Rainbow Dash, the most skilled, and reluctant, unit in Nightmare Moon’s personal bodyguards, trudged through the halls of Her Majesty's castle with angry stomps. Her armored hooves made an echoing clang as she marched. Her breath came in bursts and her eyes glared at the floor, unhindered, as she had misplaced her helmet somewhere. Anger was an easy emotion to feel, much easier than all the others that tried to bubble to the surface. Rainbow passed doors and hallways without a glance towards them, a specific goal in her mind. Without so much as a change in her scowl of an expression, she halted by a plain white door and slammed it open.
A startled squeak greeted her entrance, and Rainbow’s stern expression softened a fraction. “It’s just me, Pinkie. Don’t worry.”
A pink head popped up from behind the counter in the guard’s break room. The whole room looked more like a bar in structure than a mess hall for a tyrant’s bodyguards, with one long counter stretching across the middle and bar stools symmetrically lining it. Nothing else decorated the plain gray walls and floor except for the pink pigtailed Earth Pony, clad in a simple midnight blue apron, and the stunning aroma of food wafting from behind her.
“Dashie!” Pinkie exclaimed, a large grin overtaking her face as she futilely tried to match Rainbow’s glare, “You scared me, silly filly. Don’t come barging in here like the castle’s on fire.” Her expression became comically worried. “The castle isn’t on fire, is it?”
Rainbow wanted to laugh, but all that came out was a frustrated snort. “No Pinkie, the castle isn’t on fire. I’ve just had a rough day.”
Nopony else was in the break room. It was only ever crowded during meal times, when ponies decided that the assorted treats served here dominated the bland ‘regulated’ food the guards were given, and in the middle of the night when servants and guards alike decided to drown their troubles in beer and whisky.
Besides those times, most ponies tended to avoid the break room and its lone attendant, making it a perfect place to speak freely without the chance of being overheard.
Pinkie gave Rainbow a sympathetic look and slid a glittering cupcake across the counter. “Did Moony get mad that you let the time traveling Alicorn get away?”
Rainbow started backwards in the middle of sitting down, clumsily dropping the cupcake and almost following it to the floor.
“Oops,” Pinkie giggled, “Let me get you another one there.”
“How… How did you know about the Alicorn?”
“Rarity told me, silly.” Pinkie slid Rainbow another cupcake and nimbly leapt over the counter to wipe up the spilt one. “She said when you got back from the woods the Alicorn was gone and Moony was looking really mad so she got out of there fast and didn’t see what happened to you but that there was a bit of shouting and flashing lights and sounds that weren’t quite explosions.”
“You shouldn’t call her Moony, Pinkie,” Rainbow commented, nibbling on her cupcake, “It’s not safe.”
“Yeah, I know,” Pinkie pouted, standing up from the floor and climbing back to her side of the counter, “but Nightmare Moon is such a mouth full, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Rainbow mumbled, her eyes on the counter. The conversation was making her fresh bruises sting and her mind wander to memories she forgot she had.
“So what’s bugging you?”
The voice right next to Rainbow’s ear caused her illusion shrouded wings to snap open in shock. “Gah, Pinkie!” She complained, playfully shoving the Earth Pony from where she now perched on a stool next to Dash, “Stop doing that, would you?”
“You haven’t answered yet~” Pinkie sing-songed with a victorious smirk on her face.
“Yeah, yeah, Nightmare did get mad OK?” Rainbow silently wondered when exactly her scowl had morphed into a smile. “She yelled for a while and then we all got tossed around a little.” She winced as she rolled her shoulder. “Right, maybe a lot, but it’s nothing your cooking can’t cure.” She flashed a genuine grin at Pinkie but was met with a suspicious frown.
“But that’s not what’s bugging you. What’s really on your mind Dash-Dash?”
Rainbow’s smiled dropped as she nibbled on her cupcake. “Nothing… I just… You’ll think it’s crazy.”
Her statement was met with a snort. “Rainbow, remember who you’re talking to here.”
“Doesn’t mean I’m not inclined to believe it. So spill the beans and I’ll see if beans are a necessary remedy.”
Rainbow’s lips tugged up again. “I don’t think so Pinkie. ‘Cause, see, well, I think I knew that purple Alicorn.”
“As in I’ve seen her before. I’ve met her before.”
“What? You’ve met a time traveling Alicorn before and you didn’t tell me about it?”
Rainbow really did laugh this time. “I didn’t realize it before now. It was only for a couple of minutes and I didn’t know she was a time traveler.”
“Alright, fine.” Pinkie had an exaggerated glare on her face. “But if you have any other cool friends like that you’ve gotta introduce me.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, whatever, if I meet another Alicorn you’ll be the first one to know.”
There was a happy silence for a few moments that Rainbow was more than willing to spend munching on her cupcake before Pinkie’s voice broke it.
“So, what about that is bugging you?”
Rainbow sighed and put her treat down. “Besides you pestering me? A lot.” She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I met the Alicorn when I was, what, nine? I had just finished standing up to a couple of these bullies for Fluttershy when-”
“Fluttershy, the pony that Moony promised not to hurt if you would be a loyal soldier for her, Fluttershy?” Pinkie asked innocently.
Rainbow leveled a glare at her. “Yes, that Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes. “So anyway, I defended Fluttershy from these bullies and then we started to race to prove that I, obviously, was a better flyer than them. In the middle of the race, we all spotted this epic battle going on between that Alicorn and this other purple Unicorn. So, of course, us nine-year-old foals decided that that was way cooler than any dumb race so we all stopped to watch.” Rainbow paused to take a shuddering breath and run her hooves across her face. “And when the Alicorn saw us she became scared. Like, really really scared. I didn’t realize it then, but ‘till this day I’ve never seen a pony so scared. She turned to us and said we had to go finish the race, but we didn’t listen to her, of course. We were kids, what do you expect us to have done?”
“And why is that bugging you so badly?”
Rainbow gritted her teeth. “Because of how scared she was! A time traveling Alicorn was terrified that I didn’t finish a dumb race as a kid. And then when I was in the woods with her, she said that in the time she came from, her and her friends saved the world from Nightmare Moon and now I can’t… I can’t stop thinking that maybe if I had finished that race then things would have turned out like that and that somehow… somehow all of this is my fault.” Was it moist in here? Why did her face feel wet?
“Dashie, that’s ridiculous, how can this be your fault?”
“I don’t know!” Rainbow cried, throwing her hooves in the air, “But I feel like it is! It’s my fault Fluttershy’s under constant threat. It’s my fault you can’t bake a bad cake without being smacked around. It’s my fault I have to do all of Nightmare’s dirty work. It’s my fault everyone has to! Everything is my fault!”
“What all is Rainbow’s fault?” Came a sophisticated voice from the doorway, “I hope it’s your mane because that buzzcut looks simply dreadful on you.”
Pinkie leaned out of her seat to wave enthusiastically at the newcomer while Rainbow rolled her eyes yet again. “Yeah, nice to see you too Rarity.”
“Well, it is nice to see you.” Rarity said, delicately taking a seat next to the Pegasus, making sure not a piece of her outfit touched the chair, “I got quite worried for a few moments when you all came back empty-hooved.” She eyed Rainbow’s half eaten cupcake before letting out a deep sigh. “Pinkie, darling, would you be a dear and fetch me a coffee, please?”
“Sure thing Rare-Bare,” Pinkie said before leaping over the counter once again, “Dashie was just saying how she thinks the world going kaplooie is all her fault.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “And how did you work that crushing weight onto yourself?”
Rainbow groaned, “Short version: I met the Alicorn before. She asked me to do something that seemed important. I didn’t. In the forest she said she beat Nightmare Moon with her friends. Obviously, things are different. Can’t help feeling like the important thing I didn’t do caused it.”
There was silence as Rarity stared at her with a mix of emotions crossing her face before it was broken by Pinkie placing a mug of coffee in Rarity’s hooves. “She forgot to mention she was nine when this happened and that the ‘important thing’ was finishing a race.” She hummed in thought as she placed a straw in Rarity’s mug. “I don’t even think it was a competitive race or anything.”
“Darling…” Rarity sighed, taking a sip of her coffee, ignoring the straw, “I understand you feel guilty about many things that aren’t your fault, I do too, to be honest, but saying Nightmare Moon’s return is all on you is ridiculous!”
“I know, I said it sounded crazy, but I just feel like…”
“Like?” Rarity prodded.
“Like, maybe, I was supposed to be her friend.” Rainbow wiped a hoof across her stinging eyes. “The Alicorn said she and her friends stopped Nightmare and I can’t help thinking that if I finished my race I would have been one of those friends and… Who am I kidding? This still sounds crazy.”
“Not at all. In fact, I completely understand you.”
Rainbow snorted at the Unicorn. “You do? Really?”
“Yes,” Rarity said, her eyes lost in the swirling mist of the coffee, “Before you all showed up she said to me, well more implied really, that we were friends in a different time. I thought she was crazy, of course, but if you feel it too then maybe…”
“It could be real,” Rainbow finished for her.
Rarity smiled. “Yes, that exactly.”
“Maybe you could go find her?”
Both Rainbow and Rarity looked up, startled, at the Earth Pony.
“How the heck would we do that, Pinks?”
Pinkie shrugged. “Well, you said she came from a different time so our time’s her is probably still out there just waiting to become friends with you.” She poked a hoof on Rainbow’s armored chest. “And you said you’d introduce me to any more cool friends so everyone wins!”
“But darling, how would we find her?” Rarity asked, “Even if she does exist here, what you’re suggesting is next to impossible, heavens, we don’t even know her name.”
Pinkie shrugged again. “Her cutie mark? I dunno. Maybe if you find out how Moony got defeated it could lead to her.”
Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. “Uh, but Nightmare Moon didn’t get defeated Pinkie. That’s why we’re, ya know, in her castle?”
Pinkie rolled her eyes and tapped Rainbow on the nose. “Not this time silly, last time before she was imprisoned the first time. That time.”
Rarity gasped, “You mean the time long before known time where Princess Celestia took her time in sealing our current ruler for a very long time?”
Pinkie nodded and clapped her hooves. “Yes, exactly! That time!”
Rainbow glared at the two. “You mind saying that in Eques and not Pinkiess?”
Rarity took a sip of her coffee. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“We’re talking about the time…” Pinkie’s voice caught as Dash turned her glare back to her. “Uh, I mean when Nightmare Moon got sealed in the moon a thousand years ago by Celestia. However that happened is probably the same as how the Time Alicorn did it in her time.” Pinkie frowned, “Aw dang, I did it again didn’t I?”
Rainbow frowned. “But didn’t Celestia just use her super goddess powers to seal her away?”
“No,” Rarity shook her head. “I read about it once, she used some tools of order or something of the like to banish her.”
Rainbow finished off her cupcake and smacked her lips, “I guess that’s as good a place to start as any. If you read about it then we can probably find the book somewhere in the castle.” She shrugged and stood up, “If nothing else it’ll give us something new to do for a while.”
Pinkie snatched Rainbow’s discarded wrapper and gave her a hopeful grin. “Same time tomorrow, Dashie? We can compare notes over scones!”
Rainbow smiled back at her. “Sounds good. Just make sure no one's here then, 'kay?”
“'Kay!” Pinkie nodded rapidly and turned her bright gaze to Rarity, “What about you, Rare? Can you come here again?”
Rarity hummed as she sipped at her coffee, “Well I suppose if there's the promise of fresh scones I can find something to contribute to our little book club.”
“Oh yeah,” Rainbow said, rubbing her neck, “I guess we should call this something different than what it actually is, huh? If we get too far this could count as treason.”
“We could call it the Daring Do Book Club!”
Rainbow flushed, “What? No! Why would we do…”
“Oh please, darling,” Rarity interrupted, “everyone one knows about your ‘secret’ hobby. In fact, I think calling our meetings something like ‘A Daring Meeting’ would point ponies in that direction and away from our real purpose. Marvelous idea, Pinkie.”
“But… I… No… But…”
“It’s settled,” Rarity declared, pushing her empty mug towards Pinkie and standing up, “we’ll meet here tomorrow at the same time to discuss any daring discoveries we’ve made.” She smirked at Rainbow’s glare. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have tapestries to change. Again.”
Rainbow watched the door swing shut behind the purple tail with annoyance. That pony would be the death of her. Or at least her small social life.
“Soooo,” Pinkie leaned across the gray counter, snapping Rainbow out of her thoughts, and gave her a wide grin. “are you gonna add the Time Alicorn to your Daring Do fanfics now?”
The night after the appearance and disappearance of the purple time traveling Alicorn and frankly the most exciting night since the return of Nightmare Moon had been incredibly dull for Rainbow Dash. Not only had she not been able to find a single thing about Nightmare Moon’s first defeat, but word of when Her Majesty was in a bad mood spread rapidly and, as consequence, only a few desperate ponies had even shown up to court, much less do anything exciting.
So when the time came for meeting with her friends, Rainbow could only hope they’d had a better night than she had.
She walked into the break room with a slouch, her eyes scanning to make sure the room was empty before they came to a rest on her friend, “Hey Pinkie, how was yOWAHG!”
“Oh hi, Dashie!” Pinkie greeted enthusiastically, ignoring Rainbow’s cry and her wide-eyed stare, “You ready for our ‘book club’?”
“Pinkie! What the hay happened to your face?” In hindsight that might not have been the most tactful thing to say, but Rainbow had never been good at tact and seeing her friend hurt didn’t help it improve.
Pinkie’s smile faded and she touched a hoof to her face where a large bruise had recently formed. She met Dash’s panicked eyes with a lopsided grin, “Oh this? Well, you know when you were in here yesterday and spilled that cupcake?”
Rainbow nodded her head slowly and walked forward, her sudden shock seeping away to be replaced with concern.
“Well,” Pinkie continued, her voice wavering slightly, “I guess I didn’t clean it up that well because Charged Night was in here about midnight and he slipped on it an-and got angry.”
Rainbow grounded her teeth at the name, not even having the capacity to be that surprised. Charged Night was the captain of the Night Guard, a brave warrior, and loyal to Nightmare Moon to a point even she found creepy.
He was also the biggest jerk and bigot to ever exist.
As a natural born Thestral and not just a pegasus with illusions covering their wings, he automatically assumed that he was superior to every other ‘lesser race’ of pony. His loyalty and devotion to Nightmare Moon had made him fly through the guard ranks, but the worship he had for her sometimes got too intense even for their all powerful ruler. He was also intensely violent and, without any current outsources, tended to direct it to anything he could get away with hurting.
While abusing other members of the staff wasn’t technically allowed, no one was going to tattle on the captain of the guard.
Without a word Rainbow flew over the counter and started rummaging around in the small freezer, mumbling under her breath
“Dashie, stop, I’m fine,” Pinkie protested, watching Rainbow with worry, “You aren't supposed to be back here you know…”
Dash snorted as she withdrew her head from the freezer, an ice pack clamped firmly in her mouth, “Charged isn't supposed to hit you for no reason either, but it’s not like anyone’s going to stop us.” She hoofed the pack over to Pinkie and gave her a firm look, “Now keep that on your bruise as long as you can alright?”
Pinkie pouted but did as instructed, wincing when the pack made contact with her face, “It’s cold,” She protested.
Rainbow rolled her eyes and flew back over the counter, “That’s why it’s called an ice pack genius.” She let out a sigh and slumped in her seat, “I take it you didn’t get anything for our...ah...book club either?”
Pinkie sadly shook her head, “Sorry Dashie, but I was way too busy last night to even look for anything.”
Rainbow sighed and let her face drop into her hooves, “How things are going so far it’ll be a miracle if Rarity has any good news at all.”
“I HAVE GREAT NEWS!”
Sometimes there were downsides to having your senses and instincts honed for trouble and danger. In the sudden panic that followed the loud shout Rainbow’s wings worked on their own accord and launched her into the air. Her fight-or-flight response also headed nothing like the pesky fact that they were indoors with a low roof and accordingly slammed the Pegasus’ face into the ceiling.
“Oh dear,” Came a gentle sound from below.
Rainbow peeled herself from the ceiling and glared daggers at Rarity standing sheepishly in the doorway. That unicorn really was going to be the death of her.
“Wow Dashie, now we can be matching!”
Rainbow immediately touched her cheek and grimaced at the pain the action brought. Sure enough, a bruise probably was going to form there.
She shot Rarity a dirty look as she descended, “Yeah, Rarity, thanks. Maybe face injuries should be our new gang sign. It would certainly make a statement. You know, maybe you should have one too.”
Rarity laughed awkwardly and took a step back from the aggressive Pegasus, “Oh please darling, this was a very unfortunate accident, and I agree that I could have entered more proper, but I really do have a great news and I don’t think we should ruin this day with violence.”
“Too late for that,” Rainbow mumbled but she stopped her stalk like approach and settled back into her seat, “Pinkie, can you get me an ice pack and a root beer on Rarity?”
“But sodas are free here silly.” Pinkie giggled, already rummaging around in the freezer.
“Than get me two.” Rainbow declared, shooting Rarity a good-natured, if not slightly predatory, smile.
Rarity didn’t buy her smile and sat down two seats away from Rainbow, casting her a weary look.
“So what great news do you have Rarity?” Pinkie asked, placing to sodas in front of Rainbow and one in front of the Unicorn, “Did you get a new outfit? Or did you finally try that new makeup you wanted? Or did Celestia return and has now defeated Nightmare with candy and is letting everyone have free cake for life?”
“I…” Rarity hesitated, her attention shifting to Pinkie in confusion, “I what? No, darling, it isn’t anything that drastic. I just...I’m sorry, dear, but now I’m concerned; how did you get that bruise?”
Pinkie shrugged as she placed an ice pack into Dash’s hoof, “Charged Night got mad at me yesternight.”
Rarity scowled, “Oh, I should have guessed. That brute thinks that just because he’s a suck up to The Princess he can get away with tormenting any pony he wishes.”
“He’s never hurt you, has he, Rarity?” Pinkie asked with concern.
Rarity huffed, “I would say not. Oh, he tried once but I don’t think he was expecting my left hook.”
Pinkie gasped and Rainbow Dash snorted into her root beer with a laugh, “You fought him off? Oh man, I wish I could have seen his face!”
“But didn’t he tell Moony?” Pinkie breathed.
Rarity smiled, “Oh he tried to, of course, but our dear princess’ reply was very curt.” Rarity raised her nose into the air and gave a near perfect impression of Nightmare Moon, “Why are you whining about it to me?”
Rainbow let out a loud laugh and pounded the counter with her hoof.
Pinkie giggled uncontrollably and rocked back and forth with glee, “She didn’t!”
“She did!” Rarity said, joining in on the laughter, “Oh, he had the most dumbfounded face on as he finally realized how embarrassing it was that The Captain of the Guard got shown up by a servant.”
The laughter turned into a roar as the three mares struggled to contain their mirth. Eventually, Rainbow was the first to find her breath. “I gotta hand it to ya Rarity, I was peeved before, but that really is some great news!”
“Oh no, no, no, darling.” Rarity waved a hoof dismissively as she took a drink of her soda, “That happened near the beginning of my employment here. My news is something completely different.”
“Really?” Pinkie gasped, “What other super cool stuff do you have?”
“Oh nothing,” Rarity said, “It’s just that I found the book I was talking about yesternight.”
Rainbow perked up at that, “You found the book about Nightmare’s defeat?”
Rarity nodded and a confident smile appeared on her lips, “I did indeed, I knew I had read the legend of the mare and the moon somewhere and it just took a bit of searching to find it.” With a flourish, she lit her horn and pulled out a hardcover book from her saddle bags. The book had the title ‘The Mare in the Moon and Other Legends Made Right’ sprawled across it in golden letters and a picture of Nightmare Moon bathed in light as the cover, “The edited version of course, but it should serve our purpose.”
Rainbow snatched the book out of the air, flipped to the first page, and started reading out loud, “‘Once in the magical land of Equestria two sisters ruled over the land in harmony. One was the beautiful princess of the night and the other the wicked queen of the day.’” Rainbow stuck out her tongue, “Oh bleh, I feel sorry for whoever had to write this.”
Rarity’s magic gently tugged the book back out of Rainbow’s hooves, “Why I’m sure the rest of the story is fascinating it’s really this part we’re interested in.” She flipped a few pages in and cleared her throat, “‘Then, the elder used the forces of The Elements of Harmony to lock the poor night princess in the moon, tainting its pristine surface and ruling Equestria with crushing days for a thousand years to come.’”
Rainbow snorted, “Who’s ever going to believe that Celestia was the evil sister?”
“Especially when she beat Moony with something called ‘Harmony’.” Pinkie said excitedly, leaning over the counter, “Does it say anything more about them, Rarity?”
Rarity flipped through the rest of the book and shook her head, “I’m afraid not. It seems the rest of the book is just retellings of other stories with Nightmare being the hero.”
“So that’s it?” Rainbow cried, “The only info we have is that they're called Elements of Harmony and Celestia used them to banish Nightmare Moon once? Ugh, that’s practically useless. It doesn’t even say anything about another Alicorn.”
“Oh, it’s not completely useless.” Rarity waved her hoof dismissively, “While there isn’t much information here at least now we have a good place to start.”
“That’s all we had last time too,” Rainbow mumbled.
“But now that we know what they’re called we’re a step closer to finding your Alicorn friend,” Pinkie supplied, grinning so excitedly at Rainbow that the Pegasus had no choice but to return it.
“I guess it’s better than nothing. Heh, maybe we’ll find out what they look like or something tomorrow.”
“Actually darlings, I was thinking we should stretch out these meetings to fewer than every night.”
“What?” Pinkie cried, leaping onto the counter to place her hooves on Rarity’s shoulders, “But you’re the only ponies that are nice to me and I was really looking forward to seeing you both all the time!”
Rarity gave her a sympathetic look and patted the Earth Pony’s mane, “I know darling, and I enjoy seeing you, but we need to keep this low profile and us just ‘randomly’ coming here at the same time every night will raise some brows.”
“As much as I hate to say it Pinks,” Rainbow spoke up, “I’ve gotta agree with Rarity on this one. Coming here every night will get ponies suspicious and if they seriously start thinking something’s up they can change our schedules so we won’t be able to meet at all.” She nodded her head at Rarity and took another swig of her soda, “Spacing them out would be a whole lot safer. Once a week should be enough time in between.”
Rarity smiled, “I think once a week is a perfect time.” She turned back to Pinkie, who had since let go of her but was now pouting with her forehooves crossed in front of her chest, and sighed, “That doesn’t mean we won’t visit you, darling, it just won’t be at the same time or for this reason.”
Rainbow playfully punched Pinkie in the shoulder, “Besides, you’ll need a day or two to think of a prank for me right?”
Pinkie instantly lite up, “You’ll let me pull a prank on you?”
Rainbow shrugged, “Sure, as long as it’s nothing too bad. I could alway use a laugh.”
Pinkie nodded rapidly, “OK, I can wait ‘till next week then. I’ll come up with a great prank!”
“Great, now if you’ll excuse me,” Rainbow stood up and stretched, removing the ice pack she had held to her face, “I’ve got to make up a story as for why I have this new beauty mark.”
Rarity pursed her lips, “I suppose an apology isn’t enough to redeem myself, is it?”
Rainbow chuckled, “Not on your life. In fact, I might just prank you next week.”
Rarity glared, “If you ruin my mane I will end you.”
Rainbow grinned, “Sounds like a challenge. I’ll be looking forward to it now. And you Pinkie,” She thrust a hoof at the Earth Pony who was now taking advantage of Rainbow’s forgotten soda, “Stay safe will ya?”
Pinkie nodded rapidly and saluted as Rainbow exited the room.
“I FOUND IT!” Rainbow shouted, bursting open the door. She was later than usual and relished the thought of giving Rarity a taste of her own medicine and watch her shoot sparks or whatever it was Unicorns did when they were scared.
Instead of an epic explosion, Rainbow was only greeted by Pinkie Pie’s excited waving and Rarity’s green face glaring daggers.
Well that was certainly unexpected.
Rainbow quickly assessed the situation; Rarity’s mane, face, and shoulders were lime green, but the rest of her was practically untouched. A bucket with what looked like green paint dripping down its side sat behind Pinkie in the sink and Rainbow could see a couple flakes of emerald on the ground.
Rainbow snickered and pointed a hoof at her friends, “No no, don’t tell me. Pinkie set up a prank for me and you got hit with it? That’s it isn’t it? Oh my gosh, that’s rich. Here I totally forgot all about it and you just walked into it anyway!” She punctured her last sentence with a full on laugh and made her way over to the counter.
“Why are you late?” Rarity seethed, her icy glare growing colder as Rainbow chuckled.
“Oh, Shadow Cover got held up for something or another.” Rainbow shrugged, “It’s not like I missed anything important.” She giggled as she gently touched Rarity’s nose, surprised to find her hoof come away clean, “Does that stuff wash out?”
“Of course it washes out, Dashie,” Pinkie said, “It was a prank for you and I know you have to be spic and span when you go out guarding.” She turned to Rarity as her expression suddenly morphed to concerned, “You really aren’t mad at me, Rarity?”
The Unicorn sighed and shook her head, “I’m not mad at you, Pinkie. It was intended for Rainbow Dash and she’s the one that showed up late. In all honesty, I should only be mad at her since she was the one who told you to pull a prank in the first place.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Rainbow said with a roll of her eyes, “You can get me back for indirectly pranking you later. Right now we have to talk about my latest discovery.” Before the other two could speak she extracted a book from beneath her armor and plopped it onto the table, “Boom, ‘The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide’ ready for use.”
The two friends gasped, “Oh darling, that’s wonderful! Wherever did you find it?”
“The library in Ponyville. It was in one of those ‘for sale’ bins and when I saw this baby I bought it on the spot.”
“Didja read it yet?” Pinkie asked, “Does it give us all the secrets?”
Rainbow’s smile shrank, “Uh, sort of. It does tell all about them like how many there are, that each has to have a pony representing it and that the ponies using it have to be friends, but uh...it also says that the last place they were seen was in the Everfree Forest, in the Castle of the Two Sisters.”
Silence fell as the two took in Rainbow’s words and eventually was broken by Pinkie, “But, that’s here isn’t it?”
Rarity let out a long breath, “So Nightmare Moon already has them in her possession. We should have known if there was a weapon that could defeat her she would want to have it destroyed.”
“Well, the book said they can’t really be destroyed,” Rainbow muttered, “But if Nightmare has them then this is totally a dead end either way.”
A heavy silence overcame the room once more as it seemed like the last flame of hope had been thoroughly blown out.
“Well, I found a couple books,” Pinkie said after a few long moments, “There not about The Elements but I tried to find out as much as possible about time travel.” She pulled three books from under the counter and set them gently on the top. “I don’t know if they’ll help but, I was thinking, maybe it could lead us to the Alicorn?”
The first book was thin and worn with had a bearded stallion on the front and the title ‘Starswirl’s Complete Notes on Time Theory’. The second was the ‘Daring Do and the Twists of Time’ book, number seventeen in the series. The last was a plain black book with small star-like objects decorating its cover. The title, ‘Time Theory and What it Could Mean’, was written on the top in plain bolded letters.
Rarity and Rainbow’ stared at the bottom of the last book where the author’s name was neatly printed. Like most books, the author’s name was punctuated with a small picture of their cutie mark and the six-pointed star next to the name seemed to captivate the two friends.
“Th-that’s…” Rarity breathed, not daring to look away.
“Her cutie mark!” Rainbow snatched the last book off the table and instantly opened the back cover.
A picture of a grumpy looking unicorn with thick glasses and a striped mane sat at the top of the cover flap. Her cutie mark was enlarged and in the bottom corner of the picture and a short bio about the author extended underneath.
“It’s her!” Rarity and Rainbow said as one, staring at the black and white photo.
Pinkie looked between them in confusion, “Her? Her who?”
Rainbow looked up at her with an almost crazed grin, “Oh Pinkie, you little weirdo, only you would manage to grab the exact book written by our Alicorn Princess.”
It took a moment, but soon Pinkie’s face matched the two in uncontained joy, “You mean that’s her? That’s really her? We found the lost time Alicorn?”
“‘Twilight Sparkle,” Rarity read out loud, pointing a hoof at the book, “‘is a unicorn scholar currently living in Canterlot. She is known to spend long days studying magical theory and other sciences even though’, and they quote, ‘none of these theories have any real practical use’.”
Rainbow pumped a hoof, “Yes! We have a name and a location for the Alicorn! Let’s hit the nearest train to Canterlot.”
“Darling, I doubt we can all go.” Rarity chided gently.
“Wha?” Dash blinked, “What do you mean we can’t all go? Give me one good reason we can’t hop a train to Canterlot right now.”
Rarity frowned at her, “Well for one, Pinkie isn’t even allowed to leave the castle at all, especially not on such a short notice, and for another, if we showed up at a pony’s door with a royal guard their first thought would be that they were going to be arrested. That also goes double if she’s an Alicorn in disguise.”
Rainbow opened her mouth, closed it, then gave an angry huff, “Fine. You can just go by yourself then. We’ll just stay here and do more dumb research.”
“Come on Dashie,” Pinkie said, “Research is fun! Besides, now I can prank you properly without risk of hitting Rarity.”
“Fine,” Dash mumbled, “But you better give us every detail when you get back.”
“Of course darling,” Rarity agreed, “I won’t leave you two out of anything our dear Alicorn has to say.” She paused and glance down at her green neck, “But, perhaps I should wait until I’m more presentable to see her.”
Rarity, completely white now and wearing a much more casual light blue dress, stared at the apartment door in front of her. Her eyes flicked once more to the address in her hoof, then back to the one hanging next to the door. As the last six times had confirmed, they were identical.
Rarity peered around her surroundings uncertainly yet again. The apartment building she was currently in was small and dingy. Things stained the carpet and there was a terrible smell in the air. Rarity looked once more at the addresses, praying that the seventh time would change one of them.
No such luck. This was, without a doubt, the home of Twilight Sparkle.
Rarity took a deep breath - that she immediately regretted - and steeled herself up to the door. Just because she lived in the worst housing in Canterlot didn’t mean anything about who the pony herself was. In fact, Rarity reasoned, if she was an Alicorn in disguise she would probably want to stay as far away from prying eyes as possible too.
With one more glance at the address, Rarity rapped on the door and stood back to wait.
Rarity was about to give up completely when there was finally a commotion and the door open just enough for her to make out a purple eye framed by glasses.
“Yes?” Came the disgruntled greeting. Rarity felt her heart skip at the sound. If there was any doubt that she had the right pony they had been banished with that one word.
“T-Twilight Sparkle?” Rarity stuttered, trying to peer around the door and see the rest of the pony.
“Speaking. What do you want?”
Rarity snapped herself out of her daze and shook her head to clear it, “Oh yes, of course, where are my manners? My name is Rarity Belle and I have recently read your book, ‘Time Theory and What it Could Mean’ and I must say I was intrigued by it. So much, in fact, that I wanted to meet you in person and discuss the finer details of it, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble.” Rarity finished off the rehearsed speech with a smile and looked hopefully into Twilight’s eyes.
Twilight stared at Rarity with a suspicious glare so long that Rarity though she might have broken her before she finally rolled her eyes and opened the door, “Fine. Come in but make it quick.”
Rarity mentally hoof-bumped herself. She was in and now all she needed to do was gently breach the subject that the pony standing in front of her from a different time came and now they wanted to start a rebellion against the most powerful force in Equestria history.
The first thing Rarity noticed about the apartment she entered was how small it was. The cramped walls and low ceiling gave her a strong sense of claustrophobia.
Or perhaps it came from the literal piles of paper scattering the room, some stacks so tall that Rarity doubted she could reach the top if she stood on her back hooves. They filled up so much of the room that the two unicorns had to walk in single file just to move anywhere.
But Rarity was a polite mare and noticed that second.
The next thing Rarity took stock of was her grumpy host. She was definitely a Unicorn, as no wings graced her back, but Rarity had hardly been expecting to be greeted by multi-race royalty in this shabby place. The Unicorn in question was also very scruffy looking, her mane stuck up at odd intervals and her coat, which was shown off by her distinct lack of clothing, was matted in certain places. The little Rarity had seen of her face revealed a pair of glasses that had certainly not been present on the Alicorn - most likely for reading or something of the like - bags under the eyes, and a scowl that was often used by ponies when someone was interrupting something important. Her shoulders were slumped but she walked with confidence in her cluttered domain.
Rarity, as inappropriate as it sounded, kept glancing at the purple pony’s flank and starburst cutie mark to reassure herself that she had the right purple pony.
Twilight stopped abruptly at a particularly large stack of paper. A deep pink aura lit up around her horn and she effortlessly levitated the towering mound of parchment to reveal a small coffee table and two seats hidden under it.
Twilight slumped down in one of them and Rarity took the hint to occupy the other.
There was a very tense silence as the unicorns stared at each other, before Twilight broke it with an impatient huff, “So you wanted to talk about my book?”
“Hmm?” Rarity replied shaking herself out of her daze, “Oh yes, like I said before I found it most fascinating and hoped to, perhaps, discuss some points of it with you.” Rarity recited, sticking to her pre-planned alibi.
Twilight did not look impressed, “You tracked me down and came all the way here to discuss nonsensical theories?”
“I’m sorry, nonsensical?”
Twilight sighed, “Of course, everything in that book is pure theory and could never have any actual results or ever even be tested.”
“Yes, theoretical, of course,” Rarity replied, keeping her expression as neutral as possible, “but all we need to talk about is plausible theory. So, theoretically, if some very powerful pony went back in time and changed something very important in the past do you, theoretically, think that could create something like a different timeline or would it, theoretically, just erase the original timeline?”
“Wha...hu?” Twilight blinked rapidly, clearly surprised by the sudden question, “Well, uh, that would depend on if the theoretical time traveler could remember their original timeline.”
“Theoretically say they can.”
Twilight frowned but gave a determined nod, “Well then there would be alternate because, if nothing else, the timeline would live in their memories.” She hummed thoughtfully, “Of course that would also, theoretically cause the original timeline to become the baseline for all the others.”
Rarity leaned forward in her seat, “Baseline? What do you mean by that?”
Twilight was on a roll now and spoke with a happy smile, “Well, time is like a...a piece of paper.” Her magic ignited once again and grabbed a seemingly random document from the cluttered room, “The paper is flat and smooth now, going in one direction and never staying from its straight path because every ponies’ decision - the individual fibers in the paper - all leads up to the same point: the present.” Her magic flared brighter and a sparkling letter P appeared at the end of the paper
“But, if I bend the paper or mess with ponies decisions in the past,” Twilight folded the paper in half and creased the fold, “The paper is now like two pieces of paper almost parallel to each other. The first present is still there,” she gestured with her horn at the magic P that had not moved “but now a second one is bent away from the original at an angle, creating a new timeline and a new present. With me so far?”
Rarity nodded, her eyes glued to the presentation floating in front of her.
“See but the second timeline doesn’t want to be bent. Since the two are the same paper or, in other words, the same time with the same ponies doing basically the same thing - just with a few changed decisions at that particular spot - the times will want to realign as closely as possible once again.” She released the bent side of the sheet, causing that side to spring up almost and almost retouch the magic P.
“Ingenious,” Rarity praised, “So if we dropped the metaphor then the second timeline, the one the traveler isn’t originally from, would try to set up so, say, certain ponies became friends and certain events start to transpire?”
Twilight nodded approvingly, “Theoretically, that’s basically correct. I must say I’m impressed, not many ponies take time to study complex magic theory, what inspired you to this?”
Rarity waved a hoof dismissively as Twilight’s magic winked out of existence, settling the paper settle with its brethren, “No reason, darling, let's just say an, ah, inspired purple friend of mine got me intrigued.”
Twilight’s smile she had acquired during the discussion descended back into a frown, “Oh? This friend inspired you so much that you came all the way to Canterlot just to ramble theories with pseudo-scientist me?”
“Well, just between you and me this little bookworm friend of mine really made the prospect seem quite royal.”
Twilight’s frown deepened further, “Right. I bet you came to Canterlot to try and find a ‘royal friend’ too?”
Rarity smiled mischievously at Twilight, her spirits soaring. Twilight new she new and they had been getting along so well! This was going even better than she expected, “Twilight, darling, I think I already found her.”
“Right,” Twilight stood abruptly, “I’ve been a bad host. I should offer you tea. Do you want tea? I have tea. It’s fresh as I was going to have it before you came.”
Rarity nodded happily, “Oh yes please, darling. This theory talk has made me thirsty and I always enjoy a good cup of tea.”
Twilight retreated somewhere else in the mess and vanished for a few minutes before returning with two cups of steaming tea. She waited until Rarity sipped her’s before speaking again, “So, who exactly is this ‘friend’ you’re trying to find?”
“Oh, she’s not really my friend yet and she’s an Alicorn Princess .” Rarity briefly wondered why she had just proclaimed that information. Wasn’t she suppose to approach that subject with tact? She recalled that she had a plan but strangely the details seemed to be slipping from her.
“I knew it,” Twilight growled, not touching her own tea, “You’re a Nightmare spy aren’t you? I sensed her magic clinging all over you when you came in. Well, I’m telling you now that no matter what she does she will never find her.”
Rarity blinked and then blinked some more, it was oddly getting harder to see, “A spy? No no no. While I do work for Miss Moon I assure you that…” Rarity’s head bobbed before she regained control of it, “that she has no idea I’m here and certainly doesn’t know the little secret that you’re an Alicorn Princess destined to defeat her.”
“You expect me to believe...wait...me? You think I’m an Alicorn?” Twilight’s anger made way for general confusion, “Why would anyone think that I’m an Alicorn? Or that I’m destined for anything like that!”
Rarity leaned back in her seat, as she had become exceedingly light headed, “I met a you from a different timeline, the original piece of paper I think, and you were an Alicorn.” She shrugged, struggling to keep her eyes open, “You said some interesting things and I wanted to come here and see if it was possible.”
Twilight’s jaw fell open, “Wait...you’re serious? And Nightmare Moon has no idea you came to find me?”
“She’s aware I’m in Canterlot but besides that is clueless.” Rarity said dreamily, her vision rapidly becoming dark around the edges.
“I am...seriously going to have to speak to her about this.” Rarity heard Twilight mumbled before she drifted into unconsciousness.
“...and Loyalty,” Rainbow Dash read out loud in a bored voice, stealing another bite of a freshly baked scone, “but the sixth Element is a mystery.” She looked up expectantly at her pink companion who was scanning through a thick book of her own.
“Alright but according to ‘Magical Artifacts Through the Ages,’” Pinkie supplied, flipping pages, “the sixth is the center for the other Elements so it would have to be a representation for holding Harmony together.” She looked up at Dash with a shrug, “So it’s either love, magic, or the force.”
Rainbow lifted a brow, “The what?”
“It’s from a book, nevermind.”
Rainbow shrugged and bit her scone again, “Then there’s some stuff about two to eight bearers channeling the energy through themselves.”
“Yep,” Pinkie nodded, “More is better if they're not all super strong Alicorns or something but each of the bearers has to have some trait of the Element they channel or it won’t work.”
Rainbow snorted, “I don’t know if these are the best requirements. I mean, even Charged Night can be loyal.”
“Maybe your intent has to be right.”
Rainbow gave Pinkie a flat look, “Yeah? And what makes an intent ‘right?’”
“If it sounds good,” Pinkie said nonchalantly, proceeding to clean a glass that probably wasn’t even dirty.
Rainbow blinked at her, her mind trying to find some sense in that sentence but coming up with nothing, “What?”
“Then it’ll be harmonies!” Pinkie grinned and booped Dash on the nose.
Rainbow opened her mouth and let it hang there as she processed before closing it with a chuckle, “Alright, that was a bad one Pinks.” Her laugh quickly turned into a sigh, “I just wish we had more to go on than just these dumb books.”
“Oh, don’t be so grouchy Dash-Dash,” Pinkie scolded, discarding her glass and gently patting Rainbow’s head, “When Rare comes back we’ll have a new friend and will be one step closer to...stopping…” Pinkie’s voice died as her eyes grew clouded.
“Pinkie?” Rainbow asked, gently poking her friend, “Pinkie, you alright?”
“Somepony’s coming.” In less than a second Pinkie grabbed the two books off the counter and thrust a different one at Rainbow, “Here, keep this hidden but not too hidden.”
“Wha? Pinkie what’s…?” Before Rainbow could finish the door to the break room swung open and three Thestrals strolled in. Rainbow instantly scrambled to her hooves, keeping the book tucked under her wing and saluted smartly, “Captain Charged Night sir.” She nodded to the two ponies following him, “Shadow Cover, Clean Break, good to see you.”
Charged Night, the middle Thestral with a dull gray coat and spiky gold hair, was wearing predatory grin number 3; the one where he knew something bad was going to happen but also that the victim did not.
It made an involuntary shiver go down Dash’s back.
“Feather Head,” Charged greeted, “I suppose I should have expected to find you conversing with Mud Ponies. So like you to find company with those lower in class than even yourself.”
Rainbow bit back the sarcastic response that came to her and instead replied with a polite, “It can be peaceful around here, Captain.”
Charged chuckled and the other two quietly joined in a way that brought images of adolescent bullies to Rainbow’s mind, “Oh yes, because when I think of ‘peaceful’ I think of lunatic ground pounder too.”
Dash clamped on her tongue before she said anything rash, the Captain's lack of dismissal forcing her to maintain the awkward salute position, “I didn’t expect to see you here sir.”
“Oh, while the company is atrocious,” He said casually, moving up closer to the counter, “no pony can deny that the food here is delectable,” His gaze lowered onto Pinkie, who had been trying to stay far away from the interaction, and morphed into something much colder, “Daisy sandwich. Now.”
Pinkie instantly sprang into action and retreated further behind her counter and out of Dash’s peripheral. Charged again took up a casual tone, the other two Thestrals not saying a word but watching with their own predatory gazes, “I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me that you like this place, Bird Brain, after all, your other source of companionship is that yellow chicken.”
Rainbow tried to stop it but her body tensed without her consent. Charged Night smiled wider at the subtle reaction.
“Oh yes, that butter friend of yours really is an embarrassment to your already embarrassing race.” He leaned in closer to Dash, his grin cranking up a notch, “If I were you I’d just get rid of her. Friends like that have a habit of dragging you down after them.”
He stayed like that for a while longer, watching Dash for a sign he had struck a nerve. When she continued to meet his gaze unflinching he evidently became bored and his eyes slid to the book tucked under her wing.
Rainbow stiffened as Charged Night withdrew the book but relax once more when she saw the cover.
“Daring Do,” Charged drawled, “how childish.” He threw the book on the counter and picked up the daisy sandwich that had been waiting there. Not taking his eyes off Dash, he took a bit, chewed, and spat all over Rainbow’s face.
Rainbow’s left eye started twitching but besides that she was the very image of calm.
“This is stale,” Charged Night growled, turning his gaze off of Rainbow and onto, what Rainbow assumed by the terrified squeak, a very frightened Pinkie. “Much too stale. I think the mud slinger should be punished for this. Don’t you agree soldiers?”
Both Shadow Cover and Clean Break voiced their agreements while Rainbow Dash’s stiff posture began to tremble.
Charged Night turned back to her and got so close that Rainbow could feel the furs on his nose brush against her own. “I said ‘don’t you agree soldier?’” When Rainbow didn’t respond or even look at him he growled and continued in a low voice, “Maybe I should make you deal the punishment, Plumage, after all, nothing toughens a softy like making their friend blee-”
There was a resonating crack as Rainbow’s hoof made contact with Charged’s soft cheek. She hadn’t meant to hit him. Actually, no, that was a lie. Every fiber in her had been screaming to punch him in the jaw for the past five minutes. Only a small, reasonable, whisper had held her back on the base that the punishment wasn’t going to be worth the satisfaction but even that gave up and decided that, reasonably, punching him sounded really really good.
Rainbow drew back as soon as the punch landed. Her reasonable side, who wants it on the record that the punch really did feel good, started noting that Charged had backup that was currently circling and Dash was in a whole lot of trouble.
Scuffles within the guard were not unheard of and Rainbow herself had been in one or two. One wrong word led to a punch which lead to a bar fight which usually lead to one or two guards being out of commission for a bit.
As Charged Night was one to usually start and win these fights, Rainbow was extremely surprised when his only reaction was to chuckle, wipe his mouth, and turn on Predatory Smile number 1. The one where everypony knows that something terrible is about to happen and Charged was going to enjoy the attention.
“Well, at ease soldier.” Charged rubbed his jaw and gave a wince, “I must say, for a traitor you have quite a hook.”
Rainbow froze and became more aware of Shadow Cover and Clean Break on either side of her, “I...I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Charged Night rolled his eyes, “Oh please, don’t even try to deny it. Clean Break heard you, the Mud Pony and that stupid Unicorn talking about overthrowing the Princess and now you’re all going to pay for it.”
“Oh yeah?” Rainbow growled, “You and what proof?”
Charged just gave her a flat look and gestured to Shadow Cover, “Get the books Shadow.”
Shadow Cover saluted and flew over the counter, barely giving the frightened Pinkie Pie a second glance. She rummaged under the counter for a minute before extracting the two books Rainbow and Pinkie had been looking at just before.
“Let’s see,” Charged said, taking the books from Shadow, “that’s an eyewitness testifying that he heard you planning, books in your possession that have to do with things plausible to take down our glorious leader and assaulting the captain of the guards.” He gave an exaggerated hum, “You know I think that might just be enough evidence to turn you and the mud pony in for treason.”
Rainbow swallowed, “But...ah.”
“Face it Bird Brain,” Charged sneered, his posture changing to an attack stance, “You either come with us now and just get years of jail and pain or…” His smile turned deadly, “we do this the fun way.”
Four pairs of eyes swiveled away from their current confrontation and to the pink pony who was staring thoughtfully up a the ceiling, seemingly ignorant of her and Rainbow’s impending doom.
“Do you think the reason the back door to this room is a little to the left of being centered is because it’s right next to the Everfree and that place is a little ‘off’ too? Or maybe it makes it easier to see because I don’t think a guard’s ever been near it. Well,” She shrugged and gave Rainbow an odd look, “besides for six seconds from now.”
There was silence as the four guards tried to digest the words, each with a mixture of confusion on their face. Eventually, Charged gave up and just shook his head, mumbling under his breath.
Rainbow’s eyes widened not a moment later as her friend’s words finally sunk in.
Five seconds now?
“Shadow Cover, go grab the freak will you?”
Charged turned his grin to Dash, “I don’t think Clean and I will have any problem with Feather here.”
Shadow Cover leaped into the air while the two male Thestrals closed in on Dash.
There was a surprised yelp as Pinkie slipped around Shadow Cover. Charged night and Clean Break where close enough to grab Rainbow as she shut her eyes and held her breath.
Dash was in the air and heading towards the back door the moment the bag of - presumably flour by the grit clinging to her coat - hit the ground, leaving a hacking and momentarily blinded Charged Night and Clean Break.
Halfway to the back and with eyes still closed, Rainbow’s foreleg wrapped around something soft, squishy, and definitely not wearing armor and pulled it into her chest. She braced herself as the two crashed into the back door and out into the open sky.
Dash blinked rapidly to dispel any flour on her eyes as she soared away from the castle at an upward angle. She mentally pumped her hoof when her eyes confirmed that the soft thing wrapped around her neck was indeed pink and fluffy.
As soon as Rainbow could see clearly she flipped in mid air and made a beeline for the Everfree Forest, not even looking to see if she was being followed.
After ten minutes straight of diving around trees, pumping her wings as hard as they would go, Rainbow slowed her flight to a much more moderate pace, panting for breath “How you hanging in there Pinks? Still breathing and all that?”
There was a longer silence than expected, with the only reaction from the pink pony being a steadily increased trembling. Dash gained another twinge of worry, “Pinkie?”
“SQUEEEEE!” Pinkie shouted, removing her nose out of Dash’s chest and pressing it right up to her face, forcing the Pegasus to stop flying forward least they crash, “OhmygoshDashiethatwasamazingIknewyouwerefastbutwowieI’veneverexperianceditbeforethatwas themostincreadiblethingI’veeverdonecanwedoitagaincanwecanwecanwe?”
“Pinkie, Pinkie!” Rainbow shouted over the blabber, “Breath a second would you?”
Pinkie complied and sucked in a giant breath before squeeing again, “You’re just so awesome, Dashie.”
Rainbow blushed a bit at the praise, “Well, of course I am, I’m Rainbow Dash. But give yourself some credit too Pinks, your plan was awesome. Throwing flour like a smoke bomb, that was smart thinking.”
Pinkie giggled, “Aw shucks, you charmer.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes and dropped Pinkie on her flank, “Alright wisecrack, now that we’re in the middle of the Everfree what’s your plan?”
Pinkie blinked up at her, “My plan was to get away before we got punished and now...um…”
Rainbow smacked herself in the face, “You don’t have a plan? What are we supposed to do, wander around this dangerous forest for the rest of our lives?”
Pinkie bowed her head, “I...I’m sorry Dashie.”
Rainbow sighed, “Yeah, it’s OK. I’m stressed, but who wouldn’t be? We’ve just been labeled as traitors and have literally no place to go so we can think of a plan!” Her eyes suddenly widened, “Oh crap no! Fluttershy! If I’ve run away then she’s going to get hurt. We have to go get here now before it’s too late. Come on Pinkie, climb back on we have to move now.”
Pinkie didn’t respond.
“Pinkie? Look I’m sorry I yelled at you but we really need to get going. This is super important.”
Pinkie still didn’t respond and made no movement besides the steady rise and fall of her shoulders.
“Pinkie?” Dash really didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with this much worry in one day. Gently, she nudged the Earth Pony’s head, “Pinkie, you OK?”
Pinkie tilted forward and Rainbow found hope that was quickly banished when she didn’t stop tilting and ended up falling flat on her face, gently snores echoing from her pink form.
Rainbow stared, “Pinkie, what the heck are you…” Then her eyes landed on her friend’s back and the small wooden blowdart embedded in her skin, “Oh no. Oh, crap. Oh crap oh crap oh--” Rainbow gasped as her panic attack was cut off by a small prick at the base of her neck, “Oh crap,” She muttered as she fell unconscious by Pinkie.
She pumped her small wings as fast as she could, wind whipping at her mane and tears streaming down her cheeks.
She had to fly. She had to win.
There was a hiss and she bled off some speed to glance behind her. A giant wave of blackness came after her like a storm, consuming the color in the world and approaching at a blinding speed. She ripped her eyes away from the wall of terror and back in front of her to the distant finish line.
Ahead of her was the tape and the end of the race. The sky there was a deep blue with the sun shining brightly, warming her face and filling the air with color. Her friends were standing at the end, cheering her on, while her father smiled proudly. She just had to make it to them.
Suddenly the happy faces morphed to ones of horror as darkness started to creep in from all sides.
She looked around in confusion, she was so close to the end, so close to saving them, but she wasn’t moving. The frantic beating of her wings and the wind in her mane had stopped as she sat idly on a cloud, a mere hoof’s length from the end, watching as the world became slowly consumed by blackness.
She could still make it. If she just started flying again she could beat the darkness and save everything.
She didn’t move as the darkness consumed her loved ones and greedily surrounded her in its embrace.
Rainbow woke with a start from the unpleasant dream. The same one she had been having for over two weeks now. With a moan, the Pegasus rolled over and buried her face in the coarse blanket that was acting as her pillow. She longed for her soft bed and fluffy pillow in Nightmare’s castle as she shifted her body and tried to find a comfortable spot on the hard dirt floor.
Memories rushed back into her mind and all thoughts of sleep vanished as Rainbow’s head popped off the makeshift pillow. It took only a second for her trained eyes to sweep the room she had woken up in.
She was in a small room, more of a large closet, one that had wooden, circular walls. The ceiling was made of some type of plant that Dash couldn’t identify and looked to be hoof woven. Potions, masks, and other random objects surrounded her in an orderly fashion, though none were close enough for her to easily grab or knock over. The blanket-like thing that had served as her pillow seemed to be, and Rainbow hopped she was incorrect, some type of animal fur unknown to the Pegasus. As she had previously assessed, the floor was nothing but hard packed dirt which clung irritably to her fur and got in between her feathers. She no longer wore her armor, but that was no shock. She would’ve been more surprised if whoever had brought her here had left it on, as it contained a few hidden weapons and nasty secrets.
Most importantly, she could not see Pinkie anywhere in the small room.
Rainbow rose to her hooves and took a step towards the door only a few feet from her, intent on opening it any way she had to and finding her friend. She had only taken a few steps, however, when she was halted by a tightness around her foreleg and a light clicking sound.
Rainbow glanced back at the chain shackled around her foreleg and spiked into the ground. It seemed oddly out of place next to the wood and potions.
Rainbow Dash had never been in a situation like this, but she read many books and thought that she understood how these things worked. Especially the part where the captured pony always had to wait until the captors realized they were awake before anything happened besides staring at the wall. And that wait always went two ways, either you were so important the captors had been monitoring you and would arrive as soon as you awoke or you weren’t and you just had to wait until they came to check on you.
Rainbow, though, was never much one for following principles and if whoever had brought her here wasn’t going to show up on their own she would just have to make them show up.
She took a deep breath and screamed as loud as she could, impressing herself with the volume as a couple of the bottles around the room shuddered.
The scream had the desired effect as not a moment later the door to the room/closet burst open and a wide-eyed Zebra started yelling back at her.
“What is going on in here? What compelled you to kill our ears?”
Rainbow shrugged casually as she cut off her scream. “I got tired of waiting. This room is pretty interesting and stuff but I need at least a book or something if you want to keep me quiet for more than a couple minutes.”
The Zebra muttered something under her breath and rubbed her forehead with her hoof.
“So,” Rainbow started again, keeping her tone and posture light, “now we get to the point where you tell me exactly where my friend is or I kick your face in. Oh, and don’t think this chain will do anything to stop me from killing you if I find out you’ve harmed one hair on her head.”
The Zebra glanced up at her, clearly unimpressed. “Don’t speak to me with empty threats. Your friend is fine so don’t waste your breath.”
Rainbow narrowed her eyes, slightly confused by the rhyming, but she had seen stranger things. “They’re not empty. I’m a trained member of the Night Guard. Well, I guess not a member anymore, but I’ve taken on timberwolves with nothing but my hooves. Taking you down would be a cakewalk.”
The Zebra sighed, "I do not say I doubt your skill, but I am one you cannot kill. One thing you would consider well, it is here in Everfree that I dwell. Besides your friend is healthy and free, come here now, dear Pinkie."
Rainbow was caught off guard as the Zebra turned her head at the end of the sentence, directing the last word to another part of whatever building they were in, “You may come now, child, there is no cause for alarm.”
Slowly, a pink mane and frightened blue eyes peered around the doorframe, though the fear was quickly replaced by happiness and relief when they spotted Rainbow. “Dashie you’re alright!” Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing into the room and entrapping Rainbow with a hug, “I was so worried that there was a ghost or something in the hut because there was this terrible scream and Zecora got really upset and kind of spooked and I was spooked too but it was just you yelling for some reason but now you’re awake and everything’s alright again.”
“As you can see, she is completely unharmed,” The Zebra, Zecora probably, interjected, an amused smile playing on her lips as she watched Pinkie cling to Rainbow, “Though I must confess I whacked her with my stick, but when one is attacked from behind you have to think quick.”
Pinkie let out an embarrassed chuckle as Rainbow looked down at her in confusion. “I may have had a nightmare and panicked a bit when I woke up.” She suddenly jerked out of the hug, causing a soft grunt from Rainbow as she used the Pegasus’s chest as support. “But it was alright after that! We had tea and she asked a bunch of questions in her epic rhyme speech, (she rhymes every time she talks, isn’t that cool?) about us and told me you were still sleeping and then I ended up telling her all about us and Rarity and Twilight the Time Traveling Alicorn.”
She dropped back onto her stomach so that her muzzle was brushing against Rainbow’s ear. “I now realize that that might have been a tactical error, but she was so nice Dashie and had cookies.”
She perked up again and Rainbow let out another grunt as her chest was once more used as an impromptu springboard. “Then she asked if I ever talked about myself and I was going to reply but we heard a banshee and I hid under the table while she went to look but then she said it was alright and when I looked it wasn’t a ghost at all but you and then I hugged you and then…”
“OK, Pinkie I got it,” Rainbow interrupted, gently pushing her friend off, “I was there for that part.” She stood up and dusted herself off. “You know, Miss Sleep Darts, if you really are friendly you should probably get this chain off of me.”
The Zebra gave her an amused look. “Oh, were you not just screaming and threatening me to the utmost? Now you expect me to be a good host?”
Rainbow did not match her smile as she narrowed her eyes. “You did kidnap us and chain me up. I’m right to be suspicious.”
“Kidnap you? I was saving your life. But you are a guard for Nightmare. Suspicion was my right.”
Rainbow raised a brow. “I can barely understand your weird poem speech. Are you a good guy or not?”
Zecora chuckled, “Everyone thinks they are the good guy.” She took out a key and gently tossed it to Rainbow, who easily caught it in her forehooves. “But we are on the same side, you and I.”
Rainbow looked down at the key in her grip and then back to the Zebra. “So you don’t work for Nightmare Moon?”
“I am not her friend, I may even be her foe, but before more questions I need your tale of woe.”
Rainbow grunted as she slid the key into her shackle and unhooked herself from the ground, “Why do you need me to tell it? It sounds like Pinkie already spelled it out for you.”
“There is a saying we use down south: If you want the whole story, you must get it from the horse’s mouth.” With that, Zecora turned and trotted out of the room, leaving a very confused Rainbow Dash in her wake.
“Alright, something is definitely weird about that Zebra.”
“I like her!” Pinkie supplied, “I wonder if she’ll give me more cookies.”
Rainbow turned to her friend, a stern look on her face. “Alright Pinkie, what exactly did you tell this Zebra mare?”
Pinkie instantly shrunk down, looking pensive. “Nothing very important… She just asked why we were in the Everfree and I told her about being accused of treason and then I told her why we were accused of treason and then I had to tell her about the Alicorn and your race or the story wouldn’t make sense and then I talked about how you were such a great friend so she asked how such a nice pony got into the Night Guard so I had to tell her the whole tale and… um… yeah… that was all I think.”
Rainbow slapped a hoof to her face. “Basically, you told her every important detail didn’t you?”
Pinkie scuffed a hoof. “I’m sorry Dashie, but she was so nice and I didn’t think to keep things secret…” She trailed off and stared dejectedly at the ground.
Rainbow sighed and wrapped a wing around her friend, “It’s OK Pinkie, I’m not mad. Frustrated a bit, but it’s not like she probably didn’t have other ways of getting that information.” She frowned and gazed towards the door. “I guess we could leave, but without knowing where we are, we might end up walking straight back to Nightmare Moon, especially if the Zebra rats us out.” She turned her gaze back to Pinkie and gave her a small smile. “But hey, there’s also a chance she could be on our side and we could use this place as a safe house or something too.”
Pinkie perked up. “So… we’re going to stay and have more cookies?”
Dash rolled her eyes. “For a bit I guess. I’ve got to find out her motives anyway, so I guess cookies couldn’t hurt.”
Pinkie grinned and bounced out of Rainbow’s wing and towards the door. “Yay! This’ll be great Dashie, you’ll see, I can just tell that we’re all going to become great friends.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes again but followed her friend out with a smile, taking notice of everything she could on the way. The rest of the hut was very similar to the room she had been held in. A dirt floor, a thatched plant roof, bottles and masks for decoration, and circular styled walls. She noticed a bubbling caldron in one room they passed, and a quick glance out the window confirmed that Zecora had been telling the truth. They were still in the Everfree Forest.
Pinkie led her to a room that Rainbow assumed was the kitchen. A small stove was set off to the side where an ancient looking kettle sat. Shelves filled with different foodstuff decorated the walls, and a rather large table was placed directly in the middle. Zecora was already seated at the table and two other places had been set with tea and biscuits.
Rainbow sniffed, “Did you have that set out this whole time?”
The Zebra smiled up at her. “I was hoping to discuss in peace, so I thought I would make treats.”
Pinkie instantly jumped into her seat and starting attacking her biscuit. Rainbow approached her own chair more cautiously, circling it suspiciously and casting one or two glances at Zecora.
The Zebra, in turn, simply fixed her with a steady look and gently sipped her tea.
Eventually Rainbow, finding no fault or trick with the chair, grumpily sat down and gave Zecora an expectant stare.
Zecora set down her cup and nodded to the Pegasus. “So, would you like tea Miss. Rainbow?”
Rainbow said nothing for a good long time before shaking her head once. “Thanks, but no.”
Zecora smiled back at her. “Now that pleasantries are done I believe there’s a tale that needs to be spun.” She leaned forward. “What I want from you is just what you think is true.”
Rainbow frowned. “This riddle thing is really confusing. You know that?”
Zecora smiled. “I’ll rephrase it for you: show me your story from your point of view.”
Rainbow sighed, “Well Pinkie’s already given you everything so what the heck. What do you want to know about me?”
“The first question isn’t hard. How did you join the guard?”
Rainbow chuckled, “It wasn’t intentional I’ll tell you that much.”
“I know you were forced,” Zecora replied, “But why did Nightmare choose you over any other horse?”
Rainbow smirked. “Ever heard of a Sonic Rainboom?”
“A legend,” Zecora replied immediately, “It is said not to be true.”
Rainbow blinked at that. “Did… did you just rhyme with my last sentence?”
Zecora sipped her tea and looked at Dash expectantly.
Rainbow shook her head. “Anyway, you’re talking to the one pony that can pull off that legend. In theory.”
Zecora’s brows raised. “A spectacular sight to see. Why only in theory?”
Rainbow sighed and nibbled a biscuit absently. “Well a Rainboom happens when a Pegasus breaks the sound barrier, right? I’m the only Pegasus alive that can touch the barrier. I’ve just never gotten through yet.”
“And Miss Moon knew of this I assume?”
Rainbow nodded. “Yeah, I was actually in the reserves for the Wonderbolts before… you know.” She shrugged. “I hadn’t taken an oath yet and somehow Nightmare had learned about the almost Rainboom thing, so she wanted to recruit me.”
“But you told her you would never betray Equestria didn’t you, Dashie?” Pinkie asked, leaning into the Pegasus with rapt attention.
“Yeah, of course I did. She offered me power and money and stuff as if that would change my mind, but I just kept telling her off. Eventually, she stopped bugging me about it and I didn’t hear anything from her for months. But then, after a while, Nightmare Moon approached me again. Heh, she told me she had an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“I have heard stories like this before,” Zecora spoke up when Dash hesitated, “I assume she found someone you would bargain for.”
Rainbow let out a sad chuckle. “Yeah, I guess you could call it that. My friend, my best friend since I was a filly. Nightmare threatened to hurt her if I didn’t cooperate. The First Rebellion had just happened, and I didn’t question that she would have gone through with it. There was no choice, at least to me. I had to join her.”
“And after what has and hasn’t happened yet, do you your decisions regret?”
Rainbow’s head shot up. “Regret?” She snapped at the Zebra, “What do you mean by that? Do I regret hurting ponies? Do I regret making the entire world go to crap and not doing a thing about it? Of course, I do. Who wouldn’t? But do I regret saving my friend? Do I regret keeping my head down so no one I love gets hurt anymore because of me? No. I very much do not regret that and I certainly don’t regret agreeing to Nightmare’s demands to save my friend. There was no choice and please don’t act like there was.” Rainbow’s shoulders slumped and her eyes watered. “And now it doesn’t even matter. Nightmare’s taken Fluttershy already and Rarity’s probably next. I’ve failed everyone I’ve tried to protect.” She lowered her head on the table and sniffed back tears. “Why can’t I protect anyone I care about? Why does everyone always get hurt because of me?”
Zecora sipped her tea. “If you want to help your friends might I suggest joining the rebellion?”
Pinkie giggled. “The rebellion doesn’t exist silly. Everyone’s too afraid to make one after the first one failed so spectacularly.”
Zecora nodded. “It is true that the first came at a great expense. But ponies will rebel no matter what the consequence.”
Pinkie’s eyes grew wide and Rainbow blinked up at the Zebra. “Are you saying that there’s some secret rebellion that still exists? One that Nightmare Moon doesn’t even know about? How the heck did that happen?”
“How the rebellion formed is a point moot. What I wish to say is that we could recruit.”
“No,” Pinkie said suddenly, her hooves falling over her face in horror, “No no no no. There can’t be a real rebellion. This can’t be happening. No, oh no.”
Rainbow sat back up and gave her friend a confused look. “Pinkie? What the hay are you talking about? A rebellion means that these guys are on our side and looking to kick Nightmare’s butt too. That’s a good thing.”
Pinkie didn’t seem to be listening as she rocked back and forth in her chair. “If there’s a real-life rebellion then Nightmare Moon will definitely find out and if she finds out she’ll think they started it and then they’ll get in trouble and then I’ll get it trouble.”
“Pinkie!” Rainbow cried, shooting a glance at Zecora who was watching the scene as if it was a mildly interesting show, “Cut it out would ya? You’re going to make Darts over there think we’re the enemy again.”
Pinkie gasped suddenly and turned to her Pegasus friend, shaking her by the shoulders. “But I’m already in trouble as it is so I’m dead. I’m plain old dead Rainbow, do you understand? Dead!”
“P-Pinkie, wh-what are you talking about? N-Nightmare’s not going to f-find us,” Rainbow stuttered as she was thrown like a rag doll.
“And she will never discover our rebel,” Zecora spoke up, taking a sip of her tea, “We have taken many precautions so I can assure you your sisters are well.”
Pinkie abruptly stopped shaking Rainbow and turned her wide-eyed stare to Zecora. “You… you… how do you know that? How… how do you know about them?”
“I am a scout, it’s my job to know.” Zecora gave her a sudden sympathetic smile and lowered her voice. “I understand you are scared, but please be calm and release Rainbow.”
Pinkie bit her lip and obediently released Dash. She then decided that the woven table was extremely interesting and stared shakily down at it.
Rainbow glanced between her friend and Zecora. “Alright, I’m completely confused now. Does somepony want to tell me what’s going on?”
Zecora nodded. “I would be glad to have the confusion end. Though I’m surprised this information has not been shared between friends.”
Pinkie visibly flinched and splayed her ears against her head.
Dash instantly leaped to her friend’s defense. “Hey, if she doesn’t want to talk about her past she doesn’t have to. It’s not like I need to know.”
Zecora raised a brow. “So quick to defend. I thought you wanted the confusion to end.”
Rainbow blinked. “I… uh… well.”
“Of the first rebellion, what do you know? The one that brought our spirits low,” Zecora interrupted, staring intently at Dash.
Rainbow started at the sudden change of topic. “What? I… um… I don’t know any more than rumors. You know, just what everyone hears.”
“Just tell us the tale as it was told to you,” Zecora said impatiently, “I want to hear the story from your point of view.”
Rainbow blinked and flicked her gaze between her silent friend and the slightly imposing Zebra. She licked her lips. “Alright, so the first rebellion. What I’ve heard is that this group of four ponies- sometimes siblings, or friends, sometimes they had never met before - it changes every version. Anyway, they all decided that they had to save everypony from Nightmare Moon and make a better life for others, one that they could never get with that dictator, and so they started to form a rebellion. They got a lot of ponies to go with them and almost took her down,” Dash swung her hoof in a jabbing motion for emphasis, “right when she was weak and didn’t know how to fight this new era of, uh, not a thousand years ago. But, heh,” Rainbow shrugged, “obviously they failed and no one’s been brave enough to try again.”
“And the leaders?” Zecora asked, “Those that dared Nightmare’s name desecrate? Do you know what was their fate?”
Rainbow scratched the back of her head. “I’ve heard ponies say that Nightmare crushed their spirits so bad that they actually started working for her or became mindless workers or something, as, like an example of how no one fights for long or whatever. Truth be told I just think she killed ‘em and then made up those rumors to scare everypony.”
“She didn’t kill them.”
Rainbow turned to Pinkie who was still staring down at the table. Now, though, her eyes were misted and her voice cracked when she spoke.
“They didn’t do it for that reason either,” Pinkie continued, “They didn’t fight because they wanted to save anyone or make the world better. They did it just because they were mad and they wanted to take their anger out on something, anything really. It was just dumb luck that ponies started to follow them.”
Rainbow reached out to put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder, realizing with a start that she was trembling. “Pinkie, you don’t have to…”
“Did you know Nightmare Moon reimbursed farms?” Pinkie spoke over her, talking quickly, “She wanted to make sure they could keep growing and that no one would actually starve. That was really smart of her and all but she didn’t think about the natural things and the nonpony races as much so they got hungry and desperate and started attacking the farms.” She sniffed and rubbed her hooves together, “The four sisters, they were sisters, by the way, their farm got attacked. They fought them off but in the battle their… their parents got k-killed.” Pinkie shuddered. “And they were so sad and so angry that they just wanted to fight, even if it was hopeless. So they fought and ponies followed even though they didn’t want them to because they knew they were going to lose and they knew they were going to die but they were just so sad that they didn’t care. But then when they lost Nightmare Moon didn’t kill them!”
Here Pinkie paused and rubbed her tear-streaked cheeks. Rainbow had moved to wrap a wing around her friend the moment the tears started falling. “They were prepared to die but Nightmare did something worse. She told them she was going to let all of them go and that they would tell everyone how rebellion was the worst thing and they would stop anyone else from rebelling by never doing anything even kind of like it again.” She smiled, just a little, “And then the oldest almost spat in her face and gave this really nice speech about how the spirit of the ponies would never die and she’d have to kill them to get them to stop or something, it was pretty good for being made up on the spot.” The smile disappeared and the haunted look came back as quickly as it had left. “But Nightmare just laughed and said they would if they didn’t want their sister to get hurt. A-and then she t-took me and showed my sisters wh-what would happen if… if…” Her sentence ended with a sputter and she threw herself into Rainbow’s arms.
Rainbow instantly wrapped her distraught friend in a hug though her mind reeled with questions, “Pinkie… you… you led the first rebellion?”
A painful whimper was her only answer.
Rainbow’s mind reeled. She tried to imagine the shivering ball of tears in her hooves charging into battle against Nightmare Moon when no one else would. She couldn’t imagine the pony who would chat about nothing for hours and sneak Rainbow cookies when she was having a bad day, leading ponies to fight a practical god. She couldn’t place her friend with the stories of almost heroes.
Rainbow did, however, know what Nightmare Moon did when ponies disobeyed her. It could be minor, a short time in the dungeon for a petty thief or something small, or it could result in your child getting physically afflicted for something much more major. Rainbow could imagine with terrible clarity just what the punishment would come to someone who tried to overthrow their dictator.
She squeezed her friend harder. “Pinkie, listen to me. No one’s ever going to hurt you again, alright?”
“B-but when she finds us…”
Rainbow remembered that Pinkie hadn’t been able to leave the palace the entire time she’d known her. She tightened her hug. “She’s not going to find us. We’re going to go with Darts here and be safe O.K? Nothing bad’s going to happen to you or your sisters, alright?”
Pinkie slowly raised her head out of Dash’s damp fur and fixed her with a hopeful gaze. “Promise?”
Rainbow smiled and flapped her wings. “Hope to fly.”
Rarity woke with a start, her eyes blinking rapidly in the surrounding darkness. Her head throbbed as if she had been hit with a blunt object right on the horn and a rising sense of panic bubbled up in her stomach. She instantly tried to move but found her hooves pinned down against something cold and hard. She gave out a panicked cry as her eyes continued to see nothing in the consuming darkness around her.
There was then a snort and a voice penetrated the silence, “Huh, wha? Whadda miss?”
Rarity froze her struggling. She recognized that voice. She had only heard it once before but she instantly recognized it.
“Oh crap, you’re up.” The voice came again, along with the skittering of claws on a hard surface, “Hold on, let me turn on the light.”
There was a click and Rarity suddenly had to squint from the harsh light flooding her eyes. The room she was in was colorful and seemed to sparkle as the light reflected off the crystal walls and ceiling. The chair she was strapped to was made out of the same colorful crystal and looking at it worsened her already throbbing headache.
The figure that had spoken was now standing in front of her, holding a clipboard and looking very serious.
“Spike!” Rarity cried as the sight of the small dragon brought the name back to her mind. The purple and green dragon looked almost exactly as he had in the palace, save for a fuzzy jacket that he looked adorable in.
The young drake almost dropped his clipboard at Rarity’s sudden exclamation, “What? How do you know my name?”
“You told it to me,” Rarity explained, calming down significantly now that there was a familiar face, “Well, the other you. The one from a different time.”
Spike frowned and jotted something down on his clipboard. “So you think you were visited from Twilight and me from a different timeline?” He glanced up at her with a bemused expression. “Was I an Alicorn too?”
“Of course not,” Rarity dismissed, tugging at her bonds in annoyance, “If you don’t mind me asking, where am I? And where is Twilight? Why did she bring me here?”
Spike ignored her questions and asked his own, “You claim also that Twilight’s destined to defeat Nightmare Moon, and that you want her to, and yet you work for Nightmare. Is that right?”
“Yes, but, I’m sorry what is happening right now? I demand to know where I am.”
“Why do you work for Nightmare Moon, if you don’t support her?”
“Why are you asking me this?” Rarity insisted, “I refuse to answer any more of your questions until I get some answers of my own. Now, what is going on? Why am I tied up? What happened at Twilight’s?”
Spike sighed and lowered his clipboard. “Twilight doesn’t… trust you enough right now for me to say anything. That’s why I’m interviewing you.” He held up the parchment in his claws for her to see, “We have to find out what your real motives are.”
Rarity frowned. “I see, and what side do you happen to be on?”
Spike smiled proudly, “We’re the rebellion! One of the groups, anyway, we’ve dedicated our lives to slowly but silently fighting Nightmare Moon.”
Rarity laughed, “Oh dear, what do you take me for? There hasn’t been a rebellion since the first one.”
Spike winked knowingly. “That’s why we’re so awesome, we’re a secret from everybody.”
Rarity raised a brow at the young drake. “Why would you tell me all about your secret operation if what you’re saying is actually true?”
Spike’s smile faltered a little. “Oh well, Twilight already drugged you and stuff so I assumed you already knew,” he shot a look to somewhere behind Rarity, “but it doesn’t matter if you know or not. I mean, it’s not like you can tell anyone while you’re a prisoner. Now, can I continue the interview?”
Rarity looked back down at the ropes that tied her hooves in place, “I don’t seem to have much of a choice do I? Being your prisoner and all.”
Spike shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, I don’t really make the rules. I’m just the buffer for these kinds of things. Alright, let’s see, why do you work for Nightmare Moon if you don’t support her?”
Rarity sighed, “It’s not quite a story and frankly not one I’m very proud of. It… it started with my parents.”
“They got a job for you?” Spike asked.
Rarity bit her lip. “Not exactly. Now, see I must make it very clear that my parents are good ponies, they just… do you know what happens to the families of those that displease Nightmare? Let me tell you, it’s not pleasant. And my sister, my dear little sister. Neither I nor my parents wanted her to even be threatened like that. So we did everything we could so she’d never have any reason to. Eventually, I managed to move up the ranks for no reason except that I was a hard worker and found myself a nice place in the palace working for Nightmare personally. I didn’t complain, of course, because that would defeat the whole purpose, but let me tell you that I’ve never been for her like those brutish guards or sycophantic servants.”
Spike scribbled furiously on his clipboard as Rarity stopped to catch her breath. “So you only work for her because you’re trying to protect your sister?”
Rarity nodded. “That’s the only reason. It is selfish, I realize that, but that’s all I thought I could do. Well, until I met the Alicorn, I suppose.”
Spike hummed, “Alright, I guess that makes a weird kind of sense. Hey, Twi, are we done yet?”
Twilight’s voice called out directly behind Rarity, making the Unicorn jump, “Spike, I told you not to let her know I was here.”
Spike pointed at Rarity. “But she told us everything we needed.”
Twilight tried to protest but a different voice interrupted her before she got two words in, “It’s alright, Twilight. I think we’re done here.”
There was the clip-clopping sound of hooves and a beautiful pink Alicorn walked into Rarity’s line of sight. “I believe her, and I think you two have a destiny to fulfill.”
Rainbow Dash shivered as a strong breeze blew past her and ruffled her mane. The Everfree Forest was a dangerous place, having grown to twice its former size since Eternal Night fell and becoming all the more dangerous for it. It was dark, the trees blocked out the little light from the stars and moon. It was eerie, the rustle of bushes seemed to echo after every hoofstep, and it was extremely dangerous. It was also, surprisingly, extremely cold. Rainbow fluffed her wings for the third time in the past ten minutes in a futile attempt to generate warmth on her exposed fur. The small saddlebags she wore were a poor protector from the piercing chill. Zecora had made her leave her armor at the hut, insisting that showing up at one of the rebel leader’s doorstep in a Night Guard uniform might deter her from offering them any help.
Or make us easier to take down once we get there, Rainbow thought to herself with a smirk, keeping her wings open for an easy takeoff; just in case.
She stole a glance to her right, away from her zebra guide in front, and her smile fell. Pinkie Pie was trudging along beside her, head bowed and seemingly oblivious to the world. Pinkie had agreed to come to meet the rebel leader after some coaxing, but it didn’t take a mind reader to tell that the Earth Pony was less than thrilled at the prospect and her misgivings weighed heavily on her mind.
Rainbow suddenly realized that it was also incredibly quiet in the Everfree. “Hey Pinkie,” She said, succeeding in catching her friend’s attention, “I… I’m sorry, about what happened to your parents.” It wasn’t that useful of a statement, and Rainbow doubted it would even ease the pain, but she felt that it had to be said.
Pinkie smiled at her, not a particularly happy smile, but a smile nonetheless. “Thanks, Dashie. I try… I try not to think about it that much. ‘Don’t dwell on the past,’ my Dad always said.” She turned her gaze back to the ground, her expression becoming hollow again. “Sometimes I almost forget them from not thinking about it.”
A heavy silence fell back over the forest and Rainbow shifted awkwardly on her hooves. She didn’t want Pinkie to be upset, but she wasn’t sure words could fix the three years of pain suddenly pushed into the front of her friend’s mind.
“What about yours?”
Rainbow shook her head and focused again on Pinkie. “Sorry, what was that?”
“What about your family?” Pinkie asked, cocking her head, “What happened to them? You always talk about Fluttershy, but I’ve never heard you say anything about your parents.”
Rainbow shrugged and fixed her gaze ahead, noticing through the darkness that Zecora’s ears were tilted back towards them. “There’s nothing much to tell. My mom died when I was real young, before I even got my cutie mark, so I didn’t know her that well, and Dad…” She sighed heavily. “Dad and I had a fight a couple months before the whole eternal night thing. It had happened before, me flying out on him and not coming back for weeks, but once the world went to crap I couldn’t find him again. Haven’t seen him since.”
“Do you miss him?”
Rainbow nodded as she felt tears prick her eyes. “Yeah, I miss him every day. I’d give anything just to see him again.” She quickly rubbed her eyes and cleared her throat. “But who wouldn't, right? He was my dad, ‘course I'm worried about him.”
The cold was momentarily fended off as Pinkie pressed into Rainbow’s side and softly nuzzled her neck. “I'm sorry Dashie. I know it doesn't mean much, but I'm sure he missed you too.”
“Yeah… uh… thanks, Pinks.” Rainbow couldn’t think of a better reply so instead turned her attention to her guide. “So, Darts, where exactly are we going? Don't tell me the rebellion's in Ponyville proper.”
“Our numbers are scattered as to not raise an alarm,” Zecora answered immediately, “But the leader we are meeting lives on a farm.”
Rainbow crinkled her nose. “A farm? So it is in Ponyville.”
“Some say it is the town,” Zecora replied, “But we shall not meet anyone on the way down.”
Rainbow said nothing to that and remained silent until they stepped out of the forest and into a much more structured array of trees. She sniffed the air as her eyes adjusted to the unobstructed moonlight.
“Apples?” Pinkie spoke from behind her, apparently picking up the same sweet smell that Rainbow had.
“Indeed.” Zecora had stopped walking for the moment and was scanning the field ahead of them. “These trees have many mouths to feed. Move quick. The cover we have is not thick.”
The trio moved again under the speckled shade of the apple trees. Rainbow fleetingly wondered how the trees managed to survive all this time in the dark. Didn't plants need sunlight or something to thrive?
That thought process was snuffed out, however, when another breeze sliced through Rainbow’s coat. “Why aren't we wearing cloaks or something?” She muttered, “Anyone can see us out here.”
“We are not being suspicious,” Zecora whispered back, “dark cloaks would paint a target on us.”
Rainbow sighed but didn't argue further as they rounded a hill and a small farmhouse came into view. It was a humble thing that Rainbow couldn’t see fully as there were no lanterns hanging around it or seemingly inside it. She did manage to see a flicker of movement on the bottom floor but that was the only sign of life in the dark farmhouse. Once they were no less than a hundred feet away the door flung open and the soft glow of fireflies lit up an orange Earth Pony standing just on the edge of the doorway.
“Howdy there travelers,” The Earth Pony called, squinting against the gloom with an easy smile on her lips, “What can ah do for ya?”
“We are just passing through,” Zecora called back, “We need a little light. We don’t want to intrude.”
“Well come on in,” The pony said, walking back into the house, “It’s cold out there and ah just can’t leave ya wonderin’ around with nothin’ ta keep ya warm.”
Rainbow exchanged a look with Pinkie before following Zecora into the farmhouse. The inside was just as she had expected from the little she had seen of the exterior: cozy, quaint and exactly like farmhouses in books. They had apparently entered through the back door since they walked straight into the kitchen. Light flooded the room and Rainbow wondered how they couldn’t have seen it from outside as the place was lit up so almost no darkness crept in the corners.
A large red stallion sat at a wooden table, hooves on the table and a hard expression on his face. Rainbow didn’t see the mare that had let them in, however, until the door closed behind them and the click of a deadbolt echoed through the house.
“Zecora.” The orange mare’s kind tone and bright eyes were gone like a fire snuffed out. In its place was a fierce, suspicious gaze. “You know ya ain’t suppose to come out like this unless it’s somethin’ important.” She jerked her head at Rainbow and Pinkie. “Who are these two?”
“Applejack, they have a I think they should share,” Zecora said, “They’ve found a way to defeat Nightmare.”
Applejack’s brows raised. “Is that so? Well, I’d definitely like ta hear that.” She stuck her hoof out to Rainbow. “Ah’m Applejack, head of the rebellion in Ponyville. That’s Big Mac, mah brother.”
“Rainbow Dash.” Rainbow bumped her hoof against Applejack’s. “And this is Pinkie Pie. We’re, uh, rebels now I guess.”
Applejack nodded and, suspicious gaze never completely leaving, took a seat next to Big Mac. She gestured to the other chairs and adjusted the brown hat on her head. “Alright, Rainbow Dash, tell me yer story and I'll see if ah trust ya.”
Something in her tone made Rainbow shudder, but she steeled herself and sat down, ready to tell her story once again.
Pinkie felt strange. The open fields, the cramped house, the smell of homemade food lingering even when none was present all pulled on forgotten memories. Pinkie hadn’t been at a farm in… well, she hadn’t been anywhere besides a couple rooms for much too long and the whole experience of the rapid traveling she was doing was almost crippling.
Dashie and Zecora had taken the two empty chairs beside Applejack and Big Mac and Dashie had started once again to tell the story. Seeing as she wasn’t needed, Pinkie sat by the door, just out of their conversation, but still close enough to join if needed.
She let her mind drift from the talking ponies and her eyes to wander around the room. Firefly lanterns hung at every corner, completely filling the room with light. No light escaped outside, however, and the pale glow of starlight wasn't present even though the curtains were not tightly shut. Pinkie assumed that some subtle form of magic was at work, a theory made solid by the windows shimmering every few seconds.
Pinkie’s gaze moved past the light and onto the things in the kitchen. The stove was old and obviously well used, but it was high quality and well cared for in such a way that it’d probably be around for years to come. In fact, most of the things in the house were like that. The kettles, the chairs, the filly by her side, even the walls themselves seemed to be sturdy an--.
Pinkie jumped a good foot in the air as she whirled to the side. Sure enough, sitting inches from her and staring at her with an unreadable expression, was a little yellow filly wearing a light pink jacket that matched the bow perched in her mane who hadn’t been there when she walked in.
Pinkie’s eyes widened. It was a foal. A little filly sitting right next to her. Pinkie hadn’t talked to a foal since… Actually, she couldn’t remember the last time she talked to a foal. Had she ever? The only ones she could recall were her sisters when they were all foals.
Wow, she should've gotten out more when she had the chance.
Fidgeting slightly, Pinkie turned to face the foal and gave her a small wave and a smile. “Hi, there!”
The filly blinked but gave no other indication that she had heard Pinkie.
Pinkie tried again. “I'm Pinkie Pie.”
Again, the filly did not move and just stared at Pinkie with a completely straight face.
Pinkie was not going be swayed from a potential new friend that easily. “What's your name?”
Success! The filly’s voice was high pitched with the same slight accent as Applejack’s and devoid of emotion much like her expression, but she had spoken and Pinkie was happy with that small victory.
Pinkie stuck her hoof out with a smile. “It's nice to meet you, Apple Bloom.”
Apple Bloom stared down at the outstretched hoof but made no movement towards it. Slowly, Pinkie lowered her hoof and let her eyes wander the room again, away from the odd filly.
Dashie was still telling their story, occasionally being interrupted by Applejack asking a question. The stallion beside Applejack, however, only nodded along and gave short one-word answers when asked questions directly.
Pinkie wondered if he was good at humming.
“Yer runnin’ from Nightmare Moon ain’t ya?”
Pinkie glanced back down at Apple Bloom and nodded. “Yep. We got in a bit of trouble and had to run away quick. Zecora said we'd be safe here ‘cause Queen Meanie’s still looking for us.”
Apple Bloom nodded, apparently satisfied with the answer and went back to her staring.
Pinkie’s gaze flicked from the foal to Applejack, still chatting on with Dashie. It was odd how the filly’s deadpan stare could be so similar to the older mare’s sharp, protective gaze.
Pinkie wondered if Apple Bloom liked poetry.
“Do ya have any scars?”
Pinkie jumped at the question, one of her forehooves rising on its own accord before she forced it back to the floor. “Wha… what?”
“Ah have scars,” Apple Bloom continued, nodding slowly with her eyes closed, “on ma back. One time a little over a year ago the soldiers came for more supplies and apples then they usually do, but ma big sister wouldn't give it ta them. She said if she gave Nightmare Moon anymore there wouldn't be enough for the town ta eat. Well, the guards didn't like that at all so they dragged me out of the house and gave me a good lashin’. Said they'd do somethin’ worse if she ever said no again. Ah think that's when she agreed ta join the rebellion.” She reopened her eyes and cocked her head to the side. “What about you? Ya seem like ya might have scars too. Do ya?”
This time, Pinkie couldn't stop her hoof from reaching up and gently rubbing her chest. It still stung, even under her apron that she had refused to take off even when Zecora said she should leave it behind. “Not many,” She muttered, “magic doesn't leave a lot of physical wounds.”
Pinkie let out a short gasp as Apple Bloom wrapped yellow hooves around her.
“It's alright,” Apple Bloom said, her head resting intentionally on Pinkie’s shoulder, away from her chest, “Once ya join the rebellion you're family, and Applejack won't let anything hurt her family. She promised me.”
Tears ran down Pinkie’s face as she hugged the filly back. Of course she wouldn't. What big sister would ever let anyone hurt their little sibling? What big sister wouldn't give up everything they had for their family? Who wouldn't fight Diamond Dogs and Alicorns?
Pinkie wondered if Applejack enjoys farming just as much as Limestone did.
Applejack leaned back and let out a long breath as the Pegasus finished her tale. Her eyes flicked over to Big Mac who was, in turn, watching the other pony Zecora had brought with her talk to Apple Bloom. Applejack had expected that some kind of trick was at play when she saw her friend walk up with the two strangers, but so far they had been completely civil, if a little odd.
That didn't mean Applejack trusted them, of course, but she wasn’t going to be overly hostile without a good reason.
She held up a hoof to the Pegasus and looked her directly in the eye. “Alright Sugar, you've had your say so now we're gonna talk and you ain't gonna interrupt, understand?”
Rainbow Dash licked her lips but nodded all the same. Smart gal.
“Alright, Zecora, this here plan is complete hogwash.”
Applejack shot a glare at Rainbow who begrudgingly closed her mouth again.
“This is the answer to all our woe,” Zecora insisted, “What makes you think we should say no?”
“Ah got three reasons,” Applejack replied, “The first is that the whole so-called plan sounds like somethin’ from a fairy tale. Time travel? Magical rocks that are driven through ‘goodness’ or whatever and can take down an Alicorn? It's just a mite hard ta believe.”
“I have sources that say the time travel is true,” Zecora argued, “and you know Nightmare was defeated once, too.”
Applejack rolled her eyes but didn't argue the issue further. Instead, she moved on to her second point. “There's also the fact that this plan is comin’ from an unreliable source. How do we know she ain't setting us up for Nightmare herself?”
“We're not--” Applejack held up a hoof to silence Rainbow Dash, giving her a pointed look in the process.
“I believe they are with our cause. You must admit they have broken no laws.”
Applejack snorted. “Ah’d also expect a spy ta be good at their job.” She sighed and leaned back in her chair. “The last issue is that there’s no way Twi would agree to this plan.”
Zecora shook her head. “Though we are thorough we cannot continue in the same way. Sooner or later Twilight won't have a say.”
This got Rainbow to perk up. “Twilight? As in Twilight Sparkle? She's part of the--”
She was cut off again by a loud knock ringing through the house. Rainbow instantly rose out of her seat but Applejack waved her down.
“Don't talk,” She whispered, “ma granny will get it. Just keep quiet.”
Rainbow Dash sank back into her chair and the pink pony silently trotted up next to her, Apple Bloom in tow.
The knock sounded again and the shaky voice of Granny rang out. “Alright, alright ah’m comin’ hold your horseshoes.”
The door creaked opened and a chillingly familiar voice to Applejack echoed through the kitchen. “Hello Miss Smith, is the mare of the house home?”
Applejack instantly rose to her hooves, motioning for her guests to stay put, and walked to the door. “Lightning, what the hay are you doing here? You ain't suppose ta come for another week.”
The green Pegasus, dressed in the blue uniform of the Ponyville soldiers, grinned at her. “Usually, but the Eternal Night celebration is coming up and we need more food for the party.” She shouldered her way past Applejack and the silent Unicorn stallion behind her followed her into the house. “Not to mention that a supply wagon got raided the other day so we're all behind on food.” She smiled back at Applejack. “Know anything about it?”
Applejack followed the two soldiers into the house proper, breathing a quiet sigh of relief as she noticed the kitchen was empty. “I haven’t heard anythin’.”
Lightning Dust frowned but shrugged her shoulders and continued to the pantry where the apples for Nightmare Moon were carefully stored. “Well, everything's fine now. We even managed to capture one of the raiders so it won't be long until we find them all.”
Applejack made sure to keep her expression neutral as Lightning continued to stare at her, her eyes searching Applejack’s face.
She apparently didn't find what she had been looking for as she flicked her windswept mane with a huff. “Anyway, we'll probably have to take extra so we can have enough for Eternal Night.”
Applejack scowled. “Ya come demandin’ payment early and say ya want extra? Land sakes, we ain't even got the usual amount yet, let alone more.”
Lightning smirked. “Well, isn't that too bad? We'll just have to--”
Whatever the Pegasus was about to propose was interrupted by Apple Bloom charging into the kitchen. “Applejack,” she cried, “there are soldiers comin’ this way! Lots of ‘em with weapons and such.”
Applejack whirled to the window and confirmed what Apple Bloom said. In the distance, roughly twenty soldiers marched into the front gates of Sweet Apple Acres, brandishing spears and torches that made shadows flicker across their faces and gave them an even more menacing look.
“Well, well,” Lightning Dust chuckled, “guess they got more out of that rebel than I thought.”
Applejack growled and spun on her front hooves, her hind legs thrusting into the air. Lightning ducked under the kick, but Applejack hadn’t been aiming for her. Her back legs slammed into the other soldier's jaw, sending him crumpling to the floor.
By the time Applejack had regained her balance, Lightning was already rushing at the youngest Apple. Applejack tried to move to defend her sister, but the Pegasus was too fast and already on Apple Bloom by the time Applejack had taken two steps.
Before Lightning could wrap her hooves around the filly, however, a blue blur slammed into her, knocking her to the ground.
Applejack gaped as Rainbow Dash wrestled with Lightning Dust. The two Pegasi punched and grappled with each other, each trying to gain the upper hoof.
As Applejack watched the odd scene as the stallion she had knocked down groaned and rolled to his hooves. His eyes flashed with rage as he magically pulled the knife that had been strapped to his leg out of its sheath.
Applejack cursed and rolled out of the way as the stallion swung at her. She jutted her back legs out once again but only sent the soldier stumbling back when her blow connected with his armored chest.
The stallion’s knife swung down and Applejack dodged away, but didn’t get far before tripping over the still fighting Pegasi rolling on the floor. Rainbow Dash managed to break free of the tangle of limbs and jumped to her hooves.
“Let’s trade,” she said, sounding much too enthusiastic for Applejack’s liking and spinning to slam her whole weight into the Unicorn soldier.
Applejack staggered to her hooves and eyed her new opponent.
“Mess with my sister, will you!?”
Lightning didn’t have time to react as Applejack copied Rainbow’s approach and slammed her entire body into the other pony. It worked better than expected, as Applejack was a good deal heavier than the Pegasus and succeeded in pinning Lightning to the floor.
“You’re not stopping anything,” Lighting hissed from under Applejack, “You’re only delaying the inevitable. No one can hide from Nightmare Moon.”
“And no one,” Applejack snarled back, “is ever gonna hurt ma family as long as ah’m around. Not Nightmare Moon, not an army, and certainly not you.” With that final remark she slammed her hoof into the side of Lightning’s head, rendering the Pegasus unconscious.
Applejack staggered off the ground but only regained her balance for a moment before Rainbow Dash flew into her, knocking them both against the wall.
The soldier Rainbow had been facing glared down at the two of them, his horn glowing menacingly. Applejack gasped for breath as a magical aura pushed against her throat, causing her to see spots.
Before the stallion could do anything worse to the two helpless ponies, a high pitched battle cry came from the corner of the room and a yellow missile jumped on his leg and sunk its teeth into his fur.
The stallion yelped and stumbled back. Applejack felt the pressure on her neck lessen. Apparently, that was all the trained Night Guard beside her needed as, in the blink of an eye, Rainbow Dash had launched herself off of Applejack and used the blunt end of the stallion’s own knife to knock him out next to his partner.
Applejack scrambled to her hooves and wrapped Apple Bloom in a hug. “Gosh darn it, don’t scare me like that sis.”
Apple Bloom wiggled in her grip. “Applejack, we don’t have time ta hug. The soldiers are still comin’.”
Applejack groaned and released her sister. “Yer right. Yer right. Go tell the others we’re goin’ in one minute so get out back with anythin’ you can carry while I bar the door.”
Apple Bloom scampered off, and Applejack turned to the other still conscious pony. Rainbow Dash stood over the fallen soldier, knife in hoof and a hollow look in her eyes. “Hey, thanks for savin’ Apple Bloom back there. I know ya didn’t need ta do that.”
Rainbow Dash tore her eyes away from the fallen stallion and shook her head. “Yeah, yeah I did. I can’t have innocent ponies getting hurt when I could save them.” She looked back at the two soldiers lying on the ground, the knife clenched in her hoof and her body stiffening, before she relaxed and trotted out of the room. “I’ll go get my saddle bags. We’re running again, huh?”
Applejack nodded, following after her. “To the North.”
Rarity stumbled from her chair as the bonds around her hooves were undone in a flash of magic. Her muscles felt weak and stiff, and she wondered to herself just how long she had been sitting in that uncomfortable position. She didn’t ask her company, though, and instead fell into an uncoordinated bow. “Your highness,” she squeaked as regally as she could.
The pink Alicorn nodded to her. “Please rise, I have much I’d like to discuss with you.”
Rarity obediently scrambled to her hooves and stood up as tall as she dared. She had expected to meet an Alicorn, yes, but the Alicorn she thought she was going to meet hadn’t bled off this much raw… divinity when she had seen her. Not only was she flaunting the required horn and wings, but she was a good head taller than a normal pony. Her mane and tail were perfectly styled and she wore all the glistening regalia that Rarity had come to associate with power.
Rarity quickly glanced over at Twilight Sparkle and was surprised to find the purple, still-very-much-a-Unicorn, pony glowering at her. She had expected Twilight to be a bit suspicious of her and her claims, of course, but couldn’t fathom what she had done to entice that look from the other Unicorn.
“Now, Miss Rarity,” The Alicorn spoke again and Rarity took the opportunity to focus on her and not Twilight. “I’m sure you have many questions, and I want you to know that no matter what they are we will happily answer them, so don’t be afraid to ask.”
Rarity nodded at that but silence persisted on for a few seconds before she finally comprehended the anticipating stare the Alicorn was giving her. “Oh! You mean right now. Alright then, let me just organize my thoughts a bit here.” She took a deep breath and steeled herself to calmly ask one question. “Who are you!?” She shouted at the Alicorn, blowing her and Twilight’s manes back. Days of pent up frustration and confusion were finally released and Rarity found that she had no real control after she got started. “Where am I!? What just happened? How do you even exist? Why on earth did Twilight poison my drink? Why is everything made of crystals? Why is Twilight glaring at me? Why is that dragon so adorable? How long have I been asleep? How many Alicorns are there? How can a rebellion even exist anymore? Why does it exist? And most importantly,” her stomach growled loudly, causing Rarity to blush and lower her voice to a tiny squeak, “Is there any way I could get a bite to eat?”
Twilight, the Alicorn, and Spike all blinked owlishly at her. Finally, Spike was the one to break the silence. “You think I’m cute?”
Rarity’s blush deepened. “I… well… that is to say…”
Before she could finish her thought, she was cut off by Cadence clearing her throat. “In order: I am Princess Cadence. You’re in the Crystal Empire, which is in the frozen north. You just got interrogated, but I have deemed you trustworthy. Princess Celestia kept me on the hush since my youth, and I fled once Nightmare Moon returned by her orders. Twilight drugged your tea so she could bring you here swiftly and without incident. It is the Crystal Empire. She doesn’t like the idea that she’s been destined to defeat Nightmare Moon in a great spectacle.” Twilight opened her mouth but Cadence didn’t give her a moment to speak. “Probably because he’s still a baby. Six hours. Only three that I know of. Fear does not crush a pony’s need for light. To stop Nightmare Moon of course. Yes, would you like a sandwich?”
“I… well… yes. Thank you.” Rarity said once she had sorted through the rush of words.
Cadence smiled at her and turned to the baby dragon. “Spike, can you get our guest a daisy sandwich please?”
The dragon opened his mouth but shut it after a pointed look from Twilight. “Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled, trudging out of the room through the one lone door, “You guys get to have all the fun.”
Rarity watched him go, trying to wrap her mind around everything that had just happened in the past two minutes. Her musing, however, was interrupted by Twilight speaking again.
“I don’t know about this, Cadence. I mean, she works for Nightmare.”
“And so did your brother,” The Alicorn said, laying a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder, “You know that most ponies work for her because they have no choice.”
“But… but…” Twilight stuttered, thrusting a hoof at Rarity, “What about that crazy plan she has? Me being an Alicorn? Everypony storming the castle and defeating Nightmare Moon because it’s our destiny or whatever? Doesn’t that all sound a bit suspicious?”
Cadence frowned. “Yes, of course it does. Don’t accuse me of not taking precautions, Twilight. That’s why she was tied up. But I can feel the love for her sister in her. She’s a good pony, Twilight, and I don’t think she’s one to just lie about something like that.”
Twilight opened her mouth to say something else but let the words go with a deep sigh. “Fine. Just know that I don’t agree with any of this, and I still don’t trust her.”
Cadence nodded and wrapped Twilight in a wing hug. “Thank you, that’s all I can really ask for. Now, shall we answer some of her questions?”
“Fine,” Twilight grumbled, turning back to Rarity, “Have you ever heard of the Crystal Empire?”
Rarity felt like she was getting a variation of whiplash from how fast the conversation kept changing topic. “The… er… the Crystal Empire? Yes… yes, I think I’ve heard about that. It appeared in the middle of the Frozen North about a year ago, I think?” The more Rarity thought, the more she remembered that particular evening when a few soldiers, not personal guards of the Princess and certainly not anyone who should approach her without invitation, just regular soldiers, burst into the throne room. They had frantic looks on their faces that probably saved their lives when they startled Nightmare Moon so much by their sudden entrance that she leaped off of her throne completely.
Rarity remembered jumping too; she had been bringing Nightmare Moon her tea and only just managed not to spill it when the doors flew open with a clang.
“Princess!” The soldiers had shouted, barely remembering to skid into a bow. “Something has happened in the Frozen North!”
Rainbow Dash and some other guard Rarity didn’t remember the name of came in seconds later, moving towards the soldiers. They instantly stopped, however, when Nightmare Moon raised her wing. An expression that Rarity couldn’t place, but surprisingly wasn’t anger, adorned her features as she walked closer to the two soldiers. “What happened in the Frozen North?”
Rarity had noticed then that the two were Pegasi with icicles decorating their wings. With a start, Rarity had realized that they must have flown all the way here.
“A brilliant flash of light,” The soldier that had spoken before breathed, his buddy content on just nodding rapidly along, “We were doing a quick fly by when suddenly the air started shimmering and a flash of light blinded our entire group. When we could see again there was a great city in the middle of the snow, sparkling like crystals.”
He paused for breath and Nightmare took the opportunity to sip at the tea Rarity had brought her. “Did you see anypony there?”
The soldier shook his head so rapidly Rarity was sure it would fall off. “No, Your Highness. We barely got to look at it before a dark cloud started billowing up out of the snow.”
“It was horrible!” The second soldier had finally decided to speak then, “It started snatching us out of the air and suffocating our platoon in its depths. We were the only two who escaped.”
“I see,” Nightmare had said plainly, returning the tea to Rarity’s tray, “Well, it seems I must take a leave of absence at the moment. A young colt has decided to try to wreak havoc at exactly the worst time.”
“And when she returned a few days later...” Rarity wasn’t sure when she started telling the story out loud, but continued on as Cadence gestured for her to finish. “When she returned a few days later she had a message sent out that no one was to go to the city and that the elements would wear it away within the year.”
Cadence nodded. “That would have happened, too, if it wasn’t for Twilight’s quick thinking.” She turned to the door from which Spike had exited and glanced over her shoulder. “Come, let's take a walk.”
Rarity glanced over at Twilight, but the purple Unicorn didn’t so much as look at Rarity before strutting out with Cadence. With a resigned sigh, Rarity followed.
“A thousand years ago,” Cadence began once they started walking, “A great empire was structured in the north that was home to a fourth tribe of ponies that lived nowhere else. The Crystal Ponies, as they were called, for their coats sparkled like crystal, lived peacefully in their isolated city until, one day, a dark Unicorn came into their midst. No one knows exactly how, but soon after his arrival, the Unicorn had managed to gain great power and enslave the entire race of Crystal Ponies.
“The stories say that Celestia banished him to somewhere for a thousand years but he took the Empire with him. After it reappeared last year, Nightmare Moon was able to defeat the dark Unicorn in his weakened state and destroy the magical artifact that protected the Empire from the storms of the North.
“Without the artifact the Empire itself would have been quickly consumed by the snow if Twilight hadn’t been so quick witted.” Cadence concluded, nodding to Twilight, who in turn blushed at the praise. “We were already hiding in the North and Twilight convinced me to shield a bit of the city. We've been expanding in the underground mines ever since.”
Rarity couldn’t take it anymore and let out a loud laugh. “Oh, you have got to be kidding! Sparkling ponies? A hidden kingdom? That all seems a bit far-fetched, don't you think?”
Twilight looked like she was about to argue, but she was interrupted by a cheery voice echoing off the wall.
“Excuse me, Princess.” A shimmering red pony trotted up to the trio and Rarity’s mouth dropped. “I just wish to inform you that Troop Six has returned successfully with new supplies.”
“Thank you, Folly.” Cadence smiled warmly at the pony. “Please go alert the chefs that they will need to prepare for more food.”
Folly bowed and moved on further down the hallway, Rarity’s eyes following her the entire way. “That… the… wha?”
“Yep,” Cadence replied with a smile, “Most of those still here haven't gotten their shine yet, but a few have managed to get comfortable.”
“That’s…” Rarity whispered, “That’s amazing.”
“But all of this is only possible because we've been careful,” Twilight said, again glaring at Rarity, “That means no protests, no raids, and no all-out attacks on the capital.”
“No one is saying we're going to do that,” Cadence said before Rarity could reply, “We just need to think about the opportunity that's now available.”
“And all I'm saying is that we can't do anything rash just because…”
Twilight stopped speaking mid-sentence, her gaze saying that the conversation wasn't over and turned to the sound of her name. Down the hallway came a rapidly approaching baby dragon that, to Rarity’s despair, was not holding a sandwich. “Yes, Spike, what is it?”
The dragon huffed as he came to a stop next to Twilight, a small flashing stone gripped in his claw and a look of panic on his face. “The stone,” he breathed, “Applejack’s calling you.”
Twilight paled and snatched the pulsing rock out of his grasp. “Applejack?” She spoke into the rock, “Are you there? You know you're only supposed to use this line for emergencies.”
There was a buzzing noise that emanated from the rock, causing Rarity to stare at it wide-eyed before a voice broke out clear and clean as if the pony was standing right next to them. “Yeah, ah know that, Twilight.” Applejack said, her voice was ragged and punctured by pants and she seemed to be shouting quite loudly, “That’s why I’m usin’ it. I ain’t tryin’ ta tell you that cider season went well.” There were more buzzing sounds and Applejack’s voice, sounding more distant now, shouted, “Would someone help her already? My grandmother is literally moving faster than you all.” There were some rustling sounds and something vaguely familiar that Rarity could only classify as defensive squawking. Then Applejack’s voice was back, mumbling something that sounded like, “Dumb Pigeons.”
“Alright, Applejack just calm down,” Twilight said, though her voice shook a little, “Just tell us what happened. Where are you?”
“In the Everfree.” Came the reply. “We’re closin’ in on the safe point so ah need ya to be ready soon.” The voice softened considerably, though the rustling and buzzing sounds were still prominent. “A’m sorry Twi but we’re caught. Someone snitched and they know.”
“No!” Twilight practically yelled, “No, tell me what happened Applejack. Tell me exactly what happened.”
Applejack sighed on the other side of the rock. “Some guards showed up at our doorstep and said they needed the castle's order early in preparation for the Eternal Night celebration because some supply wagon was ambushed or whatnot. I was suspicious but went ta get what we had when they started sayin’ they'd caught some of the raiders and the next moment Apple Bloom started shoutin’ that a whole platoon was comin’ up the hill. We got out of there fast as our legs could carry us. Also, didn’t help that we had two fugitives hunkerin with us I reckon. I’d say there’s about fifteen soldiers on our tail this minute. Sorry Twi. Looks like we’ve been found out. If they don’t know about you yet, they will within the week if anyone's been talkin’.”
Twilight stood rigid, her eyes were wide and her jaw trembled. Rarity wanted to say something, anything, to break the weighted silence that surrounded her. Princess Cadence, however, beat her to the punch.
“Applejack,” Cadence said calmly, “How many are with you? Who did you get out? If they came for you, they might take others.”
“No one,” Applejack’s voice crackled from the rock, “Just mah family, Zecora, and the two fugitives ah was talkin’ about. We left in a hurry like ah said.”
“Alright,” Cadence replied, though Rarity couldn’t miss the hint of sadness in her voice, “That will make our job simpler I suppose. Spike, go get Shining Armor. Twilight, Rarity, come with me, please. Applejack, we’ll be ready in five minutes.”
That seemed to snap Twilight out of whatever daze she had gone into, and she followed Cadence with a tall posture, still talking intently into the rock.
Rarity didn’t listen to the rest of their conversation, however, as she followed the two down the sparkling hall. Her mind swirled with all the information the little rock had given her.
She knew that name. In a time before the sun set, she knew that voice. She distinctly remembered a rambunctious freckled face splashing dirt onto her coat and sharing her apples. She couldn’t picture the filly she had practically grown up with becoming one of these secret rebellion leaders. She would have never pegged little AJ as somepony who would grow up to fight tyranny. But, she mused, she never pegged herself as one either, and here she was.
Her musing was interrupted as the two ponies in front of her stopped. She had been so caught up in her own mind that Rarity hadn’t noticed the group entering an entirely different room and closing the doors behind them.
The room they were in was a plain round room with an intricate spiral-like design painted onto the floor. Cadence and Twilight moved into two circles and Cadence gestured for Rarity to step into a third. Rarity hesitantly complied and looked at the other two in confusion. “May I ask what we’re doing?”
“A high-level teleportation spell,” Twilight told her, cracking her neck and spreading her hooves out, “We need a couple unicorns and this rune circle to get seven ponies from the Everfree Forest to here.”
“What!?” Rarity’s eyes widened. “I can’t cast that strong of a spell!”
“That’s why we have the rune circle. You just have to shoot magic into the center,” Twilight growled, glancing at the door, “Where is Shining? We need him for backup.”
Suddenly the door opened and Rarity’s jaw dropped. In the doorway was Spike standing right next to the most amazing stallion Rarity had ever seen. His white coat, whiter than even hers, seemed to glisten like the crystals in the room. His silky blue mane fell casually over his face and framed a long, majestic horn that had a winding crack down the middle. The crack, along with a few scars dotting his muscular body, made him seem battle worn and rugged.
“Honey, I’m so glad you’re here,” Cadence greeted him and snuck a kiss as he walked past, leaving Spike waiting by the door.
Rarity felt her whole body drop. Of course, he was already taken by the princess. With her luck, what else did she expect?
“How many ponies are we teleporting?” Shining Armor asked, his deep voice making Rarity swoon.
“Seven,” Twilight replied, “From the Everfree.”
Shining grimaced. “That’s a lot of energy needed, are you sure I shouldn’t get Moondancer or someone else?”
“There’s no time,” Twilight snapped, “This should just be enough.”
Shining Armor sighed but did not walk over to one of the other circles. Instead, he went to stand beside Twilight, head bent to let their horns touch.
Twilight’s horn instantly started glowing with power and after a few minutes of the purple light growing bigger than Rarity had ever seen an aura grow she lowered her head and touched her horn to the lines on the floor. Shining maintained contact the entire time.
The aura flowed from Twilight’s horn and across the floor like water, staying firmly on the lines and bathing it in purple.
“Rarity,” Cadence called, causing Rarity to turn her eyes from the stunning display, “Charge your horn and direct the magic down through the rune. Just pour in magic, don't worry about casting a spell. Twilight will handle that.”
Rarity thought better than to question her at the moment and instead started channeling magic as directed. She gasped when she placed her head to the floor in an awkward bow-like pose and started to feel the magic sucking out of her. The slightly painful sensation of being drained almost caused her to cancel the spell, but she gritted her teeth and held her stance, knowing that drawing back now would shatter what little trust these ponies had for her.
The runes on the floor glowed a three-hued color as the magic from the three ponies was poured into it. Twilight lifted the rock still clutched in her hoof to her mouth as the raw energy started causing a breeze to pick up.
“Alright Applejack,” She said, not sounding strained at all by the spell, “We’re ready whenever you are.”
More rustling sounded from the rock before Applejack’s voice cut through. “Start it now Twi. We ain't there yet but if we wait we're gonna get a platoon comin’ along with us.”
Twilight hesitated. “That can't work AJ. If I start the spell without you already in place the runes will crumble. That's not even mentioning what will happen if one of you is only half way through.”
“Crumbled runes is good,” Applejack’s panting voice replied, “We definitely can't use this site again and what's behind us is just as bad as bein’ torn in half.”
Twilight bit her lip. “But…”
“Twi,” Applejack growled, “If ya don't start that spell now we ain't comin’. Period.”
“Fine.” Rarity felt a yank in her magic as Twilight squeezed her eyes shut. “I'm starting now. You have two minutes.”
“Thank ya Twilight. I'll see ya on the other side.”
Twilight snorted and Rarity felt another yank on her magic. It was almost like someone was trying to weave an intricate design using Rarity as the thread.
The wind steadily picked up speed as a ball of magic started to shakily form in the center of the room.
“Come on Applejack…” Rarity heard Twilight mutter as the wind started whipping her purple mane about. Rarity was silently grateful that her own mane was tucked safely in her bun.
The magic ball continued to grow brighter and bigger, with multicolored sparks bouncing across it. Just as Rarity thought it would surely collapse under its own weight, the ball abruptly shrunk down like a balloon being sucked of its air.
Light exploded outward, blinding all occupancies of the room. Rarity reeled back as her connection to the spell broke with an echoing snap ringing through her head.
Blinking, Rarity steadied herself and turned back to the center of the room, looking to see what had come of her efforts.
Sprawled in a large pony pile, paint falling around them as the rune crumbled, was Applejack’s almost familiar orange coat and brown hat.
There was a red stallion under her and an older mare off to the side that Rarity recognized as Applejack’s brother and grandmother respectively. A yellow filly lay on top of a Zebra mare and a familiar blue Pegasus was sprawled on top of Applejack.
Rarity’s mouth fell open. “Rainbow Dash?”
Rainbow stirred and blinked up blearily at her. “Wha… Rarity?”
Applejack shoved Rainbow off of her. Her hard gaze swept across the room until it rested on the pair of siblings, seemingly no worse for wear from the spell. “Twilight!”
Pinkie Pie popped up from behind the red stallion and pointed excitedly at Cadence. “Alicorn!”
Shining Armor took a step back, his eyes wide and his jaw slack. “Pink… Pinkamena?”
Rainbow’s eyes traveled behind Rarity and her wings flared wide. “Whoa, dragon.”
“It’s Spike, actually.” The drake corrected, rubbing the glare from his eyes.
“Did everyone make it?” Cadence asked, her brow coated with sweat.
“Eyup.” An extremely deep voice answered.
“Alright everyone, quiet!” Twilight yelled, ending the rapid exchange of greetings. All eyes turned to her and, with a scowl that could freeze Tartarus, she thrusted a hoof at Rainbow Dash and Pinkie. “Applejack, who are they?”
“The fugitives ah was talkin’ about.” Applejack rose and dusted herself off. “You sure this jump place is secure Twi? There was an awful lot of guards chasing us.”
“Yes,” Twilight said absently, “No one is able to track the teleport, especially with it being destroyed right after. Now are you sure these two are trustworthy?”
“They are,” Rarity spoke up, “They’re my friends. And I’d love to hear how you two became fugitives.”
“Hey,” Rainbow said, dusting herself off also, “I’m like eighty percent sure you are too now, and I’ve been scared for your life for the past couple of days so don’t go being mad at me.”
“Anyways,” Twilight interrupted, shooting a glare at Rarity, “I don’t even know if you’re trustworthy yet, so your word doesn’t mean a thing.”
“How about mine?” Shining Armor stepped forward from the opposite end of the circle and, with a grace that could only come with years of practice, bowed deeply to Pinkie Pie, “Commander Pie, it is an honor to meet you again.”
“Oh, I’m not the Commander,” Pinkie said immediately, “That was always Limestone. I was perfectly happy being Lieutenant.” There was half a second of silence before her brain caught up to what her mouth was saying and her relaxed posture suddenly became much more nervous. “Oh, oh. That’s not… I um…I don’t… please stop bowing. I… I really don’t deserve any title anymore. Or that much respect.”
Shining smiled and stood back up from his bow. “My apologies Miss Pinkamena, I’m just very happy to see you alive. Everyone assumed that Nightmare Moon had killed you when you never returned.”
“That would have been…” Pinkie started before her eyes locked with Rainbow’s and she swallowed her words. “I mean… yeah. I can see where you might have thought that.”
Rarity raised a hoof. “Excuse me. Is anypony else completely confused?”
A yellow hoof joined Rarity’s in the air. “Ah am.”
Everyone else ignored the two, and Twilight Sparkle, her face suddenly glowing with what Rarity could only describe as awe, trotted up to Shining and Pinkie. “Big Brother, are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Eyes wide as saucers she turned to Pinkie. “Are you the Pinkamena Pie? Co-Leader of the First Rebellion?”
“Um…” Pinkie said, rubbing the back of her head, “...yes. I mean… well… technically yes but…”
“Oh my gosh!” Twilight interrupted. A flash of purple light went off above her head and suddenly she was holding a notebook and a pencil. “I can’t believe you’re here. In my base! Oh my goodness I have so many questions. How did you survive? Everyone assumed you died and they even had a funeral and everything. How have you evaded Nightmare’s detection? What have you been doing these last couple of years? Do your sisters know you’re alive? Oh wait, tell me about leading the First Rebellion! What do you think caused you to lose? What would you have done differently? Oh! Wait wait wait, can you punch through rocks too? Is it true that you can predict the future? Oh my gosh will you sign Shining’s old uniform?”
Through the entire onslaught of words, Pinkie had been increasingly trying to back away from the babbling Unicorn. Twilight had stayed with her every step of the way, however, and now the Earth Pony was backed into the wall, looking for all the world like she wanted nothing better than to shrink into the floor.
“Hey, knock it off!” Rainbow suddenly cried, flying over to Twilight and shoving the Unicorn away from her friend, “Can’t you see you’re upsetting her?”
Twilight blinked silently at her before her face took on the standard glare. “Wait a moment, you… you’re Rainbow Dash, aren’t you?”
Rainbow blinked in surprise but kept her protective stance in front of Pinkie. “Yeah, how do you know me?”
Twilight’s face was slowly morphing into a look of pure rage. “I keep tabs on all of Nightmare’s personal guards. You’re practically one of her lap dogs, what right do you have telling me what to do?”
“I happen to be,” Rainbow said, poking Twilight in the chest, “The best friend of the pony you were harassing. I’m also nopony’s lap dog and don’t like to be accused of it.”
“Oh please,” Twilight sneered, “You’re the only Pegasus in Nightmare’s personal guard. What did you do to land that position, rat out your family as traitors?”
Rainbow shoved her nose into Twilight’s, causing her to stumble back a few steps. “If you ever dare say I would betray my loved ones again I’ll rip your horn out. I had that job to protect those I love and I don’t freakin’ care what you have to say about it, but you will NOT harass my friends.”
Twilight opened her mouth to retort but Rarity had finally had enough and jumped into the conversation with a cough. “Rainbow, darling, perhaps you shouldn’t threaten physical harm to our friend, Twilight Sparkle.”
Rainbow’s eyes widened and she took a hesitant step back from the Unicorn. “You’re Twilight Sparkle?” Her eyes went from her face to her cutie mark to her back. “You’re not even an Alicorn!”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Again with the Alicorn thing. We should throw you in the dungeon on account of being insane, nevermind everything else you’ve done.” Her eyes narrowed and she took a step forward, poking Rainbow’s chest in return. “What have you done, hmm? What crimes have you committed in the name of protecting those you love? How many ponies have you killed? How many families have you ripped apart all for one or two ponies that are special to you? You’re no better than any of Nightmare’s loyal followers.”
“Twilight,” Shining hissed, stepping in front of Rainbow and pushing his sister backward, “that’s enough.”
Twilight hesitated, but eventually looked away, leaving the room with a heavy silence. Shining looked up from his sister and to the actual Alicorn watching the scene. “Cadence, this is your decision. Should we trust these new ponies?”
Cadence frowned, her eyes sweeping the room and settling on each of the three new fugitives in turn. “I say we take a vote. Who here deems these ponies untrustworthy of joining the rebellion?”
Twilight’s hoof instantly shot up, along with the red stallion’s, the older mare’s and Applejack herself. Pinkie’s almost went up too before Rainbow snatched it down.
Cadence nodded and they lowered their hooves. “Who thinks they are trustworthy and should be joined into our ranks?” Her own hoof dainty went up, along with Shining’s, Spike’s, Zecora’s, and a tiny yellow one.
“Apple Bloom?” Applejack said, turning to her little sister, “Ya think we can trust ‘em just like that?”
Apple Bloom stared right back, a hard, determined expression on her face. “Ah do sis. These are good ponies who just don’t want ta be hurt no more. We’re all in the same boat and it’d be stupid to reject their help because of how they got hurt in the first place.”
Applejack smiled and ruffled her sister’s red mane. “That was some wise words, little sis. Ah’m proud of you for thinkin’ this through.”
“Well, that settles it,” Cadence spoke up, smiling warmly at Rarity and her friends, “Welcome to the rebellion you three.”
“You are a wizard! You mean to say you cannot track a simple teleport?”
“I'm not actually a wizard…” The orange Unicorn at the foot of Nightmare Moon’s throne muttered, adjusting his glasses, “But, um, the magic blueprint you gave me was completely jumbled and coded, your Highness. I can tell that multiple ponies cast the spell but besides that all data is lost. Whoever made the spell was very thorough in making sure it couldn't be decoded.”
Nightmare Moon ground her teeth and leaned forward in her throne, glaring down at the poor scholar she had summoned. “I am the one that gave you the blueprint, Sunburst! My magic decodes it automatically. Are you saying that some mere Unicorn is more powerful than me?”
Sunburst cringed back and rapidly shook his head. “N-no of course not, y-your Majesty. I-I just think that multiple ponies, with a lot of time, might have been able to… to come up with a way to, um, fool your magic. A little…”
Nightmare Moon glared at him and the poor stallion flinched back farther.
“They probably had a lot of luck?”
After a few tense seconds, Nightmare hissed out a long breath and rubbed her forehead. “Fine. If that is all you can do then somehow we will have to manage. Leave us, Sunburst. Keep researching the spell and come back to me immediately if you find anything else. You are to give all your findings to no one but me. Is that understood?”
Sunburst staggered back, as if he had been struck by the fact that he had not been struck at all. “I… o-of course your Highness,” he stammered, backing away quickly, “Of course. Thank you.”
The stallion couldn't get out of there fast enough and almost tripped over Charged Night in his haste, making the captain of the guard shoot him a hateful glare.
Nightmare Moon sighed deeply and closed her eyes. A mortal, a little pony, had found a way to best her magic? It was impossible to think of, yet it seemed to be true.
“Idiot,” Charged huffed, jolting Nightmare from her inner musing, “He dares suggest that anyone could best you? He should be thrown in the dungeon for his insolence.” He turned to Nightmare when she did not immediately reply and dropped into a bow. “Your Majesty, let me organize some soldiers to go search for Rainbow Dash and her companions. With most of the soldiers looking and some wanted posters out we could… “
“No!” Nightmare snapped, “I have already said that I don't want this to get to the public and I am not one to change my mind.”
Charged’s only reaction to her harsh tone was to bow his head deeper. “Of course your Majesty. I only mean to say that there is no shame in getting the population to hunt down a dangerous criminal.”
“It is not a matter of shame…” She muttered under her breath. Rising from her throne, she spoke in a much louder voice, “I still do not want this getting out. In fact, it is now your duty to make sure no one is out there spreading rumors. See to that immediately, and I will see if our new guest can shine any light on the subject.”
She didn't look back to see if he had complied with her order before marching out of the throne room and down toward the dungeon.
First another Alicorn shows up and drops out of existence right before my eyes and now some of my own staff run off without a trace, Nightmare thought to herself as she stalked down the hallway. Maybe I've gotten too used to being worshiped. I’ve lost my edge.
Or you're scared…
Nightmare stopped short as the words echoed around in her head. She hadn't heard that soft voice for over a year and thought she had been rid of it entirely.
With an annoyed snort and a shake of her head, Nightmare Moon continued on down the hall. I am not scared of anything.
Yet you threaten… it is the only way… you are served. You are afraid… of their loyalty… falling apart…
My subjects are loyal to me, Nightmare snapped back, some just need to be reminded of that.
The voice fell silent and Nightmare hoped it had sunk back into the crevice of her mind.
…Are you glad… some are out of… harm's way?
Nightmare Moon stiffened. No. No, I am angry they have disobeyed. They need to be punished.
I think… you don't like hurting them… I think… that you c--
“Be quiet,” She hissed under her breath, silencing the unwanted voice. She had reached her destination and certainly didn't want that weakling butting in at the wrong time and distracting her thoughts.
The guard bowed low to her as she approached and lit his horn without question. The heavy, iron door swung open at the spell and Nightmare Moon strode in.
The cell wasn't decorated, of course, with only a lone cot on the back wall and a barred window to let in the moonlight as the only disruptions from the stark grey. On the cot, with a shackle chaining her leg to the wall, laid a yellow Pegasus who sat up the moment Nightmare walked into the room.
She trembled lightly and held her left wing, which looked to be bent a little the wrong way, close to her, but she looked Nightmare Moon in the eye and did not flinch away.
The Alicorn admired that in the little Pegasus. She hadn't expected bravery from the soft spoken pony.
“Hello,” Nightmare greeted coldly, closing the door behind her but not moving farther into the room.
Fluttershy licked her dry lips and shifted on the cot. “Hello.”
“You can relax dear,” Nightmare chuckled, “I am not here to hurt you.”
“I'm not…” Fluttershy trailed off with a shiver. After taking a couple deep breaths she started over. “I'm not going to tell you anything about Rainbow. A-and you can't make me talk.”
Nightmare raised a brow. “Child, I do not need you for information. Rainbow Dash has been in my service for three years, I know everything I need to about her.”
Fluttershy frowned. “Then why bring me here?”
Nightmare Moon smirked. “Because what I know about Rainbow Dash is that she will always come to your rescue if she even thinks you are in danger. To put it simply for you, you're bait.”
“Bait?” Fluttershy’s brow furrowed and she sat up a little straighter. “That doesn't make any sense. I heard from the guards that… that Rainbow’s friends also left with her. Why would they come back for me?”
“Rainbow Dash is stupid, but years in my care have made her less and less reckless. She will try to come rescue you and bring her friends as backup, and then I will have them all in one swoop thanks to her.” Nightmare grinned devilishly. “And if I am correct in my assumptions, which I usually am, then she has gone with that pesky little rebel group. When she comes back for you she will happily give me all their secrets in exchange for your safe return. She will betray any worthless friends she makes.”
Fluttershy frowned. “Rebel group? But there hasn’t been a rebel group for three years.”
Nightmare raised a brow. “Really? You didn’t know? They make the fact that they are a ‘secret’ group so obvious that it is all I can do to not kill their leaders on the street.” She smiled again and the Pegasus shrunk back at her sharp teeth. “I think this way will be much better. Having someone from the inside bring them down always has a sort of poetic justice.”
Nightmare Moon leaned closer to Fluttershy so that the Pegasus drew back in fright. “How does it feel? How does it feel to know your friend would betray everyone? Do you wonder when she will betray you, too?”
And then, instead of crying or shrinking back further, the insufferable pony smiled back at her.
“Not at all,” Fluttershy said happily, “I know Rainbow will always be there for me. I have complete faith in her.”
“And why would you be foolish enough to do that?” Nightmare sneered.
“Well, I have known her since we were fillies and she’s protected me through thick and thin for years. I trust her because I’ve known her so long. But the main reason I trust her is you.” She fixed Nightmare with a gaze that was so intense, yet so happy, that Nightmare Moon took a step back. “You have so much faith that she'll risk her life to save me that you aren't even going to look for her.”
“Plus,” She continued on as Nightmare’s frown grew deeper, “I think deep down you want her to do it. You know what a good fighter she is and yet you just wait. You want her to be happy don't you? I think, deep down, behind all the smoke and anger, that you're kind, and really do care about your subjects. Including Rainbow.”
Sometimes I wish I could be as kind as you Lulu.
“No!” Nightmare’s magic sparked and Fluttershy gasped as she was lifted into the air by her neck. “I am not kind! I am Night! I am terror! I will crush you if Rainbow does not surrender and I will do so without a thought. Do you understand?”
Fluttershy let out a strangled whimper and Nightmare Moon dropped her to the floor with a solid thud.
Before her anger could drain, Nightmare Moon stormed out of the cell and back up to her castle.
“There,” Twilight cried, dumping a stack of books in front of Rainbow Dash. The Pegasus jumped at the clatter and Twilight barely concealed a smirk. “Every other hint of the Elements of Harmony, all for your reading pleasure.”
“Wha? What happened?” Rainbow asked, rubbing her face and blinking up at Twilight.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe you fell asleep. You’re the one that wanted to find out where these stupid Elements are.”
“Hey, I've had a rough day,” Rainbow defended, “Well, rough couple of days. Plus, we've been searching this library for hours.”
“Five hours and twenty-six minutes to be exact,” Twilight retorted. Though she still thought the Elements of Harmony were a dead end, Twilight couldn’t help but be impressed by Rainbow’s persistence. Everyone else had helped search through the underground library at first, but ponies slowly trickled out to sleep or do other tasks in the Rebellion. Eventually, it had come down to Twilight and the stubborn Pegasus. Twilight almost admired her for the sheer determination.
“Exactly,” Rainbow said, “A pony gets sleepy after five hours in a quiet library with only a little dragon to keep her company.” She whipped her head around with a frown, her ears flicking back and forth. “Actually, where is your dragon?”
“Spike,” Twilight punctured the name with a scowl, “Went back to his mother half an hour ago. He wanted to stay, but he's a growing boy that needs his sleep.”
Rainbow’s mouth opened and closed like a fish. “He has a mom? I thought he was yours.”
Twilight raised a brow at that. “As amusing as me owning my own dragon would be,” Twilight snarked with an eyeroll, “No, Spike has a mother. Adopted, perhaps, but still a mother. He was one of those orphan dragons sent to Canterlot to be born.”
Rainbow blinked owlishly at her.
Twilight sighed. “Of course, you don't know about that. Listen, dragon eggs need magic to be born. Egg without mama means no magic. Celestia gives eggs she finds magic and sends them back to the dragon kingdom. With me?”
Rainbow frowned at her not-so-subtle insult. “I'm not stupid you know. You don't have to act like I'm three.”
“Well, you think I could be an Alicorn and that Nightmare Moon can be defeated with glowing rocks, so, yes. I do indeed think you’re stupid. Or at least completely crazy.”
“Hey,” Rainbow snapped, standing up, “At least I'm actually trying to stop her.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Oh yes, now that showing your belly won't work you've decided to go out with style. Is that it?”
Rainbow hesitated at that, her gaze going to her hooves, and Twilight felt the cold chill of being right seep down her spine. “I at least would hope you didn't have to drag innocent ponies down with you.”
Rainbow shook her head. “That's not… I didn't… Look, at least I'm not pretending to be some big hero while just sitting in a cave doing paperwork.”
Twilight ground her teeth. “I'm not trying to be a hero. I'm just trying to help. How do you not understand that if we make a big spectacle we'll all get killed?”
“Who's the lap dog now?” Rainbow snapped, “You’re doing exactly what Nightmare wants by giving into fear.”
Twilight's forehead itched as her eye twitched. “Excuse me? I've done everything I've can to oppose her. I'm trying to help ponies here!”
“By locking them away,” Rainbow yelled, throwing her hooves up, “By making them cower in fear and then hiding in your cave. Oh, yeah, you're totally helping ponies. Heck, you're helping just as much as Moony is!”
“How dare you!” Twilight seethed, “I have built my whole life on keeping ponies safe. I have done everything I can to build something here, and I am not just going to let some half-witted Night Guard with a two-bit plan come and tear down the only good I've ever done in my life!”
Rainbow Dash’s jaw had dropped in almost perfect sync with Twilight’s rising headache. What started out as a dull throb now seemed the equivalent of someone trying to force a spear into her cranium.
Or force something out.
Twilight realized Dash’s eyes were trained not on her own, but on the giant ball of energy hovering over Twilight’s head, and pointed straight at the Pegasus only moments before it was too late.
“No!” Twilight yelled, jerking in her horn up just as the pulsating sphere of raw magic ripped itself from her horn and flew across the room.
The Unicorn had just enough time to dive under the table before the energy ball collided with the wall and sent an avalanche of books crashing to the floor.
After waiting a few tense seconds to make sure no other books were going to tumble onto her head, Twilight took to the task of climbing out of the sea of literature she had created.
She felt a pang of grief as she pushed aside a few blackened books. They had made copies of all them for this reason but it still hurt to see the books destroyed because of her.
But these were just books. It would have been terrible if her magic had actually hit Rainbow Dash.
But she could still be in danger. Twilight climbed to the surface in a flurry of hooves and swept her gaze about the landslide of books, searching for blue.
Except that the entire library was just shades of blue and purple.
“Rainbow!” Twilight cried instead. She could be unconscious, suffocating in in the pile of books and it would all be Twilight’s…
“Oh bleh, ugh. Ink in my mouth.”
Twilight felt herself relax as the Pegasus sputtered her way to the surface. “Rainbow Dash, I am so sorry, I didn't mean to attack you like that, it’s just that s-sometimes my magic is terrible and…”
“What are you talking about? That was awesome!”
Twilight did a double-take at the grinning Pegasus. “Wha… what?”
“And you don't think you're Alicorn material,” Rainbow crowed, diving back into the books and resurfacing closer to Twilight. “That was some wicked magic right there and trust me when I say I've seen some wicked magic.”
Twilight gawked. “How can you be smiling? You could have been seriously hurt!”
Rainbow snorted. “Puh-lease, you don't spend years around a crazy Goddess and not know how to duck magic blasts or heavy debris. You know, you're way cooler than I first thought Egghead.” The Pegasus lightly punched Twilight in the shoulder with a friendly smile.
“Cool?” Twilight sputtered, “Why are you acting like this, we were just fighting and I almost blew your head off!”
Rainbow shrugged casually. “Yeah, but now we got that all off our chests. Don't you feel better? Less angry?”
“I…” Twilight stopped. She did feel less angry. Flabbergasted? Yes. Exhausted? Extremely. But she wasn't as mad at the other pony as she had been. “How… how did you get to be so smart?”
Rainbow rolled her eyes and leaned back with her hooves behind her head. “Boredom mostly. I read when there's nothing better to do.”
“I'm sorry,” Twilight blurted, prompting a raised eyebrow from Rainbow. “I do still think you're crazy, and even now I don’t really trust you.” She took a breath and lowered her head. “But, I shouldn't have started attacking you when we met and I certainly don't want to see you hurt because of me. So… I’m sorry.”
Rainbow smirked. “You know, that's super mature of you. I'm so proud you're growing up from the raging Unicorn I first met. Who knew one day stuck in a library could completely 180 someone.”
Twilight couldn't hold back her own tiny smile. The Pegasus was… nice, in a very odd way. “Oh har har. You know, to be fair, you did start raging first.”
Rainbow frowned. “Well, yeah, but you were scaring Pinkie. I had to do something.”
Twilight's mouth fell open. “Scare… scared Pinkamena?” She squawked, “Do you have any idea who that pony is?”
“Well, I…” Rainbow replied but Twilight just talked over her.
“She's a warrior, a legend. One of the few ponies, while everyone else was running around like chickens with their heads cut off, who actually took a stand against The Nightmare. And do you know the implications of her being alive? Somehow she escaped before she was killed. She escaped Nightmare Moon! I bet she's spent the last two years planning on reuniting with her sisters and--”
“Stop!” A blue hoof cut off Twilight’s rant as it shoved itself into her mouth. “Just stop, okay.” Twilight hadn't noticed it before but Rainbow now looked… pained, uncomfortable, and perhaps even sad. “Pinkie may have been like those stories in the past, but right now she is the exact opposite of what you're describing. You want to know where she's been the past two years? She's been sitting in Nightmare’s castle serving drinks to jerks and spitting puns at me.”
“Bu…” Twilight tried to protest around the hoof in her mouth.
“You want to know how she survived?” Rainbow continued, “Same as everyone else. She kept her head down. Look Twilight, I don't want to be your enemy, but you have to realize we're all in the same boat. No one's better or worse off than each other, understand?”
Twilight nodded and Rainbow removed her hoof and clambered to a standing position with a grimace. “We should probably clean this place up and get back to looking huh?”
“I still think you're crazy,” Twilight whispered, “But I can respect your kind of crazy.”
Rarity awoke to crying.
It was something she was used to doing and did almost with the same air one would awake for work. Sweetie Belle would always wake up, without fail, at least once with some terrible nightmare during her week long visit with Rarity.
But Rarity wasn't at home, and Sweetie was still safely visiting the minotaur kingdom Minnos with her parents. That meant some other pony was in need of comfort.
Though she could feel her body protesting, Rarity clambered out of bed and to her hooves. The room she was in was small, evidently it was all the rebels had available on such short notice, but managed to accommodate three beds at once.
Rainbow Dash, bed pushed against the far wall, had not stirred from the crying or Rarity’s movements. Driven by a passion Rarity had not seen before, the Pegasus had been scouring the library for who knows how long, and Rarity expected she would sleep for hours if given the chance.
The other bed, unlike Rainbow’s motionless sleep, was shuddering with movement. The sheets churned and the bed creaked and every so often the silence was punctured by a whimper or a sob.
Rarity’s heart clenched at the sound. While Rainbow had been reading, Pinkie had taken the opportunity to tell Rarity, well, everything.
She would have never guessed such horrible things had happened to her sweet friend and shuddered at what nightmares the poor filly’s memories could conjure.
With little hesitation, she moved over to the other bed and gently prodded her friend. “Pinkie? Pinkie, darling, wake up. You're having a nightmare.”
Pinkie’s eyes snapped open and Rarity saw two panicked, blue eyes before a pink hoof connected with her cheek.
Rarity stumbled back and fell to the ground with a thud as her vision swam. A panicked squeak and another thud echoed around the room as Pinkie fell off the bed and joined Rarity on the floor.
“Huh? Wha… what's happening?” Rainbow mumbled from her bed.
Rarity rubbed the stars out of her eyes and looked around. Rainbow was sitting up her bed, hoof on the light switch and squinting at them through the harsh light.
Pinkie Pie was staring at Rarity with a horror stricken expression. Her hooves were clamped shakily on her mouth and tears leaked gently from her glassy, sapphire irises. “Rarity, I'm so sorry. I'm so so sorry.”
Rarity brought a hoof to her throbbing face and gently touched her cheek. She winced in pain when she made contact and Pinkie let out a small whine and cover her eyes.
Rarity’s hoof trembled as she brought it back down. “Is there… is there a bruise? Is my face bruised?”
Pinkie shrunk back and Rainbow cambered off her bed. “Hey, she didn't mean it Rarity. It was just an accid…”
Rarity waved away her words as her shoulders rose and fell. Her soft airy breath was the only sound in the now dead silent room.
Then the giggles started to escape the Unicorn and soon she was laughing full out.
Both Rainbow Dash and Pinkie stepped back as Rarity fell to the floor in a fit of loud laughter
“I have a bruise!” She giggled, “I have a bruise on my cheek. Ha!”
“Dashie…” Pinkie whispered, “I think I broke Rarity.”
“No, no, no,” Rarity interrupted, rising back into a sitting position, “I'm part of the club now darling. We all have bruises on our cheeks. We're like a terrible three pony gang.”
Rainbow Dash leaned against the wall and let out a snort as Rarity descended back into giggles. “Seriously, Rares?” She muttered, touching her own fading bruise, “I had this whole revenge plan going to get you back for that faceplant and my bruise and you just…” She gestured her hoof vaguely, “You just up and ruined it by being nice.” She snickered and sat down heavily, “So lame Rares, so lame.”
Rarity smirked back at her and coyly tossed her mane, “Well you did indirectly paint me green, darling, I don’t think you really deserve to retaliate again.”
Rainbow stuck out her tongue.
“So you’re alright then?” Pinkie asked. The panicked had drained from her face at her friends’ teasing, but she still shifted nervously on her hooves. “Cause I really really didn’t mean to hit you.”
“Of course not, darling,” Rarity dismissed, “Really, it was about time I joined in on our matching beauty marks.” Her tone lost it’s playfulness as she studied her pink friend. “But what of you, dear? You seemed to have been having a terrible nightmare. Are you alright?”
Pinkie stared at her hooves. “I’m… I’m ok. It was just… I… I was just…”
Her stuttered reply was cut off as Rainbow Dash wrapped her hooves and wings around her in a tight hug. “Alright, I can not deal with sad friends this early in the morning. Everything’s fine and we’re going to kick Nightmare’s butt, cool?”
Pinkie nodded as best she could. “Cool.”
Rainbow turned her head to Rarity. “Now get in here Rares, this is a serious group hug and it needs more hugs.”
With a soft smile Rarity complied. The three stayed interlocked for a time before a loud rumble interrupted the soft silence.
Rainbow Dash blushed. “Alright, mushy time’s over. I need some breakfast pronto.”
Applejack shoved another spoonful of tasteless, rationed food into her mouth. She sat with her siblings in the nearly empty food hall. Apparently, Rainbow Dash and Twilight had found something important in their studies last night and the meeting to determine how they would attack Nightmare Moon would happen in just over an hour.
The cafeteria door opened and Applejack chomped down on another bit of breakfast. Rainbow Dash and her friends entered, laughing and chatting with one another.
They looked so darn happy and carefree, even though Rarity, who Applejack apparently had known as a filly, was now sporting a large bruise that hadn't been there the night before.
The three got their breakfast and Applejack suppressed a groan as they made their way over to the Apples’ table. Pinkie Pie didn't wait for an invitation and sat down next to Apple Bloom, the two immediately jumping into a conversation as Rainbow sat next to them. Before Applejack could protest, however, Rarity took the seat next to her and started talking.
“Applejack, darling, I'm so sorry our conversation was cut short yesterday. There was… a lot going on you understand. “
“Course,” Applejack grunted, keeping one eye on her sister and listening to the Unicorn with half an ear.
“So how exactly has life been since elementary school?”
“Fine. Plantin’ crops, workin’ hard adjustin’ to life under a tyrant.” Applejack cast a particularly hard glare across the table as she said the last bit.
“Isn't that the truth,” Rainbow interjected around her food, “I really think we have a chance of changing that, though.”
“Uh huh,” Applejack drawled, barely glancing at the Pegasus.
Rarity silently regarded Applejack for a few moments and then loudly cleared her throat. “Rainbow, darling, didn't you need to go talk to Twilight with Pinkie?”
“Oh yeah.” Rainbow nodded, looking up from her meal. “I needed to go over some things we found last night and I wanted Pinkie and her to actually meet on slightly better terms.” She then dug back into her food.
Rarity’s smile stretched. “Don't you think you should go do that now, darling?”
Rainbow frowned. “But breakfast…”
Rarity shot her a look and the Pegasus pushed her dish away with a grumble. “Right, going to talk to Twilight. Come on Pinkie.”
“Can ‘ah come?” Apple Bloom asked.
Applejack opened her mouth but Rarity beat her to the punch. “Of course darling, you can show them the way. You probably know your way around here very well, don't you?”
Apple Bloom stared up at her. “Sure, ah guess.”
Applejack tried to stand up but Rarity pressed firmly on her hind leg, keeping her seated. “Big Mac can you be a dear and run along with them please?”
Applejack locked eyes with her brother and he nodded back to her before following the others out the door.
Once they were alone Applejack turned to Rarity. “Ya got somethin’ on yer mind sugar?”
“Actually, yes,” Rarity said with a smile, “Why were you shooting death glares at my friend?”
Applejack turned away. “Ah was doin’ no such thing.”
“Darling, you're as subtle as a yak and an equally bad liar. Rainbow told me you were all for our idea until you actually got here. What changed?”
Applejack clenched her jaw. “Ya didn't… no one told me Pinkie led the first rebellion.”
Rarity raised a brow. “And? It seems here that's a thing to be celebrated.”
Applejack snorted in return. “Twi’s just got this stupid hero worship thing going on. I'm pretty sure she's memorized some of those speeches even, and Shining’s a soldier through and through. He'll respect anypony that he served under.”
“Alright then,” Rarity said, nodding, “But then what makes her past so off-putting to you?”
“After the rebellion was when things started gettin’ worse,” Applejack muttered.
Rarity blinked. “Call me crazy darling, but I'm pretty sure Nightmare Moon was in charge long before that.”
“But she wasn’t as bad,” Applejack snapped back, “Sure the eternal night thing wasn’t any nicer than a fox in a chicken coop but it was only after that disaster that she started demandin’ more than we could handle and harassin’ our children. If they would have just left well enough alone everythin’ would have been alright.”
“Darling,” Rarity said calmly, “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you are in a rebellion at this very moment.”
Applejack snorted a laugh devoid of humor. “That’s cause there ain’t no other choice. We’re going from bad to worse and I have to do something to protect mah loved ones. It’s the only thing left to do.”
“Applejack...” Rarity squeezed her hoof and gave the Earth Pony a very long look, not breaking contact even as Applejack turned her glare on her. “I understand that you want to blame someone for your troubles, and your accusations might even be true, but please, don’t let your feelings get in the way.”
Applejack stared as the Unicorn got up and began to walk away, seemingly ending the conversation. “Get in the way off what exactly?”
Rarity stopped but didn’t turn around. “In the world we live in, ponies always appear to be untrustworthy, and a threat to our delicate lives. I understand that, everypony understands that. But if you, perhaps, drop the walls you so carefully built and actually trust somepony, trust them almost completely, you’ll find that they are so much better than they first appear.” She turned her head just enough to give Applejack a coy smile. “I think you should trust me on this one, darling.”
“Alright everypony, let’s go over the plan one more time.”
Applejack looked up from her saddlebags as Twilight spoke. The train car they were in was small and cramped with the five ponies huddled in it. Although every worker on the train to and from the Frozen North was part of the rebellion, normal civilians still were known to use it from time to time. Applejack, Twilight, and the three new rebels were all tucked in a small car at the front- out of sight of the other passengers and out of the way of the crew.
“Twilight, we went over it, like, a bazillion times before we left,” Rainbow Dash groaned, causing Applejack to shoot her a look. Thankfully, Rarity elbowed the Pegasus in the side and Twilight either didn’t notice or didn’t care as she jumped right into her lecture and paced in small circles.
“The most important thing Rainbow Dash and I discovered is that once the Elements are disconnected from their bearers, they can’t be moved more than fifty feet. Assuming Celestia being sent away disconnected them to her, they have to still be somewhere in the castle.”
“If they even exist,” Applejack grumbled under her breath.
Twilight seemed to hear, however, and shook her head. “No, we found enough books on them to confirm their existence. They’re definitely real, and I think I can make a spell to move them out of the forest. The problem is that we don’t know how to use them.” She stopped pacing and turned to fully address the other ponies. “That’s why we have to take this whole plan carefully.”
Applejack sat up straighter but noticed with annoyance that Rainbow rolled her eyes as Twilight once again repeated what had been confirmed last night. “The plan is that my brother, Big Mac, and Zecora will take a group of ponies, as well as some of our dragon allies, and launch an attack on Canterlot. A small one, mind you, because while Nightmare Moon resides in the Everfree, Canterlot is still where most legal action takes place, so if it’s attacked Nightmare Moon will have to go see to it personally.”
“And while she’s gone,” Rainbow piped up, “We swoop into her castle, take the Elements, and send her back to the moon!”
“No!” Twilight said, stomping a hoof on the floor, “No rash decisions, no improvisation. This is my operation and so we’re going to do it my way, understood?”
There were murmurs of agreement, with yet another exaggerated eye roll from Dash, and Twilight relaxed back into a steady pace. “Rainbow is right about one thing, however. This team is going to sneak into the castle and take the Elements of Harmony so we can study them and decide our next move. As I’ve said, I’ve figured out a spell that should let us move them for a bit, and with Rainbow and Pinka…” She coughed into her hoof then continued on. “Pinkie’s knowledge of the inner working of the castle, the Elements should be easy to find. Yes, we have all our bases covered. Everything will work out perfectly.” She spun abruptly on the spot and looked back at the other four with a large, shaky grin. “So, any questions?”
A pink hoof rose into the air.
“How does dragon adoption work?” Pinkie Pie asked, blinking curiously up at Twilight.
Applejack raised a brow at that and Rainbow Dash smacked herself in the face. For her part, Twilight just looked at the Earth Pony with pursed lips before slowly replying. “I’m… not sure. Even with dragons helping us they’re still a private species and don’t tell ponies much about their society. I assume it would be roughly the same as it is here, though.”
Pinkie nodded, seemingly content with the answer and Twilight turned her attention back to the rest of the group. “Any other questions?”
The train stopped.
The train had been rumbling out of the Frozen North at such a steady pace that Applejack almost forgot they were moving. She was keenly made aware that they had been when the train jerked to a halt so suddenly it threw all the ponies off of their hooves.
“What the hay was that?” Applejack asked, rising back to a standing position. The question was directed at Twilight but the Unicorn didn’t seem to hear her as she rushed to the train window and peered out.
Twilight went pale and her eyes grew wide as she stared at something outside the car. “Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Not good not good.”
“Twilight, darling, what’s wrong?” Rarity asked, coming to stand beside Applejack, “Why did we stop?”
“Everypony get in the back. Go.” Twilight said, ignoring Rarity’s question and shoving the four ponies into the small, secluded area at the back of the car. It was barely more that two small walls closing off the back door, but the five ponies could squeeze behind them and be hidden from anyone in the train car.
“What’s the matter?” Rainbow echoed Rarity as she was shoved in the tight space, “Twilight, what in the hay is happening?”
Twilight poked her head around the corner before ducking back to face the others. “So… um… technically the rebellion owns this railway station, right? Most of the staff and the conductor are rebels, but we can’t have Nightmare Moon know that of course.” A smile stretched across her face and her eyes flicked back and forth nervously as the others silently gazed at her. “So occasionally Nightmare checks the trains, all the trains, for smuggled goods or, you know, fugitives.”
Slowly, the others donned looks of horror as the news set in.
“They’re searching the train for us?” Pinkie squeaked.
“And you didn’t think to have anywhere for us to hide?” Rarity hissed at Twilight.
Twilight glared back at her. “They only do these checks a few times a month and the last one was just a week ago!” She ground her teeth and looked away. “I should have accounted for them to pick it up with the stir you guys made but I didn’t, okay?”
“So we’re going to get stopped before we even get started just because you forgot to mention there were train checks?” Rainbow Dash squawked, her voice just barely a whisper.
Twilight turned to scowl at her. “Well, you’re in the Night Guard! Shouldn’t you of all ponies have known about this?”
“I was Nightmare’s personal bodyguard. I didn’t do train checks!”
“Would y'all shut up,” Applejack spat at the arguing ponies. They immediately went quiet and looked at Applejack guiltily. In the new silence, the unmistakeable sound of hoof steps and muttered voices could be heard at the other end of the car, past the closed door.
Suddenly there was the unmistakable sound of the far sliding door opening and the voices got much clearer. “Huh, doesn’t look like anyone’s in here. I was sure I heard something. Do a quick sweep, just in case, and if you find anypony suspicious report it to the commander immediately.”
“Yes sir,” Came the reply, only seconds before before the door closed and the other pony’s hoofsteps could be heard walking away.
Applejack’s heart clenched at the two words the stallion had given his officer. Applejack knew that voice. She knew that stallion. The fact that he was a soldier wasn’t too surprising, ponies did what they could to get by these days, but having him here was shocking enough to steal Applejack’s breath.
The clip-clop of the stallion’s hooves echoed in Applejack’s ears as he slowly swept the train car. The others were holding their breath in the desperate attempt to keep quiet, but Applejack knew it was hopeless. The stallion would only have to peek into their small hiding spot and then one cry would bring all the other soldiers down on them.
Applejack could knock him out before he shouted. One hit and he’d be down before he’d even seen her. Then they’d have to hide him, though… Hide him and hope no one would come to check on him, which was a foolish hope, the soldiers would just leave with one missing in action. Not to mention what they’d do with him once he woke up.
They were all dead.
If you, perhaps, drop the walls you so carefully built and actually trust somepony, trust them almost completely, you’ll find that they are so much better than they first appear.
Applejack snorted under her breath. She hadn’t fully trusted a pony that wasn’t her siblings or her Granny in years. Trust wasn’t something to be given out freely now a nights.
No, they could knock him out and then run for it. They would probably get far enough before anyone noticed. They could do it.
Applejack stepped out from behind the small half wall that was hiding her and her friends. “Uh, hey there Braeburn.”
The yellow stallion stopped short, halfway through the train car and stared at her with wide eyes. “Cousin AJ?”
Applejack could practically feel Twilight’s panic but Braeburn’s steady gazed clued her that none of the other’s had emerged.
“Hey Cuz, how… how ya been?” AJ asked with what she hoped was a friendly smile.
Braeburn frowned back and took a hesitant step forward. “Ah’ve been… fine. What are you doin’ on this here train cousin? This is comin’ from the Frozen North. What in Equestria were ya doin’ there?”
This was it. She could get out of this now. She just had to lay a lie clever enough for Braeburn to believe and then he’d walk out of here like nothing was the matter. She could do it. She’d done it before.
“Ah’m comin’ back from the Rebellion headquarters.” That was definitely the sound of a jaw hitting the floor. “Ah’m on my way ta raid Nightmare Moon’s castle.” Applejack just didn’t know if it was Twilight’s, Rainbow’s, Braeburn, or even her own.
“Wha… what?” Braeburn stuttered, blinking at her like she was the sun coming back, “Applejack… are… are you sayin’ yer a… a traitor? Ya know… ya know I should turn you in for that.”
Applejack grimaced, a little twitch that she could have hidden but chose not to, and slowly approached her cousin. “I know, and I know it’s a stupid thing ta tell ya but it’s true. I’ve been fightin’ against her for the longest time. Just tryin’ ta make some ponies’ lives better. But now,” She had reached him now and was able to gently lay a hoof on Braeburn’s shoulder. The stallion didn’t move away. He just looked at her with confused, scared eyes. “Now I have a chance ta help everyone. Right behind me is some ponies who know how to defeat Nightmare Moon once and for all and save the world. But we need somethin’ for that ta happen.”
She smiled at him. A true, and trusting smile. It was held down by nervousness but that just made it all the more genuine. “I need ya ta back us up, Cuz. We can’t take every soldier swarmin’ this here train and it’s too far from anythin’ ta run. The only way we could go stop Nightmare Moon is if you bail us out.”
He frowned at her, eyes narrowing slightly and darting to the floor. “Ah don’t know Applejack. If they ever find out that ah lied to them… That I helped ya attack Nightmare Moon...”
“They won’t,” Applejack said immediately, “None of us will ever tell we were on this here train car. But yer still scared, ah know, Braeburn trust me ah know, but we could save everyone from bein’ scared if ya just do this one thing. Please.” She put her hoof under his chin and gently lifted until they were once again eye to eye. “Please Braeburn, I’m puttin’ all my faith in ya. I’m scared of what we’re doin’ too, but I need ta do this. You need ta do this. I know we don’t see each other much anymore but please don’t make me be wrong about ya.”
Braeburn stared into her eyes for a good few seconds as Applejack stood the four ponies in the back held their breath. Finally, Braeburn broke contact and walked back across the train car. “Ah trust ya Cuz. I’m goin’ ta make yer trust in me hold out so why don’t ya make mine? Go stop Nightmare Moon or Celestia help me I’ll bring it up at every family reunion.”
Applejack chuckled, a shaky thing, an honest thing, “Don’t you worry none then. That’s a fate worse than anythin’ Nightmare can dish out.” Braeburn simply nodded, a sliver of a smile flashing on his yellow muzzle, and turned to leave the car when Applejack stopped him. “Hey, Cuz? I...Th-thank you. Thank you.”
Braeburn smiled at her. “Thanks for bein’ honest with me Cuz.” Then he was gone.
On one hoof, ever since eternal night had seized the land the already unnatural forest had grown exponentially. It covered a good half of Ponyville and stretched all the way to Canterlot mountain. Nightmare Moon’s efforts were the only thing keeping Canterlot accessible at all.
With the territory it gained so did its dangers increase. Many creatures had made their home there and almost every leaf was in the territory of one pony-eating monster or another.
On the other hoof, Nightmare Moon’s castle was in the exact center of the forest. That caused heavy hoof traffic from ponies with business in the castle, but who did not live there full time. Everything ranging attending night court to a simple tour of the ancient fortress kept the road through the Everfree busy and well worn.
Not to mention that many ponies had refused to leave their homes and now half of Ponyville and its inhabitants were nestled inside the treeline.
The Everfree had grown dangerous in the last five years, but the ponies had grown right along with it.
Well not everypony, Pinkie mused to herself as she trotted through the woods. She herself had grown decidedly less dangerous the past few years.
It was like a trampoline of dangerousness. She hadn’t exactly been the biggest filly on the farm, but necessity had made her a hard worker and an effective monster fighter.
And then, just as she was reaching the peak of her leap she had fallen right off the dangerousness trampoline, crashed headfirst into the ground and skinned her knee. And now she was climbing right back on it while the wound was still fresh. All because a couple other kids were insisting that this time she’d jump high enough and touch a cloud.
Or maybe she was taking the metaphor a bit too far.
Pinkie shook her head out of her confusing thoughts and adjusted her thick cloak as she took in her surroundings. From her perspective, it didn’t seem like the group had moved at all. Deep shadows still danced on the trees and across the bushes, warping just enough that they looked like lurking monsters from the corner of one’s eye. It was still wet in the way only a place relying solely on precipitation could be. The grass still sparkled with dew until one of the ponies’ hooves stepped on it and snuffed out the sparkles like a candle. The bushes and leaves still rustled occasionally from what Pinkie hoped were critters spooked by their approach.
They could have been walking in a circle and Pinkie would have been none the wiser.
But Pinkie trusted Dashie to know her way around the woods. After all, the Pegasus spent almost every night patrolling the Everfree. As long as they followed the confident figure flying up ahead, faintly outlined in the little light Rarity’s horn provided, she knew they’d get to the castle in no time.
That didn’t stop her from getting nervous, however.
Pinkie longed to at least talk to someone and took a quick glance around to assess her choices.
Rainbow and Rarity, as previously determined, were leading the group through the thick foliage and seemed to be having a hushed conversation of their own. Pinkie would have loved talking to her friends but didn’t want to distract them and get the group lost.
Applejack walked a few feet behind Pinkie, keeping watch of the groups flank and stubbornly refusing to talk to Pinkie all night with more than clipped words.
That meant the only thing left to distract her was the Unicorn beside her, trying feebly to not look like she was staring.
“Hey, Twilight,” Pinkie broke the silence, causing the purple pony to almost trip on the tangled roots crisscrossing the path, “Why don’t you do that cool light thing with your horn too?”
Twilight’s expression instantly dropped from starstruck to embarrassment as she gazed down at her hooves. “Oh, that. Well, my magic’s a bit… uncontrollable. If I have any kind of sudden emotional shift it could potentially put us all in danger.” She tapped her horn with a hoof and gave Pinkie a small smile. “It’s better for everyone if I keep it free of magic as much as possible.”
Twilight blinked at her. “Really? How so? I thought Earth Pony magic was stable by design.”
“Yep, that’s why it’s super weird. I can’t usually control it like most Earth Ponies can and so it manifests in weird magical thingys. My dad thought it might have been a genetic thing or something but we never had a chance to find out.”
“Magical things like predicting the future?”
Pinkie blinked a few times before she burst out laughing. “Oh yeah! Yeah, just like that. Wow, I almost forgot I could do that.”
“Could?” Twilight tilted her head. “You can’t anymore?”
“Oh, I probably can.” Pinkie waved a hoof dismissively. “I’ve just been ignoring it for so long I forgot all about it.”
Twilight stared owlishly. “You… you… how can you just ignore the future?!?”
Pinkie smiled at her. “Lots of ponies do it all the time, silly.” When Twilight still just stared back, Pinkie coughed into her hoof and looked away. “Well, when the twitches start twitching I just don’t think about what it’s meaning and so the twitches stop having meaning if I’m not thinking of the meaning. Although…” She gazed thoughtfully at the sky, “Sometimes the meaning gets mentioned without me thinking of the twitches but I still manage to get what it means. That’s always confusing.”
Twilight did a brilliant impression of a fish as her mouth hung open. She closed her jaw slowly and opened it again as if to say something. When nothing came out she tried again with similar results. The third time she seemed to finally be ready to speak, but was saved from actually trying by a loud hiss from Rainbow Dash.
“Everyone quiet.” The shout halted the group in their tracks as Dashie’s eyes flicked between dancing shadows cast by the swaying trees. The Pegasus stayed tense even as she motioned everyone forwards again. “Alright, stay quiet,” She eventually whispered when nothing caught her attention, “but keep an eye out, I thought I heard…”
A dark shadow flew inches in front of Dashie’s face and anything else she would have said was cut off as Rarity screamed and her horn snuffed out.
Pinkie instantly lost sight of everything more than a few feet away as most of the light blinked out. Twilight’s horn flared to life seconds afterwards, however, and Pinkie got a brilliant purple tinted view of the now-battlefield.
Two giant stone monsters, at least twice the size of any pony, with grand wings and long claws swooped and slashed at Rainbow, Applejack, and Rarity. The Pegasus and Earth Pony bucked and slashed the beasts whenever they got too close while the Unicorn was trying to get her magic working again.
“Gargoyles…” Twilight murmured.
Pinkie tore her gaze away from her fighting friends and onto Twilight just in time to see another stone monster barreling towards her.
Pinkie screamed and tackled Twilight to the ground right as the Gargoyle swiped directly where her horn had been. The crash to the ground jolted the light from Twilight’s horn and once again the ponies were plunged in almost complete darkness. Pinkie felt Twilight scramble and from under her and heard her shout, “They’re Gargoyle’s everyone! Don’t have any light, they’re attracted to it!”
“I know that thank you!” Rainbow shouted as Pinkie Pie rose to her own hooves. “They’re also literally made out of stone, so unless one of you has a chisel we can’t fight them.”
“Then what, we run?” Applejack’s voice added.
“That won’t work,” Twilight said, moving towards the others. Pinkie quickly followed, keeping the Unicorn’s outline in view while also looking out for any more stone monsters. Though, surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be any trace of them, “They may not be as fast as a Pegasus, but on the ground, we’re practically sitting ducks.”
“Well, what are we gonna do then?” Applejack spoke in Pinkie’s ear, causing her to jump with a yelp.
“We can’t just sit here that’s for sure!” Dashie said, and now Pinkie could see the outline of the other four ponies surrounding her. Rainbow and Applejack seemed to have stopped fighting the Gargoyles and started yelling at each other.
“Well, why not? It looks like they all left.” Rarity pointed out, causing the group to pause and fall silent. “I mean, after the initial attack they seemed to have flown away.”
“I really don’t think we’re that lucky…” Twilight muttered.
A growl punctured her statement and as one the ponies turned to stare up at the hovering Gargoyle directly overhead.
“Buck,” Rainbow whispered, but couldn’t get anything else out as the Gargoyles dove and the five ponies grabbed each other in a terrified huddle.
Pinkie closed her eyes and pressed into Rainbow’s fur as the Gargoyles fell on them and sunk their wicked claws into the ponies’ hides.
Pinkie slowly opened her eyes after a few seconds of definitely not being eaten alive and instead only the vague sensation of someone rubbing a balloon across her scalp.
The sight that greeted her was the most baffling the young pony had ever seen. A Gargoyle was trying to gnaw her head but was only succeeding to make her mane stick up frizzily. The monster itself was squeaking loudly every time it tried to bite down and its teeth retreated into its own mouth instead of Pinkie’s head.
The other Gargoyles, similarly trying and failing to mutilate her friends had an almost comical look of confusion on their twisted faces.
Just as everyone was thoroughly confused, a fierce wind cut through the forest and, with yelps of surprise, the stone-monsters turned balloon-monsters lost their grip on the ponies and floated off into the black sky.
Five pairs of eyes stared after the balloon monsters as they drifted away. No one dared to breath lest this be just a near death induced hallucination.
“I do so loath statues.”
Rainbow was the first to react as the smooth voice rang through the forest, her wings snapping open in defiance.
Or they would have if Pinkie wasn’t glued to her side. The only thing the jerk of limbs actually caused was Pinkie having the wind knocked out of her and the entire pony-pile collapsing into a heap.
“Who’s out there?” Rainbow shouted when she had successfully freed herself from the tangle of legs and tails, “Show yourself!”
“If you insist,” the voice replied as torches starting flicking to life on the trees, illuminating the clearing with a soft, pleasant light. “It’s the amazing, the handsome, the one and only…” A puff of smoke appeared in the middle of the field and a strange, snakeish, bearish, ponyish creature erupted from it accompanied by a smattering of miniature fireworks. “DISCORD!”
Pinkie only spared the weird creature, and the fact that the clearing they were in did not exist a moment ago, a passing thought before her eyes fell on something of far greater concern.
“Rarity, your leg!” She cried, rushing to the Unicorn’s side. Rarity’s white coat was stained with red as a deep gash in her leg bled down her hoof. The offending appendage twitched with obvious pain, but Rarity smiled reassuringly at Pinkie.
“Oh, this? Yes, that first Gargoyle got in a lucky shot when he jumped me didn’t he? But better this than take my horn clean off, right?”
“That’s still a serious injury, Rarity,” Twilight said, grimacing at the wound, “It needs to be cleaned and bandaged immediately.”
Rarity’s smile started to tremble. “Well, I’m certainly not going to refuse care, darling.”
“Ah got it.” Applejack swung her saddlebags off her withers at the same time she pulled a roll of gauze out. “Ah’ve got the medical supplies in ma bag.”
“Um, excuse me?” Five heads turned once again towards the weird noodly creature who gave them all a peeved look. “Are you all just going to ignore me? No bowing and/or screaming? No ’thank you’ for saving your lives? Not even a hello?”
“Hey,” Rainbow snapped, “If we don’t get this bandaged up she could bleed out. Wait your turn you baby.”
Discord’s mouth flapped uselessly for a few seconds before he humphed and crossed his arms, muttering something under his breath about ’kids these days’.
Satisfied that he wasn’t going to interrupt or attack they all turned back to where Applejack had laid Rarity on the ground and was carefully dressing her wound.
Pinkie turned away from the scene, she had never been good with blood, and instead took stock of her surroundings.
The clearing they were in wasn’t real. That was the first thing she noticed. If she stared off without really looking at anything she could almost see the outlines of the real trees. The creature, Discord, was slightly translucent as well and didn’t cast any type of shadow.
The tingle of static on her coat, however, reminded Pinkie that, even though he wasn’t necessarily real, whatever he had done to those Gargoyles was very much so.
Pinkie turned her gaze back to Rarity just as the Unicorn hesitantly rose back to her hooves, leaning on Applejack for support.
“Alright,” Dashie spoke up once Rarity assured her once more that she was fine, “now who the heck are you?”
The creature perked up at this and struck a pose. “I am the great and terrible Discord! At your service.”
Everyone shared glances. “Who?” Applejack asked.
Discord deflated to the sound of a leaky balloon. “You don’t know who I am? Discord? Spirit of Chaos? Bringer of Disharmony? The Handsome Ruler of Supreme Coolness, as I once called myself?”
“Wait…” Twilight spoke up, staring at him wide-eyed, “You don’t mean Discord from the Age of Chaos, do you? Certainly not the monster that made this world it’s plaything, right? ”
Discord clapped his paw and talon. “Oh, looks like somepony pays attention in history. Though I really resent the word monster thank you very much.”
Discord rolled his eyes. “Oh please, there aren’t many things that can kill me and weaponized niceness certainly isn’t on that list.”
“Wait a second,” Rainbow butt in, flaring her wings, “If you weren’t killed are we supposed to believe an ex-tyrant just decided to live in the woods for thousands of years? Never bothering anyone? Is that what you’re trying to tell us?”
Discord gave her a flat look. “Were you born an idiot or have you spent your life perfecting your craft?”
Before Dashie could do something she’d probably regret, Pinkie spoke up. “It can’t be that, ’cause you’re not actually here. You…” She gestured vaguely to the creature. “Are just an illusion or something.” She paused and cocked her head. “Or you could be a ghost I guess.”
Confetti started to rain from the trees and cling to the ponies’ coats. “And we have a winner! Well, almost.”
“So ya ain’t actually the spirit?” Applejack asked.
“And the idiots are speaking again…” Discord mumbled before perking back up, “No, the gaudy looking one is correct! This gorgeous specimen before you is simply a reflection projected onto your minds. The real me is right over there.”
With a wave of his paw, the forest parted like a curtain, proudly displaying a statue to his likeness as if it was a grand piece of art.
“Yes,” Discord muttered sadly, gliding over and through the statue, “The old Elements zapped me into stone. Best statue in existence, of course, but it was quite boring. Then old Moony came to me one day and decided she wanted to strike a deal. I would have a limited amount of power back in exchange for keeping all of the plants in Equestria feeding off moonlight. Still dull, but just less dull enough to pique my interest.” His face darkened as he stared at the statue’s closed eyes. “Little did I know Miss Luna had a trick up her sleeve. More freedom yes, but at what cost? I’ll be half mortal if I ever manage to break out of this accursed rocky prison.”
“Wait,” Twilight interrupted his musing, “You know about the Elements? Do you happen to know where they are?”
Discord swung his head in her direction, apparently having forgotten they were there. “Hmm? Oh yes, those old things are still in the castle as far as I’m aware. Little door right behind the throne if I remember correctly.”
“Yes!” Twilight shouted excitedly, already moving forward, “This is just what we needed to hear. Thank you, mister Discord you’ve been a big help and—”
“Whoah hold yourself there,” Discord interrupted, appearing directly in front of Twilight, “You expect me to let you go that easily?”
Instantly, the entire group of ponies stiffened.
“You saved our lives,” Rarity said slowly, “Doesn’t that mean you wish to help us?”
Applejack withdrew her knife. “But he said he worked for Nightmare Moon. He could just be keepin’ us alive ta ship ta her.”
“Oh calm your insistent paranoia,” Discord muttered, “Nothing would make me happier than you giving Moony a good kicking. I simply have some requests before you go.”
“Like what?” Rainbow growled.
“First,” He said, holding up a talon, “If you succeed I want free. Don’t worry about me taking over the world or anything, I won’t be nearly strong enough for that for at least a few years. And B.” He held up a balloon in said letter’s shape. “I need you all to do something for me.”
He paused dramatically as the ponies held their breaths. They really couldn’t afford a side quest right now, they were on too tight of a time crunch. And what if what he wanted wasn’t something they could do or…
“I need you to entertain me.”
Five pairs of eyes blinked in perfect synchronization.
“What?” Rarity voiced what was on everypony’s mind.
“I am so bored!” Discord whined, falling on his back in midair, “There’s nothing to do and no one to do it too out here. I need a good laugh or I’ll explode!” Then he did just that, exploding with the sound of a dying walrus for some reason.
Rainbow’s nose scrunched up in distaste. “So what? You want to use us for your playthings? Not going to happen, buddy.”
“Oh no no no, you misunderstand.” Discord appeared right in the middle of the ponies his paw placed dramatically on his forehead. “I’m beyond watching creatures squirm. It’s, tragically, lost its flair. No, I simply need a laugh. Tell a joke, do a dance, I don’t care.”
“Do we… do we have a time limit?” Twilight asked tentatively.
Discord shrugged and disappeared, reappearing moments later in a hammock. “I have all the time in the world. The only pressure is of your own making.” He waved a claw and suddenly was sipping on a coconut. “Whenever you’re ready.”
There was a moment where the only sound was the slurping of Discord’s drink before Twilight turned to the group in a quick movement. “Alright team, huddle. We are on a time crunch so wrack your brains, what would The Spirit of Chaos find funny?”
“Don’t worry,” Dashie spoke up immediately, “I’ve got this.”
She strutted up to where Discord floated lazily, but halfway there she lost control of her hooves and fell flat on her face with an audible smack.
There was silence as Discord gave one slow blink. “Was that your attempt at humor?”
Dashie’s head sprang up and she massaged her snout. “What? How did you not find that funny?”
The yellowed eyes rolled in different directions. “I just said I’m over having things get hurt. Really now, if I wanted slapstick I would have enchanted some squirrels or something.”
Rainbow muttered under her breath and stalked back to the group. “Alright, apparently I don’t got this. Anyone else have an idea?”
Twilight hummed and tapped her chin. “Well, he is a being of chaos so maybe… abrupt humor?”
Before anyone could question her the Unicorn turned to face Discord. She took a deep breath and then in a loud voice proclaimed, “Popcorn!”
Everyone stared at her like she had grown a second head. Discord didn’t so much as smirk.
“Twi…” Applejack muttered, putting her hat over her eyes, “Please stop. Yer embarrassin’ yerself.”
Twilight stomped her hoof in frustration. “How is this not funny to you? Your whole thing is randomness!”
Discord gave her a flat look. “You need to go sit down because you’re disrespecting the entire concept of comedy.”
Twilight’s mouth fell open. “Wha… what? Really? What kind of humor do you like then!?”
Discord shrugged. “When you’re as old and chaotic as me your tastes change constantly. Just keep trying, I’m sure you’ll land on it eventually.”
Twilight huffed and turned back to the rest of the ponies. “Eventually? We don’t have eventually! Does anyone have any other ideas? I really don’t want to start shooting in the dark.”
Pinkie took a deep, steadying breath as the others started to debate among themselves. Slowly, she walked away from the group and towards the apparition who regarded her curiously.
“Well, it seems the gaudy smart one has an idea.”
All heads turned towards her and Dashie spoke up. “You think you can make this dude laugh Pinks?”
Pinkie nodded, still looking at Discord. “I don’t think Dashie, I know. Because this… this is my destiny.” She reared up onto her hind legs and whipped off her cloak, fully revealing the three balloons on her flank.
A white hoof moved up to cover Rainbow’s eyes and the Pegasus smacked it away. Pinkie Pie took a deep breath to steel her nerves and with a straight face spoke to the spirit.
“Hey Discord, why the long face?”
There was a good minute of silence as no one was quite sure how to react to that question.
“Sorry if that wasn’t very good,” Pinkie continued nonchalantly, “I’ve been pretty horse lately so I don’t know if you herd or if the joke just went right pasture head.”
“Are you…” Discord said slowly, “Making horse pu-”
The sound echoed across the not-clearing from no discernible source. The only real sound until giggling joined it. “I think your magic likes me,” Pinkie said, grinning at the spirit.
“Yes,” Discord replied with a small smirk, “please continue my dear.”
Pinkie’s smile faltered slightly before she recovered and spun back to the ponies behind her. “Hey, what did Dashie say when she had to break up with her colt friend?”
Rainbow flushed bright red. “I… gha… what… wa…”
“I can’t be Pegasi anymore,” Pinkie interrupted the stuttering, “I need to be Pegasus.” The drum rang out again, this time accompanied by a snort from Twilight and snickering from Rarity.
Pinkie glanced over her shoulder at Discord. The spirit was watching her with interest, a grin on his lips.
Pinkie took that as a good sign.
She did a quick backflip to land right next to the stone statue. If her hunch was right, and honestly it almost always was, then it would just be a simple act to exploit the magic practically drowning this place. She started humming a happy little tune and reached behind the statue of Discord to extract…
“…a cup of flour add it to the mix!”
Four sets of pony eyes widened as she proceeded to dump the ’flour’ on her head. Completely covering her pink coat in white and pouring it far longer than she should have been able to.
“Then take a little something sweet not sour…”
Pinkie Pie almost stopped singing when Applejack screamed. She didn’t know how she got back over to the ponies, or how her coat was now completely free of flour, or where the lemon she was balancing on Rarity’s horn came from. But that was the point, wasn’t it?
“… a bit of salt just a pinch.”
She sprinkled the seasoning on Applejack’s nose, causing the Earth Pony to sneeze violently and Rainbow Dash to cackle with laughter.
“Baking these treats are such a cinch add a teaspoon of vanilla!”
She stuffed a teaspoon of, presumably she hadn’t actually seen it, vanilla into Dashie’s mouth. The Pegasus’s face folded in disgust and Applejack barked out a laugh. “Add a little more and you count to four…”
“… and you never get your filla.”
The music that had been playing from nowhere and everywhere screeched to a halt as Pinkie turned to the last member of the group.
Twilight was grinning, her horn aglow softly and her voice still echoing the last note. She stared at Pinkie and her smile flattered a little bit. Twilight gave a slight, encouraging nod and then Pinkie broke out into a large beam that almost literally shined.
“Cupcakes!” Pinkie chirped, bouncing just a bit.
“So sweet and tasty…” Twilight’s voice was soft and smooth, so unlike Pinkie’s and yet worked so well with the song.
“Don’t be too hasty…” Twilight’s eyes slide around Pinkie and onto the three others behind her.
“Cupcakes,” Rarity sang gently, taking a delicate bite of the treat in her hoof.
Pinkie gasped and turned around with an eager look to the remaining two.
”Cupcakes,“ Rainbow said, giving her friend an encouraging grin and chomping down on her own treat.
Four eyes moved to Applejack who had her muzzle scrunched up in a way that made her look like a stubborn foal.
Twilight moved to her friend’s side and, with a smile, offered her a yellow pastry with an apple perched on top.
Applejack sighed deeply and took the treat. ”Cupcakes.”
The ponies all snapped their heads to the previously forgotten spirit as he applauded loudly. “Oh, my that was… oh, that was something right there.“ He chuckled gently to himself and whipped a tear from his eye. ”You figured out how to use my excess magic so quickly! And… and that little sappy moment at the end? Ha! Classic, classic ponies, how I missed you.“
”Um… thank you?“ Pinkie said, tilting her head at the spirit’s praise.
”Does this mean we can go?“ Rainbow asked eagerly.
Discord waved a paw and the trees next to him parted into a path. ”Yes, yes. You fulfilled your part of the deal so I’ll fulfill mine. Just don’t forget about your poor friend Discord when you’re done storming the castle.“
”Then let’s go ya’ll!“ Applejack exclaimed, ”Before he decides ta change his mind.
Discord watched as the five tails disappeared into the gloom and chuckled lightly. “Do you think it will work?” He asked himself.
“Not a chance.”
Discord jerked at the voice and gazed up just in time to see a dark figure fly off in the same direction of the mares.
The spirit gave out a long, drawn out sigh as he was once again left alone. “Well I hope those mares don’t mind a tad bit more chaos than they planned.” His gaze shifted to the statue. To the pose he had been in for thousands of years. "...for all our sakes."
“So let me get this straight,” Applejack said, glancing at Pinkie Pie with a raised brow, “You knew that singin’ and stuff was gonna make the crazy magic work because ya didn’t know it was gonna work at all?”
Pinkie nodded. “Yep, basically it didn’t make any sense for the song to create anything just because there was a song so it started to create things.”
“It was actually quite genius,” Twilight added, “Chaos Magic is a tricky kind of power. The whole way one uses it is by not trying to use it at all. I had never even heard that song before, but once I managed to tap into the magic too it just came to me. Oh, I wish I had my books, we could spend years on just chaotic musical numbers alone!”
Applejack’s nose scrunched up and her eyebrows lowered. “Now that just don’t make a lick of sense. Usin’ it by not usin’ it? No, don’t try ta explain it again. I’ll be happy with the fact that magic’s weird and ah’v gotta deal with it.”
Rarity smiled at the conversation. After the little fiasco with Discord, the entire group dynamic was better than ever. Even though Applejack had acted distant at first she was quickly warming up to the other ponies and Rarity was pleased to see the kind-hearted filly she grew up with hadn’t disappeared entirely.
The lightened mood, or perhaps one more parting gift of Discord’s, also appeared to be helping with their pace and Rainbow had declared that they would get to the castle sooner than expected.
Then Rarity tripped.
Her good foreleg came out from under her and she instinctively tried to catch herself with her other one; only to give a strangled cry as that one crumpled with a shot a pain and she fell to the ground. The forest was once again flooded with darkness as the pain caused Rarity to lose control of her light spell.
Instantly, there were feathers draped across her back and strong hooves lifting her up. “Rarity, you okay? What hurts? Did you hit your head?” Rainbow’s rapid fire questions assaulted her ringing ears.
“I’m… fine darling,” Rarity muttered, biting her lip as she was delicately set back on her three good hooves. “I just tripped, that’s all.”
“Nuh uh,” Pinkie spoke up, examining the place where Rarity had fallen, “You were tripped.”
Applejack glanced up at the other Earth Pony from her deep inspection of Rarity’s leg. “That’s what she said, sugar.”
Pinkie rolled her eyes and fished something out of the fallen leaves that decorated the forest floor. “I mean, someone caused her to fall over on purpose.” She triumphantly recovered a thin, snapped piece of wire and gave it an experimental lick. “I don’t think vinyl grows naturally in the Everfree.”
“Let me see that.” Twilight’s magic flared to life, bathing the trees purple and gently lifting the wire out of Pinkie’s hooves and into her own. The Unicorn turned it over itself, scrutinizing it closely. “It’s new,” she declared after a couple seconds, “not the wire itself but it definitely hasn’t been sitting in the forest for more than a few hours.”
“How can ya tell?” Applejack asked, joining Twilight in peering at the thin metal.
Twilight shrugged. “It’s dry. If it was here for long dew would have collected on it like everything else.”
“Oh, I don’t think for you in particular,” A new voice spoke from the shadows, “We’re just after any suspicious ponies lurking around the forest.”
Each pony whipped their heads in different directions as they tried to search for the newcomer. The rustle from the undergrowth got increasingly louder and slowly, ponies began to emerge from the surrounding vegetation. No less than a dozen Earth Ponies crawled out from behind trees and around bushes, each handling some type of dagger or knife and each with more muscle mass than even Applejack had.
Overhead, the leaves rustled and the small group looked up to see at least five Pegasi crouched in different trees, brandishing wicked crossbows aimed directly at their heads.
They were surrounded.
Finally, a dark tan Earth Pony with a slicked back black mane emerged from the shadows. A wicked smile splitting his face.
Twilight’s and Rainbow’s jaws dropped simultaneously. “Dr. Caballeron?!?”
The Earth Pony smiled wider and nodded, “Ah, I see my reputation precedes m…”
“You’re real?” Twilight sputtered, eyes wide.
“Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh.” Rainbow Dash hopped from one hoof to another grinning like a foal in a toy store. “Does this mean Daring Do is real too? That is so cool!”
Dr. Caballeron scowled and bared his teeth. His lackeys around him chuckling under their breaths. “You read those ridiculous children's books? I wish Nightmare had just burned them all. I can assure you I am much more… ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING?”
Rainbow Dash and Twilight were not listening. Instead, they were practically bouncing around each other and talking over one another. “You read Daring Do? It’s the best! Totally radicalest. Did you catch that foreshadowing in book three? What about the plot twist in book five? I was screaming! Ohmygosh! It’s real! I know!”
“ENOUGH!” Dr. Caballeron screamed, flinging a knife at Rainbow’s head. “I am not just a villain in a storybook!”
Dash didn’t even flinch as she lifted her wing and caught the dagger in between her feathers. In one movement she turned and shot it into the trees where it lodged in one of the archer’s crossbow, jamming it beyond use.
“Hey man,” Rainbow growled, all mirth gone, “Not cool attacking while your enemy’s distracted.”
“I don’t care!” Dr. Caballeron shouted, stomping a hoof on the ground, “I am going to bring you into to my employer and get my reward and you are not going to talk about stupid Daring Do in the process!”
That gained everyponies’ attention.
“Someone’s paying you to capture us?” Twilight asked, eyes wide.
Applejack snorted and withdrew her knife. “Nightmare Moon can’t do her own dirty work now, huh?”
Dr. Caballeron stuck his snout in the air. “For your information, my employer is not the Empress. But, they do wish to remain anonymous so just be good little ponies and surrender yourselves.”
Rainbow Dash crouched into a battle stance and withdrew her own weapon. “Yeah, right. We aren’t going anywhere with you.”
Dr. Caballeron snorted. “Please, put aside the fact you're five against fifteen, my snipers could hit half of your group in under a second.” He paused and tapped in his chin in mock thought. “I suppose one of you could escape, but that’s hardly any skin off my back. I’ll still be rich bringing the others in.”
Rainbow faltered a moment at that but she quickly put a brave face on and snorted in return. “Or you could leave now and save yourself the embarrassment of being owned by such a small group.”
As the two argued, Rarity cautiously glanced around at the thugs. None seemed to be buying Rainbow’s bluff, a few were even laughing at the Pegasus’ bravado. There was no way they were all going to get out of this situation if it came to a fight and Rarity highly doubted chaos spirits or legends were going to show up and save them again. They needed a plan, some way to settle this peacefully. And then, Rarity had it.
“You’re mercenaries aren’t you?” She called out just as Dr. Caballeron raised his hoof to give the order to attack, “Doing this job to get paid and not for any… hmmm… moral or political reasons, correct?”
The doctor paused and raised a brow at her. “That is correct. We do a job, we get paid. That’s how life is.”
“Of course of course,” Rarity said quickly, calmly brushing her mane out of her eyes as if she wasn’t about to get shot at, “Nothing wrong with that. We all have to survive somehow. So what happens if you, say, get a different job that conflicts with the first one? Do you feel obligations to the first one?”
“Rarity, what are you doing?” Twilight whispered to her.
“Bargaining for our lives, dear,” Rarity hissed back, “just trust me and stay quiet.”
The good doctor, thankfully, didn’t seem to be in any rush to finish them quite yet. “Oh no, that just complicates things. We are always loyal to the highest bidder.” His grin stretched out like a shark’s. “Why? Do you have a proposal, milady?”
“Yes,” She said, flashing the villain a smile, “I would like to place a bid and request you not take us away and, perhaps, keep any other nasty surprises off our backs.” With a flourish, her horn glowed and a moderate sized sack of coins flew from her saddlebags and to Dr. Caballeron’s hooves.
The Earth Pony gently prodded the bag, then shook his head with a slow chuckle. “I’m afraid that my employer has offered much more than what this measly sack could contain. No, I’ll think we’ll stick with the previous offer.”
“Oh, bits aren’t all that’s in that bag Darling,” Rarity continued, not letting her voice falter as the thugs slowly started to close in, taking their time like cats with a cornered mouse, “If you look, you’ll also find a check to Miss Rarity Belle’s savings account at the National Canterlot Bank. If you let us go, I don’t see any problem with you writing down what you think you deserve and retrieving it at a later date.”
Dr. Caballeron raised a hoof and the other ponies instantly halted in their steps. He reached into the sack and brought out the checkbook, ideally flipping through it. “And how much do you have in your account, Miss Belle?”
Rarity took a shuddering breath. “Almost a hundred thousand.”
He hummed thoughtfully. “And how did you come by all these bits? You certainly don’t seem like the type of pony to be sitting on a fortune.”
Rarity huffed. “I don’t see how that’s any business of yours. But, if you must know I’ve saved it. Every day of every year, every paycheck only had the bare minimums taken out to go to me. The rest went to that bank in hopes… in hopes that one day I could move with my family out of Equestria. Rejoin them someplace better, safer.”
“And what’s stopping me from just taking your bits and fulfilling my other contract too?”
“I have to write a letter.” And now Rarity had real confidence. The kind that could only be gained from pure honesty. “The bank is very specific that I have to write a detailed letter whenever anything is withdrawn. It’s to keep me from spending it freely you see. If you kill me or cut me off in any way then the money will sit in that bank account till the end of days and you won’t see a cent of it.”
Dr. Caballeron stared Rarity dead in the eye and Rarity held his gaze right back. She could sense the stillness in the air as her friends didn’t dare to breathe and the thugs poised on the edge of movement. Rarity, however, was confident in her movement and stillness. If the doctor was looking for her bluff, he would find nothing for there was nothing to find. The only question would be if Dr. Caballeron was true to his philosophy of the highest bidder. Or, even worse still, her funds weren’t the highest after all.
Eventually, the Earth Pony smiled and scooped up the sack of coins into his hoof. “Well then Miss Belle,” he said, tipping his head to her, “It seems we have an arrangement.”
With a flick of his hoof, the entire gang fell back into the undergrowth and vanished as though they hadn’t been there at all.
There was haunting silence for a few heartbeats, but then the sounds of the forest that no one realized were even gone came trickling back. The owls and other birds started chirping, the squirrels made the leaves rustle, and the wind gently whistled as it picked back up.
Rarity turned back to her friends and frowned at what she found. Instead of the looks of relief and gratitude that was obviously called for, instead there four ranges of concern. “Well,” She said, trying to put on a confident smile, “Now that that nasty business is out of the way, we should be off, yes?”
She made to trot past them, further down the path, but before she could get more than a few steps Rainbow grabbed her good leg and stared deeply into her eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” The Pegasus whispered, her voice speckled with emotion, “About your family. I could… I could have helped Rarity. Got you… Paid for… You said they were on vacation.”
Rarity didn't look at Dash. She didn’t look as Pinkie silently wrapped her other side in a gentle hug. She didn't look when one of the other two choked back a sniffle. She kept her eyes straight ahead and answered Rainbow’s question. “I try to convince myself they are, it’s easier to think they’ll come home one day.”
She tried to move forward but stopped again when Pinkie Pie spoke. “How long has it been?”
Rarity’s breath shuddered and she closed her eyes, remembering the last time she had seen her parent’s gaudy style of clothing; the last time she had tasted one of her mom’s homemade cookie; the last time she had held her little sister and told her she loved her.
“And Equestria barely has contact with other countries anymore.” She heard Twilight mutter. “You probably haven’t even gotten a letter…”
Rarity gently pushed her friends off her and stood up straight. “Well, yes, that’s why we’re doing this aren’t we? Saving the day, making everything right again? We shouldn’t doddle any longer.”
“Right,” Rainbow muttered, wiping her face with the back of her hoof, “Right, let’s go punch Nightmare Moon in the face.”
Rainbow Dash glanced around uneasily as her small group crossed the bridge to Nightmare Moon’s castle. They were in the home stretch now and it wouldn’t be long until they were back in what had been Rainbow's home for the past couple years. Then, they would find mystical artifacts that would hopefully bring down Nightmare Moon and restore peace to the land. And if the Elements didn’t work or they got caught in the process… Rainbow shook that thought away. They weren’t going to get caught. Even though they were crossing a bridge with no cover in plain view of anyone even glancing out a window in the castle. Nope, they definitely weren't going to get caught.
Rainbow took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Fluttershy. She was there to save Fluttershy, and she would fight a thousand guards and Nightmare Moon herself if she had to.
Despite Rainbow’s worries, they crossed the bridge without incident and came to stand in front of the large doors leading to the throne room. “You’re sure she’s not just in there waitin’ right?” Applejack asked, her gaze jumping to every shadow in the gloom.
Rainbow nodded. “Unless she got tipped off about us coming she shouldn’t have any business in the throne room for at least a couple hours.”
“Right then,” Twilight spoke up, “Let’s go in and save the world.”
“Not so fast!”
Rainbow groaned at the familiar barked order and slowly turned around. “Charged, I don’t want to deal with you right now.”
“And I didn’t want to deal with you,” The Thestral spat. He was flanked by a few other Night Guards, all armed and looking like they itched to fight. Or maybe they were just irritated to be awake at this hour. Dash knew none of them were on this shift. “After you talked with that monster and I found out what you were doing, I hired mercenaries to cleanly wrap this whole thing up without Nightmare Moon even having to be concerned. But you couldn’t settle for that, could you? Always have to try to make my life miserable don’t you, feathers?”
Dash gritted her teeth and rolled her eyes. “Ugh, I’m not doing this to spite you. I don’t think there’s a single part of me that could care how you felt. Get off your ego trip, jerk, and leave us alone.”
The Captain's mouth fell open. Despite some Thestrals' beliefs, Rainbow wasn’t stupid--when she had worked under him she had made sure never to directly insult Charged. She didn’t like him, sure, but he already hated her and she didn’t want to give him any opportunity to make her life any more miserable. She had almost always been quiet and polite when he insulted her. The last thing he expected now was Dash brushing him off so blatantly.
The captain’s face trembled in rage and his wings flared out aggressively. “I won’t let you set a hoof in the castle you plucked chicken!”
“Dude, do you even know my name?”
Charged screamed and shot off the ground toward Dash like a rocket. She easily spread her own wings and glided over him, coming to a rest a few feet away. Charged’s flight quickly became uncontrolled and he spiraled into the ground, landing in a heap a few feet away.
Dash turned around and regarded the other three guards behind her. They looked significantly less sleepy and more irritated. Rainbow assessed her odds and… they didn’t look good. There, by far, weren’t as many as the bandits, but these guys were trained and knew all of Rainbow’s weaknesses. Worse still, they were all fresh and ready while she had been trekking through the Everfree all night.
With a grunt, Rainbow lowered her head and prepared an attack stance. “Alright, who’s next?”
“Dash!” Twilight cried incredulously, “You can’t fight them all on your own.”
“Well I’ve gotta try Twilight,” she snapped back, keeping a careful eye on the guards and they whispered among themselves, “There’s no other choice.”
She felt a hoof on her shoulder and turned to stare into Twilight’s determined eyes. “We’ll help you then.”
Rainbow jerked back. “What? You can’t fight these guys; they’re professionals!”
“Don’t worry none,” Applejack spoke up, “Me and Twi know a thing of two about fightin’.”
“And we can help too!” Pinkie Pie said with a determined nod, “Rarity can do things with her magic still and I… I can be a super good distraction.”
Dash stared at her. “But you… Rarity… but…”
Twilight turned Rainbow’s head so they were staring eye to eye. “We can do this Dash. Just let us help you.”
After a moment, Rainbow slowly nodded. “Alright, if you want to then… thanks you gu-.”
She was cut off from her moment by Charged slamming into her back and sending her rolling. She saw her friends try to rush to her aid but were intercepted by the other guards finally deciding to attack. Rainbow tried to keep them in her sights but was distracted from her friends by a hoof slamming into her gut. That was another thing unfair about this situation: the guards were all heavily armored and Rainbow’s team didn't have anything but their saddlebags and traveling cloaks.
As Charged brought his hoof back for another blow, Rainbow reached up and nipped his ear, causing the Thestral to yelp and rear back instinctively.
Rainbow used the moment to slip out from under him and take to the sky. She only had a moment to regain her breath, however, before Charged slammed into her again from below, causing her to flip head over hooves before she righted herself.
Learning from her previous mistake, she preemptively dodged to the left, just in time for Charged to shoot past her.
"What are you trying to prove Dash?" Charged bellowed, turning to come at her, a dagger now clutched in his hoof. Rainbow barely had time to unsheath her own weapon and block the strike, though she had to strain her wings not to be blown back by the force of his attack. "Surely you can't think you'll actually win?"
Rainbow flapped backward before pressing her wings to her sides and dropping like a rock. They snapped back open a second later as she flew up in a surge of speed, making to stab the Thestral's barrel. The Captain of the Guard wasn't so easily fooled, however, and twisted at the last moment so Dash's knife harmlessly skidded off his armor while he slashed at her exposed stomach.
"You know what's going to happen?" He hissed as Rainbow pushed his knife away before it could do more than nick her. "I'm sure deep down you do."
He rushed forward and suddenly the two were nose to nose. Rainbow's dagger the only thing keeping him from impaling her. "When you lose, Nightmare Moon's going to kill your friends."
Rainbow bucked him in the stomach and flew back out of range. She brandished her knife and dived down at the prone Thestral, but he had recovered quicker than she had predicted and used her own momentum against her as he planted his rear hooves on her withers and kicked off, sending her spiraling.
“She’ll kill the rebels and all their families!” He cried, shooting down at her like a comet. She rolled through the air at the last moment and ensnared him with her flapping cloak. The thing tore off her neck as he sped past her, blinding him enough for her to send him reeling with another well placed buck to his back.
He shook the obstruction off and scowled at it. “She’ll kill that stupid, arrogant Unicorn!” He yelled, throwing the cloak to the ground as if it had personally offended him. Rainbow took the opportunity to use her knife again and the Thestral only looked up in time for it graze his cheek before he punched the Pegasus in the snout. “She’ll finally kill that crazy Earth Pony.”
He rushed her again, Rainbow’s wings straining to keep his bulk from sending her to the ground, and pressed his head against her own so his breath tickled her ear. “And she’ll kill your stupid little Pegasus friend,” he hissed, his voice quiet even at the close range, “the only piece of family you have left. All of it destroyed because of you.”
Rainbow screamed. She screamed in rage and pain and frustration. She screamed so loudly the Charged faltered, shocked. With a surge of strength, she knocked Charged's knife out of his hoof, her own falling away forgotten, and punched the Captain in the muzzle.
He reeled back, more out of shock than pain, but that was all Rainbow needed to grapple him and fly down. They had steadily gotten lower and lower in their fighting and so Charged had no time to recover before he was smashed into the ground by the enraged Pegasus.
His helmet came loose in the impact and rolled away. Rainbow took the opportunity to hit him again. And again. Her hooves were a flurry as she punched him in the face over and over, not relenting even after Charged stop moving. She just kept going until something soft but firm pinned her hooves to her side.
“Rainbow Dash, stop.”
The voice was gentle even though the hooves wrapped around her barrel were strong and unrelenting.
It took only a moment for the rage in Rainbow’s chest to snuff out like the sun. Trembling, she then gazed down at the battered body beneath her and the blood speckling her hooves. All energy left her at once and she sagged into the warm embrace behind her. Wide eyes staring at what she had done.
“It’s alright,” Twilight’s voice said again, right next to Dash’s ear. It was soft and reassuring as the Unicorn held Dash like one would a distressed foal. “I understand. I understand and everything’s going to be alright.”
“Is he…” Rainbow stuttered, swallowing away the tears that had run into her mouth, “D-did I…”
Slowly, calmly, Twilight released Rainbow and place a hoof on Charged’s neck. After a few moments, she gave a half smile and shook her head. “No, there’s a beat. He’ll live.”
Rainbow nodded as she wiped her face with the back of her hoof. “I didn’t… look, I didn’t mean…”
“I know,” Twilight interrupted. And looking into her eyes, Rainbow had never been more convinced of the truthfulness of that phrase. Twilight took her hoof and gently pulled Dash to stand. “Come on, we have to get back to the others.”
Dash stiffened. "The others! Are they..."
"They're fine," Twilight reassured, giving her a small smile as she guided Rainbow away, "I told you we could handle ourselves."
Rainbow let out a ragged sigh of relief and looked at Twilight from the corner of her eye. "Twilight, how do you know... how this feels? I could have... I was so angry..."
"Remember when we were in the library?" The Unicorn spoke in something just above a whisper, but her words did not slip on emotions like Dash's. "When I almost blew you up? That wasn't the first time my feelings directed my magic for me and it certainly wasn't the worst way it ended."
Rainbow paled. "Did you ever..."
Twilight shook her head. "No. No, I never killed anyone, but my mother can't walk anymore."
"Do you hate me?" The Unicorn asked, her tone serious but not without a glint of amusement in her eyes, "I let my anger hurt ponies, cripple them for life. Do you hate me because of that?"
Rainbow blinked. "No! No, it wasn't your fault. I mean, you didn't mean to hurt her." She frowned at Twilight's knowing smile. "But that's not the same. I meant to hurt him. I wanted to make him pay..."
"But did you want to kill him?"
Rainbow sighed. "I don't know... maybe a little?"
Twilight shrugged. "Maybe, but the point I'm trying to make is that friends stick by each other and help each other. Even at their worst." She stopped walking and turned to face Rainbow head on. "Don't they?"
Rainbow Dash could only nod as she was lost in Twilight's bright purple eyes. "Yeah, yeah I think they do."
"Rainbow Dash! Twilight!"
The two looked up as they turned the corner of the castle. Dash blinked in surprise a few times; she hadn't even realized how far she had flown in the fight. The other ponies rushed over to the two with worried expressions. They were bruised and scratched but mostly unharmed from their fight. A little ways off, Rainbow Dash could see the Night Guards either tied up in Applejack's rope or unconscious and she felt a swell of pride and relief that her friends had fared so well.
Pinkie Pie was the first to reach them and wrapped Rainbow in a hug the second she was close enough. "Rainbow are you okay? You flew off with Charged and we couldn't see you and then Twilight just disappeared. Poof! We had no idea where she went. Oh, your hooves! Are you bleeding? Are you hurt? Ohmygosh are you dying?” She gripped her friend’s face between her hooves and swiveled it so they were pressed nose to nose. “If you see a bright light don't go to it. Don't go into the light Dashie!"
"Pinkie, get off her before ya choke her to death." Pinkie Pie instantly released her death grip at Applejack's voice and switched over to giving Rainbow a comforting nuzzle. But for whose comfort exactly Rainbow wasn't sure. Applejack, meanwhile, went up and put a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "You alright Sugarcube?"
Twilight nodded. "Yeah, I just had to help Rainbow Dash with The Captain and my magic reacted for me, sorry about that. We figured it out though." She looked her friend up and down and grimaced. "What about you? You don't look too good."
Rainbow glanced over. Twilight was right, out of all the ponies, Applejack was definitely the worst off. Her forelegs were cut up from where she must have blocked would-be lethal strikes and her barrel was covered in dark bruises as if somepony had used her as a trampoline. There was also a large bruise on her face that Rainbow could already tell would turn into a wicked black eye.
The other two, comparatively, had gotten off easy. Besides from Rarity's leg which she still couldn't put weight on, the worst she had were a couple scrapes and bruises as if she had simply tumbled down a hill. Pinkie was a little worse off but her biggest injury was a shallow knife wound on her chest that probably wouldn't even scar over.
"Yeah, well when ya up and left I had ta take the brunt of the attack." She rolled her shoulders and gave a little wince. "Weren't so bad though. Rarity helped much as she could with that leg and Pinkie did some real good right 'til she froze up and started cryin'."
Pinkie gave an embarrassed squeak and flattened her ears to her head. "Sorry, I...I just..."
"Nah, ya don't need ta apologize none." Applejack interrupted, picking her hat up from where it had fallen in the fight and securing it back on her head, "They got ya good in more ways than one. Ah was actually surprised ya managed ta get back up in the end."
Rainbow saw Rarity give the farmer an encouraging smile to which Applejack simply rolled her eyes. Rainbow didn't have much time to process just what that meant before Applejack spoke up again.
"And just what happened ta you two?" Green eyes traveled across Rainbow's rather unscathed body and blood speckled hooves. "Any trouble?"
"The Captain taunted Dash until she lost her temper," Twilight supplied before the Pegasus could open her mouth, "I had to stop her doing anything drastic to him."
Rainbow tensed and waited for the expected disgust and shock, but surprisingly, none came. Applejack nodded her head and wrapped a foreleg around Twilight in a small hug. Pinkie looked at the ground, a sad faraway look in her eyes. Rarity was the only one that looked angry at all but Rainbow got the feeling it wasn't directed at her when the Unicorn gave her a gentle nuzzle.
"Oh you poor dear, he must have said such awful things for you to react in that way."
Rainbow stared even as she instinctively nuzzled her friend back. "I could have killed him. I-I would have if Twilight hadn't..."
"And that's the world we live in," Twilight interrupted, "We're your friends, Rainbow, so we work through this. Together."
Rainbow let out a low chuckled and smiled at all her friends. "Thanks you guys. For everything."
"So is this it?" Pinkie spoke up. "We passed the last obstacle and now onto the prize?"
As one, the five of them turned to the large doors that marked the entrance to the castle.
Five ponies pushed open the large doors leading into the throne room. Rainbow Dash poked her head in and took a hasty surveillance. She was right; empty. There wasn’t even the clatter of a guard making his rounds out of sight. They were well and truly alone.
The room itself was exactly as she remembered it: dark and imposing. Shadows seemed to come from nowhere and choke the details out of the stone and floor, while blue fire danced on the torches without a fuel source, causing the unnatural shadows to flicker and wave as if alive with malicious intent. Silver and purple tapestries and furnishings decorated every wall and brought a chill that had nothing to do with the night air.
The pictures sewn into the tapestries weren’t warming either. Nightmare Moon herself was a common theme. Standing regally over her subjects, stoically watching the moon, even striking down some long forgotten enemy in a quilted fire. There were, however, more abstract images as well. The moon and stars, of course, what looked like rolling tides over the sea, and strange symbols long forgotten to the modern world.
The only thing relatively calming about the whole setup was the ceiling. It was made entirely out of glass and gave a perfect view of the star strung sky. Unlike the torches, the light shining from the ceiling was steady and true. Oh sure, light also poured in from the many stained glass windows lining the hall, but the piercing gaze of Nightmare Moon diminished their beauty somewhat. The ceiling though… The ceiling’s view was unobstructed even by clouds, each constellation bathing the throne room with its own radiant light.
Dash would spend most of her shifts gazing up because of it, getting lost in the beauty and freedom the sky promised.
Shaking her mind out of memories, she did one last sweep with her eyes and, confirming that they truly were alone, signaled the others to follow her in.
The were mostly silent entering, but Applejack let out a low whistle as she brought up the rear and closed the doors behind her. "Would ya get a load of this setup? Someone's in love with themselves."
"Well, maybe not. I mean, Rarity is the interior decorator," Pinkie supplied with a grin to said pony.
Rarity snorted. "Please, this place would be so much more inviting and if I had any say in it. There is only so much purple one can use after all.” She rolled her eyes and let out a haughty huff. “No, my job is simply to hang the tacky things. Every. Single. Night."
"Girls focus," Twilight muttered, eyes darting and ears flicking with nervous energy as she trotted briskly up to the towering throne. It was by far the grandest thing in the room. Brilliant white steps led up to something more akin to a decorative piece of art than any type of chair. Bat like wings extended from the base with claw like metal climbing its way to the top. A swirling cloud churned at the peak, supporting a dark crescent moon nestled inside another moon. That part had always made Dash nervous. The amount of constant magical force used to keep the cloud holding the metal moons and not simply dissipating into the air with time was beyond anything she had ever heard of. Twilight ignored all of this and made straight for the plain purple wall behind it. "Discord said the Elements were in a room behind the throne. It's probably locked with a spell, so keep a lookout while I try and..."
"Why don't we just push the button?"
Twilight glanced over her shoulder at the approaching Earth Pony and mirrored Pinkie’s genuinely puzzled expression. Twilight glanced back at the smooth stone wall, and then back to Pinkie Pie. "What button?"
Pinkie gave her an exasperated look and pointed to one of the stones that made up the wall. "That rock isn't a rock so it's probably a button. Unless it's just style choice to put a piece of plastic in a stone wall."
Four pairs of eyes blinked at her.
"How the hay do you know that?" Applejack asked, coming up and squinting at the wall, "That one don't look a bit different from the others."
"Rock Farmer," Pinkie replied smoothly, pushing the indicated stone until it gave an audible click. "Duh."
The back wall swung inward with a grinding screech, as if it hadn't been used in years, and the five ponies shuffled in with eager anticipation.
At first it was dark, the light from the throne room spilling in only illuminated a few feet beyond the wall. After a few steps Rarity’s horn flared to life and the ponies got a complete view of the room.
It was a decently sized chamber. The five ponies easily fit with space to spare. It was simple, however, just plain grey stone for the structure, not even given a paint job. The only furnishing at all was an alcove in the far wall. A layer of dust carpeted the stone underhoof, billowing around them with each step, and spiderwebs grew in the corners. The place seemed to be long out of use.
Unfortunately, there was one troubling aspect about the plain and barren chamber that the five ponies noticed almost immediately.
"Empty?!?" Twilight cried, running to the alcove and unconsciously scanning it with spells. "How can it be completely empty?"
"Th- the Elements aren't here?!?" Rarity shrilled, spinning around as if the ancient weapons would materialize out of the wall if she looked hard enough.
Applejack clenched her hat and let out a low growl. "I knew we shouldn't have trusted that snake. This was probably a trap all along!"
"Well yes," a voice purred from the entryway, "But certainly not one set by Discord."
“Nightmare.” Rainbow growled as her friends froze in their tracks. Dash spun around and crouched into an aggressive stance. One that instantly melted as she saw who exactly was at the door. "Fl-Fluttershy!"
Nightmare Moon stood at the entryway, the tyrant looking as regal and imposing as always as more light seemed to flood around her like a spotlight. Standing next to her, kept near by a dark wing draped across her back, was Rainbow's oldest friend.
"Rainbow!" The buttercream Pegasus replied, giving Dash a shaky smile. "You came."
"Well, of course, she came," Nightmare Moon chuckled, "She's an idiot."
Rainbow Dash ground her teeth and seethed at the Nightmare. "Let her go. She hasn't done anything to you."
"And look at this,” Nightmare continued, flashing Dash a devilish smile but otherwise ignoring her. “You brought me presents." She swept her gaze around the room, lingering on each individual pony. "Let's see, we have the farmer that thought I didn't notice her suspicious activities after she lives practically right on my doorstep. I see you keep similar company Rainbow Dash."
"Ya didn't know nothing ya varmint," Applejack spat, "I know ya. I know ya would have taken us out if ya knew what we were doin'. Yer bluffin'."
Nightmare Moon rolled her eyes. "Please, I just let you have your harmless fun. You were being too 'careful' to actually do anything to harm me." Her gaze moved on. "Oh and Rarity, it's always the least noticeable of ponies in a crowd, isn't it? What was it? Your family not appealing enough anymore? Had to seek thrills now that Mommy isn't holding your hoof?"
"You're the reason they were taken from me you monster," Rarity seethed. "How dare you even mention them."
"Oh spare me from your family drama, child. I've had enough of it to last a lifetime." Nightmare's gaze then moved to the pony trying to discreetly hide behind the Unicorn. "And it seems I am just as bad a teacher as I am a sister. What's wrong Pinkamena? Did my lessons not get through to you? Perhaps we need a refresher."
Pinkie Pie flinched back and squeezed her eyes shut but managed to speak through her shaking. "We... we can't let you hurt anyone else... I-it's not right."
Nightmare Moon clicked her tongue and shook her head. "And here I thought you finally understood that the only morals one should have are the ones I give them." Her hard gaze finally moved to the last pony in the room. "And look Dash, you even brought me the Alicorn that paid us a visit." She cocked her head to the side and sized Twilight up. "Hmmm, not as impressive this time around is she?"
Twilight laughed nervously and took a few steps back. "L-look, like I've been telling Rainbow, you've got the wrong mare. I...I'm not Alicorn material."
"Hmmm, I don't think you'll live long enough to find out either way."
With a wave of magic the ponies were slammed backwards into the walls. Fluttershy cried out in shock and tried to rush to Dash’s aid but only got her wing twisted for the effort.
“After all,” Nightmare Moon laughed, “You’re all so pathetic as you are. Really, it’s obvious you could never stop me. At least the last group understood that much.”
"Why are you here?" Dash snapped, shakily rising to her hooves, even as her muscles screamed at her in protest, "How did you know we were coming? What did you do with the Elements?"
"Please Rainbow Dash, stop embarrassing yourself with talking. I heard your fight with my guards, you weren't exactly being quiet, and I had known you were coming back even before you had left. After all..." She cupped Fluttershy's cheeks in her hooves and gave a fake pouty frown as the Pegasus squirmed in her grasp, "You wouldn't leave your poor little friend all alone with a big scary Nightmare would you?" She dropped her hooves and turned her glare back to Rainbow Dash. "And as for the Elements, I'm not an idiot. I had them destroyed as soon as I had defeated my sister. They're nothing but sparkly sand now."
The atmosphere in the room plummeted with the ponies' hearts. Destroyed. All their work, all their plans... it was pointless. The Elements, their only chance, were gone and they were in Nightmare Moon's clutches. Rainbow felt despair settle in over her heart and had to fight tears. She had failed them. She had failed everyone. Again.
"Now now, don't look so glum Rainbow Dash," Nightmare Moon gently chided, "Not all is lost. I still have an offer to make you."
Despite herself, Rainbow's ears perked up. "Oh, and what could you have to ever offer me?"
"Life, your old job back, the chance to save your friends."
Now Rainbow was really listening. "What? You'll just let us go back to our old lives?"
"Well, not exactly," Nightmare chuckled, "You still disobeyed me. You will have to be punished. But if you come back now it will be significantly lessened."
Rainbow glared. "Why? Why would you show us any mercy?"
Nightmare gasped. "I'm hurt. You do not think I am a kind and merciful ruler." She dropped the feigned offense only after a moment when it was obvious no one was buying it. "No, in all honesty, you're still one of the best guards I've ever had despite your... loose loyalty. I could still find use for your skills, so surrender now and I might just spare your life."
Nightmare gave Dash a sickly sweet grin and strode father into the room. “After all, think of what you’ve already done for me. You’ve helped make the forest safer by killing that Ursa Minor and aided in driving off the Major.”
Dash flinched as Fluttershy’s eyes went wide. She had never told her that particular tale. Not about her killing a bear cub.
“Your unmatched speed has aided in catching deserters before they could flee my glorious kingdom.”
Rainbow felt a shudder run through her as Rarity took a sharp breath. She hadn’t known about the Unicorn’s family… she hadn’t…she hadn’t hurt them had she?
“Your keen instincts have saved a number of my troops from ambushes.”
“That was…” She heard Applejack mutter and had to squeeze her eyes shut to keep tears from escaping. She was just trying to protect herself and she probably got some of Applejack’s family hurt or worse because of it.
“The list goes on and on doesn’t it?” Nightmare mused, something resembling a fond grin directed at Dash. “You’re always so willing to do what you’re told. Just a little lap dog doing tricks for my scraps.”
Stupid stupid. Twilight had been right. Who was she to fight Nightmare Moon? She wasn’t a rebel or a hero. She was a coward. She wasn’t sticking to the shadows and working just to survive. She was one of the elites. The elites of a cruel world that had broken families apart and hurt countless ponies. She was as much a monster as the Alicorn in front of her.
Nightmare shook her head. “And that’s why I’m willing to put this transgression aside Rainbow. You’ve always been so good to me that I feel you’ve earned some kind of reward. Your life is a very big prize after all.”
She paused to ruffle Fluttershy's mane, causing the battered pony to grimace uncomfortably under the touch. “I’ll even let you keep your little friend, just like old times. And I suppose…” She mused to herself, “I still need to keep Pinkamena alive for that little arrangement to work. So you get a deal Rainbow Dash. Three ponies get to live and all you lose is your pride."
Rainbow was frozen with indecision. She could save someone. She could save two ponies and herself. If she didn't surrender, Nightmare Moon might kill them all. But if she did... if she took her offer wouldn't it be just like killing the other three herself? Wasn't she going to fight for their lives? Wasn’t that what a true friend would do? The Elements were gone, their plan ruined, and all of them too injured to take on an Alicorn. Would a true friend understand how beaten they were and try to save all that she could? Was she even their friend anymore? After they had heard all she had done… She could save her own skin but kill others or try to save all and almost certainly kill them. How was she supposed to make that choice? What was she to do?
"What will it be Rainbow Dash? Save some of your friends and condemn the others to death, or all die together as heroes?" Nightmare Moon mocked, her dark laughter filling the chamber and boring a hole into the ponies hearts.
Before Rainbow Dash could answer Nightmare's cruel choice, Fluttershy's soft voice cut through the air. "Rainbow I... I want you to know something before... before you choose." Everypony watched her, seemingly frozen, as the Pegasus continued on with a shaky breath. "I forgive you. Whatever happens, whatever you already blame yourself for, and whatever you've actually done... I forgive you."
Rainbow couldn't speak, couldn't breathe, as she stared at her lifelong friend. The pony who had been with her since the beginning, who had been hurt so much by Rainbow's actions, who Rainbow considered more as a sister than just a friend... was forgiving her.
Even when she was going to choosing between killing everyone or being a coward, Fluttershy was still willing to forgive her. That was more than Dash had thought possible, it was just so so...
The floor was glowing.
The dust that coated the ancient room was floating gently as the air stirred from the ponies' movements, but a certain cluster of it was flowing with a bit more force and radiating a soft pink light.
Rainbow Dash stared at the dust that no one else seemed to have noticed. "The elements can't be destroyed..." The words came out on their own accord, riding Rainbow's breath on something less than a whisper.
"Now this has been touching." Nightmare Moon spoke again, a cruel smile on her lips, "But I believe Rainbow Dash has a decision to make. What do you say, Dash? Are you ready to swear your loyalty to me once again? Or will you die a pointless hero?"
Rainbow stood up straighter, she looked Nightmare dead in the eye, and, as if the Pegasus had Celestia by her side, she smirked confidently at the demon who had destroyed her life.
"Neither," Rainbow spat, "I'm going to stick to the original plan and kick your flank!"
Nightmare’s eyes narrowed dangerously. "You insolent pest,” she hissed. “You haven't a prayer against me. The Elements are destroyed."
Rainbow laughed, an action which caused everypony in the room, friend and foe, to take a confused step back, and shook her head. "That's where you're wrong, Nightmare Moon. The Elements can't be destroyed. They're an idea, a... a force! You can destroy them just as easily as you could destroy the wind." She spread her wings despite the ache it caused and now had a full on grin brightening her face. "And just like the wind, I can direct it into what I need. Fluttershy," Her gaze softened as she regarded her friend. "You forgave me. Even though you had no reason to, even though I don't deserve it, you still did it. Because you knew that’s what I needed to hear. You wanted to give me peace above all else and that was a shining example of Kindness."
The floor surged. Everypony stared, transfixed, at the pink dust as it rose around Fluttershy. The glow brushed against Nightmare's wing and the Alicorn jerked back with a pained hiss, releasing Fluttershy in the process. But the Pegasus didn't move away, instead, she seemed to float contently in the swirling cloud around her.
"Oh my..." Fluttershy mumbled, absentmindedly brushing her hoof through the air, "It's so... warm."
The farmer jumped and wrenched her eyes away from Fluttershy over to Dash. The Pegasus was pointing a hoof at her dramatically and grinning like an idiot.
"On the train, you chose to trust your cousin with the truth, instead of attacking him. You always seemed to follow your heart despite everyone telling you to do otherwise. You represent Honesty."
"Whoa nelly," Applejack cried as an orange cloud rose up and surrounded her.
Rainbow Dash spun to point at the other Earth Pony in the room. "Pinkie Pie."
"Stop this at once!" Nightmare Moon shrieked, sending a beam of raw energy at Pinkie. The Earth Pony flinched back, but it was unneeded as the blue cloud rose up and dispelled the magic before it could reach her.
Rainbow spared only a glance at Nightmare Moon’s shocked expression before picking up her speech. “Pinkie, you made the bucking billion-year-old spirit of chaos laugh. Plus, you almost always have a positive attitude even though you definitely don’t have any reason to. Boom. Laughter.”
Pinkie gasped in excitement as she was gently lifted into the air. “We’re doing it Dashie! You’re doing it!”
Rainbow felt like her face would split if her smile got any wider. “Rarity!”
“Silence!” The Nightmare screamed desperately, changing her tactics and firing a beam straight at Rainbow’s head.
Dash flapped her wings and easily soared above the magic. It was odd, she could have sworn she had strained her wings to their limits tonight, but now she felt lighter and more graceful than when she was a foal. She continued her speech mid air, twisting around the crazed attacks Nightmare Moon threw at her.
“Rarity, you gave up so much. You gave your freedom for your family, your job for my dumb ideas, and your family for us. You, are Generosity.”
Rarity gave her a pained, but sincere smile before she was obscured from view by a purple vortex.
Rainbow faltered slightly as she realized the attacks were no longer coming and her wings were still at her side. A light red haze filled her vision. A dark weight filled her heart.
“I’m Loyalty…” She choked, forcing each word out, “I’ve betrayed my kingdom, betrayed my morals, and failed everyone who ever counted on me. But I am Loyalty because I don’t give up. I will never give up fighting for my loved ones. Even if I mess up, even if I doom the world, I’ll always try. I am Loyalty.”
There was a break in the storm around her, and Rainbow could once again see the room clearly. Five colorful clouds whirled around her and her friends. Nightmare Moon was still screaming, or maybe sobbing. Either way, she seemed to have exhausted all her magic, or at least the will to fight the inevitable. In the eye of the storm, surrounded by little more than violet mist, was Twilight Sparkle.
The Time Traveling Alicorn.
And accompanying her friend’s proud, tear filled smile, Dash could have sworn she saw wings on her back and a backpack wearing dragon by her side.
“Twilight’s Magic,” Rainbow finished, and the illusion was gone. Now it was just Twilight. Her dorky, wicked scary, crazy new friend. “She’s magic because she brought us all together, she kept us bound and she kept us sane. She’s our bond in this adventure.”
Rainbow smirked as Twilight too was engulfed by the dust. “Not to mention she can throw one wicked fireball.”
The light surged out and around, joining the six ponies and converging all of the power on a single dark point.
And Rainbow’s last thought before she drifted into unconsciousness was how funny it was that a messed up group of rebels firing a laser at a demon could bring her such peace and warmth.
Rainbow Dash awoke to sunlight piercing her eyelids. With a groan, she rolled onto her stomach and groggily blinked awake.
Only to find herself under a heavy veil of darkness.
Her deep sigh was almost enough to ease her back to sleep, but instead, she sat up and brushed the irritating rainbow locks out of her eyes.
Honestly, she got that the Elements would heal injuries, but did they have to make her mane grow like a weed too?
She let her gaze lazily travel around the large guest chamber she was currently occupying with heavy eyelids, just enjoying how the natural sunlight seemed to make it glow. It was much fancier than her bunk in the barracks ever was. Silk purple curtains hung from the window and a plush blue rug lay comfortably underneath the Pegasus’ belly. Not as comfortable as a cloud would have felt… but there would be time for that later wouldn’t there? What a giddy thought. A large, downy bed was pushed into one corner of the room, untouched.
Dash spread her wings in a large stretch before gently laying them over the two closest ponies. Fluttershy pressed more firmly into Rainbow’s side while Rarity tugged at the wing as one would a warm blanket.
Dash felt a smile come naturally as she looked at the other ponies huddled together on the floor. Applejack and Twilight laid atop one another in a tangle of limbs and tails, the former letting out a loud snort whenever the Unicorn would shift against her. Pinkie clung to Rainbow’s newly grown tail, snoring gently and drooling just enough that Dash was almost tempted to wake her.
Rainbow yawned, leaving her friends be, and turned her gaze out the window. The sun was just peeking over the mountain, bathing the country in a gentle golden glow. It wouldn’t get much higher than that for a while now. Princess Come-Back-From-The-Moon-Like-Nothing Celestia insisted that the world needed to adjust before it took on high noon again and no pony was exactly keen to argue about daylight anymore.
Celestia was a problem.
Not the biggest one there was, of course, but she had insisted that things could go back to normal and was utterly shocked when the ponies had explained exactly why that wouldn’t work.
She would need time to adjust to the new world.
That much was obvious.
Rainbow groaned softly as she thought of all the work that she had in the days (and wasn’t it great to have days) to come.
They had three, three, immortals to peacefully integrate into a fallen society. They had Nightmare Moon devotes, that had fled somewhere, swearing vengeance and the return of the ‘true ruler’. They had an entire Empire in the north to bring in, not to mention a whole lot of angry mobs that were going to be coming for Luna’s, and possibly Dash’s, head.
Oh yeah, and Princess Luna. What in Equestria was anypony suppose to make of her?
As the shiny red necklace proclaimed to the world, Dash was neck deep in the whole thing and couldn’t just back out of it now and go home. Not that she had any idea of how to go back to civilian life, anyway.
Dash’s life was about to get that much harder and even more complicated and she was not looking forward to it.
...but the sun was shining and her friends were all resting, safe, around her. Wasn’t that enough?
Fluttershy mumbled something in her sleep and nuzzled Dash’s side, curling even closer.
Rainbow looked down at her with a smile so warm she was sure her fillyhood friend would feel it and wake up. Dash gently nuzzled Shy back before letting her head fall lazily between her hooves, content to just listen to the breathing and feel the heartbeats around her.
Fate, destiny, time travel shenanigans, they could do their worst.