Adventures on the Friendship Express

by GreenS21

First published

Spin-off story to "Sonic Generations: Friendship is Timeless", taking place during the train ride to Canterlot.

Spin-off story to "Sonic Generations: Friendship is Timeless", taking place between chapters fifteen and sixteen during the train ride to Canterlot.

Everyone knows that Sonic, Tails, Spike, the Main Six, Shining Armor, and Princess Cadance set out for and arrived at Canterlot aboard the Friendship Express to find and stop the monster that had intertwined two worlds and their fates together, but what happened along the way? While Princess Celestia and Princess Luna went on ahead and prepared for their arrival, Equestria and Earth's heroes had to go through more adventures in order to get to Equestria's capital city. Now, the story of their lesser known adventures shall be told.

So climb aboard the Friendship Express, grab a seat, and get comfortable. It's going to be quite a ride.

Sonic Generations: Friendship is Timeless TV Tropes page can be found here.

Hidden Palace(s)

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RELAXING TRAIN RIDE... OR NOT

As the Friendship Express left the outskirts of Ponyville and began making its way across the plains towards Canterlot, Sonic, Spike, and the ponies were settled in for what they expected to be a long ride, still listening to the music coming from Sonic’s cell phone. They were all lightly bobbing their heads in time with the music, a few like Spike, Twilight, Applejack, and Shining Armor even moving in their seats like they were dancing.

Soon, the upbeat song that was playing came to an end and everybody settled down in their seats again. “Mm, those are some good tunes ya got there, Sugar-hog,” Applejack commented.

“Yeah, you got anything else that sounds awesome?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah, I’ve got plenty of other tracks on here. Hang on; let me find something else…” He held his phone in both hands and began sliding his left thumb over the screen, flipping through his music library.

At the front of the train, meanwhile, Tails and Pinkie were working to keep the Friendship Express going. For the most part, Pinkie was getting into the role of conductor and was piloting the train while Tails was checking everything to make sure they were well prepared. “How does the water supply look, Pinkie?” the fox asked while checking some of the gauges from behind the pink pony.

“Super duper!” Pinkie replied as she sat and looked straight ahead at the boiler.

“Okay, good,” Tails murmured. He looked back over his shoulder at the coal littering the cabin and said, “We should have plenty of coal here to get us to Canterlot. I guess we’re good to go, then.” He walked over to the window on the right side of the cabin and pressed his right hand against the frame as he stuck his head out, looking up at Canterlot in the distance as the wind from the train’s movement blew in his face. It looked like they had a long way to go, but at the speed they were going, they should arrive in no time.

Looking back down, Tails’ eyes went wide as he gasped, “Whoa, what the - ?!” He pulled his head back inside the cabin sharply and exclaimed, “Pinkie, hit the brakes!” The startled pink earth pony leapt up at his shout and did as he said, pulling the lever for the brakes.

Back in the second coach from the engine, the rest of the group was thrown for a loop when the brakes started slowing down the train, Sonic, Spike, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash being jerked forward while Twilight, Rarity, Shining Armor, and Cadance were yanked backwards, all of them letting out a gasp of surprise at the sudden stop. Rainbow Dash was sent tumbling from her spot atop the seat Sonic and Spike were sitting in and she probably would’ve landed on top of Spike had Sonic not managed to get his hand in front of the baby dragon in time to keep him from being sent flying out of his seat.

Everybody sat back into a normal sitting position a few seconds after the train slid to a halt, save for Rainbow Dash who was lying on the floor at Twilight and Rarity’s hooves. “Ow… what the hay?!” the rainbow-maned pegasus groaned as she lifted her head up and rubbed the back of it with a hoof.

“Oh… I really did not like that…” Fluttershy murmured.

Applejack patted her on the back with a hoof, “Don’t worry, Fluttershy. Whatever happened to cause that, we’re fine.”

Cadance looked out the nearby window and noticed what little scenery there was wasn’t moving anymore. “We’ve stopped! But why?” she wondered.

She was about to receive her answer, as seconds later, the door leading to the front slid open, everyone looking to see Tails and Pinkie standing on the other side of it. Sonic, who was helping Rainbow Dash up onto her hooves, looked up at Tails and asked, “Tails, what happened, man?”

Tails scratched the back of his head as he replied, “Uh, sorry about the sudden stop, guys, but we’ve got a bit of a problem.”

Pinkie piped up before he could continue, “There’s a big, whirly portal up ahead, like a big tunnel! We would’ve gone through at the speed we were going!”

Sonic turned towards his window, walked over to it, and slid it up, poking his head out and looking towards the front of the train. “Shoot! You guys were right to stop the train! That thing’s right in the middle of the tracks!” he said.

Shining Armor, who was looking out the window on his side, added, “And you weren’t kidding when you said ‘big’, Pinkie Pie! The only way we’ll be able to get the train around that is if we pick it up off the tracks!”

As the two pulled their heads back inside, Twilight asked, “Do you have any idea where it leads, Tails?”

The fox answered, “No. That’s why I told Pinkie to stop the train. If there aren’t any tracks on the other side, the train could get really messed up, and that would cut our trip short.”

Rarity asked, “What are we going to do now? The Princesses didn’t use their magic, so they’re still on their way to Canterlot! We can’t ask them to send a carriage right now!”

Rainbow spoke, “What’s the problem, Rarity? Shining said we could go around the portal if we lifted the train off the tracks. We’ll just have Twilight do it and we’ll be on our way!”

Tails spoke, “I don’t think that’ll be necessary, Rainbow. I checked my radar while I was up front. If the readings I got are correct, then that portal isn’t entirely stable. If we go in there, we might be able to find a way to close it, or at least open up a new portal behind it that we can use so we don’t have to abandon the train.”

Pinkie clapped her hooves on the fox’s shoulders from behind, saying, “Now you’re thinking with portals, Tails!” She pushed herself off of him and, while she was still on her hind legs, tossed off her pilot’s hat and neckerchief. She then said, “Come on, gang, let’s see what kind of mystery is on the other side!”

Rainbow piped up, “Hey, I’m all for having another awesome adventure, but why can’t we just go around it? We could just lift the train off the tracks like Shining said, or we could just use the Warp Ring to get around the portal!”

Twilight spoke, “I know we have to get to Canterlot, Rainbow Dash, but we’ve investigated all the other portals we’ve seen so far. We’re not exactly in Ponyville anymore, but as long as it’s right here, we should still see where it leads.”

Shining nodded, “I agree, Twily, especially since Tails said it was unstable. What if something happens because we didn’t investigate?” Twilight glanced to the side at him at that.

Spike looked up at Sonic and asked, “Do you think we’ve got enough time to go check it out, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog looked down at him and replied, “We’ll make it quick. If it’s unstable, we shouldn’t be in there long.” He then looked at Tails and asked, “You’re sure it’s stable enough to go in there, right Tails?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah, I think so. My radar started acting weird while it was getting the readings. That’s what makes me think it’s unstable, but I’m not entirely sure. We should be fine, though.”

Cadance stood up, “Then let’s go. We don’t want to keep Aunt Celestia and Aunt Luna waiting any longer than we have to.” Everyone else agreed with her and they all stood up, all of them making their way to the nearby exit and climbing down off the train.

Quickly making their way to the front and going past the engine, the group soon stood in front of the portal blocking their way. The image on the surface seemed to be showing an underground cavern, but every few seconds, the image would become distorted before returning to normal. When that happened, it almost looked like static on a television screen. This only slightly confused everyone, though, since Tails had already said there was something strange about the portal. With this in mind, they all leapt into the portal, ready to see where it would take them…

________________________________________

A TRULY HIDDEN PALACE

Everyone landed feet/hooves first on solid ground and quickly scanned their surroundings. Just like the image on the portal had suggested, it appeared that they had touched down in some sort of underground cavern. They could see water coming down in falls in places off in the distance and what appeared to be some green lights brightening and dimming nearby. Looking back, they could see the portal they had just come through on one of the cavern walls.

“What is this place?” Rainbow wondered out loud.

“I have no clue. I’ve definitely never been here before,” Sonic commented.

Spike looked up at him, “Really? You haven’t?”

Sonic replied, “Hey, I’ve seen quite a few underground places before, but this is totally unique. I’m pretty sure I’d remember this.” He glanced over at Tails and, upon seeing the fox looking down at his radar, asked, “Hey, Tails, are you getting anything?”

Tails answered, “No, not really. All I’m getting are those weird readings I picked up before.” Sonic, the ponies, and Spike (who climbed up on Twilight’s back) looked over his shoulders at the dual screens and saw what he was talking about. The radar seemed to be functioning normally, but the numbers and other readings on the bottom screen kept jumping every few seconds.

“Is it still okay fer us ta be here, darlin’?” Applejack asked.

Tails looked up at her, “Yeah, it should be.”

Shining spoke, “Let’s get moving, then. The sooner we’re done here, the sooner we can get back to the train.” With that, everyone started moving deeper into the cavern, no one noticing the portal behind them beginning to waver at the edges. After they rounded a corner, it sparked with electricity for several moments before it started to shrink, completely closing and vanishing after a few seconds…

As the group made their way through the cavern, they were quick to notice that the ground was uneven in a number of places, forcing everyone to climb on top of the parts that stuck up since the ground wasn’t sloped in a lot of places. Strangely, it almost seemed as though someone had cut or chiseled the rock to give it the appearance they were seeing. This was further compounded when they saw, at the places where the ground did slope, there were green ramps to make straight slopes that were clearly not natural. Who had been down here, and for what purpose?

Walking between two small waterfalls, Sonic eyed one of the sources of the green lights they had seen earlier, noticing it was circular-shaped and seemed to be embedded in a rock column. “Some kind of crystal, maybe?” he wondered to himself.

Twilight looked at it as she and the others followed him between the waterfalls. “Strange…” she murmured. She faced forward after a moment and noticed Sonic had stopped just ahead. Looking past him, she saw the reason. “Is that a bridge?” she asked as she stopped next to Sonic.

The others stopped as well, all of them looking at it. “It is a bridge, Twilight. Strange how it’s green like so many other things down here, though,” Shining said.

“That’s fer sure. Even some o’ these rocks look green from a distance,” Applejack commented.

Rainbow spoke, “Who cares what some rocks look like? Let’s see where this leads!”

Spike drooled a bit, “Oh man… It looks like a bunch of emeralds all strung together…”

Rarity spoke, “Spike, please! Act like a proper gentleman!” Spike snapped back to attention at her words and stood up straight, quickly wiping the drool off of his mouth. Rarity then spoke again, “That’s better. I understand your excitement, darling, but this bridge is to be walked upon and nothing else. I am assuming it is strong enough to be walked on; after all, why else would it be here?”

Tails looked at the bridge carefully. “It kind of looks like those ice bridges we crossed when we were at those ice mountains. It should be just as sturdy,” he said after a moment.

Sonic lifted his right foot, “Let’s see.” He set it down on the first segment, which immediately lit up as soon as his foot made contact. Everyone tensed up for a moment, but Sonic soon relaxed and started walking across the bridge, each segment lighting up as he walked. He reached the other side and called back, “No problem! Come on!” Everyone began making their way over the bridge to him at his reassurance.

As she walked across the bridge, Twilight looked off to the side, looking at the waterfalls and glowing lights. “This place reminds me of the caverns below Canterlot,” she mused to herself, glancing over at Cadance for a moment. Her favorite foalsitter did not appear to be worried, but Twilight wondered if she was thinking of the crystal caverns as well.

Tails was the last one across, the fox looking down at his radar as he walked behind the others. “Weird… We’ve gotten pretty far away from where we entered from, but nothing’s changed! The readings are still weird and I’m not getting a good signal,” he thought.

He was brought out of his thoughts when Pinkie yelled, “Look out!” He looked up, only to see the party pony leaping towards him, practically tackling him onto his back as a silver-looking bat swooped down where his head had been. Not even a second after he landed on his back, Rainbow Dash shot up and delivered a flying kick to the bat, sending it crashing into a wall. It broke as soon as it hit the wall, revealing that it was actually a Badnik.

Pinkie grinned down at Tails, “You’ve gotta pay more attention, Tails! Good thing my Pinkie Sense told me you were going to get attacked from above!”

Tails cheeks turned a bit red under his fur, “I… see. Well, thank you, Pinkie!”

Sonic came over and helped Tails to his feet after Pinkie climbed off of him, asking, “You okay, Tails?”

The two-tailed fox nodded, “Yeah. That was my fault. I should’ve been looking around rather than down at my radar.”

Rainbow Dash hovered overhead and said, “Heh, don’t worry, Tails. I know how you eggheads just LOVE to get absorbed in whatever you think is so fascinating!”

Pinkie piped up, “Ooh, ooh!” When Sonic, Rainbow, and Tails looked at her, she reached into her mane and pulled out Tails’ radar. She held it out to him as she said, “I grabbed this so it wouldn’t get smashed! Here you go, Tails!”

Tails smiled as he took it from her, “Heh, thanks, Pinkie!”

The four of them heard Applejack call, “Hey! Y’all okay back there?” They looked to see everyone standing up ahead, starting to come back towards them.

Rainbow called back, “Yeah, we’re cool, AJ!” The four of them then hurried to rejoin the rest of the group, passing by one of the green lights as they went. A second after they passed it, its surface changed from green to a grayish snow color…

A short while later, after dealing with more bat Badniks and some red dinosaur-like Badniks, the group came across what appeared to be a green tube going down into the rocky ground. The ground around it appeared to be made of emeralds, and there were little bits of emeralds littering the ground around it. While Spike and Rarity gathered the emerald bits up, the others gathered around the tube, looking down at it.

“Now what do y’all suppose this is here for?” Applejack asked.

Twilight put her face close to the ground and peered down into the tube. She spoke after a moment, “Is that… I think that’s water down there.”

Sonic quickly said, “Then we’re not going down there. Last thing we need is to run into a dead end underwater, or for that tube to not empty out.”

Fluttershy shivered, “Ooh… that sounds like it would be scary.”

Shining nodded, “It does, Fluttershy, but I still wonder what this pipe is for. It must be here for some reason.”

Rainbow shrugged, “Yeah, but what? And why is there still water in it?”

Pinkie perked up, “Ooh, I know! Maybe it’s unfinished! Can we finish it?!”

While the others kept talking, Tails examined the area carefully. “These gems that Rarity and Spike are picking up… these normal rocks around the hole… and these wet spots… Was there something here before?” he wondered. Glancing off to the side, he noticed something on the ground he would’ve missed were it not for one of the glowing lights in the cavern. Moving closer to the discovery, he examined it carefully before looking back over his shoulder and calling, “Hey, guys!” Everyone turned to look at him at that; he said, “Look at this! I found some prints on the ground over here!”

The others came over and looked at the prints he had found. “You’re right, Tails! These look pretty recent…” Shining mused.

Sonic looked closer at the prints before saying, “And wet. Did someone fall into the water?”

They all looked further ahead. “Well, whoever made these prints, it looks like they came from deeper inside this cavern,” Twilight said.

Sonic spoke, “Well, let’s see if they’re still around. Maybe they know what this place is.” Everyone agreed with that and began following the prints opposite the way they were going, Spike munching on some of the smaller gems Rarity let him keep as he rode on Twilight’s back.

It wasn’t long after they started following the trail of prints that the group noticed two other paw print trails heading in the same direction. Aside from size, the prints appeared to be very similar to the ones in the trail they were following. They looked more noticeable and wetter than the prints at the spot where the group had started tracking them. Still, no one was really sure who the prints belonged to. Spike and the Main Six thought they looked familiar, but nobody spoke up.

Suddenly, they all heard something from around a corner and came to a stop. “Ooh! Careful, Fido! We don’t want to lose the precious gem!”

Sonic asked, “Fido? Who’s that?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow, “That voice sounds familiar.”

Rarity’s face adopted an unusual glare as she said, “It certainly does, Twilight. I’d recognize it anywhere!” She suddenly ran ahead of the group, surprising them so much that nobody tried to stop her. There were surprised exclamations a second later, followed by Rarity screaming, “I KNEW IT WAS YOU, YOU… YOU DOGS!”

DIAMOND DOGS!

Spike placed his claws on Twilight’s neck and used his arms to catapult off of her back, the unicorn’s head bobbing a bit as he exclaimed, “Rarity!” He dashed ahead of the group, after the mare of his dreams. The others came running several seconds after the shock had worn off to find what would normally have been an amusing sight: Rarity and Spike playing tug-of-war with the three Diamond Dog leaders that had pony-napped Rarity so long ago, only instead of using a rope, both sides were pulling on a large emerald that was about as big as the Master Emerald, Rarity having her hooves wrapped around the bottom with Spike pulling her rear right leg while the Diamond Dogs gripped the top of the gem..

“Put the gem down this instant!” Rarity exclaimed.

“No! Be gone, pony! We found this gem first! It’s ours!” the leader and owner of the earlier voice, Rover, said.

“LET GO OF IT!” Rarity shrieked.

“Save it, pony! Your annoying sounds won’t work this time!” the large blue dog, Fido, said.

“Yeah, especially not when we have a gem this big to take back!” nodded the short dog, Spot.

Tails watched the spectacle for several seconds before turning to Sonic and asking, “Should we help them?”

Sonic looked back at the exchange. “Maybe, but which side?” he asked after a moment.

Twilight looked at him and said, “Sonic!”

The blue hedgehog shrugged, “What? They look evenly matched to me!”

Pinkie cheered, “Go, Rarity! Go, Spikey! Beat those doggies!”

The struggling continued for a couple seconds more before Spike, Rarity, and the Diamond Dogs all made one final pull, all of them grunting and straining to pull the gem to one side.

And that’s when it happened.

While sliding her free leg back, Rarity suddenly lost her balance, causing her to slip and lose her grip on the gem. Both she and Spike fell forward with a gasp while the Diamond Dogs, who were unprepared for this, tumbled backwards with the gem in their paws. When they fell on their backs, the large jewel landed on its top and, to everyone’s surprise, broke apart! The pieces of the gem scattered across the ground, moving a bit as they landed before coming to a stop.

Rarity and Spike looked up and gasped while the Diamond Dogs, upon seeing what happened, rolled over and stared in horror. “NOOOOOOOO! Not the precious gem!” Rover cried.

Fido picked up two of the pieces and looked down at them. “How did this happen?” he murmured.

Spot perked up as he said, “Wait! We can take all these gem pieces back with us! Then we’ll have lots of gems!”

While they were talking, the others walked closer, most of them moving towards Spike and Rarity while Sonic, Tails, and Twilight moved a little closer to the Diamond Dogs. “How did it break like that? It should’ve taken more force to break a gem that big,” Cadance commented.

Shining nodded, “Yeah. Is there something wrong with it?”

Tails walked over to one of the pieces on the ground and picked it up with his left hand, holding it up to his face and examining it. Spot noticed and said, “You! What are you doing?!”

Tails looked at him and replied, “I’m just examining the gem you found. You do know it’s fake, right?”

Rover’s eyes went wide, “Fake?! What?!” he cried.

Tails shrugged, “Sure. It’s the most reasonable explanation for why it fell apart like that.” He flipped his left hand around and let the piece fall to the ground, where it broke once again.

While the Diamond Dogs stared in shock at this fact, Spike looked up at Rarity as she sighed sadly. He stood up and asked, “Rarity? Are you okay?”

The white unicorn glanced down at him and said, “I’m fine, Spike. I just got my hopes up when I saw that gem. Gems that size are so rare; I should have known it wasn’t real as soon as I saw it.”

Applejack leaned close to the fashionista as she smirked, “Tom musta been pretty big too.”

Rarity’s eyes widened and then narrowed as she darkly muttered, “How many times am I going to be reminded of that today?”

Sonic, Twilight, and Tails walked over to her and the others, Sonic carrying one of the pieces in his right hand. “Ah, don’t take it too hard, Rarity. It does look pretty convincing, even up close,” Sonic said. He glanced down at the piece in his hand, “Guess you really got to look close to spot the difference.”

Tails nodded at him, “Yeah, kind of like with iron pyrite.” Sonic threw the piece in his hand back over his shoulder, the chunk bouncing off the ground before it went sliding backwards.

Shining looked over at the Diamond Dogs, who now seemed to be standing up, and asked, “Should we take them with us?”

Rarity stood up and simply said, “Absolutely not. I refuse to spend any extra time with them.”

Sonic looked at her and asked, “Why not?”

Rainbow nodded, “Yeah, come on, Rarity! You reined ‘em in the last time we saw them!”

Rarity protested, “After pony-napping me, showing a complete lack of hygiene, and subjecting me to horrid underground conditions, that is. This cavern is so much better than their tunnels, it’s not even funny. I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to move here.”

While she was speaking, Rover quickly picked up on her tone and, after she finished talking, got up in front of her and said, “QUIET! Don’t you start your whining or complaining or whatever you call it again! My ears are still ringing from the last time!”

Fido and Spot stepped up alongside him, Fido saying, “We don’t need your spell this time anyway. We’ve already found plenty of gems here.”

Twilight asked, “How did you even get here?”

Spot answered, “Tunnel. We walked down it and it led here. Not sure how, but we soon found gems here. Good enough for us!”

Rarity rolled her eyes, “How positively primeval.”

Tails asked, “You guys really like gems, huh?”

Fido said, “Of course! Gems are our life! We’re always itching to find more gems!”

Sonic smirked, “You know, there’s plenty of water down here. A good bath ought to take care of that itch.”

The Diamond Dogs stared at him for a moment before it seemed like a light bulb went on in their heads. Spot demanded, “Are you making fun of us?!”

Sonic glanced off to the side as he replied, “Maybe.” He then looked at Rarity and winked, the white unicorn holding a hoof up to her mouth and giggling in response.

Fido growled, “Why, you…”

He was interrupted when Fluttershy let out a loud scream, one that was very clearly heard by everyone present. They all turned to her, Applejack asking, “What’s the matter, Fluttershy? Why’d ya go and…” She trailed off as she and the others saw what Fluttershy was looking at.

UNPLUGGED

As they looked into the distance, towards the waterfalls and the cavern wall, it began to change before their eyes. The once tan and brown rocks changed into a mix of yellow and purple lines, the clear blue water seemed to become light blue lines, and the emerald pieces turned into barely recognizable green shapes. And mixed in with the corrupted look of it all, amongst the strange shapes, were a multitude of ones and zeroes.

“What in Equestria is THAT?!” Twilight exclaimed.

“I don’t know, but it looks like its spreading!” Sonic growled. Indeed, what started as a small (from where everyone was standing) spot on the wall was beginning to expand, starting to cover the rest of the cavern.

“It almost looks like it’s all being converted to code!” Tails gasped.

Rover turned and started running deeper into the cavern, calling back, “FIDO! SPOT! WE’RE LEAVING NOW!” The two Diamond Dogs quickly turned and did the same, running after their leader.

Rainbow called after them, “Hey, where are you three going?!” Suddenly, the ground began to shake, a nearby rock column breaking off from the ceiling and falling to the ground in front of the path the group had come from, practically blocking it off.

“What in tarnation is goin’ on here?! Is this place fallin’ apart?!” Applejack exclaimed.

“It’s not falling apart, it’s being scrapped! Removed! Deleted! And soon we’ll be deleted too!” Pinkie gasped.

Spike looked up at Tails, who was looking down at his radar, and waved arms while saying, “Tails, we’ve gotta get out of here! Get the Warp Ring out!”

Tails continued to look down at the dual screens of his radar for a moment, the readings looking even worse than they were before. It was a miracle it hadn’t exploded yet. He then looked down at Spike and said, “Right!” He put his radar away and pulled out the ring, everyone moving away to give him room. He tossed it forward… but nothing happened. The ring stayed the same size and simply bounced when it hit the ground.

They all stared down at the ring in horror. “It’s not working?!” Rarity cried.

Tails quickly grabbed it with both hands and held it up to his face, “That’s impossible! It’s got energy in it! More than enough to teleport all of us! So why isn’t it working?!”

Twilight suddenly remembered something and said, “Wait! The Diamond Dogs said they went down a tunnel and ended up here! They must have gone through a portal without realizing it!”

Princess Cadance looked over at her and nodded, “That must be why they ran deeper into the cave! The portal must be up ahead somewhere!”

Sonic glanced back over his shoulder and noticed, just over the fallen pillar, that the strange corruption was spreading along the path they had come down. He looked back at the others and said, “Anything’s better than standing around here! Let’s go!” They all turned and ran to catch up with the Diamond Dogs, Tails tucking the Warp Ring away and Twilight placing Spike on her back since he was having trouble keeping up.

Sonic and Rainbow Dash took the lead, staying ahead of the rest of the group and keeping an eye out for any signs that the cavern was going to disappear right out from under them. Soon, Rainbow called down to Sonic, “There’s a ledge coming up!”

Sonic quickly brought his feet down, sliding across the ground towards the ledge. He came to a stop right at the edge, most of his shoes dangling over open air. “Whoa!” he exclaimed as he waved his arms around trying to keep his balance. After a second, he stepped back and looked down to see he had almost fallen into a pool of water, just inches below where his feet had been.

Rainbow landed next to him, the others catching up as she asked, “Has it already reached here?!”

Tails said, “No, it’s still behind us! This is still stable ground!”

Twilight looked down at the water, “Then this would explain why the Diamond Dogs’ paw prints were wet! They must’ve had to swim here!”

Spike spoke, “Yeah, that’s great, Twilight, but WE still have to get out of here!”

Shining looked over at Sonic and asked, “Are you going to need some help getting across this, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog looked back over his shoulder and saw, at the edge of his vision, the corrupted cave creeping up on them. Realizing it would catch up to them soon, he ran over to Rarity and Pinkie Pie and picked them both up, holding them above his head as he ran out onto the surface of the water while saying, “No time for swimming lessons!”

Rarity gasped and tried to keep herself balanced while Pinkie cried, “Wheeeeeeeeee!” at being ferried in this manner.

Everypony looked briefly surprised at Sonic’s ability to run on top of the water, but Rainbow soon said, “Can’t argue with that!” She spread her wings and took off, grabbing Applejack with her hooves and flying after Sonic while Fluttershy took Spike, Tails grabbed Twilight by her sides, and Cadance combined her magic with her husband’s to carry him.

Sonic soon reached the other side of the pool of water and leapt onto dry land, stopping and setting Pinkie Pie and Rarity down on their hooves. The others soon caught up and set their charges down before they all took off running again. It was all flat ground now, and they could see a light coming from up ahead. Sure enough, it was coming from a portal at the end of the cavern and they all leapt through it just about together, leaving the doomed cavern behind. The portal closed after they were all through and shortly afterwards, the corruption caught up and claimed the entire cavern…

________________________________________

TAKING A BREATHER

The group lay sprawled out on the ground of… wherever they had ended up, all panting and trying to catch their breaths, the portal they had come through having already closed. Even Spike was lying on the ground, panting as the adrenaline in his system thinned out. Eventually, everyone managed to sit up, no one really ready to stand back up again. Twilight sighed, “Well, we made it… That was crazy…”

Applejack, who was next to her, nodded, “It sure was, Sugarcube.” She then looked around, “Where are we now?”

Cadance looked up and said, “It looks like we’re still underground somewhere.”

Shining looked up and off to the side, where he spotted something interesting. “Is that a… castle?” he asked. Everyone looked up where he was looking and saw a large stone structure with two large torches on the top of the front towering over them. In front of them was a set of stairs leading up to the entrance to the building.

Sonic spoke, “Hey, I recognize that. That’s Angel Island’s Hidden Palace.”

Twilight looked over at him and asked, “Angel Island? You mean Knuckles’ home?”

Sonic nodded, “Right. After the Death Egg crashed on the island, Knuckles moved the Master Emerald from its shrine down here to keep it safe while he dealt with the ‘intruders’. Eggman ended up finding it after the Death Egg crash-landed again, this time on top of this mountain.”

Fluttershy asked, “We’re in a mountain right now?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah. Look up there.” He pointed up and everyone followed his finger to see a hole some distance away from the roof of the Hidden Palace. Light appeared to be coming down through it. “That light is coming in from the outside. When it crashed, the Death Egg’s face poked down through that hole,” Tails explained.

Twilight asked, “Wait, if there’s a hole up there, are we inside a volcano?”

Sonic replied, “Technically. The Hidden Palace is surrounded by the Lava Reef Zone, which acts kind of like a final line of defense for anyone who comes down here. Nothing to worry about, though; we’re past the reef and I’m pretty sure it keeps the mountain from erupting. We’re cool.”

While he was talking, Tails had pulled out his radar and was examining it. After a minute, he spoke up, “Those weird signals I picked up earlier are starting to clear up.” He moved his radar towards the Hidden Palace and said, “It looks like they clear up closer to the Hidden Palace. If we go in there, we might be able to use the Warp Ring to get out of here.”

Rainbow Dash spread her wings and flapped up off the ground, saying, “Well, let’s get in there, then, before something else weird happens!” Everyone stood up and began making their way towards the palace, the walk up the stairs seeming very relaxing after the potentially death-defying run they all just had (except for Rainbow, who hovered over everyone’s heads as they went up instead). At the top of the stairs, they went through the archway and, after dodging a pair of flame traps near the entrance, went down the hallway leading into the palace.

HIDDEN, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

The hallway emptied out into what could be considered the palace’s lobby. Off to their left, the group could more clearly see the light coming in through the hole at the top of the mountain, though it still looked far away. As they walked down the stairs, Rarity commented, “For such a ‘hidden’ palace, this is really quite elegant. And it still appears to be in one piece as well. I am quite impressed.”

Cadance looked at Sonic and asked, “Did you think it was amazing the first time you came here, Sonic?”

Sonic looked back at her and shrugged, “Eh, I guess it kind of went over my head at the time, Cadance. I ended up getting knocked down closer to the lava down below, so after getting across that, I came in through the lower entrance. Not quite as nice a view from down there. Plus I’d just tangled with Eggman, so I sped through here to see if he’d gotten inside the palace yet.”

Cadance replied, “Oh. Well, at least you get the chance to see it now!”

By this time, they had reached the bottom of the stairs and were now walking towards the center of the room. As they reached the center, they all noticed the raised platform there, along with the device sitting in the middle of it and the small, circular roof that had a circular opening in the middle above it. “What’s this?” Twilight asked, looking at the red device on the platform.

Sonic answered, “That’s a teleporter. I used it to get up here from the bottom level, but it can also be used to reach the Sky Sanctuary.” He took a closer look at it before saying, “Looks like it still works, but it probably doesn’t go anywhere now, seeing as the Sky Sanctuary was mostly destroyed after Eggman used the Master Emerald to launch the Death Egg.”

Tails nodded, “And then the rest of it was destroyed when Knuckles fought that Mecha Sonic robot in what was left of it. So either it won’t activate now, or it just leads to open air.”

Spike shivered, “That doesn’t sound like it would be fun.”

Rainbow spoke, “Yeah, yeah. Can we leave yet, Tails?”

The fox glanced down at his radar, which was in his left hand, and said, “We’re almost in the clear. It shouldn’t be too much farther.” He turned and continued walking in the direction of the emerald altar, Sonic and the others following him.

After passing through the archway, the group walked past several columns as they continued on towards the altar room. While they were walking, Shining Armor looked up to his left, where he spotted something that caused him to stop and say, “Whoa.” Everyone else came to a stop upon hearing him and looked up to see a large mural spread across the wall. “Is that tapestry showing…?” Shining wondered.

“It looks like it’s showing Super Sonic squaring off against Eggman for the Master Emerald,” Tails noted.

Sonic crossed his arms, “Huh. I forgot that was up there. Still have no idea who weaved it, though.”

Pinkie looked over at him and tilted her head to the side as she asked, “So you saw it the first time you came here? Which means it’s been here for like a really, REALLY long time?” Sonic nodded in response.

Applejack looked at him and said, “Some blanket predictin’ you’d fight against a total lunatic and then bein’ totally right… Well, ain’t that the weirdest thing?”

Sonic looked back at her and shrugged, “Eh, I’ve seen weirder.” After a few moments, the group turned and continued on towards the deepest known part of the Hidden Palace.

After about a minute, the group arrived at the entrance to the emerald altar, the Master Emerald’s altar directly in front of them in the center surrounded on the sides by seven pedestals. “Ooh, pretty!” Pinkie said.

“Is this the altar? Where’s the Master Emerald?” Twilight asked.

Sonic explained, “Knuckles doesn’t keep it down here anymore, Twilight, since Eggman knows where it is. Guess he figured it’s easier to keep an eye on it at its old shrine than down here or something.”

Tails walked towards the altar, his eyes looking down at his radar. As he reached the front of it, he came to a stop and looked down at the dual screens for a moment. He then smiled, “Hey, it's all clear now!” He reached into his tails and pulled out the Warp Ring; tossing it forward, the ring quickly expanded with a *PHVWOW*. Tails pumped his fist, “All right! We’re good to go!” After a quick celebration, everyone stepped into the Warp Ring’s center, the ring shrinking down and vanishing after everyone was through it.

________________________________________

Reappearing close to where they had stopped the train, Sonic, Tails, Spike, and the ponies looked towards the front of the train to see the original portal they had gone through was beginning to vanish, the image on its surface completely clouded. After only a couple of seconds, the portal collapsed in on itself and disappeared entirely.

Sonic scratched the back of his head with his right hand as he said, “Well, that was a weird venture, but at least that portal’s no longer in the way.”

The others, except for Tails, agreed with him, Spike saying, “Yep! So it’s a straight shot to Canterlot from here on out, right?”

NOT SO SIMPLE AFTER ALL

Tails spoke up, catching everyone’s attention, “Uh, I don’t know about that, Spike. Take a look at this, guys.” Everyone walked over to Tails and looked around him to see that the fox was looking down at his radar again. The bottom screen was displaying readings while the top screen showed the map, currently set to show the train’s path to Canterlot. Looking at the top screen, they could see that several blinking dots had shown up on the map. And as they watched, even more dots began to appear…

Flickies' Island

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THREAT LEVEL RISING

Princess Luna slowly took a breath as she flew, her wings flapping at an even pace as she followed close behind her sister. At this point, they had to be halfway to Canterlot, both princesses doing quite well despite how long it had been since either of them had had to fly such a long distance on their own. Magic obviously would have provided a faster means of travel, but with time and space messed up as they were, neither one wanted to risk their teleportation magic misfiring at the moment, so flying was the only other option if they wanted to get to Canterlot first.

Hearing a faint sound somewhere behind her, Luna looked back over her shoulder. She gasped as she came to a stop, hovering in the air, and said, “Celestia, look!” The Sun Princess slowed down and looked back in Luna’s direction, soon seeing what had caught the Lunar Princess’ attention. Looking back across the distance they had flown, both sisters could see space distorting in multiple places, the distortions quickly forming into new portals. Facing forward, Celestia could see more opening up ahead of them, though there appeared to be less in front of them than behind them. Luna looked at Celestia and asked, “What do you suppose is happening?”

Celestia spoke, “If I were to guess, that creature, wherever it is right now, is beginning to accelerate the degradation of time and space between our world and Sonic’s world. All these portals that are forming have to be due to its power.” She narrowed her eyes, “Is it trying to break down the harmony that has been maintained within this rift up until now? Are we running out of time…?”

Luna asked, “Should we go back? Try to seal some of these portals in order to maintain stability?”

Celestia shook her head, “No. We must continue onward towards Canterlot. I am certain the answer to undoing all of this lies there somewhere. We simply have to proceed with caution from here on out; we don’t want to go through one of these portals by accident.” She resumed flying forward after she finished speaking, though she now went at a slightly slower speed in order to have enough time to react in case a portal opened directly in front of her.

Luna flew after Celestia, though she asked, “But what about Twilight Sparkle, Sonic, and the others?”

Celestia was silent a moment before she replied, “I see no reason to change our current plan. We will arrive in Canterlot first to investigate the city to determine if there is any danger present within and keep our little ponies as safe as we can. From there, we will determine the best course of action to follow when they arrive with the Elements of Harmony and the Chaos Emeralds.”

Luna persisted, “But the portals, Celestia… They will not be able to avoid all of them while they are traveling aboard a train.”

Celestia answered, “I am certain they will run into no complications, as long as they remain calm, think about the situation, and listen to each other.”

Meanwhile…

Rainbow hovered over Tails’ head, looking down at the top screen of his radar and the number of blinking dots it displayed. The amount of dots seemed to have stopped climbing a second ago, but there still seemed to be a sizable number of them and, perhaps due to how many there were, the radar couldn’t display the exact location of them all in its current view. “That monster must be going all out to keep us from reaching Canterlot,” Sonic commented.

“Sure looks that way. You think it was responsible for making that cavern collapse the way it did too?” Shining asked.

Tails looked up at him and said, “I have no idea what caused that, and I’m not sure I want to know. I will say Vector was probably right, though. Someone or something has to be controlling that creature, and whoever it is knows we’re coming.”

Applejack deadpanned, “Really? What makes ya think this ain’t that creature doin’ all this by itself, Tails? It had ta know we’d be takin’ the train or it wouldn’t have reappeared, and this does look like the kinda thing it’s been doin’ so far.”

Tails replied, “That’s the thing, though. Up until now, only one portal has appeared at any one time, and occasionally two have shown up. Now all of a sudden, we’re seeing a whole bunch of portals appear. If this was just that creature, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t change its strategy so suddenly. There has to be at least one other mind that’s responsible for all this.”

Applejack looked like she was about to offer a retort, but Rainbow spoke up first, “Who cares about that? That thing’s messing up time, and we’ve got to get to Canterlot and meet up with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to stop it!” With that, she shot off from where she was hovering over Tails back towards the train, flying in through the engine’s side window.

Sonic and Applejack looked at each other and then ran over to the train themselves, Sonic placing his hands against the side of the engine and bending forward, allowing Applejack to climb on his back so she could jump up and grab onto the inside of the window. Sonic then leapt up himself, hanging to the earth pony’s right as they both looked in to see Rainbow Dash flapping her wings to stay up while she tried to get the train started. “Rainbow, what do ya think you’re doin’?” Applejack asked after a moment.

The cyan pegasus stopped flapping around at the sound of the apple pony’s voice and turned to look at her and Sonic before saying, “What does it look like I’m doing, AJ? I’m getting the train started because we have to get to Canterlot!”

Sonic asked, “I can see that, but haven’t Tails and Pinkie already taken on that job?”

Rainbow fluttered over and landed in front of him and Applejack, saying, “Well, yeah, but we’ve gotta get moving! I can get us moving twenty percent faster than Tails can, especially since he’d probably want to check everything before starting the train and a whole bunch of other boring stuff too that would keep us from going anywhere. Actually, scratch that; I could get us moving WAY faster than just twenty percent.”

Sonic gave her an odd look as he said, “Yeah, maybe you could, but that totally doesn’t sound like the Tails I know, especially considering how soon we left Ponyville. Even if he did do a safety check and whatnot, he knows how to stay focused on the task at hand; he’ll do what he thinks is necessary at the start and do the rest later. Plus he probably felt doing the full check wasn’t necessary with Pinkie Pie around to help.”

Rainbow shrugged, “So? He’s still a worrywart, Sonic, just like Twilight can be!”

Sonic replied, “Sounds to me like you’re judging Tails based on what you think Twilight might do rather than because you actually know what he’s like.”

Applejack smirked, “He’s got ya there, Dash.”

Before Rainbow could respond, Pinkie Pie suddenly popped out from behind the cyan pegasus and hugged her, saying, “Yeah, Dashie! Tails isn’t silly like that! He’s so quick and focused!”

Rainbow looked back at the pink pony as she let go and stepped back, muttering, “Pinkie Pie, you are so random.”

Sonic looked at Pinkie, seeming a bit confused. “How did you get back there, Pinkie?” he asked.

“Dunno!” the pink pony giggled. A second later, she stood at attention as her ears twitched, her mane and tail shook, and she blew a raspberry. She then gasped, “Something’s about to happen!”

RIOT TRAIN

Applejack gulped, “Uh, what kinda somethin’ would that be, Pinkie?” She soon got her answer when the train’s whistle blew on its own, the whistle somehow sounding suspiciously similar to nails on a chalkboard, causing everyone to wince in pain. While the whistle was blowing, everything started to shift into place on its own, as if being manipulated by some unseen magic.

Outside, everyone recovered from the sound of the train whistle and looked up to see the train suddenly starting to move! It began to move forward, picking up speed as though the throttle had been opened too much. Tails, Spike, and the ponies dashed towards the engine as it started to pass them by, Tails slipping his radar into his right tail while Spike grabbed tightly onto his left tail as he ran.

Sonic and Applejack were still hanging from the window and, at this point, could only watch as the others tried to catch up. When Tails got close enough, Applejack took her right hoof off of the window edge, twisting around slightly and holding her hoof out towards him, saying, “C’mon, Tails, grab on!” The fox made a jump for the hoof, barely managing to grab it with his right hand. Applejack quickly swung him towards Sonic, who used his left hand to push both Tails and Spike inside. Once they were fully inside, Applejack and Sonic looked back at the others, the former calling, “Hurry up, y’all!”

Shining Armor, thanks to his training when he joined the Royal Guard, was the first pony to catch up. Sonic held out his left hand to him; Shining held up his hoof as he leapt up towards it, but he fell short, forcing Sonic to grab him by his hair. The white stallion let out a shout, almost a scream, at feeling his hair being pulled so roughly. “Sorry!” Sonic grunted, swinging him back towards Applejack so she could grab him and they could reposition him.

Cadance could see they were having some difficulty with this, so she spread her wings and took off, flying forward and landing in the cupcake car behind the engine. She then hurried into the engine and poked her head out the right window, using her hooves and magic to help her husband up. She stepped to the side as he fell onto the floor of the engine and sprawled out. “Thank you, Cadance…” he breathed out.

Sonic and Applejack, meanwhile, caught their breaths before looking back at Twilight, Fluttershy, and Rarity. Fluttershy was the first to catch up and, after using her wings to help her off the ground, was helped by Applejack while Twilight ran for Sonic. He grabbed her hoof when she jumped and hoisted her up to the window. Looking inside, she saw Tails, Pinkie, and Rainbow Dash trying to get the train to stop while Shining, Spike, and Cadance stood back. The lavender unicorn, while panting, asked, “What’s going on? What happened?”

Rainbow Dash, while trying to pull what Pinkie and Tails had identified as the reverse bar back, called to her, “I didn’t do it, I swear!”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, she didn’t.” He then helped Twilight the rest of the way in and then looked back at Rarity, the fashionista beginning to fall behind. “Come on, Rarity, just a little longer! You can do it!” he cheered, the white mare finding a burst of stamina at his words.

Rarity managed to catch up and leapt up towards Applejack and Sonic, both of them reaching down and grabbing her hooves. As she and Sonic started pulling the fashionista up, Applejack said, “All right, here we go, Rarity. Up ya go ‘n’ then…” She was cut off before she could finish speaking by the engine suddenly shaking, the train rattling as it moved. “Whoa!” Applejack exclaimed as she was forced to use both of her hooves to hang on. Rarity did the same thing after Sonic used his free hand to press her up against the side of the engine, the hedgehog then following suit, the three of them dangling there as something continued to shake the train.

Twilight, Cadance, Shining, and Spike moved to help them while the others kept working to slow the train down, the three ponies holding their hooves down for their friends to grab onto, Spike looking between the three and trying to determine who needed his help more. Because of their situation, no one had yet noticed that a portal had appeared on the tracks in front of the train, not even when the train passed through it and their surroundings changed to what looked like a jungle or forested area with some sunlight streaming down through the canopy, though they did, occasionally, faintly hear the sound of rustling leaves and snapping branches.

After about a minute, Rainbow managed to get the reverser bar unstuck and got ready to pull it back, Pinkie already ready to yank the lever in front of her back while Tails closed the throttle carefully. “Okay, guys! Once we slow down a little more, it should be safe to come inside!” the fox called back, the train’s momentum already starting to decrease.

However, once the train reached a safe speed, something unexpected happened. As Shining was pulling Sonic up, and Cadance and Twilight were doing the same for Rarity and Applejack respectively, the train drove past a sizable tree branch. It had been pushed off to the side slightly, perhaps by the front of the engine, but as the right window reached it, it suddenly snapped back, striking Sonic in the side and knocking him into Rarity and Applejack! The smack was so sudden and so forceful that the three of them lost their grips and went flying towards the back of the train! “NO! Sonic, Applejack, Rarity!” Twilight cried while Shining and Cadance stared in horror as the three of them disappeared from their sight.

Sonic, Applejack, and Rarity immediately started bouncing and rolling as soon as they hit the ground, the Friendship Express’ cars rumbling beside them as they were sent rolling backwards uncontrollably, picking up loose bits of grass, dirt, and stains as they went. Thankfully, none of them ended up going underneath any of the train cars while they were moving, but once they were out of that danger, Sonic came to a stop when he collided with a tree while Rarity and Applejack went a little past the tree, stopping after they crashed through a large bush and landed on some soft but wet moss.

RECOVERING FROM THE FALL

Sonic lay against the tree, groaning slightly as some leaves and something small and pink floated down from it and landed on his head. A moment later, he heard Rarity’s cries and perked up, leaning forward and pressing his hands against the ground to help him stand up quicker. He then walked over to where he could hear Rarity’s wails, walking around the bush she and Applejack had crashed through and going a little past where it was before finding the two mares together. Rarity was sitting up and looking at her hair, running her front hooves through it to try to get the leaves, dirt, and sap out of it, and Applejack was lying down on her front, her right hoof rubbing her neck as she tilted her head from side to side.

After a moment, Applejack sat up, still rubbing her neck as she opened her eyes and let out a soft groan. She soon glanced to her left and saw Sonic coming towards her, stopping a short distance away. She turned her head towards him and said, “Hey, Sugar-hog. Ya feel okay?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “Yeah. I’d say you two were fine, but it looks like that’s not entirely the case.” He glanced over at Rarity as he finished speaking, noticing that the white mare had gotten the leaves out of her mane and was now trying to (unsuccessfully) get the dirt and sap out of it.

Applejack looked over at the fashionista and, after a moment, scooted over to her and raised her hooves, placing them on Rarity’s hooves and lowering them before saying, “Rarity, calm down. You’re just gettin’ yer hooves dirty and sticky, and Ah know how much you don’t like either one. Don’t worry; we’ll get ya cleaned up once we figure out where in the Sam Hill we are.”

Rarity calmed down a little at the earth pony’s words and said, “Okay, Applejack. I just… wish I knew why all this happened so suddenly. You don’t suppose…?”

Applejack sighed and said, “Maybe Tails was right when he said that that monster’s bein’ controlled by somepony or something.”

While Applejack was speaking, Sonic was running his left hand across his head, having just noticed that something had landed on it. He brushed off the leaves, but when his hand touched the pink object, he paused for a moment before grabbing it between his thumb and his index finger and bringing it down in front of his face. It was a small card, similar to the business cards that lawyers had. Written on this particular card were four words: ‘Enjoying the scenic route?

Sonic rolled his eyes before tucking the card in his spines and saying, “Yeah, no doubt about that, Applejack. Come on, we’d better get moving, as long as you two are feeling up to it.”

Applejack spoke, “Ah’m fine. Ya don’t get ta be a good apple farmer by bein’ easy ta knock down, after all!” She looked at Rarity and asked, “How ‘bout you, Rarity?”

The white unicorn moved her limbs a little before standing up and replying, “I believe I will be fine as well, Applejack.” She stepped off the moss and walked towards Sonic, looking around a bit while Applejack stood up and stretched a bit. She looked back at Sonic after a moment and asked, “Do you have any idea where we are, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog shrugged, “Not right now, Rarity. That’s why I think we should get going. We might be able to figure out where we ended up and where the others are.” He noticed one strand of Rarity’s hair sticking out and tapped it with his right index finger as he said, “And hopefully, we’ll find some clean water too.”

Rarity sighed, “That would be just lovely right now.”

Applejack stepped towards the two and said, “Well, let’s go, then! …Any ideas where we should go?”

Sonic jerked his left thumb behind him as he replied, “We should be able to find the train tracks if we head back that way. Then we can just follow them out of here.” As he turned around and started walking, he added, “It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out where we are and where to go once we get out of this forest.” Applejack agreed with that and both she and Rarity trotted after him, going around the bush the two mares had crashed through and heading back the way they rolled.

As they walked, it didn’t take long for Sonic, Rarity, and Applejack to notice that the train tracks had seemingly disappeared, as not only could they not find them, but there was nothing to indicate that they had ever been there in the first place. With no other ideas, they kept walking in a straight line, as the look of the forest suggested that it was unlikely that the train would have had a lot of places to make turns at.

A FAMILIAR SETTING AND A STORY

After a short while of walking, the forest started to get lighter, inspiring them to pick up the pace slightly. It didn’t take long afterwards for the three of them to come to the end of the forest. At the end of the line of trees, they stepped out of the green onto brown soil that was alternated between light and dark brown in a checkerboard pattern. They could also see blue flowers, palm trees, and what appeared to be a mole digging a hole nearby.

“Where are we?” Applejack asked.

While glancing around, Sonic answered, “This looks like the Green Grove on Flicky Island. It’s a good place to hang out.” Before either mare could ask him about the area, he added, “I know where to find some water if anyone wants to wash up.”

Almost immediately, Rarity grabbed onto him with her hooves and desperately said, “Yes, yes please! I really must splash some water on my mane! Please show me where there’s water?” Sonic grinned a little nervously at the way Rarity was clinging onto him, but he couldn’t say no to someone who wanted to take care of their appearance; he did take the time to take good care of his shoes after all. So he got out of the white mare’s grip and began showing her the way, Applejack shaking her head with a slight smirk before following after them.

A few minutes later, Sonic and Applejack were gathered around a small pond, throwing water on their stains while Rarity stood in the pond as she washed her coat, mane, and tail. Applejack finished cleaning what she could, years of growing up on Sweet Apple Acres having taught her to try to use as little water as possible when washing, and looked over at Sonic, the hedgehog kneeling down as he splashed some water on his face with some of it running down the back of his head. After a few seconds, she saw something pink fall down behind him. She called to him, “Hey Sonic, what’s that thing behind ya?”

Sonic looked up at her in confusion for a moment before turning his head to look back over his shoulder, his eyes soon spotting the pink object. He reached back and grabbed it with his left hand and held it up to his face to examine it. He quickly deduced that it was a sponge, although it had some familiar words printed on it. “It’s a sponge, Applejack. But when it landed on my head earlier, it was a card…” he said with a raised eyebrow.

Applejack also raised an eyebrow. “That was a card? Are you sure?” she asked.

Sonic looked up at her, “A sponge wouldn’t land as gently as a leaf. And I know it was a lot thinner than this sponge is.”

Rarity asked, “I don’t suppose you’d allow me to use it for a moment? I still have a little left to do here, and I have a feeling it would be quite helpful.”

Sonic looked at her for a moment before holding it out towards her, “Sure, go ahead.” Rarity took it in her magic and used it to scrub herself, Sonic turning his head to the side and holding up his hand to give her as much privacy as he could.

About a minute later, Rarity released her magical grip on the sponge and struck a pose, saying, “Much better.”

Applejack asked, “Y’all done, Rarity?”

The fashionista looked at her and replied, “Almost, Applejack. I just need to fix my mane.” Applejack let out a small groan at that.

Sonic looked back at her and said, “Well, do what you can. We don’t have any brushes and the nearest beauty parlor is miles away.” He glanced down at the water and, after a moment, asked, “Hey, where’d that sponge go?”

Rarity started to look down as she said, “I dropped it right…” She stopped herself as she realized she could no longer see the cleaning tool. “It… disappeared?” she asked, as if she couldn’t believe what she said either.

“That’s weird. Then again, the fact that it showed up in a forest of all places is weird,” Sonic commented. He then shrugged, “Well, we’ll worry about it later. You said you needed to put your mane in order?”

Rarity looked back at him and said, “Oh, yes. This will just take a minute.” She walked to the edge of the pond and stepped out. She then began to use her magic to make the adjustments to her mane and tail, as well as remove as much water as she could.

While she was doing that, Applejack walked around the pond to Sonic and, when he was looking at her, asked him, “So what’s the deal with this place? Why’s it called ‘Flicky Island’?”

Sonic replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s the home of a species of birds called the Flickies. I don’t know if you have them back in Equestria, but they’re kind of special birds here, especially the ones that live on this island since they hail from another dimension.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow, “Another dimension? Are you kiddin’ me?”

Sonic answered, “‘Fraid not. That’s why Eggman got real interested in them this one time. He captured them with some kind of machine and put them in his Badniks to help him find the Chaos Emeralds. I found out what he was doing when I paid a visit to the island around that time and Tails, Knuckles, and I freed the Flickies and got the Chaos Emeralds before he could and sent him packing. As far as I know, he hasn’t come back here since then.”

Rarity sighed as she continued to work on her mane and tail, “That Eggman really sounds like quite a cur. I’m quite amazed that Fluttershy didn’t get angrier when you were talking about him and what he does with the animals of your world, Sonic.”

Applejack looked back at Sonic and said, “Well, ya answered mah question. Now…” She stopped short when she heard what sounded like tweeting nearby. “What’s that?” she wondered.

Sonic looked around until he spotted the source: four Flickies, one blue, one red, one pink, and one green, sitting in a nearby tree. He pointed, “Look! Flickies!” He waved up at them, the birds soon noticing him and flying down towards him, the blue and pink Flickies flying normally while the red one dropped down and seemingly bounced towards him and the green one was the slowest one to fly towards Sonic.

Rarity walked over to Sonic and Applejack and looked the birds over. “My, they certainly are cute, aren’t they?” she asked.

Sonic nodded, “Yep. And maybe they can help us find the others.”

Applejack shrugged, “Ah guess it’s worth a shot.” She cleared her throat and looked at the birds, “Uh, hi there, y’all.” The four Flickies looked at her curiously. “Hey, y’all haven’t seen any other ponies on this here island now, have ya?” she asked. The Flickies chirped together in confusion. “Ya know, like me ‘n’ Rarity right here? Or a dragon or a fox?” Again, the Flickies voiced their confusion.

Sonic thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. “I’ve got an idea. Hang on,” he said before suddenly taking off. Applejack, Rarity, and the Flickies waited about a minute before Sonic came back, carrying what appeared to be sand in his arms. He dropped it on the ground in front of the Flickies.

Rarity was quick to notice the bits of sand that still clung to him and exclaimed, “Sonic! Now you need another bath!”

Sonic looked at her and said, “Relax, Rarity. It’s just sand; it’ll come off nicely.” He then crouched down in front of the sand and began to draw in it with his right index finger, making crude sketches of Tails, Spike, and a pony. He then looked at the Flickies and asked, “Have you guys seen any of these?” The birds looked at his pictures and shook their heads. “What about this?” Sonic asked as he brushed away his drawings and started a new one, this one of the Friendship Express. This time, the Flickies nodded and began to point their heads to the west. They then waved with their wings before flying in that direction, Sonic, Rarity, and Applejack following them as they assumed that was what they were telling them.

As they ran through the Green Grove after the Flickies, the three of them saw more of the island’s Flickies. Some looked like they were lazing about, others appeared as though they were busy with something, and others looked a bit upset (they were probably the ones who were most disturbed by a train passing through the area). Soon, the Flickies came to a stop and turned back to the trio, the four of them hovering above a giant floating ring with a swirling blue vortex in its opening. Applejack, Rarity, and Sonic came to a stop in front of it, Rarity asking, “Isn’t this the Warp Ring?”

Sonic replied, “Not quite. It’s one of the rings the Flickies use to travel between dimensions. We should be able to use it, though, to get across the island quicker. That’s probably why they led us here.”

Applejack looked at the ring and said, “If that’s the case, let’s go, then!” Sonic nodded and ran towards the ring, jumping into it with Applejack and Rarity following behind him. Once they were all through, the Flickies flew to the front of the ring and looked at the vortex within it, all of them hoping that the three of them would find what they were looking for.

NOT QUITE A TEMPLE OF DOOM

After traveling through the vortex for what seemed like seconds, Sonic, Applejack, and Rarity reached the end of the path and were deposited onto solid ground by another giant ring. Looking at the ground, they saw that it still had a checkerboard pattern to it, but now it was blue and yellow and appeared to be made of stone. Looking around, they saw that the area they were in looked like ancient ruins, plants growing on or out of the stonework in some places. “Now where are we?” Applejack asked.

Sonic answered, “Not sure what it’s called; I think I heard Eggman say Rusty Ruin at one point. It’s some kind of ancient ruin that he pulled up out of the ocean, probably as part of his search for the Chaos Emeralds.”

Rarity looked at one of the kelp plants growing on the wall as she said, “It certainly looks like it was underwater at some point. I hope he at least drained it when he brought it up.”

Sonic looked at her as he replied, “I didn’t get any unwelcome surprises of that nature when I followed him here.” Looking back towards the ruins, he said, “If the Flickies saw the train go through the ring leading here, then the others must be around here somewhere. We’ll have to watch our step, though; Eggman made sure to fix up all the old traps in this place.”

Applejack sarcastically commented, “Well, ain’t that sweet o’ him?” Sonic and Rarity shared a look before the three of them started walking, searching for any sign of their friends.

After a while of searching the Rusty Ruin, during which the three of them had to dodge several swinging mace balls and hidden flamethrowers, they were walking through a flat section of the ruins when they heard what sounded like talking nearby, which caused them to stop and listen. Rarity spoke after a moment, “It sounds like… Tails! And Twilight! And Spikey-Wikey! But where are they?”

Sonic turned his head to the left, looking at a row of broken columns past some fans in the ground. “I’m gonna say… over there!” he said before running over to the fans and jumping on one, spinning around on top of it and being sent in the direction of the broken columns. He ended up smashing right through them.

Applejack and Rarity jumped over the fans and ran after him, the latter saying, “Wait for us, Sonic!” When they got past the remains of the destroyed pillars, they found Sonic standing with Tails, Twilight, Spike, Shining Armor, and Cadance near a large broken pillar. The now-found friends quickly noticed the two ponies approaching, especially when Rarity exclaimed, “Tails! Spike! Twilight! Princess Cadance and Shining Armor! You’re all safe!”

Twilight said, “Applejack, Rarity! You’re both all right too!”

The two ponies stopped next to Sonic, Applejack saying, “We were so worried about y’all!”

Shining Armor chuckled, “Well, WE were worried about YOU! I mean, falling off of a moving train? That’s rough! Like, really rough!”

Applejack smiled, but then it faded as she asked, “Where’s everypony else?”

Sonic nodded, “I was wondering that too.”

Tails started, “Well, see what happened was, after you guys fell off the train, I ended up letting go of the throttle and ran over to the window. I managed to look out the window, but I didn’t see any of you. I thought the throttle would’ve stayed where it was, but it must’ve opened somehow since the train started going faster. And that’s when things really got weird.”

Sonic cocked his head to the side, “What do you mean?”

Twilight explained, “When Tails tried to go back and help Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, the train started acting like a spell had actually been cast on it. The shaking was bad before, but it got worse at that moment, and not long after we got out of that forest, the tracks suddenly turned. It was so sharp it nearly threw all of us off too.”

Shining nodded and continued for her, “But we managed to stay on the train, at least somewhat, and after we passed through to these ruins, it started bumping into the stones scattered around here. Eventually, it managed to throw us all off and we hit the ground. Pretty hard, I might add. After we recovered from that, we had to take shelter in an alcove since it started raining for a little while and because Cadance wanted to make sure we were all okay.”

Cadance rolled her eyes, saying, “Shining, now I’m fairly certain your parents taught you and Twilight to not go running around when you’re hurt without getting it looked at first.” The white stallion blushed a bit, noticing the motherly tone Cadance used when she said that. The pink alicorn then said, “After the rain stopped, we started looking to see if we could find the train, but we haven’t found any tracks yet.”

Sonic grunted, “Same thing happened with us.”

Rarity nodded, “Yes. We tried to find the train tracks too, but we didn’t have any more success.”

Spike groaned, “So someone IS messing with us now.”

Applejack looked at Tails and said, “Guess you were right after all, Tails.”

Tails rubbed the back of his head as he replied, “Well, I don’t think that would have helped us avoid this anyway, Applejack. I just hope the train hasn’t been derailed yet.”

Rarity sighed as she looked around, “So where do we go now? We haven’t seen very many of those Flicky birds around here.”

Twilight murmured, “Oh yeah, Tails called them Flickies too.”

Sonic thought out loud, “I wonder if those tracks are really gone or if they’re just hidden?”

Spike asked, “What, you mean like with magic? Because Twilight could make an illusion like that in her sleep. What was happening with the train though, that’s a totally different story.”

Tails raised his right hand to his chin as he heard them talking. “Hmm… I have an idea.” He reached into his right tail and pulled out his radar. The others watched him as he dragged the stylus he’d made for it across its lower screen for a minute. He muttered to himself as he worked, “If I just change this, reverse that, and make an alteration here…” A few moments later, something began to appear on the otherwise blank top screen. “Yes! I’ve got something!” he exclaimed.

Everybody crowded around to see what it was. “What is that?” Shining asked as he looked at what appeared to be a greenish-yellow cloud making a trail across the screen.

Tails explained, “It’s a magic trail. Sonic and Spike were right; those tracks were made up of magic, probably not very complex magic, but there’s another kind of magic, probably from whatever spell was cast on the train. That and the magic in those train tracks are making up this trail. We should be able to follow it to the others!”

Sonic smiled, “Well, you’ve got the radar, Tails. Lead the way!” With that, the combined group started moving through the ruins again, everyone following behind Tails while the fox alternated between looking where he was going and down at his radar. The lack of a map made the path a little confusing at times, but considering what they were tracking, there weren’t a lot of surprises in terms of where they had to go to stay on the trail.

Eventually, after dodging more traps in the ruins and running past the area containing the remains of the statue that Eggman fought Sonic with, the group came across another one of the island’s giant rings. According to Tails’ radar, the trail stopped at the ring, so they figured that meant it had gone through the ring. They quickly did the same, leaping into the ring’s vortex and leaving the Rusty Ruin behind.

CARNIVAL TIME?

At the other end of their trip through the ring, the group landed in a colorful area that was clearly not a natural creation. The floor they were standing on had a green and blue checkerboard pattern like the other locations, but it almost looked like it might be shiny. The rest of the area had a variety of colors, particularly red, orange, white, and yellow. “What is this place?” Shining Armor asked.

“It’s the Spring Stadium, Shining. Eggman built it,” Tails said, pointing down at a nearby deflated balloon that had Eggman’s face on it.

“Yeah. No idea why he built it, though,” Sonic added.

“Maybe to help him catch Flickies?” Twilight suggested. She looked down at the ground, “This pattern does look like the other areas of the island we’ve seen.”

Applejack spoke up, “Yeah, that’s somethin’ Ah’ve been wonderin’ about. What is it with this checkerboard pattern? Here Ah can see it, but how does the soil in the Green Grove turn out like that? And the ground in that ruin? It all looks like somethin’ Discord would make.”

While configuring his radar, Tails responded, “I don’t know, Applejack. The ground in the Rusty Ruin could’ve been tiled like that by the ancient civilization that lived there before, but there could be a lot of reasons for the Green Grove’s soil looking like that.” He messed about with his radar a little more before saying, “Okay, I’ve got a lock on the magic trail again. Although the traces of magic are getting weaker, I can definitely say that the train passed through here.”

Rarity asked, “Is there enough left to form a trail?”

Tails replied, “It looks like it.”

Spike, who was sitting on Twilight’s back, smiled, “So we should be able to keep moving like this, right?”

Sonic nodded, “Yep. But we’ll still have to watch our step. There are some traps that poke up out of the ground around here, and there are also springs hidden in the floor in some places.” With that warning in mind, Tails once again walked in front of the group, leading the way into the Spring Stadium.

As they wandered through the Eggman-built facility, they had to keep an eye out as they walked since, like Sonic said, the floor wasn’t entirely safe in places. They had to skip around in areas where there were several holes in the floor to avoid being poked by spikes, avoid areas where there were bigger holes in the floor to avoid spears, and each of them had at least one amusing incident with the bumpers and/or springs set up in places. Eventually, though, the magic trail they were tracking on Tails’ radar began to thin out before being lost entirely.

When Tails pointed this out to the others, Twilight asked, “Now what do we do? I thought that trail would’ve led us straight to Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy.”

Cadance spoke, “There has to be something around here that can point us in the direction we need to go. We just have to find it.”

Shining looked off to his left and saw something in the distance. “Hey, are those rainbows over there?” he asked. Everyone followed his gaze to see that there appeared to be flashes of rainbows appearing and disappearing somewhere up ahead.

“Eggman would never willingly put a rainbow anywhere in or on one of his bases,” Sonic noted.

“Then that’s gotta be Rainbow Dash! We’d better see what she’s up to!” Applejack said. Everyone agreed and started making their way towards the rainbows, going down a winding slide and leaping around more traps as they went.

They soon reached the spot where Shining had seen the rainbows, and sure enough, they found that it was Rainbow Dash making them. However, they saw that Pinkie was there as well, and she was being her normal self, bouncing on (or rather off) the bumpers and saying, “Boingy, boingy, boingy!” And all the while, Rainbow Dash was flying around, trying to catch her and just failing each time she came close to grabbing her.

A couple of seconds after the group arrived on the scene, Rainbow let out a loud groan and said, “Come ON, Pinkie! We gotta go!”

The pink pony bounced up and wrapped herself around a blue balloon, the balloon somehow still floating even with Pinkie holding onto it. “Aw, but this is so much fun, Dashie! All these balloons and bouncy things and everything! Except for those balloons that have that meanie Eggman on them! Those aren’t fun!”

Rainbow persisted, “Pinkie, this isn’t the time! Fluttershy’s all by herself, and we still don’t know what happened to Sonic and the others! We need to find them!” She heard a throat clearing nearby and turned her head to find the group standing there. “Uh, okay… That’s… Never mind.”

Pinkie, who was hanging onto the balloon from the bottom of it now, turned her head to look too and grinned, “Hey guys!” She let go suddenly and fell to the ground, flipping around in mid-fall to land on her hooves. She then said, “You see, Dash? Some things DO come to you if you just wait!”

Sonic and Tails looked at her oddly while Spike and the ponies just looked at each other knowingly for a moment. Applejack then looked at Rainbow Dash and asked, “Glad to see both o’ y’all are okay, but where’s Fluttershy?”

Pinkie quickly interjected, “She’s still on the train!”

Rainbow sighed, “And we would still be too, if it wasn’t for Pinkie jumping out of the window. After she got the throttle closed, she went over to the window while I took care of the rest of the whole train-stopping thing and she got really excited when she saw this… place. I barely turned my back for a second, but the next thing I knew, she was gone! I figured she must’ve fallen off since we went over a hill in that time, so I finished what I was doing and went after her, but she… well, you must’ve seen what she was doing just now. I’ve been chasing her around ever since!”

Sonic asked, “What happened to the train?”

Rainbow shrugged, “It must not have come to a stop or started acting weird again, because it kept going after I flew off of it and, when I stopped trying to catch Pinkie for a second and looked for it, I couldn’t find it! It must be somewhere else now, and hopefully it’s stopped there, wherever it is.”

Tails spoke up, “Well, if it kept going the way it’s been going so far, I think I know where it went.”

Rainbow looked up at that, getting up in his face as she asked, “You do?! Where?! We’ve gotta get there right away!”

Tails pulled back from the cyan mare, saying, “T-Take it easy, Rainbow. I’m sure Fluttershy is okay, but we’ll know soon enough.” He looked at Sonic and asked, “Do you remember where the next ring is?”

Sonic replied, “I think so. Let’s go!” With that, he took the lead, the others, including Pinkie Pie, following behind him through the Spring Stadium. After a few minutes, they came across another giant ring and went through it, Rainbow flying into it and Pinkie bouncing into it while everyone else jumped into it.

WINTER WONDERLAND

The group soon exited the ring’s vortex, finding themselves in a land full of snow. Thankfully, they landed on dry ground that was in a checkerboard pattern, this one being light blue and gray. Looking around, it didn’t appear Fluttershy was in the immediate vicinity. “Fluttershy! Fluttershy, darling! Can you hear me?” Rarity called.

“She must not be close by. With as quiet as this place is, she should’ve heard that,” Tails noted.

Sonic looked at Twilight and asked, “She wouldn’t go far from the train, would she?”

Twilight shook her head, “Not unless she had a really good reason too. Unless there’s something here that could give her that reason, she’s probably still with the train.”

Shining rubbed his left hoof against his right foreleg as he said, “Then we’d better get moving. It’s not too cold out here, but we shouldn’t stay here too long.”

Rainbow spoke up, “Hold up, dudes! I’ll fly up and see if I can spot the train from the sky!” Without waiting for a response, she flew up high above the winter wonderland and started looking down below, searching for the train. She soon saw what she was looking for and flew back down to the ground and said, “I saw it! There’s a big pine tree in the center of this place! It stopped there!” She then took off again, wanting to make sure Fluttershy was okay while the others started heading where she had directed them.

It took crossing an ice river and sliding down a few ice-covered slopes in addition to all the running, but the group made it to the center of the wintery area in a relatively short time. There they saw the pine tree Rainbow had mentioned, bigger than the other trees they had seen so far and sitting in the middle of a snow-covered area, which looked similar to the area where Sonic and Eggman fought on this part of Flicky Island, at least in terms of size. And there, behind the trees on the ledge overlooking the clearing was the train they had been searching for.

As they got closer, they saw more Flickies flying around the tree as well as Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy standing in the clearing near the tree. When they were closer, they could the two of them talking. “But Rainbow Dash, this is really important to the Flickies,” Fluttershy was saying.

“Yeah, well, none of it is going to matter if we don’t stop that monster that’s messed everything up! We gotta leave, Fluttershy!” Rainbow replied.

“I can’t just abandon little birdies when they’re asking for help,” Fluttershy murmured.

Rainbow’s response was cut off by Rarity suddenly exclaiming, “Fluttershy!” The two pegasi turned to look at the fashionista as she rushed towards them and wrapped the timid pegasus in a hug. “Thank goodness you’re all right!” she said.

Fluttershy, while surprised, managed to say, “H-Hello, Rarity. Yes, I’m okay.”

Rainbow looked at the others as they approached and said, “Hey, you guys made it!”

Sonic replied as they stopped near the three ponies, “Yep. So what’s going on here?”

Rainbow answered, “Fluttershy doesn’t want to leave yet. She says these birds need help with this tree and she wants to help them.”

Fluttershy, having been released from Rarity’s hug, explained, “The Flickies want to decorate this tree and make it look really pretty. They’re saying that it’s something they do at this time of year and it will bring back the one thing that’s missing.”

Twilight tilted her head to the side, “What are they missing?”

Fluttershy answered, “They’re saying it’s supposed to be snowing here, but it isn’t and they’re worried.”

Sonic glanced up as he said, “Come to think of it, it WAS snowing last time Tails and I were here. Like, the whole time we were here.”

Fluttershy nodded, “They said that, if they decorate the tree, they’ll be able to bring the snow back.”

Tails asked, “And they need help getting the decorations up?”

Fluttershy shook her head, “No. They’re saying that some bad robots came and took their decorations. They were really upset about it, so I was trying to calm them down. I don’t know how else to help them.”

Applejack looked at Sonic and asked, “Sonic, didn’t you say that Eggman would put animals like the Flickies in his robots to power ‘em? Ah thought you saved all the Flickies when Eggman was here?”

Sonic answered, “I did, Applejack, but the robots patrolling Eggman’s base here didn’t have any animals powering them. Some of them must’ve survived the destruction of Eggman’s base. Those are the only Badniks I can think of that could still be working here.”

Fluttershy flew over to him and asked, “Can we get the decorations they stole from the Flickies back?”

Sonic replied, “Sure, it’s no problem.” He looked at Tails and Twilight and asked, “Right?”

Tails quickly nodded while Twilight thought for a moment before replying, “Sure.”

Rainbow exclaimed, “What?! Sonic, Twilight, we don’t have time for this! We’ve got a monster to stop, remember?!”

Sonic looked at her and said, “Dash, relax. This won’t take long.”

Rainbow retorted, “Yeah, that’s what we thought about that cave too, and look how that turned out! So they need help getting some decorations back for a tree. It can wait until we’re done! This is more important!”

Sonic retorted, “Really? Because I beg to differ.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sonic answered, “Look, I realize we have bigger things to worry about right now,” he raised his left hand to gesture at the Flickies hovering around, “but the Flickies are my friends, you know, and Fluttershy wants to help them bring the snow back. That’s enough, isn’t it? Just because it seems like it’s a minor thing doesn’t mean we can just turn a blind eye to them.”

Twilight glanced off to the side as she thought, “That’s true. But even so, I’ve seen it happen before.

Cadance spoke up, “I would have to agree with Sonic, Rainbow Dash. The Flickies would like our help so that they can do something special they, as Fluttershy mentioned, do often. We’re here now, so we can spare some time to help them now. It’s the sort of thing a friend would do for someone else.”

Rainbow groaned, “Ugh, fine. But we’re leaving right away after we’re done helping them!”

Pinkie piped up, “Great! So let’s split up and get the goodies back and save the Flickies’ special time of the year!”

Shining spoke up, “Listen, before we get started, let’s try to work as efficiently as possible. If anyone finds anything, bring it back here right away. We won’t start decorating the tree until the Flickies confirm we’ve found everything.” He looked at Fluttershy and said, “I hope you’ll be able to help us with that, Fluttershy.”

The shy pegasus smiled, “I’ll do my best.”

Once everyone was clear on what to do, Rainbow Dash flew off to start searching while the others began to fan out and search. Before he left, Sonic looked at Pinkie, the pink pony beginning to bounce off to go searching, and called, “Hey, Pinkie, wait a second!”

The party pony stopped in mid-bounce and, after landing, trotted over to him and Tails and asked, “Yes, Sonic?”

Sonic replied, “Listen, can you and Tails go check the train and try to get it ready while the rest of us search? Rainbow seems irritated enough about this whole thing already; I’d like to not make it worse, if that’s possible.”

Tails sighed, “I can’t argue with that. Don’t worry; we’ll have it ready in time.” Pinkie nodded in agreement.

Sonic smiled, “Thanks, you two. We’ll be back soon!” With that, he took off to do his part in the search while Tails and Pinkie headed up to the engine to get to work.

A short while later…

Everyone met up back at the large pine tree, a total of five different decoration pieces having been collected. As Sonic had thought, the Badniks that had stolen the Flickies’ decorations had come from Eggman’s main base, and they had been in a sorry condition, with cracked exteriors, exposed wiring, and not functioning as well as they used to; it was a miracle they had made it as far as they had from the old base, though it seemed they were just wandering around aimlessly at that point. Two of the four-legged robots had run off with the ornaments, which were recovered by Twilight, Spike, and Rarity, and three of the blue flying robots had stolen the ribbons, garland, and bells, which were respectively retrieved by Cadance and Shining Armor, Sonic and Applejack, and Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.

As they gathered around the tree, Tails and Pinkie Pie came down from the train and Fluttershy talked to the Flickies, who told her they had found everything. Thus, with quite a bit of help from Tails, Cadance, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash, the group helped the Flickies decorate the tree, wrapping the garland and ribbon around it and hanging the ornaments on the branches. Once done, they all stepped back to admire their work.

“The Flickies certainly seem pleased,” Rarity noted, looking at all the birds fluttering around the tree.

“Oh yes, they seem very happy now,” Fluttershy nodded.

Rainbow looked up and asked, “So… when is this snow they mentioned going to start?”

Tails looked up at the tree and held his left hand up to his chin. “Hmm… it almost seems like it’s missing something,” he said after a moment.

Spike looked up at him and asked, “Like what?”

Sonic looked at the top of the tree for a second and then his eyes trailed down to his left to Twilight’s cutie mark. “I know what it is,” he said. He pointed at the six-pronged star, “It needs one of these on top.”

THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT

Twilight looked down at her flank for a moment before turning and looking up at the tree. She couldn’t deny it looked a bit empty up on the top. She charged her magic into her horn and, after a moment, a lavender six-pronged star floated up out of it and up towards the tree, coming to rest on the very top. There it pulsed for a few seconds before it glowed brightly and released a wave of energy. A second later, snow, or to be more accurate diamond dust, began to fall from the sky!

Everyone was amazed by this display of magic, the kind that only the holidays can bring to others. Even the Flickies could feel it since they seemed even happier now, flying around the group and chirping happily. After playing with the Flickies and enjoying the scene for a minute, Cadance spoke up, “After everything we went through on this island, to be able to see this wonderful scene… it makes being separated and having to go through trap-filled areas all worthwhile. I only wish we could be a part of it longer.”

Twilight looked at her and said, “I do too, Cadance, because you’re right. This really was worth all the trouble that happened up to this point. But we still have a job to do.”

Sonic walked over and nodded, “Right. We made it happen; now we’ve gotta make sure it lasts for the Flickies.” He turned to Tails and Pinkie Pie and asked, “Are we all ready to go?”

Tails smiled, “Of course! Pinkie and I did our part while you guys were gone. We checked everything, set it all up, and got a fire going.” He gestured with his left hand towards the train, indicating the steam coming from the engine’s stack.

Pinkie grinned, “We are good to go!”

Shining said, “Then we should go. To preserve this moment along with every other moment we’ve ever had.” With that, the group made their way to the train, Tails carrying Pinkie with him up to the engine and Rainbow Dash flying up behind him. Everyone else made their way up a nearby slope to reach the train. They all climbed aboard the engine, Tails doing one last check on everything before getting the train going.

As the train started to move and follow the tracks in front of it, Sonic and a few of the ponies looked out the windows towards the back to see the magically created tracks fading away as the caboose followed behind the rest of the cars. The tracks led them up to the side of the island’s volcano and, thankfully, around it before straightening out and going to a portal.

As they approached their exit, Tails and some of the ponies went to the left window while Sonic, Spike, and the rest of the ponies went to the adjacent cupcake car and looked out the left side. As they took one last look at the tree they helped decorate, they all waved to the Flickies, the birds hovering as they waved back to them. They continued waving for a short while even after the train had gone through the portal, the last of the tracks fading after it had gone through, before returning to their tree. This time of the year was always special for them, but this year it was all the more special. Not only had they reunited with old friends and made some new ones, but this year they had their own star of night.

A star with royal beauty bright.

Final Fever

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BACK ON THE RIGHT TRACK

The Friendship Express emerged from a portal onto the train tracks leading to Canterlot, its passengers all securely on board. The portal disappeared after the caboose had come through the Flicky Island end and was on the tracks with the rest of the train, which moved at about the same speed it had when it left the station in Ponyville. Although Fluttershy had told Rainbow Dash that the train stopped on its own when it arrived in the Diamond Dust Zone and neither Tails nor Pinkie Pie had found anything unusual when they were getting it ready, everyone had agreed that they didn’t want to chance a repeat of what had happened earlier so soon.

Everyone remained standing where they had been when they were seeing the Flickies off, Tails, Pinkie, Twilight, Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, and Applejack up front in the engine while Sonic, Spike, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity were in the adjacent car ready to help when needed. Sonic, who was leaning with his back against the wall next to the open door to the engine, called, “How’re we looking, Tails?”

Tails, who was looking down at his radar while Pinkie piloted the train, called back after a moment, “The train itself seems to be fine, but it looks like that little detour set us back a bit. According to my map, we’re close to where we stopped initially.”

Shining Armor asked, “Do you have any idea where we even went to end up on Flicky Island, Tails?”

The fox looked up and shook his head, “No. I’m assuming those magically-created tracks branched off from the Canterlot route and we just didn’t notice due to the way the train was acting. At least that’s my theory; I’ve calibrated my radar several times now, but I can’t pick up any traces of magic or the portal we traveled through.”

Twilight asked, “So whoever is controlling that creature specifically did all that just to slow us down and made it all disappear once we were out?”

Tails replied, “It seems that way.” Stealing another glance down at his radar, he added, “It looks like even the portal we used to get back here has closed up without a trace.”

Cadance asked, “Do you think there’s anything we should do differently, Tails?”

The two-tailed fox scratched the back of his head with his right hand, “I’m not sure there’s much we could do differently at this point, Cadance.”

Rainbow, who was lying down next to the other side of the door, spoke up, “I’ll tell you what we could do differently! We could forget about taking the train to Canterlot since we can’t avoid anything that shows up right in front of us and me and Sonic just take everypony to Canterlot ourselves! We’d be much faster and we’d be able to avoid any portals opening up way better than this train can!”

Sonic looked over at her and asked, “So you think we should just strand the train here while you and I run everyone to Canterlot one at a time?” He rolled his eyes, “Yeah, that sounds like a REAL efficient use of our time and energy, Dash.”

Rainbow climbed to her hooves and retorted, “I don’t hear YOU coming up with any ideas, Sonic!”

The blue hedgehog replied, “Yeah, because I can’t think of anything that would be better than what we’re doing right now. We’re going slower than I would normally prefer, yes, but at this point, this train is probably the best way for us to get to Canterlot.”

Rainbow argued, “We’re not far from Ponyville! You and I could go back and get one of those carts from Sweet Apple Acres and pile everypony in it! You can then pull it and I’ll fly above you and keep watch so that nothing weird happens!”

Applejack, having heard enough of this argument, stuck her head through the doorway and asked, “And what if somethin’ unexpected happens when y’all are doin’ that anyway, Rainbow Dash? Even if Sonic’s pullin’ a cart filled with ponies, ain’t no guarantee he’s gonna be able to stop on a bit if a portal opens up in front o’ him. And if one opens up in front of you, how are you gonna be able to stop in time if you’re flyin’? Ah don’t like not gettin’ ta Canterlot right away either, but Ah gotta agree that this is the best thing right now. At least with the train, we have somethin’ safe ta come back to when we come across these portals.”

Rarity nodded, “Oh yes, I much rather prefer having a safe train to come back to, with its carpeted floors and seats, to having to rest on ground that is so white that one can hardly tell what is on it. I’m certain Fluttershy agrees with me.” The shy pegasus gave an almost imperceptible nod at Rarity’s words.

Rainbow fell back on her haunches, groaning, “All right, fine, I get it! Until we can figure something else out, we’ll keep riding the train! I just wish it could get us to Canterlot right now!”

Tails spoke up, “Believe me, Rainbow Dash, we all do. Right now, though, we need to be patient and stay alert. At this point, there’s no telling when something could happen.”

ANOTHER COMPLICATION

Almost immediately, as if on cue, a nearly invisible wave suddenly passed over the train, causing it to shake and forced it to slow to a stop on its own and Tails’ radar started to go wild. Sonic, Spike, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy moved to the engine, everybody standing alert while Tails checked his radar. As they all stood in the engine, Sonic commented, “I hate when that happens.”

Twilight looked at Tails and asked, “Tails, what’s going on?!”

While still looking down at his radar, the fox answered, “Some kind of distorted time wave! It doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen so far! If I’m looking at this right, this is really bad…”

Applejack spoke, “Uh, ain’t time already distorted, Tails? What makes this wave thingy so different from what’s happened to yer world and Equestria?”

Tails looked up and said, “I think there are certain points in history that are helping to maintain the stability of this white world and everything in it. You know, there are a lot of significant events that have happened in your world. T-The rise of Nightmare Moon, the founding of Equestria, that whole thing with the changelings… It’s kind of hard to explain, but those are some examples of important moments that make up everything we know.”

Fluttershy meekly wondered, “Um, how important are these important moments, Tails?”

Sonic spoke up, “I think he’s saying they’re so important that, if anything majorly bad were to happen to them, we’d all be in danger of being erased, Fluttershy.” He looked at Tails and asked, “Is that what you mean, Tails?”

Tails shrugged, “Yeah, basically. Right now, the fact that these moments in time still exist are the main things that are holding this white world together. If anything happens to even one of them, this whole world and everything in it could cease to exist!”

Rarity gasped dramatically, “What?!”

Twilight asked, “But if that creature is responsible for this, wouldn’t it be erased as well?”

Tails was about to answer when Pinkie Pie butted in, “Don’t be silly, Twilight! That big mean monster put us all in this world, so it has to know what will happen to everything in it! That’s why it’s in Canterlot: so it’ll be safe when the rest of us disappear!”

Tails looked back at her for a moment before saying, “Uh, I don’t know about Canterlot being a safer place right now, Pinkie, but I will agree that it has to be somewhere where it and whoever’s controlling it won’t be affected by the reality shift.”

Spike asked, “Reality shift?”

Tails looked down at him and said, “Well, maybe. I mean, if something didn’t happen that was supposed to happen, that would have a huge impact on everything that’s supposed to follow.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. What if Celestia and Luna didn’t stop Discord, or if they didn’t discover the Elements of Harmony in the first place? No doubt Equestria would’ve become a very different place than it is today.”

Rainbow Dash leapt up, flapping her wings as she exclaimed, “That’s it! This train isn’t going to cut it anymore! Now we definitely need to get to Canterlot right away and stop this thing before it messes things up any more!”

Tails looked up at her and said, “No, I don’t think so, Rainbow Dash. We are NOT abandoning this train and we do NOT need to get to Canterlot right away.”

Rainbow protested, “But you just said that time and everything we know are in serious danger right now! The only way to stop it all is to do something about that monster, right?!”

Tails shook his head, “Not necessarily.” Looking back down at his radar, he began to fiddle with it as he explained, “We have no idea what the situation in Canterlot is and this is a more urgent matter. Something is specifically out of place in a particularly important point in time. If we don’t do something about this, there might not BE a Canterlot to get to!”

Princess Cadance asked, “What are you doing, Tails?”

The fox answered, “I’m trying to locate the source of that distorted time wave with my radar. It had to originate from somewhere; if I can get a lock on it, we should be able to use the Warp Ring to go straight to the source of the disturbance and correct it.”

Shining Armor thought to himself, “All this time traveling and setting right what’s going wrong… Gaffer would go nuts if I told him about all of this. He always seemed like he was into this kind of thing. I wonder what he’s up to nowadays, come to think of it. Poindexter and 8-Bit said he was hanging out with some weird pony during the Fall Formal Gala, but…

The stallion was jerked out of his thoughts when a beeping sound came from Tails’ radar. He looked towards the fox as Fluttershy murmured, “Is… that a good sound, Tails?”

Tails, who was already retrieving the Warp Ring from his right tail, replied, “Yeah, it is, Fluttershy. Don’t worry; that sound is just my radar telling me that it’s located where that time wave originated from. Like I said, now we can just use the Warp Ring to get to its location.”

Sonic smiled and held his right thumb up, “Leave it to you, Tails! Got any idea where we’re heading?”

As he held up the Warp Ring in his right hand, the fox replied, “All my radar is showing is a collection of numbers; it’s not actually showing the exact location of the origin. However, if my hunch is correct…”

________________________________________

PARADISE... IN DANGER?

The Warp Ring deposited the group onto what felt like metallic ground, everybody standing up straight seconds after landing. Looking around, they saw that they were standing in what appeared to be a metallic, futuristic park. While the ground they were standing on made up a bright blue metallic structure that seemed to go on for quite a while, it seemed as though it was being overtaken by nature, as there were miles of trees off in the distance and the bright blue sky was clearly visible from where they were standing, along with mechanical palace-like structures beyond the trees. Nearby, they could see fountains, mechanical plants, and animals playing without a care in the world. Truly, it was a paradise that was found.

Fluttershy gasped, “Oh my… This is… so beautiful!”

Rarity nodded, “It’s absolutely gorgeous, darling!” She looked at Sonic, “Do you know where we are, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog thought for a moment before replying, “Yeah. I’m pretty sure this is Eggman’s old base on the Little Planet.”

Twilight gawked and looked at Sonic at this. “Dr. Eggman’s base looked like THIS?!” she exclaimed.

Sonic looked back at her and shrugged, “Well, it WAS Eggman’s base at one point. This is probably what it became after I recovered the Time Stones and sent him packing. I might’ve run through it on my way to reach him after I got the two Time Stones he had back, I don’t know. I was too focused on getting him off the planet to pay much attention to where I was.” Looking back at the area, he added, “I can guarantee, though, that the other future wouldn’t look anywhere near as pretty as this does.”

Twilight nodded in thought and turned to look around as well. “So we’re in the Little Planet’s future? Amazing…” she murmured.

Spike heard her and nodded, “Yeah. I can kind of see what Silver meant now.”

Shining Armor spoke up, “Whoa, whoa, hold on now! What’s all this talk about a ‘Little Planet’ and ‘Time Stones’? Did I miss something?”

Tails, who was looking down at the readings being displayed on the top screen of his radar, made a mental note of the sequence of numbers displayed on the bottom screen (11191993) before saying, “Sort of, but you and Princess Cadance weren’t around for when the matter came up earlier. The Little Planet is basically a natural satellite that’s home to the Time Stones. It shows up over Never Lake for one month every year and does not appear again for the rest of the year, possibly because of the power of the Time Stones. It’s been involved with some of Eggman’s schemes; in those instances, he used a large chain to pull it closer to the surface of our planet.”

Pinkie piped up, “Ooh! Like when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna used their magic and a rope to pull the Moon closer to Equestria! It was fun walking up that rope to the Moon!”

Applejack muttered to herself, “Fer you, maybe.”

Rainbow looked at Sonic and asked, “Didn’t you say Eggman built a new Death Egg around the Little Planet one time?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah.” He then looked up at the sky and, while squinting, said, “Though it doesn’t look like this is at that point in time. I think it’d be kind of hard to miss a giant sphere surrounding a small planet, even from the inside.”

Cadance tapped her right forehoof on her chin as she glanced upwards. “I would think so too,” she said after a moment. As the group started walking through the futuristic park, she looked at Tails and asked, “Are you sure this is where that time wave originated from, Tails? This place doesn’t appear to be in any sort of danger.”

Tails glanced down at his radar, which he was holding in his left hand, as he said, “Yeah, I know, Cadance. Everything here looks fine, but my radar is still picking up something. I’d like to see if we could figure out where it’s coming from before we leave.”

Rainbow looked around for a moment before saying, “Well, I guess I could see how it would be hard to find something in a place like this. For not being a base anymore, it’s hard to see much from where we’re standing.”

Twilight looked up at the sky overhead before looking forward at one of the metal walls as she mused, “It seems clustered here, but maybe that’s because we’re down here. If we go somewhere high up, we might be able to get a better look around.”

Sonic nodded, “Good idea.” He ran towards the wall Twilight was looking at and no one was too surprised when he suddenly ran up it, Tails and Rainbow Dash flying up after him. He went up and grabbed onto the ledge at the top, pulling himself up as Rainbow and Tails came up at his sides. Tails consulted his radar again while both Rainbow Dash and Sonic looked around, their view much clearer now that they could see (nearly) the whole park.

As she looked, Rainbow thought she saw lights shining brightly in the sky from far off in the distance in one direction. She nudged Sonic with a hoof and pointed while asking, “Hey Sonic, what’s over there? Where are those lights coming from?”

Sonic looked, placing his right hand above his brow to try to see clearer. “I think… that kind of looks like where Stardust Speedway is from here,” he said after a moment.

Rainbow asked, “Stardust Speedway? Isn’t that where Tails and Spike fought that Metal Sonic robot? I thought Tails said it was like… not like this place.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. That’s how I remember it. Maybe…”

The trio suddenly heard Pinkie behind them, “What?!” They looked back over their shoulders, but there was no pink pony there. A second later, though, her head popped up above the ledge and she asked, “What?!” before going back down again. They guessed she was bouncing up and down, probably with the help of a trampoline.

Sonic turned and walked over to the ledge and, the next time Pinkie’s head popped up, he reached down and grabbed her, pulling her up and setting her down. Before she could ask, he said, “I’m just wondering if Stardust Speedway is different in this future compared to the future I saw. I think it’d be kind of odd if it was the only place that was ruined while the rest of the Little Planet is perfect.”

Tails spoke up, “It might not be perfect for much longer. My radar’s locked onto the source of the disturbance, and it’s coming from that direction!” He looked up and pointed his right finger in the direction of Stardust Speedway.

Rainbow thumped her forehooves together as she said, “Cool! So now we just gotta go, take care of whatever this disturbance is, and we can go back to getting to Canterlot!”

Pinkie smiled, “Ooh! That sounds easy!”

Tails looked over at her and said, “Well, let’s hope so, Pinkie.” Sonic looked over at him and nodded before jumping over the ledge, Pinkie soon following while Tails and Rainbow flew down after them. Both Sonic and Pinkie made a soft landing thanks to the latter’s trampoline and they, along with Rainbow Dash and Tails, explained the situation to the others. Once they were finished, they set out on foot/hoof/claw through the futuristic park, though Rainbow Dash flew above everyone to keep an eye out for any trouble and dead ends in the metallic area.

As the group ran, Twilight noticed Sonic seemed to be looking around more than he usually did while on the move. At first, she thought he was trying to take in as much of their surroundings as he could, but a closer look revealed that his face was slightly scrunched up, as though he was trying to concentrate. She managed to get a little closer to him and asked, “Is something wrong, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog glanced back at her as he replied, “No, I’m just trying to recall the way I came and adjust it for where we are now.”

Rainbow Dash overheard and flew down closer, asking, “You mean you don’t remember the way you came through here?”

Sonic answered, “I might if we were going forward, but not backwards, especially not in this future. Plus the way I got here from Stardust Speedway probably doesn’t exist in this future.”

Twilight asked, “What do you mean?”

After rounding a corner and passing into a part of the area that was covered by a roof, Sonic looked back at her, “You remember what Tails and I were talking about before, about the ruined Stardust Speedway?” Twilight nodded, so he said, “After I outraced Metal Sonic and rescued Amy, I found a bridge leading directly to Eggman’s base near where Eggman had Amy tied up. As I was crossing it, I started going back in time to the present, and as I was crossing it, it started disappearing under my feet! By the time I reached the end, it had disappeared completely!”

Spike, who was riding on Twilight’s back, asked, “So the bridge is gone?”

Sonic replied, “That one might be, but while I was running across it, I thought I saw another bridge connecting Eggman’s base to Stardust Speedway, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t disappear like mine did during the time travel. That bridge is probably our best bet for reaching Stardust Speedway right now.”

Tails spoke up suddenly, his radar in his left hand as he glanced down at it, “Well, I’d say we’re definitely on the right track right now! We’re getting close, but it looks like whatever it is responsible for this is starting to move!”

Shining Armor asked, “Any idea what it is yet, Tails?”

The fox answered, “I can’t tell right now. It could be a portal, but if it is, it’s different from any that we’ve seen so far. I’ll need to take a look at it before I’ll know for sure.”

Sonic spoke, “Well, get ready to look, buddy! We’re coming up on the exit to this place!” Tails looked forward and saw a large opening in the metal up ahead. It almost looked like a mall entrance, just without the doors, and it even had a sign directly above it telling visitors to come again. Once they were outside, it didn’t take them long to find the bridge Sonic had mentioned, however it seemed to be unusable due to a large crack, like a fissure, running through the middle at their end of it. What was really odd was that they couldn’t see the water under the bridge through the crack; instead it was completely black on the inside and the edges of the hole seemed to be pulsing with some kind of energy. They all came to a stop near the crack, close enough to get a good look at it but not quite at the edge of it either.

A SPLIT IN TIME...

“Goodness, what is this?!” Rarity exclaimed with her forehooves around her mouth.

Tails looked down at his radar as he pointed it at the crack, the bottom screen now reading 12142011 while the readings on the top screen appeared to be erratic compared to the readings it had recorded before. Looking back at the crack a moment later, he said, “This has to be what caused that time wave. I don’t know how it came to be here, but it’s not supposed to be here, not in this way.”

Sonic looked over at him and asked, “What is it, though? It can’t be a portal, right?”

Tails nodded, “Right… I think it’s actually a time warp.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow, “A time what now, Tails?”

Shining Armor spoke up before the fox could answer, “Are you saying that this black hole could warp us to another time?”

Tails shrugged, “I don’t know, maybe? I’ve never seen a time warp before; I don’t know where this could go.”

Twilight mused, “So we probably shouldn’t just jump in there without a plan. We should try to be ready for as many possible occurrences as we…”

She was cut off when Rainbow Dash flew above everyone and said, “Come on, everypony! Let’s get in there and do the time warp thing!” She then shot down towards the crack, aiming right for the middle of it.

“Wait, Rainbow Dash!” Tails tried to call, but at her speed, she was too far along to be able to stop herself now.

Before she could disappear into the blackness, however, two bright blue beams shot out of the hole at the cyan pegasus! Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened and she tried to get out of the way, but the lasers came so fast and so suddenly that there was no time for her to get out of the way completely. She didn’t get hit, but the beams scrapped along her wings, throwing her off and sending her spiraling down into the crack while screaming, “Whoa!”

Sonic dashed to the edge of the crack and looked down, seeing the pegasus disappear into the darkness below. “Rainbow, no!” he cried, getting ready to jump down after her. Before he could, a missile shot out of the darkness and hit the wall of the crack, exploding just below Sonic’s feet. This caused the smoke to rise up to him, causing him to grunt and turn away to avoid breathing it in or getting it in his eyes. It also caused the crack to extend back in that direction, the ground crumbling underneath Sonic and sending him falling down with a “Wah!”

As the smoke cleared, everybody else could see that the ground was starting to crack near them, indicating the time warp was moving back towards Metallic Madness now as well. After quickly checking his radar, Tails confirmed this, “These readings… it’s getting worse! And Sonic and Rainbow Dash are right in the middle of it!”

Shining spoke, “Then there’s no time to come up with a plan! Let’s get down there and help them deal with whatever attacked them!” Considering the situation, nobody wanted to argue with him. Even Fluttershy seemed like she was willing to face the unknown to help her oldest friend and one of her new friends. They all ran towards the crack and leapt over the edge; as they fell, Tails, Fluttershy, and Cadance focused, getting ready to help the others in case they had a ways to fall.

IN THE TIME WARP

As the group continued to fall into the blackness, it soon began to part like clouds, revealing something in the distance that they were falling towards. It was too obscured by the black to be completely clear, but they were starting to make out the color and shape of it. Spike, who was riding on Twilight’s back, pointed at it and asked, “Hey, what is that thing?”

Once they were a little closer, everyone could see that the top of the object was striped light orange and red, with places being dark blue in color. The shape of it became clearer as well. “It looks like a… giant eight?” Twilight guessed.

Tails squinted, looking closer for a moment before saying, “Yeah. Actually, from the way it curves, I think it’s a giant Möbius Strip. Cool!”

Applejack grunted, “That’s fascinatin’, darlin’, but maybe we could focus more on landin’ rather than lookin’?”

Cadance noticed something seemed different and looked around, trying to figure out what it was. A moment later, she said, “I think we’re slowing down!” Sure enough, everyone was falling slower than when they had jumped into the darkness as they got closer to the giant eight. Not long afterwards, they all landed on top of the eight near one of its turns, everyone stumbling a bit as their momentum from falling had, strangely, not been affected by them slowing down.

Looking around, they found that the black had changed to a dark purple that was very nearly black and the figure eight was surrounded by what appeared to be walls that were varying shades of dark purple. While some parts of the walls looked even, the rest of it seemed to stick out like misplaced bricks, cubes poking out of the otherwise smooth walls. Nearby, on the figure eight itself, they could see a tall post with a pair of red banners that both had white arrows on them pointing to the right and a smaller post with what appeared to be a red Eggman head on top of it.

Fluttershy nervously lowered her body closer to the ground, her rush wearing off as she meekly asked, “Where… where are we?”

Applejack trotted over to her side and placed a hoof on her, saying, “Don’t ya worry none, Fluttershy. This place doesn’t look too scary.”

Cadance looked off to the side with an uneasy expression as she said, “I don’t know. Dark, claustrophobic places like this… I’m not exactly fond of them either.”

Shining moved over to her and wrapped a hoof around her, “Don’t worry, my sweet. I’m here for you.”

Spike and Twilight turned to Tails, the former asking, “Hey Tails, are you sure this is a time warp or whatever? Because, uh, it’s kind of creepy if it is.” Twilight nodded in agreement.

Tails looked up from his radar and looked at them, saying, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is, but… well, take a look.” He held his radar in his right hand, holding it so they could see its screens as he walked over to them. They looked at it and saw that neither screen seemed to be doing what it was supposed to, numbers appearing and changing on the bottom screen while the top screen just showed a green grid with the word ‘ERROR’ in front of it.

Twilight said, “I see what you mean, Tails.”

Spike nodded, “Yeah, that hasn’t happened before.”

Suddenly, they all heard a familiar voice call to them, “Hey!” They all looked to the left and saw Sonic and Rainbow Dash running towards them.

Pinkie grinned as they got closer, “There you two are! I was starting to get worried about you!”

Shining asked, “Are you both okay?”

Sonic replied, “Yeah. Dash’s wings are a little singed, but she told me she’s fine.”

Rainbow huffed, “Because I am! I didn’t land any harder than you did, Sonic! And I can clean my wings just fine, thank you! Pegasi are supposed to know how to clean their wings, you know!”

Sonic held his hands up, “Okay! I was just offering to help, that’s all.”

Rainbow looked at him, “Well, wings are kind of a personal thing, okay?”

Applejack rolled her eyes before saying, “So y’all are okay. That’s good. Have ya seen… whatever it was that attacked ya?”

Rainbow answered, “No. Until we saw you guys, it’s just been us. We haven’t seen anything else in this… whatever this place is called again.”

Tails spoke up, “It’s a time warp, Rainbow Dash. And if my radar is indication, time is running wild in here.”

Sonic held his right hand up to his chin, “Really?”

A moment later, the ground started rumbling, surprising everyone. “What’s going on?!” Twilight cried over all the rumbling. The answer came a few seconds later when something large came down from above, going through the hole in front of the group and pushing the air towards them, forcing them to look away and try to shield themselves against it.

FINAL FEVER, PART ONE

When the force stopped a moment later and they looked up, they saw what looked like a brand new Death Egg Robot looming over them, though from the look of it, it was much larger. From where they were standing, the group was level with the robot’s chest; the head, while not towering over them, was above them and likely out of jumping reach. The head itself was completely silver-gray in color, as was its Eggman-like mustache, but its nose was red and its eyes were blue. Two yellow stripes ran down the sides of its chest, which, combined with its red body, made it look like the old outfit Eggman used to wear, and in the center of its chest was a simple, white ‘R-9’ mark. It didn’t appear to have arms, and, while they couldn’t see down far enough, it probably didn’t have legs either.

“What in tarnation is that thing?!” Applejack exclaimed.

Sonic held his right hand up to his chin, “Hmm… a mustache, a pointy nose, and a fat body… Whatever it is, I think we all know who built it and is driving it.”

Pinkie piped up, “Ooh, ooh! Is it Discord?!”

Twilight looked at her oddly for a second before saying, “Uh, I think he means Dr. Eggman, Pinkie.”

Pinkie blinked and turned to look at the robot. She held a hoof up to her face, “Oh yeah, I guess it does kind of look like Eggy! But…”

Before she could continue, a familiar yet, at the same time, unfamiliar voice came from the robot, “Ha, ha, ha!”

Tails looked over at Sonic and said, “This thing was more than likely built by Eggman, but that sure doesn’t sound like his laughter.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s totally wrong, and it sounds kind of mechanical. So it’s probably not Discord either.”

Rainbow grunted as she spread her wings, “Who cares who it is?!” She flew up, floating in front of the robot’s face as she said, “Hey, chrome dome! You’re really messing up time by being here, and I’m not too happy about you trying to cook my wings either! You’d better jet on out of here and go back to wherever you came from, or we’re gonna have to-” She was cut off in mid-sentence when the robot’s eyes suddenly fired those blue lasers from earlier at her, the cyan pegasus flying down to avoid them! “Hey!” she cried, only for the robot to tilt its head down and fire at her again, Rainbow and everyone else scattering to avoid getting hit.

Rainbow Dash growled, “Okay, that’s it! You’re going down!” She flew up and then shot straight towards the robot’s head, bringing her left hind leg forward as she got closer to it. She struck it in the middle of its forehead at top speed… only to wince a second later and leap back away from it, screaming in pain! She ended up falling on her rump, holding her leg and groaning as she rubbed it, trying to make it feel better.

While Fluttershy instantly moved to her side to help her, Sonic glared up at the robot and curled up into a ball, shooting up towards its head. “This Eggman substitute has not been approved- UGH!” he groaned as he was knocked back by the robot leaning forward to literally meet him head on, falling back down onto the road. He grunted as he sat up, “That thing’s armor must be harder than a diamond!”

Shining growled, “There’s gotta be a way to get through it! Maybe our magic can find or make a hole in it! Twilight, Cadance!” The unicorn and alicorn nodded, Cadance taking to the air while Shining began running to the left, trying to cover the side he could reach easily while Cadance attacked from the other side and the back. Twilight, meanwhile, stayed at the front with the others and started charging up her horn, knowing she needed to keep it focused on her while her brother and sister-in-law went around. She began charging up Mystic Blades and beams, firing both at various spots on the robot’s front, hoping they would go through. Shining and Cadance, meanwhile, began firing beams from their horns and sweeping them up and down the robot. The result was the same for all three of them: their magic neither went through nor did it cause any damage from what anyone could see.

After about a minute of this, the robot, apparently fed up with their attempts, opened a compartment on its back and brought out a missile launcher that had two open slots. A second later, it shot several missiles out of both slots, everyone seeing them launch and scrambling to get away from where they were going to land! They managed to avoid getting directly caught in the blasts, but many of them were thrown by the force of the explosions. Shining, Cadance, and Rainbow moved to help Spike and the other ponies while Sonic ran to Tails’ aid. While helping Twilight up, Shining growled, “Argh… What is it with this thing?! What’s it made out of?!”

Cadance looked up at the robot worriedly, “It’s so strong… It’s like its armor is perfect!”

Twilight and Spike groaned as they stood up, the latter asking, “Is there anything we can do to it…?”

Sonic looked over at them after helping Tails up and said, “I’m sure there is. I just don’t know what it is!”

Tails held his right hand up to the side of his face as he sighed, “If we weren’t stuck in this time warp, there might be a way we could use it, or more specifically its messed up flow of time, to travel into the past, back to when the robot wasn’t so perfect. But I don’t think we can travel through time in the middle of a time warp; at best, from here, we could maybe change the direction time is going, but I don’t know how much else we can do.”

Sonic looked at him for a moment before looking up at a nearby post, specifically the arrows on the banners hanging from it. He then looked at the robot for a second before smirking, “You know, Tails… that might be all we need.” Before the fox could ask what he was thinking, Sonic curled into a ball and shot towards the robot’s head once more. When he was repelled this time, he briefly broke out of his spin before curling back up and striking at the top of its head several more times before stopping and landing on the road directly behind it. As he expected, the robot began to turn around, now even more annoyed at him. Sonic used a Boost to get moving, running in the direction of the arrows as he called to the robot, “You want me? Come and get me!”

As he ran towards her, Twilight tried to ask, “Sonic, what are you… Ah!” The last was an exclamation as she closed her eyes when he ran past her, not slowing down for a second. As she opened her eyes, however, she saw something faint trailing behind the blue hedgehog. “Are those… afterimages?” she wondered.

Sonic ran as fast as he could while the road was mostly straight, starting to lean to the right as he approached the curve. Just as he reached it, however, the robot floated up through the nearby hole from below, facing the road ahead of where Sonic was. As the hedgehog started turning, the robot unleashed a burst of fire from its nose, a plume of flames rising up when it hit the road! Sonic planted his feet against the ground, facing the robot as he skidded across the ground, towards the fire.

Before he could stop completely or hit the flames, he suddenly shot towards the robot in a ball again, this time aiming for its left shoulder. This time, though, he actually made a small dent in his target, cutting through the armor plating and landing close to the bottom curve of the eight! He looked back at the robot and noticed electricity sparking from the dent he had made in the robot’s shoulder. He pumped his left fist as he grinned, “Yes! Just as I thought!”

The others ran over to him, Shining asking, “Sonic, what did you do?!”

Sonic looked at him and replied, “I got the idea when Tails mentioned we might be able to mess with the way time flows in here.”

Tails quickly caught onto what he was saying and said, “I get it! When you had the Time Stones, you said you had to use your speed to time travel! It’s the same idea here, but instead of traveling through time, you created a stream in time, one that went in reverse because the way you ran was opposite the way most people write an ‘S’ or draw an eight!”

Twilight began to piece together what Tails was saying herself. “So, by creating a reverse-flowing time stream, Sonic was able to turn time back, specifically turning it back on that robot to a point where it wasn’t so perfect!”

Sonic nodded, “Exactly! If we keep rewinding the clock on that thing, we can hit it where it hurts!”

Rainbow thumped her forehooves together, “Let’s do this!”

The others looked confident at this, but then Applejack called, “Hey, it’s comin’ back, y’all!” Everyone turned and saw the robot flying up above the giant eight and moving towards them. Once it was closer, it began to drop down!

FINAL FEVER, PART TWO

“SCATTER!” Cadance screamed and everyone complied. Sonic, Tails, and Rainbow Dash started moving in the direction of the arrows while the pink alicorn and everyone else went the other way to get away from the robot. Thankfully, it went back through the hole at that end, but it came dangerously close to the road, close enough that it could’ve either knocked off or flattened anyone that had been just standing there.

Once they were out of danger, Shining looked at his wife and said, “Hey, I should be giving orders here! I’m the Captain of the Royal Guard, after all!”

Cadance smirked at him, “Who was quicker on the draw?”

Sonic, Rainbow, and Tails, meanwhile, began picking up speed, all of them hoping that the three of them moving together would make time go backwards faster. “Let’s step on it! We gotta take this thing down before it can wear us out!” Sonic said.

Rainbow nodded, “Yeah!” A second later, she asked, “Uh, how fast do we have to go to rewind time, anyway?”

Sonic shrugged, “I don’t know the specifics. I don’t carry a speedometer with me.”

Tails spoke, “Well, if you want a general idea, I’d say at least 88 miles per hour ought to be fast enough!” With that, he began spinning his twin tails around, pushing off the ground slightly as they began to push him forward.

Sonic started running faster and Rainbow flapped her wings harder in response to what the fox was doing, the latter saying, “If that’s how fast we need to go, then this’ll be a breeze!” They both caught up with Tails and they all stuck together as they headed into the curve up ahead.

The robot, meanwhile, seemed to realize what they were up to and brought out its missile launcher again, firing several missiles ahead of the trio as they began to loop around. Tails and Rainbow flew to get out of the way when they saw this, but Sonic kept going at full speed, sidestepping around the missiles and their explosions as they rained down on the road. Rainbow and Tails rejoined him when he was clear, approaching the second loop and their friends.

As the three of them came around, Twilight, Shining, and Cadance got ready, firing magic beams at the robot’s head after the trio passed them. Their beams still ricocheted off, but the robot ignored them and turned its attention back to Rainbow, Sonic, and Tails. It began to turn its head to follow them as they prepared to go a second time around, Rarity stayed by Fluttershy’s side as the three passed them while Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Spike were waiting on the second straight path. As the robot turned its head in their direction, Applejack called “Hey, you!” before bucking a cake up at its face.

After she did that, Spike threw a cupcake at it while Pinkie Pie (who had an entire supply of confections next to her that she had gotten from… somewhere) threw a pair of cakes with her forehooves, saying, “We’re assaulting you with cake!” After flinging her cakes, Pinkie grabbed another cake and a cupcake and tossed them to Spike and Applejack before grabbing two more cakes from her arsenal. They kept throwing stuff at the robot as Sonic, Tails, and Rainbow zoomed by, managing to smear some frosting over the robot’s eyes and hoping to do their part in keeping it distracted.

It ended up proving ineffective, however; as Tails, Sonic, and Rainbow were coming up on their second lap, the robot turned its head around and took care of the frosting on its eyes by firing its lasers at them. The shots came close to hitting Twilight, Cadance, and Shining Armor, forcing the three of them to get out of the way, Cadance flying up while Twilight and Shining ran to the right. After getting out of harm’s way, both siblings charged up their horns and fired magic beams at the robot’s right side, both beams hitting the yellow stripe and creating cracks in its armor. Noticing how close the two crack points were, Twilight charged up a Mystic Blade and sent it flying vertically. When it hit, a gash opened up in the robot’s plating between the two cracks!

Twilight gasped, “It’s working! The robot’s armor is getting weaker!”

Shining called to Sonic, Tails, and Rainbow, “Keep it up, you guys! We’re starting to break through its armor!” The three of them needed no further encouragement; they kept going while the others kept doing their best to distract the robot from them and punch through its armor. Shining, Cadance, and Twilight did most of the latter, with Twilight and Shining attacking the robot’s front and sides while Cadance made use of her wings to get a better shot at the back, occasionally throwing a beam at the front and sides when she could. Applejack was also able to contribute a buck or two to the back a few times whenever the robot hovered close enough.

After about a minute, the group’s combined efforts (including all the pastries Pinkie Pie, Spike, and Applejack had thrown) managed to weaken the robot’s armor enough to open it up in several places and damage its interior, but the center of its front, right around the ‘R-9’ mark, remained undamaged. While Tails caught his breath, having just stopped while Sonic and Rainbow Dash kept going, Cadance flew down by Shining and Twilight as they examined the robot. “It’s damaged in some way everywhere but around that mark. Why is that?” Shining wondered aloud.

Twilight tapped her chin with a hoof. “Maybe it’s reinforced because its most important internal machinery is behind there?” she guessed.

Tails looked up and, after examining the robot for a moment, said, “I’d have to say you’re right, Twilight. Which means we’re either going to need to really turn time back or try something else.” He ran to the right around the robot and looked past it, seeing Sonic and Rainbow Dash coming around the curve again. “Sonic!” he called, the blue hedgehog hearing and looking towards him as he and Rainbow straightened out. Tails held his hands up, clapped them together, and tilted them forward. The hedgehog seemed to understand, for he gave a nod as he and Rainbow Dash kept going.

Tails ran back over to Twilight, Shining, and Cadance, Twilight asking, “What was that all about, Tails?”

Tails asked, “Remember that rolling move Sonic and I performed back in that mountainous region?” Twilight thought for a moment before nodding. Tails explained, “We’re going to see if that’ll work against this thing. Do you think you can use your magic to line us up properly?” Twilight nodded again, so Tails moved into the road to wait for Sonic.

He didn’t have to wait long as, seconds later, Sonic and Rainbow Dash came zooming towards him. After making sure he wasn’t in Rainbow’s flight path, Tails held out his right hand towards Sonic, the blue hedgehog coming to a stop and clapping his right hand against the fox’s. They then leapt up and began spinning, creating their Rolling Combo. Before they hit the ground, Twilight grabbed them with her magic, spun them around her, and then released them, sending them upwards at an angle towards the robot’s chest.

They struck the ‘R-9’ dead-on, their combined form spinning as it pushed against the robot’s armor, trying to break through. After a long moment, everyone could hear the sound of cracking and, seconds later, the Rolling Combo burrowed deeper into the robot’s chest, the sound of something smashing being heard before Sonic and Tails shot out of the robot’s back, breaking out of their combo and landing near Spike, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash (who had come to a stop near the three of them).

After the duo landed, they all turned to look at the robot, sparks really beginning to fly from it as its head spun around 360 degrees. It began to fall towards the first straight part of the road, Rarity and Fluttershy scrambling to get out of the way. It landed face first, a small explosion accompanying it that caused everyone to shield themselves. Looking back at it afterwards, they saw that it hadn’t totally broken apart, but it seemed to be damaged beyond repair.

A moment later, Tails cheered, “We did it!”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah! Team effort!” He bumped fists with Tails, both them then moving over to do the same with Rainbow Dash, Spike, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack while Twilight, Shining, and Cadance shared a hug and Rarity hugged Fluttershy (who gave a quiet “yay” as she hugged Rarity back).

The moment was interrupted when they heard a weak mechanical voice come from the robot, “Ha… ha… ha…!”

Rainbow groaned, “There’s still something in there?!”

Twilight spoke, “Something’s been doing nothing but laughing all this time… Is there really a pilot in there?”

Sonic said, “Well, if there is, it doesn’t sound like it’s a living thing. So…”

Before he could continue, a loud beeping sound suddenly filled the air. Tails gasped, “Oh no! It must have a self-destruct built into it! It’s going to explode!” Everybody gasped at this, but before they could do anything, a faint white glyph in the shape of a hexagon appeared underneath everyone. A second later, they were all surrounded by a bright green flash that caused them to disappear, the remains of the robot exploding only seconds later…

________________________________________

A DIFFERENT KIND OF FUTURE

The bright green flashes deposited everyone close together on a bright violet road, all of them looking startled at the sudden change in their surroundings. “Whoa… What just happened?” Spike asked.

Tails scratched his head, “Some kind of teleportation, kind of like Chaos Control…?”

Rainbow looked around and asked, “Where are we?” Everyone else looked around as well, seeing a clear starlit sky above them and, off in the distance, a lit up city dominated by bright pink and green colors. Many structures, including a large Ferris wheel, could be seen amongst all the buildings.

Sonic spoke after a moment, “I think… this is Stardust Speedway.”

Spike gawked at him, “THIS is Stardust Speedway?! It looked nothing like this when Tails and I were there!”

Tails shrugged, “Maybe Metal Sonic went into the ruined future where he and Sonic originally fought, the future where Eggman’s pollution and machinery weren’t stopped. This could be the opposite side of the coin: a future where Eggman’s attempt to take over didn’t happen.”

Applejack whistled, “Well, it sure is pretty. Ya can’t deny that.”

Rarity nodded, “Oh yes, it certainly is. It’s like Canterlot and Manehattan have come together as one beautiful, futuristic city!”

Shining perked up at that, “Wait, speaking of futures… What happened to that time warp we were in?!”

Everyone realized what he was saying, Tails quickly pulling out his radar and opening it up. After a few seconds, he said, “I’m not picking up any more irregularities. Either we’re too far away, or it’s no longer a threat.”

Cadance asked, “Something like a time warp like that… If you could pick it up from where Dr. Eggman’s base used to be, you should be able to pick it up from here, right?”

Tails replied, “That would be my guess…”

Pinkie bounced over to Tails’ side and said, “Then we did it! We beat the creepy laughing robot and dealt with the disturbance it was making! That really was easy!”

Tails chuckled, “Yeah, I guess so, Pinkie.” As if to confirm it, the original 11191993 from earlier appeared on the bottom screen of his radar.

While looking around, Twilight spotted a building that stood out against all the rest off in the distance. She turned to Sonic and asked, “Hey Sonic, what’s that building over there?” She pointed behind him at the building, the hedgehog turning around to look while the others looked as well.

The building in question looked like it could be a large mansion or a cathedral, the light coming from its many windows and it not being near any other buildings making it easy to see from a distance. Sonic held his right hand under his chin and put his left hand on his hip, saying a moment later, “I don’t know. If I’m not mistaken, however, it’s right where Eggman was building a statue of himself in… I guess it would be the past here?”

Fluttershy asked, “Um, Sonic? Isn’t that where you said he found one of the Time Stones?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah… I’m curious now.” He looked over his shoulder at the others, “Anyone else want to take a closer look before we leave?”

Rainbow nodded, “You bet!” The others agreed as well, so, after Tails put his radar away, the group began navigating the city’s many roads, trying to find the one that would take them to the mystery building.

A short while later, they stood on the road in front of the building, which they could now see was a vibrant purple color. From the look of it, it was most likely a mansion. Rainbow Dash flew up to one of the windows, trying to look inside while the rest of the group leapt over to the landing in front of the front steps. A few seconds later, Rainbow pulled her head and called down, “I can’t see anything! Those green curtains are blocking my view!”

Tails looked back at the building and said, “Well, it looks like an ordinary, fancy mansion.”

Rarity’s eyes shimmered, “Oh yes, it’s absolutely FABULOUS! I certainly wouldn’t mind having a mansion like this for a summer home!”

Tails looked at her before he continued, “Uh… right, Rarity. Also my radar would probably be going off if it detected something out of the ordinary.”

Rainbow flew down to the group as Cadance said, “Then we should just go. We did what we came here to do; just because the lights are on doesn’t mean somepony’s home, and I don’t think we should be breaking and entering without a good reason.” Nobody could argue with that, so Tails pulled the Warp Ring out of his namesakes with his right hand.

Before he could toss it, the group heard a creaking sound behind them and turned to see the front doors of the building opening inward. “Is… somepony home after all?” Fluttershy meekly wondered.

Sonic and Shining Armor looked at each other before walking forward and going up the steps, peering inside at the foyer before them. “Uh, hello? Anybody home?” Sonic called. A moment passed with no response to either of the hedgehog’s questions.

Suddenly, Pinkie appeared between the two, saying, “Sounds like somepony’s playing hide-and-seek~!” She then bounced forward, going through the doors.

Sonic held his right hand out to her as he ran after her, “Wait, Pinkie!” Shining ended up following after him, as did the others in case Pinkie decided to be particularly tricky to contain.

MYSTERIOUS MANSION

Inside, they found both Sonic and Pinkie standing on the red carpet rolled out across the center of the foyer, which went into an adjacent room underneath a loft on the second story (which had two staircases leading up to it on its right and left sides). Looking around, Tails saw a painting of a Gothic-looking building on the left wall and a painting of a forested area with what looked like conveyor belts on the right wall. Looking up, he noticed what appeared to be a sundial in the center of the ceiling.

“This is… an interesting house,” Tails commented, though he was starting to think about what it could be. The others nodded in agreement.

A moment later, Pinkie said, “Ooh! Something bright!” She then trotted off, walking across the red carpet as she hummed to herself. Sonic looked at the others and they all shrugged before following after the pink pony.

While following Pinkie through the next room, Sonic looked around. Aside from a few tables, chairs, and doorways to other rooms, he saw on the right wall a painting of a clock tower and a painting of a cliff overlooking the sea during what appeared to be a sunset on the left wall. He and the rest of the group followed Pinkie into a third room, this one much smaller and having a large archaic organ across from the doors. It looked like a sitting room if the chairs and couches in it were anything to go by. There were some objects on the walls, but they didn’t appear to be readily recognizable.

While everyone looked around the room, Twilight asked, “Did you see something in here, Pinkie?”

The party pony replied, “I saw light coming from here and wanted to see what it was! It seemed like there was something VERY interesting about this room!”

Rarity let out a loud gasp and said, “I must say I agree with you, Pinkie! Look!” They all looked over to see her standing in front of the organ, seemingly looking up at it.

Sonic walked over, saying, “I knew you liked gems, Rarity. I didn’t know you had a taste for classic instruments too.”

Pinkie bounced up along Rarity’s other side, looking up at the organ as she said, “It’s a really big organ! I wonder if I could play the organ?”

Rarity spoke, “Not the organ itself! Above it!” Everyone looked up to see a dark blue tapestry displaying what appeared to be an owl mask in the center hanging on the wall above the huge organ. And sewn into it, around the mask, were seven hexagonal gemstones, which were blue, green, cyan, orange, purple, yellow, and red in color. “Look at those beautiful gems! They’re so perfectly formed and on display for all to see!” Rarity gushed.

Sonic spoke after a moment, “Those aren’t just any gems, Rarity. Those are the Time Stones!”

Everyone, save for Tails, looked at him in surprise, Shining Armor asking, “Really?! Those seven jewels are the Time Stones?!”

Sonic looked at him and nodded, “Yeah. Supposedly, whoever has all seven of them is given the power to reshape time itself.” He shrugged, “I was too busy dealing with Eggman to find out for myself if that’s true.”

Rainbow spoke up, “Well, let’s find out now! Let’s take the Time Stones back with us! We can use their power to completely undo what that creature did to our worlds!”

Twilight protested, “I don’t think we should do that, Rainbow! That kind of power sounds like it would be extremely difficult to handle!”

Rainbow argued, “So? Sonic and his friends have used the Chaos Emeralds before, and those things can’t be easy to handle!”

Sonic butted into the argument, “Yeah, but they’re not the same thing either.” He gestured with his right hand at one of the windows, “We saw a bright, beautiful city out there; when Eggman got the Time Stone that was hidden here, I saw a future that was totally dark and ruined, which I’m sure is what Tails and Spike saw earlier. I’d say there’s a noticeable difference in the kind of power we’re talking about here.”

TALES OF THE LITTLE PLANET

Tails spoke up, “Besides, we might not be allowed to take them from here.”

Applejack looked at him and asked, “What do ya mean, Tails?”

The fox explained, “There are lots of legends surrounding the Little Planet. Its existence, what the Time Stones are, and what they can do are among the more well-known, but I’ve seen some other, lesser-known legends. Some of the ones I’ve seen mention a group of elite protectors known as the Knights of Kronos.”

Twilight asked, “The Knights of Kronos?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah. Supposedly, they’ve protected the Little Planet, especially the Time Stones, throughout time. They’re usually mentioned in conjunction with the Time Stones.”

Rainbow asked, “So… what do they have to do with this?”

Tails sighed, “There’s so much mystery surrounding the Little Planet. You saw the city out there. Someone had to have made it what it is, yet no one knows for sure if anyone lives here. All we’ve got to go by are rumors and legends.” He looked around the room as he added, “But looking at all of this, what’s been done here, I can’t help but wonder if they’re true.”

Sonic held a hand to his chin, “I can believe it. I mean, the Time Stones had to get up here somehow. I just left ‘em behind after I forced Eggman to retreat and before I escaped with Amy, and I wasn’t anywhere near here.”

Cadance spoke, “In that case, we should leave them behind. These Knights of Kronos may have brought the Time Stones here to watch over them the same way the Elements of Harmony are normally watched over in Canterlot Castle now. We have as much a right to keep them safe from those who would misuse them as whoever their guardian or guardians may be.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. After all the times he tried to mess with the Little Planet, I’m sure Eggman’s basically got a big ‘not welcome’ stamped on him, and it’ll be a long time before anyone that crazy comes searching for the Little Planet.”

Tails asked, “Like whoever sent that robot?”

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah, I guess that thing could’ve been sent by someone else, but I still think Eggman had something to do with that. It’s not like he has a big appreciation tribe or anything like that, and he wouldn’t be too happy if someone tried to pull off a plot he could come up with or use his toys without his permission.”

Tails nodded, “That’s true.” He held up the Warp Ring, which he was still carrying with his right hand, “Should we get going?”

Rainbow shrugged, “Yeah. I guess you guys are right. We should try to fix this mess ourselves before going to these Knights of Kronos for help. Besides, we’ll get credit for it and look way more awesome while doing it!” Some of the group members rolled their eyes at this while Tails tossed the Warp Ring on the floor, the ring expanding to its full size.

As they prepared to leave, Twilight sighed, “It’s too bad we couldn’t meet the Knights of Kronos. At least we could’ve let them know what happened earlier.”

Remembering what happened when they were pulled out of the time warp, Sonic looked at her and smirked, “Somehow, I get the feeling they already know, Twilight.” With that, they all stepped through the Warp Ring one at a time, leaving the Little Planet behind.

KNIGHTS OF KRONOS...?

After they were all through, as the Warp Ring started to shrink, three hooded figures appeared in the doorway, watching. Despite how bright the mansion was on the inside, only their silhouettes could be seen, their eyes shining like lights from under their hoods…

Central City

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BACK ON TRACK... FOR NOW

Upon their return to the Friendship Express, Tails got to work preparing the train to resume its journey while Pinkie Pie followed the rest of the group as they left the engine and headed back two cars. The pink pony and Rainbow Dash stood as the others took the seats they had been in when they first boarded the train, Sonic and Spike sitting across from Twilight and Rarity on the left side of the car and Shining Armor and Cadance sitting across from Applejack and Fluttershy on the right side. It wasn’t long before they felt a jolt that told them the train was moving again.

“At last, a chance to properly sit down for a moment,” Rarity sighed as she relaxed into her seat.

“Yes indeedily, Rarity! We’ve been pretty much doing nothing but running around since this expansion started!” Pinkie grinned.

Some of the others looked at her strangely at that, Rainbow asking, “What are you talking about, Pinkie? What expansion?” The party pony just giggled in response, garnering a few more stares.

After a moment, Applejack shrugged, “Well, at least we’re on our way ta Canterlot again.”

Shining sighed, “I don’t suppose we could just keep moving at the pace we’re going rather than trying to rush it and run into trouble like we did earlier.”

Cadance glanced over at him, smiling as she raised an eyebrow, “I thought you said when we were in those ruins earlier that you actually liked some of the places we’d been.”

Shining replied, “I do. I just didn’t like that sudden stop the first time followed by being thrown off the train while it was moving as fast as it was.”

Spike shrugged, “Yeah, nobody liked that.” He nudged Sonic in the leg with his left elbow, “Right, Sonic?” After a moment of not getting a response, he turned his head to look at the hedgehog, “Sonic?” He looked up and saw that the hedgehog was staring out the window, his chin resting in the palm of his left hand. “Hey!” Spike exclaimed.

Sonic started at that, sitting up somewhat and uttering, “Huh? What?” He then saw everyone looking at him and said, while looking down at Spike, “Oh, uh, sorry Spike. I wasn’t paying attention just now. What’d you say?”

Spike groaned and said, “We were talking about that sudden stop earlier. I said nobody liked it and asked if you agreed.”

Sonic replied, “Oh yeah, that was rough. Stops like that definitely aren’t fun.” He then turned his head to look out the window again, hoping to see something interesting to look at (in other words, something, anything that wasn’t completely white).

Rarity asked, “Sonic, is something wrong?”

The blue hedgehog shrugged, “Eh, no. Just missing the sky. And thinking about stuff.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side, “What kind of ‘stuff’?”

Sonic looked at her and said, “Like the Moon. Lots of things seem to happen with it in both of our worlds. You know, Nightmare Moon was banished to your Moon and our Moon got blown in half by Eggman… Different events and different worlds, but I think there are some constants if you look hard enough.” Twilight nodded in understanding.

Fluttershy cleared her throat softly and spoke up, “Um, Sonic?” The hedgehog, along with the others, looked over at her, the shy pegasus saying, “Applejack mentioned that earlier after… after Dr. Eggman’s, um… robot dragon crashed, that he blew up part of your Moon. How did he…? Did he really?”

Sonic replied, “Yeah, he did, Fluttershy. We got to see it happen again earlier.”

Rainbow spoke, “Oh yeah, that’s right; you stayed behind with Cream and Cheese during that, Fluttershy. It’s probably better you didn’t see it.”

Spike muttered, “Yeah. Seeing that ARK cannon thing just blow half of the Moon up… That was crazy.”

Shining Armor raised an eyebrow, "'ARK cannon thing'? What's that?"

Sonic replied, "He means the Eclipse Cannon on Space Colony ARK."

Pinkie piped up, "Ooh! Twilight and Rainbow Dash were talking about an ARK earlier! Are you talking about the same one? I don’t think I heard them mention anything about it having a cannon. Hey! Wouldn’t it be great if it had a party cannon?!”

Sonic gave a wry smirk as he replied, “Something tells me that would be impractical in space, Pinkie.”

Rainbow grinned, “And no party cannon’s gonna be enough to destroy an entire comet!”

Pinkie just rolled her eyes, “Oh, ye of little faith!”

Cadance asked, “What do you mean, Rainbow Dash? What comet are you talking about?”

Rainbow Dash was about to answer, but before she could, Pinkie spoke up, “Hey! We’re slowing down!”

Everyone looked at her and realized she was right; the forward momentum they’d been feeling up until now was disappearing as the train came to a much gentler stop. “Why are we stopping?” Twilight wondered.

Sonic looked out the window and saw a glowing hole in the ground off to the side of the train, just ahead of where the window was. “Is that a portal over there? The way it’s positioned, it almost looks like a sewer entrance,” he commented.

The door heading towards the train’s engine slid open a moment later, revealing Tails behind it with his radar in his left hand. The fox stepped into the car and Pinkie hopped to the side as Applejack asked, “Hey Tails, what’s goin’ on? Why’d we stop now?”

Tails answered, “I stopped the train because I saw some kind of purplish-black wall floating in front of the tracks up ahead, Applejack. The color makes me think of the creature responsible for all this.”

Twilight asked, “Do you think it created that wall as another attempt to stop us?”

Tails replied, “Most likely. That’s the main reason why I stopped the train; I don’t think we can just drive on through it.”

Sonic shrugged, “Hm. I’m gonna guess there’s a way to make it get out of our way, right?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah, I checked my radar when I saw it. I’m not exactly sure why we’re seeing a wall now; maybe there were walls earlier and we just never got close enough to see them or something, but I don’t know what to make of the readings. Regardless, it seems the wall is connected to a nearby portal.”

Rarity spoke up, “Sonic said he saw one outside just before you came in.”

Tails looked at his friend, the blue hedgehog nodding and raising his right hand to point out the window. Tails moved past Pinkie and looked, holding his radar up as he looked towards the glowing hole in the ground. After a couple of seconds he said, “Well… that was easy enough. That leaves only one thing left to do, then.”

Spike sighed, “Great, another unexpected detour…”

Twilight and Rarity looked at the baby dragon worriedly while Rainbow shot him a sideways sympathetic look, but decided not to open her mouth. “Spike, dear, are you getting exhausted from all of this adventuring?” Rarity asked.

“If you want to stay behind and rest, I-I could stay. Or maybe Cadance and Shining Armor, or Fluttershy could…” Twilight said worriedly.

Spike interrupted her, “No, that’s not what I was saying! I’m not tired; I’m still good to go! I’m just a bit annoyed by all the unexpected stops we’re having, that’s all! Really!”

Before Twilight could answer, Shining looked at her and said, “And what do you mean Cadance and I could stay behind, Twilight?! I’m not staying behind on this train and letting you and your friends get into dangerous situations on your own! I’m here and you’re not leaving me behind that easily!” Twilight actually shrank back a little at her brother’s words, noticing that he actually sounded angry with what she said. If he was angry, that must’ve meant…

Sonic noticed Twilight seemed to be trying to squeeze as much of herself as she could into the corner of her seat and looked over at Shining Armor, saying, “Hey, relax, dude! She was just throwing that option out there for Spike!”

Cadance nodded as she sidled up next to her husband, “He’s right, Shining. I would gladly stay behind if Spike or anypony else didn’t want to go. But if he is fine and wants to keep going…”

Spike spoke up, “I am! I do!”

Cadance said, “Then yes, you’re right. We should be there to help everyone deal with whatever lies on the other side of that portal so that we can continue on to Canterlot.” Shining seemed to settle down at her words and looked down towards the floor, not entirely sure why he got riled up when his sister was just trying to help.

While Twilight relaxed in her seat, Rainbow nudged Spike with a wing and smiled, “Spike, I gotta say, you’re one tough baby dragon!”

Pinkie nodded, “Yes, indeedily!” Spike smiled at that.

Sonic looked over at Tails and shrugged, “Well, I guess we’re all in agreement, huh?” Tails nodded back.

Applejack said, “Well, c’mon then, y’all! Let’s get in that there portal and seal it up!”

Fluttershy spoke up, “Um, Tails?” When the fox looked at her, she asked, “I was just wondering, do you know where that portal goes?”

Tails replied, “No, I’m afraid not, Fluttershy. I couldn’t see its surface from the engine, and I don’t have any guesses to go on this time. We’ll just have to go through the portal and see where it leads.” Fluttershy nodded while Sonic looked out the window, looking at the glowing hole in the ground.

________________________________________

SEWER ENTRANCE

Sonic landed neatly as he was deposited from the portal, the ground feeling firm beneath his sneakers. Looking up, he saw the portal pulsing up above, seemingly attached to the ceiling of wherever he had ended up. His eyes widened slightly a second later as Tails emerged from it, quickly moving to the side so that the fox did not land on him. Tails moved after landing as well, and soon everyone had come through, all of them standing close to underneath the portal.

“Hey, it’s kind of dark down here,” Spike commented, noticing the dim lighting made it a little hard to see the nearby walls.

“That’s true, Spike, but at least it seems to be relatively safe for the moment,” Cadance noted.

“I agree with you, Princess,” Rarity nodded. She then took a sniff of the air and gagged, “A shame it doesn’t smell nicer, though.”

Applejack shrugged, “It ain’t that noticeable, Rarity. Relax.”

Shining spoke up, "Let's get a little light in here." He turned to his left and closed his eyes, channeling his magic into his horn and creating a ball of magenta light that lit up the area somewhat. Opening his eyes, Shining saw a wall made of dark gray stone. Turning his head to look straight ahead, he found that the ground was dark gray cement with what appeared to be water flowing from several pipe openings in the wall up ahead, the water flowing into a stream to the group's right. "What is this, an underground river?" the stallion wondered.

"I think the technical term for it would be 'sewer', Shiny," Twilight remarked. Shining gave her a sidelong dry look at that while Cadance giggled.

Sonic glanced over at her and grinned playfully, "Whoa, easy there, ‘book sheriff'." Twilight glared at him, though she did have a small smirk on her face, and Spike, Rainbow, and Applejack snickered quietly.

After a moment, Spike asked, “So this is a sewer? I’ve never been down in one before.”

Tails answered, “Yeah, it sure looks like one. It doesn’t exactly tell us where we are, but it’s a start at least, right?”

Pinkie smiled, “Totally, Tails!” She suddenly grinned a second later, a thought coming to her head. “Hey, I know! We should have a party down here! We can check out these pipes and find a nice big room for it and then order pizza and get a dance floor and a couch and…”

The party pony was interrupted when Rarity firmly stuck a hoof into her mouth, the fashionista’s face indicating she did not share the same enthusiasm as her friend. “As WONDERFUL an idea as that sounds, Pinkie, this is neither the time nor the place for a party. In fact, I’d prefer if we got out of these sewers as soon as possible.” She looked over at Sonic and asked, “We can get out of here, can’t we, Sonic?”

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah, sure, Rarity. Sewers aren’t exactly the way to travel if you aren’t used to them anyway.” He glanced up at the portal and added, “We’re gonna have to spend a little time down here, though, since we can’t get out that way.”

Rainbow flew above everyone’s heads and pointed a hoof past Sonic, saying, “Look, there’s a ladder over there! That’s gotta lead to a way out, right?” Sonic and the others turned to look and saw the ladder in question a couple of feet ahead of where they were, the light coming from Shining’s horn being just enough to make it visible.

Tails spoke, “Hm, well it looks like it’s attached to the wall, so… I’m gonna say yes, Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow grinned, “Yes!” She flew over to the ladder and looked up as she flew up the side of it at a slower pace, the rest of the group walking over and standing near the ladder as she reached the top. There she found a circular opening that was being covered by something, closing it off from the outside world. She raised her forehooves up and pushed at it, but it didn’t move. She pushed a few more times with extra force, but still it wouldn’t move. “This cover isn’t moving!” she called back down to the others.

Sonic saw Tails beginning to spin his namesakes around and moved towards the ladder. Putting his hands on it, he called up to Rainbow, “Hang on, we’ll come help you.” He then started climbing up the ladder while Tails flew up, the fox reaching Rainbow Dash first and wedging himself next to her, helping her push up with Sonic joining in a second later. Despite all of them pushing, they still couldn’t move whatever was covering the opening. After a few seconds of trying, Sonic groaned, “Man, this is no ordinary manhole cover.”

Tails nodded as he Rainbow moved down a bit, “Yeah. I can’t tell because it’s still a bit dark, but I’m pretty sure it’s not an actual cover. It’s probably something like a car sitting right over the hole.”

Rainbow asked, “So what? We need to hit it harder to get it to move?”

Tails replied, “Maybe, but if it’s a car, I’m sure it belongs to somebody. They might not take too kindly to us…”

He was cut off when Pinkie let out a loud gasp that caught everyone’s attention. “What, what is it, Pinkie?!” Rainbow asked. A second later, the ground suddenly started shaking, catching everyone except the pegasus and Tails by surprise. Spike grabbed onto Twilight as she and the other ponies tried to stand their ground (Shining even extinguished his light so he could focus on standing up). Sonic, however, was caught totally by surprise and lost his grip on the ladder, flailing his arms as he tried to stay balanced!

Tails and Rainbow quickly flew up behind Sonic and pushed against his back, pressing the hedgehog towards the ladder. He quickly grabbed the ladder and held on tightly, the two flyers staying with him as the rumbling continued for about ten seconds. The shaking soon stopped, but everyone remained as they were for several seconds, waiting to see if there was any more. When nothing happened, they all let out a sigh of relief. Twilight muttered, “That… was unexpected.” She looked up at the slightly shadowed forms above her and called, “Sonic? Are you okay?”

The blue hedgehog called back, “Yeah. I’m cool now.” He looked back at Tails and Rainbow Dash and said, “Thanks.” They nodded back to him, taking their hands/hooves off of his back to let him stand on his own. Sonic glanced down and asked, “Everybody else okay?”

Applejack answered, “We’re fine, Sugar-hog. What about that opening?”

The three of them looked up and saw that the heavy object was still sitting directly over the sewer opening, looking as if it hardly moved during the shaking. “It’s still blocked. I think we’d better find another opening,” Tails said.

“Yeah, good idea, Tails. Let’s leave it alone,” Sonic replied.

“Yeah. We could totally move it ourselves, but like you were saying earlier, someone’s probably not gonna be happy if we do, especially after that quake,” Rainbow nodded. Sonic began climbing back down the ladder while Rainbow and Tails lowered themselves down with him.

When they were almost down, Rarity screamed, “AH! SOMETHING TOUCHED ME!”

Soon after, Spike yelped, “Ah! Something furry!” Because he was close to Twilight, she also felt it, but she managed to refrain from screaming and instead let out a gasp.

At this, Shining’s guard training took over and he channeled his magic into his horn, creating a beam of light that he shined down at the ground near Twilight and Spike. The light revealed several small furry creatures that ran into the darkness ahead of the group. “Ooh, rats!” he said, a bit disgusted.

Fluttershy gasped, “Rats?! Where?! Are they hurt?! Do they need help?! Are they scared?!”

Cadance, having seen the rats when her husband shined his light on them, said, “No, they didn’t appear to be hurt, Fluttershy.”

As he reached the bottom rung of the ladder and stepped down onto the stone, Sonic added, “If they can run off like that, I’m sure they’re fine, Fluttershy. They’re probably just as surprised by that earthquake as we are.”

Rainbow nodded as she and Tails landed, “Yeah, they probably have some turtle friends or something down here to keep them company.” Her thoughts briefly turned to Tank at that, wondering how her pet tortoise was doing back in Ponyville.

“Can we follow them?!” Pinkie asked, bringing Rainbow out of her thoughts.

“Can we NOT?” Rarity groaned.

Tails turned his head to look behind the group; after a second, he turned back around and spoke, “We might as well keep going in this direction.” Rarity began making whimpering noises at that, indicating she was getting ready to let out a complaint, so Tails quickly clarified, “If we go backwards, I think we’ll hit a wall sooner and have to wade through the water. We should have some dry land to walk on, at least for a little while, if we keep going forward.” Rarity stopped her whimpering as he finished, so he guessed she was satisfied with that explanation. No one else had any objections, so they started moving forward again with Shining Armor taking point.

SEWER TRUDGE

As the group continued walking, Shining’s horn light sweeping the path in front of them while Twilight lit up her horn to provide a little extra light, Cadance spoke up, “So… Rainbow Dash, remember back on the train you mentioned a comet?”

The rainbow-maned pegasus had to take a couple of seconds to think back, but she soon said, “Oh yeah, the Black Comet! Yeah, that Eclipse Cannon thing on the ARK was designed to destroy it. Tails told me and Applejack earlier.”

Cadance asked, “Why? Was it going to crash into this planet or something?”

Rainbow replied, “Uh, no, but…” She looked at Tails and asked, “You want to take it, Tails?”

The fox nodded and explained, “The Black Comet passes, or rather passed, our world once every fifty years. Naturally, its appearance is a huge astronomical event that makes the news. On the day of its most recent appearance…”

Sonic interjected, “Which ironically was its last appearance.”

Tails continued, “It brought an invading race of aliens known as the Black Arms that were looking to turn our planet into a source of food thanks to an agreement made the last time it passed by the planet.”

Pinkie exclaimed, “What?!”

Rarity asked, “Who would agree to such a thing?!”

Tails answered, “Professor Gerald, though I bet he didn’t know exactly what he was agreeing to at the time…”

Fluttershy asked, “Who is Professor Gerald?”

Sonic spoke, “Eggman’s grandfather. He made contact with the comet and got Black Doom, the Black Arms’ leader, to help him in exchange for the Chaos Emeralds the next time the Black Comet passed by.”

Cadance asked, “What was he doing that he needed to contact aliens for help?”

Twilight answered, “Project Shadow.”

Shining Armor stiffened up at the sound of that name and he nearly stopped dead in his tracks. “‘Project Shadow’?” he muttered. Although he kept walking, he looked back over his shoulder at Twilight and asked, “Does that ‘project’ have anything to do with the black hedgehog we met earlier, Twily?”

Twilight, despite being surprised by her brother’s reaction, answered, “Uh, yes, Shining.”

The white stallion looked at Sonic, the blue hedgehog walking close to his right side with his arms behind his head, and asked, “So Shadow is an extraterrestrial creation?”

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah, Shadow’s part alien. So what, dude?”

Shining nearly fell over right then. “So what?! That’s all you have to say?!”

Sonic replied, “Well, what do you want me to say? He may be part alien, but that’s not who he is.”

Shining grunted, “Well, he sure seems like he’s not afraid to become that. You saw that whole thing earlier.”

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah, I did. I also told you to leave him alone and you pushed me aside. So I don’t think you have any room to talk, Shiny.” Shining looked more exasperated at that.

Rarity spoke up, “Forgive me if it sounds like I’m being ungrateful, but I have to agree with him somewhat, Sonic. Shadow may have helped us force the changelings out of Ponyville, but what he was about to do to Shining Armor earlier would have been inexcusable. And even you were going to try to stop him when he looked like he was about to.... how can I say this nicely… depose Queen Chrysalis.”

Sonic replied, “Just because I wouldn’t normally do some of the things he’s shown himself to be capable of doing doesn’t mean I’m against him in any way, Rarity. Sometimes you’ve got to be willing to push it in order to help more people. The fact that a spirit of chaos had to be turned into stone by your Elements of Harmony to help Equestria should be proof of that.”

Rarity thought about that for a moment before starting, “Well, yes, but…”

Shining interrupted her, “Look, since you know so much about the guy, why don’t you tell me why you find him so respectable? Because from what I’ve seen and heard, the only thing great about him is whatever power he has, and he nearly turned it on me before.”

Sonic replied, “That’s because you didn’t stop talking. Even I try to curb the jokes and stuff when I’m around him.”

Tails commented, “The keyword in this case being ‘try’.”

Sonic continued, “And he’s not really someone you can talk about and expect other people to get it. You have to see him in action for yourself to really understand.”

Cadance spoke, “Well, I guess that’s true. He did seem rough around the edges, so to speak, but I could sense that his emotions were pure.” She smiled softly, “Whatever happened to him may have scarred him, but he’s still a good… person deep down.”

Shining Armor tried not to show it, but he could hardly believe that his wife said that. “Cadance too now?” he thought to himself.

Suddenly, Pinkie Pie exclaimed, “Look, there’s a ladder!” She pointed past Shining Armor and Sonic, the rest of the group looking to see said ladder attached to the wall and leading straight up just like the first one.

Rainbow brought her hooves down on Sonic and Tails’ shoulders and said, “Let’s check it out!” They both nodded and the three of them ran over to the ladder, Sonic climbing it while Tails and Rainbow raised themselves up beside him.

While they were climbing up, Shining, just like the others, was watching them, but he was thinking to himself while he watched. “I’m kind of starting to get why Sonic is respected, but this Shadow guy? What has he done that’s so heroic or great?” he wondered.

At the top of the ladder, the three investigators found that the opening had a different cover than the first one they tried. Reaching up and pushing against it, they found that it moved! “Yes! Hey, we got a winner here!” Rainbow called to the others. They all began to gather around the ladder while Sonic and Tails pushed the cover up enough to make sure it wasn’t blocked and peered out from underneath it.

The two couldn’t see much from where they were looking, obviously, but they could see that it seemed to be quiet outside and they could make out some minor details. “Kind of looks like an alley, doesn’t it?” Tails asked.

“I’d have to agree, buddy. It should be okay to poke our heads out,” Sonic replied. He pushed the cover off to the side and climbed out onto the pavement, Tails and Rainbow Dash flying out and landing by him.

DARK AND GRITTY

They looked around; they could see everything in the alley, but it appeared to be very dark and gritty. A quick glance up shed some light on that; the sky was red and filled with similarly-colored clouds.

“What the hay…?” Rainbow Dash muttered at the sight of the sky.

“Sonic? Tails? Rainbow Dash? Is it safe to come out?” Cadance called from the sewer.

Sonic called back, “Yeah. It’s not very inviting, though, just as a heads-up.” Although confused, Spike and the ponies made their way up the ladder and joined the trio in the alley.

After they all had their initial shocks to what could be seen of the area, Fluttershy murmured, “W-Where are we?”

While looking at one of the buildings around them, Twilight said, “Look at the size of these buildings. This looks like that city we entered through the portal in the Carousel Boutique.”

Applejack nodded, “You’re right, Twi’. This place does look familiar.”

Rainbow asked, “So why does it look so… dark now?”

Rarity nodded, “Indeed! How dare a portal leading to such a dismal reflection of Manehattan appear in my Boutique?” She then realized what she said and looked at Sonic and Tails, saying, “Er, no offense.”

Tails replied, “None taken.” Sonic nodded; Tails then looked up and said, “It doesn’t normally look like this. There was only one time I can think of when the sky and the city looked like this.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, if things are this dark and ominous-looking, there’s only one point in time that this could be.”

Before anyone could ask, they suddenly heard a sound coming from the alley entrance. Everyone looked towards the other end of the alley, where they saw a four-wheeled vehicle drive past. They all moved towards the alleyway opening as more vehicles drove past, some looking similar to the first one that passed, others looking bigger. As best as they could tell, it appeared to be some kind of convoy

Sonic, Tails, Twilight, and Shining Armor reached the alley opening first and peered around the corner to the right; they saw the last vehicle in the convoy going straight for a second before it made a left turn. Before it turned, they saw a stylized ‘G’ emblazoned on a tank on the back of the vehicle.

“What was that?” Twilight asked.

“That was a car, a G.U.N. jeep to be exact,” Sonic replied.

“‘G.U.N.’? What’s that?” Shining asked.

“It’s our world’s military force. G.U.N. is short for ‘Guardian Unit of Nations’,” Tails answered.

Sonic continued, “We’ve been involved with them before, particularly when Eggman released Shadow from the military base and they thought I was him, and during the Black Arms’ invasion.” Looking up at the sky, he added, “And from the look of it, we landed somewhere in the middle of the latter.”

Rarity complained, “Oh dear, and I thought those sewers were bad enough! I think we should leave this place right now!”

Fluttershy murmured, “I wouldn’t mind leaving either…”

Applejack looked at Rarity and asked, “Rarity, what’s with you? Ah know ya got yer fanciness and whatnot ta think about, but ya never said anythin’ like that when we reached the Changeling Kingdom!”

Rarity protested, “Our sisters were being held captive, Applejack! I wasn’t going to leave Sweetie Belle to Queen Chrysalis’ mercies any more than you would Apple Bloom, but we’re time traveling right now! What reason is there for us to get involved here?” A second later, several loud explosions were heard nearby, coming from the street that the G.U.N. convoy had turned onto!

Sonic dashed out of the alley at that, saying, “That’s all the reason I need to get involved!” Tails and Rainbow Dash were quick to fly after him, the rest of the group, including Rarity and Fluttershy, following after them as they headed around the corner. Once they all reached the street, they saw the scene that awaited them.

MEDICAL SITUATION

The street and the sidewalk sported smoking craters in multiple places over two blocks worth of street, and the convoy had been broken up. The jeeps, while still on their wheels, were scattered and the larger vehicles, which were blue G.U.N. transports with the ‘G’ on their sides, had taken the worst of whatever just happened. The closest one to the group was on its side with a soldier lying in the street nearby, the second was partly stuck in one of the craters, and the third had crashed into the side of one of the buildings. They couldn’t see much from where they were, but it seemed that all the remaining G.U.N. soldiers were out in the street.

Sonic ran over to the soldier in the street and checked him to make sure he was alive as the others came over. The soldier began to stir as Sonic shook him; as he raised his head up a bit, Sonic asked him, “Hey, are you all right?!”

The soldier muttered, “Sonic…?”

Sonic persisted, “Yeah, are you all right? What happened?”

The soldier groaned, “The transport fell over on its side… I got thrown out when it did…” He suddenly seemed to remember something as he forced himself up into a sitting position and grabbed Sonic’s shoulders while saying, “It was the black aliens! They fired their lasers from above! They… They might be sending troops to this location now! They want the other transports!”

Tails got next to Sonic and put a hand on the man’s shoulder, saying, “Hey, calm down! What are in the transports?”

The soldier answered, “Ours was carrying the assigned backup for the unit, but the others… There are civilians in them!”

Tails and a few of the others gasped, “What?!”

Sonic looked at the transport and dashed over to it, getting around to the back of it and getting one of the doors open. Inside, the soldiers were all sprawled out and dazed, some looking injured. One of them groaned, “Medic…”

Sonic looked and saw two square-shaped medical kits that had survived the crash. Any others in the back had burst open, their supplies lying amidst all the soldiers. Sonic grabbed the kits and looked over the soldiers. He thought for a moment about what to do before stepping out of the transport and yelling, “Fluttershy, get over here!”

The shy pegasus flew over to him after a moment, stopping just above him. “Y-Yes, Sonic?” she stammered.

The blue hedgehog handed her one of the medical kits and said, “Do what you can to help these guys. I’ll go help the other guy.” Looking down at the red cross on the kit, Fluttershy felt the veterinarian part of her animal caretaking come to her and she gave Sonic a determined look as she nodded. She then flew into the transport while Sonic carried the other medical kit over to the soldier, whom Twilight and Cadance had already moved onto the sidewalk at Fluttershy’s insistence. Taking a look at the front of the transport, Sonic saw that Tails was already working on saving the other soldier who had been in the front before the fall. Sonic knelt down near the soldier and asked, “How’s he looking?”

Twilight looked at him and said, “He doesn’t seem to be too bad, but he keeps saying you should go check on the rest of the soldiers and the other transports.”

Cadance’s magic wrapped around the medical kit in Sonic’s hand and took it from him, the Princess of Love saying, “Twilight and I will treat his injuries along with any his friend might have, Sonic. You and the others should do what he says and make sure everyone else is all right.” Shining Armor opened his mouth to say something, but Cadance silenced him with a stern, “That includes you, Shining Armor. You may be a prince now, but you were still Captain of the Royal Guard before you married me, and you still technically are. Go do your job!”

Now cowed, Shining Armor felt his time spent training take over as he answered, “Y-Yes, ma’am! Er, Cadance!” He, Sonic, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity then took off, running past the first transport and leaving Tails, Spike, and the other ponies to work.

BATTLE IN THE STREETS

The soldiers in the jeeps and the other two transports seemed to have come out fairly fine, though the soldiers that had been in the transports were focusing on making sure the civilians were okay first. The rest of them were using wrecked cars along the side of the road and debris from the buildings for cover as approaching them was a horde of Black Warriors. The G.U.N. soldiers had rifles and submachine guns, but it seemed that the weapons that the Black Arms had were keeping them from coming out and wrecking their cover.

The remainder of the group sprung into action. While Applejack and Rarity went to help the soldiers with the civilians (the soldiers calming down somewhat once they learned that the ponies were with Sonic), Sonic, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Shining Armor moved to help the soldiers fighting off the Black Arms. Sonic leapt into the exchange of projectiles with Rainbow Dash staying close by above him, and Shining Armor and Pinkie Pie joined the other soldiers, Shining using his magic to attack like the soldiers were while Pinkie brought out her party cannon.

Although the new additions to the fight took the G.U.N. soldiers by surprise, it also surprised the Black Warriors and G.U.N. was able to take advantage of that. Sonic and Rainbow Dash weaved between the black aliens, occasionally striking when they had a chance but mostly leaving them confused to give Shining and the soldiers a chance to attack. Pinkie’s party cannon, while its loud noise threw both sides off, did help distract the Black Arms for Sonic, Rainbow, and Shining Armor to get some attacks in.

It wasn’t long before all of the Black Warriors were lying on the ground, trying to recover. Seeing this, one of the soldiers called to Sonic, “Clear out! We’ll take care of them from here!” Going off the soldier’s tone of voice, the hedgehog could guess what he meant. He quickly got Rainbow Dash to come with him and they, along with Pinkie and Shining, went to go check on Rarity and Applejack. Once they were safely away, the same soldier called, “Frag out!” as he threw a grenade at the recovering Black Arms…

A few minutes later…

“Thanks for the help, Sonic. Things could have gotten really messy if you, Tails, and your new friends hadn’t shown up,” the soldier the group had rescued earlier told the blue hedgehog, his buddy nodding as well. It had taken a little time, but thanks to some unicorn and alicorn magic and a little cooperation, the group had helped G.U.N. secure the area, get the transports back up, and move the injured soldiers. Most of the convoy was ready to start moving again; only the last transport, its escorts, and the soldiers that hadn’t been badly injured didn’t seem ready to go.

“Sure, no problem, but what’s going on?” Sonic asked as the other two transports and their escorts started up and began to pull away.

The two soldiers looked at each other before the first one looked back at Sonic and explained, “We got our orders from the Commander. After the Black Comet appeared, we received orders to locate any civilians unaccounted for and get them to the shelters.” He looked to the left and said, “Look, you can see it from here.” Everyone looked in the same direction, and sure enough, they could see a huge, meteorite-like structure floating above the top of the buildings with what looked like roots coming off of it.

“Whoa… That’s the Black Comet?” Rainbow Dash gaped.

“It’s so… so massive. But how did it get there?” Twilight asked.

Tails explained, “The Black Arms… They teleported it down using Chaos Control.” He held a hand to the side of his face, “That must’ve been the rumbling we felt earlier. It wasn’t an earthquake; it was the Black Comet securing itself.”

The soldier nodded, “Once we saw that, we knew exactly why the Commander sent those orders. We managed to rescue all the citizens that were on those transports, but intelligence suggests there may still be more in the city.”

ALLYING WITH G.U.N.

Shining Armor asked, “Is there still time to rescue them?”

The soldier answered, “There should be, but after that attack from above earlier, we could use a little help.”

Sonic looked at the others and asked, “What do you guys think?”

Applejack nodded at Rarity, “Yeah, Rarity, ya got any objections now?”

Rarity huffed, “No! Now that I know what’s really going on here, of course I’ll help! What do you take me for?!”

While the ponies thought about that one, Sonic and Tails turned back to the soldier, the former saying, “All right, what do you want us to do?”

The soldier replied, “All of my available men will go with you to help in the search and so we can maintain contact. Because of that, we’re not really going to have someone available to help with any injured you come across. If you can spare a, uh… person or two to help, that would really help us all out.”

Fluttershy spoke up, “Um, I’ll stay behind to help, if that’s okay with everypony.” Everybody turned to look at her.

The G.U.N. soldier spoke after a moment, “Well, you did do a good job helping with our injured men earlier, ma’am.” He looked at Sonic, “Is that all right, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “Yeah, sure. I figured she might want to stay behind anyway.” After about a minute more of talking, it was decided that Spike and Pinkie Pie would stay behind with Fluttershy to both help with the injured and help the soldiers track everyone’s location/progress. Tails, Shining Armor, and Princess Cadance went with one of the other soldiers in one of their jeeps, Twilight and Applejack went with two other soldiers in the other jeep, and Sonic and Rarity went with the rest of the soldiers with Rainbow Dash flying above to get a birds-eye view.

RESCUE MISSIONS

It wasn’t long before word was sent to Tails’ group that there was a nearby sign of human life. As their jeep neared the four-way intersection that they had been pointed to, they saw a large black alien wielding a big purple sword standing in the middle of the intersection! “What is that?!” Cadance exclaimed.

“It’s one of the larger black aliens! They’re pure muscle!” the soldier said.

The four of them then heard a scream coming from their left, where they saw a car sitting in the middle of the left street. “Someone’s trapped in that car!” Tails gasped.

Stopping the jeep, the soldier grabbed his submachine gun and said, “It’s going after whoever’s in the car! We’ve got to distract it!” Climbing out of the driver’s seat, he loaded his weapon and ran towards the alien (a Black Oak).

Shining Armor looked at Tails and asked, “Tails, if I help him distract that alien, can you get whoever’s in that car thing out?”

Tails nodded, “You got it!” Shining nodded and jumped out of the jeep, joining the soldier as he opened fire on the Black Oak.

Tails readied himself to fly, but Cadance placed a hoof on the fox’s shoulder and, when he turned his head to look at her, said, “I’m coming with you. There may be more than one human in there.” Tails took a moment to look at the Black Oak; seeing that it had turned its attention to Shining Armor and the soldier, he nodded and both he and Cadance took flight, flying over the alien and landing near the car.

The car itself had suffered some damage, as was to be expected. It had many scratches and dents, but the frame seemed to have survived well enough. This was a good thing, seeing as there was a little kid in the backseat and his mother was as terrified as he was at the sight of the black alien. Upon seeing Tails and Cadance running towards the car, the mother cried, “Help us! Please!”

Once they reached the car and saw the mother’s reaction, Cadance said, “Don’t worry, we’re going to get you out of here!”

Tails went to the left back door and tried to open it, but saw that it was locked. He looked at the mother and called, “Your doors are locked!” Although she was scared, the mother understood Tails and Cadance were trying to help and released the lock. Tails then grabbed the handle again and, after a few seconds of pulling, got the door open. While he comforted the kid and helped him out, Cadance mimicked his actions and got the driver’s door open with relative ease.

As the mother started to climb out and Tails held her son in his arms, Shining yelled, “Cadance, Tails, look out!” They all turned to see the Black Oak lumbering towards them, the alien having blocked the earlier shots with its hand and now intending to finish what it started despite Shining Armor and the soldier’s continuing attack.

Focusing her magic into her horn, Cadance wrapped it around the mother and said, “Hang on!” She then spread her wings and Tails started rotating his namesakes, both of them taking off as the Black Oak swung its sword down at them. They avoided it and flew back to the jeep while the alien’s sword slammed down onto the car’s engine, which caused it to explode in its face.

Cadance and Tails landed by the jeep a second later and helped the mother and her son into it as Shining Armor and the soldier ran over. Not wanting to know if the black alien survived, they all piled into the jeep and the soldier turned it around, driving away before anything else could attack them.

Elsewhere in the city, Sonic and Rarity had found a pair of abandoned Air Saucers and were using them to cross a part of the city that was covered in green toxic liquid while Rainbow Dash helped the G.U.N. soldiers find a way around to their target. Upon reaching the other side of the liquid safely, they continued riding their saucers through a tunnel, getting off of them when they got out of the tunnel and running up a nearby slope.

At the top of the slope, the road flattened out and they found a Black Oak with its back turned to them. The message the soldiers had received indicated there should be a survivor at the top of the slope, but they couldn’t see anyone besides the alien. “Where is the human? Did we go up the wrong slope?” Rarity wondered.

Sonic started, “I don’t know. Maybe…” A scream from in front of the alien stopped him. He then said, “Nope, we got it right!” He then ran towards the alien, shouting, “Hey, tall, dark, and ugly, leave ‘em alone!” The Black Oak heard him and turned around to face him. In its right hand was a large club, and in its left hand…

Sonic gasped and slid to a stop when he saw the man being held in its left hand. If he’d kept going, he might’ve hit the man by accident! The alien raised its club over its head; Rarity saw this and called, “Sonic, look out!” The blue hedgehog managed to backflip out of the way in time and slid back across the ground. He then dashed towards it, but it held the human up again, causing Sonic to break off and try to run around it. He managed to get behind it, but after attacking it, it swung its right arm back and knocked him into the nearby building. Rarity gasped and ran to his side after he landed on the ground. She was relieved to find that he was okay, but then the Black Oak raised its club, aiming for both of them…

A loud shout filled the air and suddenly, a cyan blur followed by a rainbow trail struck the side of the Black Oak’s head, making it turn to the side! Rarity and Sonic looked up to see Rainbow Dash with one of her back hooves firmly planted in the side of its face. She shot them both a look and Sonic and Rarity nodded. Sonic leapt to his feet and performed a Homing Attack on the alien’s left arm, causing it to drop the human it had in its grasp onto Rarity’s back, the unicorn having run over to catch him while Sonic attacked. She then took off, quickly running back down the slope.

Sonic and Rainbow then backed off, both landing near the slope next to each other. Sonic looked at Rainbow and said, “Thanks, Dash. I owe you one.” Rainbow just gave him a knowing wink.

The Black Oak roared and looked ready to attack them, but then the sound of gunshots filled the air. Sonic and Rainbow Dash ran down the slope as the G.U.N. soldiers Rainbow was helping reached the top, all of them unloading their bullets on the black alien. Unlike the one Tails, Shining Armor, and Cadance had encountered, this one could not block their bullets with its hands, so it ended up taking the rain of bullets for a couple of seconds before it finally fell.

In another part of the city, Twilight, Applejack, and the two soldiers they had come with hid behind some debris. On the other side of the debris, a small group of humans were being circled by a group of Black Warriors looking to take them back to the Black Comet to feed their young. One of the soldiers whispered, “This is a dangerous situation.”

The other soldier nodded, “Yeah. If we try to take down those aliens while those civilians are there, they’re bound to get hit too.”

Twilight suggested, “There might be a way for us to get them out of there quickly.” She looked back at Applejack and asked, “Applejack, do you think you could…?”

The orange earth pony smiled, “Sure thing, Twi’. Just find me an opening.”

Twilight went back to peering around the edge of the debris at that with Applejack at her side, watching as the Black Warriors circled their prey like vultures. When she could see a straight shot, just when it looked like the aliens were about to move in, Twilight yelled, “NOW!” At her signal, Applejack leapt out from behind cover with a lasso in her mouth. Just as the Black Warriors were starting to react to their surprise guests, Applejack threw her lasso and caught all the humans in the hoop, giving a sharp tug to pull them out of the middle of the circle.

Twilight caught the humans in her magic and, while she held them, Applejack gave the debris they’d been hiding behind a sharp buck, sending pieces flying at the Black Arms. The flying bits of stone were enough to cause them to shield themselves, giving Twilight and Applejack time to get away with the humans. While they were getting the humans to safety, the two soldiers stepped out of cover as well, opening fire on the aliens when one of them shouted, “Light ‘em up!”

All three parties managed to drop their charges off soon after rescuing them, and they were able to rescue a couple more surviving citizens before they were called off. While Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Spike treated the wounds of the last survivors brought in, the rest of the group stood close to the front of the transport, the ponies listening in as the driver talked to Sonic. “Once again, we can’t thank you and your friends enough, Sonic. I don’t know how you and Tails came to be here, since the last word was that you were both on the Black Comet, or where you met your new friends, but we won’t forget this,” the soldier assured them.

Sonic replied, “Hey, we were glad to help out.”

The other soldier in the transport leaned over and asked, “Hey, what happened on that Black Comet anyway? And what happened with Shadow?”

Sonic and Tails looked at each other before Tails answered, “Don’t worry. It’ll all become clear soon.”

The two soldiers looked confused, but suddenly, a beeping came from the computer built into the transporter’s dashboard. Both soldiers looked at it, the second one saying after a moment, “We’re getting some kind of transmission over the G.U.N. network!”

The first soldier said, “Patch it through!” The soldier did as he was told; static filled the computer screen for several seconds before the flickering image of a man with a white, familiar-looking mustache appeared on it.

GERALD'S LAST MESSAGE TO SHADOW

Everyone in the area, including the other soldiers, then heard a voice say, “Shadow, my son.”

One of the soldiers outside asked, “What the…?”

Twilight asked, “What’s going on?”

The voice continued, “If you’re listening to this, then the worst has happened… You need to know the truth. The government plans to shut down this research facility. The government plans to cease all of our research… and imprison all who know about you. I made a terrible mistake, Shadow. It’s all my fault… making contact with that comet.”

Tails breathed, “Professor Gerald…”

Gerald continued, “Now, listen very carefully… In fifty years, the Black Comet will return… They plan to harness its powers to destroy this planet! The only way to stop them… was to develop a way to use the very power they intended to use against them.”

Sonic murmured, “And you did.”

Gerald went on, “Shadow… It’s up to YOU and only YOU can stop them! I developed the Eclipse Cannon… It’s the only weapon that can destroy that Black Comet. Shadow, you are the only hope… to save mankind as we know it. The future of this planet depends on… YOU!”

The two soldiers saw a girl join the Professor on the screen, followed by her saying, “Don’t worry, grandfather. Shadow and I will protect this planet. Right, Shadow?”

Silence ruled the air for several moments, nobody sure what to say. Finally, Sonic looked at the soldiers in the transporter and said, “You guys had better get going. Get these people to a safe place and all that.”

The driver muttered, “Uh, yeah, right…” He pulled the door closed and spoke into his radio, “Mount up! We’re moving out!” The order brought the other soldiers back to their senses and they complied, either climbing into the jeeps or into the back of the transporter with the rescued survivors. Sonic, Tails, Spike, and the ponies stood on the sidewalk, watching as the vehicles started and drove off, likely going to wherever the other vehicles had been ordered to go.

Everyone watched as the vehicles drove away. After they disappeared around the corner, Twilight looked at Tails and asked, “Was that really Professor Gerald Robotnik?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah. That was his final message to Shadow before the ARK was shut down.”

Sonic added glumly, “Before he went insane when he lost his granddaughter Maria and tried to get revenge…”

Everyone, especially Shining Armor, was silenced at that. “Maybe… Was I too hasty in judging Shadow?” the white stallion wondered.

FIGHTING IN THE SKY

A bright yellow flash appeared in the sky a few seconds later, catching everyone’s attention. Amidst the thick red clouds above, they could see a devilish-looking creature and a smaller, yellow figure flying/hovering in the air. “What’s that?!” Applejack asked.

After a moment, Tails said, “It’s Super Shadow and Black Doom. We’d better leave.”

Pinkie whined, “Aw, can’t we stay and watch?”

Sonic looked at her, “No, we can’t. Black Doom is going to do whatever it takes to stop Shadow, including pull parts of this city out of the ground. If we don’t leave, he might just pull us up too!”

Shining grunted, “That’s a… good point.” He followed Sonic and Tails off the sidewalk onto the street along with the others, Tails reaching into his namesakes to retrieve the Warp Ring.

Before he could pull it out, Twilight exclaimed, “Wait!”

Everyone turned to look back at her and saw her frozen in place, one hoof in the air and a shocked expression on her face. “Twilight, what’s wrong?” Cadance asked, concerned.

“I… I can’t move!” she struggled to say.

Rainbow Dash laughed, thinking it was a joke. “Good one, Twi’! Is this like that time you were planning to stand in one place for a week?” As she was speaking, she flew over to the unicorn. She then tapped Twilight on the side of her head with a hoof, only to watch in shock as Twilight fell over easily. “Uh, Twilight?” she asked.

She turned her head to look back at Sonic as he gasped, “Uh…! Hey… I’m freezing up too!” Applejack and Rarity soon started to freeze in place as well.

“What’s going on?!” Spike cried.

As he looked his friends over, Tails soon came to a conclusion that scared him. “This… That gas from the Black Comet… How long have we been breathing it in?!” he cried.

Cadance looked at him worriedly, “What are you talking about? What gas?”

As he brought the Warp Ring out, Tails explained, “There’s a gas that the Black Comet gives off. It’s a nerve gas. If you’re not at least part Black Arm, it’ll paralyze you once it enters your system.” He tossed the Warp Ring and it grew to its full size; he then said, “We’ve got to get out of here, away from the Black Comet.” He ran over to Sonic and grabbed him by the shoulders, dragging him towards the ring. Shining Armor, Cadance, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Spike likewise did the same for Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack, the ring vanishing once they had all gone through it.

The group reappeared in a dimly lit metal hallway, the design seeming modern yet futuristic. “Where are we, Tails?” Rainbow asked once she saw their surroundings.

The fox replied, “Space Colony ARK. There’s plenty of fresh air here, and we should have enough time for that gas to get out.”

Cadance asked, “Is there anything we can do to make it go quicker?”

Tails shook his head, “It’ll get out on its own. As long as they keep breathing normal air, it shouldn’t take long.”

Sonic could feel some movement return to his eyes, allowing him to look around a little. “Hey… aren’t we near the control room?” he asked.

Tails looked around and, after a moment, said, “Uh… yeah, we are.”

The fox put his right hand on his chin, seemingly thinking for a moment before turning and running down the hallway. “Tails, where are you going?!” Spike shouted.

Tails called back over his shoulder, “I’ll be right back! There’s something I want to check!” Before anyone could say anything else, the fox disappeared. Left with no other choice, everyone decided to keep an eye on Sonic, Twilight, Applejack, and Rarity.

READY FOR THE FUTURE

After a few minutes, they began to regain full movement of everything. As they were shaking off the remaining stiffness, Shining asked Sonic, “So this is a real space colony? Like, actually in outer space?”

While shaking his left leg, Sonic replied, “Yeah, it sure is, dude.”

Shining’s eyes became starry, the stallion holding his hooves up to his mouth as he whispered, “Wow… So awesome…”

While Cadance gave him a flat look, Sonic looked at him with a raised eyebrow when he looked back at him. Twilight leaned over to him and whispered, “Shining is kind of a dork, just so you know.” The blue hedgehog snickered at that.

Tails returned a few seconds later, panting slightly. “There ya are, Tails! Where’d ya run off to?” Applejack asked.

The two-tailed fox replied, “I went to go check on the Eclipse Cannon. Just as I thought, it’s already charging up. All Shadow has to do is teleport the Black Comet back into space and fire the cannon at it.”

Shining asked, “That’s what you were doing?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah. I was curious, and I was sure everything would be fine since we were already paralyzed by that gas once.” He pulled the Warp Ring out and said, “So we should go now.” He let the ring fall and it grew to its full size.

Before anyone could move, Rainbow Dash asked, “Wait, what about Shadow?”

Sonic spoke, “Don’t worry about him. This is his fight against his own darkness… and he’ll see it through to the end. Because that’s who he is.” Although Spike and the ponies were still concerned about the black hedgehog, they accepted this explanation and everyone went through the Warp Ring, returning the inside of the ARK to silence once again.

Although they were not around to see it, when Super Shadow teleported onto the ARK a few minutes later after teleporting the Black Comet back into space, Tails’ earlier check-up ensured that the Eclipse Cannon was fully charged when he arrived. Like the fox had said, very shortly after the comet was returned to space, the cannon was fired at it, destroying it and wiping out most of the Black Arms, leaving only a scattered amount still on Earth that would soon be destroyed as well when Shadow began his training.

And despite what others might say to them, the G.U.N. soldiers and humans that the group had saved on this day would never forget the ones who helped them. This was another day that would be remembered by the people of Earth for a long time to come, and those who had been saved from being killed by the Black Arms would not forget their saviors.

Fun and Games Pt. I: Twinkle Park

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GETTING CLOSER

The Warp Ring deposited Sonic and the others along the left side of the Friendship Express close enough to the engine that they could all see that the barrier that had forced them to stop earlier was dissipating, soon vanishing completely and revealing the train tracks that lay beyond it. Some distance ahead, they could see the mountain range that Canterlot was connected to, the tunnel that the train would have to pass through to reach the side of the mountain range not too far ahead of where they had stopped.

“Is that where we have to go to get to Canterlot?” Sonic asked while looking at the mountain range.

“That’s right, Sonic. Once we reach the side of that mountain range, there’s just one more tunnel to pass through and then we should be able to go straight to Canterlot,” Twilight said.

Tails looked over at her and smirked, “Unless we encounter any more portals along the way, right?”

Twilight sighed, “Exactly.”

Applejack spoke up, “Well, let’s get goin’, then! Time’s a-wastin’!” Rainbow Dash agreed with that sentiment and zipped back onto the train, the others moving over to the train and climbing in after her. Tails and Pinkie took the engine and soon got the Friendship Express going again, the portal the group had gone through earlier pulsing weakly as the train moved past it.

Pinkie and Tails weren’t the only ones up front; instead of going back to their normal seats, the rest of the group all moved up towards the front of the train again, Fluttershy, Shining Armor, Cadance, and Twilight standing in the engine while Sonic, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, and Spike stayed in the adjacent car.

Sonic stood with his back against the wall to the right (from the back of the car) of the door, his arms crossed over his chest while Rainbow Dash plopped down with her forelegs behind her head to the left of the door, Applejack laid down against the car’s right wall, and Rarity and Spike stood between her and the front of the car, Spike turning his head to look in Applejack’s direction while Rarity looked at Sonic and Rainbow.

Except for the sounds of the train chugging along, silence ruled the air around the group for several moments before Applejack reached up and took her hat off with her right hoof while sighing, “Hoo-wee! That whole mess in Central City sure was somethin’, huh?”

Rarity spoke, “Oh, absolutely! I cannot believe those horrible black aliens caused so much damage to one place and left so many people in danger. How did they ever get away with it?”

Sonic spoke up, “During the reconstruction, Knuckles said the Black Arms planted bombs all around the city and even brought some kind of big bombs to level the city even faster. At least he and Shadow managed to stop them, or Central City probably would’ve ended up at least as bad as Westopolis did at the start of the Black Arms’ invasion.”

Twilight, along with Fluttershy, Shining, and Cadance, moved a little closer to the door as she asked, “Westopolis?”

Sonic turned his head towards the door and said, “That’s where I ran into Shadow first, shortly after those aliens started their invasion. I can’t remember the specific details, but I do remember it was one of the more heavily hit areas.”

Tails turned away from the engine, leaving Pinkie to the controls, and stepped closer to the ponies around the door before saying, “Actually, it was the area that was hit the hardest. I caught it over the G.U.N. radio during the invasion; out of the six cities around the world that were invaded at the start, they said Westopolis took the most damage, with downtown Westopolis being almost completely destroyed.”

Shining Armor shook his head, “That’s unbelievable. I mean, I can believe it after seeing Central City, but still…”

From where she was laying down, Rainbow Dash threw her hooves up as she groaned, “Ugh! Whoever was in charge back then shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions about what that Gerald guy was doing! If they’d given him a chance and listened, maybe some of that destruction could’ve been avoided!” Twilight glanced down at the floor at that, an unwelcome sensation coming to the back of her mind and trying to spread from there.

Sonic spoke, “I don’t know if it would’ve helped, Dash. Fifty years is a long time; who knows what those black aliens could’ve encountered out in space during that time. When the Black Comet passed by again, it probably wasn’t fifty years on the dot.”

Cadance said, “You may have a point, Sonic. If they had gotten everything ready for the Black Arms’ return and too much time went by without anything happening, they could have let their guard down. At least, from what I saw, it seemed like they were handling the crisis well, all things considered.” Twilight’s thoughts began to calm a little at Sonic and Cadance’s words, though she closed her eyes and shook her head to try to completely calm them.

Rainbow sighed, “Still, the guy was researching immortality because he was trying to save his granddaughter’s life. Even if he hadn’t mentioned who he was doing it for, what made them think he was going to use it to conquer the world or anything like that?”

Spike shrugged, “Well, that message we heard earlier made it sound like they knew he had made contact with that comet and they figured he was going all mad scientist on the world.” Applejack smacked him across the back of his head with a hoof, Spike groaning as he rubbed the spot with a claw and asked, “What?!”

Tails spoke up, “It wasn’t just Shadow, Spike. It seems like most of the projects Gerald was working on were misinterpreted by the higher ups.”

Twilight, thankful for the chance to learn so she could focus, looked at him and asked, “Really? I know you said that the Chaos Drives he designed are still used today, and of course everything that led up to Shadow’s creation, but what else did he work on, Tails?”

Tails replied, “Well, I’m pretty sure he worked on the Artificial Chaos creatures that were left on board the ARK when it was shut down, and Eggman found one of his discoveries sometime after the Black Arms’ invasion, when reconstruction was nearing completion.”

Sonic thought for a moment about that, “When reconstruction was… Oh, you’re talking about Emerl, right Tails?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah.”

Fluttershy asked, “Who is… Emerl?”

Before Sonic or Tails could answer her, Pinkie exclaimed, “We’ve reached the tunnel! Deet deet!”

Everyone looked at her, Sonic and Rainbow Dash standing up straight to look through the doorway and Tails asking, “What was that, Pinkie?”

The party pony turned away from the controls and grinned, “A train whistle, silly!”

Sonic commented, “Sounded more like a football whistle to me.”

Pinkie stared for a moment before smacking the side of her head with her left hoof, “Ooh, yeah! That’s right! Hee hee hee! I got my whistles mixed up!” The train reached the tunnel seconds later, everyone deciding to leave what Pinkie said to her being her usual silly self as they were plunged into pitch blackness.

Shortly after the train entered the tunnel, Tails ears perked as he heard a faint beeping sound coming from his twin appendages. “Huh?” he uttered as he turned his head to look down at his tails before letting out a yelp and shielding his eyes, as did everyone else, as light unexpectedly appeared around the train, giving nobody’s eyes a chance to readjust.

While rubbing her eyes with a hoof, Rainbow groaned, “What the hay just happened?”

Tails rubbed his right hand against his eyes while he reached his left hand into his namesakes and retrieved his radar, the beeping now sounding louder. Holding it up and lowering his right hand to hold it in both hands, he checked the dual screens for several seconds before saying, “We just went through another portal! It must’ve been right there in the tunnel!”

Shining groaned, “What?!”

Twilight sighed, “So where are we now?”

UNEXPECTED DETOUR

Applejack and Sonic walked over to the two windows to Rainbow Dash’s right and looked out. Down below, they could see a large castle with a couple of towers and walkways that had swinging pirate ships, roller coaster tracks, shrubbery, flags, and several pools of water on or around it. “Looks like some kinda amusement park, Twi’,” Applejack said after a few moments.

Pinkie Pie gasped, “An amusement park?! Like Sweet Mountain?!” She dashed to the window in the engine and poked her head out. “Hey! That’s not Sweet Mountain out there!” she exclaimed.

Sonic chuckled and looked over at the pink pony saying, “No, it’s not, Pinkie. It’s Twinkle Park. Totally different amusement park. It’s on the ground.”

Pinkie looked disappointed at that, but she soon perked up, “It’s an amusement park! We should go on some rides while we’re here!”

Rainbow stuck her head through the doorway and protested, “Pinkie, we have to get to Canterlot, remember? We’re not stopping here!”

Tails looked out the window on the other side of the car and added, “There’s nowhere to get off, anyway. We’re way up off the ground!”

Princess Cadance walked over and peered over his head, taking a look for herself. “Well, at least we can get a good look at this park while we pass through. Provided the tracks keep going, that is.”

Both she and Tails looked towards the front of the engine, the latter saying “It looks that way, Princess Cadance. Just like before, it looks like the tracks will take us from one portal to the other.” Taking a closer look, he added, “Oh, heads up! It looks like we’re going down!” Sure enough, seconds later, the engine tilted downwards followed by the rest of the cars.

While everyone else braced themselves to keep from sliding all over, Pinkie continued to sit at the window, smiling as she looked out at the park. “This kind of reminds me of the rides at the Summer Wrap-Up Fair! Nothing like the log ride, but still fun!” She then noticed something and, after thinking about it for a second, wondered, “Hey, why are we slowing down?”

Sonic heard her from the adjacent car, having been wedged into the corner with Applejack and Rainbow Dash, and asked, “How can we be slowing down? We’re on an incline!”

Twilight, who was being held onto by her brother while Cadance helped Tails and Fluttershy to remain standing near the window, said, “I think she’s right, Sonic. Something seems a little off…!” Indeed, while it was hardly noticeable at first, everyone else on the train began to notice that they were indeed starting to slow down, even more so as it seemed like the train’s path began to straighten out. Seconds after the engine and the adjacent car straightened out, the forward momentum came to an end, the train coming to a complete stop.

“Why did we stop?” Spike asked a moment after everyone relaxed.

“I don’t know, Spike. Let me check something,” Tails said as he walked over to the opening to the engine’s boiler, peering inside when he was standing in front of it. “Plenty of coal in there… That’s not why we stopped…” he murmured. He stood up straight and looked up at the steam gauge with his left hand on his chin, “Why aren’t we getting any steam?”

Pinkie pointed at another gauge on the engine and said, “That glassy thing looks empty!”

Twilight looked at the gauge and, after a moment, said, “Pinkie, that’s the water gauge!”

Tails blinked, “Water? Uh-oh!” His namesakes began to spin around, the fox lifting off the ground and flying out through the engine’s window towards the front of the engine. The others decided to take this chance to step out for a moment, everyone getting out on the left side of the train. Looking around, they found that the train had stopped on the tracks just in front of a part of the castle, right in front of a set of stairs leading up to an archway in the castle wall. The engine and the adjacent car sat in front of the stairs while the rest of the cars were still up in the air, pointing slightly downwards.

Looking towards the front of the train, the group saw Tails hovering over the engine, peering down into one of the stacks on top of it. After a minute, he looked up and said, “We are out of water! That’s why we stopped!”

Rarity gasped, “What?! But how?!”

Tails shrugged, “All I can guess is that we used up a lot of it when the train went out of control earlier, plus all the stopping and starting we’ve had to do.”

Shining Armor spoke, “We’ll have to find more water to refill the engine before we can resume our journey.”

Applejack said, “Well, that won’t be a problem. Ah saw a bunch of water around this here castle while we were up there. We just grab some o’ that and put it in the train!”

Tails landed near the orange earth pony and crossed his arms, saying, “I don’t know, Applejack. I’m willing to bet the water here is treated with chlorine.”

Rainbow, who was hovering above the fox, raised an eyebrow, “Chlorine?”

Tails looked up at her and explained, “It’s what they put in swimming pools to keep them clean. I know there’s very little chance that plants could start growing in the train’s water tank, but I’m not sure putting chlorine in there is a good idea.”

Sonic thought for a moment before asking aloud, “Fish don’t like chlorine, do they?”

Tails looked at him and said, “Uh, I’m pretty sure they don’t. Why?”

Sonic turned and pointed towards the castle while saying, “I seem to remember there being a little pool on the other side of this castle, kind of like a pond. I didn’t stop and take a good look last time I was here, but I’m pretty sure there was something swimming around in there. If they keep fish in there, they probably don’t dump chlorine in that pool.”

Twilight looked at him and said, "That's... rather astute of you, Sonic."

The blue hedgehog grinned wryly at her, "Yeah, I'm totally... that word you just said." He looked at Tails and asked, "So what do you think, Tails?"

Tails replied, "If that’s the case, it should work." He turned and started walking towards the engine while saying, "I'll take a bucket with me and go check it."

He was about to reach the side of the engine when Rainbow Dash landed directly in front of him, her wings still spread out to her sides. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! If you're going, I'm going with you!"

Tails looked at her, "Rainbow Dash?"

The pegasus smirked, "You're not exactly the fastest flyer, Tails. No offense, but it might take a while to get the water we need if you have to fly back and forth. You tell me if it’s okay and I'll fly it back here for you. It'll get done much faster that way."

Tails smiled, "All right, if you insist." He spun his tails around and flew up over her into the engine, grabbing the coal bucket that was sitting on the floor against the wall. As he flew out through the window, Rainbow flew up beside him and they headed in the direction that Sonic had pointed to, searching for the pool.

After the two had disappeared from sight, Shining Armor looked at Sonic and asked, “Sonic, you were saying something about someone called ‘Emerl’ before all this happened, right? Who is that?”

As the hedgehog was about to respond, Cadance spoke up, “Why don’t we wait until Rainbow Dash and Tails get back and we get moving again? We’ll have plenty of time to talk on the train.”

Sonic shrugged, “Fine with me.” He looked at Shining Armor, “What about you?” Shining kind of shrugged in agreement as well, so Sonic took a seat on one of the steps nearby, Spike and a few of the ponies doing the same. While they were waiting, a mysterious shadowed figure spied on them from the other side of the train from between the cars with yellow eyes for a few moments before disappearing…

It wasn’t long before everyone’s head turned up at the sound of whooshing air. Rainbow Dash flew above them and came to a stop above the train engine with a shaking bucket held between her teeth. She dumped the contents of the bucket into the open stack on top of the engine before zipping off again. A moment after she took off, Tails flew down towards them, Sonic, Spike, Applejack, and Fluttershy standing up as he landed near the stairs.

As Rainbow Dash flew overhead with the bucket again, Applejack asked, “What is that pony doin’?”

Tails replied, “She’s filling the tank with water, just like she said she would.”

Sonic asked, “So does that mean we have a winner?”

Tails nodded, “Yep. You were right, Sonic. There are fish living in that pool, so it’s relatively free of treatment.”

While they were talking, Rainbow Dash dumped the second bucket of water into the engine’s tank and flew off to get another one. Everyone turned to look up at her when she returned the third time. After pouring the water down into the stack, she held the bucket in her right hoof, looked down at Tails, and asked, “Is that enough?”

Tails spun his namesakes around and flew into the engine’s cabin to check the water gauge before flying out to look down into the tank himself. After a couple of seconds of peering down, he looked up at Rainbow Dash and asked, “Can you get one more bucket? That should fill it up all the way.” Rainbow sighed, but saluted and shot towards the pool to fulfill the fox’s request. She returned seconds later and poured the water into the engine, tossing the bucket through the engine’s window when she was done.

Tails, who had landed by the others in the time the pegasus had been gone, said, “That ought to do it.”

Sonic nodded, “Let’s get going, then!” The others nodded and they all started moving towards the train, Rainbow Dash beginning to fly in through the engine’s window.

INTRUSIVE TOUR GUIDE

“Stop right there!” a male, slightly electronic voice yelled, causing the members of the group to stop or hesitate. Looking towards the stairs leading up to the castle, they saw what looked like one of the floating information monitors from around Station Square at the top of the stairs. As they looked up at it, a featureless face appeared on its screen and a pair of arms with white-gloved hands at their ends extended from the bottom of the monitor. It then floated down towards them, a glare on its face as it demanded, “What are you all doing here?”

Rainbow flew at the thing once it got to the bottom of the stairs, getting up in its… face as she asked, “What’s it matter to you, pal?! And who are you supposed to be anyway?!”

The monitor tapped her on the nose with its right hand, pushing her back on the last tap, and said, “I am the new host of Twinkle Park, and all of you are trespassing.”

Sonic asked, “Trespassing? This is an amusement park!”

The monitor moved to the side to look at the hedgehog and replied, “And you have to pay to get into an amusement park, do you not? None of you came in through the main entrance, so none of you paid the admission fee! Therefore, you are all trespassers!” It wagged its right finger at Sonic as it finished speaking.

Twilight spoke, “N-No, wait! We were just… We came here on this train! We just needed to get some water, so…”

The monitor cut her off, “I do not want to hear your excuses! I caught you, so now you all have to pay the price!” After a moment, it added, “Unless of course you all qualify for the special offer.”

Sonic raised an eyebrow, “Special offer?”

The monitor replied, “Cute couples get in for free.”

Sonic deadpanned, “Oh, right. THAT offer.”

Shining Armor and Princess Cadance stood together at that, Shining wrapping his hoof around Cadance and saying, “Well, if that’s the offer you have, then… we’re married!”

Cadance nodded, “Right! We’re a couple! We’ve been a couple for years and had our first anniversary recently!”

The monitor looked at them, seemingly intently, for several long moments before saying, “Very well then.” Relief flooded through the group at that, only to get crushed when the monitor asked, “And the rest of them?”

Shining asked, “Uh, what?”

The monitor explained, “A cute couple only pays for itself. If the rest of your guests are not cute couples as well, then they’ll have to pay the admission fee!”

Cadance’s eyes darted around as she stammered, “Uh… Well, I…” Her eyes fell on Sonic and noticed Twilight was standing to his left. She channeled her magic into her horn and wrapped the hedgehog in her light blue aura before forcibly sliding him next to Twilight, both of them grunting when they bumped together. The lavender unicorn glanced at Sonic while he looked over at Cadance as the pink alicorn said, “They’re together! They’re a couple too!”

Sonic turned to look at Twilight, both of them raising their eyebrows as they asked, “What?!”

Ignoring them and Spike’s snickering, Cadance used her magic to move Tails over to Fluttershy, Tails letting out a grunt while Fluttershy let out a yelp when they bumped. Cadance then looked at the monitor and said, “And they’re together too! Aren’t they such a cute couple?”

Tails and Fluttershy looked at each other in confusion, “Huh?”

By now, Spike seemed to realize what Cadance was doing and quickly ran to Rarity’s side. Even if they were just doing this to get through this sticky situation, the baby dragon had to suppress a big grin as he said, “And so are we! Isn’t that right, Rarity?”

Rarity also seemed to know what Cadance was up to, for she turned to Spike and wrapped a hoof around his shoulders as she replied, “Absolutely, my dear Spikey-Wikey!”

Cadance smiled, glad that they knew to play along, but Shining leaned over to remind her of something. “Cadance, this is a great idea, love, but there are three left and they’re all mares!” he whispered. The love alicorn’s eyes widened at that.

She turned her head to look at Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie. “And, uh, they’re, uh…” she stammered, trying to figure out what to say to save face.

“Whoa, hold it! When did all y’all become that friendly towards each other?” Applejack asked, referring to the two couples Cadance had picked out, not entirely sure what was going on.

Rainbow seemed to have more of an idea of what Cadance was doing, as she exclaimed, “Hey, why’d you put Sonic with Twilight?! They’re totally the opposite of each other! And what are we supposed to do?!”

Pinkie popped up behind the two ponies and said, “Silly Dashie, that’s easy! You and Applejack will go together to make a LOVELY couple!” She wrapped her forelegs around the two ponies, pulling them close to her and happily saying, “And Pinkie goes well with everypony, so why don’t we make it a threesome!”

Applejack and Rainbow looked at her like she was crazier than usual, shrieking, “WHAT?!?” Everyone else at least stole a glance at them, specifically at Pinkie, though Cadance soon turned back to the monitor and put on a wide, nervous grin, hoping it would buy it.

The love alicorn could swear, for a second, she heard what sounded like muffled snickering coming from the monitor. It then went quiet for a second before its face relaxed and it said, “Very well. You all appear to be cute couples, so none of you will have to pay admission after all.” Everyone let out a sigh of relief at that except for Rainbow and Applejack, both of whom were struggling to get out of Pinkie Pie’s ‘hug’. The monitor then spoke, “So as your host, allow me to do the honor of getting all of you couples started on your visit to Twinkle Park!”

Everyone looked back at it at that, Shining saying, “What? No, no, that won’t be necessary. Don’t trouble yourself…”

The monitor spread out its arms and managed to corral them all together before it said, “It’s no trouble at all. Once all you lovey-dovey couples get a taste of Twinkle Park, you won’t want to leave!” As it finished speaking, it somehow managed to push them all around the train and into the park. Even Spike couldn’t get away, pressed up against Rarity as he was (he could’ve squeezed out, but it WAS Rarity…). A few of them, including Sonic, Tails, Twilight, Shining Armor, Cadance, and Rainbow Dash managed to twist around and reach their hands/hooves out towards the train, but they were unable to do anything to get away.

________________________________________

HELPING THE CAKES

Cream and Mrs. Cake walked through the swinging doors into the back of Sugarcube Corner, Cream carrying Pumpkin Cake in her arms while Mrs. Cake kept an eye on Pound Cake while Cheese tried to keep him from flying off. They made their way over to the twins’ high chairs; when they reached them, Cheese led Pound Cake low enough for Mrs. Cake to get a hold of him and put him in his high chair while Cream put Pumpkin Cake in her chair. Once she was sure the twins were securely in their seats, Cup Cake turned to Cream and smiled, “Thank you so much for helping me with the twins, Cream dearie. It can be a bit hard keeping them under control when Pinkie Pie isn’t available.”

Cream and Cheese smiled back, the former saying, “It was no trouble at all, Mrs. Cake. I like helping others. Do you need help feeding them?”

As she turned to get the baby bottles, Cup Cake replied, “That’s okay, sweetie. I can take care of things from here. Why don’t you go and see how Amy is doing?” Cream nodded and, after giving Pound and Pumpkin Cake a smile, walked towards the delicious smell coming from the kitchen with Cheese at her side.

Inside, they found plenty of fresh confections lining the kitchen’s counters. Mr. Cake was busy arranging the treats that were finished while Amy was bending down to pull a tray of cupcakes out of the oven. Carrot Cake looked up from what he was doing and noticed Cream and Cheese. “Hi there, Cream, Cheese! Done with the twins?” he asked.

“Yes, Mr. Cake, sir. Is there anything I can help with?” the rabbit wondered.

“I think we’ve done enough baking for now. Can you girls help me carry everything out to the front?” Carrot Cake asked as Amy set the tray of cupcakes down on the counter.

“Oh, absolutely!” Cream answered with Cheese giving a happy squeak.

“Sure!” Amy nodded, brushing a hand down the front of the pink apron Mrs. Cake had given her.

While setting a few sweets on his back and balancing them, Mr. Cake said, “You girls have been such a big help. I have to admit I’m impressed by your baking skills.”

Cream picked up a tray of baguettes and said, “When my Mama is baking, she lets me help her in the kitchen.” Cheese nodded, flapping his wings furiously as he tried to pick up a muffin.

Amy spoke, “And I’ve done a lot of baking on my own. I have some neighbors who share recipes with me every so often.”

Mr. Cake nodded, “I see. That’s wonderful to hear!” He then began making his way to the front of the shop, Cream and Cheese following after him while Amy selected a cake to take.

After they had dropped their confections off, Amy, Cream, and Cheese went to go get the remaining treats while Carrot Cake walked over to Cup Cake and asked, “How are the twins doing?”

The cerulean mare replied, “I think it’s almost time for another nap. They’re starting to get sleepy.”

Carrot Cake smiled, but then frowned as he wondered, “Do you think they’re all okay?”

Cup Cake asked, “You mean Pinkie and all of her friends?”

Carrot Cake nodded, “Yeah. It’s been a while since they left for Canterlot. I hope nothing’s gone wrong.”

Cream, Cheese, and Amy had come out of the kitchen by this time and were listening in on the couple’s quiet conversation. Once they were done speaking, Cream spoke up, “Don’t worry about them. They’re going to be okay.”

Mr. and Mrs. Cake turned to look at them as Amy nodded, “Cream’s right. Those girls are going to be just fine.” She and Cream resumed walking as she continued, “It sounds like they’ve taken care of a lot of things together; I’m sure they know to stay together by now, and besides, they’re with…” She suddenly stopped short and stiffened up, Cream nearly crashing into her as she tensely said, “Sonic?!”

The Cakes, Cream, and Cheese looked at her in concern, Cream asking, “Amy? What’s wrong?”

The pink hedgehog relaxed after a few moments and said, “Nothing, Cream. It felt like someone was trying to fix my Sonic up with someone else just now.”

Cream and Cheese glanced at each other a bit nervously at that before Cream looked back at Amy and asked, “A-Are you sure, Amy? I mean, I don’t think you’re wrong, but why would someone do that?”

Amy replied, “I don’t know, Cream.” She glared straight ahead and her voice held a noticeable edge to it as she said, “But if I find out someone did and I find them, they’re going to be VERY sorry.” She resumed walking, albeit a bit rigidly as she carried her tray of cupcakes to the front of the store. Cream and Cheese looked at each other worriedly while Cup Cake and Carrot Cake looked at each other with concern, confused about what they just witnessed.

________________________________________

IN THE PARK

“Applejack, will you move over?! I’m getting squished over here!” Rainbow complained, trying to move in her cramped roller coaster seat.

“Where am Ah supposed ta go, Rainbow?! This thing ain’t big enough fer the three of us!” Applejack groaned as she also tried to shift about. In between the two ponies sat Pinkie Pie, the pink pony smiling happily and seeming to not mind the fact that she had two arguing mares at her sides.

The entire group was currently riding on Twinkle Park’s roller coaster, their ‘park guide’ having forced them into its cars after leading them to the station, away from their train. Shining Armor and Princess Cadance were sitting in the front car, the rest of the ‘couples’ sitting behind them in the order Cadance had ‘introduced’ them in. The coaster had just left the station, leaving everyone strapped in for the ride.

Left with no other choice at the moment, the group tried to sit back and enjoy the ride as best as they were able to, and for the most part it seemed to work as the track went up and down and through loop de loops. Aside from Applejack and Rainbow Dash, Sonic seemed to be the only who wasn’t entirely enjoying the ride. Although he had no problem with roller coasters, he usually didn’t find them as exciting as some people did. Despite this, he sat back in the car and rested his right arm on the side of it, glancing around the park as the coaster continued on its course and trying to distract himself from the two ponies arguing in the back.

After several minutes of going up, down, and around, the roller coaster returned to the station and the lap bars restraining the group lifted up after it had slowed to a stop. Now that the exhilaration was over, everyone looked towards the back of the coaster as Rainbow Dash and Applejack resumed squirming, trying to get out of the car. After several seconds of this, Twilight was about to use her magic to help them, only for the two ponies to make one more strong effort to get out that resulted in Pinkie Pie being ejected from the car with a loud *POP*, the party pony shooting up into the air like a cork.

Not expecting such a thing to happen, the others could only watch as she went straight up while crying, “Whoo-hoo!” After only a few seconds, she came back down, landing front first on the platform. She didn’t a move for a moment, but then her head shot up as she exclaimed, “Whee~! That was FUN!”

Sonic couldn’t help but smirk, “Crazy girl.” He then stood up and stepped out onto the platform, Twilight moving her body slightly to do the same. The others followed suit, Shining Armor and Spike getting out first and holding out a hoof/claw to Princess Cadance and Rarity respectively to help them off while Applejack and Rainbow Dash, in an effort to put a little distance between them, ended up stumbling over each other as they got out.

“Ugh, finally! If we stayed like that any longer, I probably would’ve been smashed!” Rainbow groaned as she flew up and stretched her hooves and wings.

Applejack sighed as she rubbed her neck with a hoof, “Ah can’t believe Ah didn’t pay more attention durin’ that whole ride.” She looked at the others and trotted over to them before asking, “How was it?”

Cadance and Shining Armor walked over, the former saying, “It was quite a ride, Applejack! I’m sorry you had to be so distracted that you couldn’t enjoy it.”

Fluttershy, who was hugging Tails’ legs as she lay on the ground, muttered, “I wish I could’ve been that distracted…”

Twilight mentioned, “It sure was a rush.” Rarity nodded in agreement.

Sonic yawned as he stretched, “Eh, I guess it was all right. Rode it once before; seemed about the same this time around.”

Shining asked, “You’ve been here before too?”

Sonic looked up at him and replied, “Yeah, I came here once with Amy.”

Cadance looked at him in surprise, “What?!”

Before Sonic could respond, Tails, while looking around, spoke, “Hey, guys? It… doesn’t look like our ‘tour guide’ wanted to wait for us to get done.” Everyone looked around the platform at that and saw that he was right. There was no sight of the monitor that had forced them onto the roller coaster in the first place.

“Ah’d say that’s mighty rude o’, er, him, but that crazy gizmo’s already been rude enough,” Applejack commented.

Spike suggested, “Why don’t we leave before he decides to show up again?”

Sonic nodded at him, “I second that idea.”

Rarity rubbed Spike’s head with a hoof as she agreed, “An excellent suggestion, Spike.” Spike’s tongue stuck out of his mouth slightly on one side, the baby dragon panting a bit at the fashionista’s touch.

The others agreed with this idea as well, though Fluttershy asked, “Why don’t we just wait here for a few minutes? I’m sure that, um… I’m sure he’ll come back.”

Rainbow shrugged, “Hey, if that thing wanted to play tour guide, it should’ve been waiting here for us, not the other way around.”

Sonic added, “Plus I’m still kind of familiar with Twinkle Park’s layout. We can get back to the train and leave before that monitor forces us to do anything else.”

Fluttershy replied, “Oh… Okay, then.” She let go of Tails’ legs and slowly stood up.

Pinkie, on the other hoof, quickly shot to her hooves and zipped in front of Sonic, asking, “Can we go on some of the other rides before we go?! Like the pirate ships and the bumper cars?!”

Sonic looked at her for a moment, wondering if they had bumper cars in Equestria since, earlier, Spike and some of the girls hadn’t recognized regular cars when they saw them. He eventually said, “We’ll… see what we can squeeze in, Pinkie.” The pink pony seemed satisfied with that answer, seeing as she bounced alongside the rest of the group as they left the roller coaster station.

As the group walked down a stone path away from the roller coaster, Shining looked at Sonic and asked, “So you said you came to this park with Amy once, Sonic? She’s that pink hedgehog girl, right?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, that’s her.”

Rarity gushed, “Ooh, how wonderful! And with that special offer… It must’ve been a wonderful date!”

Sonic refrained from glaring at the fashionista, though he still had some exasperation in his voice as he said, “It wasn’t a date, Rarity. I barely had a say in the matter.”

Cadance asked, “What do you mean?”

Sonic started, “When I ran into her in front of Casinopolis, she’d found a Flicky that escaped from Eggman and they were both being chased by one of his robots. I guess the bird was hurt while it was trying to escape, so she asked me be to be its bodyguard.”

Fluttershy looked sad at that, “That poor Flicky. Why would Dr. Eggman want to hurt or chase a defenseless little bird?”

Tails spoke, “We found out later when Eggman later managed to catch Amy by surprise and grab the Flicky. It turns out it was carrying one of the Chaos Emeralds inside the large locket it was wearing and he wanted it so he could give it to Chaos.”

Rainbow commented, “Must’ve been a pretty big locket if it could hold an entire emerald inside.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. Anyway, we ended up near the entrance to Twinkle Park, where I finally got a look at the robot that was chasing Amy and the Flicky. I would’ve had no problem taking it out right then and there, but…”

Twilight suddenly interrupted him by holding a foreleg in front of him and saying, “Look out!” Sonic came to a stop and looked in front of him to see a small pool of water with a couple of circular platforms floating on its surface. If he’d kept going, he certainly would’ve walked over the edge and into it.

“Whoa! Forgot that was there. Thanks, Twilight,” he said before making use of the platforms a second later to reach the other side of the pool. He waited there for the others, Tails and Rainbow Dash flying over while the others did the same thing he did. After Rarity had finally been coerced into jumping onto the platforms to get to the other side and joined the others, Sonic continued where he left, “Anyway, Amy saw the offer and took off into the park. And… well, I followed her in. That’s it.”

Rarity looked at him coyly and asked, “Are you sure that’s all it was, Sonic?”

Sonic put his hands on his hips and glared at her, “Yes, it was. She ran in here first, I followed her, and I lost sight of her. That’s all that happened.”

Rarity rolled her eyes, “I can’t help but wonder about that, Sonic. I think there’s something you’re not telling us about you and Amy, and I believe I have an idea what it is.”

Sonic retorted, “Hey, here’s an idea: pull your head out of whatever cheesy romance novel you were reading and try listening for a change. Love isn’t always black and white like that, ‘Rara’.”

As he turned and started walking away, Rarity glared at his back indignantly, “R-Rara?!”

Applejack chuckled before saying, “He does have a point, ya know. Just because it sounds like they’d make a lovely couple doesn’t mean it’ll turn out that way. You should leave the whole matchmaking thing ta somepony like Princess Cadance, ‘Rara’.” She snickered again as she trotted off to catch up with Sonic.

Rarity glared at the apple pony before turning her head to the side with a huff, “Hmph! I happen to be a very good judge of these things!” The others decided not to argue with her and instead moved to join Sonic and Applejack, Rarity following after them a moment later.

When they reached the two, they found them standing in front of a short corridor that had an interesting design to it, as it had a wooden floor with a bunch of markings on it. “What’s this?” Rainbow asked.

Tails looked towards the other end of the corridor, where a bunch of big bowling pins sat against a wall, and said, “It looks like a bowling lane. I guess we have to play to move on?” Sonic nodded in confirmation.

Pinkie looked around before saying, “I don’t see any bowling balls. What are we supposed to play with?”

While stepping up to the foul line, Sonic shrugged, “Um…?” He then curled up into a ball, spinning for a second to ready himself before shooting down the lane, striking the head pin dead-on and sending the other pins flying. The blue hedgehog quickly uncurled while the pins were up in the air and slid on his rear the rest of the way to the wall, raising his left foot to brace against the wall while he planted his right foot against the ground to slow himself.

“OH~!” Pinkie exclaimed, giggling and feeling a bit silly for not thinking of that herself. The wall at the other end rose up out of the way a second later and, after Sonic confirmed that the lane wasn’t slippery, the group continued on their way.

After a few seconds of walking, the group came upon a short set of stairs; when they reached the top, they found something interesting. “Oh my goodness! What’s happened to these poor animals?!” Fluttershy gasped at what she was seeing.

“And those ponies too! What is this?!” Rainbow demanded.

Tails spoke up, “Hey, F-Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, calm down! It’s just a ride; they’re not real!”

Cadance looked down at him and said, “I thought those animals and ponies looked a bit… odd. But if they’re not real, then… what is that?”

Tails looked back at the rotating circular platform and replied, “It’s a merry-go-round, or a carousel if you want to be fancy.”

Sonic pointed a thumb in Rarity’s direction, “Yeah, you know, like her boutique.” Rarity cast an odd glance at him at that, but didn’t comment.

Tails continued, “They make the horses and animals that serve as the seats out of wood to make it seem like you’re riding a real one.”

Twilight looked back at the carousel and murmured, “Oh.” After a moment, she asked, “Do you think we can go for a ride?”

Sonic thought for a moment before replying, “Well, we can basically go on any ride since we essentially paid the admission fee, so… why not? We’ll have to make it quick, though.”

Shining nodded, “Right. We’ve still got work to do.”

Sonic shrugged, “Actually, I’d rather not run into our ‘tour guide’ again.”

Tails muttered, “Given the way that robot showed up in the first place, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not even an option.” Nevertheless, everybody caught a horse or animal on the carousel and, for the next several minutes, they got an actual chance to relax, letting the gentle bobbing calm them as they went around in circles.

After they got off, the group went down another set of stairs, coming to an area that Tails and Rainbow Dash recognized. “Hey, there’s the pool where we got the water for the train!” Rainbow said while pointing at a small pool of water to the right of the stairs.

“So we’re close to where we started?” Twilight asked hopefully.

Sonic nodded, “Yep. We just have to get around to the other side of this castle.” He pointed a thumb up at the large castle they’d been going around the entire time next to them.

Tails said, “We might as well just fly the rest of the way. We stopped pretty high up from here, after all.” Everyone agreed with that, so Tails, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Princess Cadance prepared to take off to do the job while the others gathered at the bottom of the stairs.

FUN POLICE

Before any of them could get off the ground, however, a familiar voice spoke up from behind the others, “Hello again, visitors! It’s so good to see you all again!” They all looked to see the robot they had met hovering a short distance away, a smiley face on its screen now.

“Aw, horse apples…” Applejack groaned.

The robot didn’t hear her, or pretended not to, for it asked, “And how are we enjoying our time in Twinkle Park?”

Sonic muttered, “We were enjoying it just fine until you came back.”

The robot spoke, “Wonderful! Glad to hear it! So shall we move onto the next attraction?”

Rainbow rolled her eyes, “Let’s not and say we didn’t.”

Unfortunately, Pinkie spoke up, “Yes, absolutely!”

The robot said, “That’s what I like to hear!” Very quickly, it got behind the group and brought out its arms again, once again herding everybody together and pushing them. As it pushed them towards a pair of nearby castle doors, it said, “This attraction will no doubt be the greatest of them all. Once you go in, you’ll never want to leave.” The way it said that unnerved some of the members of the group, prompting them to redouble their efforts to get away. Ultimately, it managed to hang onto them and roughly pushed them into the castle, the doors slamming shut behind them.

Inside, Sonic, Shining Armor, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack managed to get up after the doors closed and ran to them, trying to push them open while the others got up. After a few seconds of pushing, Shining grunted, “We’re locked in!”

Applejack stopped pushing and turned so her back was facing the doors, the orange earth pony bringing her hind legs up and throwing them against the doors in a series of bucks. Despite the force she put into each one, Bucky McGillicuddy and Kicks McGee couldn’t even dent the wooden doors. “Dang it, they ain’t budgin’!” she growled after several seconds.

MYSTERY CASTLE

Rainbow Dash flew up away from the doors, but before she could do anything, a creaking noise from behind her caught everyone’s attention. They turned to see another set of wooden doors opening up, revealing a hallway behind them. It appeared to be brightly lit and the red rug the group was standing on continued inside. It looked like it was safe…

Cadance looked at Sonic and asked, “Where does this go?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “No idea. I couldn’t get in here the last time I was here. I’m guessing it’s like a funhouse or something.”

Tails held a hand to his chin, “It looks like it could be…”

Rainbow nodded, “Yeah, it totally looks like a cheesy funhouse. Nothing weird is gonna happen if we go in there.”

Applejack smacked the back of the cyan pegasus’ head with a hoof and said, “Don’t say that!”

Before Rainbow Dash could say anything, Sonic spoke, “Let’s just go before our ‘tour guide’ decides to give us some company. As long as this comes out close to the other side, we should have no problem getting out of Twinkle Park.” With that, the group walked through the wooden doors, following the passage beyond.

A minute barely passed before the atmosphere of the castle changed. As they went around a curve at the other end of the hall, the group noticed the lighting became darker, yellow lights and candles lining the walls now. “Well… that changed quickly,” Twilight noted as she glanced around.

“Uh-huh,” Sonic muttered, remaining focused on what was in front of him.

“I guess it’s more like a haunted house on the inside. Wouldn’t have guessed from the outside,” Tails commented.

“Nope,” Sonic murmured.

Fluttershy looked around nervously. “It’s kind of scary in here…” she whispered.

Applejack turned to the shy pegasus and said, “It’s all right, Fluttershy. It’s just an amusement park. There ain’t anythin’ in here that’s real.”

Fluttershy breathed a sigh of relief, “R-Really? Oh, that’s very good to- EEK!” While they were talking, the group reached the end of the hall they were in and stepped into another room, a light turning on once they stepped through the doorway, causing Fluttershy to panic while the rest of them shielded their eyes.

When they all could see again, Spike looked around and said, “Whoa, look at all these mirrors!” Indeed, the room they were in was filled with mirrors of varying sizes and shapes.

“Huh. So it’s a funhouse that’s really a haunted house that turns into a house of mirrors. Classy,” Sonic commented.

From off to the side, Pinkie giggled, “Hey, look at me, look at me!” The others looked at her to see that she was bouncing up and down in front of one of the mirrors. The reflection the mirror was showing made it seem like she was very fat, yet seeing the reflection bouncing up and down didn’t look the least bit strange to them. Realizing they probably wouldn’t be able to move on until Pinkie had satisfied her curiosity, the group disseminated to look at the various mirrors in the room.

Applejack walked past several that gave reflections that didn’t really catch her attention (pointy head, shorter than normal, all wiggly) before stopping in front of one that showed a reflection that made her look more muscular, more like her brother Big Macintosh. She smiled and tipped her hat to her reflection, “Well, howdy there, good-lookin’.”

Fluttershy, meanwhile, was standing in front of a mirror that made her look skinnier than usual. “It’s like I’m a filly again…” she whispered to herself as she looked at her reflection.

Rarity trotted over and, upon seeing Fluttershy’s reflection, quickly sidled up against her friend, “Ooh! This looks like the mirror I’ve been looking for, Fluttershy! Let’s see how we look together, okay?”

Sonic looked over at the two for a few moments before looking around at what some of the others were doing. Spike was flexing in front of the mirror Applejack had been looking at and Rainbow Dash was flying from mirror to mirror and making funny faces at each. Shining Armor and Twilight were looking at some of the mirrors together, as were Tails and Applejack. Seeing that the room seemed to be okay, he was about to go back to looking at some of the mirrors himself when he spotted the hallway leading to the next section of the castle. Deciding to take a quick peek ahead, he walked towards it, passing one last mirror and not noticing that the reflection showed him being taller and having blue arms.

Cadance noticed Sonic leaving the room and called out to him, “Sonic?” Unfortunately, the blue hedgehog had already left the room and turned a corner, so he didn’t hear her. She began walking after him, but came to a stop in front of the last mirror upon seeing its reflection. It looked like her normal reflection, save for one detail: it had no wings. She looked like an ordinary unicorn. “Well, that’s… different,” she commented. Looking at her reflection a little longer, she wondered, “How different would things have been like that…?

Sonic, meanwhile, was already in the next hallway over, which was a long, straight hallway with mirrors on both sides. He walked a little ways down it before stopping and deciding to head back when his ears twitched. “Hm?” he murmured, thinking he had heard the sound of fingers snapping to his right. Turning his head to look, he noticed his reflection seemed different now. It showed him as being shorter, less spiky, and having a slightly rounder midsection; it looked a lot like how he looked a couple of years ago.

He turned fully to look at the mirror, holding his right hand up to his chin as he examined his reflection. He fluffed his quills a bit and then held his right hand up to his mouth as he parted his lips to reveal his teeth. Closing his lips, he held his right hand to his stomach to rub and pat it, his reflection imitating his movements exactly. He crossed his arms, however, and looked at the mirror oddly. “Hm,” he murmured, feeling as though something was different about the reflective surface. He tapped it with his right fist, but it sounded like regular glass.

As he stepped back to look at it again, he heard Twilight call from his right, “There you are, Sonic.” He turned his head to see the lavender unicorn with Spike on her back, Princess Cadance, and Tails coming towards him. As they got closer, out of the corner of his eye, Sonic noticed their younger forms reflected in the mirror. Once they had gotten closer to Sonic, they noticed as well and stopped to look as well. “Oh… that’s another… I didn’t know trick mirrors could make reflections like this,” Twilight commented, remembering seeing her reflection in the last mirror with a Moon and stars cutie mark and dark blue hair with a light blue stripe.

“Yeah, I know. I was surprised too,” Sonic nodded. The rest of the group soon joined them and they all examined their reflections as well.

CRAZY MAGIC TRICK

“It almost feels like magic is being used to make these reflections,” Shining said after a minute.

Rarity admired her reflection for several seconds longer before saying, “Well, magic or not, I must say I rather like these mirrors. I’m glad we came in here.”

Sonic looked over at her and said, “We didn’t really have a choice in the matter, Rarity.”

Before anyone else could say anything, a familiar voice came from the other end of the hall, “Reflect on your decisions all you want, Sonic!”

Everyone turned to look at where the voice came from, Tails saying, “Eggman?!”

Rainbow growled, “That Egghead’s here now?!”

Eggman’s voice continued, “None of you will be getting out of here easily!” They all looked ready to react for a few seconds when there was, faintly, the sound of fingers snapping again to the right.

All of a sudden, Sonic’s reflection took off running towards the other end of the hallway, everyone noticing and staring in surprise! What was even more surprising was when Tails, Spike, and the ponies’ reflections took off after Sonic’s! Sonic’s reflection leapt through the doorway at the end of the hall, Tails and Rainbow Dash’s reflections flying after him while the others (save for Spike) ran after him. “What the -?! Wait a second!” Sonic exclaimed, running for the other end of the hallway, the others quickly following him.

The doorway at the end emptied out into another hallway, which had the rug from the entrance leading to a set of wooden doors, undoubtedly the exit. The doors swung open as they got close, but the group’s eyes widened as they saw a pulsing hole on the other side. They all tried to stop upon seeing it, but somehow, even the ones that were the furthest behind couldn’t stop in time and they all disappeared into it. Once they were all through, the portal closed.

After the portal closed, the robot that had been hounding the group appeared from the side of where it had been, holding its hands up in front of it and pressing its fingers together while chuckling sinisterly…

Fun and Games Pt. II: Casino Park

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GATHERINGS

Blaze, Silver, and Zecora were walking along through Ponyville together with the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Blaze and Silver trying to answer the four fillies’ questions as best they could while Zecora calmly answered the questions Babs Seed had for her. As they were walking, they came across something that Silver and Blaze found odd. It looked like a large green butterfly cocoon, but it had a mailbox, a small muffin box, and a small pot with flowers in front of it. ‘D. Hooves’ was written on the sides of the mailbox.

“What’s that?” Silver asked as they got closer.

“Ah, that is the home of Ponyville’s resident mailmare, though it’s safe to say, at the moment, she’s not there,” Zecora answered.

Silver looked over at the zebra, “Mailmare?”

Sweetie Belle piped up, “Yeah, remember, Silver? You and Blaze helped rescue her earlier!”

Blaze looked down at the unicorn and asked, “Earlier? You mean that gray pegasus pony?” Sweetie Belle nodded in confirmation. By this time, they had reached the front of the cocoon and Blaze knelt down to peer inside, seeing a small blue pillow that read ‘Home Sweet Home’ inside. “Why does she live in a… chrysalis?” she wondered.

Scootaloo asked, “Chrysalis? The Changeling Queen doesn’t live with her. She lives by herself in that cocoon.”

Blaze turned her head to look at the orange pegasus with a raised eyebrow, “What? Chrysalis is another word for a cocoon, Scootaloo.” Zecora suppressed a slight chuckle with her hoof at this clarification.

Before anyone could say anything more, they all heard a voice call, “Hey!” They all turned to see the cocoon/home’s owner coming towards them, a small wrapped treat being balanced on her slightly extended left wing and a large purple cat following her. As Big and Derpy came to a stop in front of the cocoon, the latter asked, “What are you all doing in front of my home?”

Blaze stood up as Silver said, “We were just walking along when we saw it, Derpy. We didn’t mean to… You really live in this thing?”

One of Derpy’s eyes looked up as she smiled, “Uh-huh! After I got out of it and it didn’t fall apart, I thought it would make a nice home!”

Blaze stepped back and looked at the green cocoon as she said, “Forgive me for saying so, Derpy, but it doesn’t look very… comfortable. And with that hole, it must get quite cold when the temperature drops.”

Derpy trotted in front of the cocoon as she shook her head, “Nuh-uh! It’s not like that at all, Blaze!” She expertly flipped her treat over to her right wing and set it down on top of her muffin box before crawling into the chrysalis, fluffing her pillow. She laid her head down on it as she said, “It was actually really warm inside this past winter! And with the hole in it, I can stretch my legs out and keep my muffins close to me when it starts to rain! It’s the perfect home for me right now!”

Blaze and Silver looked down at her, a bit amazed at how she was able to tolerate living in what was essentially an open home. Big spoke, “I live in a hut surrounded by trees. Froggy and I usually get wet when it rains.”

Derpy gasped and stuck her head back out of her chrysalis, “Oh no, Big! That sounds terrible!”

Big replied, “No, not really. Froggy likes getting wet.”

Derpy sighed, “Oh, okay then.” She reached over to her wrapped treat and pulled the wrapper off of it, revealing a toasted muffin. Her eyes lit up when she saw it, but she soon frowned, “Oh no! My muffin got cold! They taste so good when they’re fresh and warm…”

Blaze walked over to the pegasus and knelt down in front of her. She held her right hand out, “Here, let me see it, Derpy.” The mailmare held the baked treat out to the princess, Blaze taking it in her hand and folding her fingers around it. Soon, a faint glow shone out from under the muffin, small flames peeking out from underneath the wrapper. After several seconds, she handed the muffin back to Derpy, “There, how’s that?”

Derpy took it back in her hooves and, upon feeling it and looking at it, she gasped, “That’s much better! Oh, thank you so much!”

The gray pegasus leapt up and wrapped Blaze in a hug, still managing to hold onto her muffin. “Erm… You’re welcome…” Blaze muttered, feeling quite squeezed by the pegasus’ forelegs. She finally managed to wiggle out and push Derpy back, the blonde mailmare falling onto her bubble butt and happily munching her muffin.

“Yay!” Big said, happy that Derpy was happy again.

“Wow, Blaze! What’d ya do?” Apple Bloom asked.

Silver spoke, “She used her fire powers to heat Derpy’s muffin up without burning it.” He looked at Blaze and sheepishly asked, “Uh, right, Blaze?”

Blaze nodded, “Yes, that’s correct, Silver.” She looked down at her hands as she held them up in front of her, “To think, there was a time where I was teased about these powers so much that I actually considered them a curse. But then…”

Zecora spoke, “The cruel jeers of others can cause one to falter, no doubt, but through friendship new understanding can come about.”

Blaze knelt down and rubbed Babs’ head as she nodded, “Yes. And that’s why I believe in Sonic and the others. No matter what they may be caught in the middle of right now, I’m sure that, as long as they stay together, they will be fine.”

________________________________________

PINBALL ATTACK!

“Unh!” Twilight groaned as she crashed into what could only be a very large green pinball bumper, the unicorn feeling the force of the impact in the split second before it forcibly pushed her away, just moments before Applejack collided back first into the same bumper.

Similar things were happening to the others as well. Spike and Rainbow Dash were being bounced between two rows of bouncy triangles, occasionally brushing past each other as they tried to get out of the enclosed area they were in. Shining Armor and Cadance were sliding against a wall, gravity pulling them down along it until they reached a large flipper. It shot up as they slid along it, sending them hurtling upwards across the inclined ground. And Fluttershy and Rarity kept trying to slide down, but some kind of booster on the ground kept shooting them back up.

The only ones who weren’t getting bounced around painfully (at least not quite as painfully) were Sonic, Tails, and Pinkie, all three of them having curled up into balls and letting gravity and luck have its way with them as they bounced around the pinball table. Eventually, Tails managed to roll down towards the bottom of the table, but as he slid alongside the wall leading down to one of the flippers, he gasped and uncurled, throwing out his tails and legs and sliding as he tried to stop himself.

As he reached the curve, he managed to plant the ends of his tails and his feet up against the wall and, after several seconds of securing himself, came to a stop. He sighed in relief as the sudden ride came to a stop, but as he looked up, he gasped, “Whoa, Sonic!” He quickly wedged his back against the wall and held up his hands straight up as the hedgehog came rolling down towards him.

Sonic uncurled just before he reached Tails, letting out a grunt as the fox’s hands pressed against his torso. After a second, he looked down at Tails and said, “Ugh, thanks for the stop, buddy.”

Tails smirked back, “Hey, it’s good to stop once in a while, don’t you think?” Before Sonic could respond, Tails exclaimed, “Heads up!”

Sonic turned his head to look back over his shoulder and, after a second, flipped over onto his back with a “Whoa!” He held open his arms and, a second later, a lavender unicorn crashed into him, Tails buckling a bit from the force of the impact. Twilight lifted herself up a bit a moment later and Sonic grinned, “Hey, how’re you doing?”

Twilight glared at him, “Well, I was thinking of asking you how I looked, but…”

Before any more could be said, Shining called, “Twily!” Twilight, Sonic, and Tails looked to see Cadance trying to slow the stallion down, having managed to get off the table enough to fly. Despite her best efforts, Shining still came into contact with Twilight’s backside, albeit with much less force than if Cadance hadn’t been helping him. “Sorry,” he groaned, feeling the side of his chest with a hoof.

Cadance hovered above them with her wings and looked around before asking, “How did we end up on a giant pinball table?”

Sonic spoke up, “I think we should focus on getting off of it right now.” He looked around Twilight, up towards Spike, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy, none of them seeming like they were having much luck at the moment. “Hey Cadance, as long as you’re up and you’ve got magic, maybe you could help them out?” Sonic asked.

Before Shining Armor or Twilight could say anything, Cadance responded, “Certainly. But what next?”

Tails looked towards the moving flippers that were just feet away and said, “We might be able to get off this table by going down the drain. But if we’re gonna go down it without any help, we’re going to have to time it right or those flippers will send us back up.”

Suddenly, Rainbow Dash managed to find her hoofing and shot off one of the table walls, using her wings to fly above its surface. She shot down towards the group as she called, “I’ve had it with this! Coming through!”

As she shot underneath Cadance, Tails held out a hand in the pegasus’ direction, “Wait, Rainbow Dash!” It was too late; just as Rainbow was about to fly down the drain, the flippers flipped and hit her.

“WHOA!” Rainbow Dash cried as she was sent shooting up the table, a rainbow streak bouncing across the table and colliding with Rarity and Fluttershy as they were coming down just before intercepting Spike, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack in turn. As the pile of ponies came back down, it managed to hit Cadance and then the group bunched together before going past the flippers straight down the drain, everybody screaming all the while.

After about half a minute, the group was deposited out of a blue tube onto carpeted ground in a jumbled heap, some groans rising up from the pile as they laid there. A couple of seconds passed before Shining asked, “Is everybody all right?”

There were some hesitant, incomplete answers to the stallion’s question, so Sonic grunted and spoke up, “Put another way, did anyone break anything?” There were clearer responses to that question, as everybody answered that they were all still in one piece and in relatively good health, all things considered. With this confirmed, the group began to disentangle from each other, everyone managing to get out of the mass without too much difficulty.

As he raised himself up to a sitting position, Tails rubbed the back of his head as he sighed, “That wasn’t one of our better landings…”

Twilight looked over at him and said, “Well, it was better than some. At least this one didn’t involve running from predators that fight each other for the right to devour us.”

Tails, Sonic, Cadance, and Shining Armor looked at the lavender unicorn at that, Tails looking away a second later as he muttered, “Not sure I want to know the story behind that…”

GIANT CASINO

Spike spoke up, bringing them all back to the present, “Where are we?” The rest of the group looked around, standing up as they did so. A night sky full of stars hung above them, the city around them brightly lit with a wide selection of colors. The group stood on a plush red carpet, which fit in with the casino theme of the city that the giant slot machines, roulettes, and tables gave off.

“This is that city we passed through while making our way to where Eggman’s base was located that one time,” Sonic said after a moment.

Tails nodded, “Right. It never sleeps, kind of like a real casino…”

Fluttershy murmured, “It sure looks pretty at night.”

Twilight looked at Sonic and Tails and asked, “So where are we in relation to Twinkle Park?”

Sonic scratched his head for a moment before shrugging, “Uh, pretty far away?”

Applejack asked, “Far away? That ain’t exactly comfortin’, Sugar-hog.”

Sonic replied, “No, normally it wouldn’t be. But distance isn’t a big deal for us at the moment.” He looked at Tails and asked, “Right, Tails?”

Tails thought for a moment before saying, “Right! We can use the Warp Ring to get back to Twinkle Park in no time!” Everyone perked up upon hearing this, but when Tails reached into his left tail to pull out the ring, his smile faltered. “Huh? Wait, I know I put it…” He continued to check his twin appendages for a minute before saying, “I… I don’t have the ring anymore!”

Everyone looked shocked at this, Rainbow yelling, “WHAT?! You lost it?!”

Tails exclaimed, “No, I didn’t!”

Applejack asked, “Then why don’t ya have it, Tails?”

Tails replied, “I don’t know! I had it with me, I know I did! I checked after we got off both the roller coaster and the carousel! I could feel its weight the entire time we were inside that castle!”

Sonic looked up at the tube the group had fallen down and said, “If it fell out on the pinball table, it should’ve come down by now. There’s only one gutter and everything gets pulled down.”

Tails nodded, “Right! And I still have my radar and the Chaos Emeralds with me! I don’t know how this happened!”

Twilight held a hoof to her chin, “If it’s not here, but you had it the whole time we were in that castle, then where could it be?”

Cadance thought for a moment before saying, “It must still be back at Twinkle Park, back where we went through the portal. It must’ve somehow slipped out right before we entered the portal. That’s the only thing I can think of.”

Rainbow groaned, “Ugh, great! So now we’re stuck here?” She turned and glared at Sonic, “Thanks a lot, Sonic! This is your fault, you know!”

While Tails pulled out his radar, Twilight asked the cyan pegasus, “Now, why is it Sonic’s fault, Rainbow Dash?”

Rainbow answered, “Because he’s the one who took off running back there and we had to catch up with him! If we hadn’t been going so fast, Tails wouldn’t have dropped the Warp Ring!”

Sonic crossed his arms as he looked square at Rainbow, “Yeah, uh, FYI, Dash: Tails usually does carry a lot of things around in his tails, and he’s never had to worry about dropping anything no matter how fast he goes. Like he said, if he dropped one thing, he should’ve dropped everything he had, but you notice he didn’t.”

Rainbow argued, “You still took off on us! We wouldn’t have gone through that portal if you’d waited instead of running off!”

Rarity rolled her eyes as she spoke up, “Oh yes, Rainbow Dash. You have EVERY right to be angry at Sonic for over something like this. After all, your own impulsiveness has NEVER gotten anypony in trouble before, which is exactly why you were right behind him back there: you were trying to stop him, not because you were suspicious of that mirror like the rest of us.”

Rainbow demanded, “What’s that got to do with anything right now?! We’re stuck here without that Warp Ring!”

Sonic said, “We can’t be stuck here, Dash. Portals always show up when it’s most convenient. Come on, how many times today has a portal shown up when we’re inside of another portal?”

Pinkie smiled, “Portals inside of portals… Ooh, portal-ception!”

Sonic continued, “There has to be a way back to Twinkle Park somewhere around here.”

Pinkie grinned, “That’s how psychology works!”

Some of the others looked at her at that, Twilight asking, “Why’d you say that, Pinkie?”

Pinkie replied, “Because it works like that, right?”

Sonic shrugged, “Uh, sure…”

Suddenly, Tails spoke up, “Guys, I’ve found something!” Everyone gathered around the fox as he used his stylus to adjust what his radar was showing. As he moved it, a very faint signal came into view. “It looks like there’s a portal somewhere up ahead. It might take us back to Twinkle Park,” Tails said.

Spike smiled, “Wow, that was quick, Tails!”

Sonic and Rainbow Dash looked over at each other, the latter rubbing the back of her head as she said, “Uh, sorry about getting mad at you just now, Sonic…”

The blue hedgehog waved a hand, “Hey, that’s okay, Dash. I’ll admit that I was a bit hasty back there and I’m sorry for it. I should probably work on that.”

Rainbow snickered, “Whoa, easy there, speedy. You’re doing it again.” Sonic rolled his eyes, but smirked all the same.

Applejack spoke, “C’mon, y’all, let’s get movin’ so we can get outta here.” Everyone nodded and they started making their way into the city, heading in the direction of the signal Tails’ radar was receiving.

STARTING THE SEARCH

As they walked, Cadance looked at the fox and asked, “Do you have any idea where this portal might lead, Tails?”

Tails shook his head, “No, not yet. We’re too far away to get a clear reading; considering the distance, it’s kind of surprising I actually picked it up.”

Shining said, “Well, let’s hope it will take us back to Twinkle Park, otherwise…” He trailed off, but everybody knew what he was getting at.

Twilight turned to Tails and asked, “Do you think something else could’ve happened to the Warp Ring, Tails? You know, besides it falling out?”

The fox scratched his head with his left hand, “I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I’ve really never dropped anything I was carrying around in my tails. At the very least, I hope it’s still at Twinkle Park somewhere. Between the portal and the pinball table, I got kind of disoriented, but I had it before we went through the portal and I never felt that robot search me. This is very confusing…”

________________________________________

Back at Twinkle Park, the robotic tour guide merrily floated around the park, weaving around the castle towers and hovering over the castle as it hummed a merry tune, an expression of satisfaction on its screen. After about a minute, it came to a stop and brought out its arms, bringing its right arm up to its screen. And clutched between its fingers was none other than the group’s Warp Ring.

“Of course you didn’t feel anything, you little kit; I never touched you! But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways of frisking somepony. As for your getting back here… If what I’ve read is true… Well, guess what? In your dreams!” it mockingly said before resuming its route.

________________________________________

CASINO PARK

Sonic and the others were currently caught up in a battle against Eggman’s robots. Following the city’s roads as best they could while ultimately aiming for the portal Tails’ radar had picked up had led them closer to it, but also led them to some precarious situations. They’d had to ride a few giant dice blocks to get over gaps in the road while using bouncy green platforms to get across others, and of course they had encountered Eggman’s robots at various points in between, each group seeming bigger than the last.

The group of robots they were caught up in battling now was mostly made up of Egg Pawns as well as several Flappers, Camerons, and Egg Knights. Despite being a sizable group of robots, Sonic and company were having little trouble handling them. Sonic, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie were working closely together, Pinkie bouncing on and around the robots to confuse them while Sonic punched or kicked them and Rainbow Dash kicked them while flying at high speed, and Applejack was bucking the heads of Egg Pawns off their bodies, Shining Armor and Rarity doing the same when they weren’t using magic alongside Twilight and Princess Cadance. And Tails and Spike were helping each other, Tails flying up to attack the flying robots while Spike tripped and did whatever he could against the ground robots.

After the last of the robots was destroyed and the group had caught their breath, Tails and Rainbow Dash flew up to the sides of the door leading to the next area and each pulled out a switch on the wall, causing the door to open. Beyond the opening, the group could see a glass ledge hanging over the next section of road. “Wow, this city sure has a lot of these ledges, huh?” Shining asked as he used his magic to carefully lift the bottom glass out of the frame.

“Yeah, it sure does. Having magic sure is handy here; we don’t have to break these things to get past them,” Sonic noted, getting down and slipping under the glass, dropping down to the road below. The others did the same, Shining placing the glass back into place as he dropped down onto the red rug road below.

Twilight looked around after everyone had landed and said, “This city is really amazing. It’s so bright and alive, even at night like this.”

Tails nodded, “Yep. It’s like a giant outdoor casino; that’s why all the buildings and roads look like they do.”

Cadance smiled, “It is beautiful. It’s too bad we can’t see more of it in our time here.”

Sonic chuckled, “Yeah, it’s a shame. The first time we were here, Tails, Knux, and I had a deadline to meet, and this time we’ve got time and space to save. We’re definitely not getting a chance to see a lot of this city any time soon.”

Fluttershy came up alongside him and said, “I’m sure you’ll get to see it all soon, Sonic. But for now, I think we should just keep moving.” Sonic nodded and the group continued on their way.

After passing through a brightly lit passage at the end of the road, the group found a set of springs against the wall across from them. At the top, they found they could take two paths that looked like they would lead to the same area or a third hallway that went up, the frame of its entrance lined with curious metal bumps. Spike walked over to the entrance and looked up the hall before turning to Sonic and Tails and asking, “What’s up there?”

Tails walked over to him and said, “I don’t know.” Taking a peek himself, he added, “I’m pretty sure this was closed off last time we came this way. I don’t remember going up here.”

Rainbow Dash trotted next to him and said, “Let’s take a look, then! Seems like we’re going that way anyway; there might be something cool up there!”

Pinkie chimed in, “Or it could be something super fun, or something that could help us get out of here faster, or all three!”

Applejack looked at Sonic and asked, “What do you think, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog scratched his head for a moment before saying, “Well, let’s take a look at least. Like Tails said, we couldn’t go up there last time, so we might as well see what we missed.” Everyone agreed with this idea and they all walked through the entrance, making their way up the slanted hallway.

After a couple of seconds of walking, the group reached the end of the hallway, which emptied out into a small, square-shaped room. It had the same red carpet as a lot of the roads and paths in the city and there were black and white diamond shapes on the far right and left sides of the room. There was no wall across from the group; just an opening that had a walkway attached to it and the letters ‘VIP’ hanging above and around the walkway.

“What’s this?” Shining wondered as he looked at the brightly lit letters.

After a moment, Tails spoke, “Um, I think this is the entrance to the V.I.P. room.”

Applejack looked at him, “V.I.P. room?”

Tails nodded, “Yep. High risks, high returns. Only high rollers would try their luck here.”

Pinkie bounced up and down, “Oh boy! That sounds like fun! Let’s go play!”

Fluttershy murmured, “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Pinkie…”

Tails heard her and said, “I think you’re right, Fluttershy. We don’t have time to get caught up in games right now, so we shouldn’t keep going without a good reason.”

Spike protested, “But we could win big here! We’ve had lots of luck today!”

Cadance smiled softly down at him, “That’s true, Spike, but unfortunately, it hasn’t always been the best of luck. Maybe we can come back later and play.” Spike looked disappointed, but nodded with a soft sigh.

As the group was about to turn to leave, Sonic looked forward and spotted something hovering near the walkway. “Hey, what’s that thing?” he asked while pointing between the ‘V’ and the ‘I’. The others looked where he was pointing and saw what appeared to be a TV screen on a cube that had a rotor attached to the top of it, floating around outside aimlessly.

Twilight used her magic to grab the box and pull it inside to get a closer look at it. Everyone pressed together so they could all get a look at it. As they looked at it, text began to scroll across the screen:

Feeling lucky? Wish you could get around faster? Look no further!

Take a chance and try your luck in the Big Super Happy-Go-Lucky Challenge! See if luck’s on your side in these fun challenges!

Shoot for the high score to complete the first challenge and move onto the second! Race to the end to complete the second challenge and you’ll be on easy street!

Entrance located in the V.I.P. room. Admission is free for participant and spectator alike.

(You’re bound to lose all your money in the end, but you have everything to gain and nothing to lose in this city anyway!)

“Well, that’s comforting,” Twilight remarked as she pushed the flying box back outside with her magic and released her hold on it. Without something holding onto it, the box resumed flying and floated out of sight to the right.

“The Big Super Happy-Go-Lucky Challenge sounds like fun! Let’s try it!” Pinkie exclaimed.

Rainbow grinned, “Yeah, let’s do it! With me around, we’re 20% luckier!”

Twilight started, “Wait, doesn’t ‘easy street’ mean…?”

Sonic asked, “Being rich? Yeah. It almost seems like that thing was saying this challenge thing is a good way to win a lot of money.”

Twilight said, “Then it probably wouldn’t help us get through this city quicker if we took it.”

Rainbow asked, “What are you, crazy, Twilight? The first line on that thing said taking this challenge could help us get around quicker! This challenge probably involves us blazing through this city!”

Applejack added, “And if we make some extra bits while doin’ it, it’ll be even better!”

Twilight let out a small sigh; Cadance placed a hoof on her shoulder and, when the unicorn looked up at the pink alicorn, she said, “It’ll be all right, Twilight. Let’s at least look into this challenge. If it gets us closer to the portal that Tails’ radar detected, we can abandon the challenge partway through to get to it.”

Twilight smiled up at her while Spike shrugged, “Well, part of a challenge is better than no challenge at all, I guess.” Rarity placed a reassuring hoof on his shoulder, causing the baby dragon to perk up almost instantly.

Cadance looked towards the letters across from the group and asked, “So where do we go to start this… challenge?”

Tails pointed at the walkway between the letters and said, “I don’t see anywhere else to go in here, so I’m going to say it’s at the end of that walkway.” The others agreed with this logic and they all crossed over to the other side of the room, walking between the giant letters and following the straight carpeted walkway past them.

After a short walk, the walkway emptied out onto a rectangular-shaped platform that, unlike the walkway they had been on, had a border around it that looked similar to the battlements on top of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters except that the fact that the border was a gold color and was made of metal. To the group’s right, nestled into the corner, was what appeared to be an ordinary pinball machine, the machine’s black casing standing out against the brightly lit buildings around it.

The group soon noticed the machine and gathered around it, looking at it. “What’s this doing here?” Shining wondered.

Twilight noted while looking at the machine, “It looks pretty plain, doesn’t it? The table and scoreboard are there, but it doesn’t really have any markings on it.”

Tails held a hand to his chin, “Yeah… Maybe it’s like a controller for the challenge?”

Applejack looked at him and asked, “What do ya mean, Tails?”

The fox shrugged, “Well, with all the giant pinball tables, roulettes, and everything else this city is known for, it’s kind of weird to see a small, unassuming pinball machine in the middle of it all. I’m wondering if it controls, like, the flippers and acts as a better way to see what’s happening on one of the giant pinball tables.”

Cadance looked down at the lower left corner of the table and spotted a small plaque with writing on it. “Look, there’s something written here,” she said as she moved her head closer to read it. After a moment, she spoke, “It says, ‘Insert ball to begin challenge’.”

Fluttershy asked, “So this is where the… challenge begins?”

Sonic nodded, “Sounds like it. ‘Shoot for the high score’…” He turned and walked over to the other side of the platform, where a giant pinball table could easily be seen from the edge. Placing his left hand on his hip and holding his right hand above his eyes, he whistled as he looked at it, “Wow, this is sweet!”

PINBALL CHALLENGE

Shining Armor, Spike (who hopped up on Shining’s back), Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie came over to stand at his sides while the others hung back a little bit, closer to the pinball machine. “Ooh, pretty!” Pinkie exclaimed while bouncing up and down.

“You said it, Pinkie! That’s a pretty fancy-looking pinball table!” Rainbow nodded.

Shining glanced at Sonic and asked, “You think it’s pretty awesome, huh Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog shrugged, “Eh, mostly because of the nostalgia. I don’t know if this is something new or they just designed it to look like this for this challenge, but this table definitely looks like it was taken straight from the Casino Night Zone on West Side Island!” Indeed, the pinball table that they were looking at stood out amongst the others the group had seen so far; a glance down revealed that it was hanging over the normal V.I.P. room pinball table. The table in question was mostly dark blue with red and yellow mixed in and it had neon lights in the shape of palm trees, spires with stars on them, and a large slot machine around it. It also had two golden statues of a certain two-tailed fox and neon signs that read ‘SONIC’ and ‘MILES’.

“Hey, Sonic, why does that one sign say ‘MILES’?” Spike asked while pointing at the sign.

“Uh, well…” Sonic glanced behind him, looking at Tails out of the corner of his eye. The fox had his left hand balled into a fist and was holding it up to his mouth, and he had an apprehensive look on his face as he glanced back at Sonic.

The blue hedgehog looked back at Spike and shrugged, “Eh, there were all sorts of signs in the Casino Night Zone. Tails and I never ran into anyone who could tell us what all of them were for when we were there.” Tails quietly gave a sigh of relief at that, hoping that would satisfy the dragon’s curiosity. Thankfully it did, since neither Spike nor any of the ponies questioned Sonic further.

Tails cleared his throat and, when everyone looked at him, he asked, “So what does everyone think? Should we give this challenge a try, or should we go back?”

Shining Armor shrugged, “Well, we’ve come this far. We might as well try it.” The others agreed with him, Rainbow, Pinkie, and Spike sounding the most enthusiastic.

Twilight then remembered something and asked, “Wait, that machine said we need to insert a ball, right?”

Cadance nodded, “Right, Twilight.” She looked towards the pinball table and said, “I guess that means we have to put a ball in place on that table.”

Twilight wondered, “But what can we use for a ball?” Sonic moved in front of her and placed his right hand on his hip, giving her a flat look. “What?” she asked after a moment. In response, Sonic curled up into a ball and shot around the area for a second before uncurling in front of her, wearing the same expression and standing in the same stance as before. She smiled, “Oh, right! ...Are you sure you want to do that, though, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog shrugged, “Eh, it wouldn’t be the first time. I’ll be fine.”

Tails looked towards the machine, “Guess all we need now is someone to operate the machine.”

Shining rubbed the back of his head with a hoof as he said, “Uh, Twily and I mainly got into playing ‘Oubliettes and Ogres’ growing up. I don’t know if either of us would be any good at this pinball thing.” Twilight got a look on her face at that, but she evidently agreed with her brother since she didn’t say anything.

“I’ve never played pinball before…” Fluttershy murmured.

“Neither have I. Is there any real skill involved?” Cadance asked.

“Ah know plenty ‘bout apples and kickin’ a ball, but Ah don’t know nothin’ ‘bout this,” Applejack commented.

Rainbow boasted, “Come on, guys! How hard can it be? It’s just knocking a ball around!”

Rarity spoke, “I don’t think it’s quite that simple, Rainbow. It looks more sophisticated than that.”

Tails nodded, “Yeah, it’s easy to knock the ball around. Knowing where to aim the ball to rack up points is the real trick.”

Pinkie suddenly popped up between the rest of the group and the pinball machine and said, “Stand back, everypony! Let the master show you how it’s done!” She put on a pair of black sunglasses that she had gotten from somewhere, her eyes hidden behind them.

Tails confusedly asked, “Uh, Pinkie? Why are you wearing sunglasses?”

The pink pony shrugged, like the answer was obvious, “Duh! I don’t need my eyes or my ears for this, just my sniffer!” She turned and trotted over to the machine, oozing confidence with every step.

Sonic shrugged and called to her, “All right, Pinkie! We’re counting on you!” He then turned and leapt up onto one of the slabs at the edge of the platform, jumping towards the pinball table and curling up into a ball as he went down.

Once she was standing in front of the machine, Pinkie grinned, “Game ON!” She pulled a pair of headphones out of her mane (leaving some of them even more mystified as to where they came from) and slipped them over her ears as she stood up on her hind legs, putting her forehooves on the sides of the machine as a ball suddenly appeared in the machine, ready to be launched by the plunger.

While Pinkie pulled the plunger back, the others turned their attention to the giant pinball table, all of them moving closer to get a better look. They watched as Sonic was launched up by the plunger, the blue hedgehog curled tightly into a ball as he shot up the ramp, sideswiped a bumper, and went under a ramp before rolling down to the main part of the table.

As he rolled down towards the flippers, they shot up to send him back up the table, the hedgehog hitting a panel on the table and causing it to light up as he ricocheted off it to his left. He rolled down and passed through the slot next to the left bumper, causing the green light at its entrance to light up as he rolled down towards the flipper. Once again, unlike the flippers on the table that the group had ended up on when they arrived, which flipped randomly, it didn’t move until Sonic was right in the right position, sending him rolling up a tube that shot him up to a higher level on the pinball table.

As Sonic continued to bounce around the table, lighting up lights and beginning to rack up points on the big score counter above the table, Tails and Twilight got curious and turned their heads to look over at Pinkie, both of them seeing the pink pony still standing over the smaller table and looking like she was really getting into the game. After Sonic ended up in the large slot machine and got a matching row of three, Twilight and Tails looked at each other before moving to take a look at what the party pony was doing.

Peering over Pinkie’s shoulders, they saw that it was true; not only was she actually playing pinball on the machine, but a quick glance at the larger table revealed that the ball’s position mirrored Sonic’s perfectly. Even when the hedgehog was sent up to the higher levels on the pinball table, the ball went wherever he did. Tails and Twilight were both impressed; where did a machine like this come from?

Despite the pink pony’s best efforts, the ball soon ended up going down the drain, and a round of shouts from the others told Twilight and Tails that Sonic had done the same. A quick glance towards the larger table showed that the blue hedgehog was being put back into play while the ball reappeared on the smaller table. Pinkie pulled the plunger back and sent the ball back onto the playing field, soon beginning to rack up points once again. Unfortunately, gravity seemed to have it in for her for being messed with so many times, as, based on the way the ball was rolling, it looked like she was going to lose another ball.

Suddenly, the ball came to a stop in the middle of the field and stayed there for a moment before shooting to the left up a ramp! Tails and Twilight were surprised by this, until they heard Applejack shout, “Whoo-hoo! Nice save, Sonic!”

The two turned to look, seeing Sonic heading for the upper part of the table and hearing Shining Armor ask, “Can he really do that?”

Rarity spoke, “I don’t see why not. Just because he’s playing the part of the ball shouldn’t mean that he has to leave where he goes completely up to the flippers.”

Spike and Rainbow called, “Yeah, Sonic, you spin, ball!” Twilight and Tails noticed the blue hedgehog was doing another Spin Dash to stop and reorient himself to stay on course. Turning to look back at Pinkie Pie, it came as no real surprise that the party pony didn’t appear to be the least bit thrown off by Sonic’s attempts to stay in (at least it seemed that way; with those sunglasses and headphones on and the way she was handling the game, it was like she had become part of the machine!).

Both Sonic and Pinkie kept it up for as long as they could, with Sonic trying to give Pinkie an extra chance whenever he could and the party pony tilting the table in addition to controlling the flippers, but the game had to come to an end at some point. Sonic eventually went into the drain a second time, and then not long after being put back into play, he landed in the gutter for a third time, this time being dropped back into the viewing area with the others.

Upon uncurling and landing, Sonic looked over at Pinkie Pie and saw that she had fallen back onto her haunches. He hurried over to the pink pony as she was being comforted and raised up onto her hooves by Tails and Twilight. The three of them helped her back over to the others, where they removed her sunglasses and headphones to reveal she had a stone-faced expression on her face. She looked shiny thanks to the city’s lights and all the sweat on her face.

“That was incredible, Pinkie. You’re definitely the best pinball player I’ve ever seen,” Tails murmured soothingly.

“The game had to end at some point. Don’t feel bad about it ending like this, Pinkie,” Twilight added.

Sonic glanced up towards the top of the large pinball table and asked, “How did she do, anyway?” The others looked up as well, having been more focused on the action happening on the pinball table than Pinkie’s overall score.

Looking up at the scoreboard, the group could make out that it was a six digit number, but before they could register the actual number, panels flipped over and hid it, the panels displaying the words ‘CHALLENGE 1 CLEARED!’ Applejack grinned, “Whatever score she got, it was enough ta blow that challenge outta the water!”

The others began cheering at this, and Pinkie suddenly snapped out of whatever funk she was in and began screaming loudly, wrapping Sonic up in a tight hug with her forelegs in the process. When her grip loosened a little, Sonic took a step back and pointed at her while grinning, “This pony sure plays a mean pinball!” In the midst of their celebrating, a series of sky blue circles surrounded the group and, before they could react to them, they were teleported away in a beam of sky blue light.

Fun and Games Pt. III: Dreams and More

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CHALLENGE TRANSITION

The sky blue beam and circles appeared for a moment before vanishing as the group reappeared, all of them looking around. It looked like they were still in the city, but in a new location as the more prominent blue coloration around them contrasted with the yellow that most of them had become used to.

“What happened? Where are we?” Cadance asked.

Spike looked around, seeing that they were surrounded by a wall on all sides save for one. Looking up in the direction of the opening, he saw the word ‘START’ lit up in orange and yellow overhead. “It’s… a racetrack?” he shrugged.

The others looked as well, Tails saying, “A racetrack? Now that you mention it, that screen did mention racing to the end to complete the second challenge, didn’t it?”

Sonic looked further ahead to see that the path curved to the left up ahead. “So the second challenge is a race to the finish, huh? Seems legit,” he said.

The flying box from earlier suddenly came down from above, stopping in midair between the group and the arch in front of them. The screen turned on, displaying a simplified map of the course ahead. “Yep, definitely a race,” Tails remarked, his eyes going over the map and noting the spots that looked like potential shortcuts.

Shining looked left and right, checking how much space there was before saying, “Looks like there’s enough space for us all to line up side by side.”

Rarity asked, “So we’re all taking part in this?”

Sonic shrugged, “Seems that way. Unless you want to hope you’ll win by doing absolutely nothing?” Rarity shook her head in response and everyone, including Cadance and Fluttershy, lined up side by side a fair distance from the starting arch. They all began to stretch and ready themselves, getting into position to begin running… when suddenly, large transparent balls formed around all of them!

“Hey, what is this?!” Rainbow Dash yelled as everyone felt and pushed against their round prisons.

Shining lowered his head and stuck his horn into the ball, causing it to pop and releasing him. He grinned, but a second later, the ball reappeared around him! “Wait, what the -?!” he exclaimed.

The stallion was about to try popping it again, but Sonic stopped him by saying, “Wait, Shining! I think we’re supposed to run this race in these things.”

Pinkie exclaimed, “Ooh! That sounds like fun!” She began bouncing up and down as she continued, “It’ll be like a bumper ball race! I’ve always loved balancing on top of balls, but this time I get to be inside one! It’s like being a hamster!”

Tails noticed something about Pinkie’s ball as she continued bouncing. “Why does it keep inflating and deflating?” he wondered aloud.

Twilight looked back at the hovering screen and noticed it was now displaying a simple diagram about the balls they were in. It showed a ball getting bigger when it was in motion and getting smaller as the ball slowed down and came to a stop. “I think Sonic and Tails are right. It looks like these balls get bigger or smaller depending on how fast whoever’s inside is going,” she said after a moment.

Tails shrugged, “Well, I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be the weirdest thing we’ve ever done.”

Pinkie grinned, “I dream about this sort of thing all the time!” The others decided not to question the pink pony on what exactly she dreamt about, instead all of them moving to a standby stance as a countdown timer appeared on the hovering screen. It counted down from ten, everyone beginning to shake or fidget as the anticipation continued to mount.

RACE CHALLENGE

When the counter hit zero, everybody made sure to lean forward as they ran, all of them taking off from the starting line at different speeds. Unsurprisingly, Sonic got off to an early lead, the hedgehog leaning to adjust the angle of his running to get him through the winding path ahead without losing much speed. As he went into a covered section of the road that was angled sharply downwards, Shining Armor suddenly caught up with him! “Whoa! Where’d you come from? Royal guard training kicking in?” Sonic asked as he glanced over at the stallion.

Shining Armor smirked as they got to the bottom of the slope and continued on, “I saw what you were doing back there. That’s when I realized this is partly a thinking game!” To further show this, when they reached the end of the covered section of road and it curved to the right, Shining was able to slow down and angle himself enough to stay on the inside of the curve while Sonic was forced to stick to the outside.

As he reached the end of the curve, the unicorn stallion saw an overhang that was close to the ground, too low for his Air Ball to fit through at its current size. He quickly brought his hooves down and held them to slow down, his ball shrinking in size enough to allow him to squeeze through. As he came out from under it and was about to start running again, Sonic suddenly leapt over the overhang and landed in front of the stallion without losing too much speed! “Whoa, what?!” Shining exclaimed at this.

Sonic glanced back and called, “Sorry, Shiny! You didn’t think quick enough this time!” Looking forward, he saw a pair of double rails just ahead and decided to chance it, jumping up towards the rails. He landed between them, the size of his ball keeping him from falling as he continued to run while Shining, having noticed the rails too late, was forced to stay on the main path. The others soon reached the same spot, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Tails following after Sonic while the rest took Shining’s path.

Sonic followed the double rails until they ended, jumping to a floating flat platform and bouncing upon landing to another one that he used to jump to a pinball table, which Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, and the others were approaching as well.

As Rainbow slowed down for a moment in the middle of the first platform, Applejack came up behind her and bumped into her Air Ball, both of them being pushed away from the impact. Rainbow was pushed far enough that, when Pinkie came off the double rails, she was able to bounce off of her ball to the second platform.

Applejack, meanwhile, yelled, “Rainbow Dash! What was that for?!”

Rainbow just glanced back as she made her jump and snickered, “Sorry about that, AJ! That’s what you get for being too slow!”

Applejack growled, “OH! That does it!” She shot forward after the cyan pegasus, unintentionally throwing Tails off as he reached the platform. The orange earth pony quickly made the first jump and almost immediately made the second, moving to join her rival and the others on the pinball table.

On the table, Sonic grinned as Shining, Cadance, Twilight, and Rarity arrived with Spike and Fluttershy coming through the tube they had come out of. “Hey! You guys are catching up already, huh?” he asked.

Shining smiled back, “Of course! In a race like this, there’s no way you’re just gonna- Whoa!” The last was a shout of surprise as Rainbow Dash’s ball collided with his, throwing him off and causing him to roll around with his ball for a few seconds.

Sonic was thrown off as well a moment later when Applejack bounced off of his ball, catching him by surprise and making him stop moving on his own. “Hey, I’m walking here!” he exclaimed as he bounced to the side.

Applejack paid him no heed, her eyes focused entirely on Rainbow Dash. “You wanna see fast, Dash? Ah’ll give ya fast!” she said as she charged towards the pegasus, cutting her off from trying to take the lead and instead bumping her towards the other side of the table and getting in the way of Twilight and Rarity. This ignited Rainbow’s competitive spirit all the more, causing her to answer her earth pony rival’s bump with a bump of her own, causing her to crash into Princess Cadance.

This set off a scuffle between the two on the table, and with its small size, everyone ended up forcibly caught up in it. When Tails reached the table, he managed to bounce off of Pinkie’s ball towards the top of the table, which he took advantage of to leap over the heads of everyone and into a slot in the middle. Spike, thanks to his smaller size, was able to maneuver between all the Air Balls crashing into each other and follow the fox down, the two of them continuing on towards the finish line.

After about half a minute, Sonic, Twilight, Shining Armor, and Cadance managed to get knocked loose from the rival clash and got to the bottom of the pinball table, getting onto the section of road. As they came to a stop on the road, they all looked up at the ongoing feud, seeing Pinkie, Rarity, and Fluttershy get ejected from it as well moments later. As they all grouped at the bottom, Fluttershy murmured, “Why are they doing this now?”

Rarity shook her head, “This is turning into that one ‘Running of the Leaves’ all over again, isn’t it?”

Cadance said, “This isn’t the time for them to be fighting. We have to stop this.”

Sonic spoke up, “Not disagreeing with you, Cadance, but I don’t see how we’re going to keep them apart from each other when all we can do is bounce.”

Shining said, “I think he’s right, Cadance. There’s some kind of anti-magic field in these balls since I can’t summon my magic right now. You feel it too, right?” Cadance nodded, as did Rarity and Twilight.

Twilight looked up at her two friends and asked, “But what should we do about them?”

Sonic replied, “I’m sure they’ll work it out, or at least remember that they’re in the middle of a race and head for the goal. That ought to help snap them out of it. Now come on!” He turned back to the road, looking back to the others and saying, “Last one to the finish line is a rotten Eggman~!”

The others snapped back to attention at that last line, all of them smirking as Rarity said, “Oh, it is ON, now!” With that, they all took off running, all of them being more mindful not to hinder each other too much as they ran.

Up ahead, Spike and Tails were still racing to keep ahead of the others, going through a loop that ended with a ramp that deposited them on a new table with a hole in the center. It took about a minute for them to relax and let the incline carry them down to the hole so that their Air Balls were small enough to fit through. Once they landed on the road below, it was a straight dash to the goal with only a gap at the end that they needed to get over to reach the finish.

It was a mad dash towards the goal for the two, but Tails just managed to pull ahead of Spike and cross the finish line first, the baby dragon coming in right behind him. “Wow! That was something else!” Tails said. He turned to Spike and asked, “Are you okay, Spike?”

The baby dragon replied, “Yeah, I’m fine, Tails. It would’ve been really cool if I’d come in first, but I’m not mad. I mean, check it out: sidekicks for the win!” He and Tails then bumped their Air Balls against each other.

Sonic soon leapt over the gap and joined the two at the goal. He looked at them and said, “Hey, nice job, Tails! That was awesome! And Spike! Sneaky little guy, aren’t ya?”

Spike snickered, “Heh heh, if you only knew.” The three of them then turned and watched as Shining Armor joined them, followed by Twilight, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Princess Cadance, and Fluttershy. Spike looked around at them and asked, “Where’s Applejack and Rainbow Dash? Why haven’t they gotten here yet?”

A moment later, a pair of Air Balls dropped down from the hole above the road, Rainbow Dash’s Air Ball bouncing off of Applejack’s Air Ball and shooting towards the goal. In retaliation, the orange earth pony shot after her, soon crashing into her from behind and throwing them both off. “Uh, that’s why?” Sonic shrugged.

After a few seconds, both mares made it across the finish line, both panting heavily. “Heh heh, Ah won this time, Dash!” Applejack gloated.

“Yeah right, AJ! I won this race!” Rainbow argued.

“No ya didn’t, Rainbow Dash!” Applejack said.

Sonic spoke up, “I’d call it a tie.” The two mares turned to look at him and noticed for the first time that they were not the only ones there.

“A tie?!” Applejack asked.

Rainbow started, “Does this mean…?”

Pinkie grinned, “Yep! You two tied for last again!”

Rainbow Dash groaned, “Aw man! How did this happen again?!”

Tails shrugged, “Well, I’m sorry to say this, but you two kind of did get caught up in your game of bumper balls.” The two mares hung their heads at that.

Fluttershy was about to go over and comfort them, but then realized that she was still in her Air Balls, as were the others. “Um, are we supposed to still be in these… balls?” she asked while looking at the rest of the group. Applejack and Rainbow looked up when she finished speaking.

“That’s a good question, Fluttershy. What’s supposed to happen now that the race has ended?” Rarity wondered. Her thoughts, as well as everyone else’s, were interrupted when, in a split second, they heard a loud POP, like the sound of a balloon bursting, and Sonic let out a shout. They all turned to see that his Air Ball had been popped and he was quickly sinking into a black portal under where he’d been standing, vanishing before their eyes!

“Sonic!” Tails exclaimed before his Air Ball suddenly popped and he disappeared the same way. One by one, the same thing happened to the rest of them, none of them able to react in time before they all vanished to parts unknown!

________________________________________

A black portal opened up in midair and Sonic fell out of it, the hedgehog heading straight towards the ground as another appeared near the first one and Tails came out of it. More portals appeared in succession, the third one releasing Spike and the rest dropping the ponies out of them before they disappeared. In less than a minute, the entire group had been released from their portals, all of them falling down and landing on a brown, hard stone floor.

As they all recovered and some of them recovered from a rough landing, Rainbow Dash groaned, “Okay, this whole randomly warping thing is getting really old! Seriously, it’s not even fun anymore!”

Rarity moaned, “I’m going to need a much-needed spa trip when this is all over…”

A VERY STRANGE PLACE

As she and the others stood up, Applejack grunted, “So now where’d we end up?” They all looked around, seeing a raised gray platform in the middle of the room with stairs leading up to the top of it and a large wooden door across from it nearby. The wall that the door was attached to seemed actually be rows of large rings that were made of horizontal rectangular plates. These rings were constantly spinning and were placed on top of each other, forming a dome. Despite the dim lighting of the room, they could all see fine.

“This is a very strange place,” Shining commented.

Twilight looked at Sonic and Tails and asked, “Where are we?”

Sonic said, “This place looks familiar, but I don’t think we’ve been here in a while.”

Tails nodded, “Yeah. It’s right on the tip of my tongue…”

Suddenly, the room began to brighten up, the light coming from above. Everyone looked up to see what looked like a giant crystal hanging in the air near the top of the chamber, the light shining brightly from within it. “Whoa, look at the size of that crystal!” Spike gasped, his mouth beginning to water at the sight of it.

Sonic spoke, “That’s… It’s got a name, what was it again? Some kind of… stone? Priceless…” He snapped his fingers, “No, wait, it’s the Precioustone!”

Tails gasped, “That’s right! That means… we’re in Maginaryworld, in the Temple of Light!”

Twilight raised an eyebrow, “Precious… stone?”

Cadance asked, “Maginaryworld? Temple of Light?”

Rainbow tilted her head to the side, “What are you guys talking about? What is this place?”

Sonic turned to the others and said, “Well, to put it simply, this is the world of dreams!”

Spike and the ponies gasped, Twilight asking, “The world of… dreams?!”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah! Part of it, anyway. And this temple is right in the middle of this world.”

Fluttershy asked, “But… Well, we know Princess Luna can enter other ponies’ dreams, but she’s never said anything about dreams making up a world. How does this world exist?”

Tails explained, “We were told a little about this world when we were here. If I remember correctly, Maginaryworld is created from the dreams of people in other dimensions. We only saw a little of it, but it seems like pieces of everyone’s dreams help make up this world.” He gestured up at the floating crystal as he went on, “That Precioustone is the essence of everyone’s dreams, and its power is said to make dreams come true.”

Rainbow gasped, “Whoa, really?!” She looked up at the Precioustone, “If that crystal can make dreams come true, and the dreams of a bunch of different people are inside of it, then I can make my dream come true! I can finally become a Wonder- Oof!” She let out a grunt as something suddenly landed heavily on her back, pushing her to the ground. Twisting her head around, she was met with an angry pink face. “Pinkie?! What are you doing?!” the cyan pegasus asked.

“You can’t touch that shiny stone, Dashie! That could cause it to break and make bad things happen to this world!” Pinkie exclaimed. She looked at Sonic and Tails and asked, “Right?”

Sonic nodded, “Right. The Precioustone shattering is why we got to have a dream-hopping adventure here once.”

As Pinkie climbed off of Rainbow Dash, Shining asked, “What happened?”

Tails explained, “The Goddess of Dreams, Illumina, guards the Precioustone here to protect everyone’s dreams. But one day, she became consumed with self-doubt and lost sight of her own dream. It got so bad that she split into two beings: Lumina Flowlight and Void. Void shattered the Precioustone when he touched it, sending the pieces all across Maginaryworld, so Lumina sent out a message for help and Sonic, Knuckles, Amy, and I were brought here because we received it. We were able to retrieve the pieces of the Precioustone and restore the dreams that Void was altering, and got him and Lumina to rejoin to bring back Illumina. It saved Maginaryworld from being plunged into darkness.”

Twilight said, “Wow… So, where’s Illumina now?”

Tails looked towards the raised platform and said, “She should be here in the Temple of Light, guarding the Precioustone. I wonder if the damage caused by that monster has had an effect on Maginaryworld as well and she had to leave to help take care of it…”

Sonic thought to himself, “I don’t think Illumina would stray too far from the Precioustone, especially after losing herself once. She’s probably close by somewhere; if there’s a problem in Maginaryworld, she might’ve asked NiGHTS for help. …Hm, I wonder how NiGHTS is doing…

Applejack got everyone’s attention when she spoke, “Hey, uh, maybe this is just me, but Ah kinda expected a world of dreams ta look… Ah don’t know, a bit flashier.” As if in response to her, the spinning rings suddenly began to lift up, everyone looking up as the rising rings exposed what lay beyond the Temple of Light to them. “…Well, shoot,” Applejack muttered after all the rings had been lifted away and she and the others looked at the new sight.

It looked like the group was in the middle of the night sky, varying shades of blue and violet surrounding them as far as the eye could see. In addition, stars, clouds, and various objects swirled around the Temple of Light, easily seen against the blues and violets. Nobody was sure if they were dream locations or simply pieces of dreams floating freely.

“Whoa… This is incredible,” Rainbow Dash breathed.

“Simply gorgeous,” Rarity breathed.

Twilight looked at Sonic and Tails and asked, “Did you guys see this when you came here the first time?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah. We didn’t really get a chance to admire it, though, since Lumina was telling us what was happening in Maginaryworld when we arrived.” Looking back up, he said, “But now that we actually get a chance to look at it, it really is beautiful.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah.” He lowered his eyes and, upon noticing something, looked around with a raised eyebrow. “Hey, what the… When did all these mirrors get here?” he asked after a few moments. Everyone looked down and around for themselves, soon seeing what he was seeing.

Dotting the entire Temple of Light’s circumference was a number of mirrors, and each of them looked exactly the same. A circular frame contained the mirrors and a trapezoidal base with two fins sticking up on the sides held the mirrors up.

Twilight looked at Sonic and Tails and asked, “Uh, I’m going to guess these mirrors aren’t supposed to be here?”

Tails shook his head, “They weren’t here before. Last time, Lumina led us to the first dream location through those doors, and then we just warped from one location to the next. I don’t know what the story is with these mirrors.”

Sonic looked over at one with a hand on his chin, “I wonder if that’s all they are?”

Rarity trotted over to one while saying, “Don’t be silly, Sonic. Of course they are!” She stopped in front of the mirror and looked up at it as she continued, “Just look at how well-made this is! How reflective the surface is! Why would this be anything more than just a mirror?”

Sonic shrugged, “Because mirrors can be magical?”

Rarity rolled her eyes, “Oh, I doubt that, highly!” She looked back at the mirror and said, “These really are lovely mirrors. A shame they’re so tall or I’d see if I could take a few home with me and…” The white unicorn was suddenly cut off as the surface of the mirror rippled, causing her to fall over with a shriek!

“Rarity?!” Spike exclaimed as he and the others hurried over to her. As they all gathered around her, they looked up when the sound of the mirror rippling stopped; a second later, something appeared on the reflective surface.

It was a moving image, showing a younger Sonic and Tails in the original Tornado as they flew over the ocean. The younger Sonic was standing on the biplane’s wings with his hands on his hips, both he and younger Tails seemingly looking for something. The image soon showed them flying towards an island in the middle of the ocean.

“What is this?” Applejack asked, confused.

Tails spoke after a moment, “That’s… Angel Island. This has to be when we met Knuckles for the first time, when we were searching for the Death Egg after it crashed.”

Spike asked, “So why is it showing up on this mirror?”

Tails held a hand to his chin, “Maybe the mirror shows past events? Or maybe it’s a portal…?”

Twilight said, “Well, whatever it is, it must be a magic mirror if it’s able to show this.”

Sonic leaned down next to Rarity and smugly asked, “So books can be magical, but a mirror being magical is preposterous, huh?” Rarity chuckled nervously as she glanced at him at that.

Pinkie called to the others, “Hey! Look at this one, look at this one!” They all turned and walked over to the party pony, two mirrors down from where they were.

They all looked up at the mirror, which showed an image of Sonic standing on top of a plane that looked more like a motorized hang glider while Tails was the pilot, unsurprisingly. They were flying over what looked like an ocean towards a mountain that had a metallic Eggman face near the top of it. As they got closer to the mountain, the face started shooting at them. After several missed shots, one hit the plane and Sonic fell into the water below while Tails was forced to fly away in order to avoid crashing. The blue hedgehog vanished beneath the waves…

“Oh no, Sonic!” Fluttershy gasped as she looked at the mirror.

Spike looked at Sonic and asked, “Why did you fall off there?”

Sonic kept looking at the mirror with his hands on his hips, watching as the hedgehog shown in the reflective surface snuck underneath the mountain with the help of underwater friends. After a couple of seconds of watching it, he finally said, “I’m not remembering ANY of this.”

Tails held a hand to his chin, “Me neither. When did we ever have a plane like that?”

Cadance asked, “So… you’re both saying this never happened?”

Sonic shrugged as he turned and walked away, “I don’t think so, but I do know I can’t keep watching this!” As he was saying this, the mirror showed him using what looked like a giant pinball system to make his way around the inside of the mountain.

Tails thought for a moment before saying, “I think we did do a flying approach when Eggman built one of his bases on top of a mountain, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t play out like this… Maybe… it’s another universe?”

Shining asked, “You really think that’s what it is, Tails?”

Cadance held a hoof to her chin, thinking, “That mirror that Aunt Celestia and Aunt Luna had sent to the Crystal Empire… They said it was to safeguard it, but why did they say it had to be guarded? Was it because…?

Her thoughts were interrupted when Sonic called, “Hey guys, come take a look at this one!” They all turned and saw him standing a couple of mirrors away. They all walked over and looked at what was on the mirror’s surface.

The mirror showed a moving image of a gathering of eight ponies and a baby dragon in a grassy meadow. Only one of the ponies in the group appeared to be a colt; he was an earth pony with a dark blue coat and a lighter blue mane and tail, and he wore a pink bandanna and had a white stripe through his mane and a football for a cutie mark. There were three pegasi ponies, and one of them, a white pony with a silver-white mane and tail (with a yellow ribbon tied around her tail) and a cutie mark of a silver teardrop-shaped medallion with a green jewel in the center, appeared to be a princess as she wore a light purple cone-shaped hat with little hearts on it.

Spike noticed the baby dragon’s colors were similar to his own and said, “Hey, that dragon looks like me! …Are they supposed to be us?”

While hovering with her wings, Rainbow stated, “Those ponies look… fat.” She then smirked at Sonic, “Kind of like you did in those other two mirrors.”

Sonic glared at her, “Hey, I didn’t exactly have a lot of places to run to back when I first started fighting Eggman, okay?”

They both turned back to the mirror when Pinkie said, “Ooh! That looked like it hurt!” They saw that an orange earth pony with a yellow mane and tail, her tail having a blue ribbon tied around it, had crashed into a tree, some apples raining down around her.

Noticing her coloration and the apples on her flank, Sonic raised an eyebrow, “Is that Applejack?”

The group’s Applejack seemingly took offense to this, saying, “It better not be! She might be an apple pony, but she looks like a klutz!”

In the mirror, two ponies came over to help the orange earth pony, one a unicorn and the other an earth pony. The unicorn had pink fur and a blue ribbon tied around her white with a purple streak tail (her mane was the same color) while the earth pony was yellow with a pink mane and tail and a green ribbon tied around her tail.

Tails looked at the earth pony and noted, “That pony kind of looks like Fluttershy.” The aforementioned pegasus shrunk down shyly when some of the others looked at her.

Twilight looked back at the mirror; looking at the unicorn, she asked, “That… looks like Mom?”

Shining looked as well and, after a moment, said, “It kind of does, Twily. But that pony has nine stars on her cutie mark, and you know as well as I do that cutie marks do not change over time.”

Rarity looked at the other unicorn, noting to herself that the pony looked as elegant as her, and asked, “So would this be a different universe as well? And does anypony have any idea yet as to how we’re going to get out of Maginaryworld and back to Twinkle Park?”

Pinkie piped up, “Of course it is, Rarity! Why else would it look so similar and yet so different? And if these mirrors really are magical and they can warp us places, maybe we can use one of them to warp us back to Twinkle Park!”

The others stared at her for a few moments before Sonic asked, “Does anybody else like that idea too?” The others nodded in agreement and they all split up to check the other mirrors, searching for one that showed Twinkle Park.

MIRROR SEARCH

As Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were about to break off to check mirrors as well, something from the pony mirror caught their attention. Peering into it, they saw the other two pegasi, one pink with a blue mane and tail and a purple ribbon and the other white with a neon yellow mane and tail and a purple ribbon. The latter was zipping around crazily and seemed to be shouting while the former was trying to catch her.

“Whoa, check that pony out! And that other pony is crazy fast! Imagine if either of them were Wonderbolts! Not that they would have a chance against me, though,” Rainbow stated.

Pinkie snorted to herself and said, “Yeah, that one pony would be a real… surprise!”

Meanwhile, the others were examining the other mirrors carefully to determine what exactly they were showing. Twilight, Shining Armor, and Cadance were examining one that seemed to be ordinary, as no image appeared on it, when suddenly a silhouette, shrouded in shadow and looking almost human-like, appeared on it, startling them! And the strange thing about it was that it seemed pony-like as well…

Spike looked between two mirrors, each one showing a different image of a large city similar to Central City, though thankfully neither one looked like it was actively being destroyed. Still, it looked like there was a lot going on from what he could see, both cities looking like they had been involved in some epic battle recently. The difference he seemed to note, though, was that the first one looked more familiar, like something he’d seen in one of his comic books, while the other definitely looked a lot more like Central City.

Nearby, Tails was writing something down on his radar’s touch screen while looking in a mirror that showed alternate versions of himself, Sonic, Knuckles, and Amy, specifically of the beams they were using to make their way along an ancient stone path. Sonic glanced at him as he passed by, moving to the next mirror and looking at it. After a moment, it showed what looked like Canterlot, but it almost looked like the life was being choked out of the city and its surroundings. Sonic couldn’t be entirely sure, though, since the image appeared to have some static around it, preventing him from seeing the full image.

Sonic was tempted to jump into the mirror and find out where it led, but he restrained himself, remembering there were more urgent concerns. He moved onto the next mirror and looked up at it. His eyes brightened when he saw floating, spinning rings and a brightly colored curved road within a colorful void. He turned and called, “Hey guys! I think I found the one we’re looking for!”

Tails, Spike, and the ponies quickly made their way over to him and looked at the image in the mirror themselves. “That… doesn’t look like Twinkle Park at all, Sonic,” Shining said confusedly.

Tails smiled, “No, but it does look like the Special Zone!”

Cadance asked, “The Special Zone?”

Twilight said, “It’s one of the places the Chaos Emeralds can end up. Anybody who completes the Zone’s challenges can retrieve the Emeralds from it.” She noticed Spike, her brother and sister-in-law, and her friends staring at her. She shrugged, “Tails told me about it earlier.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes and muttered, “Bonding eggheads…”

Applejack looked at Sonic and Tails and said, “But y’all already got all the Chaos Emeralds. Ain’t no reason ta take some challenge if it ain’t got anythin’ else.”

Tails held his right finger up, “Actually, that’s not the only thing. To get into the Special Zone, you need a warp, and to get out you need a warp, and it’s possible to influence where you come out.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow, “So?”

Tails replied, “So, with time and space as messed up as it is, and this entryway into the Special Zone…”

Cadance asked, “We might be able to warp back to Twinkle Park if we complete whatever challenge the Special Zone gives us?”

Sonic nodded, “Exactly!

Tails looked at him a moment later and asked, “You do realize that, if we all go in together, we’ll be breaking the challenge, right?”

Sonic shrugged, “Well, what do you suggest we do when our worlds are in danger? Go one at a time?”

Tails thought about this for a moment before replying, “I guess not.”

Shining looked at the mirror again and asked, “Can you guys tell what the challenge is from here?”

Tails and Sonic looked as well, the former saying after a moment, “Well, from the look of it, it’s the half pipe challenge.”

Rarity asked, “And that would involve…?”

Tails replied, “It’s a collecting challenge. It’s a simple idea, but the layout is what determines how hard it is.”

Sonic nodded, “Basically what we’re gonna do is run through a half pipe while collecting rings that are placed throughout it. We’ve gotta pick up enough several times or the Zone will boot us back out. Pretty much we can collaborate and make sure to cover all the spots so we can get all the rings we need. It’s a cheap way to win, I know, but we’re in a hurry here.”

Twilight said, “Can’t really argue with that.”

Pinkie shook her head, “Nuh-uh!” Everyone else agreed, knowing they didn’t have time to do things the regular way.

Shining Armor asked, “Is there anything we’ll need to look out for while we’re in the half pipe?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, there’s probably going to be bombs in it at times. Don’t touch them, obviously, or, besides getting an explosion to the face, you’ll probably drop some rings. Other than that, we shouldn’t see much else that’ll be dangerous.”

After working out a plan so they wouldn’t get in each other’s way, Spike climbed up onto Twilight’s back and they all jumped into the mirror, all of them disappearing through it. Once they were all gone, the mirror and all the others disappeared, the spinning rings coming back down and surrounding the Temple of Light once again.

SPECIAL STAGE

Inside the Special Zone, a circular opening appeared, out of which came Sonic, Tails, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, Twilight and Spike, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy in that order. They all soared through the air for a few moments before dropping into a violet and purple half pipe that had yellow arrows telling them where to go. As they started running forward, letters floated in front of the group for a moment reading ‘GET 80 RINGS!’ before breaking up and floating away.

“Eighty rings?! How are we going to collect that many?!” Twilight exclaimed.

Sonic called back, “Don’t worry! There’s usually more than enough, and all we have to do to collect them is touch them! Just hang back and pay attention!” As he finished speaking, they all went to the right through a curve, and once the path straightened out again, the game began.

Batches of twelve rings started to appear on the sides of the path, alternating between the left and the right. With the straight path, they could see them coming up, so Sonic and Tails had an easy time grabbing them, each ring they grabbed disappearing with a jingle. After four batches of rings, the path curved to the right again and twelve more rings appeared on the left side. Sonic and Tails didn’t manage to get them, so Applejack grabbed them when she saw them

Just as the road began to slope down ahead, Sonic called back, “Heads up! Bombs!” Applejack looked ahead and saw Sonic and Tails leap over the bottom of a ring of spiky black and red spheres. She did the same, not wanting to find out what the explosions felt like, and the others also heard it and did the same.

As they reached the bottom of the slope, more rings appeared to the right as the path curved to the left. While Rainbow Dash grabbed them, they all heard Pinkie shout, “Pinkie Sense tingling~!”

Sonic soon called back, “More bombs!” They all had to jump as they were coming up a slope, but again they all managed to avoid getting blown up.

After getting another batch of rings and avoiding another set of bombs, they passed over a section of the path that turned orange. As they ran over it, the letters came back, this time spelling out ‘COOL!’ with a hand surrounded by a ring giving a thumbs up behind the letters. After the letters broke up again, new letters appeared to tell them ‘GET 190 RINGS!’. Now that Spike and the ponies knew what this involved, they all steeled themselves, ready for the next section.

As they started, the middle of the path had bombs on it. Thankfully, the rings were in trails now and they went around the bombs so they stuck to the trail, Shining Armor, his sister, and the rest of her friends grabbing the rings that Sonic, Tails, and Applejack missed while Rainbow Dash and Cadance flew up to grab the rings situated right above the path. They then had to weave to grab the bunches of rings while avoiding bombs, narrowly avoiding anyone getting blown up as they made it through the section.

After reaching the end and getting another clear message from the Special Zone (seemingly), it told them ‘GET 270 RINGS!’. This final segment started with a corkscrew loop that the running ponies initially weren’t sure they would get through, but they were able to keep running without falling into the void. After dodging another ring of bombs, they continued collecting rings, lines of rings showing up on the two other corkscrew loops in this section.

When they reached the end of this section, instead of the letters appearing like they had before, a pink gem appeared above them, floating backwards. The group only saw it for a few seconds before it gave off a flash and a portal opened up where it had been. Sonic and Tails started running faster, the former calling back, “This is our exit, guys!”

The ponies began running faster to keep up with them at that. As they got closer to the portal, Tails called, “Everybody! Think Twinkle Park!” Taking that into account, a few seconds later, they leapt one by one into the portal, which vanished once they were all through. The pink gem reappeared afterwards and then shot upwards, disappearing into the Special Zone somewhere.

________________________________________

WARP RING SCUFFLE

The robotic tour guide hovered near the Friendship Express, seemingly taking in its surroundings. It spoke to itself after a few moments, “I suppose this park is interesting as it is, but it still seems boring. I can think of one thing that would definitely make it better: a big old storm of…” It never got a chance to finish as it was suddenly crashed into from the side, the group having been launched out of a portal right into it.

As they lay in a pile on top of the robot, they were all either laughing or panting a bit, all of them seemingly refreshed from their brief visit to the Special Zone. “Oh man, that was a lot of fun! And that warp was a lot better than some of the ones we’ve had lately!” Rainbow exclaimed.

As they relaxed, they all took notice of their surroundings. “It worked! We’re back in Twinkle Park!” Twilight said.

Looking ahead, Sonic noticed something a short distance away. He pointed, “And look! There’s the Warp Ring!” Everyone looked and saw the ring lying on its side where he was pointing.

Spike managed to squeeze out of the pileup and ran towards the Warp Ring while saying, “I’ll get it!” He grabbed the ring with his claws and held it up in front of him, looking it over. He turned a second later as he heard the others let out a shout, the robot tour guide having thrown them all off of it.

Spike let out a yelp as the robot shot towards him, but he was unable to turn in time before it grabbed him, or more specifically the Warp Ring, with its left hand. The baby dragon held on, dangling from the ring as the guide held the ring up. It looked at Spike and said, “Excuse me, but I’m afraid I must ask you to let go of this object.” It then began to shake the ring up and down, trying to force Spike to let go.

After recovering from the throw, Tails saw what the robot was doing and quickly spun his namesakes around, shooting towards the two and wrapping his fingers around Spike’s claws, securing and reinforcing the baby dragon’s grip. “Hey, what are you doing?!” Tails asked the tour guide.

The robot answered while trying to pull the ring away, “I am taking possession of this lost object. It must go to the Lost and Found so it can be reclaimed by its proper owner.”

Twilight and Rarity got to Tails’ sides and grabbed on, helping him and Spike pull. “That ring belongs to Tails and Sonic here! They are its proper owners!” Rarity argued.

The robot said, “If that is true, I must see proof that they do own it.”

Tails asked, “Proof? We don’t… We don’t have any proof. Sonic is the one who found it.”

The robot replied, “Then until proof of ownership can be provided, I’m afraid I must take it to the Lost and Found.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow, “Where did YOU find the ring, anyway?”

The tour guide was silent for a moment before answering, “Unimportant. It was lying on the ground, so clearly someone had dropped it. Now please release your grips. This matter must be taken care of so we can get back to more important matters.”

Sonic and the other ponies had made their way over to the debacle by this point. Sonic asked, “Like what?”

The robot answered, “Oh, you know. Distracting- I mean, making sure you have fun and causing- preventing chaos. You all agree that’s important, yes? Right on!”

Sonic zipped right in front of the robot and said, “No, right OFF!” He then reached up and, with his right hand, began quickly tapping the power button on the robot’s panel, its screen switching between dark and lit up as the blue hedgehog pressed his index finger against the button. After a few seconds of this, it released its grip on the Warp Ring and a powering down noise was heard, its head rolling back before it fell over onto its back.

Tails shifted Spike so the baby dragon was sitting on the crook of his arm before saying, “Looks like that works too.”

Rarity looked at the robot and huffed, “So uncivilized! Why would they allow something like that to work in a park like this, where there are children?”

Sonic knelt alongside the robot and, while looking at it, said, “Last I heard, they didn’t. I know I’ve never seen a robot like this before.”

Tails set Spike down and moved to the bottom of the robot. Kneeling down and lifting up one of its arms, he examined it while saying, “Yeah… This thing was really weird. Even Omega isn’t quite this, uh… easygoing, I guess?”

Twilight asked, “Do you think it could’ve been sent out by that creature?”

Tails let the hand drop and held a hand to his chin, “Hm, maybe. If I can get a look at the inside of this thing…”

Suddenly, a beeping sound started coming from the robot, and a few seconds later, it exploded! Sonic, Tails, and the others shielded themselves when it went off, but thankfully it seemed to have been a small explosion as no one felt themselves getting bathed in flames. Looking back, they saw no trace of the robot, save for a long scorch mark on the ground.

“Well, that idea literally blew up in our faces,” Sonic commented.

“Yeah, well… good riddance to that thing, all the same,” Applejack said.

Tails felt along the scorch line, but every time he pressed his fingers down against it, he only felt the ground. “It left nothing behind. No spare parts or anything…” he sighed.

Rainbow Dash flew around him and grabbed his shoulders, getting up into his face and saying, “Hey, this isn’t the time to worry about that right now! Let’s just get out of here before something else happens!”

Pinkie gasped, “Dashie’s right! We could start getting warped around again if we stay here!”

Shining asked, “Pinkie, I thought you were the one who wanted to go on some more rides?”

The party pony pressed his face right up against the stallion’s and grabbed the sides of his head with her hooves, “No time! We have to go now!” She then shot towards the train, dragging the unicorn stallion along with her. The others quickly followed after them, Tails taking a moment to take the Warp Ring back from Spike and tuck it away.

LEAVING AT LAST!

Once they were all on board, Tails and Pinkie started the train up, the water tank still filled to the brim from earlier. Everyone else took their seats in the car, settling down as the train began moving up the tracks towards the exit portal.

As they got closer, Shining looked over at Sonic and asked, “What do you think that robot was, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog waved a hand, “I have no idea, dude. There aren’t a lot of robots I know of that have been quite that animated, and the last one I met was a lot nicer.”

Curious, Cadance asked, “Do you think we’ll meet him, or can you tell us about him?”

Sonic was silent for a moment, thinking, before shrugging, “Maybe.” He looked at Twilight and said, “I’m guessing we’ll be coming out of the tunnel once we leave here. How much further did you say we had to go to get to Canterlot?”

Twilight quickly calculated in her before saying, “Uh, we just have to go along the side of the mountain once we reach it. There’s one more tunnel we have to pass through.”

While glancing out the window, Sonic said, “Then we’ve got plenty of time for whatever.” As the train began to leave the park, he added, “We could probably even sneak a few things in, too.”

Lightning Dust and the Babylon Rogues, Pt. I

View Online

RETURN TO CANTERLOT

Despite being the local accommodation for the members of the Royal Guard that weren’t assigned to the castle, Canterlot’s Twelfth Precinct was usually a quiet place. While they did get called upon in dire situations such as the Changeling Invasion about a year ago (which the Royal Guard was hardly able to halt due to the element of surprise the changelings had), Equestria often being under a spell of peace meant the members of the Royal Guard had very little to do. Going on patrols and polishing their armor until it was shining tended to be the highlights of their day.

That’s why when a rather loud thud sounded right outside the front doors of the building, the left door opened part of the way and the precinct lieutenant, a white pegasus pony with a small mustache and bushy eyebrows wearing the Royal Guard armor, and another pegasus Royal Guard with a brilliant gamboge coat and two sapphire blue eyes (who seemed to be nervous, judging from the way he was slightly shaking) poked their heads out to see what was going on. What they found were the two Princesses of Equestria hunched over and panting, their wings drooping to their sides and the street beneath them slightly cracked from the impact of their landing.

The precinct lieutenant gasped and pushed the door open all the way, running over to the Princesses while the other pegasus was a little slower to follow his lead and other guards were coming to the front to investigate. “Princess Celestia, Princess Luna! Are you both all right?” the lieutenant asked.

Princess Celestia took one last breath and stood up straight, folding her wings as she said, “Yes, Luna and I are fine, Lieutenant. We just finished flying all the way from Ponyville back here to Canterlot, which was not quite as straightforward as we would have liked.”

Before the lieutenant or any of the guards gathering in front of the Princesses could ask what she meant, Luna exasperatedly spoke as she stood up, “Portals! Portals everywhere! ‘Twasn’t bad enough that we fought with a rampant experiment, narrowly avoided getting every hair on our bodies burned off, and had to keep Celestia’s cake cravings under control! Nay; what should have been a simple flight back to Canterlot was instead tainted by many openings leading to equally as many unknown locations! This day has most certainly not been just perfect!”

The lieutenant and all of the guards stared at Luna for a moment before turning back to Princess Celestia, the lieutenant asking, “Your Highness…?”

Celestia turned to him and said, “It’s all right, Lieutenant. Luna is still not happy about having to be woken up earlier. She’ll be all right, though.” The Lunar Princess let out a huff and made a face at that.

The brilliant gamboge pegasus looked up and asked, “What’s happened to the sky, Your Highnesses?”

Celestia spoke, “It’s a long story, I’m afraid, and now is not the time for it. Right now, there is something more urgent that Luna and I need you all to do.”

The guards stood at attention at that, the lieutenant asking, “What do you require of us, Princess Celestia?”

Ignoring the look that Luna gave the pegasus at that, Celestia explained, “Make sure all the citizens of Canterlot are in their homes. We’re in the middle of a serious situation right now and they cannot be out wandering the streets. Knock on their doors, get a list of all their names, do whatever it takes to make sure they’re all safe and accounted for. The safety of the citizens comes first right now.”

All the guards saluted, the lieutenant saying, “As you command, Your Highness!” He turned to the rest of the guards a moment later and ordered, “I want some of you to get a list together of all of Canterlot’s citizens! The rest of you, come with me! We’re going to patrol the streets in the meantime and escort any ponies out right now back to their homes immediately!” The guards saluted again and they all took off, a small number of them going back into the precinct to put the list together while most of the rest went with the lieutenant to patrol the streets.

Only the brilliant gamboge pegasus remained, looking unsure of whether to go with the lieutenant or not. Princess Celestia looked down at him and asked, “You. You’re Flash Sentry, correct?”

The pegasus straightened up and said, “Yes I am, Your Highness!”

Celestia nodded, “Come with me. Luna and I are going to the castle. After our earlier flight, we could use an escort.”

Flash Sentry proclaimed, “I will remain at you and your sister’s side as long as you need me, Princess Celestia!”

Luna shook her head, the pegasus’ name already starting to slip from her mind as Celestia turned and started trotting towards the castle. Luna and Flash Sentry quickly caught up with her, Flash Sentry flying just above them to keep watch while Luna asked her sister, “What are we going to do when we get to the castle, sister? We are going to wait for Twilight, Sonic, and the others to arrive, correct?”

The Solar Princess nodded, “Yes, Luna, but just as the Royal Guard is securing Canterlot and its citizens as we speak, we must make sure the castle is secure as well. We must make sure the staff is okay and that there are no surprises waiting for us quickly. I’m sure Twilight and her friends are not far from Canterlot now.”

________________________________________

NOT QUITE...

Sonic, Rainbow Dash, Twilight, and Rarity looked out the window on their side of the car as the Friendship Express came out of the portal, which deposited the train at the end of the tunnel they had been going through before they’d been forced to go through a series of strange side adventures. The train was now following the tracks on top of the wooden bridge, the track curving ahead as it ran alongside the mountain range. They could see a bit of Canterlot peeking out from the side of the mountain range in the distance, but it felt like they were still far away from the city.

As the train approached the curve ahead, Canterlot disappeared back behind the mountains and the four of them stopped looking out the window. They could feel as the train rounded the curve and straightened out, everybody sitting tightly during the curve and relaxing afterwards. While the train ambled along, Rainbow Dash plopped down next to Spike and sighed, “Man, this feels like the longest train ride we’ve ever had! When are we going to get to Canterlot?”

Rarity spoke, “Rainbow Dash, I don’t see how it could possibly feel longer than any other time we’ve been on a train. Why, we’ve hardly spent much time on the train at all! We’ve spent far more time running around.”

Sonic shrugged, “I think that’s the point Dash is getting at, Rarity. We’ve had to stop, go into portals, run around, and do a bunch of stuff all so we can keep the train going. Of course the ride itself is going to feel longer as a result.” Rainbow held up her left hoof and Sonic, upon seeing it out of the corner of his eye, raised his right hand and bumped it.

Rarity shrugged as she checked one of her curls with a hoof and said, “Hm. Well, yes, I suppose that is true. If it were possible for us to relax in one of the bed cars, then yes, the trip would go faster and we would be at our best for whatever is waiting for us in Canterlot.”

Sonic shook his head, “No, Rarity. That would be worse. There is such a thing as being too relaxed. …Can’t believe I just said that…”

Applejack spoke, “Can’t argue with ya there, Sonic. Relaxin’ too much ain’t that good for ya. ‘Course, bein’ too alert ain’t so good either.”

Twilight glanced back out the window while Cadance asked, “Do you really think so, Applejack?”

The orange earth pony thought about her words for a moment, quickly deciding not to bring up the incident with the Sass Squash this past winter and instead saying, “Well, sure, Princess Cadance. Sonic ain’t the only one who knows how ta relax; Rainbow Dash can be a lazy galoot too when she ain’t got anythin’ ta do.”

Rainbow immediately glared over at Applejack and said, “No, I don’t!”

Applejack retorted, “Really? How many times have Ah disturbed yer ‘precious beauty sleep’ because ya were sleepin’ in one o’ mah family’s apple trees? How long did it take ya ta finally figure out when you’re supposed ta report for weather duty?”

While the two friendly rivals started arguing again, both Sonic and Spike scooted closer towards the wall to stay out of it. Sonic looked out the window again and noticed Ponyville off in the distance, looking closed off and alone in this white world. “Can anyone tell me how close we are now?” he asked after a moment, wondering if anyone would hear him over the sound of arguing.

Rarity heard him and looked over at the window on the other side of the car, noticing that Fluttershy had moved to Shining Armor and Cadance’s seat to give Applejack and Rainbow Dash space. Looking out the window, she soon saw a waterfall pass by outside of it; looking back at Sonic, she said, “We’re close to the next tunnel now. It should be just around the corner.” Sonic nodded and went back to looking out the window.

For a minute, the car was silent save for Rainbow Dash and Applejack arguing with each other, everyone else trying to tune them out until they started going overboard, unintentionally tuning everything else out as well. That is, until Rarity looked over at Twilight and noticed the look she had on her face while she was looking out the window. “Twilight darling, are you okay?” she asked, Sonic and Spike looking over at her words.

Twilight looked up with a start, turning to look at her unicorn friend. “Oh, uh… Sorry, Rarity, I, uh…” she stammered while looking down.

Rarity looked at her with concern, “Twilight, is something wrong?”

The lavender unicorn hesitated for a moment before uttering, “Well, sort of…” Her eyes moved up in Sonic’s direction, the blue hedgehog looking back at her for a moment before the look in his eyes became more understanding.

Both Spike and Rarity noticed where Twilight was looking, both of them raising an eyebrow as they looked between her and Sonic. “Why are you two looking at each other like that?” Spike asked a moment later.

Sonic looked down at him with a raised eyebrow, “What are you talking about, Spike?”

The baby dragon replied, “That way you were looking at Twilight!”

Sonic shrugged, “What, I’m not allowed to look at somebody when Rarity is nearby?”

Spike sputtered, “What?! No! That’s… What does that even mean?!” The baby dragon’s yelling attracted the attention of the others due to Applejack and Rainbow Dash hitting a silent moment in their arguing, everypony looking over at Sonic and Spike, all except for Twilight and Rarity.

Twilight was looking down again, prompting Rarity to ask, “Twilight, is something going on between you and Sonic? Is that what’s troubling you?”

Twilight looked up at the fashionista in confusion, “What? N-No, Rarity, there’s nothing wrong between him and me…”

Rarity protested, “But the way you two were looking at each other just now! Whatever could be the problem, then?”

Twilight stammered, “Well, uh… You see…” Before she could say any more, a very loud smashing sound came from the engine, as though the train had slammed into something, and the force from the collision traveled back to the group’s car, pushing them all towards the back of the train!

REUNION ATTACK

Twilight found herself sprawled out on top of Sonic, the hedgehog lying slumped in his seat as they looked at each other. They quickly looked to the side to see Rarity, Spike, Shining Armor, Cadance, and Fluttershy similarly knocked over. There was no sign of Applejack or Rainbow Dash, though a groan from behind told them that they had ended up in the aisle. It soon occurred to them that the train was slowing to a stop.

They both glanced out the window when they heard a whooshing sound coming from outside and saw two trails of lightning clouds heading towards the front of the train. “It’s the Wonderbolts!” Twilight gasped.

Sonic looked up at Twilight, the unicorn looking back down at him when he spoke, “Listen, I hate to interrupt, but could you hold onto what you were about to say for a minute or two?” Twilight nodded and let out a yelp a moment later when Sonic leapt to his feet and swung her around so she was behind him, the bookish pony hanging on tightly as he dashed towards the engine, hardly slowing down to open the door in the way.

The others soon recovered from the sudden shakeup and quickly headed for the engine when they all noticed Sonic and Twilight were gone. They found them with Tails, Pinkie Pie, Spitfire, and Soarin, Sonic and Soarin tending to Tails while Twilight and Spitfire looked after Pinkie. From the look of it, Tails and Pinkie were more dazed and jarred than any of them had been just moments ago, though it didn’t look like they were injured.

Soarin looked Tails over from the front while Sonic, who was sitting the fox up by holding his shoulders, asked, “Tails, you okay, buddy?”

The fox shook his head a moment later and wearily replied, “Uh… I think so…”

Applejack and Shining Armor came over to help them while Fluttershy and Cadance went over to Twilight and Spitfire to help check on Pinkie Pie. While they were checking her, Twilight asked, “Pinkie, what happened?”

The pink pony, her eyes rolling around a bit, answered, “I don’t know, Twilight! My Pinkie Sense didn’t go off, so I don’t think something fell on the tracks or they weren’t lined up or anything like that!”

Spitfire sighed, “Well, it doesn’t look like anybody’s hurt. Not too shabby.”

Soarin nodded, “Thank Celestia for small miracles.”

Cadance asked, “Spitfire, Soarin, what are you two doing here?”

While helping Pinkie Pie up onto her hooves, Spitfire answered, “Believe me, Your Highness, as much as I’d like to say it’s a social call, it’s not. We came out this far because of those Babylon Rogues.”

Sonic asked, “Jet and his gang?”

Tails added, “Are you saying they left Ponyville?”

Soarin nodded, “That is what she’s saying, I’m afraid.”

Rainbow spoke, “Those guys are a joke! They got lucky; that’s the only reason they managed to get away, right Spitfire?”

Instead of soundly agreeing with her, the light gold pegasus replied, “Maybe, Rainbow Dash. They’re definitely sneaky when they want to be. That’s why we were trying to keep an eye on ‘em; some of Ponyville’s residents have reported seeing them lurking around ever since we got back from that theme park. And we don’t think they’ve just broken quarantine either.”

Shining Armor asked, “What do you mean?”

Spitfire replied, “We saw them taking a pony with them on their way out.”

Sonic raised an eyebrow, “You mean they kidnapped a pony?”

Soarin said, “No, like, the pony was flying with them when they were riding off on their board things. It wasn’t that long ago either, and it was like they’d been lying low until then since nopony had seen them. We couldn’t tell who the pony was from behind, though Spitfire thought it looked familiar.

Spitfire nodded, “Yeah. I’m pretty sure it was one of the cadets from the Academy…”

Rainbow Dash spoke, “What?! I’m sorry, Spitfire, but that can’t be right! Why would a Wonderbolt cadet want to hang out with those guys?” As if in answer to her question, something shot in through one of the engine’s windows and out the other window, leaving a blue and yellow thunderbolt streak behind it. While it didn’t hit anybody, it was enough to make them all flinch and back up a bit.

Almost immediately afterwards, as the streak was beginning to disappear, Jet and Wave flew into the engine on their Extreme Gears, Jet grabbing Pinkie by a foreleg and smacking Sonic with one of his fans while Wave grabbed Tails by his left tail (the fox letting out a yelp at the yanking feeling) and narrowly missed striking Spitfire on the side of the head with her wrench (though she did graze the pegasus with the end of it). As they flew out the other window, Twilight cried, “Pinkie Pie, Tails!”

Outside, the two Rogues stopped on their boards, hovering some distance away from the train as they looked back at the group. “Don’t worry, nerdy, we’ll give ‘em back! Once we’re done with them, that is,” Wave called.

As they started to move again, Jet laughed, “Too bad, Sonic! You’re too slow!”

Sonic’s head snapped up at that. “Oh no, he didn’t…” the blue hedgehog growled under his breath.

Spitfire yelled, “After them! Don’t let them get away!” Sonic didn’t need to be told twice, already leaping out the window to go after Jet and Wave as they were rejoined by Storm. Thankfully, the engine had reached the end of the rail bridge and was on top of the cliff, so he had no difficulty finding a place to put his feet. Spitfire and Soarin were soon hot on his heels, Rainbow Dash and the others getting off the train and following as well.

As she followed Sonic, Spitfire, and Soarin around the curve, Rainbow Dash saw a portal in the path of the tracks up ahead. The Wonderbolts and Sonic went through it without stopping, so Rainbow did the same, passing through the portal and finding herself in a new location. She didn’t stop to look around, though; she kept going straight, joining Sonic, Soarin, and Spitfire as they tended to Tails and Pinkie Pie, both of them having been seemingly let go in the middle of a metal street.

As the others joined them, Sonic asked Tails, “Are you okay, buddy?”

While rubbing his left tail with his hands, the fox sighed, “I’m better now, Sonic. I really don’t like having my tails pulled on…”

Twilight asked, “What about Pinkie Pie?”

The pink pony in question was lying on her back, looking up at the blue sky. “Ooh… Look at all the floaty things and tall buildings!” she said in awe.

Rainbow shrugged, “She’s fine, Twilight.”

Cadance asked, “What does she mean by ‘floaty things’?”

Sonic and Tails looked up and, after a moment, the former said, “Probably that.” Spike and everypony else looked up at this and they gasped in awe. High above their heads were towering, metal skyscrapers, a few looking as high as the clouds themselves, networks of tubes going all over, and flying vehicles either traveling through the tubes or flying over the buildings.

“What in Celestia’s name IS this place?!” Spitfire gasped.

“It’s, uh… it’s a city called Monopole. It’s very futuristic,” Tails stated.

Spike pointed up at the vehicles flying overhead and asked, “What are those things?”

Tails, as he stood up, answered, “They’re hover cars, Spike. They’re the main form of transportation here. We actually have one of our own that we keep in storage for when we’re here.”

Shining Armor, his eyes all starry, muttered, “Wow… I’m geeking out from all this…”

Soarin asked, “Is there anything special about this place? To you guys, I mean.”

Tails thought for a moment before saying, “Well, we were visiting the time when the robots from MeteorTech got out of control. Also, one of the factories was where…”

RETURN OF THE ROGUES

A familiar voice interrupted him, “We ran into each other again!” Everyone turned and looked up to see Jet, Wave, and Storm, on their Extreme Gear boards, descending towards them, stopping a short distance above the ground. Jet crossed his arms and smirked, “We also had a race at the end of that mess. Remember that, Sonic the Hedgehog?”

Sonic smirked back, “Yeah, I sure do, Jet. So what’s your problem now?”

Jet glared down at him, “You really have to ask? I told you, we’ve got a score to settle! And now that Wave’s fixed up the Extreme Gear, we’re settling it now!”

Soarin gaped, “A grudge match?! That’s what this is all about?!”

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah, uh, now’s not a good time, Jet. Gonna have to take a rain check on that.”

Jet smirked, “And just where do you think you’re gonna go?”

Shining Armor answered, “We have to get to Canterlot to set things right! Or did you forget that there’s a giant rift between our universes?”

Rainbow nodded, “Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal, bird brain!”

Applejack added, “A lot bigger than you gettin’ this race o’ yours!”

Jet replied, “Oh, I’m sure it is. But here’s the real question: how are you going to get there when you’re stuck here?”

Storm said, “Yeah, it kind of looks like your swirly hole thing is starting to close up!” Everybody looked back at that to see that, indeed, the portal they had come through (which was in front of a tunnel) was quickly closing. Rainbow Dash spread her wings and shot towards it, hoping to keep it open, but it was too small for her to even fit her hoof through by the time she reached it.

Wave spoke up, “Well, looks like that option’s out. And I don’t think you’ll be doing any warping. Not without this, anyway.” She reached behind her back with her left hand and, when she brought it back, it held the Warp Ring in it!

Rarity gasped, “What?! That’s…!”

Wave smirked, “Good thing your tails are so sensitive to pulling, shorty. You didn’t even notice a thing!” Tails glared up at her at that.

As Rainbow Dash flew back over, Soarin growled, “You guys would really go to all this trouble to hold a race when our worlds are in danger?!”

Jet shrugged, “Hey man, I highly doubt it’s going to happen, but if everything’s gonna end, I’m gonna defend my title until it happens.” He then looked down at the two Wonderbolts and added, “And there’s a pony who so badly wanted to prove herself to you two that she was willing to help us pull this off.”

Spitfire raised an eyebrow, “Who?”

A tomboyish voice called, “Take a guess, ma’am!” From above, the blue and yellow thunderbolt streak shot straight down, landing between the group and the Babylon Rogues and raising a cloud of dust. When the dust settled soon after, they all saw a light turquoise pegasus with brilliant amber hair that had brilliant gold stripes running through it standing in front of them, her wings spread and wearing what looked like the a tattered Wonderbolt cadet uniform and flight goggles.

Rainbow’s eyes widened, “Lightning Dust?!”

The pegasus grinned, “Long time, no see, Rainbow Dash.”

Sonic looked over at Rainbow Dash and asked, “Friend of yours, Dash?”

The rainbow-maned pony grunted, “More like a fellow cadet from the Wonderbolts Academy, Sonic, and the former lead pony of our pair.”

Lightning Dust glared, “How are you enjoying being a leader, Rainbow Dash? Hope it’s a lot of fun, seeing as you bailing on me is what got me demoted.”

Rainbow argued, “You got demoted because you were way too reckless back there, Lightning Dust! I was already getting sick of it before I called you out on it; nearly killing my friends was what cinched it for me!”

Lightning Dust shot back, “So it was okay for me to get demoted and kicked out of the academy without even a hearing?!”

Spitfire spoke up, “Yes, because that was the only fair thing to do, Lightning Dust! It was my fault for fueling your competitiveness and not realizing what was happening as a result of you pushing yourself the wrong way! When Rainbow Dash told me about it, I knew that, as captain of the Wonderbolts, I was responsible for your actions and acted accordingly!”

Tails looked at Spitfire and asked, “‘Let the master speak’, essentially?"

Spitfire nodded, “Correct. I did what needed to be done in order to save the reputation of both the Wonderbolts Academy and Lightning Dust.”

Lightning Dust yelled, “Kicking me out of the academy and taking away my chance to become a Wonderbolt doesn’t sounds like my idea of saving anything!”

Spitfire argued, “Just because you were dismissed doesn’t mean you couldn’t reapply! If you had been training properly and signed up again with intent to prove it, we would’ve been willing to give you a second chance!”

Lightning Dust growled, “I don’t need the Wonderbolts Academy to tell me I’m qualified to be a Wonderbolt! I already proved it back then, and now that I’ve pushed myself in that direction you so wanted me to go in, I’m going to prove it again now!”

Jet spoke up, getting everyone’s attention, “So, now that we’ve got the whole reasoning thing out of the way, how about we get to that race? Or is Dusty here not entitled to fairness?”

TAKING THE RACE

Sonic gave Jet a level glare, asking, “What do you have in mind, Jet?”

Jet answered, “A one lap race through the city, starting at Megalo Station, going through the greenhouses, and ending back at Megalo Station. Anyone can be a part of it. The flying ponies can use their wings, but everyone else has to be on an Extreme Gear.”

Storm chortled, “Yeah! No running allowed for any of you!”

Spitfire asked, “And what happens at the end?”

Jet replied, “If Lightning Dust or any of us win, we get to keep the Warp Ring and Lightning Dust gets to bypass whatever it takes to become a Wonderbolt! If any of you guys win…”

Applejack raised an eyebrow, “Yeah?” Jet remained silent.

Lightning Dust glanced back up at him, “You’ll give them the Warp Ring back, right? That’s what we agreed on!”

Jet replied, “Yeah, sure. So?”

Sonic, Tails, Spike, and the ponies looked at each other for a second before Cadance said, “We don’t really have a choice, everybody. We need that Warp Ring to get back to Equestria.”

Spike asked, “Where are we going to get these Extreme Gear boards, though?”

Tails said, “There’s a place around here where I can get our Extreme Gear sent to right away, along with our racing gear.”

Fluttershy asked, “Racing gear?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, we switch it up a little when we race with Extreme Gear.”

Rarity said, “Then we’re going to need to dress similarly! I need some measurements; does anypony know if their measurements have changed recently?!”

Sonic looked at Tails and asked, “Can you get all our stuff and some extra Extreme Gear for Spike and everyone else, Tails?”

Tails shrugged, “I can, but… I’ll need to go across the city.”

Wave overheard and called, “Lightning Dust can help you with that, shorty. She’ll help cut down on your commute time.” Although the light turquoise pegasus initially protested, she quickly relented and agreed to push Tails and Rarity (she insisted on coming with to see the racing gear) to Tails’ place. As they left, Wave mused to herself, “This should be interesting.”

Soon, at Megalo Station

Sonic tapped his feet against the ground, trying to get comfortable in the new racing suit Rarity had made for him. He looked it over again as he tapped his feet; it was dark, almost like a navy, blue, had a pair of red and white boots that mimicked his regular shoes (which fit surprisingly comfortably inside of the boots), an orange pouch wrapped around his waist, and a new pair of light green sunglasses that sat on top of his head.

Sonic reached up with his right hand, his left hand holding onto the side of his Blue Star Extreme Gear, and adjusted the sunglasses as he thought, “I kind of like the new sunglasses to be honest, but still, really? Did Rarity tell Tails that our Extreme Gear attire wasn’t fashionable enough or something?

Thinking of the fox, Sonic looked over at him as he was telling Spike and the ponies (save Rainbow Dash) about how to handle the Extreme Gear. He had a similar racing suit, only it was orange with white stripes going down the sides, had a yellow pouch, no eyewear, red and orange boots and gloves, and the bottom of his suit didn’t go all the way down, making him look like he was wearing knee-length shorts. The others were wearing similar racing suits, with Rainbow Dash’s looking like a cross between her cadet uniform and the Wonderbolts uniform while the others’ suits were made to look both functional and presentable, Rarity clearly wanting them all to look good for this race.

Before Sonic could think about Rarity’s outfit choices, Jet came over and gave his back a rough push. When the hedgehog turned to face him, he smirked, “Love the new look, Sonic the Hedgehog. Tight enough for you?”

Sonic glared at him, “Hey, I don’t know why Rarity felt it was necessary to go the extra mile, but she did, so I’m not gonna complain or not wear it.”

Jet rolled his eyes, “Whatever. Hope she didn’t put a lot of effort into it. By the time we’re done, all any of you are going to be left with is shreds.”

Spitfire and Soarin came over, the latter saying, “Hey, back off, Jet! Save it for the race, huh?”

Jet asked, “What, there’s no smack-talking allowed?”

Spitfire glanced over at Lightning Dust, the light turquoise pegasus flapping her wings so she was hovering on her back while she waited, and said, “You’re already pushing the envelope, hawk boy. Don’t give us a reason to call this race off before it begins.”

Jet grunted, “Fine!” before walking away, going over to talk to Wave.

Sonic looked at Soarin and Spitfire and asked, “You guys would really force them to call the race off?”

Spitfire nodded, “I don’t know what that guy’s deal is, but he’s been getting on my nerves for a while now! This race had better not take too long; our worlds are in real danger right now! Why does a race have to take precedent over that?!”

Sonic replied, “Yeah, Jet’s an interesting guy all right. Calls himself the Legendary Wind Master, so of course he’s got a lot of confidence in his skills. Still, I’m sure we’re gonna win this.”

Soarin nodded, “No doubt!”

Lightning Dust and the Babylon Rogues, Pt. II

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RACE START

After a few minutes, Wave had gotten the starting line and gate set up, so everyone got into position. Sonic and Tails got onto their Blue Star and Yellow Tail boards while Spike and the ponies climbed onto their loaned Extreme Gear and the flyers (save for Fluttershy and Cadance) flapped their wings to get off the ground and hovered in place above the ground. They were all a bit shaky as they stood atop their boards, but they managed to steady themselves and drift forward with the others, Rainbow Dash, Lightning Dust, Spitfire, Soarin, and the Babylon Rogues sliding their goggles down in front of their eyes as the timer on the starting gate counted down.

As the timer hit one second, Sonic, Tails, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Lightning Dust, the Wonderbolts, and the Babylon Rogues shot forward, reaching the starting line as the electric current flowing between the two posts was cut off. The rest of the group wasn’t as quick on the draw and didn’t get as good a start, but as they jumped the ramp leaving the station and landed (their Extreme Gear helped them a little with that part), they were somewhat relieved to see that they weren’t too far behind the others.

As they followed the road ahead, Twilight, Pinkie, and Spike noticed Sonic and Jet using their Extreme Gear to ride along a rail. Remembering what Tails had told them about their Gear types, they all tried jumping up on the rail, turning their boards to the side as they landed and letting the rail guide them. Although Twilight and Spike had a little difficulty balancing at first, they were able to ride it to the end while Pinkie had no trouble balancing at all. Still, by following the rail, they were able to get slightly ahead of the others and closer to the front.

Everyone soon jumped from another ramp and landed on a street that split up ahead. One of the paths led back into Megalo Station, so they all took the other path instead, which led into the city and towards the greenhouses. As they headed through the city, they all got a chance to try to pull ahead, Sonic, Jet, Twilight, Pinkie, and Spike grinding across rails, Tails, Wave, Cadance, and the pegasi flying through rings, and Storm, Shining Armor, Applejack, and Rarity breaking through heavy obstacles as they approached them.

After they got out of the city, the Babylon Rogues started to fall behind. After making sure they were a reasonable distance behind the competition, the three birds moved close together and Jet said, “I think it’s time to ramp this challenge up! Hit it, Wave!”

Touching the red orb on her necklace, the swallow replied, “You got it, Jet!” She called up a floating green screen in front of her and slid her right finger across it, a message reading ‘PROGRAM ENGAGING’ appearing on it. She then quickly made the screen disappear before anybody could notice it.

By the time they were just about to the greenhouses, Lightning Dust had fallen behind as well. While the heroes sped on towards the entrance of the closest greenhouse, the pegasus fell back after seeing them and, as they all stopped, asked, “What happened to you guys?! I thought you were better than anybody else at this!”

Jet smirked, “Oh don’t worry, girlie, we are! And you’re gonna see it firsthand!”

Lightning Dust raised grinned, “Yeah?! These greenhouses are a great place to show what you’ve got?”

Wave replied, “Yeah, that too. What’s really going to be amazing is what’s about to happen.”

Lightning Dust raised an eyebrow, “What do you mean?”

Storm pointed and spoke up, “Check it out! Look at all those old MeteorTech robots gathering around that dome!” Lightning Dust looked and her eyes widened; robots really were gathering around the top of the greenhouse, holding position just above it. Suddenly, without warning, they all rushed forward, smashing through the glass!

“What’s going on?!” Lightning Dust exclaimed.

“Oh, just a little something I whipped up for this race. Makes it more interesting, don’t you think?” Wave asked.

Lightning Dust looked shocked, “You did this?! That’s cheating!”

Jet replied, “No, it’s interesting. Makes it more daring. Isn’t that what you wanted? A chance to really show how ‘awesome’ you are?”

Lightning Dust argued, “You didn’t tell me you were going to do THIS! You said this would be a chance to show off speed and tricks!”

Jet replied, “And it is. We’re just making it a little more exciting little because it’s boring right now!”

Lightning Dust yelled, “Boring?! What about anything up to this point has been boring?!”

Wave crossed her arms, “Why do you think it’s called EXTREME Gear, genius? You have to be willing to push yourself and take on new challenges if you want to be great at anything!”

Jet put his hands on his hips, “Look, I’ll level with you, girlie. I never planned to help you get in on your little stunt group in the first place! I only said that so you’d help us get into MeteorTech to plant the little program you’re seeing now!”

Lightning Dust gasped, “The stunt show…!”

Jet smirked, “Get it now? I don’t care about you weird ponies or what you dream of. I dream of treasure and beating Sonic the Hedgehog!”

Lightning Dust growled, “You’re not going to get away with this!”

Storm yelled, “You threaten the Boss, you get to meet my fist!” With that, Storm swung his right arm back and punched Lightning Dust right in the face, sending the pegasus flying towards one of the greenhouses in the distance!

Wave sighed, “Finally. She was really getting annoying, wasn’t she?”

Jet nodded, “Yeah. Let’s go; Sonic and his little gang ought to be pretty distracted by now!”

ROBOT ATTACK

Meanwhile…

The scene inside the greenhouse was absolute chaos. As everyone was just starting to make their way through the greenhouse using the areas marked for the general public, robots suddenly blocked their path, forcing them to take a different path to avoid crashing. The path emptied out onto the massive greenhouse plants, but it also left them out in the open, allowing the robots to spot them easier. They began descending on the racers, most of the group thinking back to the changelings and Sonic and Tails getting déjà vu from the last time these robots were after them.

Shining fired several lasers from his horn to stop some nearby robots before yelling, “What the hay is going on here?! Are we not supposed to be in here?!”

Sonic called over to him, “We’re not supposed to be with the plants unless someone allows us to, but those robots showed up in the area that anyone can be in! So that’s not the problem!”

While leaning to the side to get away from a swipe from a robot and trying to keep her balance, Twilight asked, “Then why are these robots attacking us?!”

Tails swiped his namesakes to knock a robot off balance and said, “I’m more concerned about why these robots specifically are the ones after us! They were all supposed to have been shut down and disposed of after Eggman was forced to abandon control of MeteorTech!”

Rainbow yelled, “These are Eggman’s robots?!”

Tails replied, “They used to be, back when he started MeteorTech as part of a scheme for world domination! The military took over the company after the incident with the Arks of the Cosmos! They replaced all of the robots Eggman had with newer ones!”

Soarin asked, “What are the Arks of the Cosmos? What kind of incident did they cause?”

Sonic answered, “They’re meteors, basically. Long story short, Eggman put one of them in his mother computer and all the robots connected to it went berserk trying to find the rest of them!”

Spitfire started, “So if these robots are suddenly coming back to life and doing it again…”

Pinkie Pie interrupted as her tail shook on the outside of her flashy pink race suit, unintentionally slapping a robot behind her with the poofy appendage and causing it to go off course as she yelled, “TWITCHY TAIL!”

Spitfire called, “What?!” Her question was answered a moment later when something collided with her from above, both her and the object in question hitting and bouncing off the ground and into Sonic from behind. The hedgehog was knocked off of his Extreme Gear and hit the ground, all three sliding across the ground for several seconds while Sonic’s Blue Star landed on the ground further ahead.

The others came to a stop, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Tails even coming back, all worried that they might have gotten hurt. As Sonic and Spitfire picked themselves up, they all soon realized what, or rather who, had caused this crash. “Lightning Dust?!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.

Spitfire immediately glared at the light turquoise pegasus at this revelation and grabbed her with her hooves, demanding, “What was that for?! Are you trying to kill US now?!”

Lightning Dust squirmed in Spitfire’s grasp, uttering, “N-No, m-m-ma’am! I didn’t… The Babylon Rogues…” Her face fell, “I was tricked…”

Twilight asked, “Tricked? By the Babylon Rogues?”

Lightning Dust nodded, “They lied to me… Actually, they didn’t tell me about this. They suckered me into helping them and I didn’t realize it until now.”

Suddenly, the Babylon Rogues shot past the group, Jet calling back, “See you later, snails!”

Spitfire glared after them before turning back to Lightning Dust, staring at her for a moment before saying, “We’ll deal with you later, Lightning Dust.” She released her grip, the pegasus landing on her rump, and spread her wings, “Right now, we’ve got to beat those rogues at their own game, so don’t you go causing any more trouble!” With that, she shot off after the three birds, Soarin and most of the group quickly following after her. Soon, only Sonic, Rainbow Dash, Twilight, and Tails were left with the disgraced former cadet.

QUICK TALK

The four of them, instead of immediately following the others, looked up as several more robots closed in on them from above. Reacting quickly, Sonic and Rainbow Dash shot up towards two of them, crashing through them and destroying them while Twilight used her magic to reduce the third to scrap metal. After Rainbow and Sonic landed a short distance away, Lightning Dust said, "You didn't have to do that."

Twilight looked at her with a raised eyebrow, "Why? You were going to take care of them yourself?"

The pegasus replied, "No. If they were going to attack me too, well I... I deserve it for being so stupid."

Sonic and Rainbow Dash came over at this, the former saying, "Stupid?! That doesn't seem like a good reason to want to get beat up."

Lightning Dust exclaimed, "Well, I was, wasn't I?! That's what you're all thinking, right?!" She hung her head, "It's my fault that this happened. If I hadn't fallen for what they said and performed all those tricks so they could pull this off..."

Rainbow Dash spoke up, "Hey, it's no wonder they'd try to get you on their side, Lightning Dust. Your tricks are awesome!" The light turquoise pegasus looked up at her in confusion at that. Rainbow went on, "Yeah, you were reckless back at the Wonderbolts Academy, but we were both about as awesome otherwise. Them being jerks and manipulating you is their loss, I say."

Deciding to swallow how she felt deep down once and for all, Twilight said, “What Rainbow Dash is saying is that, yes, you were tricked, Lightning Dust, but you do realize your mistake and there’s still time for you to make up for it.”

Tails nodded, “Yeah! Even a battered phoenix can still rise from the ashes!”

Lightning Dust asked, “Rise from the ashes? How am I supposed to do that? And why are you all wasting time helping me instead of catching up to those birds?”

Sonic answered, “Because you’re a cool girl and it’s worth taking the time to help out somebody who needs it. We’re not worried about falling far behind because we can count on each other to be able to come through when needed. We might not be a real team, but we can still count on each other, just like thunder.”

Lightning Dust raised an eyebrow, “Thunder?”

Sonic winked, “Thunder and lightning go together, don’t they? That’s what you’ve gotta do, Lightning Dust!” He ran over to pick up his Blue Star while Tails and Twilight hopped back on their Extreme Gears and Rainbow Dash flapped her wings to get off the ground. Before taking off, Sonic called back, “Find your thunder!” With that, the four of them took off, Tails saying something about a shortcut between the greenhouses. Lightning Dust didn’t catch it; she was too busy watching them as they got farther away, thinking about their words…

FREE FOR ALL

Soon, in the adjacent greenhouse

Spitfire and Soarin finally caught up with the Babylon Rogues, the rest of the group trailing just behind the two pegasi as they went through the wintery greenhouse. As they got closer, Spitfire yelled, “Hey! Is what Lightning Dust said true, that you guys caused these robots to start attacking?!”

Wave called back, “Yeah! So what?! You got a problem with that?!”

Soarin growled, “How could you do such a thing?! This is a race, not a fight!”

Jet replied, “Oh, it’s a race, all right! It’s an unofficial Extreme Gear race, as in outside of the World Grand Prix! That means anything goes! You don’t like it? It’s a little late for that!”

Suddenly, Rainbow Dash called, “Heads up, chickens!”

Jet looked up and to his right, “What?!” A moment later, Sonic, Rainbow Dash, Twilight, and Tails leapt off a frozen branch above the track and got in front of the Babylon Rogues, Sonic and Rainbow Dash neck and neck at the front while Tails and Twilight trailed behind a short distance. “Hey, that’s…!” Jet caught himself and admitted, “I did say anything goes. So it’s okay for them to do that.” He then smirked as he glanced at his teammates, “Which means this is okay too!” They nodded in response.

Jet looked ahead at Tails and did a kick to give himself a burst of speed and get up along the left side of the fox, who glanced at him in confusion when he didn’t try to pull ahead. Suddenly, Jet bumped into the side of his Extreme Gear, knocking Tails into the side wall and causing him to lose his balance! The fox went tumbling backwards, his Extreme Gear going with him! “Tails!” some of the others cried as the fox went tumbling past them. Shining Armor was about to use his magic to grab him, but up ahead, Sonic performed a quick 180 and shot backwards, weaving through the group until he caught up with Tails and grabbed his hand to stop and steady him.

While the two of them were distracted, Jet looked over at Wave and Storm and nodded at them. Rainbow noticed this as well as the fact that the swallow and albatross nodded back and decided to draw back, flying off the left side of the track and leaving Twilight in the lead. The lavender unicorn was confused about what her rainbow-maned friend was doing, but she was soon distracted by Wave getting up alongside her and pulling out a wrench, hitting the front of her board with it. “Hey, what are you doing?!” Twilight cried as she looked at the swallow next to her, but she soon got her answer when Storm got in front and punched her hard.

The unicorn was knocked off of her Extreme Gear and went backwards through the air for a second, nearly colliding with Applejack (who swerved to the side to avoid a collision) before she hit the ground and started rolling backwards. “TWILIGHT!” Shining Armor, Cadance, Spike, and the others yelled as she rolled back past them.

Before she could reach Sonic and Tails, however, Rainbow Dash suddenly popped up over the side of the track and got in Twilight’s path, catching the unicorn with her forelegs. “Gotcha, Twilight! You okay?” she asked.

Twilight shakily nodded, “Yeah, I think so. Thanks…”

Rainbow Dash smiled in relief, but as they passed through a partly hollowed-out and partly covered vine, she got a bit cocky, saying, “You really gotta pay attention, Egghead! You can’t spend too much time thinking about what to do when you’re on the move like this; you just gotta do it! If you don’t pay attention to what’s going on…”

Twilight interrupted her as they approached a jump, “Look out!” Rainbow opened her eyes to see a stray robot coming straight towards them, flying over the gap ahead. At the speed she was going, she couldn’t react in time and the robot crashed into the upper part of her body, pushing her back and causing her to let go of Twilight, right in the middle of the gap!

“NO!” Rainbow Dash screamed as she tried to get free of the robot. Sonic and Tails went past her, both of them having seen what just happened.

Reacting quickly, Tails shouted, “I’ll catch her!” and moved to the left side of the root, going up along the wall and leaping off of his Yellow Tail before reaching the edge. While Sonic completed the jump and Rainbow Dash got free of her attacker, Tails shot down after Twilight while his Extreme Gear landed facedown at the edge of the jump. “I’m coming, Twilight!” the fox called as he straightened himself to fall faster after the unicorn.

Twilight screamed as she fell, her back pointing down as she fell towards the ground far below. Above her, she saw Tails falling after her and tried to hold her hooves up for him to grab. Tails managed to catch up to her a few seconds later and grabbed her hooves with his hands, straightening himself to fly horizontally, Sonic and Rainbow Dash seeing the two-tailed fox fly away with the lavender unicorn.

“Oh, Tails… That was too close,” Twilight breathed out after she caught her breath.

Tails nodded, “I know. It’s really starting to get dangerous with all of these robots around. It was fine when they were just attacking us, but if there are more out there and they start attacking other people too…”

Twilight got what he was saying and asked, “Isn’t there something we can do to stop them?”

Tails replied, “I don’t know. Maybe if…” He stopped short when he heard the sound of jets behind him and looked back to see a robot moving towards him from behind. Tails glared and increased his speed, trying to stay as far away from the robot as he could. The robot didn’t give up chasing after him, though, as it increased its thrust to try to close the gap between them.

After several seconds, when Tails looked behind him again, Twilight gasped, “Tails, look out!” The fox quickly turned his head forward to see another security robot appear from behind a large root ahead and fly towards them! Tails looked around; the plants around them were thick and it was a tight space, which would make it difficult to change course and get away without crashing. Suddenly, however, a light turquoise blur shot up underneath him and Twilight, whisking them up and away in a blue and yellow thunderbolt streak! The robots were unable to process this sudden turn of events fast enough and crashed into each other, both of them exploding.

The streak behind them soon redirected and took on a more horizontal flight path, pushing both Tails and Twilight for a minute until they were out of the greenhouse. Once they were out, Tails set Twilight down and landed next to her, both of them looking up to see Lightning Dust hovering above them. “Lightning Dust?” Tails asked, his voice making his wonder apparent.

The light turquoise pegasus answered, “Just trying to return the favor. You guys helped me; the least I can do right now is try to help out in return.”

Twilight smiled softly, “Well, thank you for saving us, Lightning Dust.”

Tails nodded, “Yeah. We are out of the race now, essentially, but maybe there’s still something we can do to help the others win.”

Lightning Dust landed in front of them and said, “I still can’t believe those guys! It’s a hoverboard race through a futuristic city and greenhouses! It’s already an intense race; why did they feel the need to break into that robot… place just to make it more intense?!”

Tails eyes lit up at that. He looked at Lightning Dust and asked, “Lightning Dust, that place you just mentioned… Do you remember where it is?”

The pegasus nodded, “Yeah, it’s, uh…” She looked up at the sky for a moment before continuing, “It’s north of here. Why?”

Tails replied, “That’s got to be the MeteorTech factory where Eggman tried to access the mother computer remotely from. The Babylon Rogues must’ve messed with the computer in that factory somehow to reactivate the old security robots and cause this. If we go there, we might be able to shut them all down!”

Twilight gasped and asked, “Lightning Dust, do you think you can get us to that factory quickly?”

Lightning Dust smirked, “You bet! Just get up off the ground and leave the flying to me!” Tails spun his namesakes around at that, lifting off the ground and picking up Twilight when she held her forelegs up. Lightning Dust then got behind Tails and began pushing him as she flapped her wings to go as fast as she could.

CRISIS CORE

As they flew to the northern side of the continent, the three of them could see, off in the distance, silhouettes fighting each other close to the city. “What’s going on over there?” Twilight asked.

“My guess is it’s the old security fighting with the new one. They’re probably trying to protect the people so that they don’t get caught up in this,” Tails said. Lightning Dust said nothing, but she did find it in her to increase her speed a little more.

Soon, the factory came into view. The front was abuzz with activity, robots exiting and flying off, most likely to try to contain the situation. Tails, realizing that getting in through the front was probably unlikely, called back to Lightning Dust, “Head around to the back! We’ll have a better chance of getting in!”

The pegasus asked, “Wouldn’t that be breaking and entering? Won’t the security come after us if they catch us sneaking in?”

Tails looked back at her and asked, “Like they haven’t been attacking us already?” Lightning Dust considered this; Tails added a moment later, “Besides, we snuck in and got caught the last time robots went out of control. It’s not like we haven’t done it before.”

Lightning Dust replied, “All right, it sounds like you know your way around.” She flew around to the back of the factory and the three of them found a spot that they could enter the factory from. Thankfully, the situation in Monopole and the surrounding area had security’s attention, so it was easy to evade security and head for the main office.

As Lightning Dust flew down the purplish-blue hallway, a pair of sliding doors at the end opened up as they got closer, revealing the main office behind them. The pegasus slowed down and came to a stop just in front of the doors, Tails setting Twilight before landing himself and rushing to the control panel. He took a seat in the revolving chair and swiveled around to the control panel, beginning to type on the keyboard as Twilight and Lightning Dust came over. They weren’t entirely sure what they were seeing on the screen, but it was clear he knew what he was doing.

After a minute, Twilight asked, “How does it look, Tails?”

The fox grunted, “Very clever… The commands for the old robots aren’t being sent out by the mother computer, but they’re coming from within it.”

Lightning Dust asked, “What does that mean?”

Tails answered, “It’s like a ghost inside the machine. Somehow, the Babylon Rogues must’ve gotten a hold of the old system and stowed it away within the mother computer when they snuck into the factory earlier. Because it’s hidden inside, the mother computer can’t detect and stop the commands being sent out. There’s no way for it to recognize it as an external threat.”

Lightning Dust asked, “Isn’t there anything we can do to change that?”

Tails leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms, closing his eyes in thought. “I don’t know…” he murmured.

Twilight asked, “You mean there’s no way to, say, shut it off from here?”

Tails’ eyes shot open as a thought occurred to him. “Shut it off? Probably not the typical way, but…” He leaned forward and started typing rapidly on the keyboard while saying, “I have an idea. Give me a minute to work this.”

Suddenly, the doors behind them slid open and Twilight and Lightning Dust turned to see a group of security robots standing in the doorway, all of them looking newer than the ones from earlier. They suddenly shot forward to grab them, Twilight quickly casting her force field spell halfway between the computer and the doors, sealing the robots within the magenta field. The robots bounced off of the barrier, but they soon got back up. “You’d better work fast, Tails!” Lightning Dust yelled as the robots started ramming against the field.

Tails didn’t hear her, instead focusing on the keys in front of him as he worked. “Get through that… Override that… Very clever loophole, Wave, but it looks like I can take advantage of it…” he murmured to himself.

Twilight began to get nervous as her force field began cracking, Lightning Dust thumping her hooves together as she psyched herself up. Suddenly, the field broke; the robots were temporarily stunned by their group rush, but they were already starting to get back up. “Tails!” Twilight cried as they stood all the way up.

“I got it!” Tails exclaimed. As the robots lifted up off the floor again, the fox pushed one last button, “Fire in the hole!”

Lightning Dust and Twilight braced themselves as the robots shot towards them, but before they could even reach the two ponies, they suddenly started sparking as some sort of electric current shot through their frames! Twilight and Lightning Dust stared as they shook in midair for a moment before they all crumpled into a heap on the floor. “What happened?” Twilight asked.

Tails swiveled around in the chair, standing up and saying, “I used the loophole the Babylon Rogues used to hide that software inside of the mother computer to trigger an EMP burst, an electromagnetic pulse, on the system. It forced a shutdown of the system and everything connected to it.”

Twilight and Lightning Dust looked at him, the former asking, “Including what the Babylon Rogues did?”

Tails replied, “I took care of that. When the mother computer reboots, the code they hid inside of it to reactivate and cause the robots to go on a rampage won’t be reactivated by accident. Only the commands the mother computer is supposed to send will be sent out when it comes back on.”

Lightning Dust said, “Then I suggest we get out of here before the real security comes back on!” Twilight and Tails nodded and they all hurried down the hallway, getting out of the factory and heading for Megalo Station.

Meanwhile…

As they closed in on Megalo Station, Sonic and the others watched as security robots, both new and old, dropped like flies onto the streets. “What’s going on?!” Shining Armor exclaimed.

“They’re all shutting down! And I bet Tails and Twilight have something to do with it,” Sonic said.

“Sweet! Now let’s finish this race!” Rainbow called. Everybody nodded and focused on catching up with the Babylon Rogues, who were still in the lead with Sonic, Rainbow Dash, Spitfire, and Soarin close to catching up.

Speaking of the Rogues, they were just as surprised as Sonic’s group as to what was happening. “Wave, what’s going on?! Why are they all stopping?!” Jet yelled.

“I-I don’t know, Jet! Someone must’ve tampered with the program somehow! This isn’t supposed to happen!” the swallow cried.

“You messed up, didn’t you?! If the boss says you did, you did!” Storm accused.

Wave glared at him, “Shut up! Nobody was talking to you!”

Their argument was interrupted when Rainbow Dash suddenly shot past Jet and called back, “Excuse me!”

Jet glared at her as she flew faster. “Hey, get back here!” he yelled, pulling ahead of his teammates. He pulled out his two fans, getting ready to whack the rainbow-maned pegasus with them.

Suddenly, he heard Sonic call from behind, “Hey, Jet!” The hawk glanced behind him to see the hedgehog coming up from behind. “You said anything goes in this race, right?” Sonic asked. When Jet nodded, the hedgehog suddenly shot into a Spin Dash, colliding with Jet and grabbing him. They spun together for a second until Sonic released him, throwing him backwards.

“Boss!” Storm cried, glaring at Sonic and pulling ahead of Wave to get him.

However, Shining Armor came up alongside him and bumped his board into the albatross’, slowing him down slightly. “Back off, you lug!” the stallion shouted.

“Get out of my way!” Storm yelled back, trying to push the unicorn stallion away. Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned his head to look, only to receive a face full of gilded hoof! It didn’t hurt too much, but the hit, combined with his poor Extreme Gear skills, caused him to spin out.

While balancing and making sure her shoe was still on properly, Cadance shouted at him, “That’s for attacking our sister!”

With Storm distracted, Spitfire and Soarin shot forward, flying extremely close to Wave as they passed her and causing the swallow to slow down. “Hey, I need my space here!” Wave yelled as they passed Shining Armor and Cadance.

Spitfire and Soarin soon caught up with Rainbow Dash and Sonic, but Jet and Wave were able to recover and tried to close the gap as they approached Megalo Station. Rainbow and the Wonderbolts were starting to pull ahead as they entered the station. Sonic looked back and saw Jet brandish his fans again, clearly aiming for him. Not wanting to give him that chance, Sonic faced forward again and brought his right foot down on the ground below, doing a kick dash to give himself a quick burst of speed.

Sonic pulled just ahead of the pegasi as the finish line got closer, but his burst of speed soon ended and the pegasi were soon neck and neck with him. They all gave that final push… and they all crossed the finish line together! They all started to slow down after they crossed the line, coming to a stop right outside the station. “Aw yeah, we won!” Rainbow cheered.

TEAM FRIENDSHIP'S VICTORY

“That was awesome!” Soarin grinned.

Spitfire looked over at Sonic as he hopped off of his Blue Star and said, “You were pretty awesome during this race too, Big Blue.”

Sonic grinned back, “Hey, even without wings, I can still manage to fly!”

Jet and Wave soon showed up, stopping across from the group, followed by Spike and the rest of the ponies with Storm bringing up the rear. “Argh, I don’t believe this!” Jet yelled when they were all there.

Sonic shrugged, “Hey, you’re the one who had to say this was a free race, Jet.”

Spitfire nodded, “And we won it. So give back that ring you guys took.”

Wave pulled out the Warp Ring and held it up to her face, examining it for a moment before saying, “Yeah, uh… I’m thinking we’ll actually keep it. It might actually be useful to us.”

Rainbow Dash yelled, “What?! You can’t do that!”

Wave challenged, “Hey, who’s holding the ring here, you or me?”

Soarin said, “But you said you’d give it back if we won the race!”

Jet replied, “Just because I said that doesn’t mean I meant it!”

Wave held the ring up and said, “And someone’s bound to be looking for whoever reactivated those security robots, so we should probably make ourselves scarce right now.”

Sonic looked up and noticed a glint off in the distance, just up and above the Babylon Rogues. Taking a guess as to what it was, he looked back at Jet and said, “Sure, go ahead. But before you do, I have one thing to say.” The Babylon Rogues and the others looked at him curiously. Suddenly, without warning, Sonic shot forward and leapt up, bringing his right foot up and kicking the Warp Ring out of Wave’s hand! “FOOTBALL!” he shouted as the ring went flying.

The ring flipped end over end as it flew up. Before anybody could react, the ring disappeared as a blur shot by, a familiar blue and yellow thunderbolt streak trailing behind it. Once the blur went over everyone’s heads, it slowed down and came to a stop, revealing Lightning Dust, Tails, and Twilight! The Warp Ring sat in Twilight’s right hoof. “Got it!” she called.

“Score!” Tails cheered.

“Deet deet!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed while Fluttershy smiled and held up her forelegs like a football referee.

The three landed soon afterwards, Spike and most of the ponies gathering around Twilight while Sonic and Tails met up and gave each other a high five. They all turned their attention when Jet yelled, “You! What did you do?!”

Lightning Dust smirked, “Just helped unravel your little ‘Extreme’ scheme. Looks like I can perform a high-speed rescue too, huh?”

Wave said, “What?! Then…” She looked over at Tails and glared, “Shorty! You’re the one who messed with my code, aren’t you?!”

Tails replied, “You really need to ask, Wave? My Extreme Gear tuning skills may not be as good as yours, but that’s because I can handle a lot of things!”

Wave argued, “I hid that code inside of the mother computer! There was no way it could be detected or shut off manually! I made sure of that!”

Tails replied, “Well, I’ve made a TV out of paperclips and reprogrammed a supercomputer with dishwashing detergent and a toothpick. So taking advantage of your little loophole to trigger an EMP burst to shut everything connected to the system off, including your code? That was about as hard as building my radar out of spare Badnik parts.”

Wave glared at him, “You…”

Suddenly, the sound of wailing sirens could be heard in the distance. “Wh-What’s that?” Fluttershy asked nervously.

“Sounds like the police. They must be trying to make sure the situation is under control,” Tails said.

Sonic smirked at Jet, “And like Wave said, someone’s going to be looking for whoever caused all this. You still want to get out of here, Jet?”

Storm whimpered, “Boss, please say yes!”

Wave glared at him, “Storm, what’s wrong with you?”

Storm answered, “I’m allergic to sirens!”

Jet sighed and glared at Sonic, “You really want to let us go?”

Spitfire glanced at him and asked, “Yeah, are you sure that’s such a good idea after all this?”

Sonic shrugged, “Unless the cameras caught them, it’s gonna be kind of hard to pin this on them. Especially if there’s no record in the computer.”

Tails scratched the side of his head, “Uh, there might’ve been, actually, but the EMP probably erased it…”

Lightning Dust asked, “So basically, we have no proof against them?”

Sonic replied, “That’s kind of what I was thinking.” He looked back at Jet, “So do you want to walk away now, or after the police question us?” Jet let out a groan, so Sonic turned to look at Twilight and asked, “Twilight, can I have the Warp Ring?” The lavender unicorn nodded and used her magic to float it over to him.

Sonic grabbed it and then dropped it, the ring expanding to its full size a moment later. After it did, Wave demanded, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where is that thing gonna send us?”

Sonic replied, “I’m thinking back to Ponyville. As long as you guys don’t cause any more trouble…”

Jet replied, “Yeah, fine, we’re done for today.” He then pointed directly at Sonic and said, “But make no mistake! We’re going to settle this once and for all one day, Sonic the Hedgehog!”

Sonic smirked, “I’ll be looking forward to that day, Jet. Preferably if it’s the next World Grand Prix.”

AFTERMATH

Soon...

Tails stepped out of the Warp Ring in front of the group, dusting his hands off before grabbing the Warp Ring in his right hand. “Okay, that should do it. All the Extreme Gear is back in storage and they don’t appear to be damaged.”

Twilight chuckled nervously at that, so Sonic looked at her and said, “Hey, don’t worry about it. It takes some time to get a hang of it; it took us some time too, after all.”

Soarin asked Tails, “What about the police? What did they have to say?”

Shining Armor added, “And what about the security robots?”

Tails answered, “It looks like everything’s okay on that front. The police said that nobody was hurt thanks to the response time of the current MeteorTech robots and less damage was sustained than expected. They said they’ll send a team out to the mother computer to do a check up on it.”

Rainbow Dash spoke up, “Yeah, all that is great, Tails. Did they say how awesome we looked during our race?”

Tails rubbed his head with a hand, “Actually, they… did give us a warning for that.” At some of the looks he got, Tails explained, “They do understand why we did it and are grateful for the help in containing the situation, but it’s still technically considered illegal street racing. The warning is just meant to remind us not to do it again.”

Spike, who was sitting on Twilight’s back, asked, “So aside from that, we can get out of here now?”

Tails nodded, “Yeah, I’d say so.” He tossed the Warp Ring up and it expanded to its full size. Everyone, including the Wonderbolts and Lightning Dust, walked into its shimmering portal, the ring shrinking down and vanishing once they were all through.

The ring deposited them on the grassy cliff edge along the train tracks, not far from the train. From where they were, they could see Canterlot around the side of the mountain. Spitfire looked at the others and said, “We’re gonna take Lightning Dust back to Ponyville. I know she helped and all, but I think it would be best if she stayed there until the crisis is over.” Surprisingly, Lightning Dust nodded in agreement. Spitfire then asked, “Are you guys going to be able to go the rest of the way to Canterlot from here?”

Tails answered, “Shouldn’t be a problem. Storm may have managed to stop the train, but I think I can get it going again. I just need to take a look at it.”

Lightning Dust asked, “Can’t you guys just use that ring to warp there? I mean, it seems like it could take you anywhere…”

Tails replied, “You’re right, Lightning Dust, but I don’t know if it’ll work…”

Rainbow asked, “Why not? It’s worked pretty much everywhere else we’ve used it!”

Soarin nodded, “Yeah, try it while we’re here.”

Tails shrugged, “Okay.” He tossed the ring up again and, after it expanded to its full size, said, “All right, can I get somebody who’s familiar with Canterlot to come over here and touch the ring while thinking of Canterlot? If it does work, we’ll know.”

Rarity spoke, “Ooh, allow me to do the honors!” She trotted over to Tails and touched the ring with one of her hooves, closing her eyes to focus on the luxurious Canterlot. When she opened them a moment later, she was surprised to see that the portal had vanished! “What?!” she exclaimed as she removed her hoof, the blank portal reappearing as soon as her hoof was off of it. She touched the ring again several times, but each time, the same thing happened. “What is wrong with this thing?!” she shouted after a minute.

Applejack spoke up, “Sorry, Rarity, looks like ya ain’t got the magic touch.” The white mare glared at her, but the orange earth pony ignored it and looked at Twilight, asking, “Twilight, think ya could it for her?” Twilight hesitantly walked over to the Warp Ring and touched it while thinking of Canterlot, but again, the portal disappeared every time she touched it. Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, Spike, and even the Wonderbolts tried, but the result was the same for each of them.

“Sonic, Tails, what’s wrong with this thing?!” Rainbow yelled after Soarin backed away from the ring.

Tails sighed, “This is why I didn’t suggest this in the first place. There must be something different about this white world now that we’re out of Ponyville. All the portals that have been popping up, the Warp Ring not working properly… That creature must be using its power to keep us from shortening our trip to Canterlot. The only way to get there is the long way.”

Sonic shrugged and muttered, “Of course. No deus ex machina for us.”

Tails touched the ring and an image of Ponyville appeared. “Well, it looks like we can warp back to Ponyville at least.” He looked at Spitfire and Soarin and asked, “Uh, would you…?”

Spitfire nodded, “Sure.” She looked at Lightning Dust and said, “Come on, Lightning Dust.” The light turquoise pegasus nodded and walked with them over to the ring. Before they entered it, Spitfire stopped and looked at Tails for a moment before saying, “You know, Tails, that was pretty impressive back at that city.”

Tails blinked, “Huh?”

Spitfire replied, “The way you took charge and helped resolve the situation. You’ve got a lot of potential, kid.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow, “Spitfire, ma’am, what are you saying?”

Cadance asked, “Are you saying Tails could be Wonderbolt material, Spitfire?”

Spitfire looked back and replied, “Oh no, definitely not! He’s gonna have to learn how to fly fast on his own before that’ll ever happen!”

Tails said, “Oh. Well, uh, that’s a relief!”

Rainbow snickered at that, but she stopped when Spitfire looked back at Tails and continued, “But you’ve got a lot of other skills, Tails. Skills that none of our cadets and even some of our full-fledged Wonderbolts don’t have. Skills and a disposition that anybody would like to have on their side.”

Tails stammered, “Uh, thanks. So…?”

Spitfire smiled, “If you’re interested, stop by the Wonderbolts Academy when this is all over. I think we can find you a place on the team where you’d be most comfortable.”

Tails blinked, “Uh, okay! I’ll be sure to remember that!”

Rainbow Dash’s jaw dropped and she glared at Tails at this, unable to believe that the fox was essentially just offered a position on the Wonderbolts. As Lightning Dust was about to enter the ring’s portal, though, she put it out of her mind and called, “Wait!” Everybody, save for Lightning Dust, turned to look at her. The rainbow-maned pegasus asked, “Lightning Dust, why’d you help us earlier?”

Lightning Dust was silent for a moment before she turned her head to look back at Rainbow Dash and said, “You really have to ask, Rainbow Dash? You know why.”

Rainbow thought for a moment before saying, “Oh right, the whole lying thing.”

Lightning Dust replied, “No! Come on, Dash, we were paired together back at the Wonderbolts Academy. You know me; I’m reckless, but I’m not a cheater. Even if those Babylon Rogues had been trying to help me get a second chance at becoming a Wonderbolt, that dream is not worth going through all that.” With that, she walked through into the Warp Ring’s portal, Spitfire and Soarin following behind her quietly. The ring shrunk down and landed in Tails’ left hand, silence ruling the air as everyone thought about what the redeemed pegasus said.

Sonic and the Secret Rings, Volume One

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PRINCE BLUEBLOOD GETS REPRIMANDED TO SOMEWHAT FITTING MUSIC

“NO! You can’t do this to me! I am your prince! I order you to release me at once!” Celestia sighed to herself as she, Luna, and Flash Sentry followed the castle guards through the castle. In the middle of the unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies who wore their armor proudly was a rather dignified unicorn who was making himself look quite undignified at the moment. While his mane and tail were impeccable and he wore a black collar complete with a dark blue bowtie, his yelling was hardly fit for a pony of his stature.

They soon reached the doors of one of the castle's rooms, the guards pushing the doors open and ushering the unicorn inside. Once he was released, the unicorn immediately tried to get back out, though the guards stood in his way. "Let me out, I say! I will fix this! I cannot live like this!" he cried.

Princess Celestia, while standing behind the guards in the doorway, finally spoke, "Calm yourself, Blueblood. This is not a matter that you need to get involved in."

The unicorn protested, "Yes it is, Aunty! The current state of Canterlot is unacceptable! I am going to do something about it!"

Celestia shook her head, "No, Blueblood. You are not a trained soldier or an experienced adventurer, and you are certainly not a magic prodigy. Therefore, you will remain in this room until the situation has been resolved."

Prince Blueblood opened his mouth, "But..."

Celestia cut him off, "No. I am restricting you for your own safety, Blueblood. Do not attempt to leave this room without permission to do so or I WILL take away the luxuries you enjoy so much. I'm sure the nobles of Canterlot would love to hear about it, especially after your little show at the Grand Galloping Gala."

Prince Blueblood quickly, though reluctantly, swallowed his arguments at that. “Yes, Aunty,” he murmured, remembering how long it took to recover from the embarrassment that followed after that night. With that, Celestia and the group of guards backed out of the rooms, the doors slamming shut after them.

After assigning several guards to keep an eye on Prince Blueblood and picking several others (including Flash Sentry) to help secure the castle and all of its ponies, Celestia set out with Luna to the tower where the Elements of Harmony were normally stored. Once they were far enough away, Luna commented, “Such an uncivilized display. I find it hard to believe we are related to Prince Blueblood.”

Celestia looked over at the Lunar Princess and said, “I can assure you, Luna, we are most definitely related on our mother’s side.”

Luna snorted, “That’s hardly reassuring, sister.”

Celestia sighed, “Well, you can choose to believe it or not, but it’s the truth. Admittedly, I don’t remember him being like he’s been in recent years. At least he hasn’t made any serious complaints about the way things have been handled or tried to overthrow me.”

Luna gave Celestia a sidelong glare, “Was that a jest at me, Celestia?”

Celestia quickly tried to correct herself, “No, Luna. I… I didn’t mean it like that, I swear!”

Luna smirked, “Now YOU are the victim of jesting! Now you know how it feels!”

Celestia rolled her eyes, but smiled, “Okay, you got me, Luna.” She then put on a serious face, “Now I must insist that we stop joking for the time being. While the Royal Guard secures the rest of the castle, we must secure the tower where the Elements of Harmony are kept.”

Luna nodded, “No telling what could be waiting for us in there.”

Celestia added, “And we must be swift. Twilight and her friends could be arriving in Canterlot any minute now.”

________________________________________

TRAIN REPAIR

Sonic, Spike, and the ponies were all hanging around the Friendship Express’ engine. Rainbow Dash and Spike were pacing around while the others simply stood where they were, all of them still wearing their racing suits while they hung around, waiting. Sonic had his arms crossed over his chest as he looked at the open space between the engine’s front wheels, Tails’ racing gloves held in his right fist. Just a few minutes ago, the fox had squeezed into that opening to get ‘under the hood’ for a closer look and now they were waiting to hear his report.

After about a minute, Sonic saw a flash of movement come from underneath the engine, and Tails’ face appeared a second later. Everybody looked over at the sound of Tails grunting to pull himself out, Sonic moving over to help him stand up once he was mostly out. Once he was sure the boy was steady, he let him go and asked, “So how’s it look, Tails?”

Tails sighed as he wiped some sweat off of his brow, “Well, it’s about what I expected. Storm’s effort to stop the train knocked some things loose and shook others out of place, but other than that, there’s no real damage.” He looked towards the front and added, “Not even on the exterior.”

Cadance spoke, “That’s wonderful to hear, Tails! I’m sure it would be quite a fine if any actual repairs needed to be done.”

Tails shrugged, “Probably.”

Shining Armor asked, “You said some things have been shaken out of place, right? Does that mean we can’t get moving right away?”

Tails replied, “I’m afraid so. I’ve gotta tighten everything and make sure it all still sits right. We’re still a ways away from Canterlot, and as a mechanic, I can’t stand the thought of using something that, at the very least, is likely to stall or do something worse.”

Rainbow Dash said, "Well, get back down there and do your thing, Gearhead! Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are probably wondering what the hay is taking us so long right now!"

As he turned around, Tails said, "Okay, I'm going! Geez..."

Just as he was about to crouch down, Rarity let out a loud shriek and ran over to him. Tails was already shocked by the sudden scream, which was only amplified when the fashionista grabbed onto his suit with her hooves and began pulling. In a matter of seconds, she managed to strip him of the outfit (and the boots, somehow) and grabbed it with her magic to hold up.

When he looked back at her over his shoulder, she explained, "You're doing something that the rest of us really can't do, Tails, and we all appreciate it. But I can see traces of grime on the fabric, and it's only going to get worse the longer you're under there! I'm very sorry, but I'm going to have to take this away from you for the time being."

Tails shrugged, "That's okay, Rarity." As he bent his legs, he said, "I mean, I'm not complaining. It's kind of stuffy under here anyway." Sitting down, he pushed his legs between the wheels first and then used his hands to push and correct the rest of himself until he disappeared under the engine again.

Seeing as the two-tailed fox had all of his tools under the engine with him, the rest of the group decided to give him space to work and got back on the train. They went back to the car most of the group had been in before the Babylon Rogues’ attack, though nobody seemed to be ready to sit down just yet, seeing as they all stood around.

PASSING THE TIME

“Um, what should we do now?” Fluttershy softly asked after a couple of seconds.

“Ooh, I know! Let’s have a party to celebrate our victory!” Pinkie chimed.

Rarity, while smoothing out the wrinkles in Tails’ racing suit, spoke, “Pinkie, darling, I know you’re happy about how things turned out, but let’s refrain from partying right now.”

Pinkie whined, “Aw, but why, Rarity?!”

Sonic spoke up, “I can think of three reasons. A, a party in a train would be pretty cramped; B, we’ve still got a time-eating monster to deal with; and C, Tails needs to focus right now so we can get moving again sooner.”

Pinkie shrugged, “Oh. Okay!”

Rainbow groaned, “Ugh, how long is this supposed to take? It feels like this is taking forever!”

Sonic said, “Just sit down and relax, Rainbow. Tails may take a while with his work, especially when it doesn’t work right the first time, but he eventually gets whatever project he has working properly.”

Rainbow sighed, “Yeah, I figured, but… Man, how come we couldn’t have been stopped closer to Canterlot?”

Cadance said, “I know you’re upset about all these delays, Rainbow Dash. We all are, but all we can do is accept this turn of events and do what we can.”

Sonic spoke, “Well, the first thing I’m going to do is get out of this outfit. It’s getting stuffy and it’s starting to ride up.” With that, he grabbed the zipper between his left thumb and index and finger and pulled it down, pulling his legs out once it was all the way down.

Rarity gasped at this and rushed over to him, getting up in his face and demanding, "And just where do you plan on putting that, Sonic?"

Sonic, admittedly more than a bit surprised by the white unicorn's reaction, asked, "An overhead compartment?”

Rarity backed up a bit, but she still was giving him a near-furious look as she raised an eyebrow, "A what?" Sonic glanced up and noticed for the first time that there were no compartments near the ceiling in the car.

He looked back at Rarity and said, "On second thought, I'll just find a spot to lay it down flat."

Rarity nodded, "That's what I thought." She looked back at the others, most of them looking unsure of what to do since they didn't want to incur the fashionista's wrath either, though they did want to take off their racing suits as well. Rarity spoke, "Oh, it's all right if the rest of you want to take your suits off as well." She then turned serious again, "But do not wrinkle them! Right now, they don't need to be washed, but I will have to when we get back to Ponyville if they do get wrinkled!" The others kept that in mind as they began to peel off the racing suits.

"You know, Rarity, these outfits are really amazing! Even after everything that happened during that race, they're not even dirty, like you said!" Spike said as he pulled himself out of his navy blue suit.

While using her magic to remove her own purplish-blue suit, Rarity replied, "But of course, Spike. A real designer knows how to properly prepare a set of clothing for the appropriate occasion." She examined her suit as she held it up in her magic for a moment before saying, "Although, admittedly, I may have made these outfits a little too tight. Perhaps something a little looser the next time I design sports apparel..."

Rainbow kicked off her Wonderbolts-inspired uniform and Applejack pulled off her red suit before the latter said, "Well, don't ya go makin' em too loose, Rarity. Ah mean, what, ya wanna make a sports dress or somethin'? That just sounds silly." Rarity looked at the orange earth pony with an irritated expression for a moment before glancing downwards, as if deeply considering what she said.

Before Applejack could try to snap the fashionista out of her muse, Pinkie called, "Everypony's done, Rarity! We'll lay them on the seats for you!"

Rarity instantly snapped out of her thoughts at that, shrieking, "NO!" That shriek immediately caused everybody to freeze in place and stare at her. Rarity blushed and cleared her throat before clarifying, "I mean, ahem... That's very sweet of you, Pinkie dearie, but I don't think the seats are a good place. I'm sure there's a good place to put them for now somewhere on this train, however." She turned to Twilight and Fluttershy and asked, "Twilight, Fluttershy, do you two think you could help us carry some of these?"

Twilight replied, "Uh, sure, Rarity."

Fluttershy likewise answered, "Um, okay, Rarity..."

After about a minute, Sonic, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Twilight had gathered up all of the racing suits, Sonic holding his own, Tails, and Pinkie’s, Rarity carrying hers, Spike, and Applejack’s, Twilight taking her own, Shining Armor, and Cadance’s, and Fluttershy taking hers and Rainbow Dash’s. After Sonic adjusted the suits in his arms and the boots in his hands, he turned towards the back of the car and asked, “This way, I’m assuming?”

Rarity nodded, “Exactly, Sonic. Since you are the closest to the door, you will lead the way. And you will do it carefully, yes?”

Sonic rolled his eyes as he started walking, “Yeah, yeah, I hear you.” He pushed the door open and stepped through it, making sure not to touch anything he wasn’t supposed to.

Rarity started after him, Twilight and Fluttershy following her into the next car as she continued, almost sounding a bit manic, “You like being in front, don’t you? Well, now you are in the front, where I can see you! You watch your step! I already said I don’t want to have to do extra washing later!”

The rest of the group heard an annoyed, “Okay, I heard you the first time, ‘Aunt Crabby’!” coming from the car, all of them giggling or snickering in amusement.

As the four of them walked through two more passenger cars, Rarity dismissed both of them as being inadequate for her creations. Halfway through the second car, Sonic, who was starting to get annoyed by neither car having any overhead compartments and Rarity saying no, asked, “Doesn’t this train have a luggage car or something?”

Twilight answered, “I think that would be closer to the back, Sonic. We should be almost there.”

Rarity gasped, “Twilight! You aren’t suggesting we place these suits with whatever other luggage is on this train with nothing to keep them in, are you?”

After Sonic opened the door to the next car, as they started to walk through the empty storage car, Twilight replied, “No, Rarity, I… I wasn’t… suggesting that exactly. Sonic does have the right idea, though; if you don’t want to lay them down on the seats, we need a place where we can lay them out.”

Fluttershy asked, “But where could we do that, Twilight?”

At this point, they reached the end of the car they were in and Sonic stopped to open the next door. After doing so, he looked into the adjacent car and saw a line of doors on both sides of the car. “Hey, what’s with all these doors?” he asked.

Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy peered around him to look, Twilight saying, “They’re overnight rooms, Sonic. Passengers can make use of the beds in them if they’re starting to get tired and a trip is really long.”

Rarity exclaimed, “That’s it! The beds will be the perfect length to lay out my creations and keep the wrinkles out!” Rarity quickly assigned herself and Fluttershy to one room and Twilight and Sonic to a room on the other side of the car.

While laying Pinkie’s outfit out on the bottom bed to the left in the back of the room, Sonic asked, “Hey Twilight, is Rarity usually this big a fussbudget?”

Twilight finished setting her outfit on the front right bottom bed before answering, “Don’t get too annoyed by how diligently Rarity takes care of everything she makes, Sonic.” She started over to the left side of the room as she continued, “She’s just generous like that. She’s really only fussy when she has something she doesn’t want ruined.”

While the unicorn laid her brother and sister-in-law’s outfits down, Sonic walked over to the right side of the car and set his and Tails’ boots down while saying, “Yeah, that’s kind of what I was thinking. She’s probably better described as a drama queen though, right?” Twilight rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t help giving a small giggle.

After finishing her task, she turned to look at Sonic as he laid Tails’ outfit down on the bottom bed and moved over to the nearby ladder to climb halfway up to the top bed. He laid his racing suit on the crook of his right arm and used his right hand to hold onto the ladder while his left hand took his sunglasses off of his forehead. He then reached his left hand up and lowered the glasses down onto the bed. However, as he moved his hand, it met something other than the blanket on top of the bed, something that felt hard. “Hm?” he murmured aloud.

INTERESTING FIND

“What’s wrong, Sonic?” Twilight asked.

Sonic felt around on the bed with his hand for a moment before reaching over and grabbing the hard object with his left hand. While still gripping the ladder with his right hand, he brought his left hand back down and looked at the object he held. It was a book with a mostly burgundy and blue cover, a yellow door within the blue on the front cover. Sonic smiled as he recognized it, “Well, what do you know?”

Soon…

“Ugh! What is Rarity doing with Fluttershy, Sonic, and Twilight?!” Rainbow exclaimed as she hovered over the others on her back, her hooves behind her head.

“It is a bit worrying, Rainbow Dash. By all accounts, they should have reached the back car and come back by now,” Princess Cadance said.

“Maybe Rarity is really picky about where she’s willing to leave the outfits she designed?” Shining Armor suggested.

Applejack nodded, “Ah could see that. That sounds like Rarity.”

Pinkie piped up, “Or maybe they found another portal and are having a super fun adventure together!”

Rainbow groaned, “Oh, they better not have! I swear…”

Spike suddenly shot up out of his seat and dashed towards the back of the train, exclaiming, “Twilight, Rarity!” The other ponies were surprised for a moment before they got up, running after the baby dragon.

Just as Spike reached the sleeping car, Twilight, who had heard the baby dragon’s shouting, stepped out of one of the rooms in confusion. As she did, Spike crashed into her front left leg, bouncing back and landing on his rump afterwards. Twilight turned her head to look down at him and asked, “Spike, what’s wrong?”

Spike shook his head and looked up at her, the other ponies catching up as he said, “Twilight! Where have you been? And where’s Rarity, Fluttershy, and Sonic?”

Twilight awkwardly pointed at the room she’d come out of, “In there. Why?”

Applejack spoke, “It’s okay, Twi’. Pinkie just put an idea in his head and made him a bit paranoid.”

At this, both Pinkie and Spike exclaimed, “Hey!”

Ignoring them, Applejack asked, “Seriously though, why have y’all been gone so long?”

Sonic called from the room, “That would be my fault!” Twilight turned and went back into the room, the others peering in after her to see Sonic sitting in the back of the room on the bed to their right and Twilight joining Fluttershy and Rarity on the bed across from him. The book Sonic had found earlier was sitting open in his hands, his hands resting on top of his knees.

BOOK TIME

Applejack raised an eyebrow, “Y’all have been… readin’ this whole time?”

Rarity huffed, “Don’t be silly, Applejack! I made sure all of the racing outfits I designed were laid out properly, and Sonic was just telling us about this fascinating book he found when all of you came in.”

Shining Armor asked, “So you were just talking about it? You weren’t reading it?”

Sonic answered, “Right. We were gonna come out and get the rest of you before I actually started reading. Fluttershy, Twilight, and Rarity just had a few questions about it.”

Fluttershy nodded, “It really sounds like an interesting book.”

Pinkie exclaimed, “Ooh! Story time with Sonic! That sounds great!” She made a big leap and landed on the bed above Rarity, Twilight, and Fluttershy, turning to look down at Sonic before lying down on her stomach. “Story! Story! Story!” she chanted as she got comfortable.

Spike and the ponies weren’t really bothered by the pink pony’s odd behavior, though Twilight did clarify, “This is a little different from most stories, Pinkie. At least that’s what Sonic said.”

While walking over to the bed adjacent to Twilight’s and sitting down, Cadance looked at Sonic and asked, “Really? What’s it called?”

Sonic closed the book and turned it around in his hands, holding it up so everybody could see the cover. “It’s called the Arabian Nights, and it’s a collection of stories,” he explained.

While taking a seat on the bed next to Sonic’s along with Spike, Applejack asked, “Ya mean it’s a buncha stories in one book?”

Sonic replied, “Pretty much. All the stories in here are standalone; they’re not connected to each other.”

Rainbow spoke, “Yeah, no offense, Sonic, but that kind of sounds like a boring book. I mean, if it’s a bunch of stories all crammed into one book, how long and exciting could they be?”

Sonic held the book up in his left hand and waggled it while saying, “You’d be surprised what some people can come up with when they’re trying to stay alive, Dash.”

Before Rainbow could ask what he meant, Rarity spoke up, “Please, Rainbow Dash. We all know you’re saying it must be boring because it doesn’t have Daring Do in it.”

Rainbow replied, “Well, yeah, that too. After all, everything pales in comparison to Daring Do!”

Twilight noted, “Rainbow Dash, Daring Do is the only thing I ever see you reading in the library.”

Rainbow flew over to Sonic and took the book out of his hand while saying, “Well, yeah, Twilight! I mean, could you ever see me reading something like this?” She used her wings to flip through the pages while she held the tome in her right hoof. Looking at the pages, she said, “Look at all these squiggles. Is this how people write in your world, Sonic?”

Sonic replied, “That’s the copy of the book I read. And I picked up a few things while traveling around the world.”

Rainbow looked up at him and asked, “So you can read this? What’s this writing called, anyway?”

Sonic answered, “Well, it’s not the language it was originally written in. Arabic is written differently, I know that.”

Pinkie giggled, “Arabic? Maybe it’s the same style of writing as in Saddle Arabia!” She rolled onto her back and waved her legs up in the air while saying, “Ifalas zaras I e zaraq, ifalas zaras I e zaraq…”

Sonic and the others looked up at her oddly. “What was that, Pinkie?” Twilight asked.

“Dunno!” the party pony giggled, still lying on her back.

Sonic continued to look up at her. “That’s part of the spell Erazor used to summon the Ifrit. Did she just say that randomly, or…?” His thought was interrupted when Rainbow let out a slight gasp, causing him to look at her. “What is it, Dash?” he asked, garnering the attention of the others.

“There’s something crazy going on with this book!” the rainbow-maned pegasus exclaimed, now holding the open tome with both hooves. Indeed, the book seemed to be shaking as it sat in her hooves, occasionally fluttering as though something was trying to get out of it.

INTO THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

Suddenly, a bright light began to emanate from the book’s pages and Rainbow Dash dropped it in shock, the book opening to the page where the shining was coming from as it landed in the middle of the floor! Everybody stood and looked down at the book apprehensively, Shining Armor and Spike moving to stand close to Cadance, Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy. “What is going on?!” Cadance exclaimed over the loud humming noise that accompanied the light.

As if in response to her question, the book began to lift off the ground slightly, tilting up until it was pointed directly at Sonic, who was standing in the corner beside his bed. Suddenly, the light shot out of the book and grabbed him, pulling him towards it! “Ah, not again!” Sonic shouted just before his face disappeared into the pages.

“Sonic!” Twilight cried, quickly standing up and running over to him, grabbing him by his feet with her forelegs before all of his legs disappeared. She tried to pull him out, but soon lost the tug of war and started getting pull in as well!

“No, Twilight!” Shining Armor and Cadance yelled, both of them running to her and biting down on her tail, both pulling as hard as they could to try to free her and Sonic. For a second, it looked like they might’ve been able to pull them out, but once their flanks hit the wall behind them, the book responded by pulling harder, yanking them off their hooves and into it!

Spike and the other ponies (save for Pinkie Pie) joined in, all of them trying to help the royal couple. Unfortunately, the increased suction coming from the book remained and they began to lose as well. Before they were all pulled in, Pinkie bounced over and said, “Wait for me!” before biting down on Fluttershy’s tail and getting pulled into the book with the rest of them.

On the other side of the light, everybody was being pulled down what seemed like a straight tunnel, the outside of the ‘tunnel’ being surrounded by swirling pages. There were also some pages floating inside the tube, seemingly acting like platforms, but they did little to slow the group’s fall, breaking off and floating away if they were hit. As they fell, despite their efforts, Cadance, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash were unable to flap their wings enough to resist the force that was pulling all of them down.

After a short while of falling, a light began to shine from up ahead and, as they reached it, a landscape filled with sand and various architectural relics began to spread out below the group. It didn’t take long afterwards for everyone to crash into the ground, the sand softening their impact. After landing, a few of them could swear they heard what sounded like someone moving away from them, but between the faintness of the sound and the landing impact, they weren’t entirely sure that was what they heard.

A LAND IN A FARAWAY PLACE

Sonic soon lifted his head up, raising his left hand to his forehead as he used his right hand to push himself up. As he stood up all the way, he rubbed his head and muttered, “Guess that’s another crash landing on my record…” He then lowered his left hand and looked around, seeing the others scattered all around close by. Thankfully, they all hit the sand like he did rather than any of the structures dotting the desert. They were beginning to move, so Sonic loudly asked, “Hey, everybody okay?”

Twilight lifted her head up and looked around, looking at her friends, brother, and sister-in-law as they started to stir and pull their heads out of the sand before saying, “Uh, I think so.” She stood up, looking over at Sonic and asking, “Are you okay too, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “Yeah. Not the first time I’ve fallen out of the sky without a parachute.” He looked off to the side as he added, “At least we landed in sand instead of dirt.”

Shining Armor, as he walked over to Twilight, spoke, “…After that stunt you pulled earlier with that giant battleship, I’m not even going to ask how often this happens to you.”

Sonic looked back at him and said, “I can still count the times on my…”

Shining interrupted him, “I don’t want to know any details!”

Sonic shrugged, “Fine, be that way.”

As the others gathered around, Cadance stopped between Twilight and Shining Armor and asked, “So where are we this time, Sonic?”

Applejack added, “Yeah, what part o’ yer past are we in now?”

Sonic answered, “Uh, we really didn’t travel through time. More like through time and space.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow, “What does that mean?”

Sonic replied, “Well, answer me this: what happened before we wound up here?”

Spike shrugged, “Uh, we got pulled into that book you found?”

Sonic nodded, “Exactly.”

The others looked confused until Twilight asked, “Wait, are you saying…?”

Sonic answered, “Yep. We’re inside the book.” He held his arms out as he added, “This is the world of the Arabian Nights!”

The others were shocked by this bit of information. “Wait, you mean… This isn’t your world, but a whole different world inside of a book?!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. That’s what I meant when I mentioned rescuing genies in magic books.”

Twilight held a hoof to her chin for a moment before saying, “That’s right. You did say that when we first met.” She looked around and asked, “Wait… Which story are we in? Or are we, since it’s a collection of stories, not really in one specific story?”

Sonic nodded, “You got it the second time, Twilight. There’s a thousand and one tales in this book, and they’re all brought to life here in some way.”

Cadance mouthed, “A thousand and one stories…?”

Rarity tittered, “Ooh! So many tales of mystery and enchantment and possibly romance… all real in this world!”

Fluttershy added, “And I’m sure there are many exotic creatures in this world too.”

Applejack cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me for breakin’ this up, but this ain’t exactly the world we need ta be in right now. We ain’t got time ta see stories come ta life.” She turned to look at Sonic, “Sonic, you’ve been here before. What do we gotta do ta get outta here?”

Rarity started to protest, “But Applejack…!”

Sonic spoke, cutting her off, “Hang on, give me a minute.” Before anyone could say anything, he suddenly dashed away from them all, running towards a column and going up the side of it. He stopped before he got to the top and used his hands to grab onto the edge, using his arms to pull himself up. He held his left hand over his eyes to keep the Sun out while he scanned the desert from the top of the column.

While he was away, Rarity turned back to Applejack and said, “Applejack, we just got here! Look at all of this; there’s a massive world inside this dusty old book! And Sonic clearly knows it, so why can’t we spend a little time here?”

Rainbow spoke up for Applejack, “Because your idea of spending time takes too long, Rarity! I’m totally with AJ on this one; we don’t have time for a vacation right now!”

Rarity looked aghast at the pegasus’ words. Before she could protest, Sonic suddenly zipped down from the column and back over to the group. “Okay, I’ve got my bearings now.” He pointed past the group and said, “That’s the way we want to go.”

Pinkie Pie asked, “Really? Why?”

Sonic answered, “The closest entrance to the town is that way. I’m pretty sure it’s not the same entrance I used when I first came here, but I’m sure we can find our way around the town. If my hunch is correct, we should find an old friend of mine at the palace there.”

Rarity looked interested at these words. “Ooh, a palace, you say? It sounds like you have friends who have great power in this world, Sonic!” she said.

Sonic shrugged, “Whatever you say, Rarity.”

Shining asked, “Who is this ‘friend’ of yours, Sonic?”

Sonic replied, “Her name’s Shahra. She’s the one who brought me into the Arabian Nights in the first place, and she knows how to leave this world. Finding her is our best bet if we want to leave with the least hassle.”

Rainbow spoke, “Well, let’s get moving, then! The sooner we find her, the sooner we’re back in Equestria!” Sonic nodded and led the way, Spike climbing onto Twilight’s back as the ponies started following him.

Rarity murmured to herself, “Well, exploring a town in this strange world does sound like it would be exciting. And perhaps I can get a little shopping in as well.” She then followed after the rest of the group.

HISTORY OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

As they walked through the desert, the mild temperature not really bothering anyone despite the Sun shining down on them, Cadance came up along Sonic’s left side and asked, “Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog looked back at her over his shoulder, “Yeah, Cadance?”

The pink alicorn continued, “You mentioned that this Arabian Nights book contains a thousand and one stories. Did you mean that?”

Sonic nodded, “Yep. I know it sounds like a lot for one book, but it’s true. It has that many short stories in it.”

Twilight, from Cadance’s left side, asked, “Have you read them all before?”

Sonic said, “Since my adventure here, yeah, I’ve managed to find time between Eggman’s plots to go through the stories.”

Spike shook his head, “Man, that’s crazy! Why are there so many stories? Who has time to write that much?”

Sonic replied, “Well, I’m no history buff, Spike, but I do know a little bit about how the Arabian Nights came to be. Pretty amazing, I gotta say.”

Fluttershy spoke, “Um, I was actually going to ask about that back in the train while you were telling us about the book, Sonic. H-How does it go?”

Sonic replied, “Well, I’ll try to keep it short since we’re not far from the town. It goes something like this: there was this king, see, and, well… Let’s just say that things didn’t work out so well with his first wife and he became a bit…” he waved his right hand around for a moment as he searched for the right word, “paranoid as a result.”

Shining Armor raised an eyebrow and asked, “Paranoid how?”

Sonic said, “He kept going from one marriage to the next, to put it lightly. And this went on for, like, a few years, until he married his vizier’s daughter.”

Pinkie Pie piped up, “Hey, what’s a vizier?”

Sonic shrugged, “It’s someone who’s like an advisor, I think. Anyway, the vizier’s daughter was really clever. The first and what should have been the only night they were together, she told the king a story that lasted the whole night. By the time the Sun was coming up, she wasn’t even close to finished yet, so the king decided to stay with her one more night so she could finish. When she did, she started another story, and for a thousand and one nights, she kept telling him stories. By the time she was out of stories, the king had fallen deeply in love with her, so he made her his queen and they lived happily together.”

Rarity gushed, “Ooh, how wonderful for that vizier and his daughter! A happily ever after story…”

Twilight looked at Sonic and asked, “A thousand and one nights? So the stories she told him for about three years…?”

Sonic nodded, “Yep. The king had the stories she told him collected and put together. In time, they became known as the Arabian Nights. That’s the story as simply as I can put it.”

Shining Armor asked, “Why, is it more complex than that?”

Sonic thought about the details he had left out for a moment before saying, “Nah, not really. Just figured it would be better to stick to something shorter for the sake of time.”

Applejack chuckled, “That and ta make sure Dash’s interest didn’t start waverin’, right Sonic?”

The aforementioned pegasus glared down at the orange earth pony as she hovered over everybody’s heads, “Very funny, Applejack.”

Twilight spoke up after a moment, “Look, we’re almost to the town.” Everyone looked ahead and saw that the stone buildings weren’t far away. They all quickened their pace, heading for the town entrance.

EXPLORING THE TOWN

Soon, the group had entered the town. As Sonic had thought, it was not the same entrance he used the first time, as they didn’t have to cross a pier to reach the town. They began to wander the streets looking for the bridge leading to the king’s palace, passing by various townspeople who were all dressed in traditional Arabian garb.

As they passed through the town’s streets, they inevitably ended up passing through one of the marketplaces. Despite themselves, most of the group ended up drifting towards the various stalls along the road, either unconsciously or because they were enamored by what they had seen of the town so far. The various shopkeepers clearly identified the group as potential customers, as they began trying to convince them to purchase their wares.

Shining Armor and Princess Cadance were trailing behind the rest of the group, both of them interested in their surroundings. As they passed next to a stall full of pots, they were stopped by the stall owner calling to them, “Pretty couple buy a pot? No finer pot in brass or silver!”

Cadance and Shining Armor came to a stop at his words and looked at him and his pots. Cadance actually seemed to be considering buying one, as she put a hoof to her chin as she looked at the pots and said, “Well, they do appear to be very well-made…”

Further up on the other side of the road, Pinkie had stopped at another stall and Applejack was doubling back to check on her. As the apple pony got close to the stall, she heard the vendor exclaiming, “Sugar dates, sugar dates and figs! Sugar dates and pistachios!” Applejack could see Pinkie Pie jumping up and down excitedly at every one of the vendor’s words. It was a common ploy she’d seen in her years as an apple farmer, and one she remembered all too well from the time the Flim Flam Brothers came into Ponyville.

While the orange pony moved to help her friend, Rarity and Fluttershy were stopped further down the road at a stall that seemed to be selling jewelry. The stall owner looked at them and asked, “Would the ladies like a necklace? Pretty necklaces for pretty ladies.” Both Fluttershy and Rarity looked at each other and giggled bashfully at that.

Unnoticed by either mare, Spike was glaring up at the stall owner from the side since he thought the owner was flirting with Rarity and Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash, meanwhile, rolled her eyes as she overheard the owner’s words as she fluttered behind her friends. As the rainbow-maned pegasus flew in front of the adjacent stall, she, Spike, Rarity, Fluttershy, and the stall owner were startled by that stall’s owner suddenly exclaiming, “FRESH FISH! We catch ‘em, you buy ‘em!” while holding a dead fish out towards Rainbow.

Rainbow hovered back from the stall owner while uttering, “Ew, no!”

Sonic and Twilight, meanwhile, were ahead of the rest of the group, still looking for the bridge to the king’s palace. Further up, the road turned to the left as the straight part of the road ended and they turned to continue on it. As they were walking, Sonic noted, “This town’s bigger than I thought it was. I wonder if it’s grown since I’ve been here.”

Twilight looked at him and asked, “Can it grow? I mean, I would assume this town is the setting of a story; if it was bigger than the story made it out to be, wouldn’t the story change?”

Sonic replied, “Not necessarily, Twilight. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in the world of the Arabian Nights, it’s that, when all the stories come together, there are details here that aren’t even mentioned in the stories. It pretty much is its own world.” As they continued walking, a figure that was about Sonic’s size clad in a brown cloak was watching them from the shadows.

Sonic and Twilight soon came to another section of the marketplace. They looked around before continuing on, noticing how many stalls were open. After a few seconds, they passed by a stall full of eggs that was being tended to by a heavyset man. As the man looked up, he did a double take when he saw Sonic walking by and looked at him for a moment before exclaiming, “Ah! It’s…! It’s…!” Sonic and Twilight stopped and turned at his shouting, both looking confused. The man turned and put his hands around his mouth, calling, “Guards! GUARDS!”

While Sonic and Twilight continued to stare at the man, the rest of the group came around the corner and approached the two of them, Applejack and Rainbow Dash looking very aggravated. As they got closer, Applejack spoke, “There you two are! Did ya find the king’s palace yet?”

Twilight and Sonic looked over at them, but before they could answer, two guards dressed in red suddenly approached them. One of them asked, “What is the trouble here?”

The other guard pointed at Sonic and said, “It’s him! The street rat!”

Sonic glared at the guard, “Hey, I’m a hedgehog, not a rat!”

The first guard spoke, “Silence, rat! You should’ve stayed wherever you’d been hiding, because your escaping the palace will not go unpunished!”

Sonic raised an eyebrow, “Huh?”

The second guard said, “We have orders from the king! He demands you return to the palace immediately!”

Sonic replied, “Does he now? Okay, then.” He held his arms out in front of him, “Take me to him.”

Applejack gawked, “What?! Sonic, what do ya think you’re doin’?!”

Sonic looked over at the apple pony, “I’m coming along quietly. The king and I aren’t exactly on good terms; if he wants to see me, I might as well not push it.”

The two guards came over, the second one saying, “That’s a good street rat.” The first guard, meanwhile, put handcuffs on Sonic’s wrists.

Twilight gasped, “Sonic…!”

Sonic looked back at her, “What? I know when to come quietly. I don’t always do it, but I know when it’s expected of me.” The guards then moved to his side and grabbed his arms, lifting him up off the ground.

As they began to walk away, Rainbow Dash flew in front of them and said, “Hey, I don’t care who this king guy thinks he is! We’re not just gonna stand by and let you take our friend off to prison!”

The second guard asked, “Oh? So the street rat has formed a pack of street mice, has he?”

Sonic spoke up, “No. Leave her and the rest of them alone. They didn’t do anything. They’re just bystanders.”

Rainbow gawked, “What?! Sonic!”

The first guard spoke, “I’d suggest you back off, street mouse, unless you WANT to share his fate!”

Sonic looked up at Rainbow Dash and, noticing that she looked ready to burst, said, “Just let it go, Rainbow. Give me a chance to see the King, okay? Even though we’re not on the best terms, maybe we can work whatever this is out.”

Rainbow insisted, “But Sonic…!”

The blue hedgehog replied, “Five minutes. That’s all I’m asking for. Give me five minutes before you bring in the cavalry.” Rainbow still didn’t look happy at this, but she flew aside and let the guards pass. As they walked away, she overheard the guards saying something about a ridiculous alias.

As the guards turned the corner up ahead, Fluttershy whimpered, “Why did they arrest Sonic?”

Shining spoke, “We don’t know what Sonic’s standing is, especially in a world like this. He might’ve gotten into some kind of trouble last time he was here. At least he didn’t dig himself deeper by causing a ruckus.”

Pinkie put a hoof to her chin, “Mm, I’d say it would be more like a fracas than a ruckus.”

Cadance looked at Shining as Twilight came over and asked, “Shining, you don’t believe Sonic would cause trouble, do you?”

The stallion replied, “Well… not intentionally, anyway.” Looking back, he asked, “Still, why did those guards seem to recognize him? And why were they calling him ‘street rat’?”

Applejack sighed, “In any case, he’s either really crazy or he’s got more guts than Ah gave him credit for if he’s willin’ to go along with this.”

Rarity asked, “So what do we do now?”

Pinkie smiled, “That’s easy, Rarity! He asked for five minutes, we’ll give him five minutes before we come to his rescue!”

Spike pointed out, “But we don’t know where the palace is, Pinkie.”

Pinkie giggled, “Those guards obviously took Sonic to the palace! We just have to follow them and wait at the palace! We’ll wait for five minutes like he said and then get him out of there!” She then started trotting forward while saying, “One, two, three, four, five, six…” Spike and the other ponies just sighed before falling in step after her, realizing she meant what she said.

REUNIONS AND MEETINGS

With Sonic, meanwhile, he found that the corner that the guards had turned at led onto the street that showed a clear view of the King’s palace, and he was currently being carried across the bridge at the end of the road. He wasn’t very happy about going so slow or being carried, but considering the first impression he made on the King, he figured it was best to keep his mouth shut until he could figure out what the situation with the King was.

Before long, the guards arrived at the palace throne room, where they threw Sonic onto his knees a short distance away from a man standing next to one of the columns along the side of the room. The man was wearing a black turban that was topped by a read feather, a golden finger ring and necklace, a white scarf, and a dark purple robe that had yellow edges and lines and red jewels, underneath which he wore a black shirt, black pants, black boots, and a red sash. The first guard spoke, “Your Highness, we bring you good news. We found your hedgehog servant in town with a herd of horses and have returned him to you so you may pass judgment on him. Just say the word and we will arrest his accomplices as well.”

The man turned around and Sonic really had to make sure he set his jaw as he saw the navy blue glasses the man wore and his mustache, remembering that even his bad doctor played a part in this world. He stared at the blue hedgehog for a moment before saying, “You’re…!” He then looked at his guards and said, “You fools! I told you to find and bring me Aladdin!”

The second guard sputtered, “But… he’s a hedgehog. Isn’t this Aladdin, my liege?”

The King replied, “Are you two colorblind?! This hedgehog is BLUE! And if you recall, I told you that a blue hedgehog, while disrespectful, saved me from the Erazor Djinn and then stopped him destroying our world when you two and the rest of the guards ran away!”

Sonic smirked to himself, “Heh, at least King Shahryar acknowledged that I did something right.

The guards began to scramble at this, unlocking Sonic’s handcuffs and dusting him off as they helped him up. When one of them asked if he would like them to show him to the entrance, King Shahryar interjected, “No. I’d like to have a few words with this hedgehog first. You two get back out there and continue the search, and don’t come back until you’ve found Aladdin!” The guards quickly saluted at that and ran out of the throne room, leaving Sonic and the King alone.

Sonic turned to look back at King Shahryar and they both stared at each other in silence for a moment. Finally, the King spoke, “So, you decided to come back, hedgehog.”

Swallowing down what that face meant to him, Sonic replied, “Yeah, sort of. …I’m sorry about catching you with my foot last time.”

King Shahryar turned and started walking towards the middle of the room, though he kept looking at Sonic the entire time with his hands behind his back. “What do you mean, ‘sort of’?”

Sonic shrugged, “I honestly have no clue. I just know that I and my friends were sucked back into this world without any explanation. Somebody must’ve cast a summoning spell; that’s all I can figure.”

King Shahryar replied, “I see.” He finally turned away from Sonic and walked up the steps to his throne, turning back to face the hedgehog as he sat down. “So I suppose you’ll want some help in order to find out whoever was responsible, or at least get the help you need to go back to your world?” he asked.

“If you don’t mind telling me where she is,” Sonic replied.

King Shahryar glared at the hedgehog for a long moment before saying, “Oh, very well.” He lifted his left hand up off of his throne’s armrest, revealing a ring underneath it. “You always were her true master, I suppose.” He reached down with his left index finger and rubbed the top of the ring.

A second later, smoke began to emerge from the ring, taking on the form of a young pink-haired woman wearing a light amethyst top that had no sleeves, white pants that went down to her knees, a pink belt, pink sandals, and pieces of jewelry. She floated in front of King Shahryar’s throne, turning her head to look at him as she asked, “Yes, Your Majesty? How can I…?” She stopped short when she sensed something and turned to look at Sonic. “Sonic!” she exclaimed after a moment.

“Shahra!” Sonic smiled as the genie floated over to him. He took her hands when she held them out to him and said, “It’s good to see you again.”

Shahra replied, “I feel the same way.” After they separated hands, she asked, “But how did you come back?”

Sonic shrugged, “Someone cast a spell to make it so. That’s the only thing I can think of. I figured the first thing to do would be to find you.”

Shahra’s eyes brightened, “Does that mean…?”

Sonic replied, “If you want me to be your master again, just say the word.” Shahra turned and used her magic to lift her ring off of the King’s throne, floating it over to Sonic and placing it in the palm of his left hand. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” he said, slipping the ring over his right middle finger and grunting when it secured itself.

Shahra then asked, “So what now, Sonic?”

King Shahryar spoke up, “I’m sure he wants to go home, my dear. You were there when he left; I’m sure you can help him get back to where he wants to go.”

Sonic said, “I do want to go back, and my friends do too of course, but not just yet. Someone or something had to have summoned me back into this world, and like you said, I want to know why. Also, why are you searching for Aladdin?”

King Shahryar answered, “Ah, that. Well, it’s a bit of a tale; Shahra can tell you all about it. I will mention this, though: Aladdin has been acting strange ever since a strange man in a red cloak came to this town.”

Sonic asked, “A man in a red cloak? Has he done anything?”

King Shahryar answered, “Not as far as anyone knows. I’ve been trying to have my guards keep an eye on him, but they say he manages to elude them. Whether this is due to their incompetence or not, I do not know. At any rate, if you should find Aladdin, return him to me.” He slid his fingers together, “I may be willing to reward you for your efforts. Now if you could just show yourself out like a good little hedgehog…” Sonic didn’t really like the King’s patronizing tone, but he took the hint and motioned for Shahra to follow him, both of them leaving the throne room.

As they made their way to the palace entrance, Shahra asked, “Sonic, what did you mean you said your friends would like to leave too?”

Sonic replied, “Oh, I’ve met some new friends today, Shahra. They’re from a totally different world. A lot of stuff’s happened today to put our worlds in danger, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. Anyway, I ended up finding the Arabian Nights book when it suddenly started sucking me in. My friends tried to help, but they ended up getting pulled in too. They’re the ‘accomplices’ the King’s guard mentioned.”

Shahra nodded, “I see. Do you think they’ll want to know about Aladdin’s disappearance too?”

Sonic replied, “I’m sure they’ll ask why the King’s guards arrested me. They’re probably going to want to know more about how we met and the World Rings and all that in addition to what’s been going on lately, but for now, let me tell you about them.”

Soon, in front of the palace

“249, 250, 251, 252…” Pinkie went on, seemingly not the least bit bored with it, as she, Spike, and the other ponies sat on the front steps of the palace. The guards that had taken Sonic had run out of the palace almost a minute ago and they hadn’t stopped to either reprimand them or tell them what was going on, leaving them all even more confused. Still, at Pinkie’s unwavering insistence, they kept waiting.

Rainbow let out a groan and asked, “How much longer do we have to wait now?”

Twilight looked at her and said, “It’s been five seconds since the last time you asked, Rainbow.”

The pegasus huffed, “Yeah, well, this is taking too long! Seriously, what is Sonic doing in there?!”

Cadance suggested, “Maybe he’s trying to patch things up with the King. He did say they aren’t exactly on the best terms.”

Spike muttered, “Wonder what he did to upset the King so badly.”

Shining Armor rolled his eyes, “Good question, Spike; what could have he possibly done to upset someone?”

Twilight looked at him for a moment before turning her head towards the palace entrance as she heard voices approaching. The others heard it as well, standing up and turning to look as Sonic and Shahra walked out, still locked in their conversation. “Real unicorns and pegasi, and a winged unicorn known as an alicorn… They sound amazing, Sonic!” Shahra was saying.

“Yeah, I know. And Twilight has an assistant named Spike. He’s a baby dragon,” the blue hedgehog replied.

“A baby dragon! How fascinating!” Shahra said.

They both stopped and turned to look forward when Applejack spoke, “There ya are, Sugar-hog!”

Rainbow demanded, “What were you doing in there?!”

Rarity asked, “Do we have an audience with the King?”

Pinkie tapped her chin, “What’s with the ring?”

Sonic simply replied, “Hey guys. Sorry about making you wait so long.”

Shahra held a hand up to her mouth, “Oh my… They really are just as you described, Sonic.”

Shining looked at the genie for a moment before looking back at Sonic and asking, “Who’s this, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “It’s Shahra. Remember I told you about her?” He held up his right hand, the ring on his middle finger clearly visible as he added, “She’s the Genie of the Ring.”

Spike and the ponies looked surprised at that. “She’s a genie? That… That’s amazing!” Fluttershy said.

Pinkie immediately got up beside Sonic and wrapped a foreleg around him, tightly squeezing him and saying, “Looks like Rarity was right, Sonic! You do have some great and powerful friends in this world! Friends with a genie? That’s so like you!”

Shahra giggled and asked, “Am I correct in assuming you’re Pinkie Pie?” The pink pony nodded, so Shahra smiled, “Sonic has told me plenty about you and your friends.”

Twilight cocked her head, “Already?”

Shahra turned to her and said, “Yes, Miss Sparkle. …Is that correct?” At Twilight’s nod, she continued, “That’s part of what the wait was about. He started talking about all of you and I really wanted to hear it all before meeting everyone.” Spike and the others introduced themselves to her afterwards, Shahra quickly learning who was who thanks to Sonic’s descriptions.

Once they were all done, Sonic suggested, “Maybe we should go somewhere else. I wouldn’t want to get in trouble for loitering.”

Shahra nodded, “Good idea, Sonic. I know a place in town we can go and continue this.” Sonic started down the stairs at that, Shahra floating after him and Twilight and the others following after them.

As they started making their way back across the bridge, Shining caught up with Sonic and asked, “Speaking of trouble, Sonic, what happened with the King?”

Sonic shrugged, “Ah, just a case of mistaken identity. His guards thought I was Aladdin and the King cleared up the confusion.”

Cadance asked, “So are you and the King back on good terms?”

Sonic replied, “Eh, I don’t know. He seems like a good guy and all, but it’s hard for me to get over the fact that he looks just like Dr. Eggman.”

Twilight asked, “What do you mean?”

Sonic answered, “A lot of the major characters from the Arabian Nights look like my friends back home. In King Shahryar’s case, he looks and sounds like Dr. Eggman, but that’s it. He is who he’s supposed to be.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow, “Ya sure about that, Sugar-hog?”

Sonic grunted, “Yes, I’m positive, Applejack.”

Applejack shrugged, “Just makin’ sure.”

Rainbow asked, “So who’s this Aladdin guy? What’s the big deal about him?”

Shahra, who was hovering above everyone along with the cyan pegasus, gasped, “You’ve never heard of Aladdin?”

Rarity quickly spoke up, “Our dear Rainbow Dash isn’t much of a reader, Shahra dearie. She has certain… preferences for what she likes to read, so you’ll have to forgive her. However, I believe she isn’t the only one confused here; I don’t believe we have a book like this Arabian Nights in Equestria, or at least I’ve never heard of one.”

Twilight said, “We might have something like it in Equestria, but I’m not sure either.”

Shahra sighed, “I see. That’s a shame; there are so many wonderful tales in the Arabian Nights, and ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ is the best tale of them all! Or at least the second best…”

Spike spoke up, “Hey, we’re almost at the other end of the bridge.”

Sonic looked up at Shahra and asked, “Why don’t you show us where this place you were talking about is, Shahra? Like I said, we’ll continue when we get there.”

Shahra smiled, “Okay! Just follow me!” Using her magic, she transformed into a ball of pink light and floated down in front of the group, heading into the town. They all hurried after her, unaware that the cloaked figure that had been watching Sonic and Twilight earlier was still watching them, particularly Sonic.

Sonic and the Secret Rings, Volume Two

View Online

A PEACEFUL PLACE

Soon…

Sonic pushed aside a pinkish-purple sheet that was hanging in a doorway, Twilight and the others following behind him. Shahra had led them through the streets of the town to a ladder that they used to reach the rooftops, where she led them to a structure on top of one of the buildings. Initially, they thought it might’ve been the second floor to the building it was on, but as they got closer, they could see that it was a separate building.

As they stepped inside, they all found themselves in a room that was big enough for them all to spread out, but aside from some small signs of life, it looked abandoned. There was a tattered rug hanging on the left wall, some rubble against the wall on the right, and a fairly sizable opening going across the wall across from the entrance.

“What is this place?” Twilight asked while she and the others looked around.

Rarity looked at the rug on the wall for a moment before grimacing and saying, “It’s a mess is what it is! Why couldn’t we talk in a guest room at the palace? There’s nothing good about this place!”

Sonic walked over to the opening in the wall and looked out. He could see across the rooftops all the way to the king’s palace. He smiled and placed his left hand atop a slab of the wall that was still there, “I don’t know, Rarity. This is a great view! I kind of like it.”

Shahra, still in her ball form, floated over next to Sonic and returned to normal before saying, “I had a feeling you would, Sonic.” She looked over at Rarity and said, “I’m sorry that this doesn’t suit your tastes, Miss Rarity, but I thought we would have more privacy here.”

Applejack asked, “How’d ya know about this place, Shahra?”

The young genie replied, “This used to be Aladdin’s home, Applejack, when he lived on the streets. He lives in the palace now, but we both come here once in a while when we need to get out of the palace for a while.”

Cadance looked around the room once more before saying, “I think I like it too. It’s small and it doesn’t draw a lot of attention to itself. It seems like a rather relaxing place.”

Rarity hesitated at that, her expression changing several times before settling on acceptance. “I… suppose it is charmingly rustic,” she admitted.

Applejack smirked, “That wasn’t so hard, was it, Miss Priss?” Rarity turned and glared at her at that. Applejack just chuckled in response.

Rainbow refused to settle down, her wings keeping her above everyone’s heads in the middle of the room. “Hey, can we do the magic trick or whatever to get back to Equestria? This train ride has taken way too long already!” she said.

Spike spoke up, “Yeah, it has. If I had a wish right now, I’d wish for a bag of pop rocks or some turquoise. I’m hungry…”

Sonic and Twilight looked over at him at that, the latter saying, “Oh, Spike…”

Sonic held his left hand up to his chin, thinking for a moment before he smiled and brought his right hand up, rubbing Shahra’s ring with his left index finger. The young genie immediately turned to him, bowing as she asked, “O Master, what is thy wish?”

Sonic replied, “I wish Spike had a bowl of turquoise.”

Spike looked up at him skeptically, “Seriously, dude? She might be a genie, but she’s not…” Suddenly, a bowl full of turquoise magically materialized in front of the baby dragon. He grinned, “Okay, I take what I was about to say back!” He sat down and pulled the bowl into his lap, munching on the gemstones inside.

Twilight looked back at Sonic and asked, “You used one of your wishes to give Spike a snack?”

Sonic shrugged, “Sure, why not? It’s what I do.” He then looked at Shahra, “Speaking of which, you still have that mountain of handkerchiefs I wished for, Shahra?”

Shahra replied, “Of course, Sonic. I don’t use them as much anymore, but there are still plenty of tissues left. Did you need any?”

Sonic answered, “Nah, just curious.”

Applejack spoke up, “Uh, Sonic? Don’t mean ta be rude, darlin’, but Rainbow is right about how long it’s takin’ us ta get ta Canterlot. So ya think you could use one o’ yer wishes or whatever and get Shahra ta send us back to Equestria?”

Sonic replied, “I don’t need to make a wish for Shahra to get us out of the world of the Arabian Nights, Applejack. She’s already agreed to send us back once we’re done here.”

Rainbow asked, “What do you mean, ‘once we’re done here’?”

Sonic answered, “We’re not leaving yet.”

Twilight gasped, “What?! But Sonic!”

Shining Armor quickly crossed over to Sonic and got up in his face, saying, “Need I remind you that both of our worlds are in peril right now? We have to get back to Equestria if we’re going to save them!”

Sonic replied, “I know that! But this world is important too!” After using his left hand to push the unicorn stallion back a little, he continued, “It was nearly conquered and destroyed once too, and the spirit behind it would’ve done the same thing to my world if I hadn’t been brought here to stop him. I have a feeling something bad is happening here again.”

Princess Cadance asked, “How do you figure that, Sonic?”

A WHOLE NEW TALE

Sonic answered, “The way we were pulled into the book… I’ve been pulled into another world like that before, and it happened because of a spell cast by a powerful sorcerer. It could’ve been an accident, but I’m willing to bet someone intentionally wanted to summon me back here. And I’m worried about Aladdin.”

Rainbow spoke, “Again with this Aladdin guy! Could somebody please tell me what the big deal with him is?”

Twilight looked at Shahra and said, “Shahra, you were surprised to hear we’ve never heard of Aladdin before. Why is that? Does it have something to do with his story in the Arabian Nights and how it’s represented here?”

Shahra replied, “I’m usually surprised whenever anyone hasn’t heard of Aladdin or his tale to be honest, Twilight, but you are correct. There is a difference between Aladdin’s tale in the pages of the Arabian Nights and how it is here, and that difference is the reason why I brought Sonic into this world in the first place.”

Applejack asked, “Well, what’s his story about?” She looked at Sonic, “Do you know it?”

Sonic replied, “I’ve read it since my adventure here. The tale ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ is about a thief who was tricked into retrieving said magic lamp from a dangerous cave. In the story, there were very few people who knew the lamp contained a genie, and the genie was bound to do the bidding of whoever held the lamp, so it helped Aladdin become more than a simple thief. Here in this world, though, the Genie of the Lamp, Erazor Djinn, is much different.”

Pinkie cocked her head, “Different how?”

Sonic looked at Shahra and asked, “Do you want to tell them Shahra, or should I?”

Shahra replied, “It’s all right, Sonic. I’ll tell them.” She looked at Shining for a moment, the stallion finally taking a few steps back from Sonic after a moment, before she began, “A long time ago, Erazor Djinn was a free spirit, able to go wherever he wanted in this world, but he was neither a helpful nor a kind spirit. Everywhere he went, he would cause terrible misdeeds.”

She brought her hands up in front of her at about chest level and, using her magic, created a projection of the magic lamp in its pristine state. “As punishment, he was bound to the magic lamp and sealed inside, unable to leave until he had granted the wishes of a thousand people.”

Spike gulped down the turquoise in his mouth before saying, “Geez, that’s a lot of wishes.”

Sonic said, “And a lot of different personalities to come into contact with.”

Shahra nodded, “Yes, unfortunately. When his sentence was served, he was allowed to leave the lamp as he wished, but he had changed.”

Fluttershy softly asked, “Was he nicer?”

Shahra shook her head, “I’m afraid not, Fluttershy. As sad as it is, his time in the lamp caused him to develop a renewed hatred for the people and the fate that had been written for him.”

Cadance asked, “What did he do?”

Shahra answered, “He was… determined to change his fate.” Her projection of the magic lamp began to writhe as it was crushed down and rolled up into a twisted orb, Spike and the ponies gasping at this. Shahra then made the projection disappear and continued, “To this end, he sought to take over the Arabian Nights, driving spirits to madness to make them his minions and stealing the words to the stories to create new spirits that would follow his commands.”

Twilight gasped, “Stealing the words to the stories?! So he was erasing them?!”

Sonic spoke up, “Pretty much. When Shahra came to me and showed me the book, I was shocked to see not only blank pages, but also words vanishing right in front of me. It was pretty freaky.”

Shahra said, “Absorbing the words and the pages of the Arabian Nights added to his power. Once he had conquered this world, he planned to do the same to Sonic’s world.”

Rarity spoke, “Sonic mentioned that earlier. How did he plan to accomplish such a feat? Surely the words didn’t have enough power to allow him to do that!”

Shahra responded, “Perhaps he might have been powerful enough after absorbing all of the stories, Rarity, but what he really sought was these.” She brought her arms up again and used her magic to create projections of seven rings, the rings colored, going clockwise in a circle from the top, white, green, yellow, blue, red, purple, and cyan. “The seven World Rings.”

Twilight cocked her head, “The seven World Rings?”

Shining Armor looked at Sonic and asked, “Are those basically the same thing as your world’s Chaos Emeralds?”

Sonic replied, “Only in the fact that there are seven of them. Beyond that, they’re way different.”

Rarity asked, “How are they different?”

Sonic answered, “Their power is different, for one, and each ring contains a different emotion.” He pointed at each ring, starting at the white ring and going clockwise, “Wishes, hatred, joy, prayers, rage, sadness, and pleasure.”

Shahra nodded, “These are the seven hearts that bind the stories of the Arabian Nights together, and Erazor Djinn sought their full power to fulfill his own desires. That is why, when I learned of his intentions, I sought out Sonic to stop him.”

Cadance asked, “How did you know about Sonic? I thought he wasn’t from the Arabian Nights…”

Shahra replied, “He’s not. But there is a legend in this world: ‘When darkness descends upon the world of the Arabian Nights – the legendary blue hedgehog from another world shall come’. That is part of what was written in the newest chapter of the Arabian Nights.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, that’s the reason Shahra came looking for me. She was able to bring me into this world, and we traveled all over the world of the Arabian Nights to stop Erazor Djinn and his plans.”

SEARCHING FOR ALADDIN

Shining looked at him and said, “So that was the adventure you had here. To stop an evil genie…” Sonic nodded while Shahra looked away.

Cadance asked, “Do you think darkness is descending upon the Arabian Nights again, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog answered, “I don’t know. King Shahryar said Aladdin’s been acting strange ever since a guy in a red cloak came to this town.”

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow, “A guy in a red cloak?”

Twilight asked, “Does King Shahryar suspect he did something to Aladdin?”

Sonic replied, “He said he’s been trying to get his guards to find out who this guy is, but they haven’t had any luck. As for Aladdin, that reminds me.” He turned to Shahra, the young genie perking up and turning to look at him when he asked, “Shahra, what is Aladdin’s story in this world? You’ve met him, obviously, but I never got a chance to meet him when I was here.”

Shahra answered, “Of course, Sonic. After you returned to your world, Aladdin came to the palace one day, bringing with him Princess Badoura. He explained to the King that he had protected the Princess during the time Erazor Djinn was free and that he was offering to atone for his thefts by being his servant. King Shahryar was hesitant at first, but after some consideration and persuasion, he agreed to Aladdin’s offer, allowing him to live in the palace as his servant.”

Rainbow asked, “You think that might have something to do with how he’s acting now?”

Shahra replied, “I don’t think so. It is true that King Shahryar often gave him many tasks, but I spent a lot of time with Aladdin and he never once complained about the amount of work he had to do. No matter what he had to do, at the end of the day, he was always his cheerful, optimistic self. But when the man in the red cloak came here, he suddenly became distant and started disappearing more often. This sudden change definitely makes me think that man did something to him.”

Twilight glanced at her brother as she thought aloud, “Maybe… he put Aladdin under a spell?”

Shahra said, “I’ve thought that as well, Twilight, but I don’t know for sure. It does seem like the most likely explanation for his behavior, especially now.”

Applejack asked, “What do ya mean by that?”

Shahra answered, “He’s disappeared from the palace again, but normally when he disappears, he tries to sneak out. This time, he took off right in front of King Shahryar. That’s why he has his guards looking for him.”

Sonic asked, “Do you have any idea where he went, Shahra?”

Shahra turned to him and nodded, “I was there when he took off, Sonic.” She floated over to the hole in the structure and pointed off into the distance, “He went in that direction, out into the desert.”

Rainbow groaned, “Into the desert? That means he could be anywhere!”

While looking out in the direction Shahra had pointed, Sonic held his left hand up to his chin, “Wait…” He turned his head to look at the genie a moment later, “That part of the desert… Isn’t that where we found the Yellow World Ring, Shahra?”

Shahra nodded, “Yes, Sonic. From what I’ve heard, the creature you had to fight to claim the Ring is still out there.”

Sonic looked back out the hole, “That giant scorpion-thing is still out there?”

Pinkie gasped, “Oh no! …What giant scorpion-thing?”

Shahra explained, “When we were searching the desert, a giant scorpion that was summoned by Erazor Djinn emerged from a quicksand pit and attacked us. Sonic had to fight it off before he could claim the World Ring. I don’t know why, but people say it still appears in that part of the desert.”

Twilight asked, “Does it attack the town at all?”

Shahra shook her head, “No, thankfully. It tends to leave the town alone, but everyone who’s seen it claims that it attacks anyone that gets too close, so it’s most likely territorial.”

Shining looked at Sonic and asked, “What are you thinking, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “Well, there’s not much else in that part of the desert. If Aladdin did go that far out, then the place where the World Ring was at would be my first guess as to where he is.”

Cadance looked at Shahra, “How long has it been since Aladdin disappeared, Shahra?”

The young genie held a hand to her chin, thinking before replying, “Um… I believe it was a short time before you all came here? I know the guards haven’t been searching long, and they’re terrified at the thought of having to go into the scorpion’s territory.”

Sonic spoke, “Then they’re probably not going out there anytime soon. We’d better go check it out and make sure Aladdin’s all right before we decide what to do next.” The others agreed with him and they left Aladdin’s home, making their way out of town and heading out into the desert, Spike and the ponies following behind Sonic and Shahra.

As they were making their way through the desert, Twilight looked at Sonic and asked, “Are we getting close to where the World Ring was?”

Sonic replied, “Not too much farther now. It’s on the other side of that building. Just gotta pass through it and we’ll be there.”

Shining looked off to the side as he said, “I’m surprised we haven’t seen this giant scorpion yet. Is this part of its territory?”

Shahra, currently in her ball form, answered, “I’m not certain how much of the desert is its territory. We’ll definitely be in it when we reach the other side, though.”

Rainbow thumped her hooves together, “All right, then! Guess we’d better be ready to fend off a scorpion!” The others silently agreed and quickened their pace, moving at a faster pace again so as not to delay the inevitable.

Once they were on the other side of the building, the group soon came across a quicksand pit and looked down into it. “This is the pit that the scorpion came out of, but I don’t see any trace of it…” Shahra noted.

“Maybe it’s out looking for some food?” Fluttershy suggested.

Sonic started, “Maybe, but…”

He was cut off when Pinkie screamed from nearby, “AAAHHH! GIANT EYEBALL!” The others turned and ran to where they heard the pink pony’s scream, finding her sitting down in the middle of a worn level path in the sand, gaping at a large red eyeball sitting in front of her.

UNCOMFORTABLE FIND

“What is that thing?!” Rarity shrieked when she saw it.

“That’s one of the scorpion’s eyes!” Shahra said.

“Sweet Celestia, that’s a big eye!” Applejack gasped.

“I knew one of its eyes could detach, but where’s the rest of it?” Sonic asked.

Shahra hovered up and looked past where the eye was sitting, looking around the desert. After a moment, she held a hand to her mouth, suppressing a gasp before saying, “All over the desert…”

Peering around the eyeball, everyone saw that she was right. The scorpion’s stingers, legs, and main body were scattered across the path ahead, some parts sticking out of the sand while the others sat on top of it, and a clear liquid was splattered across the middle of the path behind the maw that was supposed to hold its large eye.

As they looked at the remnants of the torn creature before them, Sonic uttered, “Geez… This is brutal. I wasn’t expecting this at all.”

Fluttershy looked at Sonic worriedly and asked, “You… What did you do when you met this giant scorpion, Sonic? Did you really have to fight it?”

Sonic looked back at her and replied, “Yeah, I fought it because it was summoned by Erazor Djinn, but I only fought it until it collapsed. I didn’t keep going and rip its carapace off!”

Shahra nodded, “I saw the whole thing, so I can attest to that. There were some explosions, most likely from the magic that created it, and its eyes turned black when it fell, but that’s all. There was no need to do anything like this to it.”

The group disseminated for the time being to look around the scene, everyone being mindful of the liquid on the sand. Twilight, Shining Armor, and Cadance looked at one of the creature’s pincers, noticing the eyeballs that were beginning to turn black on it. “Look at all of these eyes…” Twilight murmured.

“Yeah, and this is one of its pincers. How many eyes did this thing have?” Shining wondered.

Shahra, who was floating nearby, spoke up, “Um… I believe I counted fifteen when we encountered it.”

The three ponies gaped at that, Cadance saying, “Fifteen eyes? That’s… That’s outrageous.”

While Spike and the other ponies stopped to look at the Sand Scorpion’s remains as well, Sonic kept walking as he looked. Having already fought the creature by himself, he didn’t need to give it as much of a look, choosing instead to focus on looking for evidence pointing to who might have done such a deed. The blue hedgehog came to a stop next to what was left of the scorpion’s front, looking at it for a moment before turning to look back at the path, blinking when he thought he saw something. He leaned forward and squinted, trying to see if he could see it again.

Shahra turned her head and looked at Sonic, noticing the way he was leaning even from the back. “Sonic?” she wondered aloud, Twilight, Shining Armor, and Cadance turning to look as well at this. After a moment, Sonic leaned back a little before running forward, Shahra floating after him. Cadance, Twilight, and Shining Armor trotted after her, Spike and the other ponies soon noticing as well and following them.

They all soon caught up to Sonic, the blue hedgehog looking down at something in the sand. Shahra, Shining Armor, Twilight, and Cadance followed his gaze as they stood at his sides, the others trying to peer around them to see. There in the sand was an unmistakable imprint in the shape of a large ring.

“What is that?” Twilight asked.

Shahra looked around for a moment before saying, “This is…” She looked at the others, pointing down at the imprint as she said, “This is the exact spot where we found the World Ring.”

Cadance looked up at her and asked, “This is where it was?”

Shahra nodded, “Yes.” Turning her head to look at the imprint, she held her right hand near her chin as she said, “But none of the World Rings ever left an imprint behind, not even this one even though there was sand underneath it…”

Sonic nodded, “I know. And this is what caught my eye.” He knelt down on one knee and placed the ends of his fingers in the imprint, moving them a bit before standing back up and turning so everyone could see better. The tips of three of his fingers now had a yellow substance on them. It looked almost similar to the desert sand, but when Sonic moved his fingers, the odd particles gave off a distinct shimmer.

“What is it?” Twilight asked.

“I don’t know, but it looks like the World Ring,” Sonic replied. He shifted his fingers again before adding, “I can even feel spikes of joy coming from this stuff.”

Spike spoke, “Spikes of… Oh, right. You said that the rings carry an emotion or something?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah.” He looked up at Shahra and asked, “Shahra?” In response, the genie floated in front of Sonic and ran the fingers on her right hand across the hedgehog’s hand; she then brought it away and turned it over to look, but found nothing on her fingers.

“It is just like the World Ring. I can’t touch this… essence either,” she said.

Cadance tilted her head, “What do you mean, Shahra?” The young genie ran her fingers across Sonic’s again and then held up her hand, getting the same result. She then held up her hand to show Spike and the ponies. “What?” Cadance asked, shocked and confused at the clean hand.

Sonic explained, “It’s something we found out early on during our adventure. People who are from the Arabian Nights can’t touch the World Rings. They can hold them up if they have magic, but they can’t physically touch them. It seems like only people that aren’t from this world can do that.”

Twilight asked, “Are you serious?” Sonic turned towards her and held his hand out to her. After a moment, she brought her right hoof up and ran it along his fingers. When she pulled away, some of the essence had come off of Sonic’s fingers and was now on Twilight’s hoof.

Spike stared at the hoof and muttered, “Whoa. Dude, that’s creepy how that works.”

Twilight stared at her hoof too and said, “I see what you mean about the spikes, Sonic. All of a sudden, I’m feeling… bursts of happiness for some reason.”

Sonic replied, “The real thing is a lot more intense, believe me.”

Applejack asked, “So what does this mean? That somethin’ bad happened ta the World Ring?”

Sonic answered, “I doubt it, Applejack. I think the Arabian Nights would be in turmoil if that happened.”

Shahra nodded, “Yes. As I said, they hold this world together, and one person cannot wield their full power alone. Damaging or destroying any of the World Rings would surely lead to disaster.”

Twilight asked, “So then what happened here? Why is there an imprint of the World Ring in the ground with this essence in it?”

Sonic added, “And why is there so little of it?” He looked back at the ring and pointed, “If you look close, this stuff’s dotting the whole ring, but there’s so little of it. Maybe the World Ring just left it behind after we found it, but it almost looks like there’s supposed to be more here…” The group took a closer look and saw that he was right; although it was hard to see, there were more particles in the imprint that gave off that shimmer in the light.

Shining spoke, “So someone is collecting either this stuff or possibly even the World Rings. But for what?”

A new, yet familiar-sounding voice spoke up, “I would say it’s for some dastardly deed.” Everyone turned around to see the cloaked figure that had been spying on them back in town standing a short distance away. While the figure’s hood was still up, a pair of white gloved hands were now sticking out of the sleeves of the cloak. “Someone would not seek out the World Rings without an ulterior motive,” the figure said, its voice distinctly feminine.

“That voice…” Shahra murmured, recognizing it.

Before she could say anything, Rainbow Dash spoke up, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s your deal, pal?! Have you been following us?!”

The figure answered, “I will admit I have been following and listening in on you since shortly after you all entered the town, but I am not your enemy.” The figure took a few steps forward as she continued, “Like Shahra, I am worried about Aladdin, and I would like to aid you in finding him.”

Applejack asked, “Yeah? And who are you supposed ta be?” The figure answered by raising her hands to her hood and pulling it back… and Sonic, Spike, and the ponies were shocked when they saw her face. She had lavender fur, gold eyes, and she wore a red headpiece with a ruby in the center, gold bangle earrings, and a red hair tie that held the back of her hair up.

ARABIAN PRINCESS

“Blaze? What are you doing here?” Twilight asked.

The lavender cat raised an eyebrow, “‘Blaze’…? I am Princess Badoura.”

Before anybody could say anything, Shahra floated over to the cat and said, “Princess, you really shouldn’t be out here. I know you want to know why Aladdin has been acting the way he has as much as I do, but…”

The cat silenced her by placing a hand on one of Shahra’s, “It’s okay, Shahra. You’re right to be worried for my safety, but I can’t sit idly by while someone may be doing something to Aladdin. I have to do all I can to help as well.”

While they continued to talk, Sonic leaned over to Twilight and whispered loud enough for the others to hear, “See what I mean about this alternate world thing? It’s confusing the first time you see people you think you recognize, but it turns out they’re totally different people.”

Everyone soon noticed Shahra and Princess Badoura approaching, apparently done with their conversation. As they came closer and Sonic moved to stand in front of the group, Twilight thought to herself, “Mental note: when entering an alternate world, try not to automatically assume you know anypony who looks familiar.

As Princess Badoura came to a stop in front of the group and Shahra floated next to her, Applejack awkwardly spoke, “Uh, nice to meet ya… Princess Badoura. Shahra told us about you…”

The lavender cat nodded, “Yes, I overheard… Applejack. She kept it short for the sake of time, but what she told you is, as they say, the general idea.”

Applejack muttered, “Oh, uh… Ah see, Yer Highness.”

Rainbow asked, “You mean you were there the whole time? You could’ve just come in, you know! Wouldn’t have been any sweat off our backs!”

Rarity looked at the pegasus and said, “Rainbow Dash, don’t talk to royalty like that!”

Badoura spoke, “Miss Rarity, I ask that you do not speak for me when I am able to do so.” The white unicorn mare blushed and backed off at that, Badoura turning to Rainbow and saying, “It is… not safe for me to reveal myself in town, Rainbow Dash. Even in Aladdin’s home, I feel it is risky. I may have lived in the palace since Aladdin came to appeal to King Shahryar, but I do not hail from here. The King usually provides me with escorts when I wish to leave the palace, especially since that man arrived.”

Sonic asked, “You mean the guy in the red cloak?”

Badoura nodded, “Yes. Ever since he came to this town and Aladdin started acting strangely, I have been trying to find out for myself who that man is, sneaking out of the palace to avoid drawing attention to myself. I fear that if he found out I’ve been spying on him, he would try to silence me, or worse.”

Cadance spoke, “Surely the King’s guards would deter him from that, Princess Badoura. I don’t mean that what you’re doing is wrong, but surely they would be able to help in some way.”

Badoura closed her eyes, “King Shahryar’s guard is full of incompetent fools. You saw the mistake they made with Sonic earlier. And this is a land where they’ll cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, and not being able to pay for an apple will cost you a limb. It is not as though such a thing is unusual here; things are quite different here than where you all come from, I’m sure.” She opened her eyes and looked at Sonic, “Still, there are occurrences that go beyond what’s normal here, and your being forced to come back here and this discovery certainly qualify. And Aladdin’s sudden change in behavior is no coincidence, either.”

Sonic crossed his arms, “And all this has happened since that man came here, huh?”

Shining said, “It definitely sounds like you’ve done your research, Princess.”

Badoura nodded as she stepped forward, Sonic moving out of the way so she could get past. “I had the best teacher to teach me what I know. I wouldn’t dare disappoint him,” she said as she walked over to the imprint of the World Ring and knelt down on one knee in front of it.

Fluttershy asked, “Wh-What do you mean, Princess?”

While examining the imprint, Badoura said, “Aladdin taught me much about the outside world. I was very naïve before I met him.”

Sonic looked at Shahra and asked, “So you’re not the only one who’s gotten to know Aladdin pretty well, huh Shahra?”

The young genie nodded, “Yes. Princess Badoura has told me how she and Aladdin met, and how he taught her all he knew from his time as a simple street thief.”

Badoura spoke, “It’s served me well, and even though Aladdin would not want it, I’m going to use everything he’s taught me to find him and bring him home.”

Pinkie exclaimed, “Wow! You seem really devoted to this Aladdin guy, Princess!”

Rarity added, “Especially when he’s so beneath you, first a thief and then a servant to the King.”

Badoura glanced back over her shoulder with an icy look and flatly said, “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, Miss Rarity.” She stood up and held her right hand up close to her mouth, blowing off the bits of sand that stuck to her glove.

“Is… something wrong, Princess?” Fluttershy asked, not sure why Badoura responded to Rarity the way she did.

A TALE, A REALIZATION, AND WORRY

Badoura was silent for a moment before closing her eyes and replying, “…Pinkie Pie is correct. I do worry about Aladdin, but that’s only to be expected due to what happened when Erazor Djinn was freed from the lamp.”

Twilight asked, “You were there when it happened?”

Badoura opened her eyes and looked at Twilight, saying, “I was not, so I do not know the details, but Aladdin was there. He told me that Erazor Djinn trying to destroy the lamp wasn’t the only thing he planned to do; he wanted to completely break away from his fate, and as Shahra put it after Aladdin and I started living in the King’s palace, that meant he had to completely destroy the story that he played a role in.”

Sonic started, “By that, you mean…?”

Badoura nodded, “His first targets were those connected to the tale. Aladdin realized this and, while Erazor Djinn tried to destroy his final master, he hurried to my side.” She closed her eyes again, “I did not know what was going on at the time, but Erazor Djinn appeared not long after he did. It was thanks to the skills Aladdin had learned as a thief that allowed us to escape Erazor Djinn’s wrath with our lives. And it was those same skills that kept us alive when Erazor Djinn sent the spirits on his side to hunt us down.”

Rainbow spoke, “The spirits on… Oh, right. Shahra mentioned he drove spirits to madness and made the words into spirits or something like that.”

Badoura continued, “While Erazor Djinn continued to wreak havoc across the world, the spirits that were not at his side or sent to hinder Sonic hunted us relentlessly. Aladdin knew how to evade them as well as gather food, and he taught me everything he knew during that time.” She opened her eyes, looking at the group as she asked, “Do you understand now? It’s thanks to Aladdin and all he knew that we were both able to survive until we learned that Erazor Djinn had been defeated. He’s the reason I’m here now, and that is why I want to help him… Because he saved me, and I owe him my life.”

Unnoticed by the others, Cadance quietly used her magic to probe at Badoura, examining her feelings. She quirked an eyebrow, a tiny, nearly unnoticeable smirk appearing on her lips at what she sensed. “I get the feeling that repaying a life debt isn’t the only thing on your mind, Badoura…” she thought to herself.

Shining spoke, “We get it now, Princess Badoura. Since that’s the way you feel about Aladdin, then what reason is there for us to say no?” He gestured to Cadance, “After all, Cadance and I rule over an empire, and we’re here getting our hooves dirty.”

Badoura nodded, “I see.” After a moment, she looked at Sonic and asked, “Do you have any thoughts on this matter, Sonic?”

As the others looked at him, the blue hedgehog started, “I was just thinking…” He looked up at Shahra and said, “Shahra, let’s say that this essence is just a fragment of the World Ring’s power that was left behind; do you think the ‘other’ part of the legend would still hold true for it?”

Twilight asked, “What are you talking about, Sonic?”

Sonic replied, “There’s a little bit more in that legend that Shahra talked about. Specifically, it mentions the World Rings.”

Shahra nodded, “He’s right, Twilight. I didn’t finish because I thought… well, I didn’t think the World Rings would come up like this.”

Cadance asked, “How does the rest of the legend go, Shahra?”

The young genie answered, “Well, the rest of the legend goes, ‘When the seven rings that control the worlds are gathered, the portal between worlds shall open. But the life of the collector of the rings shall be offered up in sacrifice as the key for that control.’”

Rainbow exclaimed, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s all this about a sacrifice?!”

Shahra explained, “To put it simply, Rainbow Dash, in order for someone to gain the full power of the World Rings, someone else has to collect the rings and their life must be sacrificed. Without the sacrifice, only a fraction of the World Rings’ power can be obtained.”

Rainbow asked, “Seriously? You actually have to…?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. So what I was thinking was… Whether he’s collecting the World Rings or this essence that each of the rings left behind, he might be using Aladdin to do something like what Erazor Djinn tried to do.”

Shahra gasped and said, “But… that would mean… Aladdin’s life is in grave danger!”

Badoura gasped and ran up to Sonic; she grabbed him by the shoulders, her eyes wide as she exclaimed, “If that man truly intends to sacrifice Aladdin and he doesn’t realize it, then we have to find him before it’s too late! Please, Sonic…!”

Sonic put his hands on Badoura’s wrists and gently removed her hands as he said, “I know, Princess. We’re gonna find him; I promise.”

Fluttershy spoke up, “Um, how are we going to find him, Sonic? I-I don’t mean anything by that, but we haven’t found anything that could tell us where he might be right now…”

As he let go of Badoura’s wrists, Sonic replied, “Actually, we do have a clue now, Fluttershy.” He looked over at the imprint in the sand and said, “We found the imprint of the World Ring, with the essence in it, right in the same spot where the ring was when Shahra and I found it.”

Applejack shook her head, “Ah don’t get it, Sugar-hog…”

Twilight spoke, “I think I get what you’re saying, Sonic. Like Princess Badoura said, that man is most likely looking for the World Rings or at least their essences for something big. So unless you had the World Rings or knew where they were when you left this world…”

Sonic answered the unicorn’s unspoken question, “The only ring we ever found after stopping Erazor Djinn was the Water Blue Ring, and that’s because I wanted to return it to Sinbad. I never saw the others after I stopped Erazor Djinn.” He looked at Shahra and asked, “Has that changed, Shahra?” The young genie shook her head in reply.

Twilight continued, “Then the most likely places that man is going to look are where you originally found the World Rings. If we go to those places, we’re sure to find him and/or Aladdin!”

Sonic pointed at her, “Bingo!”

Applejack said, “Well, let’s get movin’, then! Where’d ya find the next ring?”

Sonic thought for a moment before saying, “There’s an island that Shahra and I traveled to rescue King Shahryar from Erazor Djinn. We found the Green World Ring while we were there.”

Shining Armor groaned, “An island? Then they already have a huge lead on us. It’s bound to take a while to get out to an island.”

Sonic smirked, “Maybe on a boat, but…” He held his right hand up and rubbed Shahra’s ring with his left index finger.

The young genie straightened up at this, bowing to Sonic as she spoke, “O Master, what is thy wish?”

Sonic answered, “Summon that magic carpet we used to get around, Shahra. And if you can, you think you could make it bigger?”

Shahra straightened up as she hovered off the ground and held her arms out, yellow motes of light beginning to form in front of her as she said, “Your wish is my command.” Seconds later, the motes came together and a carpet that was mostly blue and purple with yellow and red mixed in appeared, shooting up above the heads of the group and spinning around once as some of the motes still hovered around it. Suddenly, the carpet extended in length and width, becoming the size of a rug before it came back down and hovered above the ground a little below Sonic and Badoura’s chest height in the middle of the group.

Twilight placed a hoof on the carpet to feel it as she asked, “We get to ride a real magic carpet? That’s amazing!”

Spike shrugged and muttered to himself, “Yeah, amazing. Because you’ve never used magic to make things fly and hover before, Twilight.”

Sonic, while courteously giving Badoura his hand to hold as she took a seat on the carpet, replied, “Yep. Forget a boat; we’ll travel in style!”

As the others, save for Rainbow Dash, gathered closer to the carpet, Rarity placed one of her hooves on the carpet, feeling it for a moment before saying, “I must agree, Sonic! This is not only a fabulous piece of cloth; it is indeed stylish! I would go so far as to say it’s the best way to travel!”

Rainbow piped up, “More like the second best, Rarity! The best way would be to go there in a second; can’t we do that?”

Shahra looked surprised for a moment, but then she said, “Um… No, I’m afraid not, Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow asked, “Why not, Shahra? You’re a genie; you’ve got magic!”

Shahra replied, “Well, it’s true that my magic has improved since Sonic left, but… I’m not that powerful yet…”

At the look on the pegasus’ face, Sonic asked, “What’s the big deal, Dash? Shahra’s a young genie; not every genie starts off with phenomenal cosmic power, you know.”

Rainbow turned to him and said, “It’s a big deal because Shining Armor is right, Sonic! Getting to this island you mentioned is going to take time, so the sooner we get there, the sooner we can find Aladdin! A flying rug isn’t going to cut it! Unless Twilight can jazz it up with her magic, that is.”

Twilight spoke, “I don’t know enough about the magic in this carpet, or rug rather, to try tampering with it, Rainbow Dash. I don’t want to damage the fastest means of travel we have available to us.”

Rainbow groaned and then asked, “Look, which way is the island from here?” Sonic looked up at the sky and, after a few moments of thinking about where the desert was in relation to the island, pointed in one direction. Rainbow glanced in that direction briefly before turning back to Sonic and saying, “I’m gonna fly on ahead. I’ll get there long before a piece of fabric can. I’ll have Aladdin found and ready to be taken home by the time you guys get there!” Without another word, the pegasus turned and shot off into the sky.

“Rainbow!” Twilight called, but the pegasus was already out of earshot.

“Argh, Dash! You ornery cuss!” Applejack growled out.

Badoura asked, “Is she always this… impatient?”

Fluttershy replied, “Oh no, Princess. Rainbow Dash is usually very fun to be around. She just gets like this when she has her mind set on something.”

Applejack said, “That’s what Ah said! That mare is stubborn! This carpet may be way slower than her, but that ain’t no reason to just leave us behind!” The farm pony only realized her choice of words when she noticed the way Shahra’s head was tilted, the young genie looking rather downhearted.

Upon noticing, Rarity immediately attempted to do damage control. “Oh, Shahra, dearie, it’s okay, really! Both Rainbow Dash and Applejack sometimes say things they don’t mean when they get a little… riled up! You and Sonic had your own way of getting around during your adventure; we don’t expect you to be an all powerful genie all the time! Twilight’s had to learn a lot of magic since we first met her too!” she exclaimed.

Shahra somberly said, “She does have a point, though. Because I’ve been living in the palace, I haven’t spent as much time improving my magic. If I had, I surely would be able to do the things Rainbow Dash mentioned…”

Sonic quickly moved to Shahra’s side, placing his hand on her shoulder. “Shahra, no, don’t think like that; that’s not like you! You know there’s a difference between automatically having great power and taking time to learn how to use it properly! So…” he started, but was cut off when Pinkie suddenly popped up in front of him and Shahra, both of them moving back slightly at the sudden surprise and the serious look on the party pony’s face.

Pinkie, in a tone that was not her usual happy voice, spoke, “You hear that?” She snorted, “Are you the Genie of the Ring? Are you the one who’s learning new things? Did you help save this world? And now all of a sudden, you want to start doubting yourself? I don’t think so! Not right now!” Raising a hoof and shaking it, she continued, her voice starting to rise in pitch, “You’re gonna be an amazing genie, SO SIT DOWN AND PAY ATTENTION!!!”

PINKIE POWER

Sonic and Shahra were so startled that they fell back onto the carpet, Twilight, the rest of her friends, brother, and sister-in-law quickly sitting down on it as well so as not to unintentionally incur the pink pony’s wrath. Pinkie Pie hopped onto the carpet, sitting at the supposed front of it and wearing her usual cheerful expression. She started talking, “In case of emergency, the exits are,” she began pointing with her forehooves, “here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, anywhere! Please keep all your appendages and personal belongings inside the carpet!” She turned around and grabbed the front of the carpet, and all of a sudden it shot up into the air with surprising speed after Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie exclaiming, “We’re OUT OF HERE!”

Rainbow Dash, meanwhile, had left the desert behind and was now flying over the ocean, still going in the direction Sonic had pointed. Her eyes glanced around the area as she flew, scanning for the island, mostly seeing a lot of rocks dotting the water. Suddenly, she heard a sound behind and turned her head to look back, seeing a purple and blue blur shooting towards her. Her eyes widened, but she didn’t have a chance to react before it shot past her, spinning her around and around for a second. After the dizziness had worn off, she looked and saw the blur still going in the same direction. “What?! Hey, wait!” she called before shooting off after it.

In reality, the blur was the magic carpet that Shahra had summoned, the large rug still being propelled forward by whatever Pinkie Pie was doing. While the pink pony ‘drove’, everyone else was hanging on tightly to the rug, Applejack having one forehoof placed protectively on top of her hat while the other held on.

“How is she doing this?!” Shahra yelled over the rush of wind surrounding everyone.

“I have no idea!” Sonic yelled back.

“It’s better not to question it! Believe me, I’ve learned!” Twilight called to them. Hearing this, Sonic turned and scooted up to sit beside Pinkie Pie, watching ahead.

Suddenly, he could make out the silhouette of a large landmass up ahead. He quickly tapped Pinkie on the shoulder and called, “Pinkie!” The party pony turned to look at him, the carpet slowing down enough to allow for normal talking as the island came into view. “That’s the one! Down there!” Sonic told her, pointing at the island.

Pinkie took up the ‘reins’ again and said, “Alrighty then! Coming in for a landing!” After drifting a little closer to the island, the carpet angled downwards and shot down towards it, aiming for the lush inland instead of the rocky shore. As the carpet broke through the jungle foliage, it began to slow down and Pinkie moved off to the side as it leveled off, hovering just above the ground. “Thank you for choosing magic carpet for all your travel needs. Please don’t stand until the rug has come to a complete stop.” she said, the rug landing in the middle of a green clearing as she finished talking. As the others stood up and stepped off the carpet, Pinkie kept her act up, smiling and saying, “Thank you, goodbye! Goodbye now! Goodbye! Thank you, goodbye!”

Once they were all off, Spike grinned, “That was AWESOME!”

Pinkie nodded, “Yes, indeedily, Spikey!” She then looked at Shahra and asked, “Well, how about that, ‘Miss Doubty Doubt Pants’?”

Shahra replied, “That was… quite a show of… power, Pinkie. Although I’m afraid I’m not quite sure what I was supposed to learn from that…”

Before Pinkie could reply, Rainbow Dash flew down to the group through the trees, panting and sweating slightly as she landed. “So that was you guys! How the hay did you do that?!” she exclaimed, taking in a breath between sentences.

“Pinkie Power!” Pinkie grinned.

Sonic smirked and rolled his eyes, “Evidently.”

PINKIE'S LESSON AND THE SEARCH

After straightening her cloak out, Badoura looked at Pinkie and spoke, “Ignoring the explanation of your power for the moment, Miss Pie, I have to say Shahra is not the only one confused here. What exactly was she supposed to have gained from this experience?”

Pinkie rolled her eyes, “Easy, silly! To have fun!” When both Shahra and Badoura’s confused looks didn’t disappear, Pinkie explained, “Sonic was right when he said you shouldn’t be angry at yourself, Shahra! So what if you don’t have awesome magic yet? Laugh it off; that’s not a crime! Sure we might have taken longer to get here at just regular speed, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to save Aladdin! Let’s focus on that right now and on your magic later, when the time is better! Like I said, you’re gonna be a great genie someday! Just give it time!”

Cadance spoke after a moment, “I think Pinkie’s words are absolutely correct, Shahra. Don’t worry about what you can do right now. You and Sonic saved this world once; I’m sure the time to play your part will come again.” Shahra smiled at that and turned to look at Sonic and Badoura as the former placed his hand on her shoulder again.

After a moment, Rainbow, who now had her breathing under control, said, “I’m sorry I got angry at you, Shahra. Really, I mean it. You are an awesome genie. Do you think you can forgive me?”

Shahra nodded, “Of course, Rainbow Dash. I do get upset when I am given a request I cannot fulfill, but being a less powerful genie isn’t all bad. It’s unlikely anyone will want to seal me away for centuries.” Rainbow smiled back at her at that.

Shining coughed, “I’m sorry for breaking up the moment, but we still have to find Aladdin, guys.”

Badoura nodded, “You’re right, Shining Armor. It’s good that everything’s okay between all of us, but we do have a task to focus on.” She turned to Sonic and asked, “Where exactly did you and Shahra find the World Ring, Sonic?”

Sonic replied, “It’s not far from here.” He turned to look where the plants got thicker and continued, “We should be able to cut straight through the jungle. If we do that, we’ll be there in no time.”

Applejack said, “Well, then let’s go! We don’t wanna miss Aladdin ‘cause we were standin’ around here.” The others nodded and, after Shahra whisked the carpet away for safekeeping, they headed into the jungle, following a trail that looked like it had been cleared by someone else.

As the group headed through the jungle, they all kept an eye on their surroundings, looking and listening for any clues that might tell them where to go, but there were no signs that they had to stray off the path they were following, and the only sounds they could hear were the sounds of birds and insects. “Hey Sonic, are ya sure we’re goin’ the right way?” Applejack asked after several minutes of walking.

The blue hedgehog replied, “Definitely, Applejack. I recognized the area outside of that clearing we landed in, so I’ve got a good idea of where we are. The way I remember it, this island isn’t very big.”

Shahra nodded, “He’s right, Applejack. The area where we found the World Ring is closer to the other end of the island and it doesn’t take long to get there. As long as we don’t encounter any trouble, going through the jungle will be the fastest way to get there.”

Fluttershy murmured, “Trouble…?”

Twilight asked, “What kind of trouble, exactly?”

Sonic answered, “Uh… well, some of the, uh, inhabitants of this island aren’t exactly the most friendly. And of course there are some that aren’t interested in eating plants, if you know what I mean.”

Badoura asked, “Surely that won’t be a problem we or Aladdin will have to worry about, will it, Sonic?”

Sonic said, “It shouldn’t be. We don’t have to go where the big predator on this island makes its nest. I don’t know what other predators live on this island since Shahra and I didn’t see any others while we were here.”

Rainbow asked, “Well, what’s the big one? A timberwolf? A cragadile?”

Sonic raised an eyebrow, “Uh, I don’t know what either of those are, but no. It’s actually…”

Spike suddenly spoke up, “Hey, what’s that sound?!”

Everyone stopped and listened carefully for a few moments, soon hearing what the sound of leaves snapping and rumbling that sounded animal-like coming from nearby. “It sounds like it’s coming from just up ahead,” Shining noted, everyone breaking into a jog as they headed for the source of the sounds.

They soon came to a small ledge that marked the end of the path, which was overlooking a clearing that had a stream flowing through it. And from up on the ledge they could see the source of the noises. “Whoa, what are these things?” Rainbow wondered as they all stood close to the ledge, looking down into the clearing.

THE LOST WORLD

Several large quadruped creatures were walking through the clearing, their overall size definitely dwarfing everyone in the group and possibly being even taller than Princess Celestia. Their bodies were almost completely a yellowish color. The plates that extended up from their backs also had a few blue lines mixed in with the yellow coloration, making the plates stand out compared to the rest of their bodies. Their tails had a cluster of spikes that pointed sideways and their necks were held upright, like a bird’s.

“Whoa…” Shining muttered as one walked near the ledge they were all standing on, getting a good look at it.

“Wow! They’re cool!” Spike smiled, Applejack and Rainbow Dash nodding in agreement.

“These… I remember seeing pictures that looked like these in some of my books. They were alive long ago in Equestria’s past,” Twilight said.

Pinkie chirped, “They’re so pretty!”

Rarity nodded, “They really are, Pinkie. So bright and colorful…” She looked at Twilight, “What are they called, Twilight?”

The lavender unicorn held a hoof to her chin, “Um… I can’t remember off the top of my head…”

Sonic spoke, “Well, in my world, we call them stegosauruses.”

Twilight looked at him, “Stegosauruses?” She thought for a moment before saying, “Stegosaurus… I’m not sure that’s the name I read, but that seems like a good name too.”

Cadance nodded, “It does. It fits for majestic creatures such as these.”

Badoura had been staring at the dinosaurs in silence. After a few more moments, she simply said, “They’re beautiful.”

Sonic looked at her, “Yeah, they’re really something, Princess.” After a moment, he said, “Listen, we should leave them to graze or whatever in peace and get going. We have to hurry.”

Badoura looked back at him and replied, “You’re right, Sonic. We must keep moving.” Sonic nodded and leapt down from the ledge, landing on a patch of moss. The others (save for Fluttershy) did the same, all of them taking one last look at the stegosaurs before they headed in the opposite direction. Fluttershy, meanwhile, sat on the ledge, still staring at the dinosaurs.

After a few moments, Applejack noticed something seemed off and looked around. A second later, she asked, “Wait, where’s Fluttershy?” The others came to a stop at this, all of them realizing that the shy pegasus wasn’t with them anymore.

They all soon turned to look back at the herd of stegosaurs and found their answer. The normally shy pegasus was excitedly fluttering around the dinosaurs, getting a closer look at them while trying not to disturb them. At the moment, she was examining the plates on one of the stegosaurs backs and muttering to herself, “Oh my, these plates look as hard as bone, but they don’t seem to be attached the same way. It reminds me of some of the lizards and alligators I’ve cared for, actually…”

Back with the rest of the group, Pinkie chirped, “Ooh! Fluttershy’s getting a real close look at those big lizards!”

Badoura seemed concerned, as she asked, “Is it safe for her to be doing… that?”

Sonic quickly replied, “No, absolutely not.”

Applejack looked at him and said, “She’s just lookin’ at ‘em, Sonic. She’s fine; it like ain’t she’s touchin’ them things or nothin’.”

Sonic replied, “Yeah, yeah, ‘ooh, ah’, that’s how it always starts. Then there’s running and screaming; I’ve seen enough movies and read enough books to know what’s likely to happen, especially after last time.” He ran back towards Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash and Shahra following him at his sides.

After moving around one of the stegosaurs, Sonic, Shahra and Rainbow went over to Fluttershy, who was examining another stegosaur’s side, and stopped next to her, Rainbow saying, “Fluttershy, come on! We’re leaving!”

The shy pegasus turned her head to look at them, a bit surprised for a moment before she responded, “Oh, right. Um, I’ll just be another minute. You, Sonic, Shahra, and the others can go on ahead, Rainbow Dash.”

Sonic spoke first, “And leave you alone in the middle of this jungle? I don’t think so.”

Fluttershy smiled, “It’s okay, Sonic. Everything’s peaceful here, and I’ll be right behind you. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Rainbow objected, “Yeah, for now there’s not! We’re not going on ahead without you, Fluttershy!”

Fluttershy’s expression fell slightly at that, “Oh… okay. You’re right, Rainbow.” She turned towards them and said, “Aladdin and Princess Badoura are more important right now. I shouldn’t…” She stopped as she saw something out of the corner of her eye to her left and turned to look. She saw a log, and poking its head up above the log was a stegosaurus that seemed to be smaller than the rest. Fluttershy’s eyes widened, “Oh my goodness! Is that a baby?!”

Sonic, Rainbow, and Shahra looked as well, the last saying, “I think so.” Fluttershy turned and began to move towards the stegosaur, Shahra reaching a hand out to her and placing it on the pegasus’ shoulder as she said, “Wait, Fluttershy!”

Fluttershy looked up at the genie for a moment before looking back at the stegosaur and saying, “I know, Shahra. I just want to get a quick look at it before we go.”

Sonic crossed his arms, “Fine. Just don’t touch it, okay?”

While spreading her wings, Fluttershy answered, “Don’t worry, I know.” Shahra floated back a bit as Fluttershy flapped her wings to get off the ground, flying a little above the stegosaur and moving slowly to show she meant no harm. The dinosaur stared at her as she got closer…

THE CHARGE

Suddenly, the baby let out a cry, startling Fluttershy and causing her to land on the ground as her wings locked up. The baby stegosaur wasn’t the only one making noise, though; the adult stegosaurs were letting out growls and roars as Sonic, Shahra and the two pegasi looked between all of them. “I don’t think mommy’s too happy about Fluttershy getting close to her kid!” Rainbow said while looking at one of the roaring stegosaurs.

Shahra looked at the stegosaurs as well, noticing something about the way they were acting. It didn’t seem like they were attacking; it almost seemed like they were communicating with each other. “I don’t think that’s it, Rainbow! This seems like something else!” she noted.

“What’s going on over there?!” Shining Armor yelled over the sounds of the stegosaurs.

“Not sure!” Sonic called back as he noticed Rainbow fly up to dodge the tail of one of the stegosaurs as it swung back and forth. He looked behind him and noticed another was walking towards him, Sonic and Shahra moving out of its way while Fluttershy dove to the side. After about a minute, all of the stegosaurs had left the clearing.

The others came over once the clearing was mostly empty, Twilight asking, “What was that all about?”

Spike commented, “They sure seemed upset about something.”

Rainbow nodded, “I know! It’s like they suddenly didn’t like us or something!”

Fluttershy sat up and said, “It wasn’t us. That seemed more like alert behavior. Something got their attention, but what?”

Sonic started, “I don’t know. Maybe…” He glanced down at the water flowing through the stream and noticed something odd. It seemed to be rippling slightly, like there were tremors nearby.

Applejack confirmed this thought when she asked, “What’s that rumbling sound? Sounds like something’s comin’ closer…” Sonic turned to look in the direction the stegosaurs had originally been going and noticed some of the plants rustling off in the distance. He squinted to get a better look…

Sonic’s eyes widened a second later as the rumbling got louder and a familiar group of figures began to appear. “Whoa, heads up!” he exclaimed, the others (save for Shahra) looking at him in confusion. Suddenly, a group of large, mostly brown quadrupeds with three horns on their heads burst out of the foliage, heading straight for the group at a fast speed! At the rate they were going, there was little time for them all to react, all of them staring as the beasts got closer!

Sonic and Shahra, remembering their last encounter with these dinosaurs, quickly sprung into action. Sonic dove and pushed Fluttershy, who was still sitting on the ground, out of the way while Shahra quickly summoned the carpet, which picked up everyone else and lifted them all up out of the way. After only several seconds, the herd of dinosaurs had run past the group’s location, all of them avoiding being impaled or otherwise harmed by the rushing dinosaurs.

The clearing was silent for a short while before Rainbow spread her wings and hovered a little above the carpet, staring at where the dinosaurs had run as she asked, “What the hay were those?!”

Sonic, after rising up onto his knees and getting off Fluttershy, said, “We’re familiar with those dinosaurs. They were the first ones Shahra and I saw on our tour the last time, actually.”

Shahra nodded, “Thankfully, they didn’t seem to be angry with us this time.” Looking back at where the dinosaurs came from, she added, “And it doesn’t look like they’re being pursued by a predator. They must’ve been charging like that for some other reason.”

Any further comments were stopped when Fluttershy, who was still on the ground and staring at where the dinosaurs had gone almost in a trance, suddenly cried, “I remember those! Those were magical horned lizards!” Without warning, she spread her wings and took off after the dinosaurs!

“Fluttershy, wait!” Applejack called, leaping off of the magic carpet and running after her friend, Spike climbing onto Twilight’s back before she and the other ponies save for Rainbow Dash leapt down, running into the jungle after shy pegasus while Rainbow Dash flew above them.

Only Sonic, Shahra, and Badoura remained in the clearing, all of them just looking in the direction the others had run. After a moment, Sonic raised an eyebrow, “‘Magical horned lizard’? The triceratops?”

Shahra and Badoura looked at him, the former saying, “Well, you did say they come from a different world than you, Sonic.”

Sonic looked back at her and shrugged, “Oh yeah, that’s right. Maybe their dinosaurs were different too.” He then stood up while Badoura leapt down to the ground and Shahra sent the carpet away again. The three of them then left the clearing, hurrying to catch up with the others.

Sonic and the Secret Rings, Volume Three

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TALK IN THE JUNGLE

They soon caught up with everyone save for Fluttershy a little deeper inside the jungle, where they could see cacti and various jungle plants growing on the ground. They appeared to be inside of a cave, judging from the way the sunlight was filtering in through various places and the large almost plant-like columns jutting out of the ground. As Sonic, Shahra, and Badoura caught up with Spike and the ponies, they all turned to look at them and Sonic said, “Hey. Where’s Fluttershy?”

Shining Armor answered, “We kind of lost track of her, but we’re pretty sure she came this way. As you probably noticed, there’s enough evidence to suggest that those giant lizards charged through here.”

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah, kind of hard to not notice the prints and the things that got trampled.”

Badoura said, “I’m rather impressed by Fluttershy’s display. To think that she was such a fast flyer…”

Applejack nodded, “Uh-huh. Trust me, when she sets her mind on somethin’, she can nearly fly as fast as Rainbow Dash.” The cyan pegasus shot her a look at that, but the apple pony didn’t seem to notice.

Shahra said, “As long as she didn’t get in front of that herd of triceratops, I’m sure she’s fine, but we’d better hurry before she finds anything else.”

Twilight looked at Sonic and asked, “You call them triceratops in your world?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah.” He then faced forward and said, “We’d better keep moving. This path leads straight to where the World Ring was, so as long as Fluttershy stayed on it, we’ll find her.” The group started moving again, Sonic leading the way down the jungle path, not noticing anything that seemed out of the ordinary as they walked. Nothing at all…

As they were walking, Twilight came up alongside Sonic and asked, “So the triceratops was the first… dinosaur you and Shahra encountered on this island, Sonic?”

Sonic nodded, “Yep. Dropped down onto a path, only to find out a whole herd of them was right behind me. I must’ve made them mad somehow or something else happened, since they did not stop until I tried to cross a bridge in front of a waterfall and it got smashed by a log coming down.”

Badoura commented, “Goodness, it’s no wonder hardly anyone has ever seen the World Rings. One protected by a massive scorpion, another hidden away on an island full of beasts… So many dangers are involved for anyone who would dare try to abuse their power.”

Sonic nodded, “I’m sure that the ‘tying this world together’ and ‘need a sacrifice to gain their full power’ things help with that as well.”

Applejack said, “That one part about ‘em; Ah just can’t… Ya really gotta sacrifice somepony to use these World Rings? There ain’t no other way ta use their power?”

Sonic replied, “Like I mentioned before, it is possible to use a small amount of their power without the life sacrifice, Applejack. For Erazor Djinn, though, that wasn’t enough power. That’s why he wanted me and Shahra to collect them for him.”

Spike asked, “So he was going to use you both as the sacrifice?”

Shahra murmured, “Well, he meant for one of us to be sacrificed…”

Rainbow grunted, “What a jerk. Good thing you guys kept the rings away from him when you found them, right?” A moment of silence passed before she asked, “Uh, Sonic? Shahra? Right? Yes?”

Another moment passed before Shahra admitted, “We… searched for the World Rings to give them to Erazor Djinn…”

Spike and the ponies were not expecting that answer. “WHAT?!” Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Rarity exclaimed as the whole group came to a stop, everypony looking at Sonic and Shahra.

“Are you saying… Do you mean to say you looked for the rings in order to give them to him?!” Shining asked, beating Twilight to the punch.

“Yes. Shahra and I traveled all over the world of the Arabian Nights to find the World Rings to give them to Erazor Djinn,” Sonic answered with a straight face.

“Wh-Why?!” Shining demanded.

“Sonic, did you know you would have to be sacrificed when you were searching for them?” Cadance asked.

Sonic replied, “Yeah, I did. Shahra told me about it after we found the Yellow World Ring.” He then crossed his arms and added, “But let me tell you, I wasn’t doing it out of choice!”

Rainbow grunted, “Sure doesn’t sound that way, considering you said you were going to give them to this Erazor guy!”

Sonic asked, “And not planning to give him the rings would’ve changed things how? Collecting the rings marked me as the collector, so even if I hadn’t been planning to give them to him, he still could’ve killed me and gotten their power! As if he didn’t have me marked for death after our first encounter.”

Twilight asked, “You mean he started sending his spirits out to kill you following that confrontation?”

Badoura spoke, “Not quite. Shahra has told me the tale before, and while the spirits under Erazor Djinn’s command did try to stop her and Sonic, there was a more urgent threat hanging over Sonic’s head: the Flame of Judgment.”

Applejack asked, “What’s that?”

Shahra brought her hands up and created another projection, this one appearing to be a small flame. “When I was bringing Sonic into this world, Erazor Djinn attacked us in the gap between worlds. When I told him I would not gather the World Rings for him, he attempted to fire this Flame of Judgment at me as punishment, but Sonic took the flame for me.” The flame projection moved over slightly as Shahra created a projection of Sonic, the flame shooting over and striking the projection’s chest a second later.

Spike and the ponies gasped, Twilight turning to Sonic and asking, “You took a flame to the chest?”

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but even if I did, I’m sure I still would’ve protected Shahra anyway.”

Rarity looked at Shahra and asked, “What is this… ‘Flame of Judgment’ exactly, Shahra?”

The young genie replied, “It’s a very powerful magic spell, the kind Erazor Djinn could easily use.” She brought the flame projection back as she explained, “When the flame strikes someone, it becomes tied to that person’s life. It’s called the Flame of Judgment because when the flame goes out,” the flame projection shrunk until it disappeared completely, “that person’s life goes out.”

Twilight gasped, “They… die?”

Sonic nodded, “Exactly. Erazor Djinn got interested when I took the flame myself. He told me he would remove it if I collected all seven World Rings before it burned out. Even though I was in danger of becoming a sacrifice by collecting the rings, I figured they were my best chance at avoiding death. That’s why I agreed to collect the rings for him. I wasn’t just gonna sit around and let my life tick away without fighting for it.”

Cadance sadly said, “It sounds like it was a no-win situation for you, Sonic.”

Sonic shrugged, “Yeah, I guess you could call it that.” Turning around, he resumed walking as he said, “Still, it wasn’t all bad. We got to see a lot of the Arabian Nights as a result. Managed to foil some of Erazor Djinn’s other plans too.”

Shahra followed after him, Badoura, Spike, and the ponies resuming walking after Sonic as well. “You mean he was up to some other stuff as well as erasing the stories?” Spike asked.

“Well, he did say that a hundred nights had been erased when we first ran into him. Some of it might’ve been related to stealing the words. He did try to kill King Shahryar after he shot me with the Flame of Judgment after all,” Sonic replied.

“That probably wouldn’t have been good for this world,” Twilight said.

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, that’s pretty much what Shahra said.”

The genie in question looked back at Badoura, noticing the princess kept looking behind her warily. “Princess, is something wrong?” she asked, getting everyone’s attention.

PREDATOR ENCOUNTER

Badoura stole one more look over her shoulder before replying, “I thought I heard something behind us.”

Applejack asked, “Ya sure about that, Princess? Ah didn’t hear anything.”

Pinkie chimed, “Me neither! Maybe you’re hearing things because you’re a teensy bit nervous!”

Badoura’s eyes shifted back again for a moment, not noticing a shadow hiding behind a nearby column, before she uttered, “Perhaps…”

Twilight began to get a little nervous at that. She looked at Shahra and Sonic and asked, “Is it possible there could be dinosaurs lurking around here?”

Sonic replied, “There might be. I don’t know what’s where now that the spirits are gone.”

Spike uneasily asked, “There’s nothing that we couldn’t handle… right?”

Before Sonic or Shahra could respond, the group heard some kind of trilling sound behind them. They all quickly turned around and found the source of the noise. It was a two-legged dinosaur with long arms, both its hands and feet sporting sharp claws. It was kind of an odd sight, as the whole thing seemed to be covered with feathers, the feathers appearing to be silver-white with burgundy spots. The dinosaur was not much bigger than most of the members of the group, but while Badoura, Spike, and the ponies seemed a little wary of the creature’s claws, Sonic and Shahra’s expressions indicated that they didn’t like the sight of it at all.

While the dinosaur creature looked at the group curiously, Pinkie exclaimed, “Ooh, look at that! It looks like a big bird!”

Rainbow asked, “What is it? It looks like a turkey or something.”

Shahra nervously said, “It’s a velociraptor!”

Twilight asked, “Raptor? Doesn’t that mean ‘bird of prey’?”

Sonic answered, “Yeah, big time. We should get out of here. Like now.”

The others turned to look at him and Shahra, Applejack asking, “Why? It ain’t doin’ nothin’. It’s just standin’ there.”

Rainbow added, “Yeah, and Twilight said it was a bird just now, right? A bird wouldn’t be interested in us.”

Twilight started, “Well…”

Before she could go on, Spike and the ponies suddenly heard a loud screech followed by a shout from Badoura! Everyone looked and saw that the velociraptor had leapt onto the cat while her back was turned and now it had the end of its snout on the back of her cloak!

Seeing her struggle, Shahra exclaimed, “Princess Badoura!”

Wasting no time, Sonic ran back to her, saying as he ran, “Pull your arms out of your cloak!” Amidst her struggles, Badoura heard him and pulled her arms out of her cloak’s sleeves, pushing them out through the neck of the garment as Sonic got closer. He grabbed her hands and pulled as hard as he could. He managed to pull her free after a few moments, the cloak being torn both by the raptor and her being pulled out of it, but her outfit under the cloak, a gold necklace, a short white and pink laced cape on top of a violet sleeveless shirt with a dark pink hemline, white pants, and dark pink high-heeled shoes that exposed part of her feet, were undamaged.

After Sonic helped her stand up, they took a few steps back and, along with the rest of the group, stared at the velociraptor as it remained hunched over, shaking the cloak in its mouth. Shahra floated over to Sonic and Badoura after a moment and asked, “Princess, are you all right?”

Badoura, her eyes still fixed on the velociraptor, replied, “I’m fine, Shahra. But it just…”

Sonic finished, “It tried to attack you.”

Pinkie spoke up, “Well, wait. Maybe this isn’t what it looked like. Maybe it doesn’t see us as food. Maybe it just wants to have fun with us…” A moment later, the raptor dropped the cloak from its mouth and looked up at the group, opening its mouth and baring its sharp teeth at everyone. “…Or not.” Pinkie quietly finished.

Badoura recognized the look in the raptor’s eyes, and as it was about to take a step forward, she held her left hand out in front of her, small orange specks of light coming from her hand as she said, “Stay back!” A second later, her cloak burst into flames, surprising the dinosaur! It gave a startled screech and turned, running away from the group. After it disappeared from view, Badoura pulled her hand back and the fire went out, her cloak now badly burnt. “Looks like that scared it off,” she sighed.

Sonic said, “For now, anyway. It might’ve run off to regroup, and maybe get help.” He let her go and turned around, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stick around and find out.” Badoura did not argue with him, instead turning and running after him and Shahra, the ponies doing the same.

As they ran, the group heard what sounded like cawing noises coming from somewhere behind them. Shining glanced back; seeing nothing, he asked, “Is that the…?”

Sonic answered, “Yeah, pretty sure that’s the raptor. I’m gonna say it’s definitely calling for help!”

Twilight spoke, “It sounds like the call of a bird. Is that really how they communicated?”

Sonic replied, “Probably. They were said to be really smart when they were alive. Like problem-solving smart!”

Applejack dryly commented, “Well, ain’t that just dandy?”

Cadance looked back over her shoulder after a few seconds and gasped, “There’s three of them now! And they’re gaining on us!” The others glanced back and saw she was right. There were three raptors a fair distance back, but they were slowly closing the gap.

“Geez, these things are fast!” Rainbow exclaimed. A moment later, Badoura planted her shoes against the ground, sliding to a stop and turning to face the dinosaurs, the others coming to a stop just past her at this action. “Hey, what are you doing, Badoura?!” Rainbow asked.

Badoura crouched down on one leg and placed her hands on the ground in front of her, both giving off the specks of orange light from earlier. As she slid them towards each other, she said, “Let us see if they can stop as fast.” Once her hands met, she stood up and held her arms up, a wall of flames erupting from the ground at this action!

“Whoa, nice!” Sonic exclaimed.

“It’d be cool if I could learn to do something like that,” Spike muttered to himself.

Suddenly, they all heard the cawing noise coming from the other side of the flames. “What’s going on over there?” Twilight wondered.

Both Rainbow and Shahra flew up above to look over the wall of flames. Rainbow soon grinned, “Nice going, Badoura, they’re leaving! Guess they’re not smart enough to get past your fire!” She started to lower herself down.

A moment later, Shahra said, “Wait, the leader is coming back!” Rainbow flew up next to her and saw that the first raptor was moving back towards the wall of flames, though it was walking instead of running. The other two had seemingly run off somewhere.

Applejack asked, “If the other two are gone, why is that one comin’ back?”

Sonic said, “That’s a good question, Applejack.”

Shining Armor looked up at Shahra and Rainbow Dash and asked, “Can either of you tell what it’s doing? We can’t really see it from here.”

Rainbow replied, “It’s just pacing in front of the flames! It’s not doing anything!”

Shahra uttered, “It’s acting like it has us cornered…”

Badoura grunted, “I need to focus or I’ll lose control of this spell…”

Pinkie suggested, “Maybe that’s why the other two ran off? To mess with Princess Badoura?”

Twilight said, “But they didn’t know that before they left, Pinkie. Unless…” She got a worried expression on her face, “They already figured it out… But how could they take advantage of that?”

Sonic thought about what she said and about where they were for a minute before turning his head up and to the left. His eyes widened when he saw a familiar figure walking along the cavern wall while looking at the group. “INCOMING!” he shouted as the raptor leapt from the wall towards the group, everyone looking startled at his shout until the dinosaur landed directly in front of him, Applejack, and Rarity.

Twilight, Pinkie, Shining Armor, and Cadance turned to look to the right, seeing the other raptor leap onto one of the columns before jumping down and landing in front of them! “My Pinkie Sense didn’t tell me about this!” Pinkie cried.

THE RAPTORS ATTACK

Badoura turned to look at the others, her focus slipping from her flames as she exclaimed, “Oh no!” She then remembered what she was doing and turned to look back at the now nearly diminished flames, only to see the lead raptor crouched down and preparing to pounce. A moment later, it leapt over the smaller flames, Badoura quickly turning and diving to the ground to avoid having it land on her. Unfortunately, the raptor landed on its feet, and it was right behind her now…

Shahra gasped at this, looking down at Sonic while Rainbow flew down to her friends and saying, “Sonic, quick!” She turned into her ball form and shot down into her ring, Sonic realizing what she meant.

Sonic glanced behind him and said, “Shining, Twilight, somebody get a shield ready!” He then turned and ran towards Badoura, the princess trying to get up as the raptor prepared to attack her. Sonic balled his right hand into a fist and held it up in front of him as he ran, saying, “TIME BREAK!” It was not really noticeable to anyone else, but Sonic could see that the world took on a grayish hue and time had slowed down dramatically. It messed up the raptor’s lunge, giving Sonic a chance to reach Badoura and pull her up, turning and running back to the rest of the group.

As the flow of time returned to normal, Shining finished charging his force field spell and unleashed it, Sonic and Badoura just slipping in as the magenta field surrounded the group, the raptors on the other side of it. As they all caught their breaths after the sudden shock, Badoura commented, “Good timing. It looked like they were just about to attack.”

Shining blushed, “Yeah. Good thing I’ve gotten good with that spell.” Both Twilight and Cadance gave him smiles at that.

A moment later, Rainbow exclaimed, “What the hay happened just now?!”

Shahra emerged from the ring in her normal form and said, “I think Twilight was right. The raptors already knew Princess Badoura was responsible for the flames, so the leader distracted us while the other two circled around to try and get us.”

Sonic looked over at the leader and muttered, “Clever girl…”

Rarity asked, “Now what do we do?! We’re trapped in here and they’re waiting for us out there!” Suddenly, the raptors, who had been examining the field curiously, started slashing at it with their claws! “And now they’re trying to get in!” Rarity cried.

ESCAPING THE RAPTORS

Sonic asked, “Is there any way we could switch positions? You know, get them in here and us out there?”

Twilight held a hoof to her chin, “Actually… there might be.” After glancing at the raptors outside the force field, she gestured for the others to come closer and whispered her idea to them. Once she was done explaining, they all stood up straight and nodded to each other in understanding.

They all then turned and looked at the raptors outside, the force field starting to look like it was beginning to weaken due to their continued assault. Shining then closed his eyes and focused his magic into his horn, the force field beginning to disappear a moment later. Although surprised, the raptors prepared to attack as the field went down, leaping at the group when it was low enough.

What they missed, though, was that Twilight’s horn had begun glowing as the force field was going down, the entire group vanishing just as the raptors were about to strike! The group reappeared a little further down the path, Shining immediately recasting his force field spell almost as soon as they reappeared, a new force field appearing around the raptors!

“Hah! Turned your idea back on you, you dumb lizards!” Rainbow called as the raptors realized what had happened.

Cadance noticed Shining was rubbing his forehead after his second spell and said, “Let’s not worry about rubbing it in their faces. They’re going to get out sooner or later, and they’re not going to be happy when they do.” The others agreed with her and Sonic and Shahra took the lead again, the group moving on while the raptors began to slash at their prison.

REUNION

After running for a short while, the group began to slow down as it looked like they were coming out of the cave. Upon exiting the cave, they found themselves standing near the edge of a cliff while the path the triceratops had likely followed kept going to the right. Shining sighed as they stepped out, “Whew, we’re finally out of that cave.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah.” Looking towards the cliff, he said, “Check out the view.” They all moved a little closer and looked. They could see water below, along with various plants coming out of the water, some large dinosaurs with long necks, and a few solid pieces of ground that were sizable. There was an opening near the largest piece of ground where the water most likely became a river that went even further.

Pinkie chirped, “Ooh! Look at the ancient ponies!”

Sonic asked, “You mean the brachiosaurs?”

Shining looked at him, “Your world’s name?” Sonic nodded.

Twilight asked, “It’s all very nice, but where are we in relation to where we need to be?”

Sonic pointed to the large piece of land, “Over there, where the brachiosaurs are feeding. That’s where the Green World Ring was.”

Badoura and Shahra looked carefully at the outcropping of land, the latter saying, “I don’t see anyone over there… Are we too late?”

Rarity added, “I hope Fluttershy is okay…”

Sonic looked over at where the path continued and said, “I don’t like the idea of her being alone on this island either, Rarity. So unless she’s somewhere around here…”

Pinkie interrupted him, pointing a hoof while exclaiming, “There she is! Over there!” The others looked and saw the shy pegasus standing on a small outcropping of land across from them that had grass and rocks on it. They were relieved to see that she seemed okay, but something else caught their attention: she was standing over a hedgehog that was lying on the ground, the hedgehog’s white fur looking very familiar…

Sonic squinted, “Is that…?”

Badoura and Shahra exclaimed, “Aladdin!” Shahra summoned the magic carpet, Badoura quickly climbing on it before gesturing for the others to get on as well. They all climbed on it and Shahra directed it over to the outcropping, Badoura leaping onto the land once they were close enough and running over to Fluttershy and Aladdin, the rest of the group climbing off once the carpet stopped moving.

Once they were closer, the group was able to get a better look at Aladdin. As Sonic suspected, he did look like Silver, but in addition to his boots having pointy toes, the other difference was he was wearing more clothing. He was wearing a light brown belt around his waist, a vest that was tan in color, a burgundy fez that sat on the back of his head, and his gloves, though they had the same lines as Silver’s, had white wrappings going around his palms. He seemed to be unconscious, his body only moving slightly as he lay on his front.

Badoura was standing over him as the others came over, Fluttershy having backed off slightly when she saw the princess. She then noticed the others and waved to them, “Hi, everypony.”

Rarity went for a bit of dramatic flair as she said, “Oh Fluttershy, darling! Are you hurt? Were you scared? Should we start running again?”

Fluttershy was confused, oblivious to what the others had gone through, and simply replied, “Um, no, Rarity. I’m fine.”

As Badoura bent down next to Aladdin on one knee, Sonic gestured to him and asked, “What happened to him?”

Fluttershy answered, “I don’t know. I found Silver like this and thought he was hurt.”

Twilight said, “Actually, Fluttershy, that’s Aladdin.” The shy pegasus’ eyes widened slightly at this.

Badoura pushed Aladdin over onto his back and moved to his front, where she grabbed him by his vest. She then began shaking him, “Wake up, Aladdin!”

Fluttershy chimed in, “Um, Princess? I don’t think you should be doing that.”

Badoura ignored her, shaking the white hedgehog harder as she said, “Aladdin, wake up this instant!” She stopped her shaking when the hedgehog let out a groan, though she continued to hold him by his vest.

Aladdin’s eyes soon opened, his yellow pupils moving around slightly before they settled on Badoura. “B-Badoura…? What’s going on…? Where are we?” he groaned.

Badoura let out a sigh of relief before saying, “We’re on the island where the Green World Ring was located. We were hoping you would tell us what’s happened to you and why you’re here.” Her expression darkened, “And what that man did to you.”

Aladdin uttered, “World Ring…? Man…? What…” He shut his eyes and held his left hand against his forehead as he rolled onto his side. “Oh, my head…” he groaned.

Sonic tilted his head, “You okay?”

Aladdin grunted, “I think so. But I can’t remember…” His eyes shot open a moment later, seemingly remembering something. “Wait, that man! He’s…!”

THE SORCERER APPEARS

Suddenly, laughter rang through the area, the nearby brachiosaurs seemingly noticing and beginning to leave the area. As everyone looked around, a geyser of lava suddenly erupted from the water below! Although startled, everyone tensed up in case any of the molten rock came down towards them. There was no need to, though, as the lava quickly cooled and formed a small mountain that stood above everyone’s heads, a cloud of steam coming off of the top of it.

As the steam cleared, they saw someone standing on top of the rock. It was the man in the red cloak, his cloak and its hood hiding most of his appearance from view, but they could make out a few details. He was wearing red shoes that had pointy toes and white gloves, he held a golden staff in his right hand that, near the top, looked like a snake wearing armor that had arms clutching some sort of blue crystal between its hands, and he had the cloak of his hood up, hiding most of his face save for his pointy blue sunglasses, pink nose, and white mustache.

The man looked down at them and spoke, “I see you’re still in the land of the living, ‘Prince Ali’. Did you enjoy your nap?”

Aladdin rolled onto his front and climbed to his feet as he exclaimed, “Haman!”

Twilight raised an eyebrow, “Haman?”

Badoura stared at what little of Haman’s face she could see for a few seconds before saying, “That face… I know you!” She pointed up at him, “You’re the one who tricked me into trading you Erazor Djinn’s lamp!”

Haman made an exaggerated bow while saying, “A pleasure to meet you again, Princess Badoura.” As he stood up straight, he smirked, “How’s that old palace of yours doing these days?” Badoura let out a growl at that.

Shahra spoke, “What are you after, Haman? What did you do to Aladdin?!”

Haman looked down at her, “Ah, Shahra, the inferior Genie of the Ring. I can’t expect you to understand my goals, especially after your new master ruined everything for me. As for Aladdin, I got him to aid me with the help of some… magical persuasion.”

Shahra glared, “You… You hypnotized him!”

Haman smirked, “What of it?”

Applejack spoke up, “Okay, now that we know the guy in red is responsible for Aladdin’s behavior, could somepony PLEASE tell me who the hay is?!”

Shahra answered, “Haman is the sorcerer from Aladdin’s story, Applejack.”

Sonic asked, “The same one that wanted him to retrieve the magic lamp?” Shahra nodded in confirmation.

Haman looked down at Sonic and said, “Ah yes, the Legendary Blue Hedgehog himself. I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you.” He scowled, “I have nothing but contempt for you, rodent. You have been nothing but a detriment to my plans ever since you first came to this world.”

Sonic half-smirked, “I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about, but I figured we wouldn’t get along because you’re, well, you.”

Rainbow said, “Well, I have no idea what this is all about, but you’re the one who messed with Aladdin and the World Ring, so you’re going down!” After she finished, she spread her wings and shot up towards Haman in less than a second.

Although he was surprised by her speed, Haman took his staff in both hands, holding it up in a defensive stance. Rainbow figured overpowering him would be no problem, so she grabbed the staff with her forehooves and used her wings to hover as she wrestled with him. He proved to be stronger than she expected, however, and after a few moments, he managed to push her back slightly. He then quickly pointed his staff down towards the water and shot a red-orange beam from it as he said, “You think you can stop me, pretty pony? You must have rocks on the brain!”

Just as Rainbow was about to charge at him again, a large slab of rock in the shape of a fist suddenly shot out of the water and nailed her from underneath her chin! The sudden impact caused her wings to lock up as she was pushed up and back, falling towards the others. Sonic caught her, but her momentum from falling transferred to him and caused him to land on his rear with her in his arms. Haman then spoke, “Ah, a fine catch, blue hedgehog. Let’s see if I can trump it!” As he was speaking, he raised his staff and fired a beam at the ground in front of the group, a large metal cage magically appearing around everyone a second later!

Although they were surprised by the cage's sudden appearance, everyone soon began to try to break out, Rainbow quickly standing up and ramming into the bars along with Applejack, Aladdin, and Badoura. Sonic got to his feet, but before he could join them, Shahra placed her right hand on his shoulder as she said, "Sonic, wait."

Sonic looked at her and asked, "What's wrong, Shahra?"

Rainbow stopped, as did Aladdin, Applejack, and Badoura, and looked at Shahra as well, "Yeah, what's the problem? It's a cage! This guy doesn't know who he's dealing with!"

Haman spoke, "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure of that, rainbow one. And I wouldn't break those bars if I were you."

Applejack grunted, "Yeah? Why not?" Haman didn't respond, instead tapping the bottom of his staff against the rock he was standing on several times, a wave of magic passing down into it on the last tap.

Suddenly, the rock began to undulate as electricity sparked across it, the rock suddenly turning into a giant black cobra! The cobra lowered itself and looked into the cage, hissing and flicking its tongue as it stared at the group. Haman, still standing on top of it, then said, "My pet here happens to have quite an appetite, and it's not picky about what it likes to eat. So unless you want to find out for yourselves, I suggest you all behave." Everyone glared at him at that, but Aladdin, Rainbow, Badoura, and Applejack backed away from the bars a bit.

HAMAN'S EXPLANATION

Haman nodded in satisfaction, “That’s better. I wasn’t planning to make a mess of things earlier, and I’d rather not make a mess with you lot right now.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow, “What do you mean by that, Haman?”

Haman replied, “The blue hedgehog is very lucky he dragged all of you into this world with him, my dear. Were it not for all of you and my little servant finding what I was looking for in the desert, we would’ve met a lot sooner.”

Sonic spoke, “So you’re the one who summoned me back here. I had a hunch when King Shahryar and Shahra mentioned you.”

Haman smirked, “Naturally. My apologies for not being present to welcome you back, ‘O legendary hero’, but Aladdin located that scorpion’s nest sooner than I anticipated. Ah well, I suppose it matters not. I’m still on the path to getting what I want.”

Badoura growled, “And I suppose that path involves brutally murdering a scorpion and tampering with one of the World Rings, Haman?”

Haman held his left hand to his chin and turned his head slightly upwards, seemingly thinking for a moment before he replied, “Well, you may be right about the scorpion, Princess, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken about the World Ring. Those things are still off in whatever corners of the world they’ve been since the blue one found them, and they’re not necessary anyway.”

Rarity said, “Then perhaps you’d like to explain to us what that imprint we found back in the desert in the shape of a ring was! If you’re saying the World Ring was not there, then how did that end up there?”

Aladdin added, “And what did you make me do? What part of your plan did you force me to take part in?!”

Haman stood up straight, looking down at everyone as he spoke, “Your involvement was trivial at best, street rat. I don’t need you to do anything besides be present for the final stages of my plan in order for it to move forward.” He smirked, “I simply thought a few mind games and forced labor would be a nice start of my revenge against you and the other rat for taking and destroying what should have been mine.”

Aladdin crossed his arms and said, “Like you having Erazor Djinn’s lamp first would’ve made all the difference! If anyone had gotten a hold of it, they could’ve released him the same way you did!”

Haman held up his left index finger and wagged it, “Ah, ah, ah! If I’d gotten it first, no one else would’ve EVER been able to get their dirty, worthless hands on it! But I digress.” He lowered his left hand, “As for the World Rings’ involvement in my plan… Have any of you noticed that the color of the World Rings corresponds to where they used to be found in this world?”

Most of the group shot him confused looks, though Shahra soon said, “The Yellow World Ring was located in the desert, and the Green World Ring was found on this lush island… Their colors do match where we found them, but what does that have to do with anything?”

Haman replied, “It’s no big mystery, my dear. It’s not some coincidence; the World Rings are the color they are because they’ve been bound to their respective lands for as long as anyone can remember. The only reason anyone regards them as a myth is because no one from this world can physically touch them, as you well know. But they’ve always been there, and they’ve made this world the way it is today.”

Rainbow spoke up, “Uh, yeah, we heard about the rings from Sonic and Shahra earlier. I’m with Shahra on this; what’s your point?”

Haman looked at her, “Clearly, the act of explaining through words is lost on some of you, so allow me to demonstrate a magic trick and show you all why I am the most powerful sorcerer this world will ever know.” He turned to his right and gestured with his staff, the cobra letting out a hiss before turning and rising up into the air, seemingly flying over not to the nearby patch of land, but to the one after it.

Sonic gasped as the snake hovered over a particular spot, “That’s where the World Ring was!”

Haman heard him and called, “Indeed! Now watch and behold!” He held up his staff in his right hand, red-orange energy coursing through it before he pointed it towards the ground fired a red beam from the snake. The beam struck the ground, burning into it like a laser for several seconds before a white light shot up out of the ground and into the sky. Even from where the group was, they could see what looked like a cloud of dust rise up into the light after a few seconds, hovering just above the ground.

Shahra gasped, “That looks like…!”

Haman interrupted her, “It is the Essence of the World Ring!” He thrust his left hand into his cloak and pulled out a vial, using his thumb to pop the stopper off. He then held it up high, the essence in the light swirling for a second before shooting up and going into the vial, Haman capping it as the light died down. As he stared at the green dust inside the vial, he murmured, “How fitting that I should get the gift that Hatred bestowed upon this land at the same time that I meet the Legendary Hedgehog…”

He then turned back to the group and said, “What I hold is the part of the World Ring that was left behind, the part that allows this land to keep living without the presence of the genuine object! It flows through this land, sustains it, allows everything you see to live! There’s still a little bit left over, just like back in the desert, but this is the majority of it. There’s no longer enough left to compensate for the World Ring’s removal.” His tone turned sinister, “Now what do you suppose will happen to this land now that its source of life has been removed?”

Sonic, Shahra, Twilight, Cadance, Aladdin, Badoura, Shining, and Applejack all gained looks of shock as they thought about what he was saying. Images of King Shahryar’s palace and the town being caught in the middle of a desert wasteland and everything on the island, even the dinosaurs, slowly dying soon flashed through their heads. As Badoura thought about these potential consequences and Haman was doing, her shocked expression turned to one of rage and her right arm shook as her fingers clenched into a fist, motes of orange light flashing around it as the fire in her really began to burn.

JUNGLE TUSSLE

Haman had turned away from the group, seemingly reveling in his actions until an explosion and a clanging sound behind him caused him to turn back around. Badoura had used her power to get out of the cage, the somewhat burnt pieces of several bars lying on the ground with the princess standing over them, four fireballs floating around her in a circle as her hands glowed brightly. She glared, “Haman!”

The sorcerer merely smirked, “My, my. Looks like you’re not such a helpless, conceited brat anymore, Princess.”

Badoura let out a growl at that and began making her around towards him while the others got out of the cage. Aladdin was the first one out and he called out as he ran after her, “Wait, Badoura!”

Haman noticed this and held up his staff as he said, “You stay out of this, rat! The princess is giving me a private showing of her powers! You’re not welcome!” He then thrust his staff forward, “Get the point?” As he said this, multiple sabers materialized out of thin air and shot towards the white hedgehog, the blades flying over Badoura’s head as she leapt down to where Haman was. Aladdin froze as he saw the sabers rushing towards him and got pushed backwards moments later, two blades catching his vest and pinning him to the rocky wall behind him with the rest just narrowly missing him.

By this time, Sonic and most of the others had gotten out of the cage and had noticed Aladdin’s predicament and Badoura getting ready to engage Haman. “We’ve got to help Aladdin and Princess Badoura!” Twilight exclaimed.

As he started to move, Sonic called to Rainbow, “I’ll help Aladdin!”

The pegasus replied, “Right! I’ll help Badoura distract that creep!” Just as they were about to move to help, a stream of fire shot in front of both of them, stopping them in their tracks. They looked to see Haman holding his staff up, the sorcerer having launched the attack while he was leaping off of his cobra to dodge an attack from Badoura.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten you, my friends!” the man called, holding his arms up and out afterwards and creating a cloud of magic a short distance overhead. From within the cloud, multiple creatures that were mostly green in color and had angry-looking white faces came forth and shot towards the group!

“What are they?!” Shining asked.

“They’re djinns, spirits! They look like the ones that served Erazor Djinn! But how did he summon them…?” Shahra wondered.

When they got close to the group, several djinns that had red foreheads breathed fire at everyone. After he and Rainbow leapt back, Sonic turned back to the others and called, “Somebody do something about that cage! If they’re all this angry, we’re gonna need all the room we can get until we get past them!” Twilight and Cadance quickly complied, both of them grabbing the cage with their magic and lifting it up, breaking it down while Shining Armor and the others began to attack the Kri Ma Djinns.

Once they were done with the cage, Twilight and Cadance joined in while Shahra moved Fluttershy and Spike back, keeping them from getting hurt by accident. While Fluttershy and Spike watched the others fight back against the swarm of djinns, Shahra’s eyes wandered to Badoura and Haman, watching the cat stand her ground against the sorcerer and his cobra. As Haman raised his staff, Shahra eyed the crystal it was holding and raised an eyebrow. “That crystal seems familiar somehow…” she thought.

Haman fired a red-orange beam of magic from the mouth of his staff, hoping to catch Badoura off-guard while she unleashed a burst of fire on his cobra. The cat saw it out of the corner of her eye and performed a backflip, narrowly dodging the beam. She spun around when she landed and threw a fireball with her right hand at Haman. He stepped to the side to dodge it, but he looked back in surprise when it exploded against a rock. Badoura noticed and smirked, “Surprised, Haman?”

The sorcerer turned to her and smirked back, “Perhaps, Princess. I was just thinking, wouldn’t it have been nice to have this magic back then? Then again, I suppose your palace didn’t need any help burning down, did it?”

Badoura growled and, after dodging a snap from the cobra, leapt at him, “You dare mock me?!”

As he used his magic to levitate and avoid her tackle and deflect the fire she threw at him afterwards, Haman replied, “Oh, not at all, Princess! I have to admit, you’ve made excellent progress! You command your magic quite well! I guess you could say,” dodging one last fireball, he raised his staff and unleashed another red-orange beam from it, “it leaves me breathless!”

Badoura gasped when she saw the beam coming, but she wasn’t quick enough to dodge this time and it struck her. She shut her eyes when it hit, but she opened them again when, instead of being thrown back, she heard wind around her. A quick look revealed that she seemed to be at the center of a wind vortex. “What? What is this? What are you…?” She began to wobble, raising her right hand to her throat as she stammered, “Ack… It’s hard to… I can’t breathe…”

Back with the others, Sonic kicked away the last djinn in front of him, the swarm of Kri Ma Djinns having thinned out heavily, and ran towards Aladdin. Rainbow Dash was already at his left side, having taken advantage of a gap in the swarm a minute earlier, and had her teeth around the handle of the saber holding his vest against the rock, flapping her wings as she pulled at it. Sonic quickly grabbed the handle of the saber on the white hedgehog’s right side and began pulling it while saying, “Hang on!”

As he wiggled, Aladdin grunted, “Thanks. Hurry!” Sonic planted a foot against the rock to get better leverage as he pulled the saber, the others starting to move towards him and Rainbow now. As he wiggled, Aladdin looked forward… and his eyes widened when he saw Badoura fall forward onto the ground. “Badoura!” he cried, Sonic beginning to turn his head to look when the saber suddenly came loose and he fell onto his back with it in his right hand. Rainbow Dash, meanwhile, glanced in the direction of the fight before flapping her wings rapidly, managing to pull the saber out in seconds.

Aladdin dropped down to the grass a moment later. His knees bent forward for a second before he reached down and grabbed the saber out of Sonic’s hand, standing up and running forward afterwards. Rainbow saw this and said (around the saber still in her mouth), “Hey, wait up!” She then flew after him while Sonic flipped himself over, standing up and running after the two with the others a second later, all of them seeing Haman standing over Badoura.

Haman turned his head to the right, seeing Aladdin and Rainbow Dash coming towards him. He looked back down at Badoura a moment later and then waved his staff in a circle, a red-orange sphere surrounding the still somewhat conscious princess and lifting her off the ground. “STOP!” Aladdin and Rainbow shouted, Haman turning slightly to see the two coming with their sabers. The sorcerer held out his arms in response, generating another red-orange sphere, this time around himself that both Aladdin and Rainbow Dash bounced off of. Haman then held his arms up and began to float up along with Badoura, the sorcerer’s barrier disappearing as he landed on his cobra’s head.

Aladdin looked up, first desperately at Badoura and then angrily at Haman. “What have you done to her, Haman?!” he yelled.

Haman smirked, “A little lack of fresh air to help her sleep, of course. I thought she could use it; she’s a bit high-strung if you haven’t noticed, Aladdin.”

Sonic, Shahra, Spike, and the rest of the ponies joined the two as Rainbow shifted her saber to her hooves and yelled, “Why don’t you just let her go?! You and your venom snake or whatever can’t handle all of us!”

Haman replied, “Yes, it would appear that the numbers are against me, aren’t they? However…” Before he could continue, everyone heard what sounded like a bird call coming from nearby. “Eh? What’s that?” Haman asked.

Sonic and the others looked towards the ledge where the group had entered the area and saw a familiar silver-white dinosaur come to a stop at the ledge. “Oh boy…” Sonic grunted as two more raptors appeared at its sides.

“The raptors! They tracked us here!” Shahra gasped.

Haman smirked, “Oh~! Old friends of yours? This works out perfectly!” He waved his staff in a circle, his cobra rising off the ground high above the group’s heads.

“Come back here!” Aladdin shouted, both him and Sonic jumping up after the cobra, aiming for its tail. They both were close to grabbing the end of the tail when it moved its tail up out of their reach, causing them to fall back to the ground front first.

“Rainbow Dash!” Cadance said as she spread her wings.

The cyan pegasus nodded, “Right!” She shifted her saber back to her mouth and both she and Cadance shot up after the cobra.

Haman saw them coming and pointed his staff down at them while saying, “Oh, no you don’t!” He fired a pair of red-orange beams from the staff’s eyes, both Rainbow and Cadance getting hit and being knocked back towards the ground.

“Cadance!” Shining cried as he dashed forward, diving to catch his wife. She landed in his forelegs while Applejack ended up catching Rainbow in a way when the pegasus crashed into her, both of them ending up on the ground as well.

Haman spoke, “Well, this has been a LOVELY get-together, but I’m afraid I’m a busy man. I believe I’ll be shoving off now!” He shook his head to his right, his cobra turning in that direction before it began to move.

“Haman, stop!” Shahra cried as Twilight and Rarity’s horns flared up, both of them releasing beams of magic up at the sorcerer. Haman barely noticed their attack, stepping out of the way before the beams could hit him.

As Sonic, Aladdin, Cadance, Shining Armor, Applejack, and Rainbow got up, Aladdin grabbing his saber as he stood, Haman said, “Now, now! Don’t be rude! Your old friends went to all this trouble of finding all of you and you’re just going to ignore them?” Sonic and Aladdin looked forward as one of the raptors landed a short distance away, letting out a shriek at them, causing them to start backing up.

Twilight looked to her right and saw that the other two raptors were once again moving around the group. “They’re trying to surround us again!” she exclaimed, causing the others to notice as well.

Shahra looked up at Haman as he spoke to Sonic and Aladdin, “Don’t disappoint me, rats. I’d rather not have to come all the way back here for you two… or call you up by accident.” As he finished speaking, Shahra noticed the crystal in his staff’s hands glint in the sunlight, and her eyes widened in realization. She didn’t get a chance to say anything before the cobra suddenly shot off into the distance with a crack of its tail, the sound being similar to the crack of a whip.

CORNERED

Left alone with the velociraptors, everyone grouped together, the three velociraptors moving closer to them, one in front of them, one behind them, and the other on a rock off to their right. As everyone looked around, Fluttershy asked, “Wh-Why do they look so mad?”

Spike replied, “Uh, we might have had to… trick them… to avoid getting eaten by them?”

Aladdin added, “I might have run into them earlier when I was under Haman’s spell as well. My memory’s still a bit hazy, but… they look familiar.”

Rainbow spoke, picking up her saber in her hooves, “Who cares! Call up that rug and let’s go after that sorcerer creep!”

Shahra turned to look at the ledge where they’d found Aladdin, “I left it on that ledge! I’ll go get it!” She hovered above the group and began to move towards the ledge. As she did, the raptor on the rock realized what she was trying to do and crouched down, leaping up to attack her!

Rainbow responded by flying up to intercept it with her saber, managing to get the blade caught on top of the claws on both of its forearms. The raptor, however, responded with a caw and quickly moved its claws out from under the blade, bringing them above it and swinging downwards, knocking the saber clean out of Rainbow’s hooves! Rainbow’s eyes widened and she stopped flapping her wings, falling as the raptor brought up its hind legs to try to attack her with those claws! It missed and she hit the ground hard, but as she climbed to her hooves, she noticed that Shahra had gotten past the raptor.

That was only a small comfort, however, as the attacking raptor was now closer to the group, just about even with the ground they were on, and it was likely they were all more wary of any sudden movements. As he and the others were waiting for Shahra to bring the carpet around, Sonic suddenly felt the ground rumble slightly. Then again, though a little stronger. “Hey… does anybody else feel that?” he grunted.

There was another rumble a moment later, even stronger this time, and even the raptor behind the group seemed to notice it. “It’s, um… It’s an impact tremor, that’s what it is,” Twilight said.

Pinkie gasped, “It’s getting closer!”

Applejack grunted, “Well, if it’s gettin’ stronger, then whatever’s causin’ it probably is gettin’ closer, Pinkie.”

Pinkie replied, “No, I mean that raptor is getting closer!” Everyone looked over to see the raptor behind the group beginning to move towards them, its claws pointing towards them. A few seconds later, the raptor crouched down, everyone bracing themselves as it leapt into the air… and then suddenly it was caught by a pair of jaws full of sharp teeth! The group looked up in surprise to see a large biped dinosaur with magenta scales, short arms with two fingered hands that had sharp claws, and a number of horns sticking up on its head. They couldn’t see how big it was due to its legs being partially submerged in the water.

MOVIE MOMENT

As it dropped the raptor in its jaws on the ground between the group and where the land ended, Rarity screamed, “What in this world is THAT?!”

Sonic answered, “That’s the big dinosaur, the T-rex! It must’ve heard the commotion!”

Rainbow glanced around and said, “Looks like they’re more interested in it than us!” Indeed, the two remaining raptors had their attention focused on the rex rather than the group. She looked down and saw a circular slab of land near the rock the one raptor was standing on. It looked big enough for all of them and it was probably low enough for them to get out of sight. She pointed, “Quick, let’s get down there!” Everyone noticed where she was pointing and they all quickly got down onto the slab, neither the raptors nor the rex paying them any attention.

Looking up, they saw the other two raptors charging at the rex, the larger dinosaur letting out a growl as they latched onto it, one on the side of its head and the other on its neck, both on its left side. It began trying to shake them off, the third raptor trying to get up despite the injuries caused by the rex’s teeth. “What are they doing?” Aladdin asked.

“I don’t think they get along, but I don’t think that’s the only reason they’re fighting,” Sonic guessed.

Fluttershy nodded, “Exactly. It’s just like with the chupacabra and the vampiric jackalope: they’re fighting for dominance over the rights to eat us.” She smiled, “Nature is so fascinating…” Sonic and Aladdin glanced over at her with raised eyebrows while Spike and the other ponies morbidly watched the predators tangle with each other.

Shaking his head a second later, Sonic turned and called, “Shahra!”

Moments later, the genie came back to the group, guiding the carpet with her magic. “Sorry about the wait! Let’s get out of here and go after Haman!” Aladdin tucked his saber into his belt before jumping on the carpet, Spike and the ponies also jumping on save for Fluttershy, who Sonic had to drag away from the spectacle, and Rainbow, who again chose to use her wings instead. Once they were all set, they set out from the island, Fluttershy continuing to stare at the T-rex and the raptors until they could no longer be clearly seen.

PURSUING HAMAN

Rainbow Dash and the magic carpet were flying over the ocean, the carpet managing to keep up with the pegasus as they left the dinosaur island behind. As they were shooting across the ocean, Twilight pointed forward, “Look at that castle! Do you think that’s where Haman went?”

Sonic nodded, “Definitely. We found one of the World Rings there. Since he’s going after their Essences, that’s where the next closest one is!”

Aladdin grunted, “We have to hurry! We have to save Badoura from Haman and stop whatever he’s planning!”

Spike asked, “Sonic, Shahra? Do either of you have any idea what that guy is planning?”

Sonic shook his head, but Shahra responded, “I can’t say for sure myself, but that crystal his staff is holding… It’s involved in his plan somehow, I’m sure of it!”

Rainbow looked over and asked, “Why? What’s the big deal about it?”

Shahra replied, “I’ve seen a crystal like it before. I’m certain it’s part of a magical artifact from this world! Whatever he’s planning with the Essences of the World Rings, he’s going to need that crystal as well! If we can get it and the Essences from him…”

Sonic said, “Gotcha, Shahra. Don’t worry, we’re not gonna let him get away with this!”

Applejack nodded, “Yeah! No matter how much of a head start he’s got, we’ll get him!” Everyone nodded and faced forward, both Rainbow and the carpet putting a little extra speed in to get to the castle sooner.

After a short while, the exterior of the castle began to become clear, various details on its exterior becoming easier to see. “Okay, we’re almost there. Where did you find the World Ring, Sonic?” Shining asked.

Before Sonic could reply, Cadance gasped, “Oh no, look!” She pointed ahead, everyone seeing Haman’s cobra taking off from the palace and shooting up into the sky.

Sonic grunted, “It ended up right in front of the palace because it was inside a bomb! Of course it would probably be the easiest one for him to find!”

Rainbow said, “He’s heading up into the sky! Come on!” She quickly changed her course, flying up after Haman, the magic carpet’s trajectory changing to do the same.

“Where’s he going now?!” Aladdin asked.

“The next closest World Ring was on a Rukh!” Shahra said.

“Ooh! What’s a Rukh?” Pinkie asked. As she was speaking, both the carpet and Rainbow Dash burst through the cloud layer, and not long after that, they all began to see giant manta-like creatures flying up ahead, many with structures on their backs.

“Are those…?” Cadance started.

Shahra nodded, “Yes. Those are the Rukh. They’re living fossils.”

As they got closer to the school of Rukh, Fluttershy said, “They’re incredible…”

Twilight nodded, “They are, but… where was the World Ring up here?”

Shahra said, “It was on the back of one of the Rukh, but… I can’t remember which one…”

Sonic shook his head, “Me neither. But Haman’s gonna be looking for it, so let’s focus on finding him.”

Rainbow soon called, “There he is! He’s down there!” Everyone looked to see the cobra flying alongside one of the smaller Rukh, Haman’s head turned towards it. A second later, he faced forward and the cobra moved on, heading for a much larger Rukh. At this, Rainbow grunted, “Come on! Let’s knock him off that smug snake!” She then shot after Haman, Sonic and the others following behind her.

As he got closer to the larger Rukh, Haman glanced down at the cobra as it let out a prolonged hiss. Raising an eyebrow, he looked back over his shoulder and saw Rainbow Dash speeding towards him. “You again?!” he grunted, moving to the side slightly to avoid a collision.

Rainbow flew a short distance ahead, coming to a stop over a path on the Rukh’s back before she turned to face Haman. “Think you can keep that up, fat man?!” she called.

Haman growled, “I’ll have you know that I’m pleased to know you and the rest of your merry band are still among the living. At the other end of the spectrum, however, you’re starting to annoy me.”

Rainbow replied, “Then get ready to be REALLY annoyed! You’re going down!” She then shot towards him again.

Haman simply sighed, “This tired technique again? You should really try something new.” He raised his staff and unleashed a beam of magic from it, “It’s really not worth beating your head against a wall over!” As he was speaking, a stone wall formed floating in front of the cobra, Rainbow letting out a gasp at this and trying to stop, but to no avail. She crashed into the wall head first and, after a second, slid off it and fell down to the path below.

Chuckling, Haman turned around to face the rest of the group and said, “And here comes the rest. Like lambs to the slaughter.”

Pinkie heard him and gasped, “Lambs?! Where?! We have to help those poor lambs!”

Rarity sighed, “It’s an expression, Pinkie dear.”

Aladdin yelled, “Give it up, Haman! We’re obviously too much for you to handle!”

Haman replied, “Perhaps, street rat, but I’m afraid that simply won’t do. I’ve put too much time and effort into this plan for you to ruin it now.” He then thrust his staff forward and said, “Try not to go to pieces on me!” He unleashed another beam from his staff, but this one was aimed at the carpet rather than the group. When it came into contact with the fabric, the rug shook for a moment before suddenly turning into a sheet of glass!

“The carpet! No!” Twilight cried as its trajectory quickly angled downwards, crashing into the side of the Rukh. As soon as it did, the front of it shattered into shards and everyone was knocked for a loop, all of them save for Shahra starting to roll downwards. Sonic was the first to go over, but he managed to grab onto the side of the Rukh. When he saw the others coming, he reached out his right hand and managed to grab Shining Armor’s right hoof, both of them being held up slightly by the strong wind blowing and allowing Cadance to grab onto Shining’s hind legs followed by the rest of them.

“Sonic! Be a dear and PULL US UP!” Rarity screamed from further along the chain.

“Ngh…! Need my other hand for this, Shining!” the blue hedgehog told the stallion, Shining wrapping his free hoof around Sonic’s legs before the hedgehog let his right hoof go and he wrapped it around his legs. With both hands now grasping onto the Rukh, Sonic grunted as he began to pull forward, pushing against the wind blowing in his face.

Before he could make much headway, however, Sonic noticed a shadow appear over him and looked up to see the cobra leering down at him. Haman smirked cruelly down at him, “I apologize, my dear rat, but my pet here hasn’t had a single bite all day. I do hope you’ll forgive me.” With that, the cobra parted its jaws, its tongue flicking out as it leaned back slightly and let out a hiss. It then lunged downwards, aiming for Sonic (or rather his hands)! In desperation, Sonic let go, the cobra missing by mere inches as they fell behind the Rukh! Haman grinned widely as the wind carried them off, “Hee hee hee! Enjoy your flight of fancy, fools! It certainly won’t last long!”

Sonic and the Secret Rings, Volume Four

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A LONG WAY DOWN

Up on the path on the Rukh’s back, Rainbow sat, still dazed from crashing into the wall Haman had stopped her with. As she wobbled slightly, a pink ball of light flew up to her, Shahra quickly appearing from it. Quickly noticing the pegasus’ condition, the genie placed her hands on the sides of Rainbow’s head and said, “Rainbow! Rainbow Dash!”

At the sound of Shahra’s voice (and the little bit of magic she worked into her to help her recover faster), Rainbow shook her head and asked, “Huh? What?” She looked around quickly before looking at Shahra, “What happened to Haman? Where is everypony else?”

The young genie answered, “Haman used a spell on the magic carpet to make it unusable! They all fell off the Rukh!”

Rainbow gasped, “WHAT?!”

Shahra pointed to the back of the Rukh as she said, “I’ll restore the carpet! While I’m doing that, go help them as best you can!”

Rainbow quickly leapt to her hooves, “I’m on it!” She then spread her wings and took off, flying around past Haman and briefly distracting him, allowing Shahra to gather up the broken pieces of the carpet with her magic and slip away before he could notice her.

Rainbow soon got behind the Rukh, the tailwind increasing her normal speed, and spotted Sonic and the others falling through the air. She slowed slightly when she noticed they were doing what they could to slow their descent. Cadance had Spike on her back and her forelegs wrapped around Shining Armor, who had Sonic hanging from his hind legs with Twilight and Aladdin hanging onto him, Fluttershy was holding onto Applejack along with Rarity and Pinkie Pie, and Aladdin was holding his right hand out, which had a blue glow coming from it, whatever he was doing likely helping to slow every down.

Despite their efforts, they weren’t slowing themselves down much. Both Cadance and Fluttershy were flapping their wings as hard as they could, but they weren’t going up. Rainbow called, “Hang on, guys!” and shot to full speed again, this time aiming underneath the others. Once she was a fair distance underneath them (based on how far she expected them to fall by the time she was done), she began to fly in a tight circle like when she was performing her rainblow dry. At the speed she was going, she was able to produce a small whirlwind, the rush of the wind helping to push the rest of the group up.

Although Rainbow was able to keep doing this, both Cadance and Fluttershy’s forelegs were starting to get tired from trying to hold everyone. After less than a minute of being pushed upward, Cadance’s forelegs began to shake and she grunted, “Shining, I can’t… hold on… much… longer!” Seconds after saying that, she was forced to release her hold on Shining, and not long afterwards, Fluttershy did the same with Applejack!

Rainbow came to a stop when she saw everyone fall past her whirlwind, both her and Fluttershy crying, “Oh no!”

Cadance called, “Fluttershy, Rainbow, quickly!” She then flew down after everyone, trying to grab onto as many of them as she could.

Fluttershy quickly followed her, but Rainbow took a moment to call, “Shahra, hurry!” She then flew down to join Fluttershy and Cadance, but the group was already starting to pass through the sea of clouds.

After a short time of falling, during which they all passed through darkening clouds, the carpet suddenly shot through the clouds and past the flying ponies, a pink ball of light following after it. The carpet soon got underneath everyone and they all landed on it a second later, the magic in the carpet preventing most of the bounce that would’ve followed such a fall while still allowing for a soft landing. Once everyone had settled down and Rainbow, Cadance, and Fluttershy had landed on the carpet as well, Shahra appeared from the ball of light, hovering next to the carpet. Sonic grinned at her, “Nice entrance, Shahra!”

Cadance nodded and added, “And perfect timing, too. I don’t know how much longer we could’ve kept everyone up.”

Shahra giggled and replied, “I’m just glad to help. I might not have been able to do anything to Erazor Djinn’s magic, but I’m certainly proficient enough to counter Haman’s magic.”

Aladdin said, “Way to go, Shahra.” He glanced off to the side as he thought to himself, “What a mess this all is… And it’s all my fault for letting Haman get close to me…

The white hedgehog snapped back to reality when Spike asked, “Hey… where did we end up, anyway?” At his question, everyone looked around, noticing for the first time the darker and cloudier sky overhead as well as the water far below the carpet that stretched as far as their eyes could see.

“It looks like we’re over the ocean,” Shining said, looking down at the water.

“That wind must have blown us back quite some distance,” Cadance noted as she looked up at the clouds. “With all those clouds, a storm must be scheduled for this area.”

“Excuse me fer sayin’ so, Princess, but we shouldn’t be worryin’ about rain right now,” Applejack said.

Rainbow nodded, “Yeah! Let’s get back up in the sky and stop Haman!”

Aladdin quietly added, “And save Badoura.”

Rainbow looked at him and said, “Well, yeah! I didn’t forget about her! We gotta stop him if we’re going to save her, so…”

Pinkie interrupted her, pointing and saying, “Hey, look! There’s a ship over there!” Everyone looked where she was pointing and saw a large wooden ship off in the distance. Judging from its size, its three masts, each one having a large white sail, and the figurehead clutching some sort of staff between its hands underneath the bow, it was some type of galleon.

“A ship? We can’t worry about that. Now…” Shining spoke, starting to turn around, only for Sonic to place a hand on his shoulder, as if he was going to stop him. “What?” Shining asked, turning his head to look at the hedgehog.

Sonic looked at the ship, sensing a familiar power emanating from within it. “It’s just a hunch, but there’s something about that ship that seems familiar,” he said.

“I think you’re right, Sonic. It almost feels like…” Shahra nodded, looking towards the ship’s echidna-like figurehead. After a few moments, she smiled, “I’ve got it! It’s one of the World Rings! That must be Sinbad’s ship!”

Rarity raised an eyebrow, “‘Sinbad’?”

Sonic nodded, “That’s right. Then that’s coming from the Water Blue Ring.” He looked up at Shahra a moment later and said, “Hey, we should probably warn Sinbad and Ali Baba about Haman’s plan.”

The genie nodded to him, “Yes. Even though Haman said he’s not strictly going after the World Rings, he might still come after them. They need to know.” Without another word, she turned the carpet around and it shot off towards the ship.

OLD SEA BUDDIES

As the group got closer to the ship, they were able to get a better look at the deck of the ship. There were two sets of stairs leading up to the stern of the ship with a pair of doors leading below deck between them and some sort of stand and a pair of hatch doors in front of them. The rest of the deck, from the doors to the bow, seemed to be level. The carpet flew around near the top of the masts once it reached the ship to get a better look at the crew.

As they were flying, they heard a call of “Hey!” and looked to see a familiar-looking fox in the crow’s nest atop the center mast holding a small brown telescope in his left hand and waving to them. He was wearing a white turban, a red vest with yellow trim, a brown belt around his abdomen, white gloves and socks that had small black belts to secure them, and red and white shoes that had pointy toes, and he definitely had two tails. Sonic and Shahra waved back at him, as did Spike and the ponies while Aladdin just looked back at the fox. Now sure of the ship’s captain, Shahra brought the carpet in for a landing on the deck, landing near the stairs on the ship’s port side and across from the stand and the hatch.

After everyone stepped off the carpet, while Shahra stashed it away, Cadance looked at Sonic and asked, “So Sonic, who are Sinbad and… Ali Baba?”

Sonic replied, “They’re friends of ours. They helped me and Shahra stop Erazor Djinn, and we traveled together for a while afterwards.” A creaking noise came from the stairs and Sonic and the others turned to look. At the top of the stairs was a red echidna who was wearing a white igal atop his head, an open white vest with a purple belt, gray metal wristlets, white gloves with pointed knuckles, and red shoes with pointy toes and a yellow metal green edge. Sonic grinned up at him, “Hey, Sinbad! Remember me?”

The echidna crossed his arms and smirked, “Well, well. Look what the sea washed up. Can’t say I was expecting to see you again, hedgehog.”

Rainbow flew up next to Sonic and exclaimed, “You’re friends with pirates in this world, Sonic?! That is awesome! Pirates are so cool!”

Before Sonic had a chance to reply, Sinbad leapt from the stairs and landed directly in front of him and Rainbow Dash. The echidna pointed his right fist at the latter as he said, “I don’t know who you are, but don’t you dare compare me to a band of cowardly spirits!” He then pointed his right thumb at himself, “I am Sinbad of the Seven Seas, the Adventurer of Adventurers!”

A familiar voice from above spoke up, “And I’m Ali Baba. Hi!” Everyone looked up to see Tails’ Arabian Nights counterpart hovering overhead, waving down at them.

While everyone else looked happy to see the fox, Rainbow quickly turned back to Sinbad and said, “You really think you’re better than any other adventurer, pal? In your dreams! Daring Do is twenty percent more of an adventurer than you’ll ever be!”

Amused, Sinbad asked, “Oh yeah? And who is this ‘Daring Do’ you speak of?”

Rainbow replied, “She’s the awesome main character in all of her books. And I’m sure she can be brought out of one of her books to show you what a real adventurer is like!”

Sinbad held up his right hand and grunted, “Comparing me to a character that may not even be real? Please! Unless you know she actually exists, don’t give me that pile of Daring DON’T!”

Rainbow glared at him and looked ready to retort, but Ali Baba flew down and got between them, holding his hands out as he said, “Come on, you two, stop it! Can’t we have one new introduction that isn’t preceded by a fight?”

Aladdin stepped forward, “We don’t have time to be fighting right now. This is serious.”

Sinbad looked over at him and asked, “What? Who are you?”

Shahra floated forward and said, “This is Aladdin, Sinbad, and I’m afraid he’s correct. When we saw your ship, we thought it best to warn you about a new threat.”

Sinbad raised an eyebrow, “A new threat?”

HAMAN AGAIN

Before anyone else could say something, Spike spoke up, “Hey, uh… I think that threat just found us!” Everyone turned to look at him and saw he was looking towards the starboard side of the ship, pointing upwards. Looking up, the group quickly recognized Haman’s flying cobra coming down from the clouds, seemingly aiming straight for them!

“What is THAT?!” Ali Baba exclaimed.

“It’s him. Get ready!” Aladdin said as he prepared to draw his saber, but everyone was surprised a few moments later when the cobra flew over the ship entirely. They all looked towards the port side and saw that it was still going, though it was no longer angled downwards. After several moments, the massive snake came to a stop, hovering high above the water.

“What’s going on?” Sinbad asked.

Pinkie gasped, “He must’ve found another World Ring! He’s going to remove its Essence and make it impossible for ships to sail the seas!” Ali Baba and Sinbad stared at her for a moment, but before they could say anything, the ship suddenly began to rock due to waves crashing against the side of it. They looked forward and saw the water below Haman raising up as though something large was surfacing, a pillar of white light emerging from the top of it.

After about a minute, the rising water receded to reveal a dilapidated ship with three broken masts that had bits of seaweed and other marine life clinging to its exterior. The number of holes that could be seen should have made it impossible for the ship to stay afloat. “That looks like the pirates’ ship!” Shahra exclaimed.

“The ones that stole the Water Blue Ring? When did that ship sink?” Sonic asked.

Sinbad scratched his head, “Um, I think it was after you left. I think we had a run-in with that ship, and I might’ve caused a storm…” He trailed off, trying to remember the details.

While they were talking, Haman extracted the Essence of the Water Blue Ring from the ship and stored it in an empty vial. “Five down, two to go,” he murmured to himself as he held up the vial in his left hand and looked at it.

He soon perked up when he heard a familiar voice shout, “You’re not getting away this time, you jerk!” He looked to his left to see Rainbow Dash flying towards him.

Haman sighed as he tucked the vial away underneath his cloak and said, “It’s no use. It’s no use, foolish pony!” He took his staff in both hands and held it up as Rainbow came at him with her hooves outstretched. They came into contact with the staff and they began to push against each other once again.

This went on for several seconds, during which the cobra brought its tail around beneath Rainbow. Sonic, Applejack, Pinkie, and Shining Armor were the first ones to notice it and they all called as loud as they could, “Rainbow, look out!” She didn’t hear them, though, and the snake wrapped its tail around her!

The pegasus struggled, but with her wings restrained, she was unable to do much more than shake and kick her legs. The cobra raised her above its head and shook her a few times before throwing her back towards Sinbad’s ship. Sonic guessed she might overshoot the deck and ran to the other side, getting in her path. She crashed into him, the impact knocking him over the railing behind him, but he managed to grab it with his hands while she wrapped her forelegs around his neck.

While the others helped them, Haman looked on and sneered, “Hmph! It was fun at first, but now you’re all starting to wear on my patience!” He looked down at the ship he pulled up and an idea came to him. He held his staff up, the tip glowing as he said, “You keep them company! I have preparations to make.” With that, his cobra turned and shot off over the water while the magic seemed to course through the ship and a light rain started falling.

Back on Sinbad’s ship, Ali Baba and Applejack were able to pull Sonic and Rainbow back onto the deck. Everyone’s relief at this was short-lived, though, as they began to hear booming sounds. They all looked towards the other side of the ship and saw that the ship was beginning to come towards them, the sounds they were hearing coming from the cannonballs it was firing. “What’s going on?!” Twilight asked.

“Oh great! Haman must’ve used his magic to turn it into a ghost ship!” Sonic grunted.

GHOST SHIP BATTLE

Sinbad growled, “Ghost ship, huh? Well, it’ll take more than that to sink this sailor!” He turned to look at Sonic, Aladdin, Spike, and the ponies and, while pointing to the doors leading into the ship, said, “I’ve got some cannons hidden on the lower deck! If we pound on that thing enough, we can send it back to the bottom of the sea!” He had barely finished his sentence before Sonic dashed towards the doors and pushed them open. Aladdin quickly followed after him along with the others save for Fluttershy. The shy pegasus seemed hesitant at the idea of using a cannon, so Ali Baba stayed with her on the deck while Sinbad ran back to the helm to steer his ship.

Below deck, Sonic passed through an entryway and quickly looked around the room. On both the left and right sides of the room were four cannons, each one covered by a sheet. Nodding to himself, he ran over to the closest cannon on the left, lifting the cover off of it and then pushing the porthole open. As he was doing this, Aladdin ran into the room and quickly selected the cannon next to him. Shining Armor and Rainbow Dash soon took the remaining cannons while Applejack, Princess Cadance, Rarity and Pinkie took the cannons on the other side of the room. Shahra soon found a spare room containing all the materials for the cannons and both she and Twilight opted to do the job of refilling the cannons while Spike lit the fuses.

After Shahra had instructed everyone on how to operate the cannons and how to make the reloading process go faster, Shining placed his hooves on his cannon and said, “All right, everypony, we need to sink that ship! Don’t be too quick to fire; we need to make our shots count!” Everyone faced forward at that, waiting for the pirates’ ship to appear in their sights as they felt the ship moving and bobbing against the waves, listening to the sounds of the ship creaking and cannonballs splashing outside.

Suddenly, the ship appeared in front of the port side cannons and Shining Armor said, “Fire!” At this, Spike leapt up and unleashed a stream of green fire from his mouth that lit their fuses, the cannons going off soon afterwards. The cannonballs hit the ghost ship dead on, the ship pausing and shaking from the hits. Almost immediately afterwards, the cannons were pulled back to allow Twilight and Shahra to refill them. While they were a little slow in getting them ready, they were able to finish the process with enough time for the cannons to pull off another round of shots before the ghost ship began to leave their sight.

Up in the crow’s nest, Ali Baba and Fluttershy noticed that the ship was pulling ahead, seemingly getting out of attack range. When he raised his telescope to his eye, however, Ali Baba was able to see that the ship’s cannons were turning in the direction of their ship. He quickly lowered his telescope and called, “Sinbad! The ship’s cannons are preparing to attack again!” Not long afterwards, the cannons started firing again and Sinbad turned the wheel to avoid the shots as best he could. Despite his ship’s size, he was able to steer around most of the shots, though there were a few that crashed against the sides and others that raised columns of water that splashed onto the deck.

Growling, Sinbad spun the wheel to the left, intending to catch a breeze and get up along the left side of the ghost ship. After a moment, he turned the wheel back to go straight and the sails caught a wind, Sinbad’s ship soon getting back up alongside the ghost ship. Down on the lower deck, once she saw the ship, Cadance called “Spike!” Spike ran to their side at the sound of his name and lit the fuses for her, Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie, the cannons going off at roughly the same time and hitting their target. Shahra and Twilight soon had the cannons set up again and they were able to fire one more time before the ghost ship fired its cannons and Sinbad was forced to break off to avoid the cannonballs.

This sea battle continued on like this for a short while, Sinbad getting up alongside the ghost ship whenever there was a break in its attacks to give Sonic and the others a chance to attack before breaking off to avoid having any cannonballs go right through the deck. After managing to avoid a shot that would’ve likely made a sizable hole in the starboard side of his ship, Sinbad managed to get up along the port side of the ghost ship, giving Cadance’s side a chance to fire. Their cannonballs hit their mark, and moments later, the ghost ship began to explode before it began to sink, the ship starting to break apart as it began to sink beneath the waves.

VICTORY ON THE SEA

“Whoo-hoo! Bye-bye, ghost ship!” Pinkie exclaimed, Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash joining in on the cheer while Shining Armor and Cadance hugged, Twilight, Shahra, and Spike shared a fist/hoof bump, and Sonic gave Aladdin a slightly awkward high-five (it took the white hedgehog a second to catch onto what he was proposing).

After the cheering died down, Ali Baba poked his head into the room through one of the port portholes and said, “Hey, great job, guys! These cannons don’t see a lot of use, but you all sure used them to make short work of that old pirate ship!”

Rainbow just grinned, “Well, of course! We’re awesome! I’m sure even that loudmouthed sailor could see that!”

Ali Baba replied, “Yes, well, I wanted to let you guys know that you should come up on deck now. The rain is stopping and the waters are calming down, so we’re going to drop the anchor for a bit. Sinbad wants to know what’s going on.” With that, he pulled his head out and flew off to drop the anchor.

Silence ruled the room for a moment before Shahra asked, “Well, shall we?” Everyone nodded and they left the room after closing the portholes and placing the covers back over the cannons.

EXPLANATIONS

Up on the deck, everyone met up with Fluttershy, Sinbad, and Ali Baba, and after a short while of explaining, the latter two were up to speed on the situation. “I see. So this Haman guy is responsible for the release of Erazor Djinn and everything that happened afterwards, including those pirates stealing from me and locking me in that cage,” Sinbad said.

Sonic shrugged at his Equestrian friends when he saw their quizzical looks while Aladdin scratched his head with his left hand as he spoke, “Uh, yeah, in a way, I guess.”

Ali Baba looked at Sonic and asked, “So now that he’s resurfaced, he’s trying to gather these… Essences of the World Rings?”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. That’s why I thought we should warn you guys. I figured it would’ve been easier to get the Essence from the ring itself rather than finding where the ring was originally, but apparently the Water Blue Ring left its mark on that ship and he knew where to find it.”

Sinbad said, “Well, I did find it and learn how to control it during my solo travels, so I can see why it would be connected to the sea. Interesting how this ‘Essence’ provides a source of life to their original resting places, though.” He looked at Shahra and asked, “You said you thought that he’s also come into possession of another magical artifact, Shahra?”

Shahra nodded, “Yes. I’m certain of it now. That crystal his staff is holding… It has to be a piece of the Eye of Gazeem.”

Ali Baba’s eyes widened, “The Eye of Gazeem? Isn’t that…”

Sinbad nodded, “Yeah. No wonder he’s just now pursuing whatever he’s planning; it probably took him a long time to find that.”

Sonic asked, “You know about it?”

Sinbad replied, “Only what I’ve heard on my travels. I’ve never seen the eye for myself.”

Shining asked, “Well, what is this eye, and why does he need it?”

Shahra spoke up, “If I may, I can tell you about the Eye of Gazeem.” Everyone looked at her expectantly, so she explained, “The complete eye may look like an ordinary crystal, but it contains an unusual power. The most well-known tale is that whoever rubs it gains the ability to pass through solid objects.”

Spike smiled, “Cool!”

Shahra continued, “However, something that never seems to make it into these tales is the fact that the eye, when rubbed, opens a gateway to the Netherworld, the land of the dead.”

Spike winced, “Uh, not so cool.”

Twilight asked, “The land of the dead?”

Shahra nodded, “Yes, where the spirits of the dead reside. With one rub, the Eye of Gazeem can transport the living to this world, where, even though they are still alive, they become like spirits. That’s why the tales say it allows one to pass through solid objects, but once you’re there, you can no longer communicate normally with the living, and the only way to get out is if someone rubs the eye and reopens the gateway.”

Sonic crossed his arms, “The living in the land of the dead, huh? Clever…”

Applejack said, “More like creepy, ‘specially if ya can’t touch anythin’ or talk to anypony.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow, “How do you know all this, Shahra?”

Shahra shrugged, “I’m a genie, and I’ve learned a lot about this world since Sonic and I traveled together. And I’ve continued learning since he returned to his world.”

Rainbow nodded, “Huh. I guess that makes sense.”

Ali Baba spoke, “So that’s what it really does… If the whole thing can open a portal to the land of the dead, Haman must’ve taken a piece from it because his plan involves the dead somehow. Maybe he’s planning to summon something?”

Shahra nodded, “That’s what I was thinking as well.”

Sinbad spoke, “Then we need to figure out where he went.” He looked at Sonic and asked, “Presumably, he has five of the Essences, right? Where were the last two World Rings?”

Sonic held his right hand to his chin, thinking for a moment before replying, “Uh… one was in the Skeleton Dome, and the other was inside of that… pocket dimension or whatever that space inside of that palace that Erazor Djinn had taken over was.” Aladdin flinched slightly when he heard the word ‘palace,’ knowing which one Sonic was talking about.

Ali Baba murmured, “The Skeleton Dome…” His eyes widened a moment later as he gasped, “King Solomon! If Haman is able to amass a large enough army of spirits, he could be in danger!” Sinbad, Sonic, and Shahra stared at him, realizing he was right.

Pinkie asked, “King ‘Solo-man’? Who’s that?”

Shahra answered, “He’s the ruler of the Skeleton Dome, Pinkie. After we helped him, he told us how to reach Erazor Djinn.”

Sonic spoke, “Speaking of which, considering how warm and fuzzy Haman isn’t, I’m willing to bet he won’t be content with leaving the king as a collection of parts, unlike Erazor Djinn.”

Sinbad grunted, “Well, that settles it! We’ll help you guys stop him!” He turned to Ali Baba and said, “Get the sea chart! We set sail for the Skeleton Dome at once!” The young fox saluted and then ran towards the ship’s double doors, disappearing through them and heading for Sinbad’s cabin.

After Ali Baba was gone, Aladdin looked at Sinbad and asked, “We’re going to set sail right away? I’m amazed you came up with a plan that quickly.”

Sinbad raised an eyebrow, “Plan?”

Aladdin shrugged, “Y-yeah. F-for stopping Haman?”

Sinbad replied “Oh.” After a moment, he said, “There is no plan for that.”

SINBAD'S WISDOM

Before anyone else could say anything, Rainbow commented, “Wow! He really is the adventurer of adventurers, isn’t he? Goes after a crazy sorcerer with no plan in mind!”

Sinbad retorted, “You’re one to talk, especially after that display earlier! You got some vital information that you haven’t shared with the rest of us, Ms. ‘Charge First and Ask Questions Later’?”

Rainbow glared at Sinbad and looked ready to get into another argument with him when Twilight stepped between the two of them, filling in for Ali Baba, and exclaimed, “Stop, both of you!” Turning to Sinbad while standing in front of Rainbow, she asked him, “Sinbad, I’m not trying to doubt your abilities as an adventurer, but do you really think going after Haman without a plan in mind is a good idea?”

The echidna sailor replied, “Absolutely, and if your friend is willing to stop firing her mouth off for a minute, I’d be happy to explain why.” Rainbow let out a huff at that, but crossed her forelegs and shut her mouth. Satisfied with this, Sinbad explained, “Based on what we know, we have a pretty good idea of what Haman is planning. He wants to use the Essences of the World Rings and the Eye of Gazeem to summon something from the Netherworld, but I have a feeling his plan is missing one thing.” He pointed at Sonic and Aladdin, “One or both of you.”

Everyone looked surprised at that, Aladdin asking, “What?! Us?!”

Sinbad nodded, “Of course. That’s why he kidnapped the princess. He knows we’re trying to stop him, you two especially. He took her as bait, to give you the extra incentive to go after him. I don’t know who he needs, but I’m sure he’s expecting us to follow him.” As he was finishing speaking, Ali Baba came back out onto the deck carrying a fairly sizable piece of parchment in his hands. Sinbad turned to him and noticed that he was already starting to unroll it. He turned back to the others and said, “Come, gather around and I’ll share the rest of my reason with you.” The others followed him over to Ali Baba, everyone gathering around the fox as they looked at the chart on the parchment.

The chart was hand-drawn, but it appeared to be well-made, the seas of the world of the Arabian Nights carefully mapped out with a number of landmarks marked on it. Ali Baba raised his right hand and indicated an area on the chart, “We were roughly around this area before Haman raised the pirates’ ship.”

Sonic asked, “We couldn’t have gone too far from there, right?”

Sinbad nodded, “Right. And if you look around this area, we’re pretty far away from any place where we could stock up on supplies. We’re not exactly in a position where it would be beneficial for us to gear up.”

Cadance asked, “You don’t think so?”

After telling Ali Baba to try to figure out where they were in relation to the Skeleton Dome, the fox flying up to the crow’s nest with the chart, Sinbad replied, “To be fair, we probably could go to the closest port and restock, but I have a feeling that the sooner we track down Haman, the better. He doesn’t seem like the type who likes to be kept waiting, and if we’re lucky, we might even be able to catch him by surprise.”

Sonic said, “Sounds as good a plan as any to me. So we’ll just make up the rest as we go along?” Sinbad nodded in confirmation. A few members were still a bit unsure about going after Haman right away, but ultimately, everyone agreed, as they could see the logic in what the red echidna was saying. Rarity in particular seemed quite willing to agree with him…

Sinbad then looked up towards the crow’s nest and called, “Hey, Ali Baba! You figured out where we are yet?”

After a few moments, the fox called back down, “Yes!” He flew down, holding the open sea chart in his left hand and his telescope in his right hand, and landed on the deck before saying, “I’ve got a pretty good idea of where we are.”

Applejack whistled, “That was quick, pardner.”

Ali Baba giggled and then pointed at a spot on the chart close to the original area. “Based on all that evidence available, I can conclude we’re roughly around here. That means it’ll take a little while, but,” he turned and pointed towards the starboard side of the ship, “if we go straight that way, we’ll end up at the Skeleton Dome.”

Fluttershy noticed the dark clouds gathering in that direction and murmured, “Tails- I mean, Ali Baba… It looks like it’s getting ready to rain in that direction… M-maybe you could… plan a new course? One that goes around the storm?”

Rainbow patted the shy pegasus on the back, “Don’t worry, Fluttershy! A little storm’s not gonna get in our way, especially not with me around! I’ll just go up there and push it out of the way; it’ll be just like weather duty in Ponyville!”

She spread her wings, but before she could start flapping them, Sinbad spoke, “Not a bad idea, but I think I’ve got a better, faster way of taking care of that storm.”

Rainbow turned to him, “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

As he turned around, Sinbad replied, “Allow me to show you the crown jewel of my ship.” He then walked over to the stand in front of the double doors, which was revealed to have a compass built into it. Everyone came closer and watched as he began to mess with the top of the stand, first turning it to the left and pulling it up followed by pressing it down and quickly turning it to the right. Once he turned it all the way, everyone began to hear some sort of mechanism shifting, and the hatch doors in front of the stand began to open.

THE WATER BLUE RING

After several seconds, some sort of contraption had been raised up to the deck. It looked like a miniature pyramid, only instead of being pointed at the top, there was instead some sort of blue pillar of light emerging from the top. And above the center of the pyramid, seemingly held in place by four rays of blue light coming from the small columns at the edges of the pyramid, was the Water Blue World Ring, the ring glowing brightly from the power it contained.

Amazed at the sight, Cadance started, “Is that…?”

Shahra nodded, “Yes. It’s the Water Blue Ring. It really was the source of the power we were feeling…”

As he stepped around over to the device holding the ring, Sinbad said, “I’m surprised any of you were able to sense it at all. I specifically had that compartment made to hide its energy from the outside world.”

Sonic refrained from making a different comment and instead shrugged, “Well, I was carrying it around for a while, Sinbad. Maybe that has something to do with it?”

Sinbad replied, “Yeah, maybe. Still, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to give it a look later. Anyway…” He turned to look back at the ring and held his arms out towards it, slowly holding them out as he began to chant in Arabic. After about a minute, the echidna’s chanting came to an end and the Water Blue Ring began to glow brighter, releasing a halo of blue light that spread out from the ship seconds later.

Shahra, Ali Baba, and Sonic turned to look up at the stormy clouds off the ship’s starboard side, Sonic soon grinning, “That did it!” Aladdin, Spike, and the ponies turned to look and saw that the storm clouds were being pushed away, leaving only the overcast sky overhead.

“The clouds are parting? Is that the World Ring’s power?” Twilight asked.

“It sure is,” Sinbad answered. He gestured towards the ring, “The Water Blue Ring allows whoever holds it control storms. It’s an invaluable tool for a sailor like me, and that’s why I made sure he found it and brought it back to me before he returned home.” He pointed to Sonic as he finished speaking.

Sonic crossed his arms, “And held it up in the air for, like, half an hour while you built that gizmo that keeps it in place. Don’t forget that part, Sinbad.”

Sinbad smirked, “Of course I wouldn’t forget that part. After all, it nearly killed you to stand still for that long.” Sonic just rolled his eyes at that. Sinbad then turned to Ali Baba and said, “All right, Ali Baba, you’re on lookout duty, as usual.” The fox saluted again before flying back up to the crow’s nest with his telescope and the sea chart. Sinbad then looked at the others, “I need somebody to bring the anchor up so we can get moving.” He then eyed the deck before adding, “And if you’ve all got nothing better to do, you could each grab a mop from the closet and start cleaning up this mess.”

Rainbow spoke up, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! What are we, your swabbies now?”

Sinbad replied, “Hey, you heard Ali Baba. It’s going to take us a while to reach the Skeleton Dome, and it sounds like you lot have had to deal with plenty of stuff already. Whether you want to do something worthwhile with this time or not is up to you, but I’d suggest relaxing while you have the chance.” As he turned and started walking up to the helm, he finished, “Once we hit land, there won’t be much time for that.”

A few seconds passed before Sonic sighed, “I’ll get the anchor. If somebody wants to grab me a mop, I’d appreciate it.” As he turned and started walking towards the ship’s bow, Aladdin and Twilight headed inside to search for the closet Sinbad had mentioned.

SETTING SAIL

It wasn’t long before the ship and its crew had set off for their destination, the wind at their back and the clouds parting overhead due to the power of the World Ring. As he steered the ship, Sinbad looked down at the deck and noted what everyone was doing. Sonic, Spike, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Shining Armor, Aladdin, and Pinkie Pie were all mopping the deck, Shahra was helping Applejack repair the ship’s railings, and Twilight and Cadance were overseeing everything. Glancing over all of them again, he realized there seemed to be a pony missing…

“Excuse me, Sinbad.” The echidna looked to his left in surprise and saw Rarity walking towards him, a smile on her face.

“Oh, there you are, uh, Rarity. I was wondering where you were,” the sailor said as he stepped back from the wheel.

Rarity smiled a bit wider, “Oh, were you now?”

Sinbad regained his composure and said, “Yeah.” Turning his head to look at the deck, he asked, “Why aren’t you down there, helping the rest of your friends?”

Rarity replied, “You don’t really expect a lady to dirty herself, ‘swabbing the decks’ as you might say, do you?” Sinbad just crossed his arms as he looked back at her. The white mare then shrugged, “Besides, there aren’t any more mops. I must say, it’s interesting that you have a ship this size and enough to clean it with, yet Ali Baba is your only crew member.”

Turning back to the wheel, Sinbad said, “He doesn’t mind having to do extra work on this ship. We’re best friends, after all. As for my ship, I used to use travel on a much smaller one, but I got this one during our adventures with your blue buddy after he stopped Erazor Djinn. We went to a lot of places and found a lot of treasure during our adventures, so we had to get a bigger ship to carry it all.”

Rarity asked, “Really? Are you carrying any now? Where do you keep it all? I don’t recall seeing a room that would have been suitable for holding treasure when we were below deck.”

While steering, Sinbad answered, “I keep it all in the hull, but the entrance is hidden. That makes it harder for pirates to steal, not that I’d ever let any set foot on my ship.” He then glanced over at the unicorn as he said, “And no, there’s no treasure onboard right now. All the treasure I’ve gathered is kept safe in my island home, and Ali Baba and I were starting on a new adventure when we ran into you lot.”

Rarity shuffled her hooves, “So… your treasure is kept secure, but you don’t have anyone watching it?”

Sinbad raised an eyebrow, “Yeah, why?”

Rarity replied, “I must say that’s a bit surprising. You must have so many treasures, yet they’re left all alone waiting for you to return without the company of somepony… special.” She fluttered her eyelashes as she finished speaking.

Sinbad blinked twice before saying, “That’s a mighty bold move of you, making a move on a sailor when you don’t know if he’s married or not.” Rarity looked at him expectantly, so he sighed and said, “Yes, I was married once. It worked for a while, but… well, let’s just say death did do us part.”

Rarity sympathetically said, “I see… Are you still upset by her passing?”

Sinbad bluntly replied, “No. Not once I found out I had to be buried with her. No way was I spending the rest of my life buried alive.”

Rarity blinked, “Oh… Well, then perhaps you’re looking for someone else?”

Sinbad turned to her and asked, “What’s your deal? Are you actually saying you’re… infatuated with me?”

Rarity replied, “Mm, perhaps. I used to pine for a handsome prince, but he was nothing like I thought he would be.” She smiled, “You’re not at all like he was. You’re bold, inoffensive, strong-willed, and you travel the world looking for treasure. And I… I would remain at your side even as you traveled far and wide and stand watch over your many treasures.”

Sinbad replied, “Really? Well, if I had to choose between you or going back into the ground…” After a moment’s pause, he turned back to the wheel and finished, “I’d rather be buried alive again.” Rarity’s eyes went wide and her mouth fell open, her heart shattering at the thought that her newest (spontaneous) crush would reject her, and so suddenly! Unbeknownst to either of them, Aladdin had been mopping underneath them near the doors, and so he heard their entire conversation. He stopped mopping, holding his mop up straight and leaning his forehead against its handle as he looked down at the deck sadly…

SWABBING THE DECKS

The white hedgehog looked up a few moments later when he heard Applejack say, “All right, then, just about done here! Just gotta fix this railing over here and this tub should be closed up like a barrel full o’ apple cider!” Aladdin looked up to see her walking over to the port side with Shahra in tow.

At the apple pony’s words, Rainbow sighed, “Ugh, good! We’re finally done!” She let go of her mop and plopped down on the deck, “I could sure go for some cider right now…”

Twilight looked over at her, “It didn’t take that long, Rainbow.”

The pegasus grunted, “Yeah, well, I’m still not a big fan of this Sinbad guy, Twilight. Can’t believe he made us do this…”

Sonic stopped mopping to allow Fluttershy to pass, the yellow pegasus singing a show tune to herself as she pushed her mop, and asked, “You do know pirate crews typically make you do this kind of thing when you first join them, right Dash? What makes this any different?”

Rainbow replied, “Because he’s not a pirate! He doesn’t even like pirates! That’s what makes it different!” Sonic just shrugged and then raised an eyebrow as Pinkie moved past him, the party pony somehow mopping the deck with her bouncy mane while she pushed herself forward somehow. Even Spike stared at her, the baby dragon coming to a stop close to Sonic’s side.

About a minute later, Applejack announced, “There we go! We’re all done here!” Everyone turned to look and saw the orange pony testing the repaired railing with her forehooves while Shahra used her magic to send away the hammer and nails she conjured up.

“I think the deck’s all clean as well, so once we’re done cleaning up, we should be able to relax for the rest of the trip,” Cadance said.

As everyone started to move at that, Aladdin spoke up, “Hey.” Everyone looked over at him and saw him standing near the back mast, holding his mop in his right hand and the bucket of water in his left hand. “I’ll take the mops and put them away for you guys,” he said in a soft tone.

Sonic smiled, “Yeah? Thanks, Al’!” He shifted his right arm and threw his mop towards Aladdin, the white hedgehog letting go of the bucket and quickly surrounding it with a blue field that held it up before catching the mop with his now empty hand.

As he was putting the mops together in his right hand, Fluttershy spoke, “Oh, that’s all right, Aladdin. I can put my own mop away.”

Rainbow flew up to her, carrying her own mop as she wrapped her free hoof around her shy friend’s mop as she said, “Come on, Fluttershy, he offered! There’s nothing wrong with taking him up on it.” She then snatched the mop from Fluttershy and threw them both at Aladdin with a “Heads up!”

Reacting quickly, Aladdin let go of the mops he was holding and surrounded them with a blue field to hold them up while he caught the two mops. After he grabbed their handles, he glanced behind him when he heard Pinkie cheerfully say, “Clean-up party time~!” She was seemingly still mopping and she was coming towards him! Not wanting to know what would happen if she bumped or hit him, he used the mops he was holding to push himself up off the deck and vault over her, landing crouched on one knee. He then dropped the mops and used his magic to take both Shining Armor and Spike’s mops, gathering them all together along with the bucket of water before he cancelled his magic.

Sonic whistled, “Nice moves, Al’.”

The white hedgehog chuckled quietly, “Heh… thanks.” Without another word, he turned and headed into the ship, putting everything back in its proper place before he came back up on deck and noticed Sonic and his friends, including a distraught (or rather, dramatic) Rarity, hanging around close to the bow. Aladdin briefly felt a pang of jealousy, but he shook it away. He had to be better than that, and he knew what he had to do as he began making his way over to the group.

“Sometimes ya confuse the hay outta me, Rarity. Why would ya do that ta someone who lost their special somepony?” Applejack was saying.

“But… But… Sailor!” the fashionista protested.

Sonic leaned over and asked, “What does that mean? He has rugged good looks?” Rarity looked at him as though he had answered his own question. Sonic sighed and pressed a hand against his forehead before saying, “You know, seeing as you were willing to do that, maybe you should consider looking closer to home for men.” His eyes briefly shifted in Spike’s direction as he spoke, catching the little dragon perking up a bit at his words.

Rarity huffed, “In Ponyville? Please, Sonic. It is and always has been a quaint little town, but there are hardly any stallions worthy of a Canterlot lady like me.”

Sonic regarded her with a flat look. “Right, I gotcha. Would you like some reality with your fantasy?” he asked. Rarity’s response was a glare while Applejack and Rainbow Dash snickered to themselves.

THE REST OF THE STORY

At this point, Aladdin was standing just across from Sonic, currently unnoticed by anyone. Steeling his nerves, he took a breath and spoke, “Sonic?”

Sonic turned to look at the white hedgehog, as did everyone else. While Rarity and Rainbow regarded him warily, Sonic simply said, “Hey, Al’. What’s up?”

Aladdin placed his left hand on his hip and scratched the side of his head with his right hand, glancing down briefly before looking up and saying, “Well, uh, with all the crazy things that have been happening so far, I… haven’t really had a chance to thank you.” At the look on Sonic’s face, he added, “You know, for stopping Erazor Djinn last time you were here.”

Sonic realized what he was getting at and replied, “Oh yeah. That’s all right, Aladdin.” He scratched the side of his head as he said, “I gotta admit, part of me was actually a little worried you’d take that, uh… not so well.”

Aladdin shook his head, “No, not a chance. Did Badoura tell you what happened when he was released from his lamp?”

Sonic shrugged, “She mentioned a little bit. Uh, she said you rescued her when Erazor Djinn came after her and you protected her?”

Aladdin nodded, “She doesn’t have any reason to lie about anything, but I can assure you she was telling the truth. When Haman’s wish took the palace I’d wished for away, that was when Erazor Djinn was set free and he made his intentions clear. I didn’t know Haman had escaped him; I didn’t bother waiting because I was worried about Badoura. My wishes had been made with her in mind, so I was sure he would go after her. We managed to escape her palace as it was being consumed by the flames.” He gave Sonic a serious look, “I understand that it wasn’t an easy decision for either you or Shahra, but believe me, Badoura and I were both happy when we found out you’d sealed Erazor Djinn away forever.”

Cadance asked, “Sealed away forever? How did you do that, Sonic?”

Applejack added, “And what’s he mean by it not bein’ an easy decision?”

Sonic turned to look at the rest of the group and, while scratching the side of his head, stammered, “Uh… Well…” He glanced up in Shahra’s direction and noticed the pained look on the young genie’s face.

Shining raised an eyebrow at the hesitation. “What? What happened?” he asked.

Twilight turned to look at Shahra and noticed she was lowering herself while looking off to the side. Once she was sitting on the deck, Twilight asked, “Shahra?” Everypony looked back at that, all of them noticing the change in the genie’s demeanor. “What does Aladdin mean? Was it… hard for you to seal away Erazor Djinn?”

Shahra faced the unicorn and started, “N-no. …Well, yes, but…” She hesitated before glancing off to the side again. Taking a breath, she spoke, “When I sought out Sonic to ask for his help, to save the world of the Arabian Nights, I… was not entirely truthful.” Before anyone could ask, she said, “I kept… secrets from him…”

Pinkie piped up, “Well, of course you did, silly! You always keep secrets or bad things will happen!” She gave Twilight a meaningful look as she asked, “Wouldn’t you agree, Twilight?” The lavender unicorn blushed and looked away, remembering to keep her mouth shut.

Fluttershy stepped up to Shahra and spoke, “Shahra, you don’t have to tell us anything. I’m sure Sonic can explain it to us, so…” She held out her left hoof, intending to place it on the genie’s shoulder, but Shahra intercepted it with her right hand. Fluttershy looked at her questioningly at this. Despite how dainty her hands looked, she had a firm grip on the yellow pegasus’ hoof, and she was frowning.

“I have no objections to Sonic helping with explaining this, Fluttershy, but I am going to talk as well. Because this is something that needs to be said,” Shahra said. She pushed the yellow hoof back, allowing it to drop to the ground, and looked over at Pinkie, “And I must question your philosophy on secrets, Pinkie Pie. You always keep secrets, even if said secrets could prevent death and destruction, especially when they involve those close to you?”

Pinkie blinked at this, but Rarity huffed, “Oh please, Shahra dearie. There’s no need to be so dramatic.”

Sonic folded his arms and glanced at the unicorn, “You’re one to talk, ‘Juliet’.” Rarity glared at him while he nodded at Shahra, motioning for her to continue.

After Fluttershy stepped back, Shahra spoke, “Erazor Djinn and I… There was a time where things were different between us. When he was still a free spirit, there was a certain… magic shared between us. At least I thought so…”

Shining asked, “Are you saying you were… in love with him, Shahra?”

The young genie looked slightly surprised at this, but she said, “Yes, I suppose. Despite the trouble he caused, there was just… something about him that drew me to him.” Rainbow gagged loudly at this, but she shut up when everyone, even Fluttershy and Shahra, glared at her. Once the pegasus had settled down, Shahra went on, “When he was finally released from the lamp, part of me hoped that the feelings between us were still there. Even though I sought out Sonic to stop him, I did it with the intention of being back together with him, whether that was achieved by him abandoning his ambitions… or him conquering this world and more.”

Spike and the ponies were shocked by this. “You would have willingly let him do whatever he wanted?” Fluttershy asked.

Shahra answered, “That part of me would have, and it nearly consumed me when we brought him the World Rings. That’s not what I truly wanted, but it took Sonic commanding me to do what I thought was right to stop me.” She looked down, “Being forced out of the spell I was essentially under was painful, as what came afterwards, but breaking the promise we made… That would’ve hurt more.”

Twilight asked, “What happened afterwards…?”

Shahra didn’t respond, still looking down at the deck, so Sonic spoke up, “Erazor Djinn took the World Rings while Shahra was down, so all that was left to gain their full power was to kill me. He came at me with his blade, but… Shahra got in his way.” He looked down at the ring on his right hand, remembering how it shattered into pieces as he muttered, “She died in my arms…”

Silence ruled the air at this admission. Eventually, Applejack quietly asked, “He… killed her?”

Sonic let his arm drop to his side as he replied grimly, “And he didn’t show any regret over it. All he did was mock her one last time.” Looking back up at the group, he continued, “Since he didn’t kill me, Erazor Djinn only got a fraction of their power, and they weren’t bound to him completely. The World Rings containing Rage, Hatred, and Sadness responded to how I was feeling and broke away from him, coming to me instead.”

Cadance asked, “So you only had three rings, not all seven?”

Sonic replied, “Right, but I only needed those three rings, and Shahra’s magic.” Before anyone could ask, he went on, “I’m sure I only got a fraction of the power those rings had, but it was like nothing else I had ever experienced before. When they came to me, I thought I was gonna lose it just from how much they amplified my emotions, but I was able to keep it together and bring Erazor Djinn back down to normal. And when he refused to admit defeat, I brought out our trump card.”

Shining Armor raised an eyebrow, “‘Trump card’?”

Aladdin spoke up, “Erazor Djinn wasn’t able to destroy his lamp completely, and Shahra managed to find it in its damaged state before she met Sonic. She told me she gave it to him to hold onto during their travels as a last resort.”

Sonic nodded, “Shahra wasn’t able to grant my wish when I asked her to go back to the way she was, but it did restore the lamp to a less-damaged state. And since he was still bound to it, he had to grant my wishes. I wished for Shahra to come back to life and for the stories of the Arabian Nights to be restored, and for him to go back to being sealed inside the lamp like he was before.”

Twilight asked, “And that’s how you sealed him away?”

Shahra spoke up, “Initially, yes.” Everyone looked at her to see she was once again hovering above the deck, but the expression on her face had not changed much. “But we weren’t sure what to do with him afterwards, so Sonic held onto the lamp for some time. We eventually decided the best thing to do was to make sure he could never be freed from the lamp again, so we took it to the ancient palace where we found the Red World Ring and dropped it into the molten metal in the palace’s depths,” she explained.

At this, Shining started, “You mean…”

Sonic quickly interjected, “I don’t know what’s changed since then, but Shahra and I did not see what happened to the lamp. When we turned to leave, it looked like it was starting to sink, but it didn’t look like it was melting.” He crossed his arms, “If it did survive, then maybe someday he’ll have a chance to redeem himself.”

Rainbow asked, “Still, you guys actually did that?”

Rarity nodded, “Yes, it is a bit surprising to hear. Couldn’t you have left it somewhere and… have him serve his sentence again? Maybe started him on his path to redemption?”

Shahra spoke, “We did consider that possibility, Rarity. We held onto the Magic Lamp long enough to consider all sorts of possibilities. Our decision was not made lightly.”

Sonic nodded, “Erazor Djinn crossed the line for me when he killed Shahra and wasn’t upset by it, but while that may have factored into making him grant my wishes, I didn’t let it get in the way of deciding what to do with him.”

Aladdin added, “Serving a thousand masters turned him from a troublemaking spirit to a malicious one. How likely do you think it would be that a thousand more masters would change him for the better?”

Silence ruled the air at that question, only being broken when Ali Baba announced, “Land ho! Land ho!” Everyone looked towards the bow of the ship and saw that they were indeed approaching a landmass, one that looked like it had a number of mountains.

NO TURNING BACK NOW

As the ship continued towards land, Sonic said, “Shahra and I did what we did with the Arabian Nights in mind. We didn’t want something like what Erazor Djinn tried to do happen again.”

Aladdin placed a hand on his shoulder, “And Haman’s trying to undo it all, but we’ll stop him, make sure doesn’t ruin the world himself.” Sonic nodded and they turned to look back at the land, wondering what Haman had planned for them.

It wasn’t long before Sinbad’s ship reached land, Sinbad steering it into an inlet where they dropped anchor. Coming ashore, the group found a path leading further inland, and while the inlet had some green in it, they could already see a grayish-white powder falling, seemingly from the cloudy sky overhead. “Ooh! Is that snow?” Pinkie asked while pointing at it.

Shahra answered, “No, I’m afraid it isn’t, Pinkie Pie. It’s certainly cooler here, but that’s not snow.”

Spike asked, “What is it, then?”

Sonic looked down at him, “Let’s just say there’s a reason why it’s called the Skeleton Dome, Spike.”

Twilight looked at him, “You mean…?” Sonic nodded in response to the unasked question.

Sinbad spoke up, “If we’re all done gawking here, maybe we can focus on finding and stopping that crazy sorcerer we’re all after!” Everyone nodded and Sonic and Shahra took point, leading everyone down the familiar, dust-covered path.

As they were running, everyone noticed how fast Aladdin was, as the white hedgehog was able to keep up with Sonic quite well as he led the way past the bony remains of various creatures. From what little Spike and the ponies had seen of Silver, it seemed like he could be fast when he needed to be, but with Aladdin, it was likely that his past as a thief had made him focus more on being faster rather than mastering psychokinesis/magic. It was an interesting comparison…

It wasn’t long before Sonic led the group into a more open area. As they were running, Shining called, “How much farther do we have to go, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog pointed ahead as he called back, “The entrance is over there!” As he looked forward again, he saw that, unlike the first time he’d come here, the entrance was open. Deciding not to think about it too much, he pressed forward, Aladdin and Shahra at his sides and Rainbow close behind, everyone else behind her.

Once Sonic, Aladdin, and Shahra had passed through the opening in the rocky wall, however, they were brought to a stop when they heard a noise behind them. Turning around, they found that the bars had been lowered, locking everyone else out. They hurried back to the bars, Sonic asking, “Are you guys all right?!”

Shining Armor answered, “We’re fine, but it looks like Sinbad was right. Haman has been expecting us.”

Rainbow growled, “Well, he’s not locking us out!” She grabbed onto one of the bars and tried to push it up, Applejack, Shining Armor, Sonic, Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba doing the same.

HAMAN'S TRAP

They were all brought to a stop when Haman’s laughter rang through the air, causing them to all look around. His voice then echoed, “Hear me, servants of the dome! The guests of honor have arrived! Do give them a warm welcome and bring them to me while I finish up my preparations! You are my servants now; do as I say or your punishment will be worse than anything they could do to you!”

Aladdin grunted, “Typical. He just loves to hear himself speak.”

Shahra looked around as she said, “Wait… Something’s happening… I can feel some sort of energy coming from the Skeleton Dome. Haman must be moving forward with his plans!”

Sinbad grunted, “Then we don’t have time for this!” He looked at Sonic and Aladdin and said, “You two go on ahead with Shahra and get down there! We’ll catch up as soon as we find another way in!”

Sonic started to open his mouth to say something, but then Twilight exclaimed, “Look out behind you!” Sonic, Aladdin, and Shahra turned around to see several Skeleton Djinns materialize out of thin air, their normally yellow eyes now a bright red color. They creaked as they shambled towards Shahra and the two hedgehogs, the broadsword blades they had in place of forearms ready to slash as Aladdin and Sonic tensed up.

A split second later, both hedgehogs shot forward, Sonic crashing through one of the Skeleton Djinns with his foot while Aladdin used his saber to cut through another. Taking a moment to look back over his shoulder, Sonic said, “There’s another entrance out there, right overhead! See if it’s open; it’ll get you inside quicker!” With that he stood up, Shahra disappearing into the ring as he and Aladdin began making their way inside, more Skeleton Djinns materializing in front of them.

Spike spoke up, “Well, you heard him! Let’s find that entrance!”

Sinbad nodded, “Right. But first…” He glanced behind him and then suddenly turned and shot forward while swinging his fist, shattering a Skeleton Djinn that had been trying to sneak up on the group!

Another djinn appeared near Sinbad and Applejack galloped forward while saying, “This one’s mine!” As soon as she got right next to the djinn, she spun around and bucked it as hard as she could, its bones sent flying!

Sinbad grinned at her, “Hey, not bad!” Applejack smirked back at him, Rarity growling to herself at the sight of this.

While they were talking, Rainbow Dash and Ali Baba flew up to the ledge above and spotted an opening in the rock wall. “Is that…?” Rainbow started.

“Yeah, I think that’s it!” Ali Baba nodded. He called down to the others, “It’s up here, and it’s open! We should be able to get in through here!”

Shining called back, “All right, hang on, you two! We just have to get up there ourselves!”

Pinkie piped up, “No problem! The Pinkie Blast Express is at your service!” So saying this, she grabbed Rarity with her forelegs and carried her over to her party cannon (which she had produced from somewhere at some point in the confusion).

Rarity squirmed and started, “Pinkie, what are you…?” Pinkie silenced the fashionista by shoving her into the opening of the cannon, at which point she ran around to the other side while giggling. Rarity’s eyes grew wide, “Oh no, Pinkie, don’t you dare…!” Her protests were cut off when the party pony pushed the button, firing the white mare up at the ledge.

Despite being fired hard enough to reach the ledge, Rarity ended up landing without any unpleasantness, landing on her rump and not sliding forward very much. “Nice landing, Rarity!” Rainbow said from above, the white mare giving her an indignant look in response.

While Pinkie was trying to coerce Fluttershy into getting into the party cannon, Sinbad began climbing up to the ledge himself with the aid of his knuckles. While this was going on, Ali Baba looked towards the entrance and saw more Skeleton Djinns appearing. “Look out! More of them!” he exclaimed, both Rarity and Rainbow turning to look.

One of the djinns was dashing towards them, its blades swinging back and forth as it did so. Rarity glared at it and focused her magic into her horn, her light blue aura wrapping around the djinn’s right and causing it to stop as she began to pull on it. After a few seconds of this, Rarity managed to pull the blade free and used it to take the djinn out, also using it to distract the other approaching djinns while Rainbow dealt with them.

Sinbad witnessed all this as he got up to the ledge and, after he climbed up and dusted himself off, he said to the girls, “Pretty good teamwork, you two! Not bad at all!” While Rainbow looked proud at this, the sailor leaned over to Rarity and whispered, “Don’t think I’m going to change my mind about you that easily, though.” The fashionista just gave a huff at this and examined her blade for a moment before tossing it aside, deciding not to take it from the djinn. It wasn’t long before everyone else had joined them up on the ledge and they all hurried into the opening.

A little deeper inside, Sonic and Aladdin were still being bombarded by Skeleton Djinns trying to cut them down to size as they went down a spiraling path. They were managing to stay on top of them, though, Sonic using his Homing Attack to zero in on their weak spots while Aladdin had little trouble striking them down with his saber. As they stopped for a moment after dealing with another group of skeletons, they saw another group materializing just up ahead. “They sure are persistent, aren’t they?” Sonic asked.

“Sure seems that way,” Aladdin sighed as he tucked his blade into his belt for the moment.

Shahra spoke up from her ring, “We can’t let them keep slowing us down! The longer it takes us to reach the Skeleton Dome…”

Sonic nodded, “Right. I’ve got an idea, but I’ll need your power again to pull it off, Shahra.” The genie didn’t respond, but Sonic noticed that the ring’s jewel began to shine, which gave him all the answer he needed. He turned to Aladdin and said, “Quick, get on my back and hang on tight!” Although confused, Aladdin did as he was told, pulling out his saber and holding it in his right hand before climbing onto Sonic’s back. Once he had a secure grip, Sonic looked at the approaching djinns before he got into a running stance, suddenly shooting forward and being surrounded by red as he yelled, “SPEED BREAK!”

Aladdin was surprised by the sudden burst of speed, but he was able to hang on as Sonic blasted down the path, both of them cutting through any skeletons in their way. They managed to reach the end of the spiral as the speed boost wore off, disappearing into the passage beyond as Sinbad’s group reached the area. They saw that there were only a few Skeleton Djinns left along the path, so they knew they were going the right way.

After a few seconds of running along the corridor, Sonic came to a stop, both to let Aladdin off and for another reason: the end of the corridor looked different. There was a big hole in the wall that extended into blackness, and the teleportation device Sonic and Shahra had used to get deeper had been destroyed, the skull from the top laying on the ground nearby.

“It looks like Haman has created his own entrance into the Skeleton Dome,” Shahra noted.

“King Solomon’s not going to be happy about that,” Sonic said.

Sonic and Aladdin stared at the darkness for a second before they looked at each other, the latter putting his sword away as he spoke, “Well, it looks like we don’t have much of a choice but to use it. When we find Haman, we should make sure to free Badoura first so he can’t threaten her.” Sonic nodded and they both ran into the hole, following the path Haman had carved for himself.

RUNNING OUT OF TIME

In the Skeleton Dome’s main arena, Haman grinned proudly to himself as he admired his work. The center of the dome, which had been a cemetery of sorts, had been almost completely defiled, the grass and pieces of various tombstones ripped out and scattered near the outside of the circle. In the center of the circle was a seven-pronged white rune that he had created himself, with six of the seven prongs having a vial containing a World Ring’s Essence within it. Haman stood at the center of the rune, looking up at the hole in the wall he had created, the end of his tunneling through to the dome. Behind him, Badoura was being held in place a short ways away from the rune due to red-orange magic handcuffs keeping her arms raised, and further behind her, one of the dome’s passages had a similarly colored magic barrier in front of it. And hovering high above the rune was some sort of swirling, small purple vortex.

Turning to look at Badoura, he began to walk over to her as he said, “Ah, I just love it when a plan comes together. All the hard work, all the setup, all the… deception can really produce a work of art.” Standing over the cat now, he asked, “Don’t you agree, Princess?”

Badoura growled, “Don’t get too comfortable just yet, Haman. You’re going to get exactly what’s coming to you.”

Haman replied, “Indeed I will, Princess.” Leaning over, he went on, “All of this world will soon belong to me, while you…” He stopped to chuckle before he continued, “You, my dear, shall weep at my feet for all eternity.” Badoura’s eyes widened at this, but then they narrowed as she struggled to pull her wrists free. “Now, now, Princess, there will be none of that,” Haman said, bringing his left hand under the cat’s chin and forcing her to look up at him. He smirked deviously at her, “I’m sure right about now your precious Aladdin is whispering your name as he and the blue rat draw their last breaths.” Badoura pulled her chin free and glared up at the sorcerer while he merely grinned back.

Suddenly, Aladdin’s voice spoke up, “What’s that you were saying, Haman?”

Badoura gasped at this, peering around Haman to look, but the sorcerer was caught up in the moment and simply growled, “I said, I’m sure right about now…” He stopped short as realization caught up with him and he turned to look. Both Aladdin and Sonic were standing on the outside of the large circle, just underneath the hole in the wall, looking at him and Badoura. “What?! But how?!” he exclaimed.

“You brought this on yourself, creep. Don’t you know knocking over gravestones is bad luck?” Sonic asked.

Haman growled, “Bah! You two rats will be the bearers of bad luck… for interfering with my plans!” Without another word, he thrust his staff forward and fired a red-orange beam at them, both hedgehogs leaping into the circle to avoid it.

BATTLE WITH HAMAN

After they landed, Sonic looked at Aladdin and said, loudly, “I’ll get the Essences! Cover me!” The white hedgehog nodded and drew his saber, following behind Sonic as he ran towards the rune.

“No!” Haman exclaimed, levitating off the ground with his magic and shooting towards the hedgehogs. Sonic was down on his knees, about to grab the closest Essence when Haman appeared in front of him and pressed the bottom of his staff down on the hedgehog’s hand. Grunting in pain and surprise, Sonic looked up, only to get whacked across the face by the back of the sorcerer’s staff.

As Sonic was backing up, Aladdin came up behind him and leapt up while holding his saber above his head, ready to bring it down on Haman. The sorcerer retaliated by blasting him out of the air with a magic beam, Aladdin dropping his saber as he was sent flying backwards. Haman then wrapped Sonic in a red-orange aura and threw him back as well before tapping the bottom of his staff against the ground, causing a tall, translucent red wall to surround the rune and the vortex. “You won’t interfere with my plans any longer! Now is your time to die!” he yelled as the two hedgehogs got up, determined to keep fighting. Sonic ran at Haman while Aladdin retrieved his saber, Haman preparing his magic to push both back accordingly.

As the fight continued, Shahra, in her pink ball of light form, silently floated around the protected rune over to Badoura, having emerged from her ring when Sonic’s hand had been pinned down. She remained in this form until she was floating above the cat, at which point she assumed her true form and whispered, “Princess!” Badoura looked up and gave a relieved gasp when she saw the genie. Shahra floated down and held her hands out towards the handcuffs, her magic flowing from her fingertips. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of here,” she murmured, Badoura nodding and looking back towards the fight.

Sonic and Aladdin continued trying to attack Haman, but neither one was making a very strong effort to try to get past the sorcerer, often deliberately taking hits (or pretending to) and acting as though they had been cut off. Had he been less self-assured of his victory, perhaps Haman might have been suspicious of their actions, but alas, he was certain that he was stomping all over the heroes’ best efforts.

After a minute, Sonic ran at Haman after Aladdin had been knocked back onto his side, the blue hedgehog grabbing the sorcerer’s staff and trying to wrestle it away from him for several seconds before Haman pushed him back and, before he could react, jabbed him in the stomach with the end of it, causing Sonic to drop to his knees with a groan. While he was hunched over, Haman towered over him and grinned widely, “What’s the matter, blue rat? Your best moves not working for you?”

Sonic shot him a sneaky smirk as he looked up, “You really think that’s the best we’ve got? No need for us to bring out our best when we’re running a diversion!”

Haman’s grin was replaced with a frown at this. “What…?” He began to turn around when he heard Badoura let out a shout, only to let out a shriek when he saw her unleash a crescent-shaped wave of flames at him as she and Shahra came around his barrier! He managed to duck and avoid the brunt of the wave, but the bottom of it scraped along his back, slightly singing his robes.

ESCALATION

While the sorcerer was down, Aladdin quickly climbed to his feet and charged at him, Sonic getting up and flipping back as the white hedgehog leapt up into the air with his sword held high. Haman barely managed to block his blade with his staff and push him back, but he was surprised when the hedgehog rushed up to him and pushed back against him again. Clearly he wasn’t trying earlier after all! After a few seconds of this, Sonic leapt up towards him as, at the same time, a rainbow blur shot out of the hole in the wall, Sonic and Rainbow Dash kicking/bucking him in the face together! Following up on this, Badoura jumped onto his back and swung him around, throwing him towards his barrier. The sorcerer landed in a crumpled heap on the ground.

The rest of the group soon joined Sonic, Aladdin, Badoura, Shahra, and Rainbow Dash, all of them looking at Haman as he let out a growl. As he climbed to his knees, he glared at the group and thrust his staff forward, firing a red-orange beam that was blocked by both Twilight and Shining Armor forming a force field around the group. After several seconds of unsuccessfully trying to break through, Haman pulled his staff back and grunted, “Not bad, rodents. It seems you may have a magical edge over me after all.”

While the combined force field was lowering, Shining Armor asked, “I don’t suppose that means you’ll give up and come quietly?”

Haman merely replied, “Bah! Now it’s my turn!” He tapped his staff against the ground, and in a second he vanished, reappearing within the barrier he created in the center of the rune. As he stood up, the group surrounded the barrier and began trying to break through it. Haman eyed Shahra and asked, “You may have been able to break a small amount of my magic, Genie of the Ring, but do you really think you can get past this?”

Applejack spoke up, “‘Course she will, especially with us helpin’ her!”

Badoura said, “You have to come out of there sooner or later, Haman. You’ve got nowhere to run, no more leverages; you’re only delaying the inevitable!”

Underneath his hood, Haman gave a grin as he said in an unsettling tone, “Oh, I’m afraid you’re incorrect, Princess. I’m not delaying; I’m stalling long enough for this!” He gestured to the vortex overhead as he spoke, everyone looking up at it. Suddenly, it began to pulsate, the vortex swirling faster for several seconds before lightning began to shoot out of it, the purple soon fading away to reveal what appeared to be a starry sky.

“What’s that?” Ali Baba asked. Haman simply chuckled as he reached his left hand into his cloak and pulled out a small vial, popping the top off. A few seconds later, a purple powder emerged from the starry sky and shot into the vial, Haman capping the vial once there was no more coming.

“Shoot!” Sonic growled.

“That’s the last World Ring’s Essence!” Shahra exclaimed.

“Indeed. I’ve done far too much here to move very far from this spot. Why bother moving if I can have my magic do my work for me?” Haman asked as he held the vial up in his hand. He used his magic to place the vial on the empty prong as the group resumed trying to get through the barrier. They all came to a stop when Haman spoke, “That’s one spell complete. Now to complete this one…” He turned to look specifically at Sonic and Aladdin.

Sinbad growled, “Haman, what are you planning?”

While shaking his right arm slightly, the sleeve over it moving back somewhat, Haman spoke, “I had hoped that King Solomon’s servants would be able to carry out a simple task, but still you all managed to get here in one piece. That should present a problem because I’m still lacking something, but no matter.” He reached his left hand into his cloak again and this time brought out a sizable dagger. “I’ll just have to make do,” he said as he gripped the handle of the dagger.

Rainbow realized just why he was looking at Sonic and Aladdin and asked, “You really think we’re gonna just stand by and let you come at us with that knife? Well, bring it on, big man! As soon as you come out from behind that barrier, we’re gonna…”

*SLASH!*

THE SPELL IS CAST...

Rainbow was brought to a surprising stop, everyone staring wide-eyed at what Haman had just done. He’d used the dagger on himself, slashing himself along the exposed skin of his right arm and leaving a long red mark along it. As it began to leak, Haman weakly laughed, “Now… it’s complete.” As he finished, several red drops dripped down onto the center of the rune.

The shock of Haman’s actions quickly wore off when the rune began to brightly glow an ominous orange color and the ground began to shake, cracks beginning to form near the rune. As the orange light rose up out of the ground, Haman brought his staff down, touching the crystal it was holding against the ground. Almost immediately, it began to glow a bright whitish-blue color and something began to spread out from it. It appeared to be some sort of vortex, but there wasn’t much time to look as long wisps of dark purple energy began to emerge from it and swirl around inside the barrier, Haman vanishing as the vortex grew bigger. The swirling energy soon became too much to bear and cracks began to form all over the barrier, the whole thing soon shattering due to the swirling energy creating a shockwave that threw everyone backwards and raised a cloud of dust and purple mist.

Once the shockwave had subsided, everyone began to get their bearings. Sinbad grunted as he tried to climb to his feet, waving a hand in front of his face and coughing a bit. He then looked forward and saw Ali Baba lying on his back. He gasped and ran over to the fox, shaking him slightly as he asked, “Ali Baba! Are you okay?”

Ali Baba soon groaned, rubbing the back of his head as Sinbad helped him up into a sitting position. “I’m okay. I just hit the ground kind of hard,” the fox said. Sinbad smiled, but he soon frowned as both he and Ali Baba looked around, the dust and purple obscuring most of their view, but from what they could tell, they had been thrown out of the circle. “Where’s everyone else?” Ali Baba asked softly.

Sinbad shook his head, “I don’t know. Hope they didn’t fare much worse…”

Cadance looked around worriedly as she climbed to her hooves, having landed close to the outside of the circle. “Twilight?! Shining Armor?! Spike?!” she called.

Shining Armor’s voice called from outside the circle, “Cadance, we’re over here!” She turned and ran towards the source of the voice, finding her husband helping Twilight stay steady as she stood while Spike looked no worse for the wear. As Cadance approached them, Shining said, “She landed pretty hard on her backside.” He turned back to his sister, “Are you sure nothing’s broken, Twilight?”

Although she winced a bit while moving her hind legs a bit, Twilight responded, “I’ll be fine, Shining.” After looking down at Spike and making sure he was okay, she asked, “Where are the girls?”

Pinkie suddenly popped up beside the lavender unicorn and said, maybe a little too cheerfully, “Right here, Twilight!” Although surprised, they all turned to see the others coming up behind the pink earth pony.

Applejack was the next one to speak up, “We all landed kinda hard too, but Ah think we’re okay, Twi’.” Twilight nodded, relieved, though they were still missing their new friends.

Fluttershy looked towards the center of the circle, where the dirt and mist were thickest, and nervously asked, “Was that a summoning spell? What did Haman summon?”

Spike twiddled his clawtips nervously, “If the summoning was this bad, how bad is whatever he summoned…?”

Closer to the center of the circle, Shahra was shaking Sonic as he lay on his side, both Aladdin and Badoura lying nearby, Badoura having landed on top of Aladdin. “Wake up, Sonic! You can’t be laying down now!” Sonic soon groaned as he began to move, Shahra sighing in relief and then asking, “Sonic, are you okay?”

As he sat up and raised his right hand to his forehead, Sonic replied, “Ugh… Yeah, I’m okay, Shahra. Just give me a minute here…” Shahra sighed again and looked over at Aladdin and Badoura, relieved to see that they were beginning to get back up as well. She smiled softly at their embarrassment when they realized how they’d landed, but she frowned as she looked towards the center, “Haman… What have you done…?”

As the young genie stared, a silhouette began to appear as the dust began to dissipate. At first, she couldn’t make it out much, but as the air settled, the shape became clearer. It was only when she could make out two red glowing eyes staring at her that she gasped, realizing what it was. “No…! It can’t be! NO!” she cried.

Next to her, Sonic was still shaking off the disorientation. As she finished speaking, her hands held up to her mouth, he started, “Stop yelling, Shahra. What’s…” When he looked up, he froze as he saw the red eyes too. “No way…” he muttered as he slowly stood up. As the air cleared enough to reveal the black sclera around the eyes as well as the pinkish-purple skin around them, he shouted, “Erazor Djinn!”

Sonic and the Secret Rings, Volume Five

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ERAZOR DJINN REVIVED

The sound of Sonic’s shout was able to carry through the dust and mist to the others, alerting them to what Haman had summoned. Aladdin and Badoura were the first to react, both of them standing up and staring at the genie as more of him was revealed. He appeared to be missing his brown cape, but he still wore white pants with tan cuffs, brown shoes with pointed toes, gold cuffs on his wrists, and a brown wrap around his waist topped with what appeared to be a jewel. He had reddish markings on his torso, arms, hands, and forehead, and his cardinal red hair curled up and around his head.

“By Allah… He actually brought him back,” Aladdin breathed.

“I don’t believe it… This is what he wanted the Essences for?” Badoura murmured. It wasn’t long before the air had cleared enough to allow the others to see Erazor Djinn as well. A full view of him showed that he was about his normal size, roughly twice as tall as Sonic and a muscular look to his body.

“That’s Erazor Djinn?” Twilight asked, shocked.

Her shock was echoed by the others as well, though Rainbow Dash added, “You know, I was kind of expecting him to be… well, bigger since he’s a world-destroying genie and all.”

Ali Baba and Sinbad were both looking at the genie as well, their reactions considerably more mixed. “I don’t… Can the World Rings really resurrect someone?” Ali Baba wondered.

Sinbad growled, “That crazy old fool and his forbidden magic…”

As if he was waiting for the right time to make his entrance, Haman suddenly appeared next to Erazor Djinn in a red-orange flash of light. It was hard to tell if he was still bleeding or not as his right sleeve was covering up his arm again, but it didn’t seem to matter to him, given his demeanor hadn’t changed. “Hee hee hee~! Look at what my hard work has led to! Isn’t he beautiful? I am truly an artist!” he cackled.

“An artist?! You’re an IDIOT, Haman!” Sonic yelled.

Sinbad backed him up, “You already unleashed that spirit on this world once! Now you’ve broken the rule that even genies normally can’t break and unleashed him again, and you’re patting yourself on the back?!”

Haman replied, “‘Unleashed’, my dear sailor? I’m afraid that’s where you’re mistaken! The Erazor Djinn may have caught me off-guard last time, but not this time! This time, he will only be doing what I tell him to!”

Rarity spoke, “You take selfish to a whole new level, Haman!”

Cadance nodded, “If Erazor Djinn’s past was filled with masters like you, it’s no wonder he developed such desires!”

Haman replied, “Bah! Why don’t you all cry me a river! It will be the last thing any of you get to do!” He tapped the bottom of his staff against the ground, “Now it is time to witness success!” As he was speaking, a nearly invisible red shockwave spread out from where his staff touched the ground.

Sinbad noticed the wave when it came to a stop just past where Sonic, Shahra, Badoura, and Aladdin were and became more opaque, beginning to glow brighter. “Oh no you don’t!” he shouted as he began to run towards the center of the circle, everyone else beginning to follow his lead. They weren’t fast enough, though, as just as Sinbad and Rainbow were about to pass over the wave, a red barrier shot up out of the ground, going all the way to the ceiling and then continuing to spread out, pushing everyone outside of it back to the outside of the circle.

Aladdin, Badoura, Sonic, and Shahra looked at the barrier behind them with surprise, but they soon looked back at Haman when he said, “Ah, ah, ah don’t intrude! Work before pleasure, after all!” The sorcerer looked up at Erazor Djinn and held up his staff, which began to glow red-orange as he spoke, “Erazor Djinn, as your master, I command you to eliminate the pests in front of you once and for all! We’ll have some fun with the rest of them later, but for now, begin my- er, our revenge by spilling their blood on the ground!” With that, he teleported away again and reappeared inside the blocked passageway.

Badoura, Aladdin, and Sonic all tensed up as they looked at Erazor Djinn, but the genie continued to hover over the ground, the same hardened expression on his face as he stared back at them. Seeing some sort of hesitance in his eyes, Shahra spoke up, “Erazor Djinn, don’t listen to Haman! You don’t have to keep going down the path you chose previously! Whatever control he has over you, fight it!”

Haman’s voice echoed, “Nice try, Genie of the Ring, but it’s useless! He lives because of me! I own him! Now do as I said, Erazor Djinn, and kill them!” His words caused Erazor Djinn to move, the genie bending over as he flexed his arms inward. As he was hunched over, a circle of red-orange magic surrounded him, causing him to grow to about twice his height! As the magic faded, he floated up straight and then held his right arm up, and with a flash of light, his razor-like sword appeared in his hand. He then brought it down and held it out in front of him, Sonic, Shahra, Aladdin, and Badoura being reflected in the blade’s smooth, polished surface.

AN INVINCIBLE OPPONENET

“Erazor Djinn, please!” Shahra cried, trying one more time to sway him. It was to no avail, however, as with a swing of his sword, Erazor Djinn suddenly shot towards the group! Reacting quickly, Aladdin and Badoura dove to the left while Sonic grabbed Shahra and leapt to the right, all of them just barely dodging the horizontal slash the genie had aimed down at them.

As he landed, Sonic laid Shahra down on her side and asked, “Shahra, are you hurt?”

The pink-haired genie looked up at him, her eyes misty with tears, and stammered, “N-No, Sonic, but Erazor Djinn, he… Did you see him, he…”

Sonic replied, “Yeah, I saw that.” He glanced in Erazor Djinn’s direction and saw him going after Aladdin and Badoura as he said, “Maybe if we wear him down enough, we can get through to him.” He looked at Shahra and stood up, holding his right hand up as finished, “For now, I need you to trust me, Shahra. Stay in the ring for now; I don’t want him to get you again…” Shahra looked up at him for a moment before nodding and turning into a ball of light, vanishing into the ring. After giving it a pat, Sonic turned to look at Erazor Djinn.

During this, Aladdin and Badoura were dodging a series of slashes from Erazor Djinn. After dodging a zigzagging slash, Badoura leapt at the genie while surrounding herself with flames, but he was able to knock her back with a swing of his arm and she landed on the ground with a grunt. Aladdin quickly leapt in front of her and drew his saber, holding it up. Erazor Djinn just looked at him questioningly and Haman laughed, “Really, Aladdin? You actually think a genie is going to be afraid of a tiny little knife like that?”

Aladdin replied, “Maybe not now, but…” While holding the blade in his right hand, he swept his left hand over it, a blue glow coming from his hand. Blue energy began to gather around the blade of his saber, soon forming a blue blade of energy that greatly elongated the length of it. From outside the barrier, as the group was attempting to break through it, Twilight noticed that the blue blade looked similar to Silver’s Psychic Knife.

Erazor Djinn glared down at the white hedgehog and brought his sword up, charging at him with a deep, ghostly growl. Aladdin brought his sword up again, this time assuming a defensive stance. The genie’s blade met the hedgehog’s, but he was surprised when the longer blade not only didn’t break, but Aladdin was able to stand his ground against him. In his surprise, Erazor Djinn was pushed back and Aladdin pressed the attack, both of them slashing at each other for several moments. As Badoura got up and joined Aladdin, he jumped back and made a horizontal slash, sending the blue blade flying at Erazor Djinn as Badoura threw several wisps of fire at the blade.

The wisps wrapped around the blue blade and caused it to burst into flames, though it kept flying at Erazor Djinn. The genie grunted and tried to block it, but it broke through his guard and exploded. Aladdin and Badoura looked at the resulting cloud of smoke apprehensively, sure that Erazor Djinn wasn’t finished yet but not sure what to expect next from him. They soon got their answer when Erazor Djinn let out a loud growl and shot out of the smoke, crashing into the two and knocking them back onto the ground before they could react. He brought up his blade, preparing to take them while they were down, but Sonic interrupted him when he struck the side of his face with a Homing Attack. The hit stunned him for a moment, but he quickly whirled around and punched Sonic with his right hand, sending the blue hedgehog flying all the way across the field and into the barrier!

Sonic hit the barrier so hard that he ended up creating an indent in it. He remained in it as he shook off the impact of the crash, but as he was shaking his head, Shahra whispered to him, “(Sonic, look out!)” Sonic looked up and saw Erazor Djinn flying towards him and letting out a yell, his sword pointed right at him! Sonic narrowed his eyes and, a moment later, pushed himself up and off of the barrier. The tip of Erazor’s sword broke through the barrier, but Sonic landed on top of it, the hedgehog quickly charging up a Spin Dash and hitting the genie in the face. He kept going after the hit, flipping around in midair and landing a short distance away from Erazor Djinn, facing him.

As he was retrieving his dropped saber, Aladdin noticed that as Erazor Djinn pulled his sword free, the break it left in the barrier was beginning to close up. He glanced in Haman’s direction. He couldn’t completely make out the sorcerer through the red barriers, but he could see that his staff was glowing again. He then looked back at where the hole had been in the barrier, an idea forming in his head.

After dodging a slash from Erazor Djinn, Sonic used Speed Break to hit him and jump back over to Badoura and Aladdin, sliding across the ground and stopping in front of them. They all looked over at Erazor Djinn, the genie shaking his head and growling after the hit. “He may be invincible, but there must be a way we can subdue him,” Badoura said.

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. It might take some help from the others to do, though. …I’m open to suggestions on how to get them past that wall.”

Aladdin placed his hands on Sonic and Badoura’s shoulders and murmured to them, “I think I have an idea. It involves him, though.” Badoura and Sonic looked at him, leaning in closer as he whispered his idea to them. As he finished whispering, they had to jump out of the way of an attack by Erazor, thanks to Shahra and everyone outside of the barrier helpfully alerting them, but as they landed, Aladdin asked, “What do you both think?”

Sonic replied, “Well, like your plan to free Badoura while magic boy’s back was turned, I like it!”

Badoura nodded, “I agree, but how do we let the others know about the plan without either Haman or Erazor Djinn finding out?” They all looked to see Erazor Djinn glaring at them and holding his sword up once again, seemingly preparing another charge.

“If I can just get a moment between his attacks, I should be able to pass the message on to them,” Sonic said.

Aladdin held up his saber and used his magic to extend its blade again as he replied, “I think that can be arranged.” Badoura nodded in agreement, the air around her hands already starting to spark with small embers.

Instead of charging at them, Erazor Djinn stomped his right foot against the ground, creating a shockwave and causing rocks to fall from the ceiling. Sonic went first, Aladdin and Badoura following him as he leapt over the shockwave and avoided the falling rocks. The blue hedgehog leapt at Erazor Djinn in a Homing Attack, but a block by the genie followed up with a swing sent him flying off to the side. This left Erazor’s defense open, however, and Aladdin slashed him across the chest, the white hedgehog leaping back as Badoura created a fiery explosion.

While Badoura and Aladdin continued distracting Erazor Djinn, Sonic landed on his feet further away and quickly ran over to the others, everyone stopping their attempts to break through the barrier as he came to a stop in front of them. “Sonic!” Rainbow exclaimed. She was silenced when Sonic held a finger up to his lips. Stealing a glance back at Erazor Djinn, he looked back at the others and made several hand gestures: he brought his hands together and then swept them out, a stabbing motion with his left hand, and a punching sign with his right hand followed by quickly opening his fist. With that, he turned and ran back towards Erazor Djinn.

“Uh, okay, what was that all about?” Spike asked as he looked at Sonic’s retreating form.

After a moment, Sinbad spoke, “They’re going to try to get us an opening. We just have to be ready for it.” He then glanced at Twilight, Rarity, Shining, and Cadance and said, “And if I’m guessing right, your magic will be what we need to ‘punch’ through.” Though they were still a bit confused, everyone decided to trust the adventurer’s words.

PLAN IN MOTION

As he ran at Erazor, Sonic called, “Heads up, Erazor!” The genie grunted and turned to look behind him, only to get hit right in the face with another Homing Attack. With the opening in his defenses, both Aladdin and Badoura struck, Aladdin throwing his glowing blade at the genie while Badoura unleashed a large fireball that pushed him back slightly. The trio regrouped afterwards, waiting to see what he would do next. They soon got their answer when Erazor Djinn growled and stomped the ground with a foot, causing more rocks to fall from the ceiling. Sonic, Badoura, and Aladdin moved to dodge the rocks, though this time they ran away from the genie, moving away from each other as they came to a stop in front of one of the barrier’s walls.

After the rain of rocks stopped, Erazor glared at the three of them. Aladdin was on the genie’s left and Sonic was on his right, leaving Badoura in between them. While he looked between them, Sonic started waving his arms as he called, “Hey, what are you waiting for, big guy?”

Badoura, while holding a hand on her chin, spoke, “I believe he’s, as they say, chicken.”

Aladdin made a gesture with his left hand as he taunted, “Hey chicken, come on!” Erazor growled in frustration and charged at Aladdin first, the white hedgehog dodging to his left and running over to Badoura as the genie pulled his sword free and turned to face him. Erazor smirked as he saw a chance to impale them all at once and charged again. Aladdin wrapped his left arm around Badoura and they both jumped, both focusing their powers to clear the attack.

Sonic, meanwhile, stepped to the side as Erazor brought his sword down on where he was standing and then did a Spin Dash into his chest, uncurling and kicking him in the face as he flipped back. As he landed, Sonic smirked, “Tag!” Erazor let out a snarl and did a quick slash at the blue hedgehog, which simply dodged it and then ran up along the side of the barrier. As he began to run away, he called back, “Catch me if you can!” Erazor answered his challenge, flying after him while Aladdin and Badoura ran after him, Aladdin’s sword once again extended.

As Erazor Djinn pursued Sonic, Aladdin and Badoura ran along his open side, both occasionally throwing an attack at the genie to break his focus on Sonic. When they attacked, the genie would take a swing at them, but it was more to try to get them to back off rather than a planned attack, so, much like Aladdin and Badoura actually trying to hurt Erazor, these swings were halfhearted at best. Still, by messing with him, the genie had trouble lining up his strikes and ended up hitting the barrier instead.

Haman quickly realized what they were trying to do and, as he struggled to repair the breaks in the barrier, shouted at Erazor, “Stop that, you fool! You’re helping them ruin my hard work!” But the genie paid no attention to his words, his frustration growing as his enemies kept attacking, taunting him with their continued existence. It didn’t take long before they were about to pass in front of where the rest of the group was. It was at this point that Erazor Djinn let out a loud roar and deliberately thrust his sword into the barrier, aiming for the spot where Sonic was going to be!

Erazor’s roar had thrown him off, but Sonic saw what he was about to do with his blade and clenched his right hand into a fist as he yelled, “TIME BREAK!” As time began to slow down, the blade broke through the barrier, everyone outside of the barrier jumped back, and Sonic, Badoura, and Aladdin started to skid to a stop.

As Sonic slowed down, he stuck his left foot out in front of him and planted it against the side of Erazor’s blade to stop himself. Making use of the temporary surface and slowed down time, he planted both feet against the barrier and cancelled the Time Break, pushing off with all of his strength. He struck Erazor in the face and landed a second later. As he, Aladdin, and Badoura ran away from the genie, he called back, “That doesn’t count!” Erazor let out a growl at that and removed his sword from the barrier, turning to pursue the trio.

As Erazor’s sword was removed from the barrier, it left a large, gaping hole in the red wall. Once he was sure that the genie was distracted, Sinbad spoke, “Now’s our chance to open it up!”

At this, Shining said, “Let’s get in there!” He, Cadance, Rarity, and Twilight galloped forward, the hole already beginning to close as Haman tried to shut them out. They managed to get their horns into the hole before it could close completely, Twilight and Shining Armor stood crouched down low while Rarity and Cadance stood above them side by side. As they all began to charge their magic, Shining grunted, “If we can interrupt the magic here…”

Cadance nodded, “It should shatter the whole thing!”

On the other side of the chamber, Haman yelled, “No, no, no! You will all stay right where you are!” The red-orange glow surrounding his staff seemed to intensify at his words.

Back with the group, Rarity suddenly let out a yelp as she stepped back slightly, as did Twilight, Cadance, and Shining Armor. “What’s wrong?!” Rainbow asked.

“He’s… trying to push us back!” Twilight exclaimed as she tried to stand her ground.

“We need to focus or we won’t get through!” Cadance said. A second later, she suddenly felt something press hard against her from behind. Although she couldn’t look back, it was Pinkie pressing her head up against the pink alicorn.

As the others joined in, Ali Baba, as he helped Twilight, said, “You focus! We’ll help you!” With the extra push helping to counter Haman’s magic, the four magic users could focus on their task, their horns glowing brighter as they readied their magic. After several seconds, a bright white light and a loud whooshing sound filled the air, managing to catch Sonic, Badoura, Aladdin, and Erazor Djinn’s attention. The bright light forced them to avert their gaze, but seconds after the whooshing died down, it was followed by the loud sound of glass breaking as the barrier shattered into pieces.

CHARGE!

Moments later, both Sinbad and Shining Armor called, “ATTACK!” At this call, Rainbow Dash shot out of the remnants of the white light carrying Ali Baba with her forehooves, who in turn was carrying Rarity with his right hand. The pegasus shot straight towards Erazor Djinn, letting go of Ali Baba when they were close enough, all three hitting the genie with a flying kick together, causing him to grunt as they leapt back.

That was not the end, though. As she and the others ran forward, Twilight charged up a horizontal Mystic Blade, finishing it and launching it at Erazor at the same time Aladdin threw his blue magic sword at the genie, both hitting him in the chest. Both Spike and Badoura unleashed fire on the spirit as Cadance and Shining fired magic beams from their horns at his face. Sonic leapt into Pinkie’s Party Cannon and was fired at Erazor’s chest as she shouted “Sonic Power Cannon!” As the hedgehog landed, Applejack leapt onto his back and used him to get the extra height needed to buck the genie in the stomach, followed by Sinbad jumping up and punching him in the face as hard as he could. As he was knocked back, Erazor’s sword flew out of his hand, disappearing when it hit the ground, and he fell to his knees, panting heavily.

As the group stood together looking at the genie, Aladdin said, “I think he’s down for the moment.”

Applejack nodded, “Yup. Ah don’t think he’s gettin’ back up anytime soon.”

Twilight wondered, “But what do we do with him now?”

Shining looked at Cadance and asked, “Cadance, do you think your magic could break Haman’s hold on him?”

The pink alicorn replied, “Maybe…”

Shahra leapt from her ring, taking on her normal form as she floated off to the side. She spoke, “Wait! Let me try talking to him first! I… Maybe he’ll listen.” She looked at Fluttershy and asked, “Fluttershy, do you think you could…?” The yellow pegasus caught onto what she was saying and nodded, walking over to Shahra and staying at her side as she floated towards Erazor. Everyone else watched carefully, waiting to see what the genie would do.

As the two got closer, Erazor raised his head and glared at them, letting out a snarl. Both Shahra and Fluttershy stopped at this, but while Shahra looked at him worryingly, Fluttershy steadied herself and narrowed her eyes slightly before she resumed walking. This kind of behavior wasn’t unusual for her; plenty of the animals she knew had acted similarly towards her the first time she approached them, but she was able to calm all of them down fairly easily, so even though Erazor wasn’t an animal, she was sure her experience would be helpful here. She was only stopped when Haman yelled, “Bah!” The sorcerer suddenly teleported close to Erazor’s left side and held his staff up in Fluttershy’s direction, causing her to gasp fearfully.

“Fluttershy!” Shahra and Rainbow exclaimed. They both quickly flew up to the pegasus and got slightly in front of her, Shahra on Fluttershy’s left and Rainbow on her right, both of them ready to defend her.

Haman glared at them for a moment before saying, “As usual, if I want something done, I have to do it myself!” He turned to Erazor, his staff beginning to glow again as he said, “Erazor Djinn, I order you to give me your power! Grant me your genie powers and I will destroy them all!” Everyone gasped at this and looked at Erazor Djinn, but the genie remained panting on his knees. Haman growled and fired a beam from his staff at the side of Erazor’s face before saying, “Didn’t you hear me?! I revived you; you serve me! Give me your power, NOW!”

UNSTABLE FOOTING

When there was still no response from Erazor, he fired another beam at his face, and this time he seemed to get his attention as the genie turned his head left to glare down at the sorcerer. Haman hesitated at this, but he shook the surprise off and fired another beam at Erazor. This time, the genie held his right hand up in front of his face, the beam hitting his palm and not doing anything. After the beam stopped, in one quick movement, Erazor swept his left arm out and hit Haman’s hand, causing him to stumble while the staff was knocked out of the circle.

Haman stared at where the staff had landed for a moment before turning back to Erazor Djinn, only to see that the genie was once again hovering over the ground. Before Haman had a chance to react, Erazor reached down and grabbed him with his right hand, lifting him up until the genie’s face was all he could see. He then slowly spoke, in that same deep yet ghostly voice he had been using, “I serve… NO ONE!” As he finished speaking, he released Haman and then unleashed purple beam from his palm at him, the sorcerer screaming as he was pushed back until he was outside of the circle, at which point the beam surrounded him, forming a transparent, spherical barrier that was almost too small for him, all of his limbs cramped inside of it.

“Oh… That’s not good,” Sonic muttered at this.

“Yeah, no kidding. Way to go, Haman!” Sinbad growled. Erazor Djinn glared at the sorcerer for a short while as his prison held him a short distance above the ground, the sphere beginning to float away. While he was distracted, Cadance quietly released a pink heart from her horn, hoping it would have an effect on him, but the genie turned around before it had reached the halfway point. He glared at it and held out his right hand, lightning sparking from it that turned the heart black and made it burst.

He then glared at the group for a moment before hunching over again, though this time the magic that surrounded him was dark purple. As he straightened up, seven streaks of colored light circled him before shooting up towards the top of the Skeleton Dome, exploding when they hit the ceiling. Everyone looked up in surprise as it looked like the explosions had weakened it greatly. They were proven right as a large boulder broke free seconds later and fell towards the ground, a couple of smaller boulders falling with it. “Move it!” Sonic called as he turned around, everyone scrambling to get out of the circle. Shahra and Rainbow grabbed Fluttershy and got out with the others just moments before the boulders landed, the center of the circle almost buried. And all the while, Erazor Djinn was growing larger…

As everybody caught their breath, Twilight asked, “What’s going on? What’s Erazor Djinn doing?”

Ali Baba panted, “I have no idea. With all of his talk, I thought Haman really did have Erazor Djinn under his control…”

Shahra thought for a moment before saying, “I think his spell wasn’t cast correctly. Sinbad was right again.”

Badoura looked up at her, “What do you mean, Shahra?”

The young genie replied, “When we were coming here, Sinbad speculated that Haman needed Sonic and Aladdin for something. Considering the dark nature of the magic he used, that must’ve been what he meant when he said he would ‘make do’…”

Aladdin soon caught onto what she was suggesting and asked, “He needed OUR blood to complete the spell?!”

Shahra nodded, “I think so. Most dark magic that I’m familiar with usually does require a more pure sacrifice.” Looking back at Erazor as he continued to grow, she said, “By using his own blood, though, he brought Erazor Djinn back as something worse than before: a monster!”

Sinbad growled, “If that’s the case, then ruling over worlds might not be enough for him. He’d probably rather destroy them instead!”

Rainbow looked at Shahra and asked, “Shahra, how can we stop him?”

The pink-haired genie looked up at Erazor Djinn. The genie had stopped growing, by now his head being close to the top of the dome and his feet hovering over the circle. After a moment, she spoke, “We have to drain the Essences from him somehow. They’re giving him his power; if he doesn’t have them, surely he won’t be able to maintain a physical form!”

Pinkie asked, “How do we do that?”

Sonic suggested, “What if we reopen that portal? Make sure he goes back to the other side?”

Shahra spoke, “Yes… Yes, that might work! If we can reverse the spell, the Essences should be removed as well!” She then eyed the center of the circle, “But to do that, we’ll need to use the rune that Haman placed…”

Applejack groaned, “Well, ain’t that just…” She was cut off when a loud crackling sound came from overhead. Everyone looked up to see that Erazor Djinn was forming a purple sphere between his hands, the sphere growing bigger as he charged it more. “What’s he doin’?!” Applejack cried.

“He’s trying to escape! With the dome as damaged as it is, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to escape!” Ali Baba exclaimed.

“He needs to be close for this to work! If he escapes from here…” Shahra trailed off. Sonic looked up at the large genie, thinking for several seconds. He then looked down at the ring on his finger as he raised his right hand up and used his left hand to rub it. Shahra immediately snapped to attention at this and bowed, “Oh Master, how may I serve you?”

Sonic looked at her and said, “I wish for magic carpets, Shahra! Magic carpets for everyone!” Shahra nodded and held her arms out, using her magic to create small magic carpets big enough for everyone to stand on.

While she was doing this, Badoura looked at Sonic and asked, “What are you thinking?”

Sonic replied, “I’m thinking we’ve got a chance here!”

A magic carpet flew next to Twilight and stopped, hovering in the air. She looked down at it for a moment before looking back at Sonic and asking, “What plan do you have in mind? What are we going to do?”

Sonic answered, “It’s simple! We need to get that rune uncovered, and we need to make sure Erazor doesn’t leave! If you’ve got the magic and/or the strength to move heavy rocks, then you’ll handle that part!” He jerked a thumb up at Erazor Djinn, “The rest of us will get his attention! We’ll buy you the time you need!”

Shining nodded, “Sounds like a plan to me!”

Rainbow pushed the carpet next to her away as she said, “I don’t think I need a rug for this! I’m much faster with my wings; I’ll get that genie’s attention!”

Sinbad looked at Sonic, “Applejack and I will help with the unearthing, but once that’s done, we’ll be right up to help you!”

The orange earth pony nodded, “Until then, hit him once for us!” Everyone soon knew what they had to do and they moved to do, everyone except Rainbow, Fluttershy, and Shahra taking a carpet to help. Shahra, Sinbad, Twilight, Rarity, Applejack, Cadance, and Shining flew towards the pile of rocks in the circle while everyone else flew up to distract Erazor Djinn.

RACING AGAINST TIME AND PATIENCE

As the sphere he was creating began to get bigger than his hands, Erazor Djinn grinned to himself, “Yes… Yes! Soon, very soon…”

Rainbow shouted, “Yeah, very soon, you’re going back where you came from, pal!” Erazor raised an eye and looked around his sphere to see the pegasus flying up at him, everyone else coming up behind her. He grunted and looked back at his sphere, ignoring her. Rainbow just grinned and said, “Hey, come on, big guy! Since we’re not gonna be seeing each other for a while, let me give you a Rainblow dry for the road!” She shot up to his face and began to fly around Erazor in a tight circle, leaving a swirling rainbow trail around his head. He growled at what she was doing, but he tried to remain focused. Despite this, the sphere between his hands began to shrink.

Seeing this, Aladdin placed his left hand over his saber and created the blue blade once again. As he finished, Badoura called over to him, “Aladdin!” The white hedgehog looked at her as she raised her right hand and created a small flame. She then sent it flying towards him, the flame going into the blue blade and changing it to a flaming blade again.

“Thanks, Badoura!” Aladdin called back. His carpet then shot towards the sphere and he jabbed the flaming blade into it until only the hilt was sticking out. He then quickly turned and flew away as the sword interrupted the gathering magic. Seconds later, Rainbow flew away from Erazor moments before the sphere exploded in his face, causing him to growl as Aladdin’s saber was sent flying.

While Spike went to retrieve the sword, Sonic, Ali Baba, and Badoura quickly shot towards Erazor’s face, all of them attacking once they were close enough. He soon recovered, however, and used his magic to immobilize them and push them back as he said, “Insignificant specks! You will be the first to fall!”

Pinkie piped up, “Not before we have a party, you big meanie!” Erazor looked up to see that the pink pony had flown above the others and was now flying towards him with her party cannon out. She fired at him, confetti and streamers hitting him in the face, a few pieces even hitting around his eyes. This caused him to release Sonic, Badoura, and Ali Baba while he wiped the offending party favors off of his face.

When he was finished, he opened his eyes to see Fluttershy hovering in front of him, attempting to use The Stare on him. While he did flinch initially, any power she had over him was quickly lost and he raised his right hand to swipe at her. Thankfully, Ali Baba swooped in on his carpet to get her out of the way, just missing getting hit by the genie’s arm. As he glared at the two of them, Sonic, Rainbow, Badoura, Pinkie, Aladdin, and Spike shot towards Erazor to attack him again.

While they continued to distract Erazor Djinn, down on the ground, Sinbad, Shahra, Twilight, Applejack, Rarity, Shining Armor, and Cadance were working diligently to remove the boulders that had fallen from the ceiling. The magic carpets made moving the smaller rocks out easier while magic took care of a few of the larger ones, but the big hurdle was the large boulder that had been knocked loose from the ceiling, and it was completely covering the rune.

“Any chance this boulder can be lifted with magic?” Sinbad asked.

“I think this one might take a bit of time and combined effort to move,” Cadance said.

Rarity wailed, “Isn’t there any way we could remove it faster?” As if to answer her, Rainbow suddenly shot downwards before sharply angling herself upwards, having kicked off a Sonic Rainboom in an attempt to distract Erazor. The force from it stunned everyone for several moments, but when they looked back at the boulder, they saw cracks lining its surface.

Shining spoke, “If that shockwave had been much stronger, it would’ve shattered the boulder!”

Rarity gasped to herself, “Wait… This is just like…” She then called to the others, “I think we can break it into smaller pieces now!”

Twilight nodded, “You’re right, Rarity! If we can make it smaller, it should be easier to remove!” Everyone else nodded in agreement and they all got to work, Applejack and Sinbad jumping off their carpets onto the boulder to stomp and punch it to chip away at it while the others threw the broken pieces out. It wasn’t long before both Sinbad and Applejack jumped back onto their carpets and Twilight and Cadance grabbed the boulder, now barely half of its original size, and threw it out of the circle, revealing the faded rune underneath.

Upon seeing the rune, Shahra said, “We need to repair and recharge the rune before we can use it!”

Sinbad called, “We’ve done our part! It’s all up to you now!” With that, both he and Applejack flew up to join in the aerial skirmish while Shining, Twilight, Rarity, and Cadance jumped off of their carpets and, after Shahra explained what they had to do, they all began to use their magic to fix the rune.

Sonic spotted Sinbad and Applejack as they flew up and called, “Hey, Sinbad, AJ, you made it!” Everyone else noticed them as well at this.

Sinbad called back, “Hoped you saved some for us!” Erazor growled at this and swiped his right hand down at the two.

They managed to dodge it and Applejack called, “Let’s try hittin’ him in another spot where it hurts!” Sinbad nodded and they both flew towards his abdomen, where they both began punching and bucking him in the stomach. Erazor ignored what they were doing as it didn’t hurt much down there, but after a couple of seconds, he let out a groan as he held a hand to his stomach. Seeing this, Sinbad and Applejack flew out of the way as the latter said, “Yeah! Bet ya didn’t know ya could have an upset stomach, did ya?” Seeing their chance, everyone moved in and began attacking again.

Erazor growled at this and soon straightened up, quickly smacking everyone away with a sweep of his left arm. “You filthy vermin! I’m done wasting my time with all of you!” He held up his arms and began creating lightning that came down from overhead in multiple places, trying to hit the group. They all broke off for the moment, trying to dodge the bolts until they died down, at which point they each moved back in to attack.

About a minute later, down on the ground, Shahra finished reactivating the center of the rune as Rarity and Twilight each finished fixing one of the spots where the Essences had been laid. It was now finished, a bright white glow coming off of it as it pulsed with the combined Arabian Nights, unicorn, and alicorn magic. “At last, it’s ready…” Shahra sighed.

Shining looked at the genie and asked, “What now, Shahra? What else do we have to do to send Erazor Djinn back?”

The genie responded, “All that’s left to do is open the gateway now. And in order to do that…” She turned her head and looked at where Haman’s staff had landed, the bottom of the staff stuck in the ground and the Eye of Gazeem still resting in its hands.

“We need the Eye of Gazeem!” Rarity breathed, realizing what Shahra meant.

“I’ll get it!” Twilight said, being the closest one to it. She galloped towards the outside of the circle, but she planted her hooves into the ground to stop when Erazor’s right foot came down in front of her. Although he had placed his foot down due to an attack from Applejack, Sinbad, and Pinkie Pie, the genie detected the unicorn’s presence and looked down at her. Twilight gasped at this, but she steeled herself and ran around the right side of his foot, aiming for the staff.

Erazor turned his head to follow her, growling as he realized what she was doing. Ignoring everyone in the air, he turned around and held his hands close together, charging another sphere as Twilight got out of the circle. Shining gasped and yelled, “Twilight, look out!” The lavender unicorn looked up to her right to see Erazor firing the sphere at her, which was now just a bit bigger than she was. She quickly charged her magic and teleported away before it could hit her, reappearing a short distance away from the staff. She ran up to it and tilted her head, gripping it with her teeth and pulling it free.

“NO!” Erazor Djinn yelled, holding his arms up; a moment later, an explosion sounded close to Twilight, startling her. She let out a cry and took the staff in her magic, scampering to avoid more explosions created by Erazor. She ran around the circle, trying to avoid the explosions as best she could, but just when it seemed like they were stopping, Erazor said something that she couldn’t understand, and a second later, small pillars of rock burst out of the ground in front of Twilight.

She was unable to stop and, as soon as she got close to them, they they wrapped around her like tentacles. The unicorn let out a shout as she was dragged backwards, the staff falling to the ground as the magic aura around it disappeared. The rocks prevented her from moving much, one even wrapping around the base of her horn as she was held up.

“Twilight!” Sonic, Spike, and several of the ponies called as she struggled to free herself, but to no avail. She soon stopped, realizing Erazor had her trapped much like King Sombra had.

She looked up and saw Sonic starting to fly down towards her. She yelled up at him, “Sonic, no!” When he stopped and stared at her, she pointed as best she could at the staff, “Get the Eye!” Sonic looked at it and realized what she was getting at, turning and shooting off towards it.

He managed to grab the staff, but he didn’t get very far before Erazor shot his carpet with a beam of purple magic, turning it into a pile of thread. Sonic leapt off of it before it could fall out from under him and ran with the staff, intending to make a break for the center. He wasn’t watching where he was going, however, and before he could make his move, a fist made of rock burst out of the ground in front of him and punched him up into the air. It didn’t knock him too high up, but it left him reeling. As he reached the height of his flight, he opened his eyes and looked down, his eyes widening as he saw that Erazor had created a bed of spikes right where he was going to land!

Before he landed on it, he managed to stick the end of the staff between some of the spikes. It didn’t do much to slow or stop his descent, but he managed to stick his legs out between two spikes at that spot to catch himself before he could land on one. He avoided being impaled, but as he looked up at Erazor, he realized he was in a tight situation. The genie would surely counter any sudden movements he made, and he couldn’t hold himself up like this forever…

DASH FOR THE CENTER

He turned his head to look up when he heard Rainbow shout, “Sonic! SONIC!” He saw that the pegasus was waving her hooves above her head. Reaching back with his right arm, he grunted as he threw the staff as hard as he could to her, Rainbow flying a bit closer to catch it with her teeth before turning around and shooting away. Erazor growled at this and fired a red beam from his eyes that homed in on Rainbow, the pegasus twitching as the magic took effect. When the tingling from the magic stopped, she realized that her right wing had become huge! “Come on! Not again…” she murmured, struggling to stay in the air properly.

She glanced off to her left when she heard Badoura call, “Rainbow Dash!” The princess was flying down towards her from above, likely to make it easier to pass off the staff. After another wing flap pushed her to the right, the pegasus swung her head around and threw the staff. Badoura managed to catch it and was about to angle downwards to shoot for the rune when Erazor Djinn pointed his left finger out, releasing a stream of flames from it. The flames hit Badoura’s carpet and, before she could react, burned it to ashes in a second.

Badoura let out a yell as she started to fall, but Sinbad got underneath her and caught her. “Gotcha!” he said as he set her down on his carpet.

“Not for long!” Erazor growled before he threw a purple-colored crescent wave at them. It hit them both, Badoura throwing the staff up when she was hit, and sent them both yelling towards the wall. As soon as they hit the wall, the magic condensed around them, creating locks around their wrists and legs.

The staff, meanwhile, landed in Fluttershy’s hooves. Although she was surprised, the shy pegasus was going to pass it off as well, but one look at Erazor caused her to freeze up. Applejack saw that Erazor was going to use another spell and quickly brought out a lasso, throwing the loop and wrapping it around Fluttershy’s waist. She gave a hard tug and pulled the shy pegasus to her, but Erazor’s next spell unleashed a flurry of winds. The winds caught not only Applejack and Fluttershy, but also Pinkie Pie as she was moving in to take the staff next, all three of them getting knocked off their carpets and falling to the ground.

The staff was picked up by the winds as well and it ended up in Spike’s possession. He started flying towards the rune, only for Erazor to immobilize him. Before the genie could do anything, Aladdin swooped in, leaping onto Spike’s carpet to grab the baby dragon and put him under his left arm before jumping back onto his own carpet. “I’ve got you, Spike!” he said as he began flying towards Erazor, hoping to throw him off for a second by going behind him before going for the rune. It seemed he knew what the hedgehog was planning, however, as he caused a rock to fall on the back of Aladdin’s carpet, sending it down to the ground and sending Aladdin and Spike flying.

Luckily, the momentum the two had picked up carried them the rest of the way towards Erazor, Aladdin’s face hitting Erazor’s left shoulder before bouncing towards his back, where he managed to grab onto the top of the cloth around the genie’s waist to stop their fall. Erazor grunted in surprise at this and began reaching his hands around, trying to grab at the two. Wasting no time, Aladdin shifted Spike to his back and used his magic help him to run up the genie’s back. He managed to get up just below the shoulders before he stopped and grabbed on, Erazor still trying to grab at him.

As Aladdin tried his best to hold on, Spike asked him, “Aladdin, what are we gonna do?”

The white hedgehog replied, “We’ll think of something!” He turned his head, looking around and hoping to find some way out of this situation. After looking around several times, he noticed Ali Baba was still in the air, the fox hovering to the left a fair distance away from Erazor, looking unsure of what to do.

Nodding to himself, Aladdin climbed up to Erazor’s shoulders and got close to his neck before stopping. “Get off,” he muttered to Spike, the baby dragon letting go of his vest. He dropped down onto Erazor’s skin, but Aladdin surprised him by grabbing the staff with his left hand. He then grabbed the baby dragon and, after some slight resistance, lifted him up, his right hand underneath the baby dragon. “I’m gonna throw you now,” he whispered.

“What?” Spike asked, not entirely comprehending. He understood a moment later when Aladdin made a short running start and threw him as hard as he could towards Ali Baba, the baby dragon letting out a scream as he hurled through the air. Ali Baba had to fly a little forward, but he was able to catch Spike, Erazor momentarily distracted by this action. The genie quickly realized that Aladdin was still on him and turned to his right, seeing the hedgehog beginning to run down his arm. He was carrying his saber in his right hand and the staff in his left, the latter of which was turned away from Erazor.

Aladdin noticed Erazor’s arm was beginning to move and he leapt off of it, starting to fall. He didn’t get far before Erazor’s right hand grabbed him by the vest and held him up to his face. The two glared at each other for a moment before Aladdin spoke, “So you want it? Well, take it, then!” With that, he threw Haman’s staff towards Erazor’s left, the genie quickly reaching up and grabbing it. He smirked as he gripped his prize, but it soon faded as he realized there was something missing from the staff’s hands…

Suddenly, Aladdin let out a shout as he unleashed a large amount of magic, managing to get himself free from Erazor’s grip. A blue aura surrounded him and his saber as he hung in the air for a second before gravity took hold of him, the Eye of Gazeem falling out of a pocket inside his vest as he began to fall. Aladdin went into a freefall, reaching for the Eye with his left hand while aiming for the center of the rune.

He soon grabbed the crystal and shouted down to Shahra, Shining, Rarity, and Cadance, “Get out of the way!” The four of them had stayed in the center to get the Eye when it was passed to them, but at Aladdin’s command, they hurried out of the circle. As Aladdin got closer to the ground, he made a horizontal swipe with his saber, the extended blade creating a rush of wind when it made contact with the ground, slowing Aladdin’s fall as the saber flew out of his hand. He landed on his feet, but he winced as his left knee hit the ground hard when he bent it down. Fighting through the pain, he took the Eye of Gazeem in both hands and slammed it down in the center of the rune, the jewel and the rune beginning to glow brightly as soon as the former made contact.

Aladdin turned his head to look up as Erazor Djinn growled loudly, the genie reaching his right hand down at him. Just as it seemed the hand was about to reach the hedgehog, a whitish-blue beam of light shot out of the Eye of Gazeem, going straight up and hitting Erazor in the chest. The genie reeled for a moment before he let out a loud yell as the light spread across his body. He began to spasm uncontrollably, flashes of light appearing around his body as patches of his skin began to ripple.

As this was happening, the effects of his magic were beginning to dissipate. Sinbad and Badoura’s shackles disappeared and they both dropped to the ground near Applejack, Pinkie, and Fluttershy, Rainbow’s wing shrunk back to its normal size, the spike bed Sonic was holding himself over disappeared, causing him to drop to the ground, and the rocks restraining Twilight released their hold on her. It seemed as though Erazor was losing his power, which became more apparent when a yellow stream of light burst out of his arm and shot into the opening vortex.

Looking down at the center, however, everyone realized Aladdin was in trouble. He was trying to run away from the rapidly growing vortex, but he was holding his left hand over his left knee, trying to keep the pain shooting up it every time he took a step to a minimum. He managed to keep ahead of the opening gateway as streams of green and red shot into it, but it caught up with him soon after, the white hedgehog crying out, “NO…!” as he fell into it!

“ALADDIN!” Badoura and Shahra cried, everyone else staring in shock and horror.

Sonic soon snapped out of his shock and called up to Rainbow Dash, “Rainbow!” He then stood up and ran towards the circle, the cyan pegasus picking up on what he planned to do and shooting towards it as well. Sonic reached it first and leapt into the vortex, straightening his body out like Aladdin had as he dove after him, Rainbow flying in after him.

Aladdin gritted his teeth, groaning softly as the vortex pulled him further down. He was being continuously flipped over as he fell and his eyes were squeezed shut, sure that he was going to meet his end in the Netherworld. Suddenly, he felt something grab his right hand and, while he could still feel the portal pulling at him, he stopped falling. He opened his eyes and looked up to see that Sonic had grabbed his hand, the blue hedgehog’s right hand being gripped between Rainbow Dash’s forehooves as she turned around, trying to fly out of the vortex.

Sonic and Rainbow hadn’t had to go too far down from the opening of the vortex to reach Aladdin, but the suction had become stronger inside of it and, despite flapping her wings rapidly, Rainbow was having trouble flying back up. She grunted and growled to herself, her eyes squeezed shut as she tried to pour more energy into flapping her wings. After several moments, it began to feel like she was beginning to move up, but Sonic yelled, “Rainbow, heads up!” The pegasus’ eyes shot open and she saw that some of the rocks that had fallen were being sucked into the vortex as well!

Rainbow narrowed her eyes and, after stopping for a moment to gather her strength, pushed towards the closest rock with a burst of speed and a yell of, “We’re getting out of this no matter what!” As she got closer to the rock, she reached her hind legs out and planted her hooves against it, pushing off of it while Sonic and Aladdin shifted as best they could to let it fly past them. Using the rocks whenever she needed the extra boost, Rainbow flew up to the opening of the vortex, streams of blue, water blue, and white coming in as she went. Finally, with one final burst of speed that was not on the level of a Sonic Rainboom but still powerful, she flew the two hedgehogs out of the gateway and towards the edge of the circle, the vortex now big enough to cover the entire circle.

Erazor saw the trio as they emerged and, as a purple stream of light burst out of his forehead, he mustered up the last of his strength and made a grab for them with his right hand. Aladdin’s feet slipped out of his grabbing range as he swung his arm and, as they neared solid ground, Sonic threw the white hedgehog towards the stone, Rainbow releasing him right afterwards as she prepared to land. Both of the hedgehogs and the pegasus landed on the ground, Aladdin landing on his rear while Sonic and Rainbow landed on their feet/hooves, all of them sliding towards one of the dome’s walls. They came to a stop in front of it and pressed their backs up against it, now out of Erazor’s grabbing range as well as the vortex’s pull.

ONE LAST GRAB

Without the Essences of the World Rings to maintain him, Erazor began to shrink, returning to a more normal size. As he let out a shaky groan, he desperately looked around. Everyone else was doing the same thing Rainbow, Sonic, and Aladdin were doing. Badoura and Sinbad were helping Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy stay against their part of the wall not far from the trio, and further along the wall, Rarity, Shining Armor, Cadance, Twilight, Shahra, Ali Baba, and Spike were helping each other out too. With his shrinking size, Erazor couldn’t possibly grab at anyone. Except for…

He whirled around quickly, feeling the vortex starting to pull him in, and saw the purple sphere he had trapped Haman in. Because his prison had remained in the air, the sorcerer had been floating around the outside of the circle the entire time the group had been trying to stop Erazor, anything he might’ve said muffled by his prison. Now it was the last magic thing Erazor had created to disappear, Haman falling to the ground on his rear with a yell. He looked at Erazor’s sinking form and turned himself around, trying to crawl away to get out of the vortex’s pull and hopefully get out of the dome without anyone noticing.

Erazor had seen him, however, and just before the sorcerer was out of his reach, he reached out with his left hand and managed to grab his left foot. Haman let out a startled cry and looked back over his shoulder, yelling at Erazor, “What are you doing?! Let me go!”

Erazor growled back as he held on tightly, “YOU! I choose you to suffer eternal torment!”

Haman let out a gasp at this and began struggling, trying to pull himself free, but to no avail. While still trying to crawl away, he looked over at Sinbad, Badoura, Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Applejack and called, “Hey! Help me! Don’t let him take me!”

Fluttershy tried to slip free of Sinbad’s hand, but he pressed it harder against her as he felt her movements and said, “Don’t do it! He’ll drag you to the Netherworld with him!” Fluttershy looked at him in surprise at that. Pinkie had seemed to be thinking whether or not to help him as well, but at Sinbad’s words, she pressed back against the wall harder.

Both Applejack and Badoura glared at Haman, the latter saying loud enough for him to hear, “You reap what you sow, Haman.”

The sorcerer stared at her in shock at that, forgetting that he was supposed to be struggling at the moment. “What?!” he gasped; he then felt a sharp tug on the back of his leg. “No!” he cried when he realized he had been dragged much closer to the circle. He tried to struggle, but it was hopeless; at this point, there was no way he could escape the pull of the vortex, and after a few seconds, he was pulled from the ground as Erazor disappeared into the vortex save for his right arm! “NOOOOO!” Haman screamed as he was pulled into the vortex.

Despite the two being pulled into the Netherworld, the gateway remained open, still trying to pull anything loose into it. Everyone kept their backs pressed up against the walls at the edge of the arena to avoid being pulled in. The only explanation Shahra had for the portal’s behavior was that the fusion of varying levels of Arabian Nights, unicorn, and alicorn magic had had an unexpected effect on the spell’s power and it was the cause of not only the size of the portal, but also how long it was remaining open. While this would normally be a bad thing, the size of the portal was also stretching the magic thin, making it unstable.

As the group was debating to themselves what to do, a shaft of white light shot out of the center of the vortex, going up to the ceiling. Shortly afterwards, while everyone was staring at it, the ground began to rumble, causing everyone to grab onto the wall tightly. The rumbling continued for nearly half a minute, the vibrations seeming to get worse all the while, before a bright white light filled the Skeleton Dome, forcing everyone to close their eyes and look away. After several seconds, the light had died down.

After a few seconds, everyone looked to see that the vortex had closed, but something seemed different about the center. Everyone moved in for a closer look and found that a sizable, bowl-shaped hole had been made in the ground. It was mostly dirt and rocks in the hole; the one thing that everyone noticed was the Eye of Gazeem, lying on its side in the center of the hole.

After a moment, Rainbow spread her wings and flew down to retrieve the gem, holding it up in her hooves and looking at it for a second before she flew back to Sonic and Aladdin with it, coming to a stop and hovering in front of them as she held the stone out to the latter. The white hedgehog tossed it up once with his right hand while Rainbow landed next to him and said, “Figured you’d want it back. That was a pretty cool move you did back there, you know.”

While looking down at the gemstone, Aladdin replied, “I guess so. It’s not like it actually belongs to me, after all.”

Rainbow shrugged, “Still pretty cool, though.” Sonic nodded at that.

Ali Baba, Spike, Sinbad, Badoura, and the ponies began to move towards the three, Sinbad saying as he, Badoura, Pinkie, Applejack, and Fluttershy got close, “I’ll admit it, you three weren’t half-bad back there. Nice job.”

Pinkie piped up, “Yeah, that was super duper! That big, mean genie got totally sucked away along with that meanie sorcerer!”

They all looked to the left to see most of the rest of the group a short distance away. As they were coming to a stop, Cadance said, “That’s right, Pinkie. The world of the Arabian Nights should be much safer now.”

MOVING FORWARD

Twilight nodded, “Erazor Djinn’s back in his own Tartarus, and he took Haman with him. Everything should be fine now, right Shahra?” After a moment of silence, Twilight looked to her side, “Shahra?” Everyone looked to see that the young genie hadn’t followed Ali Baba, Spike, and the ponies; she was still kneeling at the edge of the hole, looking down into it.

“What’s wrong with Shahra?” Applejack wondered. Sonic didn’t say anything; he simply pushed past the others and half-jogged over to his friend, Aladdin slightly hobbling after him with Sinbad and Ali Baba, Badoura, Spike and the ponies following them.

As Sonic got closer to Shahra, he could see that her eyes were misty with tears again, the genie hardly reacting to his approach from her right. When he was standing next to her and she still didn’t move, he slowly moved to place his left hand on her shoulder as he asked, “Shahra…?” Shahra blinked at the touch and the sound of her name, looking up slightly for a moment before suddenly turning and wrapping her arms around Sonic, pressing her head into his left shoulder as she sobbed softly. Although surprised, Sonic lightly put his arms around her. “Shahra…” he murmured, inviting her to share her feelings with him.

Although her eyes were still wet, Shahra managed to stifle her sobs as she spoke, “Oh Sonic… I thought I was over him… I thought I had left Erazor behind… But…” She paused to let out a sob before taking a breath, “When I saw him, part of me hoped he was back, that we could be together again. In that instant, I was willing to let him do whatever he wanted to the world of the Arabian Nights, all of our friends… and you…”

Sonic was silent for a moment at this admission. He blinked in thought, knowing what she was talking about. No matter how much time passed, no matter how hard someone tried to keep something buried, some things just refused to be locked away. He patted her on the back and slowly said, “Shahra… I know you feel like you have to be true to me since I’m your master and all, but there’s nothing wrong with having hope.” He moved his hands to her shoulders and stepped back to get a good look at her before continuing, “Call it a moment of disloyalty or whatever, but you didn’t need me to tell you to do anything other than to trust me this time. That means something, doesn’t it?”

Sniffling a bit, Shahra replied, “I suppose… But still, the Essences were the only thing keeping him alive… Without them, the world would surely…”

Aladdin stepped up and said, “You said it yourself, Shahra. That wasn’t really Erazor Djinn. If it had been him, maybe we could’ve found a way through to him and found another way. But it was just a monster…”

Sonic looked back at Shahra and nodded, “Some of him may have been in there. Like you said, he did hesitate.” He smiled softly, “Look at it this way. If he was in there, he had no control over what he was doing. We probably set him free by sending him back.” He let his left hand drop to his side, “I’ve gotta admit, I wouldn’t have minded meeting the Erazor Djinn that wasn’t set on conquering or destroying worlds.”

While she did sniffle a bit, Shahra raised her right hand to her eye and wiped the tears away. “Sonic, Aladdin, you’re both right,” she said softly. She looked towards the hole again, “Maybe there was something there after all.”

Aladdin came up along Sonic’s left and said, “We stopped Haman and we saved Erazor Djinn from himself. We did a lot of good today, Shahra.” She turned and smiled at him at that.

The moment was cut short when Badoura spoke, “I’m afraid the day isn’t quite finished yet, Aladdin.” The white hedgehog went rigid at that and whirled around to see the cat walking slowly towards him, her hands on her hips.

Aladdin began to back away from her while stammering, “B-Badoura…! I… AGH!” The last was an exclamation as he put too much weight on his left leg after a step, causing a spike of pain. He fell backwards on to his rear, the Eye of Gazeem flying out of his hand as he fell. It flew towards Sinbad, who caught the gemstone with his hands.

Badoura was soon standing over Aladdin and she reached down, grabbing him by the vest and pulling him up to his feet, their faces just inches apart. Still gripping his vest, she glared, “You have some explaining to do!” While Aladdin fidgeted in her grip, trying to avoid putting too much weight on his left leg, she demanded, “What were you doing?! How could you let Haman hypnotize you?! You of all people should be able to recognize him!”

Calming his jittery movements slightly, Aladdin shakily answered, “I-I didn’t know it was him, Badoura! He kept his face hidden from me! I didn’t realize who he was until he got me alone and cast his spell on me!”

Badoura backed up slightly, but she still held onto his vest as she asked, “You’re smarter than that, Aladdin; why would you let him fool you? What did he do that would cause you to leave yourself open to him?”

Aladdin looked away at that, hesitant to say any more until Badoura shook him. “Okay, okay! He was posing as a vendor in the marketplace and he… he played with my insecurities,” he admitted shamefully.

Badoura let go of his vest, but she kept looking at him intently as she placed her hands on her hips again. “What do you mean by that?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

Aladdin talked slowly, trying to find the correct words as he spoke, “I… I love you, Badoura. I’ve loved you ever since I first saw you. But… without my palace, I just… I couldn’t…”

Badoura asked, “Is it that law? Is that what this is about?”

Aladdin answered, “It’s not just the law. …You’re a princess, Badoura; you deserve a prince, especially now after you’ve lost everything. You should be able to get it all back, or at least have a new palace to move into. Me? I may be one of King Shahryar’s servants, but I’m still a street rat. I can’t do much for anyone, and I’m really not anything special, something I got yet another reminder of on the way here…”

Nearly everyone turned their heads to look in Rarity’s direction at this, Spike, Ali Baba, Aladdin, and Badoura being the exceptions. The fashionista glanced between all of the eyes on her before incredulously asking, “What?”

Badoura looked back at Aladdin, having turned her head when Rarity spoke. After staring at him for a moment, she shook her head, “You’re so foolish…” Aladdin looked down sadly at that, but his eyes widened and shot up when Badoura moved closer, placed her hands behind his head, and kissed him! They remained like this for a moment, everyone else looking on with a mixture of expressions, before Badoura stepped back and looked at Aladdin, her eyes slightly wet. “You should’ve just told me. Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to know how you feel?” she murmured.

Aladdin stammered, “But I… But you… But…”

Badoura responded, “I don’t care what any law says. I’ve been enamored with you since I first saw you as well, and our time hiding from Erazor Djinn only made it stronger.” She leaned forward, “You not only rescued me from Erazor Djinn; you kept me safe for who knows how long while he tried to destroy our world. Unable to do anything for anyone else? That hardly seems to be the case.”

Shining Armor spoke up, “She’s right, you know. We may not have been around to see what you did before, but ever since we got here, you’ve been anything but extra weight.”

Sonic nodded, “Yeah, Al’, don’t knock what you’ve done. I may have been the one to stop Erazor Djinn the first time, but things were different this time. After all, you came up with all the plans here, and you took a big risk sealing the fake Erazor away yourself. Things might be a little different in this world, but Erazor Djinn getting free didn’t change who you are.”

A new voice sounded, “Indeed.” Everyone turned to look towards the opening that Haman’s magic had previously been blocking. In the entryway stood a tall skeleton that was dressed rather regally. It was wearing a white robe with golden trims, a dark purple waist cloth, a golden crown topped with a purple beehive, and various bits of jewelry. Its robe was open around the chest, revealing the skeleton’s ribcage, it held a tall wooden staff topped with a green gem in its left hand, and it had gray hair that had locks on the sideburns and pale yellow eyes.

Fluttershy let out a yelp and dove behind Rainbow Dash and Applejack, the former already spreading her wings and preparing to charge. Before she could move, Sinbad held his left hand up in front of her and said, “Calm yourself, O feathered, impatient one.”

Rainbow started, “But it’s…!”

Sonic interjected, “He’s King Solomon, Dash.”

Spike, Badoura, Aladdin, and the ponies looked at the skeleton in surprise at this as he made his way over to the group, using his staff to support him while walking. “Really? You’re King Solomon?” Twilight asked.

“Indeed I am, my dear,” the skeleton responded as he neared everyone. As he came to a stop, he said, “I apologize if my appearance frightened anyone. The servants of the Erazor Djinn may have taken my flesh, but they could not take away who I am. Try as they might, they could not change me.” He turned to look at Aladdin, “The same can be said for you, white hedgehog. The only thing Erazor Djinn’s escape did was delay you awakening your true potential.”

Aladdin looked down at his hands, “My… potential?”

King Solomon nodded, “It’s been your fate to do great things. Being able to rise to the level of a prince pales in comparison to what you’ve had in you from the very beginning. The experiences you’ve had have merely blinded you to that fact.”

Aladdin replied, “Yeah, but… most people don’t care about that. Like King Shahryar.”

Sonic rolled his eyes, “Oh yeah. That guy’s usually breathing down your neck, isn’t he?”

Aladdin nodded, “That’s why I try to sneak out a lot: to get away from him for a while.”

King Solomon questioned, “Is this king causing problems?”

Badoura answered, “No, Your Highness, he… Aladdin is one of his servants, and I’ve been under his protection since we came to him. He does not think highly of Aladdin.”

King Solomon replied, “I see.” After a moment, he said, “You should not let that stop you. Go to him when you return home and tell him how you really feel about each other, and if he should protest, tell him that I, King Solomon, decree that a princess may choose whoever she deems worthy to be her suitor.”

Badoura gasped happily, but she retained enough poise to bow to King Solomon and calmly say, “Thank you, King Solomon.” She then stood up and turned to Aladdin, taking his hands in her own as she said, “I made my choice long ago.”

Aladdin smiled back at her. “I… I…” he tried to say, but he quickly gave up and instead leaned in to kiss her, a kiss the princess accepted as they wrapped their arms around each other.

While the others smiled at the two, Sonic leaned over to Shahra and smiled as he whispered, “Not quite the ending I remember, but it’s probably a better happy ending for this version, wouldn’t you say?” Shahra smiled and nodded, giggling.

THRONE ROOM SCENE

Soon…

Aladdin sat on the top of the steps leading up to King Solomon’s throne, Badoura sitting to his right and Cadance standing in front of him. The pink alicorn’s horn was glowing as she touched it to the white hedgehog’s left leg, Aladdin trying to keep it steady for her as she tried to ease the damage. Suddenly, Pinkie popped up next to him, surprising all of them when she exclaimed, “Hey, Aladdin! You’ve stopped Haman and Erazor Djinn, and you’ve won the heart of Princess Badoura! What are ya gonna do next?! Gonna get a movie contra- oh, wait.” She gave him a knowing smile as she plopped down next to him, “You probably want to go home with Badoura and tell King Shahryar to start planning for the wedding, right?”

Aladdin’s cheeks turned a slight tinge of red as he replied, “Uh, something like that, Pinkie.” He looked down again as Cadance brought her horn down to his leg again, resuming her work. The rest of the group, save for Shahra, were all spread out around King Solomon’s throne, the king sitting in the chair and watching with the others.

After a minute, Sonic came over and asked, “Hey Al’, how’s the leg?”

Aladdin looked up at him and replied, “It’s feeling better now. Cadance’s magic is amazing.” A few seconds later, Cadance raised her head up and smiled at Aladdin. The white hedgehog moved his left leg a bit before he stood up and placed his left hand on Sonic’s shoulder for support as he flexed the leg. After a few seconds, he placed his foot on the ground and slowly put pressure on it to test it. He soon said, “Yeah, that’s much better. Thanks, Cadance! I should be able to walk just fine now!”

As Badoura stood up, Cadance replied, “I’m glad, and you probably should just walk for a little while. Unless you absolutely need to put any extra stress on it, you shouldn’t.” Aladdin nodded in understanding.

Badoura gave a nod, “Thank you, Princess Cadance. I hope Shahra has been as successful.” It wasn’t long after she said that the pink-haired genie floated into the chamber, her magic holding seven objects up in the air, which were revealed to be the vials that Haman had stored the Essences in.

When Shahra got closer to Sonic, Aladdin, Badoura, Pinkie, and Cadance, Pinkie piped up, “You found them, Shahra!”

The genie nodded, “Yes, Pinkie Pie. I had to do a little searching, but I found the vials, and they still have the Essences within them.” Indeed, each vial was still filled with the seven World Ring Essences. Shahra floated up to King Solomon’s throne and said, “Here they are, King Solomon.”

The skeleton king nodded, “Wonderful work, my dear.” He held out his left hand and Shahra levitated the vial containing the Essence from the White World Ring towards him. Taking the vial between his thumb and finger, the king’s pale yellow eyes examined it for a moment before saying, “So this is the physical representation of what the seven World Rings bestowed upon their lands.”

Shining Armor nodded, “That’s what that Haman made it sound like, Your Highness.”

Fluttershy said, “He used his magic to steal them from each of their lands.”

Applejack added, “And he made it sound like they were so connected that bad stuff would happen without ‘em.”

Pinkie exclaimed, “Yeah, like here for example! Without the Essence, the world might come to an end! Forty years of darkness! Rivers and seas, boiling! Earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, sacrifice, mass hysteria!”

Everyone else stared at the pink pony strangely at that, but King Solomon’s expression did not change. “I see,” he stated simply. After a moment, he said, “I believe we should see for ourselves how deep that connection is.” Without another word, he released the vial from his grip and it fell to the ground, the glass shattering upon contact.

A moment later, the Essence began to glow brightly and it lifted off the ground, turning into a streak of white as it flew around King Solomon’s throne and then down towards the passage out into the main dome area. Sonic and Rainbow hurried after it as it left the throne room, both coming to a stop when they reached the dome. The streak had come to a stop high above the ground, now appearing as a glowing white ball. As they watched, it began to glow brighter and little bits of the powder began to sprinkle down from the ball over the area. The particles glowed brighter when they touched the ground and then vanished from sight. It wasn’t long before every bit of the Essence had rejoined with the Skeleton Dome, the ball of light vanishing afterwards.

As they stood in the entryway, both Rainbow and Sonic looked around a little bit. After a couple of seconds, Sonic asked, “Do you feel that, Rainbow?”

The pegasus nodded, “Yeah… Something about the air in here feels different now. The Essence must already be doing its thing.” The two hurried back to King Solomon’s throne room to tell the king and the others about this.

“Indeed. I can feel the change in my domain from here. It seems that foolish sorcerer was correct about the connection shared between the World Rings and the lands where they were found,” King Solomon rumbled once Rainbow and Sonic were finished. He turned to Shahra, “I believe that solves that problem. If you would do the honors, my dear…” Shahra nodded and let her arms drop to her sides, cutting off her magic and causing all of the vials to crash to the ground. All of the remaining Essences did the same thing as the first one, six differently colored streaks of light shooting out of the throne room back to where they belonged.

“There they go,” Ali Baba, who was standing next to Sinbad, commented.

“Yep. With all the digging Haman did, they should be able to get out of here pretty easy,” Rainbow nodded.

Sonic turned to King Solomon at that and said, “Uh, sorry we weren’t quick enough to stop him from causing all that damage, King Solomon, especially to the, uh, cemetery.”

The king of bones replied, “Fear not, blue hedgehog. Much of that damage was caused by my servants when that sorcerer took control of them. They will get the punishment of repairing the Skeleton Dome, not you.”

Ali Baba turned to look at the Eye of Gazeem in Sinbad’s right hand and said, “Well, then that just leaves us with the matter of what to do with that stone.”

Sinbad glanced down at the gem as he nodded, “Yeah.” He held it up and examined it as he went on, “I wonder how that guy managed to get a hold of this. Obviously, it took him a long time to find, but I wonder why he didn’t get the whole thing.”

Aladdin suggested, “Maybe he knew someone who knew a lot about magical artifacts.”

Badoura said, “If that’s the case, he might not have even gotten the genuine artifact.”

King Solomon spoke, “There’s no telling how he came in possession of it, but I can say for certain that that stone is indeed a piece of the Eye of Gazeem. As for the rest of the gem, I can’t say for certain, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, waiting to be made whole again.”

Sinbad held his left hand up to his chin, “Made whole again, huh? The only way that would happen is if someone were to go on a long journey to find it, going to the distant land that the gem is rumored to be found in and maybe even further. It’s a journey that would surely take many months of travel.” After a moment of silence, he flipped the gem up in his hand and smirked, “Sounds like I just volunteered myself for the journey.”

Both Sonic and Rainbow Dash smirked at each other, “Bragger.”

King Solomon pointed at Sinbad, “If you are willing to do it, you have my permission to embark on such a quest, Sinbad. As king of the Skeleton Dome, I would be very grateful to you if you were to find and repair the Eye of Gazeem.”

Sinbad briefly wondered if the king’s gratefulness included any of the treasure in the Skeleton Dome before dismissing the thought as he said, “I would gladly do that for you, King Solomon.” He then gestured to Aladdin and Badoura, who were standing a short distance away, “But first, I’ll make sure these two get back to King Shahryar safely.”

King Solomon nodded and then turned back to Sonic, “As for you and your new friends, blue hedgehog, you’re all in the middle of a journey yourselves, aren’t you?”

Applejack asked, “How’d ya know that… uh, Yer Highness?”

King Solomon replied, “My position has granted me the clairvoyance to sense the future, and at times see beyond what many mortals can perceive. As such, I have seen that there is a larger evil that is posing a threat to many worlds, even some that you may not be aware of yet.” He turned to Shahra, “I believe they will need to return to where they entered our world from, my dear. Perhaps you could assist them with that?”

Shahra bowed, “I will, Your Majesty.”

Twilight asked, “You’re not coming with us, Shahra?”

The genie turned to the unicorn and gave her a sad smile, “I’m sorry, Twilight. If it were possible, I would have stayed with Sonic when he left last time. But this world is where I’m meant to be, and now that Aladdin and Badoura are to be wed, I want to be there for their marriage.”

Sonic grinned, “You gonna be the Maid of Honor, Shahra?”

Shahra blushed slightly, “Perhaps. But at any rate, I will help you all get back to your world faster.”

While Shahra began working her magic, Sonic walked over to Ali Baba and Sinbad and said, “Hey, it was great having another adventure with you again, Ali Baba, Sinbad.”

Ali Baba nodded, “Yeah. Not quite the adventure I would’ve picked, but it was fun in its own way.”

Sinbad smirked, “Just one more job I won’t get paid for. But since it was kind of a personal matter, I won’t put it on your tab.” Sonic just gave a snort of amusement at that.

He turned to look at Aladdin and Badoura as they walked over, the latter bowing slightly as she said, “Words cannot describe how grateful we are for your help, Sonic. I wish you could stay longer, but I understand that you have bigger concerns that could undo everything you and your friends have worked for.”

Sonic replied, “Hey, just have a great wedding, you two. That’ll be enough for me.” He then looked at Aladdin and asked, “You ready to start a new chapter, you diamond in the rough?”

The white hedgehog nodded, “Yes. You and your friends have really helped me today, Sonic. I did get discouraged and believed that I wasn’t good enough for Badoura, but you all reminded me that it’s not all about looks and status; it’s about knowing what you can do and taking responsibility to do the right thing.”

Badoura looked at him, “Does that mean I can count on you to be a loyal suitor who will stand strong and defend me when I need you?”

Aladdin nodded to her, “Absolutely.” He then looked at Sonic and said, “Sonic, I just want you to know that, no matter what, you’ll always be a legendary hero to me.”

Sonic replied, “Thanks, Aladdin.” He reached down with his left hand and gripped Shahra’s ring between his thumb and fingers. After a second of pulling and a slight flash, it came off of his finger. He held it up and looked at it for a moment before looking at Aladdin and saying, “I know it’s probably not going to be your wedding ring,” he held his arm out, his hand pointing towards the ground, “but you’ll take care of her, won’t you?”

Aladdin blushed a bit, but he held out his right hand, allowing Sonic to drop the ring into it. “Of course! Shahra’s ring will be safe with me, I promise. You can trust me,” he replied.

Placing his hands on his hips, Sonic nodded, “I already do.” Afterwards, Spike and the ponies said their goodbyes to Sinbad, Ali Baba, Badoura, and Aladdin as well. By the time they were done, Shahra had finished creating a new magic carpet, this one made up of all the carpets Sonic had wished for earlier. As such, it was slightly bigger than the carpet the group had used to travel earlier, the carpet hovering just above the ground.

As they all gathered around it, Shahra explained, “After Sonic defeated Erazor Djinn, while traveling the world and having other adventures, he looked for a way to return to his world. I’ve added an extra bit of magic to this carpet that will not only take you all to the point where he left this world, but it will also take you back through the passageway between the worlds. Afterwards, you can keep it as a memento of the adventure we’ve shared if you wish.”

Cadance bowed, “Thank you for everything, Shahra. We couldn’t have stopped Haman and that Erazor Djinn without you.” Everyone agreed with her, all of them thanking the young genie for being strong and standing with them.

Before they all started getting on the carpet, Sonic turned to King Solomon one last time and said, “King Solomon, there’s one last thing I’m wondering about.”

As everyone turned to look, the skeleton king asked, “It has to do with the Erazor Djinn, doesn’t it?” At Sonic’s nod, he answered, “You don’t need to worry. Indeed, what that sorcerer summoned was not the true Erazor Djinn. It was merely another spirit in his guise, one that desired destruction. The real Erazor Djinn is still sealed away.” Sonic nodded and was about to leave it at that, but then King Solomon said, “Although… it feels as though something is… different.”

Rarity asked, “Different how?”

Twilight added, “Is the seal starting to weaken?”

King Solomon replied, “No, but I sense that Erazor Djinn, despite not being freed, has been affected by what the sorcerer tried to do. It feels as though… he has been broken up, separated into smaller spirits that do not have his full power. But indeed, he is still sealed. Perhaps he will have to grant wishes again if he wants to be complete again.”

Sonic nodded, “Hm. Well, maybe this time, he’ll get lucky and have some better masters, and maybe then he won’t be so bad.” With that, everyone began to climb onto the carpet, everyone saying their goodbyes to Shahra before they took their seat.

Sonic was the last one, and as he approached Shahra, he said, “Well Shahra, it was great to see you again.”

Shahra nodded, “It was. I’m glad we got to have another adventure together, Sonic.”

Sonic replied, “Same here.”

Shahra looked at him, smiling for a few seconds before asking, “Will I… get to see you and your new friends again?”

Sonic looked back at her for a moment, then smiled and held up his right pinky finger. Shahra stared at it and then smiled, raising her own pinky finger. As they joined their fingers together, Sonic simply said, “Count on it.” They remained like this for several moments before coming apart, giving each other one last look before Sonic walked over to the carpet.

As he took a seat on the carpet, Spike called over to him, “What did that mean?”

Sonic replied, “Mm, call it as a guarantee that we’ll be coming back here sometime after things settle down.” Spike didn’t really understand how that gesture symbolized anything, but he shrugged and nodded, figuring it was something he either would learn more about later or something he could ask somepony about.

Once everybody was comfortably seated on the carpet, it lifted up into the air and after circling the room once, giving everyone one last chance to shout out their goodbyes, it flew out of the throne room and began making its way back up to the surface, where it would then take them back to Equestria and Tails.

After the carpet had left, there was silence in the throne room for several moments, then Shahra smiled, “They’ll be okay, as long as they’re together.”

Badoura turned to Aladdin and asked, “And so we will, right Aladdin?”

The white hedgehog looked back at her and replied, “Yeah. No matter what.”

Sinbad smirked at them, “Easy there, lovebirds, you’re not even married yet.”

Ali Baba giggled, then put a hand on Sinbad’s arm as he said, “Come on, let’s take them home.”

King Solomon spoke, “I wish you all a safe journey back to King Shahryar, and good tidings for the future.” They all said their goodbyes to him and made their way down the stairs and out of the throne room, making their way out of the Skeleton Dome. Once they had left the room, King Solomon was silent for several moments, his pale yellow eyes glowing. He then murmured, “I sense ambivalence among them…”

UNTIL ANOTHER ARABIAN NIGHT

Sonic and the Black Knight, Volume One

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ROYAL SITUATION

One of the royal guards approached Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, the two sisters standing in front of the entrance to the tower where the Elements of Harmony had been kept since the defeat of Nightmare Moon. The doors of the tower looked different to the unicorn, but he pushed it to the back of his mind; he had to give the princesses his report. The two turned around to look at him as he got closer and he stopped a short distance away, bowing to them as he said, “Your Highnesses.”

Princess Celestia nodded and asked, “Yes?”

The guard stood up tall and said, “Flash Sentry and the rest of the guards have secured the castle. Prince Blueblood is being kept in his room by a small unit, and no signs of intrusion have been detected. The cooks in the kitchen did say that some of the foods they were making, particularly several cakes, have gone missing, but none of the other castle staff had anything to report.”

Celestia was silent for a moment before replying, “Thank you. You and the other guards may return to your posts now. We are expecting Twilight Sparkle and her friends on the next train to Canterlot. Please let the guards at the gates know that they should let them in, and tell the guards from the precinct that they should continue to keep the citizens inside their houses until this crisis is resolved.” The guard bowed and saluted, turning and heading back towards the castle to report back and pass on the princess’ orders.

Once the guard was gone, Celestia and Luna turned back to the tower, looking up at the tower doors. The rest of the castle may have not shown any signs of abnormalities, but the doors were not supposed to look the way they did. They were red and they each had a hole on them that looked big enough for an alicorn’s horn. Above the holes were outlined carvings; above the left hole, the carvings were shaped like a balloon, a diamond, and a butterfly, and over the right hole, they looked like an apple, a six-pronged star, and a lightning bolt. And in the middle, on both of the doors and surrounded by the other carvings, was a ring.

Luna spoke up after a moment, “Sister, these doors may be just like the doors inside the tower. We should try using our magic inside of those holes; that will likely make them open.”

Celestia did not respond right away, instead thinking about the doors. They had already tried to push them open with their hooves and magic when they’d arrived earlier, but they wouldn’t budge. She agreed with Luna’s theory, but something had to have altered the doors to be like this. Would they be ready for whatever lay on the other side?

Finally, she spoke, “I don’t think we should do that without Twilight and her friends here, Luna. We don’t know what’s in there.”

Luna looked over at the white alicorn and said, “Surely that creature is in there! No doubt it has made this tower its nest!”

Celestia replied, “Yes, but we may need the power of the Elements of Harmony and potentially the Chaos Emeralds to calm it. You saw how Sonic’s friends barely repelled it earlier; it could be too much for us alone.”

Luna asked, “So what do you suggest we do? Simply wait until their train arrives?” She got her answer when Celestia turned away from the doors and sat down. Luna sighed as she turned and sat down next to her, “Why must we always sit around when the fate of Equestria is at stake?”

Celestia simply replied, “We’ve always waited, whether it’s for bad news like when we were warned about Sombra, or for good news such as Twilight and her friends protecting Equestria. I know it’s hard, Luna, but it’s something we had to accept when we became princesses.”

Luna sighed again, “That’s what bothers me sometimes. We can act, but we always seem to have other concerns to worry about as well.” She looked at Celestia, “How do you manage it so well? How are you able to be so patient all the time?”

Celestia turned her head slightly to look over at the younger alicorn, speaking softly, “I had to wait a thousand years to see you again, Luna, hoping every day that, when the time came, we could put the past behind us. For me, no other wait could ever be more agonizing than that.”

Luna couldn’t find any words to properly respond to that, so she decided to drop it. Looking in the direction of the train station, she said, “They’ll be here soon. They may be slowed down by the vortexes like we were, but that won’t stop them, right?”

Celestia nodded, “They know how to resolve problems, and they all work together quite well. They might be delayed, but they’ll get here.”

________________________________________

BACK WITH TAILS

Tails sighed as he stuck his head out from under the Friendship Express’ engine. “Even though we’re in the middle of all this white space, it sure is warm under there,” he said, waving his right hand at his face to fan himself. The repairs were taking a little longer than expected. The fox had to admit, he was a little rusty when it came to steam engines. He glanced towards the cars behind the engine, wondering what the others were doing. “I’m a little surprised nobody’s come to check in with me considering how long this is taking. Maybe they’re trying to avoid making it take longer…” he muttered.

He soon carefully flipped himself over onto his rump and looked up at the engine. “Back home, a train like this might be considered an antique. I wonder if it would be rare enough that someone might consider putting it in a museum,” he thought to himself aloud in an effort to clear his head. After a few seconds, he nodded to himself, “Right, back to work!” He then pushed himself back under the engine to get the last pieces in place. His friends were counting on him to do this, and he wasn’t going to keep them waiting.

________________________________________

THE WAY BACK TO EQUESTRIA

“Wow… This is amazing,” Twilight murmured as she looked around. The magic carpet Shahra had created for the group had flown them out of the Skeleton Dome and over the sea back to the desert. It wasn’t long after that that the carpet had entered the same tunnel of pages that they had fallen through when Haman had pulled them into the world of the Arabian Nights. Now that they were flying up through it and had time to appreciate their surroundings, they could see that the pages not only displayed the words to the various stories in the Arabian Nights, but also various images of the tome’s legendary tales.

“I can see why the Arabian Nights has its own world inside of it. There are so many words to give it shape and life,” Cadance commented.

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. I wonder where Aladdin’s story is.”

Applejack said, “Ah think we’ll get to find out soon, Sonic. It looks like we’re comin’ up on our exit.” Sure enough, the group could see a white light in the distance up ahead that was getting bigger as they got closer to it. Everyone was thinking the same thing as Applejack: once they reached it, they would be back where they started their literary adventure. It wasn’t long before the light was big enough to engulf the magic carpet, an opening forming in the center of it to let it through.

Once they had passed through, however, rather than being back in the sleeper car like they expected, the group instead found themselves in a new space that was filled with red-orange clouds and a yellow horizon.

Everyone looked around in confusion. “What is this place? It looks like a great place for flying!” Rainbow said.

Sonic raised an eyebrow, “I sure don’t remember this…”

Shining looked over at him, “You didn’t pass through a place like this when you left last time?” Sonic shook his head.

Cadance looked up at the yellow sky, noticing there didn’t seem to be any source of light present. “What a strange place this is,” she noted.

Rarity, who was looking down at the clouds below with Fluttershy, added, “I agree, princess. And yet it’s hauntingly beautiful in a way.”

Pinkie simply stared out into space until she noticed something pass by close to her. It appeared to be a wisp of light giving off a rainbow of colors. “Ooh, lookie! Fireflies!” she exclaimed.

Soon, everyone noticed several more around the carpet, seemingly floating around without any particular purpose, not even reacting much to their presence. “Are they fireflies? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like them,” Twilight murmured as she looked up at one.

Spike stood up and walked around the carpet a bit, looking to see if there was anything else in this odd location. After a few seconds, he turned his head and glanced to the left at Sonic. The blue hedgehog was looking around like everypony else, though he seemed a bit apprehensive about this area. Spike then noticed that something seemed off past him and turned to look fully. He was right; something was forming against the sky and clouds! “Uh, Sonic?” he started.

Sonic turned his head to look at the baby dragon, as did everypony else, and asked, “Yeah?” Spike started pointing, which to Sonic looked like he was pointing at him. He raised an eyebrow, “What?” He received an answer a moment later when he heard a deep laugh coming from behind him, a laugh that sounded vaguely familiar to him.

OFF COURSE

Everyone turned to look and saw a large, imposing, nearly opaque figure a short distance away, looming over the group. It was clad in mostly black armor with large shoulder plates and the top of its helmet looked like a three spike crown. There was nothing below its shoulders, but there were two glowing yellow eyes underneath its helmet’s covering. The group didn’t get a good time to take in its appearance before it suddenly vanished, a circular opening appearing where it had been a moment ago. The opening immediately began to pull at the group, everybody being quickly pulled off of the carpet and into the opening with either a shout or a scream! The opening closed once everyone was through, the magic carpet disappearing into the sea of clouds.

The opening appeared over a path in the middle of a mist-filled forest, everyone being thrown out of it onto the path before it disappeared again. A series of grunts and groans filled the air as everyone landed on the grass. The impact was relatively minor, especially compared to the fall from the sky earlier, and they quickly recovered. As they all sat up, Rainbow groaned, “Ugh, again, I’m really getting sick of these kinds of surprises today!”

WITHIN THE MIST

Fluttershy spoke up, “Well, I don’t think this one was so bad, Rainbow. It seems like we landed on something better this time.”

Rarity huffed, “That’s hardly the word I’d use for it, Fluttershy.” She glared down at the grass she was sitting on, “Water, grass, dirt… my worst enemies, and we’re surrounded by them!”

Applejack groaned, “You’re worryin’ about stains now of all times, Rarity? This is the second time today you’ve made a big deal about landin’ on grass!”

Shining glanced around, “Speaking of which, where did that hole drop us?”

Everyone stood up and started looking around. “I think it’s a forest. There are a lot of trees here. It’s a little hard to see, though,” Rainbow said.

Cadance looked at Sonic and asked, “Do you remember this at all, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog looked down the path, into the mist surrounding everything. The area did seem familiar to him. “I think…” he started before breaking into a run a moment later, heading into the mist.

“H-Hey! Sonic, wait!” Twilight exclaimed as she began running after him, the others doing the same. Spike and the ponies ran, following the path for a short time until they came across Sonic crouching on one knee at the edge of some water. As they slowed down and got closer, they could see a little more of the water, and it looked like it went out quite far. “There’s a lake here?” Twilight asked as she stepped up next to Sonic.

Sonic, while still looking down at the water, nodded, “Yeah. I had a feeling about where we were.” He stood up, “This is Misty Lake. We’re pretty much on the outskirts of the Grand Kingdom.”

Applejack looked at him, “Grand Kingdom? Where in the Arabian Nights is that?”

Before Sonic could reply, they all heard Pinkie exclaim, “TRIPLE SALCHOW!” They all turned to see her running towards them, the pink pony making a large leap in front of the group and doing several spins in the air before landing in the lake a short distance from the shore and spraying water droplets around. She surfaced a few seconds later while some of the others were brushing the water off, her curly pink mane now straight due to the water in it. “Come on in! The water’s great!” she called.

Sonic finished brushing off a few drops before placing his right hand on his hip and saying, “Yeah, uh… I’ll just take your word for it, Pinkie.” The party pony didn’t seem to mind this, seeing as she shifted onto her back and began doing the backstroke aimlessly, still wearing a smile on her face.

“Pinkie, don’t go out so far we can’t see you, dear!” Rarity called. Pinkie didn’t respond, though she did adjust her direction slightly at that.

After a moment, Shining turned to Sonic and asked, “So where is this ‘Grand Kingdom’ in relation to the rest of the Arabian Nights, Sonic?”

The hedgehog replied, “Nah, we’re not in the world of the Arabian Nights anymore. Somehow, we jumped to the next book in the series.”

MISTY LAKE

Twilight asked, “You’ve had more than one literary adventure?” Before Sonic could answer, a loud roar sounded, followed by the sound of loud stomping. Everyone looked back the way they came, Twilight asking, “What’s that?”

Rainbow grinned, “It sounds big!”

Spike said, “It sounds like a dragon!”

Fluttershy murmured, “It sounds like it’s getting closer…”

Cadance turned to look at the lake, but she couldn’t see Pinkie Pie anymore. “Pinkie, it’s time to come in!” she called as loud as she could, but there was no response.

The stomping began to get louder. “I think we’d better get out of here!” Shining suggested hastily.

“What about Pinkie Pie?” Rainbow asked.

Sonic began to push the pegasus forward as he said, “We’re not gonna be helping her if we attract trouble! Come on, this way!” He took the lead, the others running with him as he led them along the shore of the lake. They soon came across the remains of an old structure, a castle from the look of it, and they all ducked inside. They all pressed up against the wall to their left, listening and waiting.

Soon, the stomping stopped, as did the shaking. After a few seconds, Sonic peered around the corner along with Shining Armor and Spike, the former peering from over his head while the latter peered from the side. What they saw was a massive four-legged creature covered in cyan scales with huge wings and a stump of a horn on its forehead drinking water from the lake with its large tongue. “Whoa… That’s a… That is a dragon, right?” Shining breathed.

Sonic nodded, “Yeah. That’s the Mist Dragon. I remember encountering him.”

Spike looked up at the hedgehog, “The Mist Dragon? That’s what you call him?”

Sonic glanced down at him, “That’s the only name I was ever given, Spike.”

The baby dragon looked back at the cyan dragon and said, “Well, he looks pretty cool. Is he friendly?”

Sonic looked back at the Mist Dragon, specifically at what was left of its horn, and raised an eyebrow as he remembered how he met the dragon. Something told him the dragon probably remembered as well, and he figured now wasn’t the time to find out. “Uh, I don’t know. He seemed pretty territorial, though, since he wouldn’t let me by when I ran into him. Kind of like the Earth Dragon,” he shrugged.

“There’s more than one dragon?” Fluttershy meekly asked.

Sonic turned around and replied, “Well, yeah. Not around here, though. I’m sure there’s more in this world. I only met two when I was here, and neither one was really happy to see me. I mean, I don’t know that much about dragons, but that’s the feeling I got.”

Twilight said, “Hm. Some of the larger dragons we’ve met back in Equestria were… I guess you could say they were territorial as well.”

Rarity added, “They’re very protective of their valuables as well. I wonder if the dragons here are the same way.” Suddenly, they all heard the Mist Dragon let out a low roar, followed by the sound of flapping wings and several small bursts of wind going past their hiding place. A couple of seconds later, they all looked up through what remained of the ceiling to see the dragon flying past their hiding spot.

“Hoo, glad we didn’t have ta deal with that that thing. Coulda been mighty ugly if it had found us,” Applejack sighed after the dragon disappeared from view.

Shining Armor peered outside again and said, “I still don’t see Pinkie Pie, though. I think that dragon would’ve reacted if it had seen her, but where is she?”

Cadance looked at Sonic and asked, “Do you think she could be somewhere else in the lake, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “Maybe. It’s not really a big lake, but it does stretch for quite a bit. I’ve even seen people living around here.”

Twilight looked at him, “There probably aren’t a lot out right now because of the Mist Dragon’s appearance, right?” Sonic simply shrugged his shoulders in reply.

Rainbow spoke, “Well, that dragon flew off further ahead. Let’s see if we can find Pinkie and get out of here before it shows up again and I’ve gotta teach it a lesson!”

Rarity rolled her eyes, “Yes, because that worked so great with the one that was sleeping, didn’t it, Rainbow Dash?”

The cyan pegasus looked ready to refute the fashionista’s analysis, but Shining Armor spoke up, “Look, I really don’t think we have time to be dealing with fully-grown dragons right now. We should find Pinkie and make sure she’s okay; once we’ve found her, we can figure out how to get out of this area and what our next move is, okay?” Sonic and the others agreed with this and they moved through the remains of the castle structure, soon coming out on the other side.

A short while later, the group was still looking for Pinkie, even after searching another piece of the old castle remains and crossing several pieces of land that stuck out of the lake’s water. The lake’s shores had been relatively empty so far; evidently the inhabitants had taken shelter when they heard the Mist Dragon after all. The group came to a stop on a stone bridge and Twilight put a hoof to her mouth, calling, “Pinkie!”

Applejack joined in, “Pinkie Pie, can ya hear us?!”

Spike asked, “Where could she be? We have to have come pretty far by now…”

Sonic pointed forward as he finished crossing to the other side, “That arch over there… That’s where I ran into the Mist Dragon.”

Spike and the ponies joined him on the lakeshore, just a short distance away from the bridge. “Really? I-Is there anywhere else we can look for Pinkie?” Fluttershy asked.

Sonic crossed his arms, “Not really. We’ve just about covered the whole enchilada.” He looked over at Twilight and noticed she seemed really nervous about something. “What’s eating you?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

Twilight realized that the question was directed at her and straightened up, trying to look as if nothing was bothering her. “Uh, nothing, nothing,” she replied, though she couldn’t stop her thoughts turning to that word.

Rainbow groaned, “Ugh! This is just like Pinkie! You want to get away from her, she knows exactly where you’re going! You want to find her… well, she usually shows up right in front of you. But sometimes she doesn’t!”

Cadance looked around worryingly, “How could we have not seen her yet? Out here, she should be easy to see…”

Shining said, “If she really came out this far, she must’ve been really moving. Or maybe she…” He was cut off when they all heard the sound of someone spitting something out coming from behind them, accompanied by the sound of dripping water.

Everyone turned around to see Pinkie’s head, neck, and front legs sticking out of the water next to the shore, somehow wearing a snorkel and an eye mask. She noticed everyone looking at her and smiled happily, “Hi!”

Rainbow flew over to her, nearly getting up in her face as she demanded, “Where were you?! What were you doing?!”

Pinkie simply smiled, “Looking for treasure, silly! I figured there HAS to be a lot of interesting things around here, and there are! Like look at this!” She reached her hooves into the water and pulled them back out with a sword between them, causing Rainbow to yelp and quickly move back to avoid being, at the very least, poked by it. It appeared to be a double-edged broadsword with a brown grip and guard, but the blade itself was cracked and rusty. “I found this by a tree on some stones near here! Can you believe some silly billy left it there?!” she exclaimed.

Sonic pointed at the sword as he said, “Technically, that’s mine, Pinkie. That’s Clarent, the sword I was given for my training, and I left it at that spot you mentioned because that’s where I moved up to a regular sword.”

Pinkie paddled with her back legs over to the shore, Rainbow following behind her. She shifted the sword to her right hoof as she stepped out and held it out to Sonic as she spoke, “You should remember to take your things with you, Sonic! And you should take better care of them; the pointy side looks like it could break easily!”

Sonic took the sword in his right hand and looked down at it as he held it pointing to the side, his left hand under the blade. “It was actually like this when I got it, Pinkie,” he said.

Twilight asked, “Probably a good thing you only used it for training then, right?” Sonic shrugged and nodded in reply.

Shining looked at Sonic and asked, “You didn’t know how to use a sword before?”

Sonic looked up at him as he said, “I didn’t know how to use one PROPERLY. I don’t usually use weapons like this.” He then turned and pointed with Clarent towards the arch as he said, “Anyway, that’s where we have to go.”

Pinkie’s mane and tail suddenly puffed back up to their usual curly state, surprising everyone and sending her mask and snorkel flying. “Ooh, where are we going?!” she asked.

Sonic looked at her as he said, “I managed to figure out where we are exactly while we were looking for you, so now I know which way to go. I know how to get out of the forest that way, and from there it shouldn’t be too far to civilization.”

Rainbow asked, “Aren’t we already close to a town or something here?”

Sonic replied, “I think so, but the city outside of this forest is where we should go first.”

Rarity asked, “There’s a city out there?”

Sonic nodded, “Yep. Capital of the Grand Kingdom, to be exact. It’s going to be a bit of a hike, but it shouldn’t take long for us to get there.”

Cadance said, “Well, as usual, you seem to know your way around, Sonic, so… lead on!” Sonic nodded and started walking towards the brick arch, Spike and the ponies following close behind. After passing through the arch, they soon passed by the spot where Pinkie had found the old sword, the other Equestrians noting that something about the area seemed special, but Sonic kept moving. He led them over a few broken bridges and raised grassy spots before they reached another shoreline, where they soon headed into the trees around the lake.

OUT ON THE PLAINS

As they walked, they began to notice that the mist was getting thinner and thinner until it was gone completely. Not long afterwards, they came to the end of the trees, where they found themselves on a vast plain. Sonic led the group to the northeast, sticking to the grassy area in the hopes that it would make the walking less demanding.

As they were climbing a particularly high hill, Rarity whined, “How much longer now, Sonic?”

Sonic, who was close to cresting the hill, sighed, “I told you, Rarity, it won’t be much longer now. We’re just about…” As he reached the top of the hill, he came to a stop as he looked off into the distance, the others stopping and looking up at him. A moment later, he said, “Ah-ha! Come on!” He broke into a run down the hill, the others reaching the top of the hill after a second later and seeing what looked like a large castle off in the distance before running to catch up with him.

Sonic soon came to a stop on top of a rise and changed his grip on his sword, standing it up while holding it, the others soon catching up with him and standing to his right. At this point, they were close enough to see the structure clearly. Now they could see that the castle was actually built on the peak of a mountain, with various buildings underneath it winding up to the castle itself. “Is that it?” Shining asked.

Sonic nodded, “Yep, that’s it, all right. The city of Camelot.”

Twilight looked at him, “CAM-elot?”

Sonic nodded again, “Mm-hmm. Like I said, it’s the capital of the Grand Kingdom, and lots of well-off people make their home here. Kind of like Canterlot, huh?”

Pinkie smiled, “Hey, yeah!”

Fluttershy said, “It’s amazing.”

Applejack shrugged, “Doesn’t look that big from here. Ah’m sure that’ll change once we get up there.”

Twilight said, “From here, it kind of looks like the castle is on top of a giant tree!”

Rarity sighed, “A castle on a tree, darling? It is nice to imagine, but that seems unlikely…”

Rainbow glanced at Sonic as she asked, “So, why do we need to come here, Sonic? Someone you know that can help us live here too?” When he didn’t answer right away, Rainbow turned her head to get a better look and noticed the contemplative look on his face. “Sonic?” she said a little louder, prompting the others to look at him too.

Sonic looked up at Camelot Castle as he ran through the possibilities in his head. “Well, maybe… No, because one of them would’ve been there in that case… But then who…?” he muttered to himself.

“Uh, Equestria to Sonic? Hello?!” Rainbow exclaimed as she hovered in front of him, waving a hoof in front of his face.

After a moment, Sonic shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, “Guess it can’t be helped.”

Applejack asked, “What can’t be helped?”

As he looked up again, Sonic replied, “You’ll find out soon enough.” He took Clarent in a normal grip and looked at the others as he said, “I’m gonna run on ahead and find out what’s going on. When you all get to the city, come to the castle. I’ll be there.” Without another word, he suddenly took off, running around Rainbow and heading straight for the city.

“Wha- Sonic!” Twilight called, but he was already out of earshot.

Shining shook his head, “What’s he up to…?”

Cadance spoke, “He must need to clear things up with the Grand Kingdom’s ruler, like how he did with King Shahryar.”

Applejack said, “Well, this time, he actually wants us to meet him there. Let’s not keep him waitin’.” With that, Spike jumped up onto Twilight’s back as she and the other ponies ran after Sonic, heading for the spot where his blur started going up the mountain.

CAMELOT

Once they were on the trail up the mountain, the ponies were able to go up it at a steady rate. It wasn’t long before they reached drawbridge and gate that marked the entrance to Camelot. Upon passing through the gate, everyone stopped and looked around in wonder. Unlike the smooth, bright buildings and streets in Canterlot, the brickwork that made up Camelot seemed darker and more visible, and the buildings themselves seemed to be built closer together, resulting in narrower streets. Still, even though they had just entered the city, it felt a little bit like home to the Equestrians.

After Spike hopped off of Twilight’s back, the group began to move again. As they wandered the city’s streets looking for the path leading up to the castle, they passed by the various inhabitants. Many of them were green elf-like creatures wearing green cloaks, though there were some regular humans here and there as well, and they were all either walking along or huddled in small groups along the sides of the streets or, in the market area, close to the stalls.

“Look at all these people. It really is just like Canterlot,” Shining said softly.

Cadance nodded, “Yeah. I wonder why hardly anyone is looking at us, though. I guess I thought we’d attract some attention, being new here and all.”

Fluttershy murmured, “I-I’m glad they’re not looking at us…”

Pinkie bounced merrily, “That’s because they’re excited about something! Check out those smiles; something must be happening today!”

Applejack glanced at a pair of elves walking past and noted that the pair did have happy smiles on their faces like Pinkie had said. “Wonder if that’s why Sonic ran on ahead. We’d better get up to that castle quick!” she suggested.

“How do we get there, though?” Rainbow asked. She spread her wings and flapped them a bit, hovering above the group as they came to a stop and she said, “Everything in this city is so close together and made so weird, I think I could fly up and still not know how to get there on hoof!”

Rarity sighed, “I must confess, this city is a bit confusing. I guess we couldn’t expect its layout to be exactly the same as Canterlot’s.”

Fluttershy suggested, “Maybe someone here could give us directions to the castle?”

Twilight nodded, “Good idea, Fluttershy! …Uh, who should we ask?” Suddenly, she felt tugging on her left foreleg and looked down to see Spike looking up at her urgently. “What is it, Spike?” she asked. He turned and pointed to her left; she and the other ponies looked to see he was pointing at what appeared to be a shop nestled between two buildings near a set of stairs. They quickly saw what had gotten the baby dragon so excited. There was a sign shaped like a shield on a wooden post outside of the shop, and on the sign was what appeared to be a wizard’s staff with two fox tails on both sides. “Oh…” Twilight breathed as she realized what Spike was thinking.

The baby dragon nodded, “Yeah. Do you think…?”

Shining spoke, “Well, Ali Baba knew him. If it is him, then maybe they know each other in this world too. If nothing else, we can at least stop in to ask for directions.” With that, the group started walking towards the shop.

Twilight, Spike, Shining, Cadance, Rainbow, and Applejack were the first ones to step into the small shop, Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rarity peering in to make sure there was enough room before they walked in too. They looked around; there was a front counter directly in front of them that had barrels behind and next to it, some with swords sticking out of the top. The wall behind the counter had a rack that was filled with various tools and the sign from outside was hanging in front of it. In the back to the left they could see a forge and a fire going, but there didn’t appear to be anyone besides them.

MEETING THE BLACKSMITH

Twilight called, “Uh, hello?”

A familiar voice responded from back near the forge, “Welcome! I’ll be just a moment!”

Rainbow smiled, “Yeah, that’s Tails’ voice, all right.”

The group waited patiently, and a second later, a familiar two-tailed fox cub came out a hidden backroom near the forge. He wore a pair of yellow goggles with a brown strap and blue lenses around his forehead, a blue sleeveless shirt over a long-sleeved white shirt, a tan apron with a two fox tail design near the bottom, a sky blue mitt over his left glove, and red and white shoes with a grayish ring around the top. He had a small mallet in a holder on his right hip, and he was looking down at the brown scabbard in his hands, which contained a sword that had a gold, silver, bronze, and ruby hilt.

As he turned and walked towards the front counter, he spoke, “Sorry about the wait. I was getting this blade out of the back. I was tasked with taking care of it. It’s the most amazing thing to ever come into my shop!” As he finished speaking, he came to a stop near the front counter and finally looked up. His happy expression quickly changed to one of bewilderment as he saw who had stepped into his shop. An awkward moment of silence followed before he shifted the sword to his left hand and pointed at the ponies and baby dragon with his right hand and a sheepish smile, “Okay, maybe SECOND most amazing thing to ever come into my shop.”

Rarity stammered, “I… suppose that’s to be taken as a compliment.”

The Tails lookalike straightened up, “Oh, absolutely!” He placed the sword he was holding on the counter, though he kept his left hand clutched around the scabbard as he continued, “I’ve had lots of customers come into my shop, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Unicorn, a Pegasus… and a baby dragon.” He added the last as he noticed Spike standing next to Twilight. He then looked at Cadance and asked, “And… are you both, miss? And royalty?”

Cadance nodded, “Yes, I am. I’m an alicorn princess.”

The fox asked, “Alicorn? But I thought… well, never mind what I thought. I’m sure you would know better than I, Princess…?”

Cadance answered, “Cadance. I am Princess Cadance.” She noticed the cub looked like he was about to bow and quickly said, “Oh, but you don’t have to… It’s fine, really! I… When I’m out like this, I don’t expect anyone to bow. I’m even fine with not being called princess.”

The fox replied, “I understand… Cadance?”

Cadance nodded, “Yes. And you are…?”

The boy smiled, “You can just call me Smithy.”

Applejack asked, “‘Smithy’?”

The fox nodded, “Yep. As you can see, it’s my craft.” He gestured to his shop with his right hand as he explained, “I’m a blacksmith, or, more accurately, a metalsmith. Whether it’s combining different materials together into something new, reforging a blade, or making one of my own creations, I take things and make them into something better!” He then asked, “So, is there anything I can help you all with?”

Shining spoke, “You sound and look like you’re a real expert in what you do, Smithy. It’s a shame we don’t have time or anything for you to show off your skills. We were actually wondering if you knew how to get to Camelot Castle?”

Smithy’s eyes brightened, “You’re going up to the castle? Hey, that’s great!” He took the blade he was holding in both hands again, “I was actually about to go up to the castle to deliver this sword! We could all go together!”

Fluttershy smiled, “That sounds wonderful, Smithy.”

Pinkie chimed in, “Yes, indeedy!”

Smithy nodded, “All right! Let me just lock up here, and we’ll go.” Spike and the ponies turned and walked out of the shop, turning to look once they were all out to see Smithy pull the door to his shop closed, pulling a set of keys out of his apron and using one to lock the door. He then put the keys back in his apron and gestured for the group to follow him up the nearby set of stairs.

As they walked, Smithy got to know everyone’s names and a little bit about each of them. As they left the stone streets of the city and walked along the dirt path leading up to the castle, Rainbow asked him, “So you come up to the castle often, Smithy? Is that why you knew about that shortcut you showed us?”

The fox nodded, “Yeah, on occasion. I do take orders for swords from the castle guards, especially from the Knights of the Round Table.”

Spike asked, “‘The Knights of the Round Table’?”

Smithy nodded, “Yeah. You’ve never heard of them?”

Twilight spoke up, “Uh, we’re, uh… We’re not from around here. We come from Equestria, which is PRETTY far away from the Grand Kingdom.”

Smithy replied, “I see. Well, the Knights of the Round Table are the greatest swordsmen in all the land. They personally work with the king, they’re incredibly loyal, and they have the most amazing swords!”

Applejack chuckled, “Heh, is that because you made their swords?”

Smithy replied, “Well, I’ve made quite a few blades for them, but only at their request. The swords they already had are nearly as amazing as this one. I know a good blade when I see one.”

Shining spoke, “I don’t doubt that. You must be well-known in the Grand Kingdom.”

Smithy blushed, “Well, I have heard people say I’m the best in all the land. I’m not entirely sure about that.”

Fluttershy said, “Well, I’m sure you’re very good at what you do. You wouldn’t be making swords for the king’s guard if you weren’t.”

Smithy smiled, “Thanks.” There was a moment of silence before he asked, “Say, I never asked, why are you all going to Camelot Castle?”

Twilight answered, “A friend of ours asked us to meet him there.”

Smithy looked at her, “A friend? I thought you said you weren’t from around here.”

Twilight replied, “We’re not. We just met him recently in Equestria. Maybe you know him?”

Smithy asked, “What does he look like?”

Twilight answered slowly, “Well, he’s blue, spiky, he runs really fast…”

Smithy’s eyes lit up again, “Oh yeah, I know who you’re talking about! Everyone in Camelot is excited to hear he’s back! You know him personally?”

Cadance replied, “Yes. You must know him quite well too.”

Smithy gestured to the sword in his hands, “I first met him when he came into my shop to have his blade sharpened. He would then stop in from time to time to bring me materials to forge new blades with.” He looked down at the sword, “I know what I was told, but I figure he’s going to want his sword back. That’s why, when I heard the townspeople talking, I decided I should deliver it myself.”

Pinkie piped up, “That’s really sweet of you, ‘Smithster’! And look, the castle’s right in front of us!” Indeed, the slope they were on began to level out up ahead, at the end of which was surely the entryway in the castle’s walls to the courtyard.

CAMELOT CASTLE COURTYARD

Reaching the end of the path, they found that the entryway was guarded by two human soldiers, both clad in gray armor and holding spears. As the group approached, the guards moved close together and crossed their spears, essentially blocking the entrance. “Halt!” they both said, and the group complied. The two guards looked at Smithy and the one on the left spoke, “Smithy, why have you come here? And what is this… entourage you have brought with you?”

The fox stepped forward slightly and held up the sword in his hands as he said, “I have come to return the king’s sword.” He then lowered his hands and gestured to Spike and the ponies, “And they have told me they are friends with the king and he requested that they meet him here.”

The two guards began whispering to each other while the Equestrians stared at Smithy’s back in confusion. Was he talking about Sonic? Before any of them could say anything, the two guards stepped aside and the one on the left this time said, “His Highness is in the courtyard. You may go about your business, Smithy.” The fox bowed and walked past them into the entrance.

After he passed them, the guards looked back at the group and the right one said, “And as for the rest of you.” Some of the ponies expected them to say they couldn’t enter or demand proof, but the guards simply bowed. “Welcome to Camelot Castle, esteemed delegates of Equestria. We hope you enjoy your stay.” Despite their confusion continuing to grow, the ponies and Spike awkwardly followed after Smithy.

Upon reaching the castle’s inner walls, the group was surprised by the courtyard. The stone path they were on led directly to the front doors of the castle, the grass on both sides of the path appearing to go all the way to the back of the castle. Small fields of flowers, small hedges, and other plants dotted the grass at various spots, adding color and variety to the sea of green.

Looking off to the left, they saw Smithy approaching Sonic, who was holding Clarent and standing near two knights that looked like Knuckles and Blaze. Much like their counterparts in the Arabian Nights, the knights had the basic physical appearance of Sonic’s friends, however, as they were knights, they were both clad in armor. Knuckles’ counterpart’s armor and helmet were a crimson color and he had two small swords sheathed at his hips while Blaze’s counterpart wore gray armor (save for the dark pink caps of her shoes) and had a rapier sheathed at her left hip.

As the Equestrians approached the small gathering, the two knights quickly took notice of them. The Knuckles lookalike drew his swords and held them up, quickly leaping in front of Sonic to Blaze’s counterpart’s right as he demanded, “Who goes there?!” The group quickly came to a stop at this.

Blaze’s lookalike, meanwhile, seemed more shocked at the sight of the group than anything. “Smithy, what…?” she started, seemingly unable to find the words to finish her question.

Before anything else could be said, Sonic stepped forward and spoke, “Sir Gawain, Sir Percival, relax. These are the new friends I was telling you and Lancelot about.”

Blaze’s counterpart, Percival, looked back at the group, seeming much calmer now. “These are the Equestrian delegates?” she asked, to which Sonic nodded in reply.

“Aw, there I go again,” Gawain groaned as he lowered his swords, quickly sheathing them. He then looked at the group and said, “I apologize if I scared any of you. It was not my intention; I was only thinking that harm might be coming to our king.”

Shining spoke, “Uh, that’s all right, uh, Sir Gawain. No harm done.”

Sonic stepped between Gawain and Percival and looked at Smithy, the fox kneeling as he stepped forward. “Smithy, what are you doing here? Did you help my friends?” he asked as he pressed Clarent’s tip against the ground.

Smithy looked up and answered, “Yes I did, Your Highness. I have also come to return your sword.” He then held out the scabbard as he stood up, presenting it to the blue hedgehog.

Sonic leaned Clarent against his side as he took the scabbard in both hands from the fox; stepping back slightly, he used his right hand to grasp the hilt, starting to pull the sword out. He quickly recognized the gold ornamentation that stretched down to the blade, especially when the part on the middle of the hilt slid down to reveal a face. “Hey, old friend,” Sonic whispered, the face on the sword smiling slightly as it looked up at him. He then pulled the rest of the longsword out and, after adjusting his right arm slightly, handed the scabbard back to Smithy, saying, “Thanks for making this delivery, Smithy. I was wondering where he was.”

The fox took the scabbard in his right hand and bowed slightly as he said, “I have kept him safe as I was ordered to, my king.” Standing up straight, he eyed the blade at Sonic’s right side and said, “That blade may be cracked and rusted, but I can tell it is of good quality. I can repair it for you if you want.”

Sonic looked down at the Clarent at that, “Oh, right.” He took it in his left hand and held it up, looking it over for a moment before looking back at Smithy and saying, “I don’t know. I’ll pay you, obviously, but are you sure? I mean, I’m sure you’re busy and all.”

The fox replied, “It’ll be no trouble. As for pay, there’s no need; this is only slightly more work than the sharpening job you first came to my shop for. I will gladly do it free of charge.”

Sonic looked at him for a moment, considering his words before saying, “Well, all right, then. I’ll take you up on your offer.” He spun the Clarent around into a reverse grip and pointed its tip towards the scabbard, Smithy holding it up with both hands for him. The blade slid in easily, nearly fitting into the scabbard perfectly.

Tucking the scabbard under his left arm, the Smithy bowed again, placing his right hand on his stomach as he said, “I will bring it back once I have completed the repairs, my king.” He then stood up straight and turned, walking back towards the entryway.

As the fox walked away, Spike and the ponies turned back to Sonic, their confusion clearly evident in their expressions. “Okay, what the HAY was THAT?!” Applejack blurted out.

“Why is he acting like you’re a king?! Hay, why does it seem like everyone in this world is calling you a king?!” Rainbow added.

Both Percival and Gawain were confused by these outbursts. “What is this all about?” Gawain asked.

Percival looked at Sonic, “Do they… not know?”

Sonic glanced back over his shoulder, “Uh, I guess it’s a detail that never really came up before, so…” He shrugged and looked back at the group, rubbing the side of his head with his left hand as he started, “I don’t really know how to explain this, guys. Kind of an interesting story, though. You see, the last time I came to this world…”

Pinkie suddenly piped up, “You were summoned by a wizard because the king of the Grand Kingdom at the time had become a tyrant and she needed your help to stop him, so you trained to become a knight and gathered followers while searching for a way to defeat the king, but as it turned out, that king was a fake and the wizard was planning to use his magic source of power for her own reasons, so you teamed up with the Knights of the Round Table to stop her and then you found out that YOU were actually the real king all along, but you couldn’t stay forever, so now that you’re back, that means you’re the king again, but it also means there’s trouble in the kingdom again!” She finished with a big intake of breath, followed by a squee and a big toothy smile.

All of her friends stared at her with open mouths and varying levels of bewilderment and concern. Sonic, Percival, and Gawain stared at her too, but their mouths had fallen open in shock, shock that clearly showed on their faces. And though nobody would have seen it, the face on Sonic’s sword bore a similar shocked expression.

Rainbow rubbed the back of her head with her left hoof. “…Yeah, I’m gonna guess that’s NOT what he was going to say, Pinkie,” she said.

“Nay,” a new male voice spoke up, everyone turning to look at Sonic, who was looking down at the sword in his right hand. With a quick flick of his wrist, he flipped it over, holding it in a reverse grip so the face in the hilt faced the group. Its eyes settled on Pinkie after a moment and its mouth moved, “The pink maiden is quite correct.”

Rarity, unsurprisingly, freaked out a bit at this. “That sword can TALK?!?” she screeched.

While Spike and everypony looked on in surprise, Sonic nodded, “Right, introductions.” He released his grip on his sword’s hilt and it dropped for a second before stopping before its tip hit the grass, the sword hovering as it glanced up at Sonic. The blue hedgehog looked over at his new friends and said, “Guys, this is Caliburn, the sacred sword that decides who is ruler, and you’re acquainted with Sir Percival and Sir Gawain.” He then looked between Caliburn and the knights, “These are my new friends from Equestria: Twilight Sparkle, her assistant Spike, her brother and sister-in-law Shining Armor and Princess Cadance, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and of course, Pinkie Pie.” He gestured to each one as he said their names.

Gawain and Percival bent forward slightly, the former saying, “An honor.”

Caliburn, who was tipped forward in as much a bow as a sword could manage, added, “Indeed.”

As they all straightened up, Percival looked at Pinkie and asked, “Pray tell, Lady Pie, if Sir Sonic did not mention before that he is the true King Arthur, how did you know all that?”

Pinkie shrugged, “Just a hunch!”

Applejack spoke up, “Wait a minute! ‘Sir Sonic’? ‘King Arthur’? Ah’m still confused here!” Spike and the other ponies’ expressions, save for Pinkie Pie’s, indicated that she wasn’t the only one.

“Do none of you know the tale of King Arthur?” Gawain asked.

Twilight thought for a moment before answering, “I’m not sure there are any stories in Equestria that specifically mention that name. I’ve read a lot of tales, so there may be a similar story in our world, but if so, I never thought of it as anything more than a fantasy.”

Percival spoke, “Well, ‘tis quite real in this world, Lady Sparkle, as Caliburn and your pink friend can certainly attest to.”

Fluttershy looked at Sonic, “Everything Pinkie said was…?” Sonic nodded as she trailed off.

Shining said, “I’m not sure I caught everything she said…”

Gawain spoke, “Well, we can do better than tell you. We can show you as well.” Both he and Percival turned and started walking towards the castle entrance, Sonic following the two with Caliburn floating at his side and Spike and the ponies following behind them.

INSIDE CAMELOT CASTLE

As they entered the castle, Sonic, Spike, and the ponies came to a stop behind Gawain and Percival and looked around the foyer in wonder. They had stepped onto a soft red carpet that led to a wide set of stone stairs, where the carpet split and went to the right and left, no doubt leading to other parts of the castle The rest of the floor was not covered, revealing a tile pattern consisting of alternating blue and purple. The stairs themselves were all carpeted similarly, and at the top, there was a smaller set of stairs on both the right and left sides beneath a large stained glass window. The picture in the glass seemed to be of the Grand Kingdom, as Camelot Castle and the outlying areas appeared to be shown.

Shining noticed Sonic seemed as amazed as the rest of them. “You seem surprised by this place, Sonic,” he noted.

The blue hedgehog looked back at the stallion and said, “Well, I am, Shining. I’ve never been in this castle before.”

He turned to look at Caliburn as the sword spoke, “True. You returned home when this castle was still being raised up. As for the old castle, you only saw the dungeons when you were freeing the prisoners there and the Knight’s Passage when it was being destroyed.”

Twilight noted, “What I’m really amazed about is how much this looks like Canterlot Castle.”

Percival looked back at her, “CANTER-lot?”

The lavender unicorn nodded, “It’s the capital of Equestria, and it’s on a mountainside, almost like your Camelot.”

Percival replied, “Really? Fascinating…”

Gawain nodded, “Yeah. Maybe you’ll notice other similarities as we go.” He started walking forward, everyone walking after him. He led them up the stairs and then up the stairs to the right, leading them down a hall.

As they walked, Rarity looked at a vase on a table and a statue of a fully-armored soldier along the side of the hall before noting, “For appearing so… unassuming on the outside, Camelot Castle certainly is vibrant on the inside.”

Percival nodded, “It is pleasing to know you think that, Lady Rarity. When arrangements were made to rebuild the castle, we wished to preserve the memory of the old castle as much as we could. Even under a rule of fear, the old Camelot Castle was home to many, including us Knights of the Round Table.”

As the group approached a large set of red stone double doors guarded on the sides by two human soldiers with spears, Gawain spoke, “Even so, we wanted to keep the memory of not only recent events, but also our kingdom’s history alive as we made plans. Certain things were changed or added as the new castle became a reality.” The two knights came to a stop in front of the doors and turned to look at the group. “And what we chose to add here, in the throne room, is what we want to show you all,” Gawain said. He turned to the guards and nodded to them, both of the guards moving to push the doors open.

THE KINGDOM'S HISTORY

Once the doors were open all the way, the group peered inside. The red carpet in the middle of the room ran all the way up to the far end of the room, where a tall throne sat upon a dais for the ruler to sit upon while receiving an audience, three tapestries that were blue, yellow, and red in color hanging from the ceiling above it. There were several windows on both sides of the room, and behind the dais were two openings leading outside, no doubt to a balcony. As they all walked in and came to a stop close to the doors, Spike looked off to the left and noticed something hanging from the ceiling. “Hey, is that…?” he started.

Caliburn turned to look at him and, after a moment, said, “Very good, young Spike. You appear to possess a keen eye.”

Spike replied, “Uh, thanks.” He thought to himself, “Wow, it’s really weird having a weapon talk to you. Talking weapons… Wait, is that really the strangest thing I’ve seen today?

Percival spoke, “As your young squire has observed, these tapestries you see are what we wanted to show you.” At this, everyone noticed that there were tapestries of many different colors hanging along both the left and right sides of the room. As they started walking again, Percival explained, “These were all woven to record moments in our kingdom’s history. The former King Arthur’s rise, the knighting and exploits of the Knights of the Round Table, the king receiving the sacred sword Excalibur…” As they walked, Cadance noticed that Shining Armor had stopped and was looking up at one tapestry nervously. She quickly saw why; the tapestry showed a familiar black and red hedgehog, identified at the bottom as Sir Lancelot.

Shining snapped out of his nervousness when Gawain announced, “But as grand as all those tales are, this is where Sir Sonic’s tale begins.” Shining quickly walked to join the others, receiving a loving nuzzle from Cadance as they caught up. They looked up at the red tapestry on the left. It seemed to depict a juxtaposition, as near the top was the upper body of a knight clad in gold armor while near the bottom, upside-down as if it was a reflection, was the same knight but with his armor more black than gold. And in between the two was a long scabbard with ornate designs on it.

“What is this showing?” Cadance asked.

Percival spoke, “When our king was given Excalibur, it was a gift that was meant to make him great, but looking back now, it ultimately revealed how false he was.”

Gawain explained, “Excalibur had a blade capable of cutting through anything, and its scabbard granted whoever held it the power of immortality.”

Shining asked, “Immortality? It allowed him to live forever?”

Sonic answered, “Maybe. I got more of the ‘you can’t hurt me’ kind of immortality from it, but it might’ve been possible for him to live a really long life.”

Gawain went on, “One day, Excalibur was lost, and the king became corrupted by the power of the scabbard. This depicts his transformation from a kind and wise ruler to a tyrant who spread fear across his kingdom, even allying with the Knights of the Underworld to spread his rule as far as possible.”

Cadance sighed, “How awful and sad that he became corrupted by such a power.”

Rainbow looked ahead to a tapestry showing the three knights bowing to the black knight and asked, “And you guys still followed him, even though he had changed?”

Gawain replied, “We are knights. It is not part of our duty to question our king or his decisions. That’s what kept us together at the time, anyway.”

Percival spoke, “Amidst it all, Merlina, granddaughter of the wizard Merlin, who had prepared King Arthur’s tale, tried to take the scabbard for herself, but between the king, the Knights of the Underworld, and us Knights of the Round Table, she could not take it by herself.” As they started walking again, she went on, “Thus she summoned Sir Sonic to our world to aid her.”

Sonic looked up at the tapestry showing Merlina receiving him as he came down in a beam of light and thought to himself, “Yeah, that’s totally NOT how that happened. Though I’m sure somebody told the weaver to show it that way.

Gawain took over, “As he traveled the kingdom and became stronger, he confronted each of us in battle. He bested us all, but chose to spare us, taking only our swords. As it turned out, the swords that I, Sir Percival, and Sir Lancelot held were the key to stopping the scabbard’s magic. With them, he was able to strike the king down, but like us, he didn’t know that he was a fake or what Merlina planned to use the scabbard for.”

Fluttershy looked up at the tapestry showing Sonic holding the scabbard out to Merlina in front of the three knights before looking at the hedgehog and asking, “What did she want it for?”

Sonic answered after a moment, “She wanted to make a never-ending kingdom.”

The room was silent for a moment before Twilight asked, “…Was that a… bad thing? A kingdom like that?”

Sonic turned to look at her, “A kingdom that involved destroying the one that already existed in order to be realized? A kingdom that would result in the death of nearly everyone in the old kingdom? A kingdom that covered the entire planet? Yeah, I’d say it was a bad thing.” His tone softened as he continued, “Don’t get me wrong; Merlina’s heart was in the right place, but she got so wrapped up in the fate she saw for this kingdom, over a vision of the future, that it all got twisted. She had good intentions, but at the time, she was only thinking of herself.”

Caliburn added, “What she became when she was in possession of the scabbard reflected how much she had let it set her path for her. She wished to sacrifice countless others to escape her own sorrow, to create a world that never changed so it suited her needs. Does that sound like a world you would wish to be a part of?”

Twilight stared wide-eyed for a moment answering, “No. I see your point.” Despite the differences present, she couldn’t help her thoughts turning to the Future Twilight incident as she glanced downwards.

She looked up when Gawain said, “It sure didn’t look good at the time.” He gestured to the next tapestry, “This depicts the Dark Hollow as it destroyed old Camelot Castle and began spreading its roots across the kingdom.”

Applejack asked, “What’d y’all do?”

Percival answered, “We were rallied by Sir Sonic and Lady Nimue to try to stop it.”

Twilight asked, “Nimue?”

Percival nodded, “She’s also known as the Lady of the Lake. She’s the one who gave King Arthur Excalibur and its scabbard. We tried to contain the Dark Hollow, but the scabbard’s power was too great. Sonic returned to the castle to stop Merlina, and through his determination to not give up and our swords, Caliburn was revealed to be Excalibur. They were able to stop Merlina, and afterwards, Caliburn told us that he determined who our ruler is.”

Rarity looked at the walls ahead and asked, “Where are the tapestries for these events? Are they still being made?”

Gawain replied, “No, they’re right there.” He pointed to the tapestries over the throne and everyone moved to get a closer look. Percival and Gawain moved to stand in front at Sonic’s right side, the latter saying, “We decided to keep these separate because we felt that they best represent our kingdom’s ideals.”

Percival pointed to the yellow tapestry on the left, which showed the knights holding up their swords together, and said, “That one represents our shared devotion to the king, the kingdom, and its people.” She pointed to the red one on the right, which showed a golden armor-clad Sonic pointing Excalibur at the Dark Queen, “This depicts Sir Sonic’s will to never give up, even in the face of impossible odds and above the code of chivalry, an example that we all aspire to.”

Gawain pointed at the center blue tapestry, which was held slightly above the other two, and spoke, “This one is the most special, though.” The tapestry showed a carnation in Sonic’s right hand, seemingly handing the flower over to a pair of human hands. “Despite all she had done, Sir Sonic forgave Merlina and offered her kindness and words of wisdom. It’s special because such forgiveness was lost in our kingdom when the old king changed,” he explained.

Percival spoke, “Believing in others and embracing that belief by forgiving failure… We were not changed, but in keeping with our duty, we had forgotten that, and Sir Sonic reminded us.”

Gawain looked over at Sonic with a small smile, “He showed us that, yes, there is more to being a knight than just serving a king.” Sonic blinked at this and then returned the smile.

Percival smiled at him as well, but then blinked as she remembered something. “Sir Sonic, there actually is something else that was added. You might want to see it,” she said before she and Gawain moved towards the opening to the right. Sonic, Caliburn, Spike, and the ponies followed behind them, curious. Stepping outside, they found themselves on a balcony overlooking the back of the courtyard. They joined Percival and Gawain near the center of the balcony, and as they looked over the courtyard, they saw it.

In the center of the courtyard, in the middle of a spot cleared out for it, was a large stone statue of Sonic mostly clad in his suit of armor. The only thing he wasn’t wearing was his helmet, which was tucked under his left arm. His face was one of determination, and he was pointing Excalibur towards the castle as if he were giving an army orders or challenging his enemy to come face him.

“That’s a… nice touch?” Shining shrugged, not sure what else to say.

“We swear, we did not commission for that to be made. Even Lancelot said no,” Percival said to Sonic.

Gawain nodded, “We tried to convince the sculptor not to do it. We told him that he didn’t have to, that it was unnecessary and you wouldn’t like it, but he wouldn’t back off.”

Cadance said, “Well, I think it ties the courtyard together nicely.” She thought to herself, “I really should have the Crystal Ponies make a statue for Spike.

Sonic leaned on the balcony railing, “Yeah, it’s… great. Glad the sculptor used stone instead of gold or something.” He glanced at Caliburn, “You look good, though.”

The sacred sword replied, “Well, of course I do. Excalibur’s magnificence is unmatched, even in stone.” Sonic rolled his eyes at that.

He then felt something hitting him against his leg and looked down to see it was Spike’s elbow. When he noticed he was being looked at, the baby dragon said, “You’re looking pretty good yourself, you know!”

Rainbow flew around to Sonic’s left side and said, “I’ll say! That armor looks pretty good on you, Big Blue!”

Sonic shrugged, “If you say so.” He grabbed Caliburn’s hilt with his right hand and started walking back inside.

“Sonic, what’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked.

Sonic stopped short of the opening and sighed. He looked back at the others, “Look, I get it. I’m a king in this world, and maybe that’s awesome. Can we talk about something else now, something a little more important?”

As he turned to continue walking, Rarity suddenly appeared right in front of him. She stood up and pressed her hooves against his chest as she got up in his face, a big smile on her face. “More important? Darling, you’re a KING now! What could possibly be more important than that?”

Pinkie popped up next to her, “Yeah, you’re King Sonic now! You know what that means?” Before Sonic could answer, she exclaimed, “It means we’re gonna have a BIG party!” She began to bounce inside as she went on, “It’ll be great! We’ll celebrate your return to the throne, we’ll get everyone in Camelot involved, we’ll invite Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, we’ll – hrk!” She was cut off suddenly by something wrapping around her neck in midair, causing her eyes to shoot open and pop out a bit.

Sonic pressed the fingers on his left hand against his cheek as he muttered, “Oh boy… Talk about lousy timing…” As everyone else peered inside, they saw that Pinkie had been grabbed by a silver metal gauntlet, which was connected to a mostly black arm. They didn’t have to look any further to see that it was Shadow’s counterpart, Sir Lancelot.

Sonic and the Black Knight, Volume Two

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THE GRAND KINGDOM'S PLIGHT

The black and red hedgehog lowered his left arm a bit so he could look Pinkie squarely in the eye, keeping his hand steady so he wasn’t squeezing. “May I ask who you are and what you think you’re doing in here?” he asked in a calm voice, though the tone behind it indicated he was expecting an answer.

Pinkie shook her head and then smiled at Lancelot, acting normal despite her surprise a moment ago. “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie, and I love parties! I’m also good friends with your king, just like my other friends! He told you about us, didn’t he? The guards out front seemed to know!” she spoke.

Lancelot’s eyes shifted to look at Gawain and Percival, the two stepping inside as the former said, “Take it easy, Sir Lancelot. She’s one of the Equestrian delegates. You don’t want to spark an international conflict over this.”

Lancelot looked back at Pinkie as she twisted her head around to look at the echidna, “Conflict? Don’t be silly, Gawain! Equestria’s peaceful now!” She turned back to Lancelot, “And that’s why I want to start preparing a big celebration to welcome the return of your king! Everyone in Camelot’s already excited about him being back; we can go even further and invite everyone in the Grand Kingdom! And of course the rest of our princesses will be there to show how welcoming we are, and there will be – wah!” She was once again cut off by Lancelot, this time due to him suddenly releasing his grip on her, causing her to fall to the floor rump first.

As she looked up at him curiously, the black and red hedgehog placed his right hand on the hilt of the sword sheathed at his side and said, “You’re fortunate I was not on edge when I came in here, otherwise, you might have been on the receiving end of my Chaos Punishment.” He then leaned down, getting close to her face as he continued, “And I suggest you learn to keep that mouth of yours under control. The dungeons have not seen much use since the castle was rebuilt. I would rather not have you quarantined, but I will motion for it if you’re going to continue disturbing the peace.”

He looked up as Rainbow exclaimed, “What’s that supposed to mean?!”

Gawain cut off any sort of exchange the two might have had by stepping forward, walking up to Lancelot and pointing at him with his left fist as he spoke, “What did I tell you, Lancelot? You may not be ‘on edge’, as you said, but you still need to chill out! Just because she’s excited, that’s no reason to say that to her!”

Lancelot countered, “Maybe not now, but she’s already suggested making it known to the entire kingdom that our king is back. How long will it take to get to that point?”

Percival stepped forward, “Sir Lancelot, while I think Sir Gawain and I can both agree that a celebration should not be at the forefront of our minds right now, Lady Pie is simply trying to instill optimism with her ways. We need that in these troubling times.”

Lancelot replied, “I don’t doubt that, Percival, but she still must be reined in. Yes, we are in need of something to be happy about, but her rose-colored glasses are something we can do without. Were it not for Sonic and Merlina, our undying loyalty to the former king would no doubt have led to similar consequences. We all vowed that we would not make that mistake again, and with Merlina still missing, we certainly have no reason to break that vow now.”

As the knights continued talking, Shining focused his attention on Lancelot. Earlier he had looked at the tapestry showing the black hedgehog with fear because he looked like Shadow, but after listening to him just now, the stallion’s mind was beginning to see things differently. Once again, he felt bad about judging Shadow because of his words, but the hedgehog in front of him was showing a side of himself that showed more than just anger and scorn. He knew Lancelot wasn’t the hedgehog that had threatened him before, but if these worlds had shown him anything, it was that the characters that looked like Sonic’s friends had very similar personalities to them, so surely…

He was brought out of his introspection when Cadance turned to Sonic and asked, “What happened to Merlina, Sonic? Do you know?”

Sonic replied, “I don’t, Cadance, and that’s a big problem. See, when I left, I appointed Merlina as ruler in my stead, and from what they were telling me earlier, she’s been a good ruler.” He gestured to the knights, “They said they’ve had to keep her disappearance a secret to everyone while keeping the kingdom running on their own for almost a week now. They’ve clearly managed so far, but as you can probably see, it’s getting to them; they can’t keep going like this.”

Applejack spoke, “Well, they do seem a bit huffy right now, ain’t gonna argue with ya on that, Sonic, and Merlina goin’ missin’ suddenly ain’t good either. But they can get over it and find her if they work together, right? What’s the problem?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “Mainly their history, Applejack. Merlina and I both have had to step in between the knights, especially Gawain and Lancelot, to help them resolve their problems peacefully. Merlina used to be worried about their rivalry signaling the end of this kingdom, but by the time I left, she was stepping between them so that their comradeship didn’t end in an argument. Percival’s still doing what she can to help them, but even she can’t keep it up all the time on her own.”

Twilight asked, “So, in a way, Merlina and the Knights of the Round Table are like a council? They consult each other and try to arrive at the best decision for the kingdom?”

Sonic nodded, “Exactly. That’s why I ran ahead: to find out what’s going on around here. I was hoping Merlina would be here too, but the fact that she’s gone makes this even more urgent. Whatever caused her to disappear is probably also responsible for us ending up here, and we’ve gotta help them figure it out. Not just because Merlina’s magic can help us get back to Equestria, but also because the kingdom and the Knights of the Round Table need a ruler. I thought she would be the best choice for taking care of everything, and so far, it seems like she’s been able to handle all that responsibility.”

Caliburn opened his mouth to speak, but he was stopped when Rarity grabbed Sonic’s left arm with her hooves and said, “Well, now that responsibility falls on you, darling, and the first thing you need to do is look the part!” She wrapped her magic around his arm and then took off towards the doors, using her magic to drag him by the arm!

Percival, Gawain, and Lancelot all heard Sonic and Caliburn’s shout at this action and they stopped their debate, turning to see them being dragged by Rarity. “Wha-?” was all Gawain could utter. Lancelot said nothing; instead, he narrowed his eyes and, with a brief flash of blue, vanished.

The ultimate knight reappeared right in front of the throne room doors, causing Rarity to gasp and plant her hooves on the ground, coming to a stop right in front of him while Sonic had to do the same due to the momentum from being carried through the air, stopping next to her. “And where do you think you’re going with our king, miss?” Lancelot pointedly asked Rarity.

The fashionista replied, “Why, to get him dressed, of course! Like you said, he is your king, and at the moment, he does not look like a king! I will take him to get his kingly dressings and give him a makeover!” Sonic made a face at the unicorn’s words.

Lancelot spoke, “As nice a gesture as that is, our king does not have ‘kingly dressings’. He has not needed any help in being identified as King Arthur, and this is hardly the time for that.” He turned to Sonic, “I was coming to tell you that I have prepared the council chamber so that the Equestrians can join our meeting, sire. We are ready to begin.”

Caliburn nodded, “Ah, so there is to be a council meeting. I was wondering about that. And the delegates from Equestria will be present at this meeting as well? An interesting decision to say the least, Sonic.”

Sonic released Caliburn and let the sword hover before saying, “Well, they’re used to dealing with problems that threaten kingdoms, Caliburn. Twilight and her friends have protected Equestria lots of times both with and without their Elements of Harmony, Spike’s kind of a big hero too, and Shining Armor and Princess Cadance rule over the Crystal Empire. They’re like a council as well, and after everything we’ve seen today, I’d say they’ve definitely earned the right to sit in on this meeting.”

Lancelot said, “Then let us not waste any more time. Get the rest of the delegates and let’s go to the council chamber.”

As he was about to turn around, Rarity exclaimed, “Wait!” When the black hedgehog looked back at her, she asked, “Where is the king’s chamber? You must’ve had that included when the castle was rebuilt, yes?!”

Lancelot raised an eyebrow, “Yes, there is a chamber for our ruler, but it was intended for use by Merlina.” He gestured to his right, “As for where it is, you can reach it if you head that way. Why do you ask?”

Rarity’s horn lit up and her light blue aura wrapped around Sonic’s left arm again. “I apologize, Sir Lancelot, but I simply cannot let such an injustice go! Sonic is a king and he should look like one! I will do this quickly!” She looked back over her shoulder and called, “Spike, I require your aid with this matter, please!”

Her words quickly registered in the baby dragon’s head and he quickly ran across the throne room towards her saying, “Yes, Rarity! Coming! Right away!” As Rarity ran out of the throne room, Sonic tried to grab the door jamb with his right hand, but he soon lost his grip and found himself being dragged down the hallway, looking down at Spike as the dragon tried to keep up with them.

Lancelot growled at this and said, “Get back here!” He took off running after them, Caliburn floating out of the room after him.

Back in the throne room, Gawain, Percival, and the other ponies just stared at the doors, the knights particularly surprised by the scene they just witnessed. “Lady Rarity is… persuasive, isn’t she?” Gawain asked after a moment.

Applejack sighed, “That girl just can’t help herself when it comes to that high class stuff. She’s gotta get involved, gotta be the pony everypony should know.”

Percival spoke, “Well, this presents a problem. We cannot begin the meeting without everyone present, especially a meeting as important as this one.”

Shining Armor looked over at the cat and said, “I can see why it would be important, what with all that talk about Merlina disappearing and the Underworld army.”

Fluttershy asked, “What do we do now?”

Twilight sighed, “I sure wish we knew a little more about the Underworld. It would probably be a good thing to know about going into this meeting…”

Percival thought for a moment before saying, “A capital idea, Lady Sparkle!” When everyone looked at her, she explained, “Even if the king had not said all of you should be present at the meeting, knowledge about the Underworld is invaluable, especially now. While Lady Rarity, Sir Spike, and Sir Lancelot are away with Sir Sonic, I can help you all learn more about it.”

Gawain nodded, “Sounds good, Percival. I’ll leave it to you how best to handle that.” He started to walk towards the doors as he continued, “I’ll go see how Lancelot is doing. I’ll come down to the castle library to find you when we’re actually ready to begin the meeting.”

Percival put her hands on her hips and asked, “How did you know I was intending to take them down to the library, Gawain?”

As he continued walking, Gawain rolled his eyes and smirked as he replied, “Lucky guess.” With that, he hurried out of the throne room to catch up to Lancelot.

Twilight looked at Percival and asked, “There’s a library right here in the castle?”

The lavender cat nodded, “Indeed. I do enjoy visiting it when I get a chance to.” She looked back towards the doors, “I believe Sir Gawain is exaggerating how much time I actually spend there, however.”

Twilight smiled and was about to say something, but Rainbow spoke up first, “Do we really have to go to the library to learn about this Underworld place? I mean, with the Crystal Empire, it was one thing, but this? Geez…”

Percival blinked as she turned to the pegasus, “Well… yes. I feel that would be the best way to go about it. Unless you would rather I simply tell you what I know about it?”

Rainbow groaned, “They both sound boring right now, Percival.”

Percival crossed her arms, “Well, that’s not a healthy attitude, is it, Miss Dash?”

Pinkie suddenly popped up next to Percival and wrapped a leg around her shoulders as she said, “Don’t worry, Perci! Dashie’s just anxious to help Sonic and the kingdom out! She isn’t the Element of Loyalty for nothing, after all!” She turned and began trotting towards the throne room doors, “Come on! I’m sure you can convince her that what you have to show us will make her an even better Element of Loyalty!”

Percival just stared blankly at the pink pony as she trotted away. “‘Perci’?” she mouthed.

Cadance placed a reassuring hoof on the knight’s shoulder and said, “It’s okay. That’s her way of showing she likes you. Please, show us down to the library, erm… Sir Percival?” The lavender cat looked back at the princess and nodded softly, her mind still reeling not only at her apparent new nickname, but also Pinkie’s… odd behavior. They joined the party pony outside the throne room and Percival took point, leading the group in the same direction the others had gone, but taking a different turn than them later on.

PASSING THE TIME

After a few minutes of walking, the group stopped outside of the double doors leading into the castle library. Percival looked up at the doors as she said, “We’re here.” She turned around to look at the ponies before continuing, “Before we go in, I must remind you all to keep your voices down while we’re inside.”

Applejack spoke, “Yeah, we’ve all been in a library before, Percival. …Uh, no offense intended.”

Percival replied, “None taken, Applejack. As for why I’m telling you this, it’s because the librarian might not be of the type you are used to. She has been in the library since the days of the former king and as such is intent on taking good care of it.”

Cadance commented, “She must have a lot of passion for her work if she’s still around after everything that’s happened here.”

Percival nodded, “She does. Her passion for this place has led to her getting the title of caretaker as something of a derogatory nickname, but she’s actually quite kind when you get to know her. She simply does not have a good tolerance for troublemakers and loud talkers.” She turned to Pinkie Pie and started, “That being said… Miss Pie, I hate to request this of you, but for the time being, do you think perhaps…?” She was stopped short when Pinkie suddenly gave a salute… as well as a series of motions that started with her zipping her mouth closed and then a series of different motions as everyone stared at her. “Um… what is she doing…?” Percival asked, utterly confused by what she was seeing.

Twilight answered flatly, “She zipped her mouth closed, then locked it with a key, then dug a hole and buried the key, then built a house on top of the hole, and then moved into that house.”

Percival stared at the unicorn blankly. “That seems… a bit excessive,” she said after a moment.

Twilight glanced at Pinkie, who was now smiling a toothy smile, as she replied, “Well… at least it involves her still having her mouth. I’d say that’s better than that time when it was magically removed for a while…”

Again Percival stared at her before saying, “Yes, I would have to agree with you on that.” Deciding not to press the matter further, she turned back to the doors and used her hands to push them open, the ponies following her as she walked into the library.

While Percival began her lesson with the ponies, Gawain found Sonic, Caliburn, and Lancelot standing outside the double doors of Merlina’s private chamber. Sonic was leaning against the wall on one side with Caliburn at his side while Lancelot was standing across from him with his arms crossed. As Gawain approached the two, the black hedgehog turned his head to look at the echidna and simply said, “Gawain.” He raised a hand, waving it in reply as Sonic and Caliburn turned to look at him.

Once he was standing in front of the two, Gawain asked, “So, what’s going on here?”

Sonic answered, “Rarity’s in there with Spike, working. She took my measurements and then pushed me out of the room. Said I was distracting her.”

Gawain nodded, “Ah. At least she didn’t push you out to keep Lancelot company.”

Sonic replied, “He and Caliburn showed up pretty much right afterwards. Wouldn’t be surprised if she did it partly to buy her some time.”

Caliburn looked up at Sonic with a stern gaze, “This is no time to jest, Sonic. You do realize we do not have time for such frivolity, correct?”

Sonic glanced down at his sword and said, “Trust me, Caliburn, I’m well aware of that fact. Let Rarity get this out of her system. She is a lady,” he paused, glancing over at the doors before continuing in a hushed tone, “but she’s not quite the kind of lady she seems to believe she is.”

Lancelot looked at him for a moment before turning his head towards the doors and loudly asking, “What’s your progress, Miss Rarity?”

The white unicorn’s words came through the doors, sounding a bit rushed but as refined as ever, “Not to worry! I’m almost finished! This surely would’ve gone much faster if I had had a better plan in mind and several things from the Carousel Boutique, but a fashion designer learns to adapt! Normally adapting involves trends, but there are other circumstances one can adapt to as well!” A yelp from Spike was heard after she was finished speaking.

“Hm. Bet he’s letting her use him as a pincushion,” Sonic thought aloud.

“Well, if he’s used to having pins in his scales, I’m sure he’s fine. And hopefully she’s as good a seamstress as she makes herself out to be. We had to go through quite a few before we got the staff that we have today,” Gawain said. He looked at Lancelot and asked, “Remember that one seamstress who came to Camelot to work for Merlina, Lancelot?”

The black hedgehog raised his right hand to his face, “You don’t even need to remind me, Gawain. After seeing her designs, I can safely say she was not put out fast enough.”

Caliburn chuckled, “Quite a scene that was, I must admit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Merlina quite as flustered as she was that day.” Gawain let out a laugh at the memory and, even as he raised his hand to his forehead, a small smile could be seen on Lancelot’s face. Despite not knowing what happened, it was enough to get Sonic smiling as well.

Suddenly, Rarity announced, “I’m finished~!” Sonic glanced towards the doors as the one next to him opened inwards slightly, the blue hedgehog pushing off the wall and using his hand to push it open a little more as he walked inside. Lancelot and Gawain looked at each other, both of them moving with Caliburn into the room to get a better look.

As they stood in the doorway looking inside, the two knights saw that Merlina’s room was exactly as they remembered it. It was a fairly sizable room with a few pieces of furniture in it, the most prominent being the large bed with magenta sheets sitting against the wall opposite the doors with a small wooden nightstand next to it. In addition, there was also a wooden chest with drawers of varying size for the wizard’s clothes and belongings sitting against one wall, a familiar metal glove and mirror resting on top of it. The two knights could see the loom Rarity had been using sitting near the middle of the room and a small dressing area she had set up off to the side. Looking towards the latter, they saw what the unicorn had created.

Rarity had woven a red cape for Sonic, which was attached to a gold shoulder plate that went over the hedgehog’s left shoulder. As she put it on him, they saw that the cape was almost long enough to touch the floor and spread out as it went down, leaving part of his backside exposed. Spike and Caliburn stood off to the side, watching as she moved around Sonic and made sure everything was right. Once she was sure, she trotted around to his front while using her magic to pick up a golden crown that was sitting on the bed. She placed it on top of his forehead and adjusted it a bit before stepping back to admire her work once more.

A moment passed before she smiled, “Perfect! Now you look like a proper king, darling! You have GOT to see yourself!” She used her magic to pull a full length mirror she had set up against the wall to Sonic’s left to her and propped it up against the chest.

Sonic stepped over to the mirror and took a look at his reflection. After several seconds, he said, “Well. That is something, isn’t it?” He turned to Rarity, still standing next to the mirror, “Thanks, Rarity. You didn’t have to do this, but it is nice.” He then turned his head to look at the plate on his shoulder before saying, “I’m not much of a cape fan, though. They usually don’t work out for me.”

Rarity walked over to the hedgehog’s side and said, “Well, I don’t know what sort of troubles you’ve had in the past with capes, Sonic, and I certainly don’t have time to do anything more, but I implore you to give this one a chance.” She pointed to the cape, “I specifically designed it with your, ahem, abilities in mind. It’s less likely to get caught while you’re running, and it won’t slow you down like a regular cape might. You should even be able to roll around with it on!”

Sonic glanced down at his left shoulder again, “Is that so? Huh.”

Rarity nodded, “And even then, it’s a garment worthy of a king.” She slowly began to lean the side of her face closer to Sonic’s as she murmured, “And I’m well aware that there’s only one throne in the throne room, but surely a king needs to have a queen as well.” Sonic was beginning to feel very nervous about how close Rarity was to him, and he could just imagine what Spike might be feeling right now…

Fortunately, Lancelot came to his rescue by loudly clearing his throat. This caused Rarity to stop her advance, both her and Sonic looking back. Lancelot, Caliburn, and Spike all had unamused looks on their faces while Gawain was at more of a middle ground; he didn’t look as angry as the other three, but he wasn’t grinning either. “We ARE still here, and we ARE able to hear,” Lancelot stated.

“As you yourself said, this is hardly the time for such antics, Lady Rarity. Save your attempts for later,” Caliburn added.

“Wha-! I wasn’t…! I didn’t…!” Rarity stammered, not noticing the flat look Sonic was giving her.

“So are you all done now?” Gawain asked.

Sonic answered, “I think so, Gawain.”

The armored echidna nodded, “All right. I’ll go get Sir Percival and the other ponies then. We’ll meet you at the council chamber.” With that, he turned and walked out, heading for the castle library.

As Sonic and Rarity headed for the doors with Spike and Caliburn in tow, Lancelot held up his right hand as they reached him, causing all of them to come to a stop. “Sire, a moment of your time, please,” he stated as he lowered his hand. Although confused, Sonic nodded in response. Lancelot looked at Rarity and Spike and said as he pointed out into the hallway, “This will take but a minute. Go stand out there until we are done.”

Rarity stammered, “What?! Why?!”

Although he was still a bit miffed at the unicorn, Spike agreed, “Yeah! Anything you have to say to these two, you can say around us!”

Lancelot put his hands on his hips as he replied, “Perhaps you two have been privy to certain secrets in your homeland, but this is not Equestria. This is the Grand Kingdom, and I ask that you respect my request for privacy. This is not a matter that calls for either of your opinions.” Spike and Rarity looked at Sonic. While the hedgehog still seemed to be a bit confused about what Lancelot wanted, he tilted his head toward the door all the same. Taking the hint, the two stepped out into the hall and Lancelot pulled the door closed behind them.

Once the doors were closed, Sonic asked, “So what’s up, Lancelot?”

As he let his arms drop to his sides, Lancelot spoke, “Forgive me, Sir Sonic. You may think me foolish, but I have… misgivings.” He moved closer to Sonic and murmured loud enough for him and Caliburn to hear, “Are you sure about bringing the delegates into this matter? After that display just now…”

Caliburn nodded as much as he was able to as he whispered back, “Indeed. That seemed quite an obvious attempt to curry your favor.”

Sonic sighed and replied, “I get what you’re both saying. I know I’ve just met them today, so there are things about them I don’t know. I’ll probably never know everything; I’m sure there are things they don’t like to talk about. But I’m sure that was just Rarity being Rarity. She’s prim and proper, and there are some bad habits that come with that. I swear, though, they’re all more than willing to help us.”

Caliburn said, “You seem to have formed quite an opinion about them, Sonic.”

Sonic replied, “After what I’ve seen them all do today, I think I’ve made a pretty sound opinion about them, Caliburn.” He looked at Lancelot and said, “Believe me, you can trust them.”

Lancelot stared back at him for a moment before curling his right hand into a fist. He held the fist up and pressed it firmly up against Sonic’s chest, the blue hedgehog looking down at it before looking back up at Lancelot. “I trust you. Therefore, I believe your words. But as you said, there are certain habits that tend to come up, and in my case, I tend to analyze what I see.” The black hedgehog lowered his hand, uncurling it as he finished, “I will do my best to remember that I can trust the Equestrians, but you’ll have to forgive me if I’m unable to stop myself from carefully observing their words and actions.”

Sonic was a bit taken aback by the black hedgehog’s words, but he soon shrugged, “Well, you told me beforehand, so… that’s a good thing to know. As long as you make the effort, I’m cool with it.” Lancelot nodded and turned to the doors, moving to one and pushing it open, allowing Sonic and Caliburn to go first.

As Lancelot was making sure the doors were closed properly, Sonic and Caliburn went over to Rarity and Spike. As they stopped in front of the two, Spike, with his arms crossed, spoke, “That didn’t take long. What were you talking about in there?”

Sonic replied, “Just clearing some things up, Spike. There’s nothing to worry about. Promise.” He made a few motions with his right hand like he did before to show he was sincere.

As Lancelot came over and they started walking, Spike grumbled, “Still not a Pinkie Promise.”

Meanwhile, in the library

“Okay, so those creatures act like scouts for the most part. It’d be important to take care of them when we see them to keep them from alerting the rest of the soldiers,” Shining murmured to himself as he looked over the pages of the book in front of him. He and the others were sitting at a long wooden table that was covered with nearly every book in the Camelot Castle library on the Underworld army.

Percival finished the explanation she was giving Cadance and Pinkie and asked, “So is that a bit clearer now?”

Pinkie nodded enthusiastically to show that she understood the cat’s words while Cadance said, “Yes, thank you, Sir Percival. Unless they group together to make one large soldier, the soldiers of the Underworld can be easily taken down with a well-placed attack.” Percival nodded in agreement.

The three of them heard a noise and looked to see a pig approaching the table. He was dressed in a blue tunic and white tights along with white gloves on his hands and red shoes on his feet. He walked up to Percival and said, “Forgive me, Sir Percival. I checked every shelf I could, but I couldn’t find any other books on the Underworld that would be helpful to you.”

Percival held up her right hand as she replied, “That’s quite all right, Oscar. What you have gone to the trouble of providing us with is more than satisfactory.”

The pig put his hands behind his back and said, “Well, if there’s anything else I can do to help you…”

Rainbow spoke up, “Actually, there might be.” Oscar, Percival, Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Cadance looked over at the pegasus while the others tried to stay focused on their reading. “Do you know of any way to make all this… I don’t know, faster?” she asked.

Oscar looked confused at her words. “‘Faster’? I’m afraid I don’t understand, miss…”

Rainbow waved a hoof at him, “Ah, never mind, then.” She sighed, “There’s gotta be a way to make this less boring.”

Oscar perked up, “Boring? It’s not boring, it’s…”

He stopped short when a new voice spoke up, “Oscar, that will do.” Everyone looked to see the librarian stepping out from a set of shelves. She was a dark gray mink clothed in a yellow-colored dress that went down to her uncovered feet. Though she was walking fine, she still had a few signs of her age showing, particularly the glasses in front of her blue eyes and a few patches of white fur on her head. She walked over to Oscar and said, “I’ll take care of this. Please return to your duties.”

The pig bowed slightly, “Y-Yes, Mrs., uh, Venita. I’ll get back to work immediately.” He stood up straight and left, looking for either books lying around or someone else to help.

Venita let out a chuckle as she shook her head, “That boy really needs to learn to relax. He likes to be helpful, but he can’t seem to get over his nervousness.” She then looked over at Rainbow with a hard stare, “Which is why I would appreciate it if you didn’t try to drag him into your learning problems, miss. He may be here to help, but he does not specialize in your particular problems.”

Rainbow got defensive at that, “Hey, I was just asking him a question, okay? He’s the one who had to press it. He should’ve just kept quiet.”

Venita replied, “Be that as it may, you have been a bit of a disturbance ever since you came in here, and that’s putting it nicely. You may be with Sir Percival, but if you don’t silence your mouth, I’m going to have to fine you for disturbing the silence of my library.”

Rainbow’s mouth fell open at that. “Fine me?!” she gagged.

Venita got closer to the pegasus before saying, “And believe me, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll pay it when you receive it.” She then stood up straight and calmly said, “You have a nice day now.” With that, she left, disappearing back to the front desk.

Rainbow watched her walk until she disappeared from view. “Fine me for talking? What?” she asked.

Percival rested her cheek in her right hand as she smirked, “I’m sure it’s something that’s been long overdue, Miss Dash.”

Rainbow turned and glared darkly at the cat, “Oh, you’re so funny, Percival.” Twilight, meanwhile, was trying her hardest not to giggle too loudly.

After a few minutes, Gawain entered the library and found the group’s table, letting them know that they were ready to begin the meeting. Everyone got up to leave at that, with Twilight quickly finishing up the section of the book she was reading when she realized they were leaving. As they all stepped out into the hallway, Pinkie trotted over to a spot on the carpet and made a motion like she was opening a door, followed by more motions. As everyone watched her, Gawain started, “Uh, what is she-?”

Percival stopped him by putting her right hand on his left shoulder and saying through clenched teeth, “Don’t. Ask.”

After a couple of seconds, Pinkie finished what she was doing and gave a big gasp as she turned to face the group, taking in a lot of air. She then said, “Hi, Gawain!”

The armored echidna awkwardly replied, “Uh, hi, Lady Pie.” For a moment, he thought about finding out what was going on, but then thought better of it, instead motioning for the ponies to follow him and Percival. The two knights then led them through the halls of the castle, the ponies walking close behind them.

After a few minutes, Percival announced, “We’re here.” The ponies looked to see that they were approaching a large pair of ornate stone doors. In front and off to the left of the doors were Sonic, Caliburn, Lancelot, Spike, and Rarity. As they got closer, both Percival and the ponies took notice of Sonic’s new attire.

As they came to a stop, Twilight asked, “Where did you get that crown and cape, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog replied, “The crown was in that room we were in.” He then gestured to Rarity, “And guess.”

Pinkie piped up, “I think you look great! You’re a real hedgehog king now!”

Rainbow nodded, “Yeah, I was wondering if Rarity was gonna go way overboard and make you look all fancy, but she didn’t.”

Lancelot glanced at Rarity as he said, “Well, she certainly didn’t go overboard in the aesthetic, but she did try to overstep her bounds nonetheless.” Rarity turned her head to glare at him at that.

“What does that mean?” Twilight asked.

Lancelot looked at her, “She knows what I mean.”

Cadance looked back at Sonic and said, “Well, I think it suits you, Sonic.”

Percival nodded, “Yes, it does. Most definitely…” She turned her head away slightly, hoping the heat she was feeling in her cheeks was not showing through her fur. Shaking her head, she cleared her throat and looked at Lancelot and Caliburn, saying, “Well met, Sir Lancelot, Caliburn.”

Caliburn replied, “Well met indeed, Sir Percival.”

Lancelot nodded and then spoke, “The wait was longer than expected, but I trust you’re all ready for the meeting?”

The ponies nodded, with Fluttershy saying, “We are. Sir Percival brought us up to speed on the Underworld army while we were waiting. It was a very informative session.”

Rainbow muttered, “I guess that’s one way to look at it.”

Both Twilight and Percival turned their heads to look at the pegasus, the latter soon facing forward again as she said, “Despite what Miss Dash thinks, I do believe they were able to learn much in the allotted time.”

Caliburn nodded, “That sounds like a reasonable assumption, Sir Percival. Now, shall we begin the meeting?” Everyone nodded in agreement.

COUNCIL CHAMBER

Lancelot uncrossed his arms and turned his head to the right, looking at a section of the wall. He tilted his head towards it and said, “Keep an eye on things. Make sure we’re not disturbed.” Sonic, Spike, and the ponies were confused about who he was talking to, but they soon got their answer when a familiar purple head appeared up against the wall Lancelot was looking at and nodded before fading out of view again. It looked like Espio, but the Arthurian counterpart had a slight goatee hanging under his chin. The rest of him was cloaked, so they couldn’t tell if he had any other physical differences from the Espio they knew.

Lancelot and Gawain then moved towards the doors, each pushing one open. Once they were open all the way, Sonic and the Equestrians were able to get a good look at the council chamber. The room had a high ceiling from which a fancy-looking chandelier was hanging from in the middle of the room. There were several candelabras hanging on the side walls to provide extra light, and along the walls were the extra chairs that Lancelot had gathered earlier. And in the center of the room was the Round Table itself, a circular table made of gray stone with a map of the Grand Kingdom unfolded on top of it. Around the table were six wooden chairs; five of them looked the same aside from a mark at the top of the chair being different from each one while the sixth looked more like a throne, being far bigger and more majestic than the others. On the ground to the right of it was what appeared to be a seventh chair that looked far too small for anyone they had seen so far.

Lancelot entered first, motioning for Sonic to follow him. The blue hedgehog did so with Caliburn following at his heels, everyone else filing into the room afterwards. Percival and Gawain moved to the side walls while Spike and the ponies moved around the room and looked around a bit. Looking towards the table in the center of the room, Cadance, hoping to break the silence, asked, “So is this why you’re called the Knights of the Round Table?”

Percival, while she was grabbing a chair along the left wall of the room and pushing it towards the table in question, replied, “Indeed. The name was conceived by the old king when he was still a just ruler. That’s why we’ve kept it: to remember the time when we still saw him as our true king and not the twisted Black Knight he became.”

Shining asked, “So this is where all your important decisions are made?”

Gawain answered while dusting off the cushion on one of the chairs he’d pulled up to the table, “Right. Nearly every decision regarding the kingdom is made here before anyone else is told about it. We discuss what’s going on in the kingdom, we debate what to do, and we, eventually, come to a decision. We’ve spent lots of hours in this room doing just that since the castle was rebuilt.”

As he came to a stop next to the large chair, which faced the doors and was centered between the other five chairs, Lancelot said, “Sadly, it’s been some time since we’ve been able to do that. Our meetings have been lacking something, or rather someone, very important to the process.” He turned his head to look at Sonic at that and the blue hedgehog took the hint, moving to the front of the chair and sitting down in it, sliding into it rather easily despite the fact that it was evidently made for someone taller than him. Caliburn and Lancelot nodded, the former then floating over to the smaller chair next to it and resting his blade across it in a sort of cross between sitting and lying down.

After Lancelot took his seat in the chair to Sonic’s right, Rarity happily trotted over to the chair to his left and said, “Right then, let’s all get seated and start this meeting! We have much to discuss after all.” She placed a hoof on the chair’s armrest and started to move around to sit in it.

Suddenly, Lancelot slammed his hands down on the table as he stood up and angrily yelled, “Don’t sit there!” Rarity froze at that and slowly backed away from the chair, nearly everyone in the room staring at Lancelot at his outburst. As he sat back down again, Lancelot said in an annoyed tone, “That seat is for Sir Galahad and Sir Galahad alone.”

Although still a bit freaked out by Lancelot’s yell, Fluttershy weakly asked, “S-S-Sir G-Galahad?”

Sonic held his right hand to his chin as he said, “That’s right.” He looked at the chair to the left of Galahad’s, “Sir Galahad and Sir Lamorak aren’t here right now.”

Gawain pushed up a particularly comfy looking chair up next to Rarity, the fashionista looking at him as he spoke, “Sorry about that. Lancelot’s a bit of a stickler when it comes to these things. That’s part of the reason Sonic wanted him to get these chairs in here. Here, you can have this one.” Rarity thanked him and plopped down on the chair’s cushion, getting comfortable.

After a few minutes, everyone was properly seated. Gawain sat to Lancelot’s right and Percival sat to his right, right across from where Sir Galahad would be sitting. Rarity, Shining, and Cadance were sitting between Galahad and Lamorak’s seats, Rainbow, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie were between Lamorak and Percival’s seats, and Spike, Fluttershy, and Twilight were between Percival and Gawain’s seats. “Are we all ready?” Sonic asked as he looked around.

“We’re all present and accounted for, sire,” Gawain replied.

Percival nodded, “So let’s begin. Now then-”

HOSTING THE MEETING

Her words were cut short when the doors suddenly banged open, everyone turning to see Pinkie pushing a small food cart into the room stacked with small plates, cups, several teapots, and cupcakes that each had different colored frosting. “Sorry! I didn’t break anything! Just had to go get these!” the pink pony chirped as she wheeled her cart over to Percival.

“Lady Pie, what are you-?” Percival started to say before Pinkie placed a small plate with a cupcake that had purple frosting on it in front of her.

As she was pouring tea into a cup, Pinkie replied, “I know I’m supposed to be a guest here, but I couldn’t resist! See, I’ve hosted a lot of things back home: parties, cute-ceanaras, parties, weddings, parties, birthdays… Did I mention parties? All sorts of fun stuff! But I also know how to host meetings, and I’ve noticed that being a good host makes a meeting turn out better!” She finished pouring the tea and placed the teacup in front of Percival before bending down underneath her cart and coming up with a bowl of sugar cubes. “One lump or two?” she asked Percival.

Percival stared at her for a moment before replying, “Uh, two will be fine, thank you.” Pinkie dropped two cubes into her tea at her request and left her a stirring spoon before moving on.

As the pink pony continued serving, Caliburn tilted towards Sonic while staring at her and whispered, “Where did she acquire all of that?”

Sonic whispered back, “I have no idea. I didn’t even see her step out.” By this time, Pinkie was finishing up with Gawain, having been able to breeze through her friends since she knew their preferences, and was starting on Lancelot, giving him a cupcake that had black frosting with red stripes.

“How many lumps, Sir Lancelot?” she asked after she gave him his tea.

“None… but thank you,” Lancelot replied while holding his right hand over his cup.

“Aw, come on! It’s good sugar! It adds a great taste, and it’s sweet too!” Pinkie said.

“I think I’m ‘sweet’ enough,” Lancelot grumbled in response.

“That’s for sure! You might want to listen to him, Lady Pie; he gets any sweeter on us, he might melt!” Gawain joked.

“Sir Gawain, really!” Percival chastised while Lancelot shot him a dark look. Pinkie decided to get out of their way and moved on to Sonic and Caliburn.

After she finished serving Sonic, she turned and offered a cupcake to Caliburn. The sword stared at it for a second before saying, “I… do not believe that is feasible, Lady Pie.”

Pinkie blinked, “Huh?”

Caliburn explained, “Well, that confection does look delicious, but I am assuming that because I have only seen what others refer to as ‘delicious’; I would not know myself.”

Pinkie tilted her head, “What?”

Sonic interjected, “He’s trying to say he can’t eat anything, Pinkie.” Caliburn tilted his hilt in agreement with Sonic’s words.

“Oh! Well, that’s a shame. You should really be able to eat, Caliburn; you are a living sword after all,” Pinkie said. She put the cupcake back on her cart, “I’ll just eat it for you then, okay?” With that, she moved on with her cart. As she continued, Sonic lifted his teacup to his lips and took a sip. When he set it back down, he gave a murmur and a nod of approval.

Soon, everyone in the room was served, and Sonic looked at Pinkie as she sat down in her chair and said, “Thanks, Pinkie.” He then looked at Percival and asked, “Now, as you were saying, Percival?”

THE MEETING

The cat nodded, “Right.” She addressed their guests, “Based on what Prince Shining Armor said earlier, I'm sure you're all aware of the situation plaguing us at the moment?”

Rainbow spoke up, “Yeah. He told us your ruler, Merlina, has gone missing for some reason.” Percival nodded in response.

“Yeah, what happened ta her? He didn’t seem ta know,” Applejack said.

Lancelot answered, “To be honest, we’re not sure ourselves. We weren’t with Merlina when she disappeared.”

Gawain nodded, “The last time we saw her, she was leaving with Caliburn on a diplomatic journey to see the kingdom. That was over a week ago.” He looked over at Caliburn and asked, “Speaking of which, Caliburn, how did you end up in the care of the Smithy?”

The sword replied, “I was left there by Merlina after we left the castle. She told him to keep me hidden until she returned. I protested, as you might expect, but she would not listen. I could only assume she left Camelot on her own. I was not informed that she had gone missing until this day.”

Sonic looked at the knights and asked, “How did you guys find out she was missing?”

Lancelot replied, “We were contacted by Lady Nimue. Ever since you left, she and Merlina have been keeping a correspondence with their magic. For the most part, Nimue has been helping Merlina settle into her role of being the new ruler of the Grand Kingdom, but Merlina reassured us that she would be in contact with the Lady and we should keep to our posts in the castle until she returned. Imagine our surprise days later when Nimue used her reflecting pool to tell us that Merlina had disappeared.”

Cadance tilted her head, “Reflecting pool?”

Percival answered, “Merlina and Lady Nimue are able to observe faraway events through them, and it’s how they communicated with each other. She didn’t tell us anything beyond the fact that she was unable to find Merlina, so she must not know what happened to her either. All she told us was that we must be ready to defend the kingdom at a moment’s notice. She said she was going to try to locate Merlina and she would let us know when she found her, but we haven’t heard from her since.”

Applejack asked, “So y’all have just been sittin’ around in the castle waitin’ fer word from ‘er?”

Gawain replied, “It’d be different if things had been quiet this entire time. Unfortunately, ever since we received word that Merlina disappeared, we’ve been receiving reports from around the kingdom of attacks by the armies of the Underworld. At first, we were able to respond to these reports and be back at Camelot Castle in a timely manner, but then the places we’d just been to reported more attacks, multiple attacks started popping up…” He gestured to the map on the table, which had small scraps of paper with writing attached to the different locations around the Grand Kingdom.

Percival continued for Gawain, “It became too much for us to handle on our own. You may have noticed that there are very few guards posted around the castle. In order to deal with the multitude of attacks, we’ve had to send out squads of the royal guard to protect these locations. We are getting down to the last of our reserves and the new recruits because of this.”

Gawain spoke, “Keeping what we have left in line hasn’t been the problem, and neither has supporting the soldiers we’ve sent out. When it became clear that we were needed here at the castle, we sent Sir Galahad and Sir Lamorak out not only to provide support, but also to help Nimue search for Merlina.”

Sonic spoke, “That makes sense. Galahad and Lamorak were positioned pretty far out on the kingdom’s outskirts when I was here. They missed a lot of what happened and had to be told about it when we sent them orders to return to Camelot.”

Gawain nodded, “That’s exactly why we thought they should be the ones to search for Merlina. Their time away gifted them with an intimate knowledge of the kingdom that the three of us do not possess, and despite mainly acting as scouts, they are good warriors. Much like you thought Merlina would be the best choice to assume the throne in your place, we thought they would be the best support we could send out while we kept the kingdom running.”

Twilight asked, “Have you heard anything from them?”

Percival answered, “They’ve been sending their reports when they can, often with the reports of the soldiers they’ve helped. They haven’t mentioned finding any leads to Merlina’s whereabouts, but there have been mentions of rumors they’d like to discuss with us before they look into them further. Hopefully they’ll return and discuss their findings with us soon.”

Spike asked while looking at the map, “Is there anything else you guys can do to, you know, resolve this?”

Lancelot glanced over at the dragon as he replied, “Unfortunately, we are not in a position where we can just leave the castle at our leisure. Without Merlina, the kingdom needs our leadership, so we cannot simply leave the castle without a solid lead anymore.”

Percival said, “We have been doing what we can, but we are in desperate need of someone to lead us.” She looked over at Sonic, “Sir Sonic, we require your leadership if we are to overcome this crisis. After hearing all of this, do you have any thoughts?”

Everyone turned to look at Sonic at that, the blue hedgehog resting his chin on top of his hands as he looked down at the map. After a moment, he spoke, “Well… I can’t really tell much from what you’ve been putting here, but,” he placed his left hand on the table and pointed at the map with his right, “is there any sort of pattern to these attacks? Anything unusual you might have noticed from what you’ve been hearing?”

Lancelot looked at the map as he replied, “Not really. Sirs Galahad and Lamorak haven’t been present for a number of these attacks, but many of the reports indicate that the Underworld army attacks for a short time before retreating regardless of the situation.”

Sonic asked, “The reports always say that?”

Lancelot looked at him, “More or less.” After a moment, he asked, “Do you think…?”

Sonic held up his right hand, “I don’t want to jump to that conclusion just yet. I’m trying to gather my thoughts right now, get a better idea before I make a decision.”

Gawain spoke up, “Actually, there’s something that’s been bugging me for a while.” Everyone looked at him, so he explained, “It’s about Merlina’s diplomatic journey. Just the way it… kind of came out of nowhere.”

Percival asked, “What do you mean, Gawain?”

The red knight shrugged, “I don’t know, Percival, just… she started having all these face-to-face meetings with Lady Nimue, and then she suddenly announced that she was going on a diplomatic journey, and she didn’t take Caliburn with her… Something just doesn’t seem right.”

Sonic asked, “What do you mean by ‘face-to-face’ meetings, Gawain?”

Lancelot answered, “It’s true that prior to leaving Camelot, Merlina had been leaving for the Deep Woods to visit Lady Nimue, but I don’t really see how anything bad could have come of it. Nimue happens to be a skilled enchantress, and while I don’t think Merlina could be up to something, without the Scabbard of Excalibur, she would not have an easy time overpowering Nimue when it comes to magic.”

Sonic held his right hand to his chin, “That’s right… Say, now that you bring it up, do we have any idea what happened to that thing?”

Gawain answered this time, “We still have no idea what happened to the scabbard, sire. We searched the remains of the old Camelot Castle long after you left, but we never found any trace of it. We were hoping Lamorak and Galahad’s search could turn up some results, but unless they’ve heard rumors about it, they’ve had no luck either.”

Sonic nodded and glanced down in thought. A few seconds passed before Caliburn asked, “Care to share your thoughts, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog was silent for a moment. Then he looked up and said, “I think I’m gonna have to pay the Lady of the Lake a visit.”

Rarity commented, “Well, that decision didn’t take long.”

Sonic shrugged, “I don’t know what else to do, Rarity. Merlina’s missing, the Underworld army is as active as it was when the old King Arthur was around, our forces are spread thin, and we haven’t heard a peep out of Nimue. At the very least, I’d like to know she’s okay.”

Percival spoke up, “There have been no reports of attack on the Deep Woods. We sent a squad of guards out there to protect it, but it remains one of the few places that hasn’t been attacked yet.”

Lancelot nodded, “That’s because even the Knights of the Underworld know better than to mess with the Lady of the Lake. It doesn’t matter if they managed to get past our guards; they would stand no chance against her.”

Gawain looked at Sonic, “We can go for you, my liege.”

Sonic replied, “No. You three know best how to keep the guards organized. From the looks of this map, Camelot hasn’t been attacked yet either, and the last thing we need is to lose the city because the guard got disorganized due to not having three of our best knights with them. Besides, Nimue has to know I’m back by now. No matter how busy trying to locate Merlina she is, she should’ve realized I’m here and tried to contact us by now.”

Gawain sat back in his seat, “You’re right. She wouldn’t be able to ignore the return of the true King Arthur. Either she’s close to finding Merlina, or something else is going on. Either way, you should be the one to go see her.”

Percival said, “I suppose you do have a point there, Gawain.” She looked over at Lancelot and noticed the black hedgehog was looking down at the table, his hands resting atop it with his fingers slid together. “Lancelot?” she asked.

Everyone looked at him, the knight still looking down at the table. “What’s wrong, Lancelot?” Sonic asked a little louder, trying to get his attention.

Lancelot looked up at Sonic and said, “I know better than to worry about your well-being, sire. You’ve charged into hordes of enemies and tackled massive beasts before and have often come out unscathed. Still, the situation in the kingdom right now worries me. With all the sporadic attacks and so little information available to us right now, it would give me peace of mind if you had an escort.”

Percival spoke, “An escort wouldn’t be a bad thing to have, Lancelot, but I don’t know if we have enough guards to spare for one.”

Gawain nodded, “Yeah, we are kind of minimally staffed right now.”

Shining glanced around the table before sitting up straight and saying, “I’ll go with him.”

Everyone turned to look at the stallion. “You will?” Gawain asked.

“The prince of the Crystal Empire, an escort?” Caliburn added.

“I wasn’t born into royalty, I was accepted into it. Before I married Cadance, I went to the Canterlot Academy to get the training to join the Royal Guard. I was eventually accepted and rose to the rank of Captain of the Royal Guard. Yes, Cadance and I rule over the crystal ponies, but I still hold that title, and I have been using all I learned to train the crystal ponies who want to become guards,” Shining explained.

Everyone looked at Sonic when he spoke, “It’s true. From what I’ve seen, he does have the skills necessary to protect both royalty and the innocent.”

Gawain and Percival turned to each other, both making a few gestures before nodding at each other. “Very well, then,” Percival started. She looked over at Lancelot, “What do you think, Lancelot?”

Gawain nodded, “You are the one who brought it up after all.”

For what seemed like a long while, there was silence in the room. Lancelot glanced from his fellow knights to his right to Shining Armor across the table. Several seconds went by before he blinked and glanced towards Sonic before returning to the stallion, Shining trying to remain upright and keep himself from showing any signs of fear the entire time. Even if Lancelot wasn’t exactly Shadow, his red eyes were still intimidating and seemed to scan him as they stared deep into his blue eyes, searching for any trace of weakness or lying.

Finally, Lancelot broke eye contact by blinking, clasping his hands together as he said, “I suppose I have no reason to object.” Shining relaxed at that, letting out a breath he’d been holding in for a while.

He turned to look at his wife as Cadance asked, “Shining, I do think you would be the best choice to protect royalty, regardless of who that royalty is, but you and Sonic aren’t going to set out for the Deep Woods by yourselves, are you?”

Before Shining could respond, Rainbow piped up, “Yeah, you’re not leaving the rest of us behind, especially not me!”

Rarity huffed, “Please, Rainbow Dash, we all know your interest is usually more vested towards performing for royalty, not protecting it. You are a fighter, no doubt about that, but some things require a more delicate touch.”

Applejack retorted, “And you should know by now, Rarity, that towns and cities bein’ attacked ain’t no laughin’ matter!” Suddenly, the room seemed to erupt into an argument, Spike and the other ponies either trying to quell the argument or add to it. Sonic, Caliburn, Cadance, Shining, and the knights all tried to resolve the matter peacefully, but their efforts were lost amidst the flurry of words flying back and forth.

Finally, Percival stood up from her seat, grabbing the map on the table with her left hand and yanking it off while raising her right hand over her head. “Silence! Silence all of you!” she yelled as she slammed the palm of her right hand down on the table. Immediately, a column of fire shot up towards the chandelier stopping just short of touching it, everyone immediately shutting up and staring at it in surprise! It burned for several seconds, the fire disappearing when Percival clenched her hand into a fist, moving it to her side afterwards. She then stood glaring around the table, making sure to look at Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash in particular.

END OF THE MEETING

Gawain leaned towards Lancelot and whispered, “Wow, usually one of us is on the receiving end of that.” Lancelot looked at him at that.

While she took the map in both hands, Percival stated, “Such bickering is pointless!” She raised the map above her head and swung it towards Sonic, who stood up and grabbed his end of it, both of them setting it back down flat on the table with some aid from the others. Twilight, Shining, and Cadance used their magic to put the scraps of paper back in their proper places while Percival said, “We all have to make sacrifices during these trying times. All of you accompanying Sir Sonic for this is a luxury we can’t afford right now.”

Fluttershy asked, “Wh-What do you mean, S-Sir Percival?”

Lancelot answered, “For one thing, Sonic cannot be away from the castle for too long. He is in charge now that he has returned, and while a larger group could potentially be better defensively, it would also slow him down unnecessarily.”

Gawain nodded, “And speaking of defenses, we’re sorely lacking in those right now. We’ll take just about any help we can get at this point.”

Percival looked at Sonic, “Sir Sonic, this is your decision to make. Who do you think would be best to accompany you, and who would be best for keeping Camelot Castle safe?”

Sonic crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat, thinking for a minute. “Well, I do want to get to Nimue and back here as fast as possible.” He nodded and leaned forward, “All right, here’s what I’m thinking. Shining Armor volunteered first, so obviously I want him with me. I’ll also take Rainbow Dash with to back him up in case we run into trouble.”

Rainbow pumped her hooves, “Yes! Finally, a chance to stretch my wings properly!”

Sonic continued, “If Twilight and Princess Cadance want to come with us, they can. I’ll leave that up to them.” Cadance and Twilight looked at each other across the table for a few seconds before they both turned to Sonic and nodded. Sonic nodded back and said, “All right, then Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, you’ll all stay here and help keep an eye on things while we’re gone.” Lancelot looked uncomfortable at the last name he said, but he kept his tongue in check.

Spike blurted out, “Hey, what about me?!”

Sonic looked over at him, “Well, that’s up to you, bud. I wasn’t gonna make any plans for you, especially since I didn’t know what Cadance and Twilight wanted to do, but now I’ll let you take your pick. You can stay here or you can come with us.”

Spike gave it some thought, looking at Rarity across the table, who gave him a pleasant smile. He stared at her for a bit before looking back at Sonic and saying, “Uh, I guess I’ll go with you guys.” Rarity frowned slightly at that.

Sonic spoke, “All right, does this work for everybody?” While there was a little hesitation, he received no objections, so he said, “All right, then.” He turned to Lancelot and Gawain, “Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot, I’ll leave it up to you two to explain what you want them to do, okay?”

Both knights nodded at that, “Understood.”

Sonic turned to Percival, “Sir Percival, you’ll be helping them as well, but first, the Knight’s Passage was rebuilt, right?”

The cat replied, “Yes, Sir Sonic. It is exactly as it was in the old castle.”

Sonic nodded, “Cool. Show Twilight, Rainbow, Spike, Cadance, and Shining where it is. I’m gonna stop by Merlina’s chamber to get something real quick, but Caliburn and I will meet you there.”

Percival placed her right arm across her chest and bowed, “As you command, my liege.”

Caliburn spoke up, “Very well. Meeting adjourned!” He tapped his blade across his seat twice and Lancelot and Gawain stood up, both of them and Percival bowing, Sonic, Spike, and the ponies doing the same after a moment.

Afterwards, Percival turned and walked towards the doors, pulling one inwards and holding it open. Gawain and Lancelot headed for the doors first, the latter saying, “Come with us.” Pinkie, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rarity started after them at that.

Before she exited, Rarity stopped and looked at Percival. “Forgive me for asking, but aren’t you LADY Percival?” she asked.

Percival blinked at that. “‘Lady’? I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, Lady Rarity.”

Rarity asked, “Well, isn’t that your proper title?”

Percival shook her head, “No. I am a Knight of the Round Table. I am a Sir.”

Rarity asked, “And you’re okay being called that?”

Percival nodded, “My friends call me ‘Sir’. I have no objection to it.”

Suddenly, Applejack called, “Rarity, come on!”

The fashionista straightened up at that and realized she had fallen behind. She blushed as she looked at Percival and quickly ran out of the room saying, “Sorry, sorry!"

Percival smiled at the unicorn’s behavior. Looking back at the others, she saw they were all looking at her. “Don’t worry. I’ve gotten that from people who don’t realize the difference before,” she said. She then moved towards the hallway saying, “Come. I’ll show you to the Knight’s Passage.” Rainbow, Twilight, Cadance, Shining, and Spike quickly followed after her at that, leaving Sonic and Caliburn as the last ones to leave the room.

Sonic and the Black Knight, Volume Three

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SETTING OUT FOR THE DEEP WOODS

After several minutes of walking, Percival came to a stop in front of a brick wall. She raised her right hand to the wall and pressed it against one brick, pushing it inwards. She then placed the palm of her hand on the brick underneath it, pushing it and the bricks underneath it down. In response, the section of wall next to it slid to the side, revealing a passageway behind it. “This is the Knight’s Passage?” Cadance asked.

“This is the entrance to it. The Knight’s Passage is connected to the castle’s sewers and waterways, stretching under the city,” Percival explained. She looked at Spike and the ponies, “It may be a bit of distance to cover, but there are boats manned by ferrymen who can guide you through the waterways, and it will put you relatively close to the Deep Woods. It will likely be faster than leaving through the city.”

They all turned to look as they heard something approaching and saw that it was Sonic. The blue hedgehog came to a stop in front of them holding Caliburn in his right hand and said, “We’re here. Let’s go.”

Twilight quickly noticed something different about him. “Where are your cape and crown, Sonic?” she asked.

“In this pack,” he said, gesturing with his left thumb to a brown backpack he was wearing that they hadn’t seen. Sonic let Caliburn go before he pulled the backpack off and slid it down his right arm. He opened it up with his left hand, revealing the folded cape and the crown sitting on top of it. “I figure I’ll probably be noticed anyway, but it can’t hurt to try to not draw attention to myself,” he explained as he reached his left hand inside the backpack. A second later, he pulled out the metal glove that had been sitting on the dresser in Merlina’s room. “I also wanted to grab this,” he said as he closed the backpack again.

As he was putting it on his back again, Shining asked, “A metal glove?”

Sonic slid the glove over his right hand before saying, “This was a gift from Merlina when I started training to become a knight. Just doesn’t feel the same without it.” He held his right hand up and waggled his fingers a bit before grasping Caliburn’s hilt again.

Percival nodded, “It is yours, Sir Sonic.” She faced the group, “I’ll close the passage entrance behind you. Please hurry to Lady Nimue’s side.” Everyone nodded and Sonic led the way into the Knight’s Passage, Spike and the ponies hurrying in after him. Once they were inside, Percival raised the lowered row of bricks back into place, the brick that had been pushed in sliding back into place once it was raised. This caused the section of the wall to slide back into place as well, Percival leaving once the entrance was hidden from view once more.

After a short jog through the straight corridor, the group reached a flight of stairs that led down into the castle’s sewers. “Guess Percival wasn’t kidding when she said we’d be going through the sewers,” Rainbow commented as they ran.

“A lot of the castle is connected by the sewers. Heck, even the dungeons in the old castle could be reached through the sewers,” Sonic called back.

“Yes, though they certainly weren’t this deep, considering you had to break a hole in the castle wall to reach that part of the sewers,” Caliburn reminded him.

Sonic shrugged, “Well, it’s not like we could’ve just walked up to the front gates and asked them to let us in for a jailbreak.”

Shining caught up with Sonic and asked, “Jailbreak? Oh, is that what Caliburn meant when he mentioned the old castle’s dungeons?”

Sonic looked over at him, “Yeah. Freeing the prisoners in the castle was one of the tests Lady Nimue gave me.”

Rainbow grinned, “Really? That sounds like an awesome test!”

Spike pointed ahead at where light seemed to be coming in from outside, “Hey, are we almost out?”

Caliburn answered, “Nay. That is part of the castle’s waterways.” Sure enough, when they made it to the opening that Spike had pointed to, they found themselves out on part of the castle, a pool of water underneath the walkway they were standing on.

“There’s this much water in the castle? That’s amazing,” Cadance commented as they stopped for a moment.

Caliburn spoke, “There are many such areas where the water freely flows. Even in the castle courtyards, there are waterfalls coming from several of the castle wall’s parapets.”

Twilight looked at him and asked, “How much water is in the castle, Caliburn?”

The sword replied, “There is a giant water tank further ahead. It stores water for both the castle and the town.”

Twilight asked, “So the castle supplies all of Camelot’s water?”

Caliburn answered, “Indeed. As such, the first order of business when reconstruction began was to get fresh water back up here. The water tank was the first thing to be repaired because of that.”

Cadance said, “So Merlina even destroyed the Knight’s Passage when she used the power of the scabbard…”

Sonic nodded, “Right. It was a rush for us and the Knights of the Round Table to get far enough away while navigating the passage and fighting off the Knights of the Underworld. Let’s see how quick we can get to the end when the ceiling’s not coming down and things are, hopefully, more open for us.” Spike and the ponies nodded and they started moving again.

As Sonic had hoped, more of the Passage was available to explore, the guards that were still in the castle opening closed gates and pointing them in the direction they wanted to go. It wasn’t long before the group got onboard one of the boats in the waterway, the elf in the boat rowing surprisingly fast while they sat back in the boat, Sonic sitting close to the elf with Caliburn at his side, Twilight sitting between him and Shining and Cadance, and Rainbow and Spike sitting near the front of the boat.

While looking around, Cadance commented, “It’s actually quite nice down here.”

Shining nodded, “Yeah. Normally I’d expect waterways and especially sewers to look grimy at the very least, especially considering the sewer we were in earlier today, but not the case here.”

Twilight nodded before looking back at Sonic and asking, “So Lady Nimue actually made you take tests, Sonic?”

The blue hedgehog nodded, “Yeah. She wanted to make sure she could trust me with the secret of the scabbard’s power, see what kind of knight I would turn out to be.”

Caliburn commented, “Perhaps if you had carried yourself in a more kingly manner and had been more serious, she would’ve been more willing to part with the secret when you met her.”

Sonic rolled his eyes, “Seriously, Caliburn? I don’t need another etiquette lesson from you, especially since I’ve gotten enough of them from Rarity today already.”

Rainbow glanced back, “Yeah, no kidding. Besides, if she knew the secret, she probably wasn’t gonna part with it easily anyway.”

Caliburn replied, “After hearing her reasons, I have no doubt about that. I was merely making an observation.”

Sonic glanced at the sword, “Right. That’s why we’re talking about this at all: because you’re making an observation.”

Caliburn retorted, “I am entitled to my own opinion, as you are to yours.”

Spike looked back and asked, “Well, what’s the big deal? Sonic seems like he would be a good enough ruler. I mean, he’s no Princess Celestia, but he also hasn’t been ruling for, like, a thousand years.”

Caliburn replied, “‘Good enough’ does not exactly elicit confidence, does it, young squire? And I am not denying Sonic’s progress. He was far more unruly when he first took me up, so evidently he listened to some of the things I told him.”

Sonic spoke, “Well, it’s a good thing I don’t listen to everything you say, Caliburn. I would’ve failed Nimue’s final test if I had, remember?”

Caliburn replied, “Ah… Yes, that is correct.”

Cadance looked at Sonic, “What do you mean, Sonic? What was Nimue’s final test?”

Sonic answered, “Well, we were heading back to the lake after completing all the tasks she had given me. We pretty much had enough time to get back there and still make her deadline, but we ran into an elf girl crying in the woods. She told us her village had been taken by a dragon.”

Caliburn added, “Sonic wanted to help her, but as I reminded him, there was not enough time before the appointed time to go and rescue a village.”

Rainbow smiled, “But you went anyway, right?”

Sonic nodded, “Yep. After she pointed us in the right direction, we went across the Titanic Plain, fought with Gawain, and rescued her village from the cave, managing to avoid the dragon in the process. When we got back to the woods, the girl revealed herself to be Nimue in disguise.”

Shining asked, “So you made the right choice?”

Sonic replied, “Yep. For passing her tests, she told us how to disable the scabbard’s power.”

Caliburn said, “In that situation, you were wiser than I, Sonic, but that can’t always be the case. Never forget that you can’t always make the right choice in every situation.”

Before Sonic could respond, the elf rower spoke, “We are approaching your destination, Sir Sonic.” Everyone looked forward and saw that the boat was drifting towards a wooden dock up ahead. The elf stopped rowing, allowing the boat’s momentum and the flow of the water to carry the boat to the dock, coming to a stop next to it.

As he stood up, Sonic reached into his quills with his right hand and pulled out a couple of gold rings. “Thanks,” he said as he handed the rings over to the rower, the elf gladly taking them. He then took Caliburn by the hilt and climbed out onto the dock with the others.

Spike climbed onto Twilight’s back and sat down before saying, “Okay, let’s go see this Lady Nimue!”

A thought occurred to Sonic at that and he turned to look at, the baby dragon, saying as they all stepped out of the Knight’s Passage, “Oh yeah, that reminds me. Spike, you might not have noticed earlier, so I’m gonna give you an early warning: when you see Nimue, try not to freak out too much.”

Caliburn asked, a bit crossly, “What do you mean by that, Sonic?”

Sonic replied, “Don’t worry, Caliburn. I’m just giving him a heads-up. You remember how I reacted the first time I saw Nimue?” Caliburn nodded slightly, so Sonic said, “He might have a similar reaction when he sees her. It’s got nothing to do with Nimue herself.”

Shining spoke, “Well, we’ll worry about that when we find her. How do we get to the Deep Woods from here, Sonic?”

Sonic pointed Caliburn at the path ahead, “If we follow this path, it’ll lead us to the woods. Come on!” He broke out into a run at that, the ponies following his lead. As they were running, Twilight, along with Spike, and Cadance noticed Camelot Castle in the distance off to their right, causing them to wonder how the others were doing.

IN PREPARATION

Meanwhile…

“Ahh~! Mmm… Lovely,” Rarity sighed as she snuggled into cushion on the table she was lying on. Off to her side was an elf servant, moving her hands across the unicorn’s backside, rubbing and pressing against her. “Darling, you are a miracle worker,” Rarity said.

“Thank you, Lady Rarity. I am pleased that you’re pleased,” the elf said as she continued her treatment. Rarity murmured softly as it continued, sinking deeper into the cushion.

Her reverie was interrupted when the door to the room opened and a familiar voice exclaimed, “Wha- Rarity!” The elf servant stopped her massage and Rarity’s eyes shot open, the unicorn looking to see Applejack standing in the doorway. The earth pony walked over to her while demanding, “What the hay are ya doin’?! You’re supposed ta be helpin’ us!”

Rarity began to settle back into her cushion and motioned for the servant to continue as she said, “Don’t fret, Applejack. I said I would help and I am… going to. I’m just getting ready.”

Applejack argued, “Looks like you’re gettin’ a massage ta me!”

Rarity let out a murmur as the servant resumed her work before saying, “Exactly. I work much better when I’m properly relaxed. You’ve seen me work before; you should know that.”

Applejack asked, “Does Lancelot know that, though?”

Rarity let out a sigh and looked at Applejack with a stern gaze, “Listen, darling, I can go without a facial, I can skip a hooficure, but right now, I DESPERATELY need a massage. Getting a chance to sit down is simply not good enough right now. After all we’ve been through today, I need something more if I’m going to get through this stress. I asked her to keep it short, and I will be doing what I said I would do once it’s over. So if you could just leave and close the door behind you, I’ll be back on my hooves much sooner.”

Applejack glared at her, but complied and turned to leave. As she was leaving, she looked back over her shoulder and said, “Well, Ah’m not gonna tell Lancelot what Ah saw here, but if he asks, Ah also ain’t gonna lie ta him. So you can explain ta him why you decided ta take advantage of the fact that you’re friends with Sonic if he finds out.” With that, she pulled the door closed behind her as she left. The servant looked at Rarity with a worried look, but the unicorn just motioned for her to continue.

Fortunately for Rarity, Lancelot was not inside the castle at the time. He was patrolling along the castle walls, keeping an eye out for trouble. As he was making his way along the back wall, he noticed a small gathering in the courtyard below, near the statue of Sonic. He paused to look for a moment before deciding to get a better look, leaping off the wall and using his shoes to slow his descent before he hit the ground. He then ran forwards, seeing Percival and Gawain standing together, looking at something in front of them.

When he joined his fellow knights, he saw that they were looking at Fluttershy and Pinkie as the latter talked to a lion with tan fur and an orange mane who was wearing a royal guard outfit and a black eyepatch over his left eye and a gray and white furred bunny wearing a long red jacket and light blue tights holding a spear. He immediately recognized them. “What are they doing with General Tybalt and Sir Frederick?” Lancelot asked his fellow knights, referring to the lion and bunny respectively.

“Seems like Lady Pie is the one doing most of the talking,” Gawain replied.

“I can’t tell what she’s saying, but my guess would be that it involves protecting the castle,” Percival added. The three of them then looked back at the exchange, all of them noticing the uncertain glances that Tybalt and Frederick exchanged at points as they talked with Pinkie. After about a minute, the two nodded to the pink pony and left, heading for the castle’s back entrance.

Lancelot initially thought about going after them, but instead turned his attention back to Pinkie Pie. Already it seemed like the pink equine was on her way to becoming a handful and he wasn’t going to have it. Percival and Gawain watched as he stepped forward, coming to a stop near Fluttershy as he noticed Pinkie walking back over to the yellow pegasus. “Oh, hello, Sir Lancelot,” Fluttershy said when she noticed him, the black hedgehog giving her a noncommittal grunt in reply while he kept his focus on Pinkie.

Pinkie trotted over and stopped in front of Lancelot, Fluttershy in between them. “Hi, Lance!” the party pony chirped.

“Do not mock me. Use my full name or do not use it at all. And what were you doing just now?” Lancelot demanded.

Pinkie giggled and said, “Silly! You and Sonic wanted us to protect the castle, so Fluttershy and I came up with a new defense system for it!”

Lancelot turned to Fluttershy as she murmured, “Um, it was mainly Pinkie coming up with the ideas for this, um, system. I just mentioned I had some concerns about it…”

Pinkie walked over and patted Fluttershy on the head with a hoof, saying, “Don’t worry, Fluttershy! It’ll work, and it won’t take any extra money to build!”

Lancelot asked, “And when are you going to tell the rest of us about the specifics of this new ‘defense system’?”

Pinkie tapped her front hooves together as she replied, “Weeeeellllllllllll… I kind of based it on how I do surprise parties, so… I can’t really share it with you! Only Lady Fluttershy, Sir ‘Fluffy Neck’, and Earl ‘Long Legs’ can really know the details!”

Lancelot moved closer to Pinkie, getting almost up in her face as he growled, “Don’t get cute.”

Pinkie giggled, “I can’t help it! I was born that way!”

Lancelot narrowed his eyes, “I warned you before about detaining you for creating a disturbance. Now I may have to detain you until Sir Sonic returns if that’s the only way to keep you from turning this into a game.”

Pinkie blinked, “Game? This isn’t a…”

A SUDDEN CHANGE

Lancelot cut her off, “General Tybalt is responsible for training many of the soldiers that are protecting the Grand Kingdom now, and Sir Frederick is a respected dragon knight. You may think your nicknames are cute, but they’re disgraceful. And the king made you our responsibility while he’s gone; therefore, you do not come up with plans and put them into motion without clarifying them with us first.” By this time, Gawain and Percival were starting to move closer towards them, worried that the situation would continue to escalate.

As the two flanked Lancelot, Pinkie changed in a way they weren’t expecting. Her seemingly natural curly mane and tail suddenly fell straight with the sound of a deflating balloon, the pink pony looking down sadly as she seemingly became darker. Whatever had happened, it worried Gawain and Percival further, and it was evident they were not the only ones who felt that way, as Fluttershy moved forward to hug Pinkie. “Pinkie, don’t cry. Sir Lancelot is just worried about Sonic and the kingdom. He didn’t mean anything by what he said,” she tried to comfort.

“Indeed I did not, but you still have to get yourself under control. This is not a fantasy zone; this is real life with consequences you’ll take with you wherever you go. Do you understand?” Lancelot asked, not as worried as his fellow knights and not backing down.

Pinkie was silent for a moment, but as Lancelot was about to make sure she heard him, she spoke up, her voice lacking its usual bounciness, “You think I don’t already know that?” Lancelot blinked; the change was not lost on him. “You think I’ve always been surrounded by parties and rainbows all my life? When I saw that rainbow that bound me and my friends together, it set me on a new path away from what I’d known, but I’ve never forgotten growing up on the rock farm. I remember those days…” she went on.

She raised her head up and Gawain and Percival’s eyes widened when they saw her blue eyes, now no longer vibrant and deep. Instead, they were as cold as ice. They actually started backing away at the sight, and even though Lancelot stood his ground, he felt a bit intimidated himself. Pinkie raised her forelegs up and made Fluttershy lower her hooves, though she looked at her shy friend with a soft look that told her she appreciated her kindness. For a moment, it looked like, despite her straight hair, she was back to normal.

But that was all it was. When she turned back to Lancelot, she was somepony else again. She began to slowly walk towards him, saying, “Let’s make one thing clear, Sir Lancelot. No matter what you’ve been through, you do NOT have the right to assume you know me and my friends better than we do. Just like we don’t know about your past, you don’t know about ours. You don’t know what we’ve done, what sorts of problems we’ve had to solve, what’s worked for us… you don’t know anything about us.”

She stopped in front of him, “And let me remind you one thing: Sonic may have made us your responsibility as you say, but he decided that WE would be the best choice to help you protect Camelot Castle.” She raised her right hoof and pressed it against his nose, slowly applying more pressure as she went on, “He’s fought alongside us RECENTLY. He’s seen what we’re ABLE to do. He trusts US as much as he trusts you.” For a moment, she held there, the tension in the air so thick that everybody was holding their breath.

Suddenly, Pinkie backed off, pulling her hoof back and spinning around on one hoof as her mane and tail poofed up back to their usual curly state. “So lighten up, will ya? Quit being such a grumpypants!” she exclaimed. She turned to Fluttershy, “Come on, Fluttershy! Let’s go see how Sir Frederick and General Tybalt are doing!” Without another word, she turned and happily trotted off. Fluttershy looked at Lancelot with a worried look for a moment before nodding and hurrying after the pink pony.

After a moment, Gawain broke the silence, “What did we just witness…?”

While rubbing his nose with his right hand, Lancelot grumbled, “I don’t know, Gawain.”

Percival spoke, “Lady Pie certainly said quite a lot… It makes me wonder what she’s specifically seen in the past. And she changed so suddenly! It was as if she became possessed by a demon…”

Lancelot crossed his arms, “Don’t be ridiculous, Percival. Demons don’t come in pink.”

Gawain raised an eyebrow, “How would YOU know, Lancelot?”

Percival shook her head, “Never mind that, Gawain. For now, I think we should have more faith and believe that Lady Pie knows what she is doing. The fact that she was as quiet as she was in the library tells me she is capable of all sorts of things, even if they border on the outlandish.”

Gawain nodded, “Yeah. Let’s try to avoid seeing… that again.”

THE FARMLANDS

Meanwhile…

Sonic and Caliburn led the way down the dirt path leading to the Deep Woods, Shining walking along the hedgehog’s right side and Rainbow flapping her wings to hover over him to his left. Behind Caliburn, Twilight, Cadance, and Spike brought up the rear, Spike still riding on Twilight’s back. As they were walking, the Equestrians noticed the elves working around the area, causing Rainbow to note, “There sure are a lot of people out here.”

Shining noticed some chickens wandering around, causing him to add, “They must be farmers.”

Caliburn nodded, “Indeed. These are farmlands we’re passing through.”

Twilight looked off to the side as she asked, “Where do they all live? There don’t seem to be a lot of houses around here…”

Sonic pointed ahead, “You see that big tree over there?” Twilight and the others looked ahead, nodding when they saw the large tree he was pointing at. “That’s a major marker for the Deep Woods. And in the forest, there are two settlements, one for the people in the woodlands and one for the people on the mountainside. I’ve had the idea that they became a place for people to seek shelter after old King Arthur went full tyrant.”

Cadance nodded, “Interesting thought. This is part of the reason Twilight and I wanted to come with you, Sonic: to see the Grand Kingdom firsthoof.” Twilight nodded in agreement.

Spike noticed that some of the farmers were starting to look up from their work, noticing the entourage passing through. “Hey, they seem to be getting excited about something,” he noted as the ones that saw them began talking to one another.

“They’re probably surprised and excited to see their king again. You saw how everyone in Camelot was acting while we were wandering around, Spike,” Shining said.

Sonic spoke, “I recognize some of them as the villagers I rescued from the dragon. They probably remember that more than anything.”

Caliburn nudged Sonic from behind, “You don’t think it could be because they know you’re the true King Arthur? You still did plenty for this kingdom after you put a stop to Merlina’s plot.”

Sonic looked back at the sword, “Yeah, but I did way more when I was just a knight.” He looked forward again and muttered under his breath, “Not really comfortable having king as my title; it doesn’t fit me, and besides…”

Rainbow heard him muttering and turned her head to look at him, asking, “What’d you say, Sonic?” The blue hedgehog looked up at her, but before he could respond, Shining suddenly came to a halt and held his left foreleg up, causing everyone to come to a halt. Looking forward, they saw why: a little elf girl and her mother were running towards them, the mother trying to catch her daughter. Rainbow quickly landed in front of Sonic, causing the elf girl to stop before she could reach him. “All right, what’s the big idea here?!” the pegasus demanded.

The girl reeled back at this, the mother crouching and putting her arms around her as she caught up. After making sure her child was okay, she looked up and said, “My apologies. My daughter saw King Arthur and she really wanted to meet him and I couldn’t catch her in time.”

Shining spoke, “Well, that’s not a problem, ma’am.” He raised his left foreleg again, this time placing it on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder to tell her to ease up, the rainbow-maned pony moving to the side after a moment. “If she wants to meet the king, that’s fine with us,” he stated.

Caliburn nodded, “Indeed. The king does enjoy meeting his subjects.” As he finished speaking, he raised up enough to poke Sonic with his tip, forcing him to step forward.

Sonic suppressed a yelp at the poke and gave a sour glance back at Caliburn over his shoulder before looking back at the elf girl. Her mother let her go, allowing her to walk up to Sonic, the girl looking excited at being allowed to meet him. He spoke as he knelt down on one knee, “H-Hi there. It’s nice to meet you.” He held his right hand out to her, the girl eagerly taking it with both of her hands and shaking it.

“You were amazing rescuing us all from the dragon’s cave, Sir Sonic! It’s such an honor to get to meet you like this! C-Can I get your marking?” the girl squeaked, pulling out a small sheet of paper and a quill as she finished speaking.

Sonic looked at her for a moment before replying, “Uh, sure.” He took the quill, figuring that marking meant the same thing as autograph, and began to write on the paper as she held it up.

The Equestrians smiled a bit at Sonic seeming to get into his role of being a ruler, but their joy was cut short when they realized it was getting darker. It wasn’t just them that noticed; Caliburn, Sonic, and the elves around them looked up as well to see that dark, gray clouds were rolling in overhead, blocking out the blue skies. “What’s going on? Do they have rain scheduled?” Twilight wondered.

“‘Scheduled’?” Caliburn asked, perplexed by the unicorn’s wording.

“Those aren’t rainclouds, Twi’. I don’t like the look of them, though,” Rainbow said. As they kept looking up, a dark laugh filled the air and something suddenly came through the clouds behind the group. A few bits of cloud hid its appearance for a moment, but they dispersed as it floated down, stopping above the top of a nearby plateau. They all stared at it, an armored figure lacking anything below its chest and still hovering in the air. Everyone who saw it recognized it for one reason or another.

THE KING HAS RETURNED?!

“That’s that thing we saw earlier!” Spike exclaimed, pointing up at it.

“It is the Black Knight!” the elf mother cried, some of the other elves also referring to it as the Black Knight and starting to panic.

“King Arthur?!” Sonic asked. The specter hovered in the air for a moment more, seemingly looking down at the blue hedgehog, before it began to float forward.

At this, Rainbow said, “Okay, that thing’s definitely bad news and it’s going down!” She spread her wings and shot up at the spirit, aiming for the center of its chest. Just as she was about to reach it, however, it suddenly separated into pieces, its chest, head, and shoulder plates detaching and moving away from each other, causing Rainbow Dash to miss before the pieces reconnected. The cyan pegasus came to a stop and she looked back in disbelief, “What the-?!”

Shining stared, “What? How did it do that?” The specter of the Black Knight flew over the group and continued going forward, resuming its laughter. As it left the area, the elves began to calm down, but their problems weren’t over yet.

“It’s heading for the Deep Woods!” Cadance realized.

Sonic grunted and realized he still had the girl’s quill in his hand. He quickly bent down and finished signing his name before handing it back to her and saying, “Sorry I gotta leave so soon, kiddo, but, uh… duty calls!”

The elf girl didn’t seem too disappointed, instead saying as her mother ushered her away, “Yeah! Go get him, Sir Sonic!” Standing back up, Sonic grabbed Caliburn’s hilt and ran down the path, Rainbow flying down alongside him as Shining, Cadance, and Twilight ran to keep up, all of them heading into the trees after the spirit.

After a short while of following the main path, Sonic led the way into the woods off to the left. Soon afterwards, they all went over a small ledge, landing on the grass below. Looking up, they saw the spirit of King Arthur hovering overhead between the trees a short distance ahead, staring at them. They also noticed he had a purplish-black mist emanating from underneath him. “What’s that?” Spike asked, pointing at the mist.

Noticing shapes beginning to materialize within the mist, Caliburn said, “It’s summoning the Knights of the Underworld!” A moment later, a swarm of red Fish-Ones emerged from the mist, all of them flying towards the group. Some went higher to rain down red energy spheres while others simply flew straight towards them, intending to attack head-on.

Shining quickly cast a weak force field around the group, the Fish-Ones that weren’t quick enough to break off crashing into it and breaking down into a puff of smoke, the force field also stopping the incoming energy spheres. “Guess their scouts are a bit fragile,” the stallion remarked as he lowered the force field.

“Kinda looks like it,” Sonic replied. He took Caliburn in both hands, “Anyone up for some fishing?”

Rainbow smirked, “I’ll land the ones that fly!” She spread her wings and flew up to intercept the higher Fish-Ones, dodging another round of energy spheres before striking and managing to knock out three at once. The others began to scatter, trying to get away from the pegasus while still trying to continue the attack. Their separating meant Rainbow couldn’t follow all of them, so Cadance took to the air as well to back her up.

On the ground, Sonic, Twilight, and Shining were easily dispatching the ones that tried to dive bomb them. A well-timed strike with Caliburn or a bolt of magic was all it took to dispatch them. Spike even managed to take out two Fish-Ones himself, managing to jump on one that came at Twilight from behind and cover its single eye with his claws, causing it to crash into another. It didn’t take long for all of the Fish-Ones to disappear into thin air.

Once the area was clear, they took a moment to get their bearings. Looking around, Rainbow asked, “Hey, where’d that flying tin can go?” Everyone else looked around at that, realizing the spirit must’ve slipped away during the confusion.

“It’s probably long gone by now,” Shining said.

“Oh man,” Sonic groaned. Everyone looked at him and he explained, “There’s gotta be more Knights of the Underworld just up ahead. He probably didn’t even need to slow us down; they’ve probably been attacking the settlements and heading for the lake before we even got to this point.”

Cadance gasped and said, “Then we need to hurry. Where do we go from here, Sonic?” The blue hedgehog turned and ran in the direction where they’d seen the spirit of King Arthur, Spike quickly jumping on Twilight’s back as the ponies hurried after him.

As Sonic suspected, more Knights of the Underworld showed up on the path they were following in the form of Soldier-Ones lined up in rows under arches running over the path made by the large tree they’d seen earlier. Several rows of Soldier-Ones wielding spears took the front while ones that carried crossbows were at the end of the line to provide support. Rainbow and Cadance initially helped Sonic, Twilight, and Shining deal with the spear-carrying Soldier-Ones, but when the arrows started coming, they flew over the roots and caught the six crossbow-wielding Soldier-Ones off guard, managing to deal with them before they could retaliate. With that, they continued onwards.

PROTECTING THE SETTLEMENT

It wasn’t long before they arrived at the forest settlement, finding it to be overrun with Knights of the Underworld. The soldiers Percival had mentioned earlier were doing their best to fight back against the Underworld army, but it was clear to the group that they were losing ground.

“This is bad,” Spike commented as he looked around.

“Yeah. They need our help!” Shining agreed.

“Well, let’s get cracking, then!” Rainbow exclaimed. With that, they all jumped into the skirmish, the soldiers soon realizing that the Equestrians were allied with their king and gratefully accepting their aid. With their help, the tide of the battle began to turn.

Not long afterwards, Sonic was fighting off a Soldier-One with a sword when he heard a cry from nearby. He looked over to his right and saw it was one of the townspeople, standing near one of the structures built with logs. On top of the structure were five Crawling-Ones, all looking down at the elf. “Oh no!” Sonic gasped. His friends were nearby, but they were preoccupied at the moment, as were the closest soldiers.

Quickly dodging a slash from the Soldier-One in front of him, Sonic finished it off and ran towards the villager, the Crawling-Ones already looking like they were about to jump down. Spike and Cadance finished off their Soldier-One in time to see his mad dash, the blue hedgehog managing to get in front of the villager as the first Crawling-One jumped down. He was able to cut it down in midair, but then the rest of them moved to jump down at him and the villager together. Cadance gasped and spread her wings, hoping she could intercept the creatures before Sonic was overwhelmed.

Suddenly, two swords shot through the air at the Crawling-Ones. One looked similar to Gawain’s Galatine, though the blade looked larger and had a serrated look to it, and the other looked more like a dagger and was surrounded by a cyan aura. Both swords hit a Crawling-One before it could jump and went back to their owners, the former whipping around like a boomerang while the latter was pulled backwards by an invisible force. With only two Crawling-Ones left, Cadance landed next to Sonic and used her magic to dispatch one in mid-jump while Sonic cut down the last one with Caliburn.

The two then turned to their right to see where the help had come from. The larger sword returned to the right hand of a knight who looked like Jet, a second sword in his left hand, and the dagger-like sword was pulled back to the right hand of a knight that looked like Silver. Both of them were running towards Sonic and Cadance as they retrieved their weapons. “Sir Lamorak, Sir Galahad!” Sonic said as they got closer.

“Sire! What are you doing here? How have you come back to us?” Galahad, the Silver lookalike, asked as he and Lamorak came to a stop.

Sonic shrugged, “Can’t really answer that last one, but we were on our way to see the Lady of the Lake when the Underworld army started attacking.”

“‘We’? Who’s with you?” Galahad asked. Sonic nodded towards Cadance who waved awkwardly at the two knights. Spike, Twilight, Rainbow, and Shining came over when there was a break in the fighting, joining the huddle.

“Wow… You’ve seen some things, haven’t you, sire? Very colorful things,” Lamorak commented as he eyed the ponies and baby dragon.

“Hey, watch it, pal! Sonic wanted us to come with him, and Lancelot didn’t argue with him! He agreed to let us be his guards!” Rainbow said.

“Really? That’s surprising. Hope you didn’t lie to him about what you’re able to do; he hates that,” Lamorak replied.

Before Rainbow could retort, more Knights of the Underworld appeared around the group, surrounding them. As they all turned to face them, Twilight nudged Rainbow, “This should be better than an arguing with him, right?” The pegasus smirked and nodded back.

As he held up his sword, Galahad said, “Hope you don’t mind us cutting in, sire.”

Caliburn spoke, “Not at all, Sir Galahad.”

Sonic nodded, “Let’s show ‘em who they’re messing with!” With that, they all jumped back into the battle, more Knights of the Underworld beginning to spawn as they dealt with their attackers. While this was going on, the villager Sonic had rescued took the first available chance to run to get away from the fighting.

It didn’t take long for the soldiers and the assembled group to clear the settlement of the Knights of the Underworld. As they all took a moment to catch their breaths, Lamorak looked towards settlement exit leading deeper into the forest and spotted a group of Underworld Knights crossing the bridge. “Look! More of them! They’re heading for the other settlement and the lake!” he yelled, everyone looking up as he started running after them.

“Wait, Lamorak!” Galahad called, holding out his left hand for a moment before running after his fellow knight, Sonic and the others following him. After a short time, the lake and the small pavilion stretching out into it from the shore came into view; it was at this point that Lamorak leapt into the trees, cutting around to the other side of the lake. “Argh, I hate when he goes off like that,” Galahad muttered.

“Where’s he going?” Shining asked.

Sonic answered, “If he goes that way, he’s gonna enter the settlement from the back. There might be some Knights of the Underworld trying that way, but…” He turned to Rainbow, “You go after him, Rainbow! We’ll keep going this way and meet up with you two!”

The cyan pegasus saluted, “I’m on it!” She then flew up and around the trees along the edge of the lake, flying after Sir Lamorak.

Twilight looked at Sonic and asked, “How d