they will inform your guard immediately, and those ponies already in the village will be alerted upon our arrival.”

Celestia nodded, studying Luna with an appraising eye. “I understand. You have been busy, sister.”

“No matter.” Luna returned her sister’s gaze. Celestia quickly assumed a mask of serenity. “Are you prepared to go, or would you prefer to take care of a few things before we leave? I was hoping to convince you of the need for urgency. In fact, if you are willing, I feel we should consider teleporting.”

“No, it is not necessary to convince me. We shall leave in but a moment. First, though...” Celestia concentrated, and the light over the city shimmered. Within moments, a piercing cry was heard from below, and a ball of red-orange flame streaked towards their location. It soon resolved into Philomena, and the radiant creature alighted on Celestia’s outstretched forelimb.

“My old friend, I must be away to take care of a problem. Please alert the Captain and his guard of my departure. I will be handling my royal duties abroad, and will send a message to the palace once I have safely arrived. Can you pass that on for me?”

The regal creature nodded its head.

“Good. Thank you. Please, go now. I imagine my sister and I will not be long.”

Philomena leapt from her forelimb and soared over the edge of the parapet, where she folded her wings and dove towards the city below. Her raucous call washed over the palace, but by the time it reached the parapet, the sisters were gone.

Skean alighted on the balcony, shook out his wings, and folded them slowly. “Sundown,” he groaned, “I’m gettin’ old. These gals are outflyin’ me. In armor.”

Sundown chuckled and downed the last of his tea. He stretched his neck and stood from a pallet of blankets near the edge of the balcony. “I’m twice your age, lad. Go have a rest. I’ll keep an eye on the pretty ones for you.”

“Ahem,” objected a too-familiar voice.

“Ah, Skyshine. Hello.” Sundown’s cheeks grew hot as he tried to remember what he’d said. “I didn’t know you’d come out.”

Skyshine grinned savagely at the embarrassed pony. “You’d probably have heard me open the door if you weren’t talking so much.” Skean wisely stepped inside and slid the door shut behind him. Sundown watched him go, then turned to Skyshine.

“Look, I wanted to talk to you real quick before I started my rounds.” The old green stallion glanced over the rail, then back towards Skyshine. “I don’t know that I trust these ponies. I mean, I’m not complaining that they’re helping. I just don’t know why they’re here.”

Skyshine stifled a yawn. “No, no. I understand. But, please, accept their help wherever they can grant it.” Her voice trailed into a whisper. “The more eyes we have, the faster we can find her.”

He nodded gravely. “We will find her, Sky.”

“I know,” Skyshine replied, but her voice was distant. “I just hope it’s soon. She must be terrified.” She stared blankly at the wood below. “I am too.”

Sundown rested a hoof on her shoulder and looked her in the eye. “Skean’s gone inside for a rest. Maybe you should too. You’ll need it if—when—we find her.”

Skyshine nodded absently, but her gaze slipped back to the forest and she walked to the railing to continue watching the search.

Sundown sighed. He turned to the balcony and leapt off the edge. In moments, a pair of armored pegasi, wearing Celestia’s livery, appeared from the tree line and took formation behind him.


Inside the home, Worker sat at the table in the greatroom, clutching a mug of tea in his hooves.

He could not remember a time he felt so alone.

Bulwark and Holly were with Saber Dance, at her home. Amaranth was leading one of the ground-based search parties. As of the latest report, he had covered the southern forest to the treeline, but with the light failing, further searches would take a lot longer.

Skean and Sundown had been taking turns running grids over the western wood. A pony had reported seeing a blue creature running in that direction after the fire, and it was as good a place to start as any. There was word that the royal guards, both Luna’s and Celestia’s, were offering their assistance. Where they had come from, nopony seemed to have a clue, but Worker was not about to refuse any help.

It’d be faster if you helped, too.

Worker knew that voice. It had been taunting him all night. He tried to push it away, but it was insistent. For now, he let it talk, and did his best to ignore it.

It wouldn’t be hard at all. You could make a few changes to the repair-bots that hover over the orchard. You’d have a half-dozen more eyes, then, and they wouldn’t get tired.

It had a point. Worker pushed his mug aside and picked up his journal and pen, flipping through some sketches he had made earlier in the week. Yes, the repair bots could easily be modified for a search. He eyeballed the measurements and marked the best locations for hardpoints.

You’d just need to re-program them with a search pattern. Plug in a better communications array. Maybe add a remote control unit, and a weapon or two.

Wait, a what? A weapon?

Purely for defense, of course! You’d want to know if it found the little bastard, wouldn’t you? If he destroyed the scout before it could report back, well, then you would have wasted all that effort.

Yes, yes, a weapon array would make sense, then. Worker began sketching furiously. The changes would be simple, and the modules to be added were already built and waiting in a storage cabinet. Still, he might want to run some preliminary tests for compa—

“An’ what is it you’re drawing there?” interrupted a too-cheerful whisper.

Worker reflexively snapped the cover shut, and looked up to see Skean standing over his shoulder. The pegasus nodded a hello, and continued chattering.

“Bulwark tells me y’ spend a lot o’ time in that book, Worker, an’ no good is t’ come of it.”

Worker frowned. “No good?” He reopened the journal and looked down at his drawing. A Hover-SWAT stared back at him. Shuddering, he closed the cover and pushed the book away. “No, she’s absolutely right. No good would come of it.”

Skean watched the book slide across the table and come to a stop near the opposite edge. “Aye. She’s a sharp one.” He strolled casually around to the journal, stopped, and put a hoof atop it. “But, y’know, I am too. Why push the book away? There’s a fire behind ya.”

“What, burn the book?” Worker was incredulous.

“Knew y’d catch on,” he said, in much the same manner as his wife.

“But that’s got my sketches,” he protested. “And my designs and—“

“An’ you’ve got ‘em all in y’ head already,” Skean finished for him.

“Well, yes.”

Skean gave a satisfied nod. “Seems t’ me, then, that there’s no reason not t’ remove this peerie temptation.”

“Temptation?” Worker’s brow knotted, and he eyed Skean with suspicion. “My machines are a temptation?”

Skean’s playful tone vanished. “Don’t play th’ fool for my sake, lad!” he shouted, slamming his hoof against the pad. “You’ve been guardin’ this book e’er since Snowdrop vanished, an’ your expression goes darker wi’ each line y’ draw!” With that, the pegasus flipped the book off the edge of the table, seized it in his teeth, and hurled it towards the fire.

“No!” Worker shouted. He stood, knocking over his chair, and stretched out a hoof before he realized the book was not coming any closer.

Skean was held motionless in a shimmering light, and the book floated mere inches from his open mouth. Worker spared his journal a glance and it fell to the floor. Skean, on the other hand...

Kill him.

Worker walked slowly towards the pegasus, his teeth bared, his face twisted in fury. “My daughter is out there, Skean,” he hissed. “She’s been captured by a monster who will not stop until I am dead.” He lifted Skean higher and turned him upside down. “These machines are my only chance to find her.” Worker stared directly into his eyes, then set him on a slow course, backwards, towards the fire.Do you understand that?

“Erkr...” Skean squeaked, straining to speak with frozen features. His eyes were wild with panic as the fire crept ever closer. Worker did not seem to hear him. “Rkr! Leeze!

Kill him now.

The wall behind Worker exploded, and shards of glass buried themselves in the table, the chairs, and the two occupants.

Worker,” cried Skyshine, “no!

Worker spun about and roared, “Don’t you dare interfere, you—” There were three ponies standing beyond the shattered windows. One was his wife, and the other two...

Skean crashed to the ground beside the fire.

Worker collapsed immediately thereafter.

Throughout the greatroom, armored pegasi and unicorns gathered in pairs or trios, discussing the evening’s events in hushed tones. Each group kept at least one eye on the two ponies near the center of the room.

Worker and Skean had already been moved to Snowdrop’s playroom, and all that remained of the evening’s unpleasant events were a few marks in the furniture, a tattered journal, and countless fragments of glass. Luna’s horn shimmered, and in response, the glass swept out of the room. It ground itself to dust and poured over the edge of the balcony.

“I think I’ll leave this in your care, your highness,” muttered Skyshine. She nudged the book with a hoof, but did not stoop to pick it up.

“I know just the place for it,” Luna replied, twitching her wings in discomfort, “but I think we should check on your husband and his friend, first.” She glanced to one of the small groups of ponies.

A pair of unicorns snapped to attention and strode down the hall towards the makeshift infirmary.

“Princess Celestia’s talents with healing are legendary, your highness.” Skyshine turned towards her own room, and began walking away. “I have no doubt they’re fine.”

Skyshine.” The distraught mare paused. Luna sighed, and continued. “First, you can call me Luna. Second, you need to see him as much as he needs to see you.”

“I don’t know that I can, just yet, y—Luna. He was right. He still is...” Skyshine’s voice faded, and she choked back a sob.

Luna stepped close beside, and murmured comfortingly in her ear. “That wasn’t him, Skyshine.”

“What?” Skyshine tossed her mane in confusion, and tears welled in her eyes.

“Didn’t you hear him shout?” the princess asked, as if it were the simplest thing in the world.

“Of course I did,” she whimpered, nearly wailing in despair. “He roared at us.” Skyshine looked away, and took a deep breath. “It was awful.”

“He spoke. In Mobian, if I guess correctly. That gives me an inkling of what’s happened, here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Come with me, then.” She gestured with a wing towards the hallway. “We’ll visit him together, and my sister and I can explain.” She guided the earth pony towards the hallway. As they left the room, the journal found its way into the nearby flames.

“Your highness,” said a low voice, “we’ve found the site. He’s there now, or was, fifteen minutes ago. They can’t be too far.”

Skyshine stirred atop a pile of cushions and opened her eyes by the barest fraction. A black-maned, deep pink unicorn held a silvery helm under his right hoof, and was standing from a low bow. He then returned the helm to his head, and his coloring shifted to match the hues of his order: Grey, blue, and gold.

Luna nodded. “Thank you, Ebon.” She then turned to look at Skyshine. “There is no need to pretend. Go and fetch your husband. I think we should travel quickly, but first I want to talk to you both. Please meet me on the balcony.”

Skyshine stepped out of her makeshift nest in the greatroom, shook out her legs, and walked as quickly as she dared to the bedroom. When she opened the door, she found Worker already awake and packing a saddlebag.

“I’ve been up for hours.” He smiled warmly at her, and returned to his packing. “I couldn’t bring myself to wake you.”

Skyshine stood in the doorway and blinked at him for a moment. “I... good morning, Worker. It’s good to see you up.”

“I just needed a little rest, is all.” He set the bag down and stepped towards his wife. Before he had set a hoof down, she had scrambled backwards out of the room, as if evading a serpent or the edge of a cliff.

“I...” Skyshine broke eye contact and stared at the floor. “I can’t. I just..”

Worker’s shoulders drooped, and he turned away. “I understand,” he murmured, and returned to his bags. His horn shimmered briefly, then stopped as he shook his head, muttering at himself. He bent low and picked them up in his mouth instead.

A few tugs with his teeth and he had them balanced, more or less, across his withers. Turning back to Skyshine, he made an effort to smile once more. “Luna’s waiting. Should we hear what she has to say?”

Skyshine made no reply, but turned out of the doorway and walked to the moonlit balcony. Her husband shadowed her every step.

When they arrived, they found both Luna and Celestia waiting, and their guards strangely absent.

“Hello, Skyshine, Worker,” Celestia intoned. “It’s good to see you awake.”

Worker managed a half-bow as his pack slipped. “Thank you, your highness. It’s good to see you too.” Skyshine made no reply, but bowed her head as well.

Celestia nodded, and then looked to Luna. “We should go. It will be dawn, soon.”

“Yes, my sister,” Luna replied, then turned her attention to the two smaller ponies.

“Worker, Skyshine, let me explain, simply, what is going on, and then what we will need to do. Please, understand that this is just the surface,” she spared a glance for Celestia, then continued, “and I am being as direct as possible in the time we have.” Luna took a moment to look over her shoulder towards the horizon, where the moon nearly rested. She then turned back to her subjects.

“First, the events of this evening are a point for concern, but not alarm. Worker was not in complete control of his faculties. When we arrived, he was able to force a darker influence away. That influence is a matter for later discussion, but so long as he is with friends and family I see no cause for distress.”

“Second, it’s been reported that the strange creature—a hedgehog, if I remember our previous conversations, Worker—has been spotted in the woods below.” Luna closed her eyes and her horn flared. Suddenly, a map of the surrounding area floated between the gathered ponies. She opened her eyes again and pointed a few areas out with her horn.

“Your house is here,” she tapped the map along a ridgeline, and an orange dot sprung to life. “The town at large borders here.” She drew an arc along the trees which glowed green. “He seems to have found a small clearing here.” A blue dot, this one farther out, appeared towards the mountains where Worker had first arrived. “While we have no word of Tea Blossom or Snowdrop, it is likely they are hidden nearby.”

Worker studied the image, rubbing his chin with a hoof. “Water, shelter, possibly food,” he murmured. “Yes, that would make sense. There are some old caves there from when the Diamond Dogs did some prospecting. He’s probably holed up in one.”

Skyshine marveled at the tiny floating model. It grew in detail the closer she looked.

“Third, my sister and I will need to attend to our royal duties in short order. We have discussed the timing of the situation, and feel we can move towards the hedgehog, then hang back while you confirm whether or not he is present.” Two tiny emblems appeared near the glowing dot of the campsite. One moved towards the dot, and the other stayed in place. The entire scene zoomed in, parts of the map passing harmlessly through those gathered. Skyshine stifled a whinny of alarm.

“He wants you, Worker, and once he sees you, he is likely to ignore the presence of additional ponies. By that time, we will have managed the sun and moon, and can then move in and capture him safely.”

“Are there any questions?”

“Just one, your highness,” replied Worker. He watched the blue dot intently. “Neither my wife nor I can fly.” He glanced up at Luna. “How will we reach his hiding place before dawn?”

“We’re there now, Worker.”

The map faded, and Worker realized he stood on earth and stone, not wood. Skyshine swayed dangerously, and he stepped in close to hold her up.

Luna frowned. “I do apologize. You could not have felt the spell being woven, and I did not think to alert you.”

Worker tried to look in every direction at once. “No, no. It’s no matter. We’re here now.” He squeezed his wife’s shoulders, and whispered, “Sky? We’re safe, we’re here. It’s okay.”

Skyshine shivered but managed to keep her hooves beneath her. “I’m fine. Really.”

“Go on, then,” Celestia urged. “He’ll be just ahead. We must attend to our duties now. It won’t be long.”

Worker swallowed, then steeled himself and walked forward. Skyshine kept pace alongside.

Snowdrop woke to the sound of noises outside her cave. Loud noises. She stirred, staggered to her hooves, and looked towards the hole. The patch of sky was beginning to get brighter. Was it morning already?

She nuzzled Tea Blossom’s sleeping shape. “Wake up, Tea,” she whispered. Tea groaned in reply, but did not stir. At least she was making noises now. When she was quiet she was just creepy.

The curious filly crept through the gloom and peered outside. She saw the blue doggie, and he was yelling at something she could not see. She wedged her hooves against the wall and tried to get a clearer view.

She could see him better now. He was shouting, and waving his arms, and very angry at...

“DADDY!” she squealed, and nearly lost her balance. Her Daddy was here! Snowdrop strained to see everything.

Worker and Skyshine picked their way through the tree line. Up ahead, in the faint light before dawn, a blue figure paced back and forth. He seemed to be arguing with himself. Suddenly, he stopped, and stared directly at the pair of ponies.

“Robotnik!” he shouted, his face twisted in an odd expression.

“Sonic,” he replied, his voice level and measured. “Good morning.” He nodded a greeting and strode towards the hedgehog.

Sonic stood, his arms folded, and spared a glance for Skyshine. He sneered a moment, then looked back towards the unicorn. “I suppose this is your girlfriend, then?”

“My wife,” Worker clarified, coming to a stop a few paces away. “And she does not deserve your disrespect.”

“You really have changed, Robotnik. But that doesn’t forgive your crimes.”

“The name’s Worker,” he growled, his temper flaring. “You’ve changed too, hedgehog. That’s why I’m here—you’ve added kidnapping to your repertoire.”

“It got you here, didn’t it?” Sonic snarled. “I did what I had to.”

“Worker,” Skyshine asked, nudging his flank. “What’s going on?”

“A debate, my dear,” he replied, trying to keep his tone cool. He turned his head to address his wife, but did not look away from the hedgehog. “Just an old argument. We’ll find out what we need in a minute.”

He turned his attention back to his adversary. “Sonic,” he stated, his voice without emotion. “I will ask you once. Where is my daughter?”

Once? he laughed. “You can’t threaten me! I have all the cards, and you can’t even fight.”

“Might makes right, Sonic?” Worker chuckled ruefully. "You’ve certainly come a long way. You sound like me.”

“I am nothing like you,” he spat. He hunched his shoulders, and his expression darkened. “You bastard.”

“Sure you are!” Worker taunted. “Arson, assault, kidnapping, extortion... Why, if you add some murder, I’d be right proud of you, son.”

Robotnik’s words were too familiar. Too close to home. “I am nothing like you!” Sonic roared.

“You never could see the forest for the trees, Sonic,” Worker needled. “All those little steps. Every time you’ve told yourself 'just this once', or 'the results matter more', that softens you. Makes you weak. Less pure, if you fancy the term. And in the long run? That makes you exactly like me.”

There was a moment of eerie calm, and then everything happened at once. Sonic flared his spines and dashed forward with murderous intent. Skyshine screamed in panic as he shoved her to the ground, and then turned towards Worker. Worker rose onto his hind legs, and brought up his hooves to strike.

Over the hedgehog’s shoulder, Worker spied the sun crest the horizon. There was a brief flare of brilliant golden light, a lance of searing pain, and then...

As hard as she tried, she could just not stay in place.

Daddy and the blue doggy were arguing, and Mommy was there too. She could barely see anything at all!

She dropped to all fours and stared at the boulder that blocked the cave’s entrance. Maybe... maybe she could push it out of the way?

Snowdrop closed her eyes and reached out with her magic. She could feel the cold, heavy rock. She could feel it resisting her. All she had to do was push it a little, find out where it would move. The book called it ‘center of balance’, but that seemed too plain.

No, she needed to make the rock want to do what she wanted it to. She needed to convince it, or boss it around.

The little filly strained with the effort, her horn flaring and pulsing with arcane energy, but to no avail. The light flickered out, and the pony staggered with dizziness, leaning against the wall for support. She could still hear the arguing, and it seemed to be getting louder.

Snowdrop clambered back to her perch and peered out at the ponies outside. The big blue dog was yelling and growling, and Daddy was talking quickly with weird words. Suddenly, Mommy screamed! The big doggy reached out and...

No!” she cried. “No, leave them alone!”

A low rumble shook the earth and the stones underhoof began to groan, but Skyshine could only see the hulking creature that stood over Worker. She crawled to him, trying to shield him, but the beast would not stop kicking, and kicking, and kicking.

Suddenly, the onslaught ceased. The world went white, and her assailant was gone.

A brilliant light filled the clearing, obliterating every color. In its center stood Luna and Celestia, their wings flared, and their horns coruscating with burning sparks. Above them floated an improbable creature: a blue hedgehog, clad in red footgear and white gloves. His eyes spun wildly, and from his mouth issued a scream of terror that faded into a breathless rasp.

The pair spoke as one, their voices combined into a strange incantation. “We are Equestria, little creature,” they declared. “We are the Powers that Be. Against our subjects you have acted, and so against you we are set. You have worked great evil in our lands. You shall be tasked with setting all aright, and you shall face justice.”

A deafening clap of thunder split the air, and the blue creature vanished from sight.

No!” Skyshine shouted, her voice breaking with the effort. “No! What about Snowdrop? He didn’t tell us where she is!”

The glow faded, and color returned to the world.

“My daughter!” Skyshine wailed. “Where is my daughter?” She collapsed to the ground and clung to her husband, who struggled to keep conscious.

A tiny voice broke the unnatural silence. “Mommy?”

Skyshine was on her hooves before she knew it. She scanned left and right, trying to pinpoint her daughter’s call, praying she would cry out again.

“Mommy!” Snowdrop obliged. “Mommy, I’m over here!” A dozen paces away, a tiny blue leg poked out of what appeared to be a hillside. It waved frantically, and then retreated. “Mommy, hurry! Tea Blossom’s hurt!”

Skyshine raced for the spot. As she approached, a large boulder rose from the earth, revealing a cramped cave in the hillside. Snowdrop dashed out of the makeshift prison to meet her. The boulder fell back to the ground and rolled a short distance away.

Skyshine and Snowdrop clung to one another in the clearing. Worker staggered to his feet, the glow on his horn fading. He stumbled towards his wife and his daughter, and arrived alongside Luna. Celestia stepped past the family and approached the cave. With the utmost care, she gently brought out the unconscious form of a cream-colored pony.

Celestia set Tea Blossom down on the grassy hillside, and touched her forehead with her horn. A shimmer of golden light passed over the young pony, then Celestia turned and smiled. Luna sighed with relief.

Snowdrop was oblivious to it all. She held fast to Skyshine, murmuring her parents’ names over and over again. Skyshine kept her in an iron embrace. Worker wrapped his forelimbs around them both.

Skyshine could not recall a time that she had ever been happier.