Rainbow Dash lay peacefully on top of a slowly drifting cloud. Having just spent several strenuous minutes clearing the skies around Ponyville, she deserved a nap. Shifting slightly to get more comfortable, Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and felt her body begin to relax.
Then something whacked Dash on the head.
With a yelp, Rainbow Dash jumped into the air. Looking around, she saw a glass bottle falling toward the ground after it had bounced off her head. Dash immediately swooped down to catch the mysteriously airborne bottle before it shattered against the earth below.
Curious, Dash examined the bottle. A rolled-up piece of parchment was embedded inside. Rainbow Dash carefully tipped the bottle so that the parchment fell into her hooves. Then, satisfied that the bottle held no further mysteries, Dash unceremoniously tossed it over her shoulder. As she unrolled the small scroll, Dash heard the bottle smash to the ground behind her.
The parchment contained a simple note.
Dashie—Meet me at Sugarcube Corner this evening for a secret mission. PP
Rainbow Dash turned the parchment over, wondering if there was something missing from the brief letter. On the other hoof, the note was from Pinkie Pie, so it was to be expected that the note made little sense. Dash supposed that she would have to wait until that evening to find out was so important about this “secret mission” that Pinkie had seen fit to interrupt her nap. Rubbing her sore head, Rainbow Dash returned to her cloud and settled down again for her nap. Pinkie Pie’s shenanigans could wait. For now, Dash just wanted to sleep.
As her eyes drifted close, Dash vaguely noted a pink speck rapidly approaching on the ground below. Part of her mind noted that the speck seemed to be bouncing in a rather familiar manner, but by this point Rainbow Dash didn’t care. Her mind went blank as she felt sleep begin to overtake her.
Rainbow Dash jolted awake. Glancing down, she located the source of the ear-piercing scream. Pinkie Pie stood below Dash’s cloud, happily grinning up at her. Then she skipped away, apparently oblivious to the fact that she had just ruined Dash’s nap for the second time.
Later that evening, Dash soared through the sky toward Sugarcube Corner. The part of her still irritated at Pinkie Pie wondered why she was doing exactly what Pinkie had asked her to do. But the rest of her wanted to discover the reason for Pinkie’s peculiar behavior. (Ok, it really wasn’t any stranger than anything else Pinkie did. But the idea of a secret mission was intriguing.) Besides, it would take more than a ruined nap for Dash to be angry with Pinkie Pie.
Dash landed gracefully in front of the entrance to the bakery. The door was shut, all the lights were off, and the sign clearly indicated the store was closed. After waiting patiently for all of five seconds, Rainbow Dash decided nopony was home and turned to leave.
A slight whisper behind her caught Dash’s attention just before she took off. Glancing back, Rainbow Dash saw Pinkie standing right outside the door to Sugarcube Corner. It didn’t surprise her that Pinkie had suddenly appeared right where Dash had been looking just a moment before. Dash opened her mouth to greet her friend, but a pink hoof over her mouth immediately silenced her.
“Sh! We can’t be heard!” Pinkie whispered forcefully to Rainbow Dash. Pinkie Pie noiselessly opened the door to Sugarcube Corner and pushed Dash inside. Not bothering to turn the lights on, she sat Rainbow Dash down at a table in the back corner of the store. After thoroughly sweeping the room for any signs of other ponies listening in, Pinkie put her broom down and finally addressed Dash.
“Perhaps you are wondering why I have summoned you here.” Pinkie began to pace back and forth as she spoke.
Rainbow Dash blinked. “Well, yeah. Whatever it is, it better be pretty amazing for you to—”
Pinkie Pie continued without giving any indication that she had heard Dash’s response. “I have brought you here for a very important mission. You may not have noticed, but one of our friends is now a prominent pony princess. You may think I refer to Fluttershy, but I do not. Did you think I was referring to Fluttershy?” Pinkie abruptly stopped pacing and leaned in close across the table toward Rainbow Dash, glaring at her.
“No,” Dash replied, rolling her eyes, “I thought you meant Princess Applejack.”
“Well, then, you thought wrong.” Pinkie resumed pacing as Dash face-hoofed. “I speak, of course, of Princess Twilight Sparkle. She lives in a castle and has many super important responsibilities. She is in charge of strengthening and maintaining friendships all across the land. Without her, Equestria would fall into chaos and despair. But all this brings up an important question: what is her favorite flavor of ice cream?”
Pinkie paused, apparently expecting a response from Rainbow Dash. For her part, Dash was still trying to figure out what being a princess had to do with ice cream. After a moment of awkward silence, Pinkie grinned.
“Oops, sorry, wrong question. I meant to ask, is Princess Twilight safe? Can we be certain that she will always be around to carry out her duties? Or could somepony cause her to disappear, thus destroying all friendship across Equestria?”
“Uh, Pinkie, why would anypony want to make Twilight disappear? She’s like, the most popular and well-loved pony in Ponyville,” said Rainbow Dash.
“A foolish question, oh rainbow-colored one. Every ruler has enemies who wish to see her brought down. What if Trixie returned to extract revenge on Twilight?”
“I thought she already tried that. We beat her, she apologized, end of story.”
Undeterred, Pinkie continued her questioning. “What if Tirek came and stole her magic?”
“I’m pretty sure he’s still locked up in Tartarus.”
“What if Discord sent Twilight to another dimension? ANOTHER DIMENSION?” Pinkie looked frantic at the very thought of such an act.
“He’s reformed; he wouldn’t do that to Twilight. Well, probably.”
Pinkie resumed her speech in a calm, carefree voice. “Anyway, since she came to Ponyville, Twilight has defeated a curiously large number of antagonists and therefore earned an equally large number of enemies.” Pinkie paused for a moment and turned her head toward a blank wall. “Seriously, what’s with that? Why weren’t there any evil villains running around before she showed up? It’s like they all decided to wait politely for us to retrieve the Elements of Harmony first so we would have an easy way to beat them. Can you imagine what would have happened if all our foes had shown up before we became friends with Twilight?”
Her side-rant complete, Pinkie faced Rainbow Dash again as she continued her previously scheduled monolog. “It is up to us to ensure that Twilight Sparkle is sufficiently protected from the forces of evil that seek to do her harm. Therefore, I have devised a cunning plan that will test the strength of Twilight’s defenses and discover if she truly is safe.”
Here Pinkie leaned toward Rainbow Dash. The fires of purpose blazed in her eyes as she stared deep into Rainbow’s soul.
Rainbow Dash stared blankly across the table at Pinkie Pie for several seconds. For her part, Pinkie just grinned back at Dash, completely unperturbed by Dash’s lack of response. After blinking slowly several times, Rainbow Dash finally felt confident enough to express her incredulity.
“WHAT?” she screamed.
“I said, we’re going to kidnap Twilight. Really, Dashie, I don’t know how you weren’t able to hear me, considering we’re sitting, like, only eleven-sixteenths of a nose apart.”
“But Pinkie, we can’t just go off and kidnap Twilight. That’s completely illegal, not to mention totally uncool.”
Pinkie did not seemed fazed by as minor an issue as the legality of abducting one of the rulers of Equestria. “Don’t worry, we obviously won’t do anything that could hurt her. She’s our friend, after all. We’ll just give her a couple books to read, and she won’t even care that we’ve locked her in some long-forgotten dungeon that will never, ever, ever see the light of day.”
Dash was unconvinced. “Seriously? You don’t think she’ll go all crazy-panicked on us? This is Twilight we’re talking about.” Dash flattened her mane to perform her usual Twilight impression. “‘I won’t be able to attend the royal meeting where we plan all our royal meetings for the year! And I don’t have room in my schedule this month for a kidnapping. Could I pencil you in for the first Wednesday of next month instead?’ She would be a nervous wreck the entire time.”
“Oh, Dashie, don’t think of it like that. Just think of this as the most super-duper-ultra-exciting-will-never-be-outdone-even-if-Discord-brought-back-chocolate-rain-don’t-you-wish-he-would-do-that-I-wish-he-would-do-that prank ever! We’ll have fun with Twilight, she’ll learn a convenient lesson on not obsessing over her princess responsibilities so much, and everything will be great.”
Rainbow Dash considered this. If she treated Pinkie’s crazy idea as a fun prank rather than a treasonous crime, the whole thing started to sound rather exciting. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the two of them were actually able to kidnap one of the princesses of Equestria? Dash almost burst out laughing as she imagined the look Twilight would have when she found out she had been kidnapped.
Of course, Dash would never let her newfound enthusiasm show, especially not to Pinkie Pie. “All right, whatever. I guess I’ll go along with you on this,” she said nonchalantly.
“Yes!” Pinkie leapt into the air with excitement while simultaneously hugging Rainbow Dash. “I knew I could count on you. This is going to be the best princess kidnapping ever!”
Carefully pushing Pinkie away, Rainbow Dash asked, “So what’s the plan, anyway? How are we going to do this?”
“I’m glad you asked.” Pinkie Pie placed on the table a complete set of blueprints for Twilight’s castle. “As you can see here, there are seven different sinks in this castle that we need to worry about: four in the bathrooms, one in the basement, and two in the kitchen. Now, I think we can avoid most of these if we use my cunning plan. We’ll need three yo-yos, four of Rarity’s turquoise dresses, a feather from a griffin, and sixteen baskets of apples. Do you want to go to Griffonstone to get the feather, or should I?”
“Uh, Pinkie, I don’t think we need all of that. Besides, our biggest problem isn’t going to be getting into or out of the castle. I could do that in my sleep. The problem will be trying to keep Twilight from using one of her bajillions of spells against us. Unless you have a way to stop Twilight from using her magic?”
Pinkie just smiled.
Pinkie Pie hopped cheerfully through the woods. Warm rays of sunlight brightened the landscape around her, their happy glow serving to highlight her carefree optimism. A small animal scurried alongside her for a minute before turning away to seek adventure elsewhere among the trees. Eventually, Pinkie paused her joyful skipping to take in the subtle fragrance of a vibrantly cerulean flower that lined the path ahead.
Of course, the blue flower was poison joke, and the small animal had been a cockatrice trying to turn Pinkie to stone. And how sunlight managed to reach Pinkie Pie in the depths of the Everfree Forest was anypony’s guess.
Not that Pinkie cared. She had found the very plant she was looking for, and nothing would dampen the enthusiasm of her discovery. Instead, she practically shivered with excitement as she carefully picked a few flowers with her mitt-covered hooves and deposited them into a flour jar. She repeated the process several more times until she had more than a dozen poison joke plants safely preserved in various baking containers.
After taking the oven mitts off of her hooves, tail, and ears, Pinkie Pie turned to leave. But then a glint of gold caught the corner of her eye. Turning, Pinkie saw a zebra staring at her with a mildly puzzled look on her face.
“Oh hi, Zecora,” Pinkie exclaimed. “I was out taking a stroll and I stopped to admire these lovely flowers.” She bent down to examine the nearest one with a magnifying glass. “I must say, they really are quite pretty, once you get over the whole gives-you-an-ailment-that-specifically-targets-your-personality thing.”
Zecora approached cautiously, a knowing look in her eye. “You say you just admire the flower, but perhaps you seek to harness its power.”
“Don’t be silly, Zecora. What would I possibly do with a plant that can render Twilight incapable of performing magic for an extended period of time?” Pinkie grinned at Zecora with an even bigger smile than usual.
Zecora’s eyes narrowed. “I can only guess at why you are here, but it is some devious purpose, I fear.”
Pinkie nervously glanced around. “Um, well, good to see you Zecora, but I really need to go water my pet, so I’ll be seeing you later…” Pinkie slowly sunk out of sight behind a nearby bush. An instant later, she was zooming off in the direction of Ponyville.
Zecora watched Pinkie’s departure with a mischievous grin. “You may not hide your plan too well, but it’s nothing malicious, as far as I can tell.”
Rainbow Dash shuffled cautiously across the street. She repeatedly glanced over her shoulder to see if anypony was following her. After triple-checking that nopony was looking at her suspiciously, Dash spread her wings. Then, with a quick burst of speed, she flew down the road toward her destination: the Quills and Sofas shop.
As she went, Dash continued to scan her surroundings for signs of ponies watching her. Ordinarily, she could easily take in everything that was happening around her without sacrificing flight performance. But Dash had been feeling jittery all morning, so she devoted too much of her attention to deciding if Bon Bon really was just watering her flowers—as she appeared to be doing—or if she was actually some sort of secret agent cleverly spying on Rainbow Dash under the cover of caring for plant life. Consequently, Rainbow Dash lost track of where she was and crashed straight into a large sign sticking out over the street.
As she painfully extracted herself from the pegasus-shaped indentation she had made in the wood, Dash noted the image of a large white feather and a red couch in front of her. At least she had crashed into the right sign. Rainbow Dash awkwardly dropped the short distance down to the ground, still feeling a bit wobbly. She hoped nopony had noticed her unusual behavior.
Maybe that was the problem, Dash realized. She shouldn’t be slinking around town like a pony afraid of her own shadow; that was Fluttershy’s job. No, she was Rainbow Dash, and that meant acting with cool confidence. Nopony would suspect she was plotting to kidnap a princess as long as she maintained the level of awesomeness for which she was renowned.
So with a swish of her mane, Rainbow held her head high and strutted into Quills and Sofas. A bored look around the store indicated that it was empty of customers. The storeowner, whose name she couldn’t be bothered to remember at the moment, trotted up.
“What can I get for you today, Miss Rainbow Dash?” he asked.
Dash casually leaned against a nearby couch. “Yeah, I’m here on official princess business today, pal. Twilight needs five boxes of quills delivered to her castle, and she sent me to get them for her.”
The proprietor frowned for a moment. “That’s strange. Last week she bought two boxes of quills from me.”
Dash’s hoof slipped, and she fell to the floor. Instantly picking herself up, and wishing that she hadn’t fallen in such an uncool way, Dash grinned at the shopkeeper to hide the surprise she felt. “Did I say five boxes? Maybe that wasn’t the right number.”
“I should hope not,” the pony replied. “I was worried that Princess Twilight had run out of quills days ago. She normally runs through them much faster than that. Perhaps we should send her a dozen boxes instead. That might last her a couple weeks.”
“Um, yeah, sure,” Dash nervously agreed. She had no idea Twilight ran through quills so fast, though she supposed that she should have expected it. This was Twilight, after all, the most obsessive list-maker in Ponyville. “So if you’ll just give me the boxes, I’ll deliver them to Princess Egghead—I mean, Egghead Twilight—I mean, just give them to me and I’ll drop them off tonight.”
“Are you sure?” the shop owner inquired. “We do have a complimentary delivery service.”
“No, that’s ok. I’ll just take the boxes now so I can check that all of the quills are organized the way Twilight likes before they’re delivered,” Rainbow Dash said.
“Very well. I’ll bring the boxes out, and you can take them whenever you want.”
Rainbow Dash smiled to herself. This was easy. Now all she had to do was prepare some of the boxes for “delivery” later that night. She snatched the first box of quills as soon as it was brought out, ready to fly it to Sugarcube Corner for the next stage of the plan.
As she burst through the door, she heard a thump and a gasp of surprise. Worried she had hit somepony, Dash set the box down and cautiously peered around the door. Then she jumped backward when she saw who it was she had accidently whacked with the door.
Groaning, Spike slowly sat up. “You’d think that having a dragon hide would keep me from getting hurt,” he muttered to himself, “but no, apparently any door in Ponyville can still leave a bruise.” As he got to his feet, Spike noticed the pony in front of him. “Oh hi, Rainbow Dash.”
Dash froze for a moment.
“I said, hi Rainbow Dash.” Spike waved his claw in front of Dash’s face. “Are you awake in there?”
Rainbow Dash jumped several feet into the air. She slowly lowered herself back down, though in her nervousness she never completely set hoof on the ground again. She remained hovering before Spike, her wings flapping agitatedly. “Hey there, Spike. Sorry, I didn’t see you there. So how about this weather? Do you think it’ll rain later?”
“Not if the weather pony spends her day assaulting innocent dragons,” Spike deadpanned. “Are you ok, Rainbow Dash? You seem to be acting rather strange.”
“Strange? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m just as awesome as I ever was.” Dash plastered a rather wide smile on her face. “So what are you doing here, anyway? Looking for a new sofa to put in the castle?”
“Actually, I’m here to order more quills for Twilight. I didn’t buy enough last week, and we had to dip into our backup supply. So now I need to get extra quills this week to replenish our emergency stock. Twilight almost went crazy when I told her we were down to six boxes. She nearly declared a national emergency.”
“Well, you see,” Rainbow Dash started nervously. “There’s been a bit of a problem. I was, um, just trying to buy myself a new quill, but it turns out they’ve completely run out and won’t get any more until tomorrow. You should probably come back then.” Dash quickly positioned herself in front of the box she had set down a minute ago.
“Really?” Spike asked. “I thought they learned their lesson after the last time they were out of quills. Twilight threatened to banish Davenport to the moon, so he promised to make sure he never ran out again.”
“Yeah, well, a rampaging, um, hydra ate all of his quills this morning, so you’ll just have to try again tomorrow.” Rainbow Dash started pushing Spike away from the store.
“A hydra?” Spike’s eyes went wide. “Should…shouldn’t you guys be out fighting it or something?”
“Relax.” Dash took advantage of Spike’s distraction to pick him up and fly him several blocks down the street. “Fluttershy already talked to it and convinced it, um, to move to Manehattan. It won’t be bothering Ponyville again any time soon.”
“Uh, are you sure Manehattan is the best place for a hydra?”
“Of course it is. Well, you can just go home to Twilight and tell her to not order any quills until tomorrow.” Rainbow Dash dropped Spike on the ground and looped around to fly back to Quills and Sofas to get the box she had left there.
Spike looked around. “Rainbow Dash? Why did you take me to the entrance to Sweet Apple Acres?”
Panting, Spike finally arrived at the castle. He had just run across Ponyville because Rainbow Dash had inexplicably flown him to the entrance of Sweet Apple Acres. On his way back across town, Spike had thought he had glimpsed Dash carrying a large box into Sugarcube Corner, but he must have been mistaken. When he had gone into the bakery to ask Rainbow Dash what was going on, she was nowhere to be seen. Pinkie had suggested that Dash was probably too busy plotting a felony to talk to Spike. Typical Pinkie Pie.
So Spike had decided to head home, without any quills and without any explanation of why Dash was behaving so strangely. He was rather nervous about what Twilight might do when she learned they wouldn’t be getting any quills until tomorrow. If she couldn’t check off “buy list-making supplies” from her comprehensive list for making all lists, her entire list-making procedure would be irrevocably thrown off. Spike shuddered at the thought of what an alicorn princess could do to a poor dragon who told her that she wouldn’t be able to make more checklists.
Spike finally located Twilight in the dining room. She sat at the table staring at a lovely arrangement of flowers in a crystal vase. Frowning at the brightly colored centerpiece, Twilight turned to consult a book she had propped open next to her.
“Um, Twilight?” Spike began hesitantly.
“Yes, Spike?” Twilight glanced from her book to the flowers and back again. “Did you pick up more quills at the sofa shop?”
“Um, about that.” Spike gulped before continuing. “Well, you see, through completely unpredictable circumstances that may have involved a rampaging hydra destroying half of Ponyville without anypony noticing until Fluttershy managed to calm it and convince it to move very far away from here—and I would like to point out that your faithful assistant was completely unaware of this catastrophe until Rainbow Dash told me after the fact—what I mean to say is that, um, it wasn’t my fault, but, well, you see…” Spike trailed off before finishing really quickly, “Iwasn’tabletobuyanyquills.” He ducked behind a nearby chair and peered cautiously at Twilight.
“That’s ok, Spike. I’m sure they’ll have more quills soon. Just make a note to go back to the store tomorrow,” Twilight replied. She turned a page in her book and leaned down to read.
Spike cowered behind the chair for a few moments before responding. “Ok.”
After another minute without Twilight exploding, going berserk, or even glancing in his direction, Spike slowly tiptoed around the chair and approached Twilight. “You took that way better than I was expecting you to.”
“That’s nice, Spike,” Twilight mumbled.
Spike thought for a moment. Then he crept up next to Twilight and poked the book she was reading, just hard enough to make it tip over and fall closed on the table.
“Ah!” Twilight suddenly twitched and fell over backward. “Spike!”
“Sorry,” Spike said, “I had to do something to snap you out of your reading.”
“Well, next time just get my attention by talking or something,” Twilight said crossly as she picked herself up and returned to her seat.
“Because that always works so well when you’re reading,” Spike muttered. “Anyway,” he continued, “how come you’re so busy studying? I thought you said you were going to write a report on the social and political effects of the Grand Equestria Pony Summit.”
“Yes,” replied Twilight, “but I was interrupted by the arrival of these flowers. The mailpony said that they were an anonymous gift for the princess.”
“So you put your government business on hold to admire a nice bouquet?”
“Don’t you see, Spike? I wasn’t sure at first, but my research confirmed my initial suspicion. These flowers here are poison joke!” She pointed to a couple of blue buds hidden in the bouquet.
“Poison joke?” Spike stared at the plants uncertainly. “You mean that hilarious flower that does something different to each pony? You know, creating Flutterguy and Apple Teeny and all that?”
“Exactly. But what I don’t understand is why somepony would send me a bunch of flowers that contained poison joke. Don’t they realize how dangerous this plant can be?”
“Maybe they didn’t realize it was poison joke,” Spike reasoned. “Perhaps they just picked some pretty flowers and sent them to you.”
“I suppose so,” Twilight responded, though not sounding completely convinced. “Well, I need to visit Zecora to get the cure. Unfortunately, I touched the flowers before I realized what they were, so I’ll lose my magic in a few hours unless we can make the remedy first. And I’ll need to get some extra, too, for the mailpony and for anypony else who might have touched the poison joke.”
Twilight galloped toward the castle entrance, Spike scampering along behind her in an attempt to keep up. Twilight paused at the door to grab a bag before heading out to find Zecora.
“Oh, and Spike?” Twilight looked back at him as she left the castle. “Be sure to pick up some more quills while I’m gone. I noticed that we’re running low again.”
Spike just groaned.
Twilight and Zecora stood around the zebra’s cauldron. While Twilight carefully measured out another ingredient, Zecora bent down to stir the brew. The green bubbles rising in the potion indicated that it was almost ready.
“Thank you again for making the remedy, Zecora,” Twilight said. “Though I still don’t understand how somepony could accidently pick poison joke flowers without realizing what they were.”
“You think this was an accident,” replied Zecora, “a harmless deed without intent.”
Twilight considered that for a moment. “Wait, are you suggesting somepony did this on purpose?”
Zecora paused to taste the brew before responding. “You are an alicorn princess pony. That this is a coincidence strikes me as phony.”
Twilight levitated another ingredient over to the cauldron. “So you think somepony did this because I’m a princess? What would they possibly gain from sending me a flower that causes my horn to…oh.” Twilight’s eyes widened as she realized a new possibility. “Maybe somepony wanted to stop me from being able to use magic. But what are they trying to do, if they thought my magic could interfere with their plans? We need to finish the remedy quickly so I can return to Ponyville and stop them.” Twilight frantically started pulling more ingredients off of the shelves.
Zecora chuckled. “I do not know what they seek to do; though now I see you have a choice, too. You could stop them with magic, if you feel so bold, but you have the advantage now: why not let events unfold?”
Twilight ceased her frenzied potion making to ponder the advice. Zecora was right. Twilight had noticed the poison joke before it was too late, and that gave her time to respond to whatever was being planned by the mysterious pony who had sent her the flowers. Even if this was just an accident, a cautious response could be quite prudent. But how could she surprise whoever might be behind this without prematurely alerting them to what she was doing?
Spike hurried outside. He was sure had just glimpsed Rainbow Dash out the window. He had been wandering the castle, checking if Twilight was back yet from visiting Zecora, when he had caught a rainbow streak out of the corner of his eye. Still perplexed about Dash’s strange behavior that morning, Spike had run after her to try to get an explanation.
As he rushed down the castle’s front steps, Spike scanned the sky above. Only a vast expanse of emptiness greeted him. Puzzled, Spike continued to look around. Looking back over his shoulder, Spike thought he spotted something in the distance. That might have been Dash rapidly pushing a raincloud toward the horizon. Or was it? The speck was too far away too for him be certain—
Spike picked himself up off the ground. His claws squished in brown goop as he lifted himself upright. Muck covered his entire front, dulling the glisten of his previously pristine scales. And when he tried to take another step, Spike found that his legs were resolutely stuck in the mud puddle he had obliviously wandered into.
A quick jerk broke one of his legs free. It also threw Spike off balance, causing him to once again topple into the mud. With a sigh, Spike got up again, and he slowly shuffled his way to the edge of the puddle before breaking himself free of the goop’s cling.
Of course, he now looked like a complete mess. Spike dejectedly looked himself over, lamenting the calamity that had befallen his beautiful scales. This mud would not wash out easily. Bending down to pick some grime out between his claws, Spike almost did not notice the hurricane of pink liveliness bounding excitedly toward him.
“Hey, Spike!” Pinkie greeted him with a smile.
“Hi, Pinkie Pie,” Spike replied unhappily.
“Awww, what’s gotten you down?” Pinkie asked with a quizzical tilt of her head. “Did Saddle Arabia declare war on Equestria, and did Twilight send you to tell Mayor Mare that Ponyville needed to institute a draft, but you realized that if everypony went to off war, you would be left all alone here in Ponyville, since you’re not a pony and wouldn’t be a part of ‘everypony’? Well, I suppose Cranky and Matilda would still be here, since they’re not ponies either, but—”
No, it’s not that.” Spike cut Pinkie’s rambling’s short. “It’s just I thought I saw Rainbow Dash out here, but when I came out to talk to her she was gone, and then I fell in a puddle and got mud all over my scales. Some day it’s been.”
“Well, you know what would make you feel better?” Pinkie grinned at Spike.
“A party?” Spike deadpanned.
“A part—wait! I have an even better idea!” Pinkie Pie leapt into the air as an idea came to her. “You should take a seven-hour bubble bath to clean all that mud off! Then you would be able to get all that nasty gunk off and go back to looking like the dragon you are. I mean, you still look like a dragon, but you look more like a dragon-who’s-having-a-bad-day-and-needs-to-get-cleaned-up dragon than a dragon-who’s-lookin’-good-Spike-lookin’-real-good dragon.” With the conclusion of her exclamation, Pinkie’s hooves finally touched the ground again.
Spike’s eyes lit up. “You’re right, Pinkie! I think I will do that. Twilight doesn’t seem to be back yet anyway, so she won’t notice if I disappear for several hours to take a bath. This will be great!”
With that, Spike excitedly ran back up the stairs into the castle. As eager as he was, he never bothered to look back and say goodbye to Pinkie Pie. If he had, he would have noticed her put on a trench coat, pull out a bubble pipe, and slink off in the direction Rainbow Dash had gone.
Five hours later, Dash crept through the dark streets of Ponyville. Sure, she could have flown to Twilight’s castle, but other ponies would have been expecting that. Instead, she had to be sneaky, and so she found herself slinking down a road carrying a large box labeled “quills.”
Ahead, Dash saw that Pinkie Pie had already arrived at the castle. As arranged, Pinkie had brought a small cart for them to transport their prey. Why they had not used that cart to bring the box she was carrying was a mystery to Dash, but Pinkie had insisted on them arriving separately at the castle. She had said something about how if one of them was caught and turned to stone, the other might still have a chance to succeed.
So Dash continued to lug the crate down the street toward her target ahead. Once she had passed the last house before the castle, she took flight and sped toward one of the castle’s balconies. Hoping nopony had seen her, Rainbow Dash quickly set the box down and ducked behind the railing.
She hurriedly rummaged through the box, looking for the tools she had brought along to pick the lock on the balcony’s door. While it lacked the spectacular thrill of crashing through one of the windows at an appreciable Mach number, picking the lock would attract far less attention.
Dash spent the next few minutes examining the lock. Surely a princess would be safeguarded by the most subtly intricate and impenetrable defenses in the land. The lock appeared deceptively straightforward, no more complicated than any standard lock in Ponyville. But Dash was positive that treating it in such a naïve fashion would trigger some alarm that would alert Twilight to their presence.
“Hey Dashie, what’s taking so long?” whispered Pinkie next to her. Startled, Dash glanced behind her to see Pinkie standing directly behind her. Pinkie wore one of her black bodysuits in a rare effort to conceal herself and not stand out. Rainbow Dash noted that Pinkie Pie had silently managed to not only climb up the side of the castle, but also bring the cart up with her.
“What are you doing here? You’re supposed to stay by the front door with the cart,” Dash hissed.
“I got bored,” came the cheerful reply. “Hey, have you got the door open yet?” Pinkie reached a hoof out.
“No, I’m still figuring out the lock,” Dash replied.
Pinkie ignored her. She gave a slight push, and the door swung open. Dash tensed, expecting to hear a blaring siren erupt and give them away, but silence reigned for the next several seconds. Pinkie happily hopped inside, entirely unaware of the risk she had just taken.
Apparently Twilight did not bother to lock her doors.
Everything was going according to plan. The gentle sound of running water indicated that Spike was still taking his ridiculously long bath. Owlowiscious was nowhere to be heard, as was expected. Pinkie’s earlier reconnaissance had indicated that Fluttershy was giving the owl a check-up this evening, so the owl was spending the night at her cottage. As such, the two intruders remained unnoticed and unopposed as they crept through the castle hallways toward Twilight’s bedroom.
Still, Rainbow Dash felt uneasy. She nervously glanced around the empty hallways, expecting a wrathful princess to emerge at any second from the shadow of nearby a pillar. Even with slippers muffling the sounds of their hoof-falls, Dash was half convinced the faint echoing off the vaulted ceilings would wake Twilight. As she carefully stepped around a random book that haphazardly lay open on the floor in front of her, Dash almost wished something would happen. The ominous solitude of the castle was making her uneasy.
And Dash could not help but feel that somepony was watching her.
At last they reached Twilight’s bedroom. Although the door was closed, it too was unlocked. Rainbow Dash carefully opened the door as slowly as she could, taking care not to disturb the sleeping princess.
Twilight lay in bed peacefully, completely oblivious to the entry of two ponies who had come to kidnap her. The soft rhythm of her breathing was the only sound in the room. A stack of books was piled on the floor next to her bed, the top volume left open to where Twilight had been reading from it when she had fallen asleep. As expected, blue spots covered her horn, indicating that the poison joke had successfully robbed her of magic. It seemed that everything was working perfectly.
Dash snuck up to the side of the bed and set the crate down. She grabbed a couple of books from the top of the pile and gently placed them inside the box. Hopefully, these books would keep Twilight occupied during her captivity so she would not grow bored and seek to escape. Besides, they did not want to terribly inconvenience Twilight while they abducted her. Her comfort was one of their top priorities.
Pinkie Pie, meanwhile, popped out of the curtains on the other side of Twilight’s bed. Then she unceremoniously grabbed the sleeping pony and rolled her out of bed and into the open box.
“What…” Twilight mumbled sleepily as she landed on a pillow inside the crate. Her eyes started to flutter open.
“It’s nothing,” whispered Pinkie. “This is just a dream. Go back to sleep.”
“Oh, ok,” murmured Twilight. She curled up on the pillow, rested her head on a nearby book, and promptly fell back asleep.
Dash had not expected that to work.
Now all they had to do was carry Twilight outside and take her away without anypony noticing.
Rainbow Dash flew over to the box and cautiously lifted it, making sure to hold it level so as not to disturb the sleeping alicorn within. However, the added weight of the books threw off Dash’s balance, forcing her to flap frantically for a couple seconds as she strove to keep her balance. In doing so, Dash veered toward the wall, and her wing brushed against a mirror hanging there.
The mirror jiggled ever so slightly. Then Dash heard a faint click emanate from the wall. Puzzled, she looked toward the mirror.
For a few seconds, she just stared at her confused reflection, waiting for something to happen.
Dash frowned. She was positive she had heard something.
A sudden explosion caused the mirror to fly across the room and shatter against the far wall. Confetti rained down as Rainbow Dash narrowly dodged the unexpected projectile, but in the process she lost her grip on the box. It dropped and hit the floor with a resounding thump, the pony inside awaking with a startled yelp.
Dash had unwittingly triggered a party cannon that had been hidden behind the mirror.
Spike lay contentedly in the bathtub. He lazily raised a claw to pop a bubble floating in front of him, relishing in the simple pleasure of watching it burst. As he let his claw fall back into the warm water, Spike felt the spray of a small splash on his face. He savored the gentle touch of that splash for several minutes without moving a muscle. Only then did he reach out to yet another soapy sphere as it idly drifted by.
Spike leapt into the air as the explosion echoed throughout the castle. His landing sent waves careening over the side of the tub, leaving Spike in a half-drained bath of foamy mess. Shaking his head, Spike hopped out of the tub and grabbed a towel.
He wondered what the explosion had been. It had sounded like it had come from the direction of Twilight’s room, but he had expected her to be asleep by now. Perhaps she had stayed up late researching some complicated spell, and the blast had been caused by it going awry. Anyway, he would need to check to see if Twilight required any help fixing whatever damage she had just wreaked.
With a yawn, Spike started down the hall. Maybe when they were sorting out her room, he could ask Twilight to clean up the mess by the bathtub. He bet her magic could deal with all of that water a lot faster than he could.
As he strolled, Spike began to feel uneasy. Something about the castle did not feel quite right to him. Maybe it was the lack of subsequent explosions after that first one; Twilight’s failures usually compounded in spectacularly noisy ways. Maybe it was the book lying in the middle of the hall that he tripped over. Or maybe it was the spooky shadow Spike saw looming on the wall in front of him as he got back on his feet.
Startled, Spike whipped around. But all he saw was a perfectly still, perfectly empty hallway. Whatever had cast that shadow had disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
Nervous, Spike resumed his walk at a much more cautious pace. His eyes glanced this way and that, warily searching for anything suspicious or frightening. The faint glimmer of moonlight reflecting off the walls revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Spike began to relax. Perhaps he had just imagined the silhouette. It was not like the shadow had creepily twisted across the wall in a way that suggested it was alive or anything. Of course not. Spike was sure he had overreacted.
Then Spike felt a hoof lightly tap him on the shoulder.
“Ah!” Spike screamed. He sprinted forward, too terrified to look back and see who—or what—had touched him. Only when he reached the end of the hall did Spike turn around and survey the corridor behind him. Again, the hall appeared completely quiet and peaceful. There was no indication that anypony else had ever been there.
“Keep it together, Spike,” he quietly chastised himself. “You’re just freaking out again for no reason.” Still, he stayed frozen in place, not daring to move and risk stumbling into whatever it was that seemed to be haunting the castle.
Spike stood there for a minute, listening intently. All he could hear was the sharp hiss of his own short breaths, and the rapid thumping of his own frantic heartbeats. Nothing moved. Nothing jumped out at him. The castle remained completely inert.
“Hello?” Spike timidly called out. “Anypony there?”
He really should go check on Twilight.
Then a gentle draft of warm air brushed past the back of his neck. It was a gentle yet vibrant breeze, one filled with enough heat and moisture to feel almost alive. Almost like…a breath.
Somepony was breathing down his neck.
He ran as fast as he could, not caring where he was going. A shadow played on the wall ahead, indicating that the mysterious thing was chasing him. Sometimes it danced to the right; sometime it skipped to the left. Sometimes the shadow moved so suddenly that Spike was sure the thing responsible had teleported around him. He did not care. He just wanted to get away as fast as he could. All thought of checking on Twilight was forgotten as Spike fled from whatever terror was stalking him.
Somehow Spike found himself outside his own room. In a panic, he raced inside and slammed the door behind him. He jumped into bed, curled up into a ball, and pulled the blanket over himself, not daring to check if his pursuer would follow him.
There Spike waited for what seemed an eternity. Every instant he expected to hear somepony break down the door, or to see a shadow flit across his view. As seconds of dread stretched into minutes of uncertainty, Spike reached an important decision.
He was not leaving his bed until the morning. He would stay put exactly where he was.
After all, Twilight could easily take care of herself.
“PINKIE!” Rainbow Dash screamed.
Dash assessed the situation. Glass shards littered the room. A pained groan emanated from a box precariously tipped on its side. From a gaping hole in the wall protruded an imposingly festive piece of heavy artillery. And a sheepishly grinning pink pony sat in the center of it all, looking surprisingly remorseful for a perpetually excited bundle of fun.
“Heh, heh. Sorry, Dashie,” Pinkie Pie said. “I forgot I hid a party cannon there.”
“Never mind, Pinkie,” Dash replied. Now that the initial shock had worn off, Rainbow Dash immediately turned her attention to practical matters. She was not about to let something as ridiculous as an unexpected cannon barrage disrupt their master plan. “Ok, you need to go distract Spike. Do whatever you need to do to make sure he doesn’t realize what’s going on. I’ll take care of getting Twilight out of the castle.”
Pinkie saluted Rainbow Dash and somersaulted out of the room. Confident that Pinkie could handle the task of keeping Spike occupied, Dash flew toward the crate she had dropped in surprise. The impact had clearly woken the pony who had been sleeping inside, but Twilight had not yet tried to get out of the box.
Dash intended to keep it that way. She grabbed the crate beneath her, pressing the lid of the box against her so that her body kept it from opening. Then she took flight—box, princess, and all—and angled toward the door. She had to move quickly if she wanted to get away before anypony came to investigate the random explosion Twilight’s castle. Unfortunately, it was hard to maneuver while carrying an awkwardly large container and an awkwardly awake pony.
Dash thought she heard a faint, “What in Equestria?” come from beneath her, soon followed by the slight press of a hoof against the lid. Gripping her prize more tightly, Dash sped down a staircase. Another, more forceful push nearly caused her to drop the box, but Dash barely managed to hold on. She was not about to lose a contest of strength to an egghead.
Still, she needed some way of keeping Twilight contained so she could focus on flying. Taking a quick detour, Dash veered into the throne room. Even in the dark, the chandelier of hanging gems glistened slightly. Each strand of jewels displayed immeasurably valuable memories, tokens of the wonderful friendships Twilight had formed in Ponyville. Enshrined in this monument to Twilight’s previous home were dozens of sentimental ornaments arranged in wonderfully crafted strings of shimmering beauty.
Those strings could also be used as surprisingly durable rope.
Rainbow Dash quickly plucked a strand of gems off of the chandelier and used it to tie the box shut. That should hold Twilight Sparkle in for a little while. In the meantime, Dash could make it out of the castle.
As she exited the throne room, she heard the shrill scream of a terrified baby dragon. While wondering just what Pinkie was doing to distract Spike, Dash raced toward the front doors. As she soared down the entry hall, Rainbow Dash cut her speed and came in for a landing. Then, she calmly pushed the front door open, carried the crate outside, and deposited it neatly in the waiting cart. She put on the harness and led the cart away from the castle at a calmly professional pace.
It would look like she was just transporting a box of quills. Nopony would suspect a thing.
Awhile later, Dash arrived at the rendezvous point on the edge of the Everfree Forest. As far as she could tell, she had gotten away completely undetected. Giddy at the thought of successfully pulling off another prank, Dash waited for Pinkie Pie to arrive so they could celebrate their resounding success.
As the minutes dragged on, Dash turned her attention to the crate by her side. Twilight had been strangely quiet after her initial escape attempts had proven futile. Still, Rainbow Dash wondered at the lack of response from the kidnapped princess. Dash had expected Twilight to put all her efforts into freeing herself.
Curiosity getting the better of her, Dash loosed the cord tied around the box. Lifting the top slightly, she stole a quick peek in at her peculiarly quiet captive.
Twilight was just sitting there, contentedly reading a book.
Fluttershy shuffled toward the imposing castle in the distance. Atop her back, an owl cooed quietly, struggling to stay awake in the early morning sun. As Owlowiscious finally gave up and drifted off to sleep, Fluttershy heard the bright chirping of other birds just waking up around her. Their cheerful greetings of a glorious new day echoed throughout Ponyville, spreading a gentle warmth for all to hear.
After giving Owlowiscious a checkup the night before, she was on her way to visit Twilight and return her pet. Fluttershy greatly enjoyed these simple opportunities to help her friends. Such a simple task hardly felt like a chore at all, for she got to spend time getting to know an animal friend she did not know nearly well enough. Even more importantly, by keeping a pet happy and healthy, she could foster greater enjoyment in the relationship for both the animal and the pony. That alone made her work worthwhile.
Eventually Fluttershy reached the entrance to Twilight’s new home. Secretly, Fluttershy had preferred Twilight’s previous abode, a simple tree that had balanced utility with natural aesthetic. This crystal castle, while quite grand, still felt rather imposing and impersonal to her. Fluttershy supposed that such a magnificent dwelling befitted a princess, and she would never dream of voicing her dissatisfaction to Twilight, but Fluttershy did not quite feel comfortable in Twilight’s new home. It just felt so…cold.
Fluttershy knocked on the front door. The loud clang reverberated through distant hallways inside, startling her so much that she almost turned and fled. But Fluttershy waited patiently, expecting to see Twilight emerge at any moment.
Minutes passed, and there was no answer. Reluctantly, Fluttershy quietly tapped on the door again. Maybe nopony had heard her the first time.
Again, she stood there for a rather long time.
Again, nopony came to open the door.
“Well, um, maybe I’ll just, um, come back another time, when it’s more convenient,” Fluttershy murmured as she turned away. She daintily retraced her path down the golden front steps of the castle, treading so lightly that her hoofs did not make a sound. She had just reached the bottom of the stairs when the door behind her flew open with a sudden crash.
“Help!” a panicked Spike screamed from the entryway.
“Eep!” Fluttershy quickly zipped to the side and ducked behind the front stairs’ banister. Cautiously, she peeked over the railing to see a confused and fatigued baby dragon looking frantically around.
“Hello?” Spike panted. After twisting his head this way and that in a vain attempt to locate who had just knocked, Spike glanced down in dejection. He turned to head back inside.
“Um excuse me?” Fluttershy poked her head above the banister and addressed Spike.
“What?” Spike whipped around in excitement, but his face fell when he saw who it was. “Oh, hi Fluttershy,” he said with little enthusiasm.
“If it’s a bad time, I can come back next month,” Fluttershy replied as she stepped out from her hiding spot and stood in front of Spike.
“No, it’s alright,” Spike said. “Good to see you, Owlowiscious.” Stirring from his slumber, the owl hooted happily and flew into the comforting darkness of the castle.
“Well, you see,” Spike began, “I can’t seem to find Twilight. While I was taking a bath last night, I thought I heard her come back from visiting Zecora, and later I heard an explosion come from her room.”
“Explosion?” Fluttershy trembled slightly. “Is she alright?”
“It was probably just another spell she was working on,” Spike responded casually.
“But you can’t find her now?” Fluttershy gently probed.
“Yeah, I woke up this morning and didn’t see her anywhere around the castle.” Spike froze for a second as a disturbing realization hit him. “You don’t think she exploded, did you?”
Fluttershy gave a small gasp of horror. “That…that can’t have been what happened, can it?”
“I’m not sure.” Spike’s eyes widened in panic. “I just know that there was an explosion last night, and when I went to check on Twilight, I was chased through the castle by a spooky ghost, and then I hid in my room until morning and didn’t even notice that Twilight had exploded!”
Fluttershy trembled. In her panic, she could only eek out a single, terrifying word that Spike had mentioned so offhandedly: “Ghost?”
“Oh, yeah,” Spike calmed down as he nonchalantly recalled his experience from the previous night. “A spooky shadow followed me around, breathing down my neck and tapping me on the shoulder. Of course, I wasn’t scared at all, but it was still a bit strange.”
“Um,” Fluttershy interjected, “if it was a ghost, how was it able to, um, tap you on the shoulder?”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Spike pondered this for a moment. “Hey, I guess it couldn’t have been a ghost. It must have just been some strange pony wandering the castle at night.”
Spike paused, satisfied. For a several protracted seconds, his last statement hung in the air, dispelling their timid uncertainty with a reassuring fact. There was nothing to be scared of: there was no ghost, and Twilight probably had not exploded, either. Everything could be explained by the presence of this very real, very mysterious, very unknown pony.
“Wait,” Fluttershy spoke up. “There was somepony else in the castle?”
“Well, I suppose so,” Spike said. “Just somepony who I never got a good look at, who didn’t seem to belong there, and who went out of their way to scare me off…” Spike leapt in surprise, waving his arms frantically. “There was somepony in the castle! And now Twilight’s gone! Somepony kidnapped Twilight!”
Fluttershy had reached her limit. Ghosts, she could handle, barely, and having Pinkie Pie for a friend had given her quite a familiarity with explosions of all sorts. But the thought of a pony taking somepony else against their will, that was too much for her. Fluttershy took off running, hurrying back toward her cottage where she could be safe among her animal friends. She galloped as fast as she could, tuning out the bustle of the town around her as she fled. Head down, she vaguely registered the startled exclamations of ponies as she rushed by. But she paid them no heed. All her thoughts focused on making it back to her home as quickly as she could, where she could be safe and she could hide and she stay inside until next spring and…
Fluttershy careened straight into another pony. The baskets that pony had been carrying went flying, sending projectiles flying every which way. Fluttershy landed hard on the ground as the splats of fruit hitting the ground echoed around her. Not daring to look up, Fluttershy curled up on the ground as she tried to mumble out some sort of apology.
The other pony walked over to her and picked her up off the dirt. “I’m mighty sorry about that, Fluttershy. I didn’t see you barreling along over there. Y’all aren’t hurt, are you?”
Fluttershy shook her head.
“That’s good to hear. But I’ve gotta ask why you’re runnin’ so fast. Everythin’ alright?”
“It’s, um, well,” Fluttershy whispered timidly, “I was just talking to Spike, and he said that, um, that maybe it’s possible that Twilight might have been, um, kidnapped.” Fluttershy swallowed.
“What?” came the incredulous reply. “Twilight’s been kidnapped?”
Fluttershy nodded. “She disappeared last night, and Spike mentioned he saw an intruder in the castle, so it seems as though Twilight has been, well…” she trailed off meekly.
Fluttershy nodded again.
“Then we’d best get goin’, Fluttershy.” Applejack narrowed her eyes in determination. “We’ve got a criminal to catch.”
“I’ll ask ya this one more time.” Applejack narrowed her eyes. “Why did ya send a shipment of quills to Twilight’s castle in the dead of night?”
Davenport glanced around nervously. That was about all that he could do to express his anxiety, considering his current predicament. The storeowner lay on one of his own sofas, completely unable to move. Being tied to said couch by a lasso tended to restrict movement.
Applejack paced to and fro in front of the couch. A few minutes prior, she had burst into Davenport’s store, thrown a lasso around him, and tied him to the nearest piece of furniture. Since then, she had been interrogating him with a string of demanding questions that he could not make sense of. Davenport had no idea what sort of problem could cause a usually dependable pony to behave in such an antagonistic manner; the Apple family had always been very satisfied customers. He had never received so much as a complaint from them, much less anything that could explain Applejack’s current psychotic activities.
“Again, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Davenport swallowed before continuing. “I did not authorize any shipments yesterday evening, and certainly none in the middle of the night.”
“Don’t lie to me.” Applejack abruptly stopped her pacing and spun to face her immobile captive. “Lyra already told us that she saw a pony carryin’ one of your boxes of quills through town last night directly toward Twilight’s castle.”
“Did you have to tie her up to get her to tell you that?” Davenport muttered to himself.
“What was that?” Applejack demanded.
At that moment, the pegasus who had been sitting silently in the far corner of the store finally spoke up. “Um, Applejack,” Fluttershy ventured timidly. “It’s possible that maybe he could be telling the truth.”
Davenport nodded vigorously. “I am, I certainly am. I only received one order of quills yesterday, and that was in the morning. I remember being surprised, because she had never ordered quills from me before.”
“And who was that?” Applejack asked.
“Um, it was your friend Rainbow Dash,” Davenport replied.
“WHAT?” Applejack jerked her head back so quickly that her hat flew off. “What in tarnation was Rainbow Dash doin’ orderin’ quills?”
“Well, I believe she was simply placing an order on behalf of Princess Twilight.”
“She was, was she?” Applejack face set in a grim frown. “What else do ya remember about her order? Tell me everythin’!”
“If that’s alright with you,” Fluttershy quickly added.
“Well, I remember she originally placed an order that was way too small. I mean, why would anypony think that Twilight would only need five boxes of quills?” Davenport chuckled to himself. Then he glanced at Applejack’s blank look before quickly continuing, “And she turned down my offer to deliver the quills directly to Twilight. Rainbow Dash took them herself and said that she would drop them off at Twilight’s castle that evening.”
Applejack leaned forward, her face mere inches from where Davenport lay bound. All he could see were her eyes intensely boring into his. “Interesting. Y’all are tellin’ me the truth?”
Davenport nodded again, despite the difficulty of doing so in his current position.
“Is there anything else you might be able to tell us? We would really appreciate it,” said Fluttershy gently from somewhere behind Applejack’s imposing glare.
“Sorry, Fluttershy, but that’s all I can remember.” Davenport paused for a few seconds as he recalled his meeting with the bold pegasus the previous morning. “Wait. There was one other thing. Rainbow Dash seemed rather nervous when she came in yesterday. A lot different from her usual brash self.”
Applejack blinked slowly a couple of times, processing this strange information. Then, she suddenly spun away from Davenport. She hurried over to Fluttershy, grabbed one of her hooves, and hoisted the startled pony to her hooves. Applejack galloped out the door, dragging Fluttershy behind her. Fluttershy was only able to mumble a quick, “Thank you,” before the two ponies were gone.
Leaving Davenport still tied to his couch.
A few seconds passed. Davenport glanced around, at a loss for what to do.
He had absolutely no idea.
The door to his shop burst open once more, and Applejack rushed back in. “I forgot somethin’,” she commented bluntly.
“I would say so,” Davenport said.
Applejack reached down and picked up her hat from off the floor. She stood there for a moment as she carefully placed it on her head. Then she turned and charged back out of the store.
Davenport blinked. He still couldn’t move.
Applejack galloped down the streets of Ponyville. Without hesitation, she hurried on toward her destination. Fluttershy’s soft panting behind her indicated that the pegasus was still barely managing to match her pace. Regardless of whether or not Fluttershy could keep up, Applejack would press on to discover the truth and find her lost friend.
Out of the corner of her eye, Applejack noted Spike hurrying toward her from a side street. Not bothering to slow down, Applejack nodded a greeting to Spike as he caught up and began running alongside her.
“I sent a letter to Princess Celestia letting her know what’s happened,” said Spike.
“Good,” came Applejack’s short reply.
“Also, I found that the bouquet with poison joke did not come from the flower shop. Whoever sent it to Twilight picked those flowers themselves.”
“Alright, then.” Applejack picked up her pace as she considered this new information. “That might be a dead end. Fluttershy an’ I found that Rainbow Dash ordered a whole bunch of quills yesterday, but we can’t seem to find that pony anywhere to ask her what she did with them.”
“Did you check Sugarcube Corner?” Spike asked. “Pinkie Pie would probably know where she is.”
“We did, but Pinkie wasn’t there,” Applejack said with a frown. “So we’re gonna go ask Rarity if she knows where any o’ our friends have disappeared to.”
Carousel Boutique was coming up. Lowering her head, Applejack charged toward the fashion store and burst through the front door. Dresses went flying as Applejack tore across the shop’s main room, up the stairs, and into Rarity’s sewing room.
Startled, Rarity jumped up from working on her latest creation with a rather uncouth gasp of surprise. Recovering quickly, she composed herself and carefully approached Applejack.
“Really, Applejack,” Rarity admonished, “I do not know why you are so agitated, but it simply will not do to have you come bursting in and disrupting my work.”
“Sorry ‘bout that, Rarity,” Applejack said briskly, “But somethin’s come up, and we need to talk with ya.”
“Well, whatever it may be, surely it can wait until I have finished the stitching on this dress.” With an indifferent flick of her mane, Rarity turned her back on Applejack and returned to the outfit she had so diligently been working on.
Applejack chuckled. “I don’t think it can wait.”
“Hm.” Rarity did not bother to look up from her labor. “Please, Applejack. This dress is for a very important customer, and I have no intention of letting anything distract me until it is completely finished.”
“Suit yourself.” Applejack turned to leave. At that moment, Fluttershy and Spike finally appeared in the doorway, gasping for breath. “I just thought ya might want to know Twilight’s been kidnapped.”
Applejack moved toward the exit. She carefully stepped around a winded Spike and proceeded to head down the hallway. It wasn’t until Applejack had gone half a dozen steps that her last statement finally registered with Rarity.
From her perch atop a spire, Rainbow Dash surveyed her surroundings. Tangled forest shrouded the ground for miles around in the immediate vicinity of her vantage point. Farther away, the untamed growth gave way to the more orderly woodland of cultivated orchards. Eventually the trees stopped altogether and were replaced by roofs and streets of Ponyville. At the far end of the town, the faint outline of Twilight’s castle reached heavenward. And beyond, in the far distance, Dash could barely make out the imposing skyline of Canterlot.
Rainbow Dash took in all of the landscape without a second thought. More important to her were the signs of any suspicious ponies approaching. Pinkie Pie had charged Dash with acting as lookout to ensure nopony discovered them. While Rainbow Dash had thought her friend’s Pinkie sense could give them adequate warning, Pinkie had insisted that they do things properly according to the rules and regulations of official kidnappings. Apparently, one of those rules involved boring Dash to death with lookout duty.
Dash gave the countryside another cursory glance. Then she spread her wings and took flight. She descended from the tower in a leisurely loop toward the ground. Circling around the ruins of a crumbling wall, Dash headed toward an open courtyard. With a precision and grace that came from years of practiced flying, she alighted on a cobblestone path without a sound.
And was immediately tackled by a pink blur.
“What did you see? What did you see? Was it a flying muffin? Was it the Super-Speed Cider-Squeezy 6000? Ooh, I know! You saw an evil alternate of Twilight tearing holes in reality and nearly causing Rarity to fall into another world!”
“Pinkie, get off!” Dash exclaimed. She pushed the excitedly bouncing pony off of her and got to her hooves. “No, there was nothing to see. It was just several hours of excruciating boredom with nothing to do.”
With a quizzical tilt of her head, Pinkie responded, “But you were only up there for five minutes, Dashie.”
“Maybe I should take over lookout duty,” Pinkie suggested cautiously. “Perhaps you have a slight tendency to possibly get sorta-kinda bored sometimes when you sit still.”
“You think?” Dash said sarcastically.
“Of course I think, silly,” Pinkie cheerfully replied. “Ooh, or what if I only think that I can think? What if I can’t really think, but I think I am thinking when I’m not actually thinking?”
Dash facehoofed again. “Pinkie, do me a favor and stop trying to think out loud.”
“But how can I be trying to think out loud if I can’t…oh.” Pinkie Pie fell silent.
Rainbow Dash took a moment to savor the brief respite from Pinkie’s incessant babbling.
Then the courtyard lit up with a brilliant flash.
Dash quickly spun toward the source of the light. She crouched low, ready to spring on the intruder. Squinting against the brightness, Dash could barely make out the silhouette of a large pony. Dash tensed for action. Next her, Pinkie Pie put on a pair of sunglasses.
The light began to fade. The shadow of two great wings spread wide as the mysterious pony stepped forward. The imposing size of the new arrival gave Rainbow Dash pause, and she hesitated a moment. Then the light disappeared completely, and Dash was extremely glad she had not immediately leaped at the intruder.
“WHICH OF MY LITTLE PONIES WOULD DARE RAISE A HOOF AGAINST PRINCESS TWILIGHT SPARKLE?” screamed the majestic voice of Princess Celestia. “WERE I TO MERELY BANISH YOU TO THE MOON, THE GENERATIONS TO COME WOULD PRAISE MY MERCY!”
There stood the Princess of the Sun in all her terrible radiance. Her usual gentle demeanor had evaporated, leaving only the burning anger of glory. Celestia’s gentle coat glowed with barely restrained power, and her mane blew wildly in a magical tempest. Her whole body shook. A snarl twisted Celestia’s visage, and her eyes raged with the inferno of a thousand suns.
Rainbow Dash cast herself to the ground. She did not dare to glance up at the fury before her. This had been a horrible idea. Why had Dash let Pinkie convince her to kidnap Twilight? Now they were facing the wrath of the most powerful being in Equestria, and Dash sincerely doubted she would live another minute.
After a few seconds had passed, Dash noted that she had not yet been incinerated. She hesitantly opened one eye and stole a quick peek at the princess.
Celestia’s eyebrows twitched. Then her entire demeanor gave way to an uncontrollable fit of laughter.
“You should have seen the looks on your faces!” jubilantly exclaimed Celestia. Her whole body twisted in mirth. It writhed and warped, until Celestia’s form no longer resembled that of a pony. In fact, she looked more like…
Dash jumped to her hooves. “Discord!”
With a final chuckle, the draconequus turned to consider the two ponies glaring up at him. “That never gets old,” he said.
“What are you doing here, Discord?” Dash asked flatly.
“I could ask the same of you,” Discord whispered in Dash’s ear. “Celestia tells me that somepony has kidnapped Princess Twilight, and I, like the good friend I am, dutifully set out to investigate.” Discord casually floated above Pinkie. He wore a halo and held a magnifying glass.
“And imagine my surprise when I find that the culprits turn out to be two of Twilight's so-called friends,” Discord continued. Question marks orbited his head. “Or maybe they aren’t as close of friends as I thought. Perhaps they’re jealous of Twilight’s success?” Dash turned around to find Discord behind her. He sat upon a large pile of bits, absentmindedly twirling a scepter in his claw.
“Silly Discord,” replied Pinkie, popping out the heap of money and sending coins flying everywhere. “We’re not jealous of Twilight. We’re super-duper proud of her. Not to mention, we all have thrones alongside hers.” Pinkie pulled six other scepters out of her mane and proudly displayed them to Discord. The head of each staff bore the image of one of Twilight’s friends.
“Hm.” With a snap, Discord banished the bits and canes. “Well what is it, then? Are you trying to plunge Equestria into anarchy? If you are, I heartily approve.” A saber materialized in Discord’s paw, and he began a sword fight against Pinkie Pie.
Dash rolled her eyes. “Seriously? That’s the sort of thing you would do, Discord, not us.”
“Yes, well I suppose so,” murmured Discord, standing atop Dash’s head and peering down into her eyes. Off to the side, Discord’s abandoned sword continued its duel with Pinkie. “But remember, I’m reformed. And that regrettably includes helping the princesses uphold order and harmony.” Discord spit the last word in disgust, showering Dash in broccoli.
“We’re doing that, too!” said Pinkie excitedly from a perch atop Discord’s head. The two sabers, left unattended, fought on. “We thought if we showed Twilight how easy it was to kidnap her, she might start taking her security seriously. I mean, the royal guards never seem to do anything, but at least they give the illusion of protection.”
“Not to mention,” added Rainbow Dash, “we thought kidnapping Twilight would be the best prank ever.”
“A prank, you say?” Discord’s face lit up with delight (though, Dash supposed, that could just have been the spotlight shining on him). “Well, why didn’t you say so? I’m always eager to support a bit of harmless fun.”
Discord disappeared from Dash’s back, leaving Pinkie Pie to hover in midair. He reappeared in front of the two ponies as Pinkie Pie carefully lowered herself to the ground.
“So, you’re not going to rescue Twilight after all?” Pinkie asked.
“I think,” said Discord, consulting an official legal document, “I will report to Celestia that I was unable to locate her precious student. That ought to give her a good scare. But I expect you two to do a good job of keeping Twilight hidden. I would hate for such a good prank end so quickly.”
“Of course!” Pinkie Pie saluted Discord. “You can count on us.”
“Well, then, I’ll just be going,” Discord said. He raised his claw and prepared to teleport away. But then he paused and tilted his head, as he seemed to notice something. A small smile crept across Discord’s face. “That’s quite clever of you, Twilight,” he mumbled to himself. And with a flash, Discord was gone.
“This is why we need a lookout,” Pinkie commented. “Otherwise anypony can teleport right in here.”
Rarity paced nervously in front of her friends. As she strode back and forth across her room, Rarity tried to keep the agitation from her face. She desired to retain some modicum of composure, but already she felt it was a lost cause. Try as she might to maintain her dignity, there were times when doing so proved impossible.
Such as when one’s friend—and a sovereign ruler of one’s nation—had been kidnapped.
“Let us review the facts one more time, if we may,” Rarity said. She struggled to keep her voice level. “From the beginning, if you please.”
“Well,” mused Spike, leaning casually against a wall, “I suppose it started when Twilight first came to Ponyville for the Summer Sun Celebration. She asked me to send a note to the Princess about—“
“Not that far back, Spike,” Rarity interrupted.
Spike immediately clamped his mouth shut.
Applejack spoke up from where she sat by the door. “As far as I can tell, the trouble began yesterday mornin’. Rainbow Dash ordered a box of quills, sayin’ it was for Twilight. Davenport and Spike both say she was actin’ mighty strange. And later, a pony was spotted carryin’ a box like that toward Twilight’s castle in the middle of the night.”
“So considering Rainbow Dash’s suspicious behavior, we can suppose she was the pony in question,” Rarity surmised. She stopped pacing to process this information. “Since we lack any other rational explanation for her behavior, we must regrettably assume our friend’s nighttime excursion was related to the kidnapping.”
“Not to mention Spike was woken up by a loud noise around the time Rainbow was seen at the castle,” Fluttershy added quietly. She lay on Rarity’s bed, slightly removed from the others’ discussion.
“Yes, thank you, Fluttershy,” Rarity replied. “The evidence seems to indicate Rainbow Dash’s involvement in this unfortunate incident. But that still leaves one important question unanswered.”
“Why Rainbow would suddenly go crazy and kidnap and alicorn princess?” Spike muttered.
“Well, yes, I suppose that is one question we could ask,” Rarity said, resuming her pacing. “Though I must confess I do not understand most of what goes on inside that mare’s head. I was referring, Spike, to the matter of the mysterious intruder you encountered in the castle last night. It seems curious Rainbow Dash would target you instead of going directly for Twilight.”
“Y’all are suggesting somepony else was involved?” Applejack asked.
“Precisely, darling. It stands to reason at least two ponies were involved in the kidnapping: one to distract Spike and the other to capture Twilight.”
“So who do you think it was?” Spike asked. “Did Rainbow Dash just go around asking random ponies, ‘Hey, do you want to help me break into a castle and abduct one of the rulers of Equestria’? I’m sure ponies were lining up in the streets to help,” he finished sarcastically.
“You make a good point, dear,” Rarity said. “Rainbow Dash must have collaborated with somepony she trusts. A close friend, I assume.”
Fluttershy gave a small start. “Um, it wasn’t, um, one of you, was it?” she squeaked. She buried herself further in the covers of Rarity’s bed and refused to meet the eyes of her friends.
“Course not, Fluttershy,” Applejack replied confidently. “None o’ us would ever do somethin’ that crazy.” She chuckled. “I guess Pinkie might, but—“ Applejack abruptly fell silent.
“Have any of you seen our dear friend Pinkie Pie today?” Rarity asked. As her friends all slowly shook their heads, unease gripped Rarity’s mind. “Does anypony happen to know her whereabouts?” The following silence increased her worry. “Certainly you do not think…Pinkie Pie had something to do with the kidnapping?”
Her friends all spoke up at once.
“Yup,” said Applejack.
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” added Spike.
“I think maybe she did,” Fluttershy whispered.
Rarity opened her mouth to object. After all, why would Pinkie Pie—or, for that matter, Rainbow Dash—engage in such criminal activity? What could possibly motivate their friends to abduct a reigning monarch? Surely those two would know better?
No. No they would not.
“I admit it is possible for Pinkie Pie to be involved in such mischief,” Rarity said, “but I am less certain about how this information benefits us at the present. Determining that Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie are the culprits does not tell us where they may have taken poor Twilight.”
“Could they have brought Twilight to Pinkie’s party-cave place?” asked Applejack. “I reckon that’d be a good place to keep her out o’ sight.”
Fluttershy spoke up. “Um, wouldn’t somepony at Sugarcube Corner have noticed them? Or at least heard Twilight making noise throughout the day?”
“Yeah,” interjected Spike. “They’d need to go somewhere farther away. What about Rainbow Dash’s house?”
“Well,” Applejack retorted, “Pinkie wouldn’t be able to walk on the clouds without magic and I doubt Twilight would be in the mood to cast the spell for her.”
“So where do you think they’ve gone?” shot back Spike.
“I still say we should check Sugarcube Corner,” snapped Applejack.
“I think the Cakes would notice if there was a princess in their basement,” argued Spike.
“Um, could you please not fight?” Fluttershy asked timidly. Spike and Applejack promptly ignored her.
“I don’t see you comin’ up with any better ideas.”
“I suggested Rainbow’s house!”
“And I said that wouldn’t make sense!”
“IDEA!” Rarity exclaimed enthusiastically. The argument immediately ceased as pony and dragon turned toward her in surprise.
Rarity paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. She delicately cleared her throat. “We have not yet accounted for the bouquet of poison joke that showed up at Twilight’s castle yesterday. Now we know Twilight went to Zecora’s for a cure. But surely Twilight would have escaped her captors by now if she still had access to magic. So Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash must have acquired more poison joke to prevent her from using magic.
“In fact, it makes sense for them to keep Twilight in a location where poison joke would easily be accessible. They would want easy access to more of the plant in case the effect ever began to wear off.”
“So Twilight’s in the Everfree Forest?” Spike interrupted.
“In a way,” Rarity continued. “It would be difficult to keep Twilight contained if they left her in the forest. And I absolutely refuse to believe Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie would imprison their friend in such a horrid place. But I can think of one spot in the forest where they could keep her safe. I do believe Twilight is being held at…”
“The Castle of the Two Sisters,” stated Applejack.
Rarity blinked. “Why yes, Applejack. Thank you ever so much for interrupting me and ruining the dramatic moment.”
“Y’all are welcome, Rarity,” Applejack replied. She got to her hooves. “Well, what are we waitin’ for? Let’s go rescue Twilight!”
Spike and Applejack immediately rushed out of Rarity’s room. Fluttershy moved at a slower pace, carefully getting off of the bed and shuffling toward the door.
“Is anything wrong, Fluttershy?” asked Rarity, coming up alongside her.
“Um, I was just thinking,” mumbled Fluttershy, “what will we do with Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash? I mean, they committed a major crime. Will we need to turn them over to the princesses?”
Rarity considered her words carefully as they walked. She had no idea what Equestrian law demanded as punishment for kidnapping a princess. “Fluttershy, dear, do not think for an instant that we would be so cruel as to call them to account for any crime. They are our friends, and I am sure they simply thought this would be an entertaining prank. No, we will not tell anypony else about this.”
Fluttershy visibly relaxed. “Oh, good.”
The two ponies headed toward the exit to Carousel Boutique. “This will remain a quiet joke among friends, and the law will never get involved,” Rarity assured her friend.
Rarity opened the front door and followed Fluttershy outside. And then she stopped short.
Directly in front of them were arrayed two battalions of royal guards, their armor gleaming brightly in the afternoon sun. Each guard stood at attention and held a spear at the ready. Every eye gleamed with fierce, disciplined anger. At the head of the army, the princesses of the sun and the moon stood tall, their unbridled fury evident as they spoke with Applejack and Spike.
“WHERE ARE THE CRIMINALS RESPONSIBLE FOR SUCH A HEINOUS ACT?” thundered Princess Luna. “WE SHALL BRING SWIFT JUDGMENT UPON THE GUILTY AND ANNIHILATE THEM COMPLETELY!”
Rarity stood at the edge of a precipice deep within the Everfree Forest. A ravine lay before her, and beyond it rose the decrepit remains of the Castle of the Two Sisters. The ruins appeared empty and unimposing, the lifeless remnants of a once glorious age. Each crumbling tower spoke tales of decay and loss; each empty window echoed the tragedy of battles long past. The morbid grandeur of the site was not lost on Rarity.
Neither was the magical dome that surrounded the castle with an impenetrable barrier.
To Rarity’s right, Princess Celestia spared a fraction of her power to maintain the shield while also directing commands to her royal guards. Troops fanned out behind her, making preparations for their imminent assault on the besieged ruins. High above, Princess Luna kept a keen eye on the proceedings and conducted surveillance of the castle.
“Excuse me, Princess.” Rarity spoke deferentially, but with a hint of worry in her voice. “I do not wish to impose, but I cannot help but wonder: are all of these elaborate efforts strictly necessary? Would it not be simpler for my friends and I to slip in quietly and find Princess Twilight?”
Celestia turned her hard gaze toward Rarity. Wrath and doubt warred behind her eyes as she answered, “Discord reported he could not locate Twilight. If she is being held here, it is by a power that is too great for him to handle. I will not risk you and your friends against such a foe when only half the Elements are present.”
Without another word, Celestia spread her wings and took flight, soaring upward to confer with her sister. Rarity was left alone, no longer able to voice her suspicion that their dangerous enemy consisted of a weather pony and a baker.
Applejack trotted up beside her. “Any luck convincin’ the Princess that this here is overkill?” She waved a hoof at the assembled troops, who were currently in the process of assembling catapults and battering rams. Pinkie Pie was helpfully showing a pair of guards how to fire her party cannon.
“No, she seems a bit too preoccupied to listen to me,” replied Rarity, “and is convinced that Twilight’s kidnapping is the work of a powerful magical foe.”
“Guess it’s up to us, then.” Applejack sighed. “We best get movin’.”
“Uh, Pinkie, where’d you go?” Rainbow Dash asked nervously.
“Here I am!” The previously unseen pink pony popped up behind the perplexed Rainbow Dash. “Sorry, there was an artillery emergency I needed to take care of.” Pinkie Pie grinned.
Ignoring Pinkie’s typical nonsense, Dash peered out one of the castle's windows, assessing possible escape routes. She doubted even she could outmaneuver two alicorns, and that was assuming her sonic rainboom could break through the magical barrier around the castle. Dash did not particularly want to find out whether or not it could.
“So, what do we do now?” she asked. “They’re going to storm the castle in a few minutes, and then they’ll find out we’re the ones who kidnapped Twilight!”
“Easy!” Pinkie cheerfully replied. “We hold them off. You need to lead the guards on a wild goose chase through the castle to keep them from finding Twilight. Though why they would be more interested in chasing undomesticated waterfowl than rescuing a princess is beyond me.”
“That’s your plan?” Dash was incredulous. “How does that help?”
“It’s simple, Dashie,” said Pinkie. “All we need to do is get the guards lost in the castle long enough for us to slip outside, hide in the ravine until Celestia removes the shield, sneak through the Everfree Forest to Ponyville, stop by Sugarcube Corner for some baking supplies, take a train northward, and escape to the Crystal Empire where we can live the rest of our lives as fugitives. I hear their beaches are lovely this time of year.”
“I…guess that might work,” Dash admitted. “But will you be doing while I’m out there confounding the guards with my awesome speed and agility?”
“Me?” Pinkie tilted her head, and her smile grew even broader. “I’m going to be honing my musical skills.”
“Alright, everypony, get ready.” Applejack crouched low to the ground, ready to gallop at a moment’s notice. Less than a hoof length in front of her shimmered the magical energy of Celestia’s shield. After a quick glance to check that her friends were still behind her, Applejack went back to intently staring at the unwavering barrier.
“Get ready for what?” Fluttershy piped up.
“For Celestia to drop her shield,” Applejack said. “She’ll need to lower it for a few seconds for the guards to get in and—“
In an instant, the curtain of magical power disappeared.
Applejack raced forward. She ran toward a narrow bridge that led to one of the castle’s side entrances. Above her, Applejack saw pegasi troops swoop in, and from behind the catapults unleashed a volley of boulders. Ruins collapsed as stones came crashing down, and devastating beams of alicorn magic vaporized one of the towers.
Leaping over a pile of rubble, Applejack sprinted into the castle. Her pace slowed as the chaos outside gave way to the isolating darkness of passage before her. Through the gloom, she could barely make out a suit of armor standing proud against a wall.
Applejack turned to address her friends. “We’ll need to be quick if we want to find Rainbow and Pinkie before the guards do. Spread out and start searchin’.”
Fluttershy immediately clamped a wing around the thing closest to her. In this case, she happened to smother the unfortunate Spike with a cover of trembling feathers. “I vote we go in pairs,” she squeaked.
Spike ducked down and extracted himself from Fluttershy's grip. “What about Twilight?” he asked.
“The guards’ll find her,” Applejack replied. “We need to get the two troublemakers out of here before the princesses arrest them.”
“Yes, so we must hurry,” Rarity added. “Who knows where they might be hiding in this dreadful castle.” As she finished speaking, a low tone reverberated through the walls.
“What was that?” Fluttershy asked. Spike once again found himself crushed in the embrace of a terrified pegasus.
“I’m sure it’s nothin’,” Applejack reassured her. She took a step forward.
A trapdoor opened up beneath her, and the four friends tumbled downward into the darkness.
Rainbow Dash swooped around a corner. She halted for a moment to listen for the sound of guards pursuing her. They were approaching quickly down the hallway, drawn by the noise Dash was making. With a swift kick, Dash sent a candelabra clanging to the ground. Then she sped forward again.
An ominous organ note caught Dash’s attention. To her right, a hidden sliding wall sprang open. Rainbow Dash quickly veered to the right and slipped through the doorway. A moment later, another tone from Pinkie Pie’s strange melody caused the wall to slide back into place.
Dash heard the royal guards rush past in the adjacent hall, oblivious to the fact that their quarry had just slipped away. They continued their chase deeper into the labyrinth of castle’s passageways, where all they would find was more opportunities to lose their way. Soon, enough guards would be hopelessly disoriented by the castle’s bizarre layout—unable to locate either Twilight or her captors—and then Dash and Pinkie could make their escape.
Rainbow Dash pondered this as she searched for another group of guards to befuddle. Maybe she and Pinkie Pie would survive the ordeal after all. But just to be safe, Dash decided to find her way back toward the room they had locked Twilight in. She had to make sure none of the guards got close to actually finding the princess. That would ruin all the fun.
A few moments later, Rainbow Dash landed in front of the door to Twilight’s cell. As quietly as she could, Dash cracked the door open and peered into the room. Yes, there was Twilight, curled up on a pillow and engrossed in her book. With a satisfied nod, Dash closed the door and backed away.
And immediately fell to the ground as a rope tangled her legs.
Dash looked up to see a triumphant Applejack standing over her, lasso clamped tightly in her mouth. The pegasus tried to rise, but quickly found herself pinned to the ground by the hooves of the very agitated farmer.
“I’m only gonna ask this once.” Applejack’s eyes narrowed. “Did you kidnap Twilight?”
“It was Pinkie’s idea!” Dash protested, struggling to escape.
“And where is Twilight now?” Applejack demanded.
One look at Applejack’s livid face was all it took to convince Dash to answer honestly. “She’s in the room right over there.” Dash tried to wave a hoof in the general direction of Twilight's cell and quickly found that Applejack’s lasso severely restricted her range of motion.
Rarity walked up to Applejack’s side. She peered down at the helpless Rainbow Dash. “Really, darling? You expect us to believe that you are holding one of the most powerful beings in Equestria captive in a room that is not even locked?”
Rainbow Dash nodded. “Yeah! Seriously, we gave her so much poison joke she won’t be using her magic for days, and it seems she’d rather just sit and read than try and escape.”
“Well, then, I suppose we should go convince her to leave with us, before Celestia and Luna destroy the entire castle,” Rarity said.
Spike needed no further prompting. With a cry of, “Twilight!” he ran to the door and pushed it open. But instead of rushing into the room and giving Twilight an enormous hug, he stood frozen at the entrance.
“Uh, girls?” Spike said hesitantly. “You might want to see this.”
Rainbow Dash craned her neck to peer into the cell. A pile of pillows occupied the center of the room, as she had seen a minute before. Various half-read books lay scattered about the room. But there was one rather notable change. Dash gaped as her brain registered the glaring absence.
Twilight Sparkle carefully picked her way through the undergrowth of the Everfree Forest. Her eyes meticulously scanned the foliage around her. She remembered the general location of the place she was looking for, but it would not be easy to spot in the dense forest.
After visiting Zecora, Twilight had many things to consider. She had originally assumed it had just been a mistake when a bouquet of poison joke had shown up at her castle. Zecora had suggested, though, that somepony had deliberately sent Twilight the flowers to prevent her from using magic. Twilight intended to discover why.
Which meant Twilight needed to wander the Everfree Forest in search of something very specific. And she would have to hurry, because she needed to find the place before she lost her magic to the affliction of the poison joke.
Twilight picked up her pace. She was sure it was around here somewhere. Granted, it was concealed deep enough in the forest that nopony would ever run across it by accident, but since Twilight had been there once before, she ought to be able to—
There! Twilight finally caught a glimpse of her target. She hurried forward, glad that she had found it in time. Her search had been successful, and as she emerged from a tangle of brambles into a small clearing, Twilight basked in the excitement of reaching her destination.
A large, worn rock lay half buried in the ground before her.
Twilight smiled. She quickly grasped the stone with her magic and moved it to the side, revealing a deep hole concealed underneath. Without a moment’s hesitation, Twilight jumped down into the dark abyss. Spreading her wings, she glided through the tunnel until she emerged in a wondrous underground cavern.
Sparse vegetation bathed the cave in dim phosphorescent light, illuminating the walls with a pale green tint. Strange, twisted rock formations ringed the edge of the chamber. Water dripped from stalactites and gurgled down a small stream. These waters congregated in the center of the cave, where a clear pond glistened. Its smooth surface perfectly reflected the dark vines hanging overhead.
The Mirror Pool.
Twilight sat down at the edge of the shimmering mere. She resisted the alluring call to bathe in the cool waters, and waited patiently on the shore. It would be an extraordinarily bad idea to create a clone that possessed to the power of an alicorn. So Twilight sat quietly, until at last she felt the poison joke take effect.
Gazing into her reflection below, Twilight saw the characteristic blue spots on her horn that indicated an infection. She attempted to lift a pebble in her magic and skip it across the pond, but it refused to respond to her arcane command.
Twilight delicately pulled a book out of the pouch on her back. Without the aid of her magic, she immediately managed to drop it in the pond. Two identical books floated to the surface of the water, giving Twilight a brilliant idea on how to save on publishing costs.
But she was not here to figure out ways to crash Equestria’s economy. Instead, Twilight lifted one of the books and held it before her. Then, taking care to be engrossed in her reading, Twilight murmured an old rhyme and stepped into the mere.
The world flipped upside down. One moment, Twilight was descending into the water, the next she was staring at a perfect duplicate of herself as it emerged from the pool. The clone matched her in every aspect, from the limp horn atop its head to the book held in front of it.
“It worked!” Twilight exclaimed. She clapped her hooves together in glee. The duplicate ignored her and continued to read.
“Now I need to get back to the castle without anypony seeing my duplicate.” Twilight paced around her oblivious doppelgänger as she mused. “Then I can use Zecora’s remedy to get my magic back and figure out who’s behind all of this.”
Twilight turned to leave. She walked several paces before noticing her clone had not budged. With a sigh, Twilight went back and started dragging the duplicate behind her.
The clone was too absorbed in its book to notice.
“…And then, once I had my magic back, I used Haycartes’ method to hide in the books I had scattered around my castle. It was perfect! The clone reflected the aspect of me that enjoys reading, so it always had a book with it. When Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash captured my duplicate, I was able to follow along from the safety of the novel it was reading,” Twilight finished.
“Wow, Twilight, that’s really impressive,” Sunset Shimmer said. “Most ponies can only maintain that spell for a few minutes.”
The two girls lounged on the steps in front of Canterlot High School. Sunset had been delighted to see her friend waiting outside the school when class had ended an hour earlier. Since then, Sunset and Twilight had been chatting peacefully, catching up on what had been happening in each other’s lives.
“I’ve been practicing with my friend Moondancer,” Twilight replied modestly. “She’s even better at it than I am.”
“So what happened when they found you?” Sunset asked eagerly. “Did you continue hiding, or did you materialize right in front of everyone and scare them?”
“Well,” said Twilight, “when I heard Applejack yelling at Rainbow Dash outside my cell, I knew the time had come. I exited the book, banished my clone back to the Mirror Pool, and home teleported to my castle, all without anypony noticing. Then I decided to come over here for a visit.”
“Leaving everyone else confused as to how you got your magic back,” Sunset laughed.
“Yeah. And while everypony is still trying to figure out what happened, I get to spend a few days over here with you and the others,” Twilight added.
“I’m glad you came over,” Sunset said. “It’s great getting a chance to talk about magic with another pony. Spending time with the girls is a lot of fun, but whenever I bring up teleportation or gravity spells, I just get a bunch of blank looks.”
“I’ll bet you do,” giggled Twilight. “Just like how I can’t get anypony in Equestria to understand what an ‘internet’ is.”
After another few seconds of chuckling, the conversation fell into a comfortable lull. The two friends were content just to sit there, admiring the clear sky above and contemplating the differences between the worlds of ponies and humans. Then a question rose in Sunset’s mind.
“So what about Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash? With you gone, aren’t they going to get in trouble for kidnapping a princess?”
Twilight frowned for a moment. Then the worry left her face as she said, “I’m sure my friends can take care of it. I mean, what’s the worse that could happen?”
Rainbow Dash glanced down at the chains securing her hooves to the floor of their cell in Tartarus.
“I am never listening to one of your ideas again.”