The Cutie Mark Crusaders make a major discovery at Sweet Apple Acres, and Rainbow Dash makes a bigger discovery, as she tries to help her best friends.
As the ground collapsed beneath the young dragon, he found himself doing the only thing he could think to do: Stay on top. He quickly lost track of his winged companion, as they both tumbled down into the gorge below.
The rock Spike was on, he clung to with all his might, refusing to let go. It wasn’t long before the stone impacted the ground and shattered, knocking the wind out of him. He tumbled across the rubble that arrived before, as giant stones fell around him, and on top of him.
The two Crusaders and four recruits watched their friends fall into the gorge below, helpless to save them. It wasn’t long before the ground stopped breaking apart before them. Likely stopped by the tree roots below, thought Apple Bloom.
The yellow filly squirmed out of her friend’s grip, and ran to the new cliff edge, looking down into the gorge below. “I don’t see them!” she cried.
“I’m sure they’re fine Apple Bloom,” said her unicorn friend.
“Hold on!” came a voice from their left. Ink Jet was looking into the gorge below, holding a pair of binoculars to his eyes.
“Why do you have binoculars?” Apple Bloom asked.
He looked back at her and said, “Why do you not?”
When Spike finally came to, he found himself surrounded by suffocating darkness. Trying to move was futile. He was truly trapped.
“Spike!” a voice called out. He wasn’t sure who it was, but he was certain they were going to help him.
“HELP!” he cried out.
He could feel the stones above him move around, until a single beam of light broke through. This was his chance, he used all his strength to push the last few stones out of the way and wiggled himself out. Scootaloo was floating above him, her face showing confusion as she helped lift Spike out of the rubble.
“Thanks Scootaloo,” he said as they began climbing down the mountain of stones.
“You okay Spike?” She asked with genuine concern.
As they reached the ground, he smiled. “Better than I was, thanks.”
Scootaloo pointed to Spike, gesturing up and down.
He held his claws out in front of him to get a good look. His eyes widened in shock.
“I found them!” Ink Jet screamed. “A-wait… huh… that’s weird.”
“What’s weird?” Apple Bloom asked, quite worried.
“I’m not sure that’s Spike.”
Dairy was sitting next to him. She quickly grabbed the binoculars and looked down into the pit. After a few seconds of watching, she finally spoke, “It’s him.” She slowly lowered the binoculars and said, “We need to call a few ponies.”
“What’s wrong Spike?” Scootaloo said, noticing the panic in his face.
He continued to stare at his claws, which were a bright shade of blue. “We need to get out of here,” he said, succinctly.
“No time, follow me.” Spike ran straight to the nearby river, and noticed a few rocks resting within, that likely weren’t there earlier. “This way!” he said, pointing to his left.
“But it’ll be faster if we go the other way!”
“We can’t, it’s downstream, we need to go upstream!”
“I don’t have time to explain! Just follow me!”
He ran as fast as his legs could carry him. Once they were several dozen metres away, he dove into the water and began scrubbing himself with his claws.
“What are you doing!?”
“Get in and clean yourself!”
Scootaloo was still confused, but realized whatever the reason Spike had, it was very crucial that she listen. The young pegasus dove in, and tried to clean her coat. But with no soap, that was going to be a problem.
“Use the sand,” Spike screamed, as if he read her mind. She took a clump of sand and rubbed it into her coat. It hurt a bit, but something told her this was much better than the alternative. Perhaps it was the urgency in Spike’s voice, or that she just nearly died. Thankfully, her wings allowed her to fly just above the tumbling debris.
They kept washing themselves, both worried about what would happen if they didn’t, but only one knew exactly why.
“Ionizing radiation,” Dairy Milk said as she led the others away from the gorge as fast as she could.
“What!?” Sweetie Belle screamed in shock.
“What’s that!?” Apple Bloom asked.
“It’s a type of energy that’s very dangerous,” Sweetie Belle explained. “It could kill somepony unless they’re careful.”
“How do you know that’s what’s down there?” asked Rumble.
“Spike!” Dairy responded.
“SPIKE!?” everypony else screamed.
“Dragon scales change colour when they’re exposed to this kind of stuff.”
“How come I didn’t know that?” Sweetie asked herself.
“Wait!” Apple Bloom was confused. “How do you two know about this stuff?”
“I read a lot,” the two unicorns replied in sync. They both looked at each other.
“Where are we going anyway!?” yelled a blue colt.
Dairy slowed down to a stop, and the others followed. “We might have to split up,” she said.
In downtown Ponyville, a small store front was calm and quiet, as a young earth pony stallion, was flipping through a magazine. It was exceptionally quiet on this day, and Caramel was hoping it would stay that way.
As he turned another page, the front bell rang. A sound that was accompanied by a very loud, green unicorn.
“Is this love!?” cried Heartstrings. “That I’m feelin’! Is this the love!? That I’ve been searchin’ for!!!” She spread her hooves wide, spinning across the floor, an ice cream parfait levitating behind her. “Is this love!? Or am I dreamin’!? This must be love! ‘Cause it’s really got a hold on me.”
“Does it now?” Caramel replied, as she ended her spin right in front of his desk. Her spine bent over backwards, looking at him upside down.
“Hmmm…” She put a hoof to her chin. A move that looked very odd to the young stallion. “I hope so. I can’t stop thinking about her.”
“Can you think about your job?”
“I can try.” She smiled and flipped back onto all four hooves.
As she trotted around the desk, eating the parfait, Caramel watched her. “You didn’t get me anything?” he asked.
“Well, I thought I would have finished it there, but I lost track of time. Had to cut my date short.”
“Mmmhm. Who’s the lucky mare anyway?”
“It’s Pinkie Pie!”
Caramel finally looked up from his reading material. “Pinkie Pie? The crazy baker, friends with Applejack?”
“That’s the one!” Heartstrings said with a smile.
“Ugh!” Caramel hung his head in despair. “Really? Her?”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Well, nothing, except the fact that she’s completely nuts!”
“She’s not completely nuts!” Heartstrings was obviously offended.
But Caramel didn’t let up. “You’re right, she’s mostly nuts–ninety-nine-point-nine per cent nuts!”
“I’ll admit, she has some quirks and can be a bit overzealous at times, but she’s kind, caring, and really, really cute,” she explained with a smile.
The young stallion thought it over. “Yeah, I’ll give you that, she’s definitely cute.”
Heartstrings giggled a bit before trotting over to the left side of the shop, where a few musical instruments sat. As she levitated a ukulele and closely examined it, Caramel continued, “So… Pinkie, isn’t she friends with–”
“Yep!” Heartstrings moved onto a large amplifier. As she carefully removed the back plate, she asked a very crucial question. “Have you talked to her recently?”
“Not for the past two weeks.”
She started examining the innards of the giant speaker as she said, “Perhaps I can get Pinkie to put in a good word for you.” Her voice echoing within.
A ringing suddenly came from the front door.
The stallion’s attention was diverted. At the store’s entrance stood a young purple unicorn, with two earth ponies on either side.
“Dairy, what’s up!?” He asked.
“There was a landslide at the farm,” Apple Bloom said, slightly panicky.
“Spike turned blue!” screamed Pip.
The blacksmith turned to his best friend, and employee, who had already removed herself from the amp. “Get the kit,” he said.
The rooms at the Doubleappletree were of a decent size for what the crew needed. All were well-furnished, with a bed, dresser, and at the far end, a small table where one could work or play cards.
But Red Rain wasn’t taking advantage of that right then. Lying on his bed, looking up at the ceiling, he thought about the events of the day.
They arrived in Canterlot, Moonlight’s sister showed up, Moonlight told her off, Red hung out with her and her friend for a few hours, he arrived back at the hotel, and Moony was as stubborn as ever.
He knew it shouldn’t have bothered him, but it did. Why did it bother him?
“I should do something,” he said to himself. But what? Moonlight certainly didn’t want to see Twilight, and forcing him to see her would only end badly. So what could he do?
He closed his eyes in thought, trying to come up with a proper solution to his problems… or more accurately, his best friend’s problems. Then his eyes snapped open as a cagey smile appeared on his face.
He hopped out of bed, and trotted straight towards the table by the window. Noticing the complementary stationary, he went straight to work. Grabbing the pen in his right hoof, he started by writing three simple words:
“Dear Rainbow Dash.”
Ponyville was an odd little town. One of the few towns bordering the Everfree forest, it was also one of the few towns that wasn’t dominated by any single pony race. Founded by a group of earth ponies, it wasn’t long before the town was settled by a group of pegasi from Cloudsdale looking for work. They were the ones who established the Ponyville Weather Service.
It was several decades later before unicorns started settling the area. Some for academic research, some to sell their products, some were artists, some were technical experts, and one was a young filly when her older brother dragged her to the small town.
This former cynical teenager eventually grew to love Ponyville, and returned to the beautiful hamlet once she earned her PhD in Molecular Chemistry at Manehatten University. In a way, following in her brother’s hoofsteps.
The blue unicorn adapted quickly upon her return, taking her role as the local chemistry expert. Her biggest project in recent history was the creation of a safe, non-toxic, insect repellent for use at Sweet Apple Acres. But more recently, she fell into a rut, with no major projects left. Bored with life, she needed fun, she needed excitement, she needed–
A knock came at the front door, rousing Paradigm out of her thoughts. As she rolled off the sofa and landed gracefully on her hooves, another knock came.
“Hold on, I’m coming,” she said. A bronze glow encompassed the door, as it swung open, and she saw a mint-green unicorn standing there, with a yellow earth pony at her side.
“Paradigm!” the unicorn said. “Is your brother here?”
“Uh… yeah,” she turned back. “Paradox!”
A brown earth pony stallion with an hourglass cutie mark, identical to his sister’s, emerged from the kitchen on the other side of the room.
“Yeah?” He said.
“Get Mercury,” Heartstrings explained. “There’s been a landslide at Sweet Apple Acres.”
“What!?” Paradox trotted up to the door. “Is anypony hurt?”
“No,” piped up the young filly. “I don’t think so… not yet.”
“Wait–wait,” his sister interjected. “I’m about as concerned as the next pony, but why do you need us?”
“Spike was there,” Heartstrings explained. “He turned blue.”
Paradigm quickly walked away, trotting up the nearby stairs.
“Where’s Mercury?” the green unicorn asked, refusing to waste any time.
“I think she’s overseeing a small rainstorm near the Everfree Forest.”
“Okay, good we’ll-”
“Alright, let’s go!” Paradigm appeared at the door, pushing her brother out and locking the door behind them. “Move it!” she screamed, leading the way to Sweet Apple Acres, Apple Bloom quickly following.
Heartstrings turned to face Paradox. “Go get Mercury, we’ll meet you there,” she said, trotting away.
The bottom of Styre Gorge was wide and wet. Running down the middle was a wide, shallow and crystal clear river which a light purple dragon was quickly crawling out of. Looking carefully at his claws, Spike’s fears were not eased. His bright purple complexion had not fully returned. He knew it took time, but it could also mean something much more dire.
“So,” said the orange filly next to him. “You gonna tell me what all that was about?”
Spike started walking upstream, away from the pile of rocks the two had emerged from.
As Scootaloo caught up with him, he answered as succinctly as he could. “Do you know what radiation is?”
She shook her head.
Spike hung his head, he didn’t want to have to explain it. Looking up again, he continued. “It’s basically a poison, but it’s not from plants or animals, it comes from rocks, just being near it is dangerous.”
As he looked to his left, the young dragon noticed his orange companion went missing. He looked behind him, spotting her further back.
“We… we’ve been poisoned?”
Detecting the worry in the young filly’s voice, Spike quickly walked up to her. “It’s alright,” he explained with a smile. “We washed most of it off, and there’s medicine that’ll help us, but we have to hurry, we can’t get it down here.”
“Oh-okay.” Scootaloo recovered and started following Spike out of the gorge.
As Caramel, Dairy Milk and Pip stood at the edge of the gorge, one thought rolled through the elder stallion’s mind. “That is one hay of a mess,” he said.
“I think some stones made it into the river,” cried Dairy, as she looked down through the binoculars.
“Really? Let me see.” He grabbed the binoculars, and looked down into the river. Sure enough, several stones fell straight into the water, and were likely being eroded as they spoke. Freeing up his eyes, he continued, “This might be a problem.”
“We got the suits!” screamed Sweetie Belle from behind them. She was carrying a wagon full of orange, plastic suits. “All sizes!” She shrieked.
Following close behind her, Ink Jet and Rumble were carrying wagons also full of similar suits.
“And the medicine?” asked Dairy Milk.
“Over here,” said Rumble.
Caramel inspected the suits as Dairy grabbed the pills. “Suits look good, hopefully we won’t need them.”
“What about these?” Dairy asked, pills in hoof.
“Perfect,” He said victoriously. “Alright, everypony take one pill, just to be safe.”
As Dairy began distributing the medicine, Caramel looked out over the cliff face. Over the horizon, he could see the sun was only a few hours from setting. It was going to be a long night.
To some, the Pasture was one of the fanciest restaurants in Canterlot. To others, it was the most pretentious. But to one young stallion, it was merely the place with the best food in all of Equestria. Which is exactly why he decided to end his first night back in his hometown at this humble little establishment. Of course he wasn’t one to make his favourite restaurant look bad, so of course he wore his favourite white shirt and blue tie, in order to keep up appearances.
As he trotted through the front door, Moonlight walked right up to the podium, where a white unicorn mare with an orange mane was standing, reading over a small magazine.
“Hello,” he said, getting the host’s attention.
“Oh,” she quickly put the book down. “Welcome to The Pasture.”
“Yes, I have a reservation under ‘Sonata.'”
“Ah, yes sir,” she said, looking at the reservation book before her. “A member of your party has already arrived.”
Moonlight raised an eyebrow, “Just one?”
“Yes sir, and…” She placing a hoof on the reservation book. “We received this message for you: You’re parents are running a bit late, and they ask that you start without them.”
At this point, Moonlight was extremely perplexed. He was only supposed to meet his parents, Daystar, and Darklight. Who else was here?
As he followed the host to his table, he saw the intruder: A cyan pegasus mare, with a multi-coloured mane, wearing a violet dress. It was the same mare he saw with Twilight earlier that day.
Moonlight hung his head with a sigh, and proceeded to the table. At least it wasn’t Twilight, just her friend.
Taking a seat next to the mare, he looked at her with a look that said, ‘I’m not happy.”
She merely smiled.
“Your server will be right out to take your drink order,” the host said, before trotting away.
“Hi,” said the pegasus, holding out a hoof. “Name’s Rainbow Dash.”
The unicorn merely looked at her hoof for a few seconds before responding. “Moonlight,” he said, grabbing her hoof.
The two sat in silence for several seconds before he suddenly burst out saying, “This isn’t a set-up is it?”
Rainbow was taken aback. “Oh, I hope not.”
Paradigm, Heartstrings, Applejack and Apple Bloom strolled through the orchard, on the way to the site of the disaster. As they walked, Apple Bloom just got more and more scared. What if Spike was already beyond help, what if he was going to die? It would be all her fault.
The four arrived near the cliff edge.
“Holy Hannah!” Applejack screamed. She knew exactly where this cliff was supposed to end, and it wasn’t this close.
“Applejack!” Caramel called out to the earth pony, beckoning her forward.
The group trotted over to the blacksmith and the four foals he recruited.
“We got a map,” Paradigm announced, pulling it out of her saddlebag, and rolling it on the ground in front of them.
“Okay, let’s figure out what we need to do first,” Caramel explained.
“Regarding what?” asked the orange mare. “I think the only priority, is making sure Scootaloo and Spike are safe.”
“Well, they’re alive, I’d say it’s a non-issue, I’m more concerned about the public.”
“We should still go find them.”
“Agreed, but first, we need a plan. Now, since you brought it up, Spike and Scootaloo–”
“Hold on!” Dairy interrupted. “Where’s the doctor?” she asked, looking at Sweetie Belle.
“The doctor was really busy, he said he couldn’t come out,” the young unicorn. “But, they said we should just bring them over as soon as we can.”
“Fine,” Caramel continued. “In the meantime we’ll give them a high dose of Simtex to stop them from getting sick. Now, I’m more worried about contamination of the water supply.” He pointed toward the gorge on the map. “Where does this river lead?”
“Everfree Lake,” Applejack said.
“Alright, we’ll need somepony to-”
“I’m on it!” Heartstrings said, quickly turning to run off.
She turned around, to look back at her best friend.
Pointing to one of the fillies he said, “Sweetie Belle is it?”
“Yep!” the young unicorn said with a smile.
“Good, go with her.”
“Wait!” Applejack objected, quickly trotting up to Caramel. “Are you sure it’s safe?” she asked in a hushed voice.
“Certainly,” he replied. “Besides, she might learn something.”
“Alright.” Applejack turned to look at the two unicorns. “But be careful!”
“Natch!” Heartstrings declared as the two galloped off.
“Alright,” Caramel continued. “Next, we’re gonna need to meet up with Spike and Scoots to get them the drugs real quick.”
“I’m going,” Applejack said, quickly trotting off.
“Wait!” he said.
She trotted back.
Taking a quill out of his saddlebag, he explained, “They went north, upstream, so you’ll have to take this path.” He started tracing a route for the others to follow.
“Got it,” Paradigm said, rolling up the map. Turning to Applejack, she took the lead. “Let’s go.”
The two mares trotted off. Leaving only Caramel and the remaining Crusaders. “Now,” he explained, looking over the gorge. “We need to figure out exactly what we’re dealing with…”
The two blue ponies sat in silence. Slowly nursing their beverages. Normally Moonlight wasn’t much of a drinker, but tonight was a different night. Already on his third Scotch Rocks, he was certainly feeling the buzz.
His eyes moved over to Rainbow, who was looking down at her empty glass, when he decided to just ask. “So, you’re Twilight’s friend right?”
Rainbow looked up. “Yeah,” she said with a smile.
“Uh huh. So, who invited you exactly?”
She looked down, and back up again, almost ashamed of the circumstances. “Red Rain told me, and so I talked to your parents, and they said they would love to have me join them.”
“So… where are they?”
Rainbow looked around furiously. “I don’t know,” she said.
“Uh huh.” Moonlight was skeptical.
She fidgeted in her seat before speaking again. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Shoot,” he said, bringing the drink to his mouth.
“Why do hate Twilight?”
His eyes shot open. Lowering his glass slowly, he turned his gaze back to the mare before him. “Because when we were kids, she never cared about anypony other than herself… and I doubt that’s changed.”
“Well… it has.”
He looked at the young mare, before looking down at his glass. “Did Twilight ever tell you about how she got her cutie mark?”
“Yeah, she got it passing the exam to get into Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.”
“Did she tell you that herself?”
Rainbow paused for a minute, not sure where this was going. “Yeeeeaaaah…?”
“Well do you want to know how I heard that story?”
With a bit of fear, she responded. “Sure.”
“So, there I was, at home, alone, Cadance, my foalsitter, had stepped out for a few minutes, but I was okay, I was always a bit independent anyway, when Twilight and Mom and Dad come home from her exam. Now, I noticed she got her cutie mark, and I was curious, I thought she’d want to tell me, but do you know what she said?”
“She ran up to me and asked, ‘Where’s Shining?'”
Rainbow stayed silent.
“She didn’t want to tell me, she didn’t even care. She took off to find him and I found out a few days later that she didn’t hesitate to tell him. I might as well have been a ghost in that house. I didn’t even know she was leaving to go to the school, until a few weeks later, after she left.”
“Wait,” Rainbow interrupted. “Why didn’t your parents tell you?”
“They thought she would. They didn’t know her that well.”
“So… You’re mad at her now, because she was mean to you as a kid?”
“No. No, no, no. If she was mean to me, I’m sure that would be an improvement. She pretended I didn’t exist. I was a stranger to her.” Moonlight looked down at his glass in contemplation. “Maybe I’m just an idealist, but I thought older siblings were supposed to, if nothing else, protect and love their younger siblings. Not ignore them. It made me feel worthless.”
The pegasus was speechless. Words could not comfort this stallion, she knew that. But one thing bugged her.
“What about Shining Armor?” she asked.
Moonlight turned to look at the mare next to him. “What about him?”
“I mean, do you two get along?”
“Yeah, sure, I mean… well… it’s complicated.”
“Well… we got time,” Rainbow said with a smile.
“Yeah.” Moonlight smiled for the first time that evening. “It’s not that simple either.”
She knew it would be better to just drop it. “Okay, well, anyway, Twilight’s a lot nicer than she used to be.”
“Yeah… sure,” he said, still skeptical.
Rainbow hung her head.
Just then, a purple pegasus mare came holding two large dishes on a large platter.
“MMM… food,” the unicorn said enthusiastically.
Scootaloo and Spike continued along the river bank, silence save for the bubbling brook next to them.
“So,” Scootaloo said, trying to make conversation. “Where’d you learn to dance like that?”
“Huh?” Spike flashed back to the moment when he and Apple Bloom arrived at the clubhouse that evening, watching Scootaloo bust a move. “Oh, well, I could ask you the same thing.”
The young filly giggled. “Well, I’ve been doing it a lot recently.”
“Scootaloo!” Further ahead on the path, the two kids spotted two mares up ahead, an orange mare, and a blue unicorn, who just lowered the map in front of her face and rolled it into her saddlebag.
“Applejack!” Scootaloo screamed.
The unicorn quickly ran up to the two children, pill bottle levitating in a bronze glow next to her. “You two need to take these.”
Spike spoke up, “So you all know about-”
“-about the radiation? Yeah, we’re taking care of it,” Paradigm said, giving each of them a dozen pills.
“Um…” Scootaloo looked at the pile of pills in her hoof. “Do you have any water?”
A bottle levitated out of her saddlebag, as Spike swallowed them dry.
Popping a few pills into her mouth, she took a drink of water, swallowing them down. “Give me a minute,” she said.
Looking over the gorge, Caramel didn’t have much to do. He focused his binoculars on one of the stones below.
“They don’t look radioactive,” he said. “In fact, I have no idea what they are.”
“Is that a bad thing?” asked Apple Bloom with genuine concern.
“Well, we won’t know how dangerous it is until we know what it is.” Lowering the specs he quickly declared, “We’re gonna need to get a sample. Boys!”
Ink Jet, Rumble, and Pip all stood at attention. Awaiting their orders.
“Go to the farmhouse and ask Mac where the rope is. Get as much as you can, and see if you can find a pulley system.”
“Yes sir!” They said in unison before running off.
“–and some wood!” Caramel screamed before turning back to the gorge. “I see some obsidian down there, in some of the rocks,” he declared. “But that doesn’t tell us much.”
“Is Spike gonna be alright?” came a young, timid voice.
Caramel looked down at Apple Bloom, who was standing to his right. He turned to face the young filly.
“I hope so,” he said with genuine concern. “I mean they weren’t down there very long, so that’s good, and I’m sure Spike took the right precautions. The biggest danger is if they inhaled anything, but there are spells that can treat that.” He put a hoof to his chin. “I’m pretty sure Paradigm knows how to do that, I forgot to ask.”
“It’s my fault,” she cried as tears rolled down her face. “I should have never brought him along!”
“Apple Bloom!” Caramel leaned down and put a hoof around her shoulders. “It’s not your fault, you had no idea something like this would happen, you had no idea any of this would happen. Besides, I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”
“Really?” she said, her tears subsiding.
“Yeah, besides, it’s probably not that dangerous, we would have picked it up sooner. We’ll know once we get our hooves on a sample.”
Apple Bloom sniffed up her tears, and tried to put on a brave face. “So, um… how do you know Spike knows why he turned blue?”
“Because the rest of us know from him,” Caramel explained, standing up straight. “It’s a bit of a long story. Twilight was running some weird experiment, and it went bad. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt, but she did notice Spike’s scales changing colour, into a bright blue. It wasn’t long before we found out that Twilight’s experiment released a small amount of Alpha radiation, not enough to hurt anypony, but enough to trigger Spike’s… reaction.”
Apple Bloom giggled.
“Actually, it’s kind of a good thing you brought him. Without Spike, we would have never known of the danger. You and him might have saved all of Ponyville.”
The young filly smiled.
As Paradox led the way to Sweet Apple Acres, he was accompanied by three beautiful mares. A white unicorn with a purple mane, who insisted on coming once she heard her sister was involved; A yellow pegasus with a pink mane who was concerned for the local wildlife; and a gray pegasus with a blonde mane named Mercury Bubbles, but everyone just called her Dee.
As the group approached the border of Sweet Apple Acres, Dee asked the first question she could think of, “So, who’s been called?”
“Everypony, I think,” Paradox explained. “My sister should be meeting us there, and Heartstrings and Caramel, and I have no doubt-”
“Ceh… Caramel!?” Fluttershy asked, slightly panicked. As the entire group stopped, looking back at her, her eyes started darting around frantically. “Um… oh, come here little squirrel!” she cried, running off into the orchard.
Paradox was dumbfounded. “What was that?” he asked.
Dee trotted up to the stallion. “She’s been acting weird all week.”
“Well, whatever it is, it has something to do with Caramel.” He brought a hoof to his chin. “Hmmmm…”
“Is it really important right now!?” Rarity asked, trotting past them. “Come, we must hurry,” she said, proceeding down the path.
The two scientists followed closely.
Rainbow Dash slowly trotted through the hallways of Canterlot Castle, a dark cloud hanging over her head. She had just arrived from her dinner with Moonlight, which his parents never showed up for, and what happened during the dinner did not do any good for her outlook. Right now, she needed a friend, and one particular pony knew her time had come again.
“Is everything alright Rainbow Dash?” came a voice from behind her.
Rainbow turned around, and saw the Princess of the Night wearing blue and white striped shirt, smiling, her mane frazzled, and a cup of coffee levitating beside her.
“Oh,” she responded, lowering her head again, “hey Luna.”
“You appear to be in despair,” the princess said, trotting up to her newest friend. “Is there anything I can do?”
“I’ve… just been thinking.”
Taking a sip of coffee, she continued. “What about?”
“My friends.” Rainbow finally raised her head and looked directly in Her Majesty’s eyes. “Things have gotten more and more strained, and I’m worried.”
“Six very different personalities,” Luna explained. “It’s not surprising that you all would not always get along.”
“Yeah… I guess, but… we’re not just any group of friends.” She flew upwards, over the princess, her dress flapping in the wind. “We’re the bearers of the Elements of Harmony. If we… what if we’re no longer friends? What could happen?”
The princess looked up quizzically, “What is the cause of such thoughts?”
Rainbow slowly returned to the ground. “Moonlight, Twilight’s brother,” she explained. “It’s been years and he still holds a grudge against her, for things she did when they were foals. I thought things would go back to normal, that we would all become friends again, but now, I’m starting to think that won’t happen.”
Luna looked up at the young pegasus, and simply said, “Come with me.” Before trotting off down the hall.
Not far from the edge of Equestria’s newest cliff, Caramel was working, sketching some sort of diagram on a piece of paper. His attention focused solely on the task at hand, so he didn’t bother trying to listen to the two young fillies sitting on the cliff-edge.
“I’m really sorry about this,” Dairy said.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Apple Bloom responded. “You didn’t know this could happen, and no pony got hurt.”
“Except Scootaloo and Spike.”
“Oh, I’m sure they’re fine,” she explained. “Besides, Scootaloo’s used to brushes with death.”
“Whatcha writin’!?” came a tiny, sugar-coated voice from behind them.
The two fillies turned around, Sweetie Belle and Heartstrings were back from their journey.
“Oh,” Caramel looked at the young unicorn. “It’s a diagram for a… something.” He turned to Heartstrings. “Anything?”
“No trace of radiation in the water,” she explained. “But we put up a few signs along the edge… just in case.”
“Great,” he said, getting to his hooves.
“Sweetie Belle!” A bright white unicorn burst from the tree line, running straight toward the young unicorn.
“Rarity!” The young filly shrieked.
The elder unicorn grabbed her sister in a tight embrace. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”
“Rrrrrr!” came Sweetie Belle’s muffled voice.
“Well, we’re back and… Rarity?” Applejack said as she arrived at the small clearing.
Caramel had already gotten back to his drawing as Sweetie Belle used the opportunity a distracted Rarity gave her, and ran straight past the stallion screaming, “Scootaloo!!!”
The young pegasus was tackled to the ground. “Sweetie Belle,” she said. “It’s alright, I’m fine!” Then… she noticed something. “Sweetie Belle?”
The young filly was crying. “I was so worried about you. I’m so sorry, this was all my fault.”
“No it’s not,” she replied with a chuckle. “It’s Dairy’s.” Her eyebrow went cross.
“I didn’t know that would happen, I’m really sorry.”
Applejack took the reins of this discussion. “It’s alright sugar cube, don’t worry about it,” she said in her most motherly tone. “Whatcha drawing there Caramel?”
“Just something we’re gonna need,” he said with a smile, and a pencil in his teeth.
“Alright!” came a distinctive Maresachusetts accent. “We got wood, we got rope, and we got Mac!”
“Eeee-yep!” Standing next to Pip, a tall Red Stallion was pulling a wagon filled with all the supplies Caramel needed.
“Perfect!” the blacksmith stood up and ran toward the equipment. “All this is perfect.” He ran back to the cliff edge. “Heartstrings!”
The green unicorn joined him, both looking over the gorge.
“What do you think?” he asked. “A hundred… Two hundred metres?”
“What are you thinking?”
“Somepony needs to get a sample.”
“Oh.” A sly smile emerged on her face, she looked over once again. “Let’s say one-fifty, to be safe.
“Smart, check the rope.”
The unicorn trotted to the cart, as Mac released himself from it.
“So, what’s the plan?” Mercury asked, flying over the earth pony.
“Take a look,” he said.
She landed and took a good look at the diagram, as Paradigm and Paradox joined her.
“We need to get a sample.”
All three looked up at him and smiled. Mercury’s eyes beginning to drift, as they often did.
“Come on everypony!” He said to the crowd. “Time to start building!”
But as almost everypony started gathering around Caramel, Rarity broke from the group, and trotted straight to her sister. “Come Sweetie Belle, we must leave.”
“Rarity!” Caramel’s voice came over everypony’s heads. “Come on, the more we have, the faster it’ll get done.”
“Rarity?” a small voice came next to her.
She turned, surprised to see Spike actually willing to talk to her, she opened her mouth to respond, but wasn’t given the chance.
“I forgive you,” he said quickly.
“Yeah, I know you didn’t mean it,” he continued, rubbing the back of his head. “And I know you didn’t want to hurt me. I mean hay, it’s not like it wasn’t true. I am a-”
“-Spike, I didn’t-”
“-Can we just forget about it?” the young dragon said, holding up his claws. “I forgive you. Can we move on and stop acting weird?”
The young mare grabbed Spike in a big hug and screamed. “Oh, Spike! I’m so happy! Thank you! Thank you!”
“Can you get off me now?” Scootaloo asked the white filly on top of her.
“Ah, you know there’s a joke in there,” Pip said, appearing from nowhere.
“Can it, Pip,” the pegasus said.
Paradigm suddenly cleared her throat, getting their attention. “I just remembered, we still haven’t given Spike and Scootaloo a proper decontamination.”
“Oh,” Rarity replied, releasing the dragon. “Well then, we’ll leave you to that. Come Sweetie Belle.”
“Um… actually, you just hugged Spike, and she hugged Scootaloo, so…”
Rarity’s eyes widened.
The Canterlot Royal Library wasn’t as big as the Canterlot Archives. In fact, it was about the same size as any average public library in Canterlot. But it was unique for several reasons. The first being its location. It was at the bottom of the castle’s main tower. Beneath the throne room, and the royal princesses’ personal living quarters. Conveniently located for the benefit of the royal family. It was also split into several sections, not just by topic, but by level of security. Which was what stood out to Rainbow, as she followed the Princess of the Night, now dressed in full regalia.
“So… is there some story about friendship you want to show me?” the young pegasus asked, as they passed through a high-security gate, which swiftly closed behind them.
“Nope,” Luna responded playfully.
“Is there some magic spell that can repair our friendship?”
She picked up the pace and began trotting next to the princess. “Is there some dirty secret in Twilight’s family you want me to know about?”
Luna giggled a bit before responding, “no, but even if there was I’m not sure how that would help you.”
“It wouldn’t, but it would give me a good laugh.”
As the princess laughed at Rainbow’s joke, the young pegasus began letting her eyes wander. Unlike the more public areas, all the bookshelves in this area were neatly organized. Some sections were behind more security gates, but others were open to anyone who got past the first gate.
Eventually, they reached the end of the hallway, and the princess approached one of the gates. Rainbow got curious. Luna’s horn began to glow, and it shot a beam of light at the single gemstone that stood for a lock on this gate. The beam then reflected back, hitting the gemstone that dominated the centre of her breastplate. Then Rainbow heard a click, and the gate swung open.
“Okay, that explains why we needed to go back to your room. But what are we doing all the way back here? And why would any book be so secret, you would need to put it behind all this security?”
Luna looked at her with a sweet smile, and trotted through the gate.
Even though this was a high security area, ponies would still be able to see them through the bars. That is, until they turned the corner at the end of the short hallway. This far back in the Library, no pony would be able to see them, and no pony would be able to see what would happen next.
Luna reached up to the book shelf, and tipped back a single blue book. Then she moved her hoof across the shelf, until it landed on a red book, which she tipped back. She repeated the action with a green book, and that’s when the young pegasus heard another click.
The bookcase slowly moved backwards, into the wall, before quickly sliding straight up into the ceiling. Rainbow’s jaw hit the floor.
“Follow me,” Luna said, as she descended the stairs before her.
It took a few seconds for the young mare to return to reality, before she finally followed.
A blue glow encased one of the large two by fours, as it lifted up, and positioned itself against two other pieces of wood, bracing them at a forty-five degree angle.
Applejack had a hammer in her mouth which she swung at the nail that was already embedded in the wood, adhering it to the structure.
They were almost done the project, with all of them working, it only took a few minutes, even though only a few of them even knew what they were building.
It appeared to be made of three different sections. First, the base, which was on the ground. It had a large piece of wood running horizontally, across the back, and the front rose up at a right angle, straight into the air, with angled wood to hold it in place. At the top, another piece of wood jutted out, being braced by three more pieces of wood, holding it in place from below, and from the sides, and the most interesting part of the structure, was the metal hook that was hanging from the end.
“Alright,” Caramel declared, as Applejack hammered in the final nail. “Looks like we’re done!”
“So, what exactly is this?” Rarity asked. Her mane was tied up with Apple Bloom’s bright pink bow, and her face was devoid of makeup. An abnormal look for the unicorn, but it was necessary, since she wasn’t leaving Sweetie Belle, and Sweetie Belle refused to leave.
The only two that managed to get away were Spike and Scootaloo, but only because they were in need of medical attention.
Caramel smiled, and quickly moved the contraption so the front sat directly at the edge of the cliff, with the hook hanging over the gorge. “We’re going to lower somepony down, so they can get a proper sample of that rock.”
“Hold on!” Applejack interrupted. “Why can’t Derpy fly down and grab one instead?”
Dee hated that nickname. She ignored the farmer’s faux-pas and quickly explained, “Are you crazy!? No pony can go down there without a hazard suit.”
Caramel nodded. “Mmmmhmmm, and those suits don’t account for pegasus wings. It’s impossible to fly in them.”
“They don’t?” asked a white unicorn.
“Nope, but you’re pretty smart Rarity, maybe you can design something. Now, we just need a volunteer. Perhaps somepony who could easily manipulate the stones.” He looked directly at Rarity.
“Oh no,” she replied. “I’m not wearing that… thing… orange is such an awful colour.”
Rarity didn’t notice the daggers Applejack shot with her eyes.
“Fine.” He turned to the only other unicorns in the area, both of which were standing by the supply wagon. “Ladies?”
Paradigm and Heartstrings looked at each other. The green one pulling out a bit and yelling, “Call it!”
As Paradigm was lowered into the gorge, being supported by three strings of rope on a simple pulley system, she was very nervous. Her fate was in the hooves of the ponies above. Not a situation anypony wanted to be in.
At the top of the cliff, the device was being held in place by a large red earth pony sitting on the back of it. His large bulk was perfect for ‘shifting the centre of gravity,’ as Caramel put it.
The ropes hanging from the contraption were strung over a simple pulley, then back down into the pit, only to come up again, and over another wheel on the pulley, and leading away from the device, to a tree where another pulley was tied up with rope, the main rope strung through, and Caramel, Paradox, and Applejack all holding on, steadily lowering the blue unicorn into the gorge.
As they lowered the rope, most of which was still on a spool being levitated by Rarity, the silence got to Applejack. “So, Rarity, what brings you to the farm?” she asked.
“Well,” the unicorn explained. “I came to see to my younger sister. I overheard Paradox and Mercury talking, and when I heard Sweetie Belle was here, I insisted on joining them.”
“Yes,” the brown stallion said. “She was very persistent.”
“Fluttershy was with us, but she ran off on our way here.”
“Wait!” She released the rope, “Fluttershy was here!?”
“Applejack!” Caramel screamed.
“Caramel, didn’t you hear this?”
“Yes I did, but can’t we deal with the matter at hoof!?”
The rope wasn’t moving anymore. Caramel was holding it to the ground.
“Yes, it is odd, she actually ran off when Paradox mentioned Caramel’s presence.”
“Oi,” the stallion put a hoof to his face. Paradox looked back at his friend and smiled with the rope still in his mouth.”
“Did something happen between you two?” the unicorn asked.
Heartstrings interrupted from the device. “They went on a date and she’s been avoiding him ever since.” She was standing there with Mercury and the rest of the Crusaders. Their job was to watch the equipment and ensure nothing went wrong. If something did go wrong, they would fix it, or holler and scream.
“Oh…” Rarity responded. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Caramel replied.
“I need to have a talk with her,” Applejack said. “Where is she?”
“Can it wait until Paradigm get’s back here?”
“Yes, Applejack,” Rarity responded. “We’ll finish this and then we’ll find Fluttershy and talk to her together.”
Applejack scoffed. “Fine.” She quickly returned to the rope, and helped them lower the unicorn further into the gorge.
As Rainbow followed Princess Luna further and further beneath the castle, the princess’ horn a lit, she knew what she was about to see was a unique experience. But she didn’t know why, or what it could be. It wasn’t long before the passage opened up into a large room. The ceiling alone was almost as high as the ceiling in the main throne room. The walls were a bright white, and she saw several chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Which the princess lit with a quick glow of her horn.
It was then that Rainbow got a true sense of the size of this room. It was huge, bigger than the throne room. She had a hard time believing they were underground, because there was no way any room or building could be this big and buried underground. All her best tricks she could perform in this room. But that wasn’t relevant to the task at hoof.
The room could possibly be classified as a warehouse. Within Rainbow saw several large items covered in large white cloths. She wasn’t sure why though.
The room was certainly rectangular in shape. To her right, it was only a few metres to the nearest wall, the other one was much further away, and across from her, it was probably fifty metres to the wall… maybe. Rainbow was never really good with numbers.
Luna navigated through the various objects, and Rainbow eventually followed. She wasn’t sure exactly what was stored down here, but there was a lot.
Eventually, the princess stopped in her tracks, in front of one of the objects. Rainbow looked up at it as the cloth was magically pulled down. Her eyes went wide. She always wondered where they stored Discord.
“We keep Discord down here, it makes it all the more difficult for him to influence anypony,” Luna explained. “As you can see his prison is perfectly in tact, not a single blemish on the surface.”
“I see…” Rainbow replied. “So…”
“Do not worry about Discord or Equestria, worry only about your friends. If the Elements need to be reassigned, we have plans in place.”
The princess nodded sagely. “Of course Rainbow, you do not need that much pressure. My sister and I will manage Equestria’s safety. You manage your friendships.”
Rainbow’s eyes drifted across the room as she thought about what the princess just said. “What is this room anyway?”
“We fill it with artifacts that we want to keep out of the public eye,” Luna explained. “Only me and my sister are allowed to access this room, and anyone we allow to visit for a short time.”
At the far end of the room, Rainbow noticed a large circular object that almost touched the ceiling. It was the tallest thing in the room. “What’s that?” she asked, quickly getting into the air, and flying towards it. The princess followed.
As she got closer, there were several odd and curious things about the object. It was circular, as she noticed earlier, and it looked as if it should have tipped over. She noticed under the cloth, some type of ramp.
As princess Luna approached, she quickly pulled the cloth off the object, revealing it in a grand flourish.
It wasn’t just a circle, it was more like a ring. It was a brownish-black colour, save for several white triangles evenly spaced across the entire object. In between each of the triangles, Rainbow noticed four spaces, each encased in some type of arc. She flew closer and noticed each of the spaces contained an odd symbol made from circles, dashes, and wavy lines. It was only barely visible.
The ring itself was attached to a base, the ramp she noticed earlier. It was a lighter brown, but more importantly, it was not symmetrical. On one side, was the ramp, but on the other side, opposite the ring, was nothing.
“What is this?” the young pegasus asked, tentatively.
“We don’t know.”
She looked back at the princess in shock.
It was a long and lengthy trip down into Styre gorge, and that odd and sudden stop she experienced didn’t help matters. Paradigm hated long waits, it was one of the reasons she didn’t want to come down here. The radiation didn’t bother her at all, she had the suit for that.
Eventually, the trip was over, and her hooves landed on the rubble below. After releasing herself from the pulley, she pulled a pickaxe out of an orange saddle bag strapped to her suit, along with a grey cylindrical container and a special wand with a red tip. As she moved the wand over the rubble, it wasn’t long before the wand turned a bright green. She found what she was looking for.
Taking the pickaxe, she broke the stone she found into smaller pieces. Screwing open the container, she picked up the stones with her magic, and packed them inside. She couldn’t be certain these were the stones they needed, but it would have to do, at least for now.
Strapping herself back to the rope, she grabbed two ends of the rope in her magic, and began pulling them back and forth, in a predetermined pattern to signal the ponies up top.
“Alright, pull her up!” Heartstrings announced.
The three ponies, began pulling on the rope as Rarity ravelled it back onto the spool.
“You know,” Applejack explained. “We could have used less rope.”
“Yes,” Caramel rebutted. “And not only would that have made her harder to pull up, but it would have also increased the strain on the rope, making it more likely to snap.”
It took them a few minutes to fully raise the unicorn. When she finally arrived at the top of the gorge, Mac finally stood up, off the device, as Heartstrings moved it back with her magic. Everypony kept their distance as Mercury grabbed a nearby cloud, and twisting one end of it, she squeezed the bulk of the cloud with her foreleg, sending a blast of water at the blue unicorn.
Paradigm responded by emptying her saddlebag, and allowing all equipment to be washed off as well. It wasn’t long before the process was complete and she removed her hazard suit. “Damn I hate these things,” she declared.
“Did you get it?” Caramel asked.
“Of course,” she said with a false confidence.
“Great!” He took the canister and held it up.
“Alright Rarity,” Applejack’s voice came from behind him. “Let’s go find Fluttershy.”
As the two mares trotted off, Caramel bit his lip. “Do you ladies mind running the analysis without me? I gotta check this out.”
“What?” Paradigm said, a bit surprised. “But-”
“Don’t worry about it boss,” came a green unicorn, smiling. “Go, we’ll take care of everything.”
“Great,” he said, trotting off to join Applejack and Rarity.
“What’s that about?” asked Paradigm.
Fluttershy’s animal friends were all gathered around the young mare at the far side of Sweet Apple Acres.
“Alright,” she declared, with a voice she thought was authoritarian, but just came off as cheery. “There are dangerous things near Styre Gorge at the moment. Everyone needs to be very careful and stay away from that area. Please?”
“Fluttershy!” A gruff voice came just beyond the trees, as all the animals scurried, or flew, away.
“Applejack?” She quickly flew over to her friend. “Oh, is everypony all right?”
“Scootaloo’s fine, Spike’s fine, but I wanted to talk about you.”
Rarity was close behind. “Darling, we know about you and Caramel. Why have you been avoiding him? He is quite the gentlecolt.”
But Fluttershy’s attention was elsewhere. “Rarity! What happened to you!?”
Her eyelids lowered. “Don’t ask.”
Applejack moved her back on topic. “Forget that, Fluttershy. Why are avoiding Caramel!?”
“Oh, um… it’s… it’s hard to explain.”
“Well, try. We got time.”
“It’s… it’s complicated.”
“Darling,” Rarity responded. “How complicated could it be? Just tell us about it. We’re your friends.”
“I… I don’t want to.”
“What was that?” Applejack asked.
“I said I… I don’t want to talk about it.”
Applejack was normally a very patient pony. But it was at this moment, her patience ran out.
“We call it the Ring,” Princess Luna explained. “But we don’t know what it is, what it does, where it came from, or who made it.”
“What?” Rainbow turned to look at the princess. “But I thought you knew everything!”
She giggled softly, “Not quite.”
Rainbow turned back towards the structure.
“All we know for certain is that it is over five thousand years old.”
This got Rainbow’s attention. “What!?” she turned to look at the princess once again. “But… wait… doesn’t that mean it-”
“Pre-dates The Cataclysm, yes.”
Rainbow just looked at the device again. “But… how?”
“We don’t know.”
Approaching the Ring itself, she touched it with her hoof. “You don’t know what it is?”
“No clue, and we have had many ponies working on this. A lot of ideas were proposed, but none of them could be proven.”
“Well… I think… I mean…” Rainbow began rubbing her head furiously. “I think it might be a gateway or something.”
“Yeah, I remember reading about this in a book, it was called Black Hole. There was a device shaped like a ring that could send ponies to the stars.”
“But you cannot be sure that’s what this is.”
Rainbow’s voice went shaky. “Well, no but this ramp.” She quickly walked halfway down it. “It goes up the ring, and from there, nothing. What else could it be?”
Luna rubbed her chin. “Interesting idea. But we’ll never be sure. Come, it’s late, and I must still raise the moon.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Rainbow replied as the Princess led the way out of the room. She quickly replaced the cloth covering the Ring.
“You know what Fluttershy!?” Applejack yelled as loud as her lungs would allow. “You’re really good at pissing me off!”
“Applejack!” Rarity said in shock as the young pegasus started to cower.
“Everyday the same thing: ‘I’m too scared, I’m too frightened,'” she said, mocking the timid mare. “Well, you know what!? I’m sick of it! You see this is why you’ll always be alone Fluttershy, because you’re too darn stupid to know what a good thing is, and to grab it while you can, and I’m just sick of it! I’m sick of it! I’m sick of you! And I’m sick of everything you do! You darn wimp!!!”
Tears burst from the yellow mare’s eyes as she quickly flew off as fast as she could.
“Applejack!” Rarity was incensed.
“It had to be said Rarity.”
“APPLEJACK!!!” Not far away, a young earth pony stallion stood, with fire in his eyes.
“Caramel, I’m sorry but-”
She never got to complete that sentence as a hoof hit her square in the jaw.
Falling straight onto the ground she brought a hoof to the impact point, and felt something wet. Looking at her hoof, it was blood.
“YOU BITCH!!!” He screamed.
Applejack quickly got to her hooves and tackled Caramel to the ground. “AHHH!!” she screamed.
The two began grappling and pummeling each other.
Rarity knew she had to do something, but her skills in this area were limited. So she did the only thing she could think of, unsure if it would actually work.
Encasing both ponies in magical grips she quickly pulled them apart.
“Now!” she screamed. “What is the meaning of this nonsense!?”
“He hit me!” Applejack screamed.
“She made Fluttershy cry!” Caramel rebutted.
“I know,” Rarity deadpanned. “I saw. But that does not mean you two should be fighting.”
“I beg to differ!” Applejack said as she tried to squirm out of the magical aura.
“Now, both of you are going to talk this out before-AH!”
It didn’t take Caramel long to escape from Rarity’s hold, and the resulting break in concentration caused her to drop Applejack as well.
The two ponies ran for each other, each raising a hoof in the air, and the moment they both made contact, everything went dark.
As Princess Luna threw the cloth over Discord’s stone prison, neither pony noticed a small crack appear at its tallest point.