• Published 13th Feb 2013
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One More Day - Fire-Dash



When Twilight awakes in a strange, unknown and terrifying place she struggles to find answers nopony seems to be able to give. She is told she has been chosen but for what, she cannot say.

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Lunch Time

Chapter Five
Lunch Time



{Twilight}

We're escorted to the blue building by several grey-cloaks. The spherical lights dancing up and down overhead, still following us. I try to ignore them, focussing my attention on the manner of the ponies in grey. I start thinking that the uniforms probably mean these ponies are guards of some sort. I'm starting to see them everywhere. Watching, observing, waiting. If we're trapped here underground, what could they be guarding? I guess they're just there to keep us from fighting or lingering where we're not meant to be.

I try to stay close to Nova to help her if she stumbles. She's looking very weary and I'm worried she might pass out. A lot of the other earth ponies seem to be having the same trouble. My heart aches. Why are they doing this to us?

I can spot the pegasus who had been sitting next to us in the stands up ahead. He's walking by one of the grey-cloaks and from the look of it, he doesn't seem to be doing very well in this crowd. He keeps jumping out of the way and flinching at every touch. He instinctively tries to use his wings, forgetting that they're nothing more than stumps now. When he finally gives up, he just stands rigid, staring at the mass of ponies. His breathing is rapid and unsteady.

A grey-cloak shoves him forward but he doesn't move. Another shove. Not budging. Angry now, the guard bites down on the tattered remains of one of the colt's wings. He cries out in pain and darts ahead. The grey-cloak, now satisfied, begins to usher more ponies forward. After that display, nopony is willing to dawdle.

They ease open the wide, heavy wooden doors of the blue building and send us in. Inside is a wide space filled with wooden chairs and tables. At the end of the room is a little window with a dark blue curtain over it. Adjacent to that is a pale white door. Along the wall leading to it a is a ledge and several dingy grey trays stacked at the end. On the ledge are many assortments of fruits and vegetables, set up almost like a buffet, but sloppier and with less attention to detail. The vegetables all look the same shade of green/brown, save for the carrots—which are orange/brown. Some of the fruit looks half-decent, at least, but looks can be decieving.

They have us line up single-file at the ledge and take a tray. Somepony from behind the window rolls up the curtain and begins handing out bowls of something. Looks like a kind of stew.

When it comes to my turn, I take an apple from the buffet and some carrot sticks because that's about all that seems edible to me. Then I head down to the end to receive my bowl. Looks to be a kind of thick potato and cabbage stew. Better than nothing, I suppose. Maybe it tastes better than it looks. Smells like old water and sweat though, so I'm not counting on it.

I scan the room, searching for a spot as far away from the grey-cloaks as possible. There's a small, rickety table half-hidden in a shadowed corner, several beat-up looking chairs placed around it . It looks dusty and probably not the most sanitary thing in the world but I choose it anyway. I set my tray down, then run back to help Nova with her food. I help carry it all for her and let her lean against me. Only now do I realize how difficult everything is without my magic. It's hard to keep everything balanced on one front leg. I'm so accustomed to simply levitating things. I try not to lead on how much trouble I'm having, how much I'd like to cry right now. It's pathetic. I'm doing the best I can.

I catch sight of the brown pegasus again as we make it to the table. He's searching for a place to sit, obviously wanting to get away from the mass of ponies. He keeps ducking and jumping back every time somepony gets close to him. I take it that he doesn't like crowds.

He spots us but doesn't move to come over. He just shifts his balance slightly and looks around the room again. I figure he must need reassurance so I wave at him, inviting him to join us. He hesitates but after a moment of thought, he starts to head our way.

Our table is a little more secluded than the others and farther away from those strange floating lights that seem to be everywhere. They make me feel uneasy. There's just something about them, about whatever magic created them. It isn't right.

The pegasus sits down across from Nova and I at the table. He doesn't look at us. He just stares down at the single brownish cabbage leaf floating in his stew. I glance at Nova for help and she silently (and graciously) agrees to start the conversation. “So, um, what's your name?” she asks slowly. She knows as well as I do that we need to talk. Otherwise the reality of the situation is going to hit us and right now, nopony's ready for that. We need a distraction.

The colt doesn't bother to look up. “My name is Dusk,” he says, sounding sure. He doesn't stutter and his words are clear, though quiet.

“My name's Nova and this is Twilight.” She attempts a smile but Dusk isn't looking. “You're okay, right? Did they do anything more to you? Did they try to hurt you? I mean, more than already.”

There's a pause, then he looks up. A pair of deep golden-brown eyes settle on me. A light passes us by, flashing in his glasses, illuminating them. It passes but there's a gleam in his eyes now. A knowing gleam. A light of realization. “I-I know you,” he says, studying me.

I tilt my head. “I'm sorry, but you must be mistaken. I don't think we've met.”

He shakes his head. “N-no, I d-do know you, but y-you're right. We ha-haven't met.” When I don't say anything, he continues, “I-I've heard about you b-before. You're Ce-Celes... Celestia's st-student.” His stutter is back now and I can tell he's getting more nervous. “I-I've heard of y-you before. M-mention of th-things you've done.”

“Wait,” I say, realizing, “Dusk, are you from Canterlot?"

“S-sort of-” he starts, then stops himself. “Well, I-I'm not really f-from there b-but I visit so m-much I mi-might as well be.”

I glance at Nova, then back to Dusk. “Did they take you from there?”

His expression suddenly eclipses from nervous to deeply grim. “I-I was with m-my little sister.... said I'd t-take her to s-se.... to see the W-Won... Wonderbolts. I-I said I w-wouldn't let anything h-ha-appen to her.” I decide not to ask any more hard questions. It's apperent he's in no state to look back now. Whatever happened, it hurt him far deeper than physical wounds and remembering just hurts more.

He said before that while he was supposed to be unconscious he heard a scream. I'm not sure what that might mean but I hope everything's okay with his sister... and I hope everything's okay with my friends back home.

Home. Will I see it again?

Yes, I tell myself, of course I will. They're going to rescue me. They're coming with help. I know they are. They must be.

Nova, noticing the downward slide in Dusk's and my own mental state, jumps in with another question to keep us talking. “You know I was—am, still am, an artist? I did a lot of illustrations, drawings, paintings, etc. But I know three dimensional art as well. Want to see?” She doesn't wait for an answer as she removes the food and utensils from her tray. She empties out the rest of her stew into a trashcan located just behind her chair and places the bowl upside-down on the middle of the table. She then takes her drinking glass, still full of water, and places it on top of the bowl. She puts the spoon on top of the glass, laying it down horizontally and balancing it on its side. Then she peels an orange and sticks it on the spoon, careful to centre it perfectly. She then takes her tray and very slowly, very attentively, balances it on top of the orange. The structure leans, the spoon starting to tilt. Nova compensates for this quickly and shifts the tray a bit. The 'sculpture' steadies and she grins. “I call it 'Something from Nothing',” she says, letting us admire her modern cafeteria-table centrepiece.

She looks from me to Dusk, trying to gage our reactions. “Well, what do you think?”

I have to admire her will. She has two painfully broken legs and being constantly forced to walk on them without support can't be helping. Yet, she's acting five times stronger than I feel. I can see her cutie mark clear as day, brighter than anything. Three splotches of red, yellow and blue with a standard oil paintbrush laying over-top of them. Nova catches me looking and smiles. I quite like her smile, it's very comforting. “It's not just painting. But I guess the primary colours and a paintbrush are pretty much bold indicators of art.”

“Well, you're clearly quite good,” I say, nodding at the balancing act in the middle of the table. I'm trying to help her lighten the mood a bit. I'm not going to think about my own special talent. About how much I practised, how much I dreamed, only to have it stolen from me—

I shake my head in an attempt to clear it. No, I tell myself, no, I won't give up. It isn't over. Celestia will know what to do.

“I don't think I'm that great,” she says, snapping me back to reality, “but I love it.”

“Good artists are never happy with their work,” I say and she manages a slight chuckle.

She turns her gaze over to Dusk, who seems quite invested in twirling his spoon around and around in his stew. “What about you, what do you think about it?”

He looks up, seeming almost surprised by the centrepiece as though he hadn't noticed it being built. “I-I don't know,” he says quietly. “It's n-nice.”

“Are you okay?” I ask softly, knowing very well that he's not. None of us are. Looking around, I can see a mix of ponies trying to cheer each other up, some staring blankly at their food, some acting almost normal, completely accepting their new reality. Some are deeply depressed, some crying, some even starting fights with the guards, yelling, screaming, trying to run but knowing there's nowhere to go. And then there's Dusk with his unseeing and distant expression. I catch a flash of something in his eyes—is it guilt? Is that because of whatever might have happened to his sister? Or is it something else?

Dusk doesn't respond for a while. Then, suddenly, “I do ap-appreciate you t-trying to help,” he says softy. “I'm s-sorry I'm n-not giving m-m-much effort b-back.”

“It's okay,” I tell him, “I understand.”

“Alright, ponies, lunch time's up!” calls a grey-cloak from the front of the room. A mare with her white mane tied up in a messy bun trots out from the kitchen with a trolly and begins to collect dishes. I quickly take a few bites out of my apple, then dump the core and my stew in the trash before she makes it to our table. She gives us a glare at the sight of Nova's 'masterpiece' but doesn't say anything as she starts to take it down. Nova looks proud and I know why. She discovered she still has something they couldn't take from her.

The guards arrange themselves around us and begin prodding ponies out of their seats, forcing them to stand again. “Time for your Afternoon Tests,” calls the grey-cloak up front as he begins to lead the way out the door.

I find my mind is wandering to dark places. I don't know what these 'tests' are, but based on the things that have happened to us so far, I don't want to find out.

But of course, with the prodding of guards and large, stretching, sinister walls all around me, I don't seem to have a choice.

* * *

{Rarity}

As we start on our way to Sweet Apple Acres, I can't help but scan the faces of ponies around us for signs of trouble. Surely we aren't the only ones affected by this phenomenon. I see a stallion quickly glancing around, his eyes wide and full of concern. There's a mare whose gait speeds and slows as her face morphs from urgency to confusion. Foals playing on the sidewalks, mothers watching distantly with hazy expressions as though they sense something wrong but can't pinpoint what it is.

There must be something wrong. What a strange day this is. What happened to make us so dreadfully confused and uncertain? Why do I feel as though there's something missing? Something important....

Oh, I wish this would all just go away. It's only a feeling but it lingers. I can't seem to think of anything else. Perhaps Applejack has some idea as to what's happening.

As we start along the path to Sweet Apple Acres, I feel a sort of tingling along my spine. Almost like goosebumps but there's no wind or cold weather today. It's a strange sensation and I notice the others becoming uneasy as well. What in Equestria is going on now?

When we reach the orchard, the apple trees loom overhead. Trees that, despite how dirty they are, I thought were beautiful just yesterday. Now when I look up they seem so many times larger and darker, as though they had grown overnight to reach up and devour the skies. I know, of course, that they are the same trees. They look the same but they seem different, if that makes any sense at all. Though, I suppose nothing seems to be making much sense today anyway.

I spot an orange figure in the distance and call to the others to inform them. We start to head over there but even before we see her up close, we know something's wrong.

“Hey, Applejack!” Pinkie Pie squeals as she bounds over, “is there anything—”

Applejack spins around, so fast she knocks over a bucket of apples she'd just finished collecting, scattering them everywhere. “Pinkie, would you be quiet. Ah have work to do 'round here and Ah'm not lettin' myself get distracted.” She quickly gathers up the apples again and proceeds to the next tree, bucking at it so hard pieces of bark fly off the trunk. Apples fall erratically, missing the bucket below completely.

Pinkie looks entirely taken aback. So much so that she just stands there a moment, stunned, not trying to jump in and cheer her friend up. She shakes her head quickly and follows the orange earth pony, but with caution, something I've rarely ever seen Pinkie Pie use.

“B-but, AJ-” she begins only to be cut off once more.

“Don't you 'but, AJ' me!” Applejack snaps. “Ah don't want anypony t' bother me today, y'hear?”

Rainbow makes a sound that can only be described as a growl as she rushes up to the farm pony from behind and tackles her. She pins her down, forcing her to listen. “Alright, I don't know what's going on with you today but it has to stop. We've all got this weird feeling that something really bad's happened and we don't know what it is. Because of that, I want to know why you're in such a crummy mood and I want to know it now.”

Applejack looks less than indignant at being tackled and held down. I can't say I blame her. “Ah just woke up in the worst possible mood today. Ah don't want to talk about it.”

Rainbow holds her there a moment and I'm concerned this might transpire into a fight. Then she sighs, getting up and letting the orange pony continue her rampage of broken trees and scattered apples.

“What are we going to do now?” I ask, not entirely sure if we should let her continue so she can calm down later or stop her and force her to calm down now. I don't know if either way would be at all effective. I have a feeling that no matter what we decide, something is going to end up broken. Be it trees or—well, I'd rather not think about it.

“I-if we all feel this way,” I hear Fluttershy begin as she steps up to Rainbow very carefully, “what are we supposed to do?”

The blue pegasus shakes her head. “I don't know! We just need to fix this. Figure it out—” she stops. Her expression changes and she seems confused, as though she were on the verge of remembering something. After a moment, the same look appears on Fluttershy's face as well.

Pinkie tilts her head and asks, “who's good at figuring things out?”

That's when it strikes me. A strange feeling, like I should know something, or somepony? Is that it?

But... there isn't anypony missing, is there? We'd certainly know if there was.

Rainbow glances at Fluttershy, then turns to Pinkie and I. “This morning, Fluttershy said she felt like she needed to go to the library. Maybe we'll find some answers there.”

“What about Applejack?” Pinkie asks, straining to watch as the frantic earth pony runs off through the orchard, only to stop abruptly to buck at a small tree. She hits it so hard the bark splinters and the trunk cracks. The poor tree now stands at an awkward, lopsided angle, holding itself together by tendons like a broken bone. I know the tree can't feel pain, but I wince anyway at the sight.

Rainbow glances in that direction but doesn't let her gaze linger. “I don't think she's going to be any help. Not like that.”

I nod, and the others seem to agree.

But what will we find at the library? It does seem like a place we've been quite often but I can't seem to remember anything clearly. It's all such a mess, nothing makes sense. Oh, I do hope we can sort this out. I feel like somepony has played an awful trick on us but I don't know how, or why.