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Hoennshy

Written by Fenix

Google Documents Archive

Chapter 1 - Deviation

Chapter 2 - Down the Beaten Path

Chapter 3 - Memories

Chapter 4 - Royal Archives

Chapter 5 - Legacy

Chapter 6 - Outlanders

Chapter 7 - Wildwoods

Chapter 8 - Analogue

Chapter 9 - Fallout

Chapter 10 - Mare

Chapter 11 - Crimson Sky

— Chapter EX: Spike - The Remaining Elements

Chapter 12 - Eternal Frost

Chapter 13 - Variance

Chapter 14 - Ally

— Chapter EX: Spike - Royal Decree

Chapter 15 - City of the Damned

Chapter 16 - In the Dragon’s Den


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

1

Deviation

Wings spread wide, a yellow pegasus dove down the steep mountain face. With the barest tilts of her wings, she wove through a maze of protruding shelves of rock and tumbling boulders as she extended her hooves to grab at the falling hummingbird. It was tiny and hard to see, the pegasus having to lock her eyes on it to keep it in sight between the falling rocks as it blended into the grassy earth below. With a look of fierce determination, she pushed past the remaining chunks of rock and scooped up the emerald bird up into her hooves. With a quick glace, she watched the hummingbird rest in her arms, its wing mangled and broken. She tilted herself up, flapped her wings and flew away from the crumbling mountain, watching the rocks tumble and crash down the remaining hundred feet.

With a long sigh of relief, she floated down into the soft grass, flipping her long pink mane out of her face as she caught her breath. When she reached the ground, she gently placed the hummingbird down to let it rest. Its tiny chest rose and fell quickly, giving the pegasus a breath of relief that the bird was still alive. She then examined its injuries: a few bruises on its side and a broken right wing.

“Don’t you worry about a thing; I’ll bring you back to my cottage and nurse you back to health,” she promised the sleeping bird with a warm smile. The pegasus would have to head back home without the armis flower she had been looking for, but taking care of a new patient was a much higher priority.

I wonder what could’ve done this, she thought to herself as she made her way home back through the Everfree Forest.

The sun had risen only an hour ago, leaving the forest still shrouded in long shadows and thick fog. It wasn’t normal for the pegasus to venture out into the forest, let alone by herself when the visibility was so poor. Carefully tracing her steps, she walked slowly along the beaten road with the hummingbird on her back, keeping her eyes peeled for any lurking cockatrice or manticore that might have concealed itself in the thick fog. She quickly shook off the feeling and quickened her steps, wanting to leave the forest as quickly as she could. A distant roar made her skid to a stop and look back, watching the faint silhouette of a dragon curl its way up the mountain she had just left. With a gulp, she continued at a quicker pace, just barely able to keep her wings from snapping shut out of fear as a shudder coursed through her.

The last of the trees passed the pony as she flew from the forest and landed next to her cottage nestled close to Everfree’s edge and just outside of town. Several pegasi could be seen flying through the air, tasked with cutting through the fog so the sun might shine on the pastel-colored town. With her new patient in hoof, the yellow pegasus flew into the wooden cottage, greeted by the noise of slumbering critters.

Inside the cottage was a veritable veterinary hospital, one that was respected by all of Ponyville and doubled as the pegasus’ home. Small woodland creatures, birds, insects, and reptiles snuggled in specially made beds, and a multitude of birdhouses were gathered about outside.

She rummaged through her closet, pulled out a small comforter, and placed it on the floor before setting the hummingbird on top.

“You just rest now, who knows why you would go all the way up that mountain for nectar. It’s so dangerous out there,” she said as she tucked the still unconscious bird in. The pegasus always made sure her patients were comfortable before she began to treat them.

With most of her patients still asleep, she quietly hovered into the kitchen and began to sort through her collection of dried herbs, selecting a few from the shelf to prepare a remedy for the hummingbird. As she started to grind them, there came a knock at the door, stirring several of the animals out of their slumber. After a quick, soft hush, she made her way to the door, wondering who would come over at such an early hour. On the other side was a cyan pegasus with a rainbow-striped mane tapping her hoof impatiently on the front steps.

“Hey there, Fluttershy.” The blue pegasus smiled, ceasing her hoof taps. “Can I come in?”

“Of course. Oh, just be sure to stay quiet though... the animals are still sleeping.” Fluttershy moved out from the doorway, allowing the rainbow-maned pegasus to enter. After slowly shutting the door behind them, she turned to her friend. “What brings you over, Rainbow Dash?”

“Just seeing what you’re up to. I saw you flying out of the Everfree Forest a few minutes ago. What was with that?” Rainbow inquired.

“Oh, I was looking for a special flower for a recipe I use for some of my more potent medicines. They have a soft glow, so they’re much easier to see in the dark,” Fluttershy explained as she went into the kitchen to finish making the medicine.

“You? Going into the Everfree Forest? At night? Alone?” Rainbow asked as she made her way to the counter and leaned on it as she shot her friend an incredulous look. “That doesn’t sound like something you’d do.”

“I know I don’t venture out there much, but the forest has been pretty quiet lately and I thought I’d give it a try,” she explained, continuing to grind the leaves. “But when I made my way up Jaggedpeak, I found that hummingbird over there falling off. It was hit by something, maybe a large wind gust. I caught it and brought it back here.”

“Oh, so that’s why you were out so early,” Rainbow said, watching the hummingbird squirm under its blanket over the kitchen counter. “Is the little guy gonna be alright?”

“I’m sure it will be. It’s only a broken wing.” Fluttershy took the ground up leaves and dumped them into a jar filled with a clear viscous liquid, shaking it before pouring it into a small bowl. She stepped away from the counter and set the bowl down next to the hummingbird’s bed. “This pain-killer will help make the recovery easier.”

Before she could give it the medicine, however, it awoke, thrashing under the covers. “Hold still please, I’m just trying to help,” Fluttershy said before the bird escaped from the blanket and flew erratically around the room, its fight hobbled by its broken wing. “Oh my, you’ll hurt yourself if you keep doing this,” she pleaded, chasing the hobbling bird around the cottage. Rainbow simply stood and watched as Fluttershy, trying to calm the frantic bird, flew over her couch and tables, through the opening above the kitchen counter and up the stairs..

“How’s it still flying? I thought its wing was broken,” Rainbow asked as she made her way up the stairs. The hummingbird was flying near the ceiling, occasionally dipping and chirping in pain. “Why’s it spazzing out like that? Is it because I’m here?”

“I-I don’t think so. I’ve had other ponies here before and the animals were fine,” Fluttershy assured her. “Maybe it doesn’t trust me,” she said dishearteningly, watching as the bird continued to flap about the ceiling. Before too long, it descended and plopped onto Fluttershy’s bed, chest puffing from exhaustion. Fluttershy slowly approached the bird so as not to scare it into another frenzy, but before she could even reach it, it had nestled into the bed and fallen asleep.

“So, is it over now?” Rainbow asked anxiously, watching as Fluttershy picked up the tuckered out bird.

“Maybe it’s scared of something,” she guessed as the two made their way down to the lower floor. Fluttershy trotted over to its makeshift bed and set it down, tucking it back in as she put the medicine away. “If it doesn’t take its medicine, it’ll never heal its wing. Hopefully it’s just this one time.”

“Well, I’ll leave you to it,” Rainbow said as she trotted to the cottage door.

“Wait! Um, are you doing anything today? I mean, um...” Fluttershy squeaked.

“You want to hang out? I didn’t have much to do today anyway,” Rainbow said enthusiastically, heading back inside. “The weather is clear right on schedule, and other than that I have off today.”

“Thanks, Dash. I just want somepony here while this hummingbird is being testy.” Fluttershy walked to the kitchen, set up a pot of water and set it on the stove. “I’ll make some tea for us if you’re staying,” she said with a smile.

“Uh, thanks,” Rainbow said, looking around for a seat as Fluttershy took some tea leaves from her cupboard. As the water boiled, she tossed the tea leaves in, letting it steep for a few minutes before running it through a strainer into a white, floral designed tea kettle. After placing two cups on a tray, she set the hot tea down on the table in the living area and sat down on one of her cushioned chairs.

“Have you heard from the Wonderbolts yet? It’s been a few months since you won the Best Young Flier’s Competition,” Fluttershy asked as she filled both cups with the earthy, dull green tea.

“No, they’re probably busy with something else. They’re on tour in Fillydelphia right now, but I’m sure they’ll get around to my audition eventually.” Rainbow sighed before picking up her tea cup. She took a sip, her face distorting in slight revulsion. Fluttershy didn’t mind, however; she knew Rainbow Dash wasn’t a big tea drinker. She was just happy hers was the only tea the cyan pegasus never seemed to spit out. “Blegh... Oh yeah, Fluttershy, I thought of a new trick that might even be cooler than the Sonic Rainboom! It’s pretty technical, but I’m sure I can pull it off. So, first, I dive through a thunderhead, and—”

Rainbow was interrupted by the panicked chirps of the hummingbird as it awoke. It fought its way out from the covers again, repeating its panicked antics. Fluttershy looked over, watching as it kept its eyes trained on her. It let out a series of sharp, scared chirps as it backed itself into the corner of the ceiling. Fluttershy sighed and swirled her tea idly, simply watching as it tired itself out again and fluttered to the ground. She tucked the bird back in its bed then sighed as she stood and began pacing, hearing the sound of the other animals waking.

“Why is it doing this? I don’t understand.”

“Maybe it’s just scared of you,” Rainbow said bluntly.

“Maybe... Do I look okay?” Fluttershy asked frantically, trotting up to Rainbow Dash for inspection.

“Yeah, you look fine. Maybe if you wait a little longer, it’ll get used to you. I mean it took me a while to get used to Pinkie Pie,” she laughed, Fluttershy joining in with a half-hearted chuckle.

“Maybe, but if I don’t do something now, it’ll keep trying to fly. It could irreversibly hurt itself. It could do so much harm to itself, and I can’t get near it without it waking up and flying off,” Fluttershy explained solemnly. She continued to pace around until she caught something out from the corner of her eye in the window. Out the window, over the rooftops of Ponyville, Fluttershy could see the top of a rather large oak tree, giving her an idea.

“What’s up? There something out there? Is Pinkie Pie giving out free samples again?” Rainbow asked excitedly, getting up from her seat and trotting over to the window.

“I’m thinking I should ask Twilight for help. She tried to help me a few months ago with Philomena, so maybe she could help with this hummingbird,” she explained, looking back on the sleeping bird. “Though... things didn’t go so well last time... But I’m sure it will be better this time since it’s not the princess’s pet... and we actually know what it is this time.”

“Didn’t you get in trouble with the royal guards because of her? She’s an egghead, sure, but I don’t think she’s too good with animals,” Rainbow protested.

“Well, I’ve never really talked to her about my animals, but she might know something or even have a spell that could help,” Fluttershy explained as she opened the cottage door and waited for Rainbow to head over.

“A spell? Really, Fluttershy? Isn’t your specialty animals to begin with?” Rainbow asked. “I really don’t think you need to go that far. Just put a splint on its wing while it’s sleeping. You’re being too delicate.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll only be a small spell,” Fluttershy assured Rainbow. “We’ll be in and out, then we can come back and you can tell me more about your new trick.”

“Fine,” Rainbow sighed as she removed herself from her seat, following Fluttershy out the door, bound for Ponyville proper.

With as hectic a morning as Fluttershy had had, a brisk walk through Ponyville was exactly what she needed. The streets were quiet as a cool, calming breeze rustled gently through the two mares’ manes. Ponyville had been buzzing with activity for a short while after the Grand Galloping Gala and this was the quietest she had seen it since then. It was slowly returning to the sleepy, peaceful town that Fluttershy knew and loved. Even the normally talkative Rainbow Dash was quiet, simply enjoying the stiff breeze as the pair approached the sprawling oak set on the east side of town.

Ahead was a crimson door lodged in the trunk of the giant oak tree. The inside of it was completely hollow and housed Ponyville’s Books and Branches Library. In the upper floors of the library lived Twilight Sparkle, just the unicorn Fluttershy wanted to see. The yellow pegasus rapped a hoof against the door, waiting for a response. She had no idea how the massive tree continued to thrive despite its hollow innards and simply chalked it up to magic. Inside she could hear a few crashes and small incomprehensible mumbles coming closer to the door. Rainbow gave a small chuckle before the door glowed in a light purple light. It swung open, revealing a small purple unicorn with a straight, dark navy mane and tail with a pink and purple stripe running down the center of her mane. Floating beside her was an open book, suspended in a bubble of soft purple light that mirrored the glow of her horn.

“Oh, hey, Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash.” The unicorn set the book down on her desk, giving the two pegasi her full, undivided attention. “What brings you two here?”

“Well, Twilight,” Fluttershy said, dipping her head in embarrassment, “I’m having trouble with a new patient. Since you were so good with Philomena, I thought you might be able to-.”

“She’s been saying something about how being forceful wouldn’t work or something,” Rainbow interrupted. “I still think she should just hold the bird down and tape its wings if struggles. Get it over with.”

“Oh, another bird? Well... I wouldn’t say I was good with Philomena. I mean, last time I tried to help you, I thought you were going to end up being banished and thrown in a dungeon.... But, I’ll see what I can do,” Twilight laughed as she set down her books. “Come on in.” With that Fluttershy trotted in, thanking Twilight for her assistance with Rainbow following close behind.

The inside of the tree was a grand library with bookcase after bookcase of books lining its interior. The tree had two floors. The top floor was Twilight’s sleeping quarters. An observatory connected to that room, a telescope and other astronomical devices contained within it. Even though it was a public library, there wasn’t another pony to be found.

“Spike!” Twilight yelled, prompting a small, bipedal purple dragon to zip down the stairs to stand at her side. He was roughly chest high to a pony with green scales protruding from his back and large, emerald eyes.

“What’s up, Twilight?” he asked with a smile before turning to see the two pegasi enter the room. “Hi, Fluttershy. Hi, Rainbow Dash—” Spike looked around the room, his expression changing to one of disdain. “Oh... library cleanup... again.”

“Yeah... I’m sorry its such a mess, I’ve been doing some research for the princess and I must’ve lost track of time,” Twilight said, embarrassed.

“I’m on it,” Spike said with a half-hearted salute before beginning his assigned duty, picking up the books in stacks and setting them away.

With Spike busy cleaning up books, Twilight turned back to Fluttershy, puzzled. “So, what seems to be the problem?”

Fluttershy shuffled her hoof in a nervous swipe. “You see, I have a hummingbird that simply won’t let me help it. Whenever I try to get close it flies away.” She slowly started to pace around the library, peering at some of the books. “Would you happen to have a spell that would make me a little less, uh, intimidating?” She stopped for a moment, then quickly rebounded. “I mean, i-if you have one that is.”

“Intimidating?” Rainbow scoffed. “You couldn’t even scare a mouse if you wanted to.”

“Rainbow’s right, you’re over thinking this,” Twilight agreed, “You normally don’t have a problem with getting animals to trust you, so why do you think you need a spell for this one?

“The hummingbird is just so fidgety when I get near it... I’m afraid that If it has any more outbursts, it might hurt itself permanently. It keeps flying around my cottage, trying to get away from me. I really need your help,” Fluttershy explained.

“How long ago did you bring it in?”

“Well, I found it this morning when I was out looking for herbal ingredients.”

“This morning... that’s it?” Twilight asked with a puzzled look. “Don’t you think you should let it rest and give it a chance to open up to you first?”

“Yes, but a hummingbird’s wings are very fragile and it’s already strained itself twice today just trying to get away from me. I really need to help it relax... I-I still have my other patients to worry about...”

“Fine,” Twilight sighed. “But spells that change others’ perception of you are body modification spells and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Are you absolutely sure you need me to do this?”

“Oh, absolutely. I can’t even be in the same room as it without it trying to fly away. I’m sure it won’t be any issue at all,” Fluttershy assured the unicorn.

“Well, I’ll see what I can find. Wait here a bit.” With that, the unicorn went to work, grabbing a slew of books off the bookshelves. She began digging through them, thoroughly reading in silence with her mind engrossed in the intricate workings and calculations of the arcane arts that the texts provided her. Fluttershy had no worries about what spell Twilight would find. The unicorn was the personal protege of Princess Celestia, she who raised the sun and moon for over a thousand years. If anypony could find Fluttershy a suitable spell, it was her.

Within a few minutes, Rainbow Dash yawned and began to pace around the library. “How long is this going to take? Maybe we should just bring Pinkie over; she’d find it if you knocked a book on her head.” Fluttershy and Twilight giggled. Knowing the pink pony’s track record, Rainbow’s prediction likely wasn’t too far off.

Minutes turned to hours as Twilight rummaged through a multitude of books for a suitable spell. The yellow pegasus had spent half the day away from her patients, but couldn’t afford to leave and check up on them. Twilight could find the spell any minute, and Fluttershy had to wait it out for her fidgety patient lest it went on another outburst if she went back before the spell was cast. Tried of waiting, Rainbow Dash fell asleep, leaving Fluttershy to wait as Spike went up to the upper floor to continue tidying up. She peered out a window, watching several ponies run around happily in the midday sun.

“A-ha! I found something!” Twilight sang out in joy, brushing aside the mountain of scrolls and texts that once again littered the floor. Rainbow slowly awoke and shook herself off before standing beside the now fully alert Fluttershy. Twilight carried the still open book over to Fluttershy, setting it down in front of the yellow pegasus. “It’s a credence spell,” she explained, pointing at the parchment page. “With it, anything should perceive you as more trustworthy, allowing you to give that stubborn bird proper treatment without any problems. It only lasts about a day or so, so you best be quick.”

“I’ve never heard of a spell like that,” Fluttershy mentioned, rubbing her head. She looked over at Rainbow who gave her a dispassionate shrug.

“Well, it’s an old spell. It’s from the scholar Professor Arcan Grizwald, the pioneer of Equestrian arcane arts,” Twilight explained. “Because it’s an older spell, it’s much more difficult to cast. Every part must be executed perfectly, or it might deviate.” She brought the spell book back to her and readied herself for the casting. She read it over one last time to reinforce her grasp of the spell’s inner-workings, then fixed her gaze on the yellow pegasus. “This will take a lot of energy, so if it doesn’t work the first time you’ll have to come back in a few days.”

“What if somepony comes in and interrupts the spell? Shouldn’t we go somewhere less... public?” Fluttershy asked.

“No pony has come in so far, so I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.” With her stance ready and the spell at the forefront of her thoughts, she paused. “Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure,” Fluttershy nodded.

“Alright then, let’s do this.” Twilight planted her hooves firmly into the floor as her horn began to glow in a fierce purple light. The brightness of her horn eclipsed the light coming in from the window and pulses of energy with a loud rumble caused the book shelves to rattle. Rainbow took a step back as the whole room began to the swallowed up by darkness; as the glow of the horn intensified, it left only the three mares and the book illuminated. Panting, Twilight focused all of her energy into her horn; the tree beginning to tremor violently as her horn glowed ever brighter.

“Twilight?! Isn’t this a bit much for a trust spell?!” Rainbow yelled over the roar of the waves of magic, but Twilight seemed oblivious to Rainbow’s inquiry.

Fluttershy began to panic, but gritted her teeth and forced herself to stand still; it had taken hours for her friend to find this spell, and she wanted to make sure her waiting was not for nothing. The purple light continued to pulsate, sending waves of energy outwards, shaking Twilight to her knees. The tremors grew in power, knocking books off the shelves and sending Rainbow Dash stumbling into a bookcase. Twilight groaned from the exertion as beads of sweat ran down her hide. A few moments later, the light swirled then collapsed into a single bright ball which shot out towards its target.

Fluttershy yelped as she was struck by the ball of energy. Before she knew it, she had been immobilized, and a bright yellow light surrounded her. She struggled to move her body even an inch, but all she could manage was to watch Twilight collapse exhausted into the spell book.

“Fluttershy!” Rainbow yelled, running up to the frightened pegasus. “What’s going on? Is everything alright?”

A white light flashed from the aura, forcing Rainbow back from her friend. Fluttershy’s breath quickened, her vision blurred, and her head began to throb. She skipped straight from blind panic to chilling terror as the whole world around her seemed to distort and shatter before her. She screamed, trying to reach for the fear-stricken Rainbow Dash until eventually her vision went completely black. The world around her, the feeling of the spell’s energy, even her own body seemed to disappear, lulling her into an eerie calm before the pegasus fell unconscious.

Twilight awoke slowly, idly wiping the sleep from her eyes with the back of a forehoof. The sun shone through the windows to the west, bathing the unicorn in the light of the evening sun. She was tucked into her bed somehow, her head aching and pounding furiously. After rubbing her head, she shook herself off before hearing a commotion down the stairs. Beside her she heard a sharp gasp.

“Everypony, she’s awake!” a white unicorn with a curled purple mane yelled from her chair, causing a flurry of hooves to rush up the stairs. Her other two friends rushed up the stairs and stopped at her bedside. “I had no idea you could sleep for so long, Twilight.”

“Huh? Rarity?” she stammered, her mind quickly trying to come up with an explanation for the sudden influx of ponies. “What are you all doing in my house?”

“Well... Everypony felt a rather large tremor, almost thought it would shake Ponyville apart. Then we saw the library lit up like you were having a fancy soiree,” Rarity explained. “When it stopped, we all rushed over as quickly as we could. What happened?”

“Oh, sorry. That spell took more out of me than I thou—Wait, an earthquake? I didn’t perform that hard of a spell,” Twilight stated, stepping off the bed. “How is Fluttershy doing?”

Her friends looked down on the floor with solemn faces, filling Twilight with confusion. She looked over to the mob of ponies who all started conversing with one another. “She’s been missing for two days now. Rainbow said your spell made her disappear,” Rarity explained, setting a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. A grim look washed over Twilight’s face as she heard the news. “Rainbow’s out looking for her as we speak. She didn’t look so well when she took off.”

“We’re here for you, Twilight” a pink pony with a frizzled pink mane and tail yelled out with a small smile on her face. “I’m sure we’ll find her soon enough. Teleportation spells don’t send ponies that far, right?”

“What are you talking about? I didn’t do a teleportation spell. Fluttershy should be—” A wave of horror washed over Twilight’s face, causing her to back away from her bed. “No. N-no no no— Did you say two days? I’ve been asleep for two days!? That spell wasn’t supposed to take that much out of me!” Without another word, she barreled her way past her friends in a frenzy. As she ran down the stairs, an orange earth pony with a blond mane and tail followed her, easily catching up.

        

“Wait up, Twilight,” the pony called after the unicorn in a southern drawl, matching speed with the frantic unicorn. “Where you headed off to?”

“Fluttershy’s cottage. She can’t be missing, Applejack, I performed that spell perfectly!” Twilight yelled back in panic as she sped her way through the streets, dirt kicking up from the ground.

“Hold on, guys!” Spike yelled, running out the door to chase the two speeding ponies. Twilight and Applejack stopped to let Spike catch up, then the unicorn let him on her back and continued her sprint. “Where are you going, Twilight?”

“I’m going to Fluttershy’s to get this story straight once and for all. She’ll be in her cottage, safe and sound.”

“Well, I was assigned to look after her animals since she’s gone missing. I already got some animals to start liking me,” Spike said, causing Twilight to scoff.

“We’ve gone looking through her cottage so many times, I reckon I might know it better than she does. She ain’t there, Twi,” Applejack said, trying to reason with the hysterical unicorn.

No, she has to be there... she just has to be, Twilight thought as they galloped through Ponyville.

The streets were empty, most of the town off searching for the missing pegasus. As they came closer, the cottage seemed to loom before Twilight, her panic reaching insurmountable levels. She went over the spell over and over in her head, meticulously sorting over every last detail. She went over each calculation that flew through her head with a fine toothed comb.

“Rainbow Dash told me everythin’ before she left. What were ya doing trying a difficult spell on Fluttershy in the first place?” Applejack scolded her.

“Fluttershy wanted me to do it... and... I went through every precautionary measure. I... have no idea what happened, but I’m sure this is all just a misunderstanding.” A small, nervous laugh escaped Twilight’s mouth. “When we get there, Fluttershy will be just fine; this is all just a joke. I didn’t sleep for two days... that’d be silly,” Twilight lied to herself. In no way did she want to believe her friend, but they would never, if ever, lie to her about something like this. Applejack especially would never lie to her friends, but Twilight desperately wanted this to be the one outlier.

“If you say so...” Applejack trailed off as they approached the cottage door.

Twilight tapped on the door, hoping desperately that Fluttershy would answer. Some animal noises could be heard through the cracks of the doorway, but no sign of the pegasus.

Twilight tried one more time.

Nothing.

“Umm, maybe she’s asleep. You never know how tired taking care of animals can make you,” Twilight suggested, glancing at a skeptical Applejack.

Applejack trotted to the window and peered in, hat tipping back as she pressed her face to the glass. She squinted and stared for a few good seconds before turning towards Twilight and waving her over to the window.

“You might want to see this.” Twilight walked over and nudged Applejack aside before planting herself in front of the window and looking inside. Her mouth fell agape from the scene before her eyes.

It was a disaster. Many of Fluttershy’s patients were wide awake, ravaging the cottage: cabinets were destroyed, the floor was a mess, the walls were covered with dirt and muck, and the medicine canisters and beds had been utterly decimated. There was a white rabbit standing amidst the chaos simply tapping its foot as the other animals caused mayhem around it. She saw three small, familiar fillies running around with a bulky, older baker mare trying futilely to corral the animals, stumbling over each other as the animals ran haphazardly around the room. It was complete anarchy.

“I, I—” Twilight stammered before bolting back to the library, her mind racing furiously with the possibilities of failure.

She had run through it multiple times before she’d even thought of suggesting the spell to Fluttershy. It hadn’t looked all that difficult. Relatively speaking, it had been a very basic spell for the book. The longer she poured over that morning, the more jumbled her thoughts became. All she could remember was Rainbow Dash trying to yell something over the roar of the spell, but it had been impossible to hear anything.

The unicorn burst through the library door, panting from exertion. She lifted the old book off the floor and placed it on her reading stand, flipping through the pages until she reached the rogue spell. As she went over the spell’s instructions again, her mind refused to accept what she was reading.

She had performed the spell perfectly.

“Twilight, is that you? Where did you head off to in such a hurry?” Rarity asked. “You left Pinkie and I alone in your room. Why did you leave so hastily?”

“Not now, Rarity,” Twilight snapped at her fellow unicorn before pouring over Grizwald’s book. Not knowing what to do, she looked down at the final section of the spell’s instructions, entitled “Deviations”, containing a list of page numbers. Deviations... One spell becoming another due to failure. I know these are common with Grizwald’s spells, but there’s no way I could’ve done it incorrectly. I couldn’t have! She flipped to the first numbered page and scanned over the arcane text. After reading it, she recoiled away from the book, scared by the chilling implications of the spell.

Hollowing? No, that can’t be it. She was transported somewhere, not stripped of her emotions, Twilight thought as she flipped to the second deviation listed. Her eyes widened as she looked over the second spell. This spell, if anything, seemed to be the one that may have occurred, judging by her friends’ stories.

With a sigh of relief, Twilight flipped to the back of the book to the list of counter spells for the presented spell. After running her hoof down the list of counter-spells, her eyes widened in shock. The counter-spell was missing, along with several others she recognized.

What? Why isn’t there a counter?! she silently screamed in frustration and fear as she tore through the book for any clue to the whereabouts of the missing spell. After flipping through it multiple times, not even a hint was to be found, forcing the unicorn to choke back tears.

Slowly, she turned to find her friends staring at her with worry written all over their faces. She didn’t want to face them, knowing there was no way to reverse what had been done. Gulping, Twilight stepped forward, her head hung low as she looked up at her friends.

“What’s goin’ on? Did ya’ find out what happened?” Applejack asked.

“I-I found out what happened to Fluttershy,” Twilight started, turning her head away from her worried companions, “I need you to leave me alone for a while while I figure this out. I need some space, and you need to go find Rainbow Dash.”

“Well, what happened?” Pinkie asked, her head forward in curiosity, “Why do we need to go get Dashie?”

  “I need all of you here for this when I know what to do. That spell I cast deviated and turned into an entirely different spell...” Twilight started, choking up, “It o-opened a rift in space-time and sent her through it. Call back the search parties, th-they won’t find her out there, and...” Twilight looked up at her friends with tears streaming down her face. “I-I can’t find the spell to bring her back.”

A dull thump sent Fluttershy back to full alert, causing her to whip her head around in a panic. Save for a tiny sliver of light shining from a small crack near her hoof, everything was pitch black.

Still dizzy from the spell, Fluttershy stumbled into a stack of boxes as she rose to her hooves. After regaining her footing, she attempted to center herself, but her aching head sent her doubling over in pain. The ground shifted beneath her, rumbling and shaking everything around in what felt like a cramped space. Sitting down, she braced herself against the boxes, trying to make sense of everything that had happened.

She was alone in a dark, unknown, and apparently mobile room with no visible way out. It took all her effort not to scream. Frightened, she scrambled to where the light was shining and examined the area with her hoof, feeling the ridges of what seemed to be a metal door with handles on the bottom. She placed her hooves inside the handles and attempted to jerk them upwards, trying with all of her might to heave open the door, but it didn’t budge.

“Where am I—?” Fluttershy wondered before the room banked violently to the right, sending everything shifting quickly to the left, Fluttershy included. She felt a sharp pain in her flank as she slammed against the edge of a box. She rubbed at it, trying to soothe it away, but something felt off beneath her hoof, something coarse.

W-what are these... clothes?

The room suddenly stopped and the violent shaking of the room faded to a soft rumbling. With a loud clanking sound, the large metal door rolled into the ceiling of what was revealed to be a tiny metal room as sunlight flooded into the space. Fluttershy winced and raised her hoof, shielding her eyes from the sudden, blinding light. As her eyes adjusted, the silhouette of a large figure came into view. Fluttershy was terrified, still unable to take in everything that had happened. Her eyes were transfixed on the mare as it reached into the room. Tears rolling down her cheeks, Fluttershy shook and slunk back, trying to shield herself from the tendrils of her shadowy assailant.

“N..no... Please don’t hurt me...”

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                      ||  Chapter 2 ==>

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HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

2

Down the Beaten Path

May, are you alright back there? It might’ve gotten a little bumpy back there at the end,” the silhouette asked, poking its head into the room.

Fluttershy lowered the hoof from her face, looking outside as her eyes finally adjusted to the sunlight.

“Moving day’s always tough, huh?” she said, with a laugh. The mare hefted a box onto her back and carried it to a house beside the strange, mobile room in which Fluttershy had arrived. She was a blue-eyed earth pony with a yellow coat and a long brown mane. She wore an orange shirt and a red skirt which covered up her cutie mark. “Well, don’t you want to check out the our new home?”

After wiping her eyes, Fluttershy timidly jumped out from the strange room to the ground. She gasped audibly at what she saw, suddenly surrounded by flora and fauna she had never before seen in Equestria. A vast forest surrounded the small town. Between the trees she could see wolves with strange gray and black patterns, large striped ferrets, and tiny red, spiky worms to name just a few. The sight filled Fluttershy’s heart with a familiar sense of wonder and excitement.

A sudden loud thud snapped her out of her dreamy state, drawing her attention back to the odd metal room. She watched as two stallions dressed in blue jumpsuits carried the last of the boxes out of the vehicle and brought them into the large house. Fluttershy trotted to the mare, just catching her before she went inside.

“E-excuse me, miss? Where are we?” she asked. The mare stared at her blankly, seeming to look right through her. Fluttershy stepped back, dropping her gaze to avoid the mare’s perplexing stare. “I mean, d-do you know how I can get back to Ponyville from here?”

The mare laughed, deepening Fluttershy’s growing confusion. “Oh May, what are you on about now? Oh, did you bump your head on the ride here?” she asked, examining Fluttershy’s head as a worried look crossed the strange mare’s face. Satisfied with her inspection, the mare gave her a gentle smile. “Sorry you had to endure that, there wasn’t any room left in the front of the truck.”

“Oh, you have the wrong pony. My name isn’t May. It’s Fluttershy.” she explained, trying to keep her composure.

“Is that what you’re calling yourself now?” The mare chuckled, placing her hoof about Fluttershy. Fluttershy shrank back shyly, slipping from the mare’s embrace.

Nothing in this town made any sense to her. She tried analyzing what had happened as she was unwittingly dragged into the two-story wooden house. The home was filled with strange technology the likes of which she had never seen before, the walls covered with pictures of strange, almost animal-looking creatures in picture frames.

“All your stuff is in your room now, go get it ready,” the mare explained, nudging Fluttershy towards the stairs before sitting down at the dining table. Slowly the pegasus ascended the stairs, her body on automatic as she tried to absorb everything that had happened. Down the hallway and to the right she found a room filled to the brim with cardboard boxes.

This must be it. She trotted to the center of the room and plopped down. It was quiet, quiet enough for her to properly focus on her predicament. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind, something she had been able to do for quite a while. That poor hummingbird, its wing is still damaged and I’m not there to help it. How am I going to get back home? What about...that one pony that tried to help me?

Fluttershy’s eyes jolted open.

She lifted both of her hooves to her face, trying to recall the pony’s name. Oh my, how could I have forgotten her name? She started to shake, all the stress of the day’s events rushing through her. Did I really forget her name? No, it’s just the stress. What would Rainbow...something do? All she wanted to do was break down. Two names had slipped from her. I couldn’t have forgotten her! She was my first friend! A cold sweat broke out all over her body as she felt herself reaching the breaking point. What’s happening to me? I can’t take this!

Fluttershy raised her head from her hooves and saw something strange on the other side of the room. It was a mirror, but it was the reflection staring back at her that had caught her eye. After rising to her hooves, she trotted over and looked at herself. Between thinking and worrying about her newfound problems, she had never paid much attention to the clothes that she now had on. An orange, sleeveless jacket with a black, bent-back collar was fastened securely around her torso, a green bandanna was wrapped about the top of her pink hair, her ears popping through a pair of holes. She turned to view her flank, a pair of black short pants with a trio of pink, butterfly patches sewn into each side. Dipping her shoulder, she could see that a green satchel was secured to her back as well.

Before she could study herself further, she heard the mare call out from downstairs, “Come down, May, your father’s on TV! Oh, but make sure you set your clock first!”

“Coming down, Mom!” Without hesitation, she jammed her hooves into her mouth at the sudden, involuntary outburst.

W-what’s happening to me? was all she could think as her legs carried her down the stairs of their own volition. When she had reached the bottom, she felt a dizzy spell overcome her, but she shook it off quickly and continued towards the mare. With a blank face, she found the mare she had called ‘mom’ watching an odd, flickering box Fluttershy assumed to be the ‘TV.’ The only thing on screen was a news anchor who just finished talking about some event and had quickly shifted to a discussion of the weather.

“You missed it,” the mare pouted. “Oh, I know! You should go introduce yourself to our new neighbors.”

“I... I... no!” the pegasus squeaked in protest. Her cries went unheeded as the mare simply nudged her towards the door. She sighed and lowered her head, her mind was still racing and she simply allowed herself to be shoved out the door.

“Go on, May, I’m sure they’ll be very nice,” the mare reassured her before closing the the front door behind the pegasus.

The house door was roughly the same size as the one she had just been forcibly evicted from, and, as she looked at it more, seemed to be an exact copy. With a soft sigh, the yellow pegasus trotted reluctantly towards it. She arrived at the door, gulped, and knocked, quietly hoping nopony would be home. There was no answer. She waited a few seconds and tried it again; still nothing. After letting out a relieved sigh, she trotted around the corner of the house to see what the rest of the town had to offer.

Like Ponyville, the weather was nice and balmy. A small breeze rustled every leaf on the trees, the sound alone calming her. But, as she felt her tensions drifting away with the rustling leaves, a loud yell shook Fluttershy from her serene state yet again. She looked around in a panic, waiting for the sound, and, after perking her ears up, she heard the cry once more.

“Help!” the voice cried out, and without a moment’s hesitation, she galloped as fast as her hooves would carry her to the northern path out of town in search of the voice’s source.

No, no, no!” Twilight yelled out in frustration, taking the hard-cover book and tossing it from her reading stand. It landed in a growing pile on the floor where the rest of her books now sat.

Nothing she had read through even came close to providing her with a counter-spell or explaining what exactly had happened. Twilight simply couldn’t accept the ancient spell book’s interpretation. There had to be another explanation. Hastily, she brought over more books to scour before she heard a knock at the door.

After her next book landed on the reading stand, she yelled out, “Come in!” and started to flip through it. She ignored the squeak coming from the door, thinking of the best way to explain the whole situation.

“We’re back, Twi, and we’ve got Rainbow Dash,” Applejack stated as she walked in, followed by the rest of her friends. When Twilight finally turned around, she saw them staring at the mess of books that had overtaken the floor. Rainbow Dash stood with tan-colored saddlebags secured to her body, slightly bulging from the amount of content inside. Her mane appeared wind-swept and ruffled while a few patches of dirt and scrapes were scattered across her body. “So, why’d you have us leave like that?”

“I needed to search the library for the counter-spell uninterrupted, but none of the books I have brought me any closer,” Twilight stated as she lifted the mess of books up off of the library floor, “I-I don’t know what to do, this has never happened before.”

“We’ve all made mistakes, dear,” Rarity reassured her.

Twilight stared back at the old text, then looked back up to her friends. “But it wasn’t a mistake! I performed the spell perfectly, yet it deviated anyway. I don’t get it.”

“Can anypony tell me what's going on? I could be out looking for Fluttershy right now!” Rainbow protested, glaring at the other mares.

“Rainbow, Fluttershy isn't out there,” Twilight said, “and we need you here to help.”

“If she's not out there, then where is she!?” Rainbow snapped. “That spell you did screwed up and she disappeared. If it wasn't a teleport spell, then what was it?”

“The spell deviated. These old spells have a chance to turn into something else, and that's what happened.”

“So you didn't do it right? You said you researched it and everything... How could you do this!?”

“Rainbow Dash, calm down,” Rarity said, trying to calm Rainbow down, “Don't you think Twilight feels terrible enough about this?” Rainbow backed away from Twilight, plodding slowly away from the distraught unicorn.

“I-I could've saved her...” Rainbow started, drawing attention away from Twilight as the cyan pegasus faced away from the group. “Fluttershy looked right at me, and I didn't do anything.” She darted through the air to Twilight, hovering in front of the unicorn, ears lowered. “I need to help her Twilight, somepony has to.” She landed, and looked at the unicorn pleadingly. “Please... just tell me where she is.”

Twilight gulped, looking at Rainbow's shimmering eyes. Her knowledge of what had happened after she had passed out was still hazy, but Rainbow's was probably less so if she had bolted off right away. “The spell that was cast instead... sent her outside of Equestria's place in the space-time continuum. I don't know how to bring her back.”

“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Rainbow asked, her body seeming to visibly sag at the news.

“Hold on.” Twilight’s horn glowed, bringing the book on the lectern to her and flipping it open. After flipping through roughly half the book, she stopped and drew a hoof down the page until she found the spell she was looking for. She could feel all her friends’ eyes on her, and she desperately didn’t want to disappoint them. She exhaled heavily and turned the book around to show them. “This is a psychic communication spell. With it I should be able to contact Fluttershy. I tried it out earlier today, and I think it works, but I just need to confirm it. Now, Pinkie Pie?”

“What is it, Twilight?” Pinkie responded.

“Did you hear me try to talk to you about thirty minutes ago in your head?”

“Oh yeah, I thought I was just hearing things.” Pinkie stated, starting to hop around the library. “It was so amazing, I started baking some cupcakes for everypony since the Cakes are away and when I heard you I was all like ‘wha?’ and I almost flipped the batter all over the kitchen but then I finished baking before coming back over,” she suddenly stopped bouncing. “When you talk to Fluttershy tell her Pinkie says ‘Hi,’ okay, Twilight?”

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief, “I’ll do that Pinkie, but I don’t know if this will work. We still don’t know exactly where she is.” She flipped the spell book back around and studied the text, absorbing every last detail of the spell. “Alright, here I go,” the unicorn stated as she readied her stance. She focused her energy to her horn, concentrating on all the intricacies of the spell and on Fluttershy herself.

I hope this works.

The forest was exactly as Fluttershy would have guessed as her gallop slowed to a quick trot; it was dense with trees, their leaves blotting out the sky from view. Small green sprouts sprang up through the mulch of the previous fall’s leaves while long, winding vines wrapped themselves around some of the older trees. She could hear some of the animals’ cries, the sounds fighting for her ears’ attention with the rustling leaves. The path she followed seemed to have been cut very methodically as it wove through the trees, but still, it was obscured by the forest’s overgrown underbrush.

“Help me!” the deeply accented voice howled.

Fluttershy immediately focused her attention on the voice, ignoring the forest’s curiosities as she burst into a full gallop. Just ahead she saw a figure running around in a panic with something attached to one of its legs. She skid to a stop, watching as the brown stallion with spiked back brown hair running around aimlessly, a long, striped ferret-like creature attached to his right foreleg, blood leaking from the bite wound and soaking into his white labratory coat. He turned towards her as she thought of what do to.

“Could you help me? Please?” the pony desperately tried to shake the creature off. “There’s a briefcase over there. If you would, could you grab a Poké Ball and help me out? This thing just won’t let go.”

Fluttershy stood there, confused. She was sure she had never heard of a ‘Poké Ball’ before, but it sounded somehow familiar. She looked at the briefcase, her body wanting her to move towards it, but instead she ran towards the panicked pony.

“Hold still,” she said calmly to the pony. He stopped shaking, but still winced in pain. Fluttershy grasped the ferret by its scruff, pulling it from the pony’s leg and tossing it gently to the side. Before it could turn to attack once more, Fluttershy had set herself in a wide stance, staring intensely at the creature. The instant their eyes met, the creature froze. “Don’t you do something like that ever again, do you understand me, mister?” she scolded. “It’s not nice to hurt other creatures like that, and you know it.” As her stare intensified, the ferret cowered before her, whimpering. She stepped closer, brushing its fur and giving it a pat on the head. “There you go, now run off little one.”

With that the ferret ran off into the thicket and Fluttershy brought her head back up, closing her eyes and smiling, feeling more secure and comfortable with herself. Suddenly, a sharp, overwhelming pain coursed through her head, forcing her to the ground, both hooves pressed in vain to her skull. Then, as quickly as it had come, the pain was gone.

Th-that’s never happened before... she thought silently, her chest heaving from shock.

“You saved me without a pokémon, that was remarkable! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. You have an amazing way with these creatures,” the brown stallion complemented her as he walked over to grab his briefcase. “What’s your name, my girl?”

Fluttershy lifted her head, shaking it as she tried to recover from the pain. Glancing at the pony, she swore she had seen him before in Ponyville... even the voice was similar if not the same. He wore a lab coat with an hourglass symbol sewn into both sides in the same manner as the butterflies on her own clothes.

“I’m, uh...” she began, having to think on it for a moment, “Fluttershy, I think. I just moved in just south of here.” She dipped her head, ears folded back in confusion.

“Fluttershy, interesting. I've never met a filly with a name quite like that. It’s quite a lovely name if you ask me. They call me the Professor. Professor Birch.” He shook his bitten forehoof for some relief from the pain. “You know what, take a pokémon as a reward. Obviously you’re better with them than I could have ever imagined. Take your pick, it’s fine by me,” the Professor said.

There was that word was again.

Pokémon.

Like everything Fluttershy had witnessed here, it seemed familiar and completely foreign at the same time. Slowly, she trotted over to the briefcase and nudged open the latches. Inside, on small, black cushions, were three minuscule red and white balls with a white circular button along the center divide. She picked one up in her hoof and stared at it.

“Um, thank you.” she whispered shyly, “It’s... nice.”

The professor scratched his head, “Well you can’t see your new pokémon if it’s still in its Poke Ball. That’s just not how it works.”

She looked at him with confusion before turning back to what she presumed to be a ‘Poké Ball.’ She had to know what this ‘Pokémon’ thing was and how it could fit inside such a tiny ball. She pressed the button with with hoof, eeping as the tiny ball suddenly tripled in size. It opened, sending a shining white light from it; the light and sound causing her to step back. She watched as the light started to take form into an animal. Her wings opened in a defensive posture as she stepped further back. The light faded, revealing a green upright standing gecko. It stared at her with its head cocked to the side.

“W-what is that?” Fluttershy wondered aloud, not knowing what to think of the odd creature.

The brown pony stared in disbelief. “You’ve never seen a treecko before? I would’ve thought that everyone has seen it on the television in Hoenn, or anywhere else for that matter.” He shook his head and nudged the treecko closer to Fluttershy. “Some kids these days. So sheltered.”

Fluttershy dropped to her belly beside the treecko, examining it for a little while. Something told her that she already knew what it was.

“Aren’t you adorable?” she finally said, drawing a dismissive harrumph from the creature. “I guess I need to name you, huh, little guy?” The lizard came closer and rubbed its head into her mane. She could only smile; meeting a new type of creature, even after the past events’ hardships, lifted her spirits. “How did you ever fit in something so tiny?”

The professor walked over, seeing Fluttershy lay there with her new pokémon. He smiled and sat down next to her. “You have an impressive way with animals. I’m quite taken aback.”

“Th-thank you,” she responded.

Digging through his bag, he pulled out a thin, red plastic tablet and gave it to Fluttershy. “Here, this is a Pokédex. It will show you everything and anything you wanted to know about Pokémon and the Hoenn region. It should serve you well, being new to the area and all. It’s quite a handy device. Now take it, I need your help with something.” He looked down at his right foreleg and rubbed it to soothe the pain. “My son, Brendan, is out doing research. Brash boy, but I need him to come home. It’s getting dark and as you can see I'm a little out of commission at the moment, so I need you to go in my stead. He should be just north of Oldale Town which is at the northern end of this forest.”

She nervously stood up, her ears drooping at the thought, “Oh no, I couldn’t do that,” she shuffled one of her forehooves in the grass, “I don’t know nearly enough about this place to be able to do that.”

“No, you can do it,” the professor assured her, “Take that treecko and run with it. Travel the world! You’ve just moved here, and judging by you’re attire you’re here for adventure. You should be excited.”

“Oh, I’m really not much for adventure... really.”

“Nonsense. Just remember to find my son while you’re out there. I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can to avoid coming home, but even if you can’t, go and explore everything. Give adventure a chance!”

As she made to protest further, Fluttershy felt something tap against her side, the treecko trying getting her attention. The confidence in its eyes astounded her, seeming to trust her completely within minutes of meeting her. “I guess her spell worked,” she thought aloud, grabbing the Pokédex with her mouth and slipping it into her bag. “I guess if I can help.”

“That’s the spirit!” Birch stated, as he began to hobble back towards town. “Hopefully the trip will help you get your head straight.” Fluttershy watched him as he limped off with his briefcase back into the forest. “If you need anything from me just ask. I’ll be in my lab in Littleroot Town. I’m sure you’ll be fine without me, but if you ever need my help, I’ll be sure to do what I can.”

As the professor disappeared into the forest, the wind began to blow through the tree, the calming sound of rustling leaves reaching her ears. She let out a small sigh and looked to her new gecko-like friend.

“I suppose that if you’re going to join me, I should give you a name.” Fluttershy looked up at the forest around her thoughtfully. “How about Treecky?”

The gecko scoffed and turned its head.

“Oh, maybe Leaf?”

It sneered, nostrils flaring as it huffed dramatically.

Um... how about...” Fluttershy looked around for inspiration, spotting a familiar looking tree. “How about Alerce?”

It thought for a moment before it looked up at her with contented grin.

“Good. Now climb on and I can fly us over the town.” Alerce leaped into the air, landing with a small impact on Fluttershy. “Gently.” she said, unfurling her wings. She took a couple seconds to stretch out her wings and ready herself for flight before she broke into a short gallop before lifting off.

The forest was so thick that branches and leaves obstructed her path to the sky. Carefully, she ducked and dodged her way through them without any harm done to herself or her passenger. Hovering just above the forest canopy, she checked to see if Alerce was alright, finding him a little woozy

“Oh...I’m sorry about that,” she blushed, flying at a slow pace as to not upset him further.

Slowly rising from the canopy, Fluttershy looked around at the massive expanse of land and sea. She’d never seen so many towns and villages, even when looking down from her old filly-home in Cloudsdale. It had been a long time since she had been so high above the ground. The sun was setting, the sky was painted with rich yellows, oranges, and purples. Flocks of blue and red birds flew along side her, squawking with delight. Fluttershy smiled back, happy with the wind flowing sending her long pink mane whipping about behind her. She felt herself becoming less anxious about the task she had been given as she tried her hardest to enjoy herself as she soared freely. Down below, she could see a small town with only a handful of buildings. If her instincts were right, this was the town that Birch had told her about.

With a dip of her wings, she slowly made her decent near the northern pathway out of town. After landing, Alerce immediately hopped off Fluttershy’s back, dazed from the flight.

“Are you alright?” she asked, getting closer to see if anything had happened.

Alerce shook his head and body, getting rid of the woozy feeling he had, and began to walk down the small path north, Fluttershy following. The path looked exactly like the forest outside of Littleroot. She still thought having no memory of this place when waking up in the back of the truck was odd, but she simply chalked it up to stress. After scaling a rocky ledge, she spotted a young earth pony hunched over with several bags of supplies on his back, studying some of small creatures in the grasses. Fluttershy trotted over nervously. She didn't even know this was Birch's son.

“E-excuse me, I’m so sorry for bothering you, but are you Brendan?” She slunk back a little as the light brown pony turned around to face her. He wore a strange headband and white hat combination with a black and orange jacket, his shorts were vertically separated black and dark-gray with a strange gold square with a cross through it stitched on the sides.

“Yeah, who are you?”

Fluttershy stood erect, trying to appear more confident. “I’m... uh...” W-what’s going on? Why can’t I remember my own name anymore!? “I... just moved in next door to you.”

The colt eyed her suspiciously. She caught him staring at Alerce, squinting his eyes to get a more focused view.

“That’s my father’s treecko. He normally has those under lock and key.” He lifted his head and walked towards a Poké Ball that lay in the short grass. He hit the circle button, sending out his pokémon. A small orange bird with three large feathers sticking out of its head popped out and chirped. “I know what’s going on.”

Fluttershy looked at him confused, but went forward to examine the bird. “Oh my, you’re just so adorable.” The bird rubbed against her in much the same way Alerce had. “What’s your name little guy?” she rubbed the bird’s head and smiled..

“That’s Torchic, and I’d advise you to step away from my pokémon.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, lowering her head and ears, backing away. Torchic took on an aggressive posture, staring down Alerce as the gecko did the same. She looked at the colt who looked as if everything was completely fine.

“Alright, let’s get this battle underway, shall we?” Brendan smirked, watching his torchic prepare itself.

“Battle? Oh no, I could never do that,” Fluttershy said nervously. She couldn’t tell if he was serious, but she didn’t want to take any chances. She looked down at Alerce who also donned a fighting position. “Alerce no, we don’t have to—”

Before she even could finish, she felt another throbbing headache come on, one (much) more intense than the others had been. Every synapse in her brain told her she had to fight, that she had no choice. She found herself on the ground, hooves pressed to her head as she desperately tried to hold onto herself.

W-why is this happening, I-I don’t fight... I can’t take this...

With her head still buried in the ground, she heard a strange but familiar voice pierce her thoughts, “Fl...rsh... is that you? Please, if you can hear me say something!”

“Please... leave me alone,” she fought back against the wayward thought, not knowing how else to respond.

“It’s me, Twilight. Are you alright? We’re so worried about you.” Tears rolled down Fluttershy’s cheeks, her body shaking as she sobbed into the grass.

“Please, I don’t want to fight. Whoever you are, please make it stop!” The voice faded away as fast as it had come.

Still shaking, she rose to her hooves, grabbed Alerce with a hoof, and planted him on her back. The world seemed to flash white and suddenly, in front of her, was a strange figure. The tears in her eyes blurred her vision, but there in front of her was a ghostly wisp with the same clothes she wore.

The figure had brown hair and pale skin, with the same bandanna she had and a similar looking treecko. Across from her was another creature standing with a torchic, but its features were too washed out and obscured to see. Confused, she closed her eyes and shook her head; the ghostly figures disappeared from view as her eyes opened.

Her vision back to normal, Fluttershy darted into the air and made for the forest. The urge to battle that had raced through her subsided, leaving her head clear. She sighed and with one last involuntary spasm she felt completely fine. Her tears dried as streaks on her face, but it didn’t bother her as she flew on.

She was able to fight it off.

She landed in a nearby forest clearing, watching the sun set behind the forest canopy. Alerce lay down and fell to sleep, Fluttershy smiling as she took a blanket from her bag. She had no idea how she knew it was there, but she began to trust her new instincts. She laid the blanket over Alerce and herself, preparing for the night.

With her new friend in the grass and the wind carrying her worries away on the open road, Fluttershy knew she was finally home.

Twilight’s horn stopped glowing as the unicorn slumped down. The spell had taken more out of her than she had anticipated.

“Well Twilight, dear? Were you able to talk to her?” Rarity asked.

“I was, but she didn’t recognize me,” she began, eyes wide and watering, “It sounded like she was crying... and she said something about fighting. I think she could be in trouble.”

Everypony looked worried. The situation seemed dire; they had no idea where Fluttershy had ended up and she was in danger.

Rainbow hovered in the air, staring down at the spell book that had caused the whole mess, then up at the purple unicorn, a fiery determination in her eyes. “Send me over there.”

“What?! Are you crazy? The last time I cast the spell it was just a deviation. If I cast the deviation... Who knows what the deviation of the space-time rift spell could be!”

Rainbow Dash was undeterred. “You said you performed the spell exactly, right? Just perform it exactly again.”

Twilight lowered her head to think. She didn’t want to risk the safety of another friend... but Rainbow’s brash confidence was infectious.

“We don't even know if it'll result in the same spell, why are you so eager to do this?“

“We can't just sit here and hope. I'm willing to take the risk... Worst case, I end up looking trustworthy,” Rainbow stated confidently.

Twilight gulped, afraid of what might happen. The teleportation spell didn’t have a set course; Rainbow Dash could easily end up in a completely different part of space-time than Fluttershy. She didn't want to take the risk, but she was running out of options.

“M-maybe I should talk to Celestia first before we do this. Just to be safe.”

“We don't have time for Celestia, Fluttershy is in danger now,” Rainbow protested. “Trust me, I'll be fine. I'm sure if Fluttershy has somepony to help her through this, it'll be a load off your mind.”

Twilight brought the ancient spell book to her and looked over the spell again, then turned back to her friends, solemn-faced. “What do you girls think? I don't know what to do...”

“This all seems a mite risky,” Applejack said, “but right now Fluttershy needs somepony to help her. Who knows what she's going through over there.”

“Yeah, plus it would be super fun to see ponies she knows, right? Ooo, maybe I can get some—”

“Well,” Rarity cut her off, jamming a hoof into Pinkie’s maw before the pink pony could being to ramble, “I don’t see how it could hurt. Rainbow Dash, I should get you a jacket or something before you leave, it might could be positively frigid there.”

“I’ll be fine,” Rainbow Dash said, landing and folding her wings to her body. “I’m sure you girls can come up with something to get us back while I’m gone.”

Twilight was shocked at the responses she had received. Every one of her friends was in agreement with Rainbow’s brash and ill-conceived plan. Twilight had to admit, she was running out of options.

“Actually,” Twilight pondered. “I do know Canterlot’s eastern library has a book by the same author; maybe the spell to bring her back is in there.”

“Great, you girls go to Canterlot and I’ll hang out with Fluttershy. I can’t leave her all alone in some weird place.” She stood in front of Twilight, waiting for her to cast the spell. “Ready when you are!”

Looking around, Twilight saw that everypony seemed to be in agreement. With the spell in front of her, she focused on Rainbow Dash.

“Alright.” She readied herself, planting her hooves. She was still apprehensive about this plan, her breath caught in her throat just thinking about it. Finally, she closed her eyes and focused all of her energy on Rainbow Dash. Her horn started to glow with the intense purple light of the previous attempt. She went over every calculation in her head, checking for any discrepancies to make sure this went as smoothly as possible. The last thing she wanted to do was to lose another friend.

“Hey Rainbow Da—” Pinkie started, but Twilight could only hear that much as all sense of her surroundings faded away. The light of the sun seemed to fade as the light from her horn eclipsed everything else.

Violent tremors shook the library, but she ignored them, concentrating and keeping her eyes closed and mind focused. Her knees shook as the tremors vibrated through the tree, sweat dripping down her hide.

Panting, she could feel the energy reach a singular point at the tip of her horn and with the last of her energy she released her hold on the spell, launching it towards Rainbow Dash.

Exhausted, Twilight’s body went limp as her vision blurred. As the light that now surrounded Rainbow Dash grew drastically brighter, her eyes slowly shut as she collapsed face first into the old tome.

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<== Chapter 1 || Chapter 3 ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

3

Memories

Rainbow Dash awoke with a throbbing headache. She lay still for a moment in a daze as the reality of what happened now dawned on her. Feeling something heavy push her into the dirt, she squirmed her way out from underneath. One hoof after the other she got to a good point of leverage and shook the weight off, her body now free to stretch. She closed her eyes and spread her wings, taking away some of the pressure and aches her body felt from the trip. Sighing, she turned around and opened her eyes. Quickly she stepped back in confusion and noticed an unconscious pink lump where she had laid. She trotted over and poked it with her hoof.

“Pinkie Pie, did you really have to follow me here?” she asked, ceasing to poke the pink pony. In a sudden panic, she took her saddlebags off and opened them for inspection. She carefully sifted through the contents, dreading if any broke from Pinkie falling on top of them or falling herself.

Sighing in relief after seeing nothing was harmed, she left Pinkie alone to sleep and looked around at her new surroundings. There were a lot more trees than she had anticipated, especially after hearing how distraught Fluttershy was. Surely that would’ve been the reason, if any, she thought. Looking up she noticed how oddly positioned and disorganized the clouds were especially around a populated town. There were no pegasi in the sky taking care of or placing the cumulonimbus cloud in the distance, nor any of the cumulus or the arcus clouds. That’s weird, it’s almost as if—

“Hey Rainbow Dash!” Pinkie Pie yelled out in excitement, causing Rainbow to stagger forward in shock. Rainbow quickly turned around to see the pink pony already bouncing around as if nothing happened. “You’re finally awake! That’s good because you weren’t when I found you so I decided to continue sleeping while you had your little nap.”

Rainbow Dash groaned, “Wait, you slept on top of me on purpose?” She shook her head, “Never mind that, why did you follow me in?”

“So you wouldn’t be alone, silly!” she continued bouncing to Rainbow’s dismay.

Sighing, Rainbow tried to find a sign or clue as to where they were. Many earth ponies were about, seeming aloof to the entire situation. For reasons Rainbow couldn’t comprehend they were all wearing clothes, something almost never seen back in Equestria except for higher class gatherings. They were mostly very dully colored, a striking contrast to both her and Pinkie’s bright color schemes. Upon closer inspection they were wearing belts with strange red and white balls on them, followed closely by other unrecognizable animals. The houses were all earthy colors with red roofs; none of them stood out at all as far as the ones normally seen in Ponyville. Two stood out to her though, two buildings with blue and red roofs respectively with a strange white symbol garnering their fronts.

“Hey, Pinkie Pie.” Rainbow called out. Pinkie stopped bouncing around, now paying attention to her friend. She has to be as shaken up as I am, I mean, I can’t be the only one, Rainbow assumed, but continued on her train of thought. “I’m going to fly around and check out where we are. Could you ask around to see what town we’re in?”

“Okie dokie Loki!” Pinkie confirmed, looking at Rainbow intensely with her hoof at a salute. She giggled before stopping and hopped around to start her search. Rainbow looked up at the sky, spreading her wings to start her ascent. With a bend of the knees she took off, soaring high enough to reach the start of the cloud-line. She looked at them with a puzzled look, noticing the strange properties of the puffy cumulus clouds. They were much larger than the ones in Ponyville and she could see right through them. They seemed only to be composed of a light fog at most. Curious, she turned away from the cloud and kicked back as hard as she could. Her legs went straight through, causing her to stumble back from lack of contact. She pulled them out and felt something trickle down her leg. She looked down at her legs, noticing drops of water dripping off her hide. That’s strange. That wasn’t a rain cloud... Stunned, she quickly shook off her hooves and continued her ascent.

Above the cumulus clouds, the thunderhead loomed in the distance. The sun shone brightly on the pegasus’ wings as she surveyed the area. Large expanses of water surrounded what seemed to be a multitude of islands. She noticed a few mountain and volcano chains in the north with no snow on their peaks. Rainbow started panting as a large wave of humidity swept through the air from the western storm front, quickly tiring her out. Confident that she had everything she needed, she glided back down towards Pinkie who was busy talking to an older gray mare.

“Pinkie!” she called out, knocking Pinkie out of her string of rapid-fire conversations. With her hooves now safely planted on one of the dirt roads, she trotted over. The older mare quickly broke off and left as Rainbow grew closer. “Did you find out anything?”

“Yeah! According to this one lady we’re in... what was it...” Pinkie paused to think, “Oh, Pendalfurg Town!” Pinkie closed her eyes and smiled.

Rainbow scratched her head, “Uh, are you sure Pinkie Pie? That sounds a really weird name for a town.”

“Oh, I’m completely sure!” Pinkie stated confidently.

Rainbow turned her head and noticed a sign near the eastern path out of town. It was just out of sight for her to read it, so she squinted her eyes and inched closer. After only a few steps it came into focus. Printed in black type was, “You are now leaving Petalburg Town. Entering Route 102 to Oldale Town.” She brought her head upright and turned to Pinkie who was still smiling her somewhat dopey smile. “Uh, Pinkie Pie? The name is the town is on that sign over there,” she said, pointing at the boldly printed sign.

“That’s weird, I must’ve missed it,” Pinkie said, her smile fading to thoughtful gaze.

“Did you at least find something out about Fluttershy?” Rainbow started pacing, trying to shake off the humidity. “I mean, did you at least ask—”

“Not too much. Somepony told me that they saw a yellow pegasus flying in the east last night, but that could’ve been anypony!” Pinkie said, gazing east, seemingly trying to point Rainbow Dash in that direction.

        

Rainbow followed her cue and turned her head. “Well if that’s all we’ve got so far I say we go for it. If she were here, we would’ve seen her already.” She turned to Pinkie with a confident gaze. “Alright, I’ll fly up and check it out. You search on the ground and we’ll meet in the next town over, got it?”

“Got it!” Pinkie exclaimed, then promptly hopped off into the forest. Rainbow spread her wings and rocketed into the air, trying to keep the humidity out of mind. She turned with the westerly wind and began her search.

Fluttershy jolted awake, panting with piercing headache. She sighed, letting the warmth of the morning sun warm her coat and calm her down. Placing her hoof on her forehead, she tried to alleviate the headache her dream must’ve caused, but something felt off to her. She took her hoof off her head and looked at it, her eyes widening at the sight. It was pink and fleshy, with five appendages jutting out from the outside. It was clothed with a green fingerless cloth with a white collar. Her breathing became heavier and heavier as she stared. She blinked, and her hoof reappeared where the hand once was.

After breathing a sigh of relief, she lay back down into the grass and looked up at the forest’s canopy. The yellow light of the sun created a halo of light surrounding the trees. Fluttershy had seen this many times, but it seemed to be dancing with color that morning. A light western wind blew through her hair, letting her mind work out her already frantic morning.

Beside her she heard a small rustle in the grass. She turned her head and noticed Alerce still sleeping soundly underneath her blanket. Oh, how could I have forgotten about Alerce? Fluttershy thought. She lifted her hoof and tapped lightly on the blanket, “It’s time to wake up, it’s a brand new—” She paused. T-that’s strange. She tapped the blanket once more, feeling a hard shell underneath. Confused, she grabbed the blanket with her teeth and lifted it slowly. Rays of light illuminated the creature making Fluttershy take a step back as she tore the blanket off.

In Alerce’s place was a small green turtle with a yellow underbelly and a hard brown and black striped shell lying on its back. A small, two leaved sprout made its place on the top of its head. Fluttershy slowly crawled closer to investigate. “A-Alerce? Is that... you?”

The turtle’s eyes slowly opened. It turned its head to Fluttershy and it smiled at her. “Twii~!” it let out, standing and getting closer to the timid pegasus. It reached her right foreleg and started rubbing its head against her hide.

She looked down and smiled. “Oh yes, you must be him.” At that moment her stomach began to rumble violently, causing her to take notice. “With how hectic yesterday was I must’ve forgotten to get us food,” she said to Alerce and herself. Is changing species like that... normal? she thought to herself, but quickly passed it off as something she must’ve forgotten during the truck ride over. “Come on, let’s go get some food,” she said, scooping up Alerce and the blanket and placed them on her back. Facing away from the rising sun, she made her way through the new set of dirt roads, opting not to fly with her new, more bulky and fragile friend.

The path was very similar to the two she had already been down, but she saw many more ponies walking around with their pokémon. She planned to walk through unnoticed; the last encounter she had with a pony with a pokémon wasn’t the most pleasant. A dark-blue pony was in the distance with a striped ferret, battling some wild animal. She was shocked, trying to slip by as she was distracted.

Hoping that even with her less than functional camouflage she wouldn’t be seen, but she jumped back as the filly cried out, “Hey you! You with the turtwig!” Fluttershy looked away and continued walking unabated. “Hey, I’m talking to you! Let’s see what that turtwig is made of!” the filly continued to shout.

Fluttershy turned to the filly, “I’m sorry, I don’t fight.” The filly stood dumbfounded. She huffed and trotted away, continuing with her hunt. Fluttershy made sure to avoid every other encounter along the way, dashing into shrubbery and flying over rock faces to stay out of view. Slowly but surely, she made her way through the forest path to a straightaway towards Petalbug Town.

The sun was reaching the apex of the sky as the humidity grew denser. Fluttershy turned her head back to see how far she had gone. Oldale Town was nowhere in sight, and looking ahead, there wasn’t a single pony to be found. She breathed a sigh of relief then lied down. The lack of food made her trip arduous, making her dig through the provisions her mother had given her. A few crackers in a plastic bag were stuffed into the bottom as well as a small flask. She unscrewed the top and took a sip. After realizing it was water, she guzzled it down, only pausing to breathe and give some to Alerce.

After the canteen seemed to be half empty, she set it back in her bag and closed her eyes to think. The whole world seemed to be spinning for her as the events of the past few days still  hung in the forefront of her thoughts Whenever she tried to think of what happened before the ride in the truck, she couldn’t recall a single memory. It was as if her life started in that pitch black room. She buried her head into her hooves, exhausted and confused. Ever since she woke up, she felt as if there was always something amiss. Something she couldn’t put her hoof on.

Alerce began to call out towards the west. Fluttershy popped her head out from her hooves and looked to the distance. She squinted, noticing something pink bouncing steadily towards her. She slowly rose up readying herself to get out of the way before she found herself being hounded for another fight. A sharp pain jolted through her knees as she stood, making it hard to get up. One hoof after the other she finally got up, but her knees shook, causing her to be planted where she stood. She started panting with worry, watching the bouncing pink object come closer. Stepping one hoof forward, she broke her stable footing, yet fell face first into the dirt from the pain. When she finally got her head off the ground, the pink pony was standing right above her, giving her a strange, yet familiar look.

“Hey Fluttershy! What are you doing playing in the dirt?” the filly asked, hopping around Fluttershy.

F-Flutter...shy? she thought. The name sounded oddly familiar to her, but she passed it off as nothing.  “I’m sorry, you have the wrong pony,” she stated, hoping this would cause the pony to leave her alone.

        

“Don’t be silly, of course I have the right pony!” She took in a large gasp, “Oh, I know! You’re playing a game aren’t you? I didn’t know you for being such a good game player, Fluttershy. Ooo, what are we playing? Wait don’t tell me, let me guess. Uh... ‘Ponies and Griffons’!  Or—”

“No, please stop. I-I’m not trying to play anything, just don’t make me fight you. Please,” Fluttershy pleaded. What’s wrong with her? Why is she so brightly colored and... naked? 

“Fight? I know you don’t fight; what kind of friend would I be to not know that? I’m so glad I found you so quickly! We were so worried back at Twilight’s that I had to come help find you!

“I... still don’t know what you’re talking about. My name’s May, not Fluttershy,” she responded, causing the pink pony to slow down. “Excuse me, but I have to get going.” She hobbled back up to her hooves dug down enough to start moving. She slowly made her way past the pony, but she could already see her starting to follow. “Please, leave me alone,” she squeaked, moving as fast as her hooves could take her.

“Fluttershy, are you alright? It’s me, Pinkie Pie!” The name hit Fluttershy like a ton of bricks, but she kept going. ‘Pinkie Pie’ seemed so familiar to her as did the name ‘Fluttershy’, but it hurt to think about it. She just kept running in the hopes of finding somewhere to sort things out in peace. A few hundred yards of chase left her even more exhausted. She turned her head to see if the pink pony had stopped her chase before feeling something slam into the back of her head. She bowled over backwards, sending Alerce flying into the tall grass. Dizzy, she tried to get back up, but her vision started to double and wobble. She tried to shake it off, but her mental and physical exhaustion was too much.

“Whoops, sorry about—” was all she heard before she collapsed unconscious into the grass.

Incomprehensible noises began to make their way to Fluttershy’s ears as she felt herself becoming conscious once more. Her eyes slowly opened to see a blue pegasus with rainbow-colored hair looking down at her. Fluttershy quietly grunted, exerting all her effort to get up. Oddly her knees weren’t shaking like they were before, and her hunger and thirst seemed to be less of an issue. “Fluttershy, you’re awake! Finally,” the pegasus said excitedly, but cool. “Sorry for bumping into you earlier, I must’ve been going faster than I thought and wasn’t paying attention.” The pegasus embraced Fluttershy in a tight hug before backing off once more. “You have no idea how worried about you we were.”

“It’s... quite alright,” she whispered, overwhelmed by the pegasus’s presence. “If you would excuse me, I need to get to get to Petalburg Town.”

The pegasus looked at her with a skewed look, “Fluttershy, are you alright? You sound kinda... off.”

“Oh, she did that to me when I found her. I think she’s just playing a game or something.” Pinkie assured the pegasus.

“I-I’m not playing a game!” Fluttershy tried to yell, wings opened, but shrunk back and folded them, “Just say you want to fight so you can leave me alone afterwards.” she squeaked, continuing to try shaking her followers.  “My name isn’t Fluttershy. It’s May...”

The pegasus groaned. “Alright fine, you aren’t Fluttershy. I’ll let you play your game,” she said, trotting closer. “My name’s Rainbow Dash, how are you?” She groaned even louder, “Man, why am I even doing this?”

Fluttershy stepped back into a defensive position. Rainbow Dash. The name stuck out to her, more so than Pinkie Pie’s did. Wait, ‘Rainbow Dash’? Where have I heard that name before...

— She lifted both of her hooves to her face, trying to recall the pony’s name. Oh my, how could I have forgotten her name? She started to shake, all the stress of the day’s events rushing through her. Did I really forget her name? No, it’s just the stress. What would Rainbow Dash do?

She let out a small scream. Her head felt like it split into two as visions, voices and events furiously flashed through her head. She saw a city in the clouds, clouds that could be moved by colorful pegasi.

“Fluttershy? Are you okay?”

She could feel herself falling from the sky into a pack of butterflies. The explosion of the Sonic Rainboom blasted her ear drums, and the joy of gaining her cutie mark filled her heart with glee.

“Pinkie, help me over here. She just collapsed... and she’s not breathing!”

She saw Ponyville, her cottage where the sick animals she cared for laid to rest in their beds. The day she opened up to Twilight, facing down the Manticore and the black mare named Nightmare Moon, it all filled her vision as clear as day. Tears formed in her eyes as she ducked her head into her chest.

“Wake up! We didn’t come all the way here for you to quit on us!”

She could feel her bunny, Angel, thumping his foot into her leg, her stare down with a giant dragon on a mountaintop, Princess Celestia’s phoenix Philomena turning to ash in her hands. Everything. Tears burned down her cheeks as she let out one final scream. Her mind finally went blank, causing her vision to fade to black.

Fluttershy awoke out of breath, but her mind finally stabilized. She violently shook her head and forced her eyes open. Her breath sharply stopped as the world around her seemed brighter, sounds coming to her clearer and crisper. Slowly, her breathing stabilized as well as a smile licked across her face. She looked to Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie who were looking at each other with with great relief. “Sorry for scaring you, I’ve... had a rough few days.”

“A-are you alright, Fluttershy? Do you recognize me?” Rainbow Dash asked, her wings open in a defensive position.

“Oh yes, both you and Pinkie Pie,” Fluttershy responded as she shuffled her forehoof, yet perked her ears up.

“So... why’d you go all crazy on us? Missed us too much already?” Rainbow Dash asked, lightly patting Fluttershy’s back, causing a small “Ow!” to escape the fragile pegasus’s mouth. “Come on, we’ll help you with whatever you were doing. We aren’t too far off from... Pendalfurg I think?” She caught her mistake and groaned. “Well, whatever. Tell us, what happened back there?”

Fluttershy lowered her head, going over everything that happened. Two strings of memories fought for attention in her mind, but she was able to separate the two even with her fading energy. “I’ll talk about it after I get some food, I’m so hungry,” she said, looking around for where Alerce went off to. Alerce popped his head out from the tall grass and ran as fast as he could over to Fluttershy. He stopped, and looked at the two other ponies, smiling. “I guess he likes you two.”

“Great, now we don’t have to introduce ourselves!” Pinkie Pie responded gleefully and started hopping down the path to Petalburg.

“So... what’s with the turtle? I mean, I wouldn’t put it past you to immediately start talking to animals when you got here.” Rainbow Dash joked, glancing over at Alerce.

“He’s... a turtwig, I guess,” Fluttershy explained. “At least that’s what those other ponies I passed called him. I never actually got a chance to check.” They continued on with Petalburg Town drawing ever closer. They saw red rooftops in the distance and faint silhouettes of ponies with pokémon trotting around and conversing with one another. Pinkie Pie had already arrived at the edge of town, seemingly looking around for someplace to eat some food. The rest of the trip was rather quiet, neither pony wanting to waste Fluttershy’s breath before she even got into town.

Details of the town showed themselves to Fluttershy, her wobbly legs working frantically to get her in. “Over here! I found something!” Pinkie Pie shouted, hopping slowly towards a building the middle of town. After a few more yards, the trail came to a stop, merging into the dirt roads of the town.

“We’re coming Pinkie Pie, just hold on!” Rainbow Dash yelled, continuing to watch over Fluttershy. “Almost there, just a little more.”

Fluttershy took her first step into Petalburg relieved, “Thanks Rainbow—” She was cut off by a loud ringing coming from behind her. She jumped in shock with Alerce following suit and looked behind her, seeing nothing but her backpack. “What’s going on? Is that sound coming from my backpack?”

“Well, I don’t have anything on me that would make noise, so it must be from you,” Rainbow responded, beginning to rummage through Fluttershy’s bag. She grabbed the Pokédex with her teeth and felt it vibrating. “I ‘hink ‘his ih’ id’” she said, the flat casing still in her mouth. She set it down and studied it, the small blue light on the Pokédex’s side blinking.

“I think you open it like this,” Fluttershy said as she pushed the button near the top of the device, causing the front flap to flip open. It revealed a small screen and set of speakers. The beeping stopped before a strange, monotone voice began to relay from it.

[[ TRAINER ( 78342 - MA...FLUTTER...HY... ), YOU HAVE A GYM FIGHT AT ( PETALBURG GYM ) SCHEDULED FOR ( 9:30 PM ) ( TONIGHT ). REMINDER: FAILURE TO SHOW UP AT YOUR SCHEDULED TIME IS GROUNDS FOR DISQUALIFICATION IN THE HOENN LEAGUE AND YOU MUST WAIT THREE DAYS TO APPEAL YOUR CASE. ]]

The Pokédex beeped once more and the message stopped. Both of the pegasi looked at each other confused. “Wait, is this what that fighting thing was all about?” Rainbow asked, breaking the silence

“A league...? Is it a league for fighting pokémon?” Fluttershy wondered, shuddering to think about the prospect.

“That sounds... so awesome!” Rainbow yelled out, shocking Fluttershy, “A whole competitive league set up with automated messages when entering towns? I have to come watch this.”

“Can we just get some food please?” Fluttershy demanded, trying to break Rainbow’s train of thought.

“Oh, right,” Rainbow said. They continued on in silence to the building Pinkie was waiting by. A small twinge of pain coursed through Fluttershy’s head. She ran through the memories of the girl thoroughly, but couldn’t find an answer as to why the pain suddenly reemerged. She decided to let it go and tried not to pay any attention to anything until she had something more filling than apple slices and water. “By the way, you might want to clean up a bit first. When you were knocked out we tried carrying you back to town, but we kinda dragged you a bit.”

Fluttershy ignored the comment and caught up to Pinkie Pie. They’re both naked and I’m covered in dirt... I guess. She looked down at her torso, seeing small grass stains and dirt patches covering her orange vest. Well, I won’t be out of place with them at least. The building Pinkie was waiting by was a red roofed building like all the others, but had an outside terrace with iron-lace tables and chairs with small cushions. Many a pony were dining on exotic fruits and grains, neither of them the Equestrians had ever seen.

A stallion exited the building and cleared his throat, grabbing the attention of the three. He looked over them with a confused sneer. He gave out a slight sigh before approaching the three. “Are you madams waiting for a table? We have no wait time this afternoon.”

“Oh, great.” Fluttershy said jubilantly and trotted to the closest empty table to sit down. “How about here... if that’s fine with you girls,” she called, hoping that they wouldn’t object.

Looks fine,” Rainbow commented, flying over to sit next to her friend. Pinkie Pie followed suit. “So... do you have any money in that bag you’ve got there?”

Fluttershy paused for a moment, then quickly rummaged through her bag. Alerce stepped off, letting her check every nook and cranny. Before long, she stumbled upon a small bag that jangled with the sound of metal. “This must be it. I knew there would be some in here.” She took the bag and placed it on the table, untwisting the tie to get it open. Alerce climbed back on top of the bag and waited patiently for his food.

“So who gave you that anyway?” Rainbow pried as the waiter brought the three menus.

“A mare who is, I guess, supposed to be my mother,” Fluttershy said, scanning the menu. “I woke up in the back of a moving truck and she started talking to me as if I were her daughter.”

“Ooo, they have a ‘Sitrus Berry Medley’. That sounds tasty,” Pinkie spouted, then looked up at the two pegasus. “Oh, were you talking about your trip here? Keep talking, I want to hear more!”

“That does sound pretty good,” Fluttershy responded. “Anyway, she brought me into the house that the truck was parked in front of. Initially I refused, but she dragged me in. I really think that ponies believe me to be this ‘May’ girl.” She continued browsing as Rainbow and Pinkie listened attentively. “Every time I did something that my new memories were telling me I shouldn’t do I always felt a slight pain in my head. It started off small, but gradually became worse, especially when I refused to fight that colt.”

Rainbow Dash interrupted, “Wait, a colt? Why would he want to fight you?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure. Maybe it has something to do with the league my device talked about earlier.” Glasses of water were delivered to their table. Fluttershy stirred around the ice in the glass as she continued, “Also he didn’t want to fight me, but Alerce, whom I got from the colt’s father. He seemed ready to fight, but I just couldn’t. During the middle of that crisis was when Twilight contacted me. That’s probably why I sounded like I was in danger.”

“Wait, your turtle was ready to fight? Like... without being provoked?” Rainbow asked, sipping her water.

“Maybe that’s how they play; they must love roughhousing,” Pinkie added.

Fluttershy looked down at Alerce, thinking back to last night, “Maybe.” She turned her attention back to Pinkie and Rainbow. “When did you two get here?”

“Well, Twilight was asleep for few days before she woke up and sent us here,” Pinkie said, looking around trying to find the waiter.

“Is she okay?”

“Oh yeah. She was just tired, that’s all. Anyway, we arrived this morning. Dashie wasn’t up right away, so—”

If they both arrived this morning, maybe... No, I don’t know anything about this world yet. It’s just a coincidence, that’s all, Fluttershy thought, trying to piece together the day’s events. She looked at them both, then glanced down at Alerce. “You know Alerce here? He was a gecko yesterday.”

Rainbow Dash glanced at Fluttershy with a hint of skepticism as Pinkie set down her menu, looking at Fluttershy with a sense of wonder. “That can’t happen, you know that.” Rainbow said matter-of-factly.

The waiter approached the table, interrupting the three’s talk and took their orders. The earth pony scribbled down their requests and left, leaving the three to continue. The humidity had dropped as the sun began arcing down towards the horizon. “It’s true! When I woke up this morning, Alerce had become a turtle. It was surprising to say the least.” She sipped some more of her water and continued, “Anyway, what’s happening in Ponyville? Why did you risk coming to come get me?” She couldn’t imagine why it took her so long to ask.

“Originally it was just Rainbow Dash who volunteered to get sent by Twilight, saying something like, ‘I don’t want to leave my bestest friend behind!’” Pinkie opened with a mocking tone.

“Hey!” Rainbow shouted, staring at Pinkie.

Pinkie giggled, then continued, “Sorry, Rainbow. Anyway, Twilight said that she’s seen the book at Canterlot’s library so the rest of the girls are going to go there and find the missing spell pages.”

Fluttershy covered her mouth and squeaked a little at the news. “Twilight doesn’t have the spell to bring us back? W-We’re stuck here until she finds it?”

“Don’t worry,” Rainbow said, kicking her legs up onto the table. “I’m sure she’ll find it in no time. Why don’t we just relax while we’re here and just enjoy ourselves.”

“Yes, but my animals...”

“Yeah, it’ll be fun. Maybe we can see how that league thing goes,” Pinkie interrupted, eyeing the waiter coming with plates full of food. She sharply gasped, “The food’s here, let’s dig in!” The waiter rolled his eyes and sighed at Pinkie’s enthusiasm as he set the plates down in front of them. Fluttershy had never seen food like this before, a normal meal in Ponyville seemed plain in comparison. The salad was filled with bright yellow, red, blue and orange fruits of all different shapes. The lettuce, colored a crisp dark green, was drizzled in what appeared to be a red vinaigrette with multitude of visible herbs and spices. Fluttershy immediately started digging into it, trying to savor every bite. With her ravenous hunger depleting, she had nearly forgot about Alerce whose small meal was still on the table.

“Oh, I’m sorry Alerce,” Fluttershy apologized softly, grabbing the plate and setting it on the ground near the hungry turtwig. The instant the plate touched the ground Alerce started chowing down. Fluttershy smiled and rose up to finish her meal, taking in the little amount of solace she could find before the moon rose on her inevitable fight.

With a groan, Twilight blocked the light that was shining in her eyes with her hoof and sat up. She had been brought to her bed again she noticed before lifting off her bedsheets. She opened her eyes and checked the mirror. Her hair was a mess, but she expected that. Using her horn, she magically grabbed her hairbrush and started her morning routine. Her left ear perked up from murmurs coming from downstairs. With striking efficiency, she finished her routine and slowly trotted downstairs, still groggy from her sleep.

She looked around the library’s main room and saw Applejack, Rarity and Spike talking amongst themselves. Owloysius, her owl, was resting on his perch near the window sleeping from a long night’s patrol of the home. Applejack looked up at Twilight and called out, “Look who’s finally awake.”

“Hey girls. Hi, Spike. How long was I out? Did everything go alright?”

“You were only out for the night. Oh, and it went perfectly, darling,” Rarity answered, flipping her mane. “I must say the light show was much better inside than in my boutique.”

Twilight looked at the three, puzzled. “Where’s Pinkie? Is she back at Sugarcube Corner?”

Rarity and Applejack looked at each other, worried. “Uh, Twi’, Pinkie was whisked off with Rainbow.”

“What!?” Twilight’s eyes shrunk as shock and terror stuck her, “Oh no no no, this is bad!” She began to pace. “I don’t even know if the spell I used was the right deviation, and it I only know it to work on one pony. What if... What if sending two over screws everything up? I might’ve killed my two friends...” Twilight buried her head in her hooves, trying to go over everything in her head again. “Why did I even do this?”

“Well, Rainbow’s confidence rubs off quite easily. Don’t worry about it Twi’, I’m sure with Rainbow’s stubbornness they’ll find a way to survive. Besides, we need you to be at your best when we go to find that spell,” Applejack assured her.

Twilight brought her head back up, “You’re right. I need to write to Princess Celestia about getting into the royal archives.” She felt her stomach rumble as she spoke. “Ugh, I need to get some food before we plan anything.”

        

“I’ve got you covered sugar cube,” Applejack proudly stated, trotting to a bushel full of apples near Twilight’s reading stand and tossed some over to Twilight.

“Thanks, Applejack,” Twilight said, biting down on one of the large red apples. “Alright, I need to write a letter to the princess to request access to the royal library. In the mean time, I need you two I’d get at least enough supplies for a day’s trip. I’ll meet you outside near the main road out of town when I’m ready.”

“You got it Twi,’” Applejack said, making her way out of the library and back to her home in Sweet Apple Acres.

“I’ll be sure to pack for everything,” Rarity stated, walking out the door.

“Make sure you don’t over pack!” Twilight yelled, just getting her message out before she heard the loud thud of a wooden door closing. She sighed and turned to Spike who had already taken out an empty scroll and quill to relay her message. “Good, now take a note,” Spike started writing out her message.

Dear Princess Celestia,

I’m writing to you to request access to the Royal Archives in Canterlot. My studies have brought me to a dead end and the edition of the book I have been using is incomplete. This study is of utmost importance and it is imperative that I finish my research on this spell as quickly as possible. My friends’ safety hinges on the information in the complete copies of Professor Arcan Grizwald’s texts, and I do not wish to endanger their livelihoods.

I urgently await your answer.

Your faithful student,

Twilight Sparkle.

With that, Spike rolled up the scroll and blew fire on it, turning it into a purple mist that flew out through the open window. Twilight went back upstairs and grabbed pair of saddle bags with a purple six-pointed star stitched to its front and slipped it on.

After getting the strap snug, she met up again with Spike who was holding another scroll. “She responded really quickly this time,” Spike said, preparing to read it. “My faithful student Twilight, of course you can use the royal library, you are my student after all. Make sure to see me once you arrive.” Spike stopped, “She doesn’t sound too worried to me.”

“You know the Princess,” Twilight said with a smile as she stuffed apples, small flasks of water and some blankets into her bags. “She’s probably just confident enough in my abilities and trusts I’ll get things taken care of.” With her bags back, she turned to Spike, “Spike, could you take care of Fluttershy’s animals with Mrs. Cake and the Crusaders while we’re away?”

        

“You know what happened last time, Twilight,” Spike returned before shrugging his shoulders. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt.”

“Great! Make sure to lock up when you leave,” Twilight reminded him, opening the the front door. “I shouldn’t be gone for more than two days. If anything does happen, I’ll write you a letter, alright?”

“Good luck!” Spike yelled out as Twilight left the house. She heard a small hoot and an apology coming from inside. She laughed and headed towards the eastern path out of town. The sky was covered with a think overcast and a cool wind pierced Twilight’s coat. She sat and waited patiently for the other two to arrive. Taking a pink and white striped scarf out from her bag and wrapping it around her neck, she readied herself for the three’s journey to Canterlot.

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<==  Chapter 2  ||  Chapter 4  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

4

Royal Archives

I can see Canterlot’s main gates from here,” Twilight called out. The city was perched on the edge of a mountain cliff with waterfalls above, creating a natural moat that spilled down to the land below. Ivory towers rose above the main wall with golden spires at their peaks. Lush gardens garnered the outer walls with evergreens scattered throughout. The massive city was awe inspiring, but it was nothing new to Twilight. One doesn’t forget their home so easily. The sun shone brightly and a warm wind complimented the inviting, yet regal stature of the capitol.

“I’ve never seen the city in daylight this close before,” Rarity said, taking one last sip of her water. “The way the sun glistens throughout. It’s simply marvelous!”

“It definitely woke you up in the morning, that’s for sure,” Twilight joked, giving Rarity and Applejack a small chuckle as they approached the draw bridge. The bridge was as crowded as Twilight remembered. There were always ponies coming in and out of the city: merchants with supplies to sell in stores and the streets, dignitaries with audiences with the royal sisters, and visitors staring in awe as one does in the celestial sisters’ city. On the drawbridge they could see almost the whole of Equestria. The entire westward expansion was drenched in golden light as the sun descended towards the horizon.

“Watch out Twi’!” Applejack shouted, knocking Twilight out from her thoughts as she ran into the back of a colt. He was helping to move a crop of baked goods into Canterlot. She stepped back and shook her head, tripping over her own hooves in the process.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Twilight said, rubbing her forehead. The colt snorted and turned away, continuing on with his haul. It had been a while since Twilight was in such a crowded area, and her lack of attention showed. She sighed and continued walking, trying to slink away from embarrassment.

“Why the nerve of that guy,” Applejack huffed. “Are you alright Twi’?”

“Yeah, I just lost my focus for a second,” Twilight responded, seeing the interior of the city. The inside was much bigger than the outside suggested. In fact, it was much larger. Large white buildings scattered across the expanse of land, surrounded by massive parks with ponds and deciduous trees that provided much needed contrast to the crowded area surrounding the castle. Shops and houses crammed along the street towards the alicorns’ palace. Everything in Equestria seemed to be available for purchase: produce, magic spell books, saddlebags, the fanciest jewelery a pony could buy, dresses and other practical clothing, housewares. Twilight looked over fondly at the old book store on an intersection down the road, ignoring the rest of the crowded shops.

“So where are we going first? Maybe shop for a few things on our way to the castle?” Rarity asked. “I want to see what the designers up here are up to... see if it can spark a few ideas.”

“Later,” Twilight said, turning right off the main road, heading away from the downtown area of the city.

“Wait, where are you going?” Rarity wondered, trotting quicker to catch up.

“Yeah, weren’t we supposed to go see Celestia?” Applejack prodded.

Twilight turned her head back and stopped, making sure this time that she wouldn’t run into another pony. “Yeah, but I want to stop at my old place beforehand. The library back at Ponyville doesn’t have quite as many books as the one I used to use, so I want to check it before seeing the princess.”

“Well we never did get to see your old place when we went to the gala,” Applejack thought aloud. “Oh what the hay, let’s go.” Twilight nodded and galloped down the stone road with Applejack and Rarity following close behind.

Past parks and ponds, Twilight’s old home towered off the stone road. A spiral staircase wrapped around the tower to the massive main room with its enormous glass outer wall. It was just as Twilight had remembered it. She stepped off the road and made her way up the staircase, oblivious to the lack of hooves clopping behind her. Magically, one of her saddlebags opened and Twilight dug around for her old key. After poking around, she found it, grabbed it and opened the back door. The elegance of the blue interior provided a massive contrast to the down to earth feel of Twilight’s home in Ponyville. It was a refreshing change. She looked back to see the other girls, but neither had followed her in. Twilight made her way down to find Rarity and Applejack standing at the front of the house, conversing. “What are you girls doing? Come on in.”

“Rarity and I were just talkin’, and,” Applejack started. “Is this really your old place? I mean, it looks a little... pricey.”

Twilight stood dumbfounded. She thought for a moment and realized the problem. “Oh, well it does look a little expensive but that is the norm here,” Twilight assured Applejack. “I’m still paying on the rent during my stay in Ponyville.”

Applejack blinked, “Why, how do you get the money to pay for... that?”

Rarity broke off from the group and trotted up the stairs, “You two can argue about this all day, but I’m going to go inside. If this is normal for Canterlot, the interior must extravagant.” She turned the corner and escaped from Twilight’s view.

Twilight turned back to Applejack who looked like she was crunching numbers in her head. “Well, I get some government grants for my research which helps to pay for my old place,” Twilight explained, wanting to end this so she could commence her search. “Never mind that, I need to find my older copies of Grizwald’s books.” She galloped back up to the library. “Are you coming?” Applejack soon followed. They entered to the sight of Rarity inspecting every nook and cranny of the building. Twilight decided to ignore her musings and began her search.

The library glowed with the warm purple light of Twilight’s magic as books flew off the shelves and floated around her. One by one, she searched the spell books. It had been a while since she had been at her old home, and the layout of the library back in Ponyville was conflicting with her old collection’s whereabouts. Applejack and Rarity ducked and weaved through the volley of texts until they all suddenly dropped to the ground. “Found it!” Twilight exclaimed, beginning to skim through the pages.

“That was rather quick.” Rarity said, dusting herself off.

“I know it’s been I while since I’ve been here, but I don’t forget things that easily,” Twilight responded, digging through Arcane Alchemy and Dubious Divination. She chuckled as she browsed through, just now remembering that Grizwald’s texts had a famous humorous side to them. Before she knew it, Twilight reached the end of the book. The counter-spell was nowhere to be found. “Argh! How is it not in here? This is the latest copy of the book!” Twilight yelled, slamming her head into the pages in frustration.

“I’m sure the castle has the original edition. No other place would.” Rarity insisted.

Sighing, Twilight took her head out of the book and closed it. “I know,” Twilight said apprehensively. “To be honest I’ve never been in the royal archives. Everyone who’s seen it said it’s absolutely massive. It could take us days just to find even one of Grizwald’s texts.” She set all the books back on the shelf and looked through her bag, grabbing a gold card with silver text.

“Well, there’s no use stayin’ here then,” Applejack stated, heading out the door.

“Wait Applejack!” Twilight hollered, stopping Applejack in her tracks. “You can’t just walk in. You’d need an audience with the princess.” She stood up and walked over to the girls. “This card will let us in. They can’t say no to the princess’s own prized student.” With that, she put the card back into her bag and headed out the door, hoping that the rumors of the archive’s size were exaggerated at the least.

The three galloped back the way they came, trying to make up for lost ground. Their hooves could be heard from the main street, causing onlookers to take notice. Rarity and Applejack followed suit and merged in with the massive crowd of unicorns and earth ponies. Twilight made sure to keep her eyes ahead of her. All she could think about was what could be lurking in the archives. The amount of knowledge it could contain only excited her, but what kind of ancient secrets and tomes would there be that no pony was to see? The more she thought about it, the crazier her predictions became.

“So, what do you reckon is in that archive anyway?” Applejack asked, only adding to Twilight’s train of thought.

“Well every time I’ve been in the castle and asked about it I’ve only told about how large and dark it is. Apparently, every book that’s ever been written is in there. I don’t quite believe them, but I’ve never seen it myself so there’s no way for me to really know,” Twilight explained. Slowly, but surely, they made their way through the massive crowd until the castle came squarely into view. Twilight noticed Rarity eying the glass fronts of stores and boutiques, making mental notes of other designers’ techniques and designs. She was sure that once all of her friends returned to Ponyville she wouldn't see Rarity for an entire week; she chuckled a little just thinking about it.

The crown jewel of the city, the celestial sisters’ castle, stood near the edge of town just looking over the mountain. Celestia’s afternoon sun made the outer walls glisten, contrasting with the overcast that still loomed over Ponyville. Twilight and the others turned down to the smooth-stone path whose sides were lined with perfectly groomed, richly leaved trees.

“Next in line, please,” a guard announced, letting a group of stallions with briefcases enter the crimson gates. The two guards stood by, watching the three come closer. They wore gilded armor with galea helmets covering their manes. The gray unicorn stepped forward as Twilight approached with her identification card hovering near her head. With a sparkle of recognition, the stoic guard broke out into a smile.

“Twilight! Ahem..., Miss Sparkle. You’re back so soon from Ponyville?”

“I came with urgent business under Princess Celestia’s permissions. I have studying I have to conduct in the royal archives, and my two friends here are helping me.” She placed the card away in her bag and looked over at Rarity and Applejack.

“The archives, huh? You must be moving up in the world!” the unicorn joked as the white pegasus still next to the door rolled his eyes. “The princess is entertaining guests from Trottingham, so she won’t be able to seen for the next few days. They’re dealing with a very important matter, and has asked that no pony disturb her.”

“Sounds urgent.”

“Another guard should be waiting for you when you get inside to escort to you to the archives. Good luck, Twilight.”

“Thank you, sirs,” Twilight said, motioning her to go through the towering, wooden doors. The interior still held the class and elegance that it had during the gala; the walls were painted a pastel purple with golden trimmings, thick red carpet draped across the floor with a large symbol of the sun in the middle of the crossroad. The stairs in front of Twilight was graced with stained-glass windows of the day and night cycles which cast their colored light on the black and white checkered floor. Applejack and Rarity were too busy during the night of the gala to truly look at the castle, but they were taking their opportunity now. Although they had just seen ponies walk into the castle, the main hall was completely empty save themselves.

A royal guard came out from under large archway and called out to the girls, “Are you Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight looked over, eying the unicorn guard, “Yes, I am.”

“The princess told me of your arrival and sent me to escort you to the archives. The princess is busy with other matters so a casual visit will not be possible.” He motioned them over and trotted down a long hallway opposite of the throne room. The three made their way to the guard, traveling to a section of the castle none of them had ever been. It seemed to go on forever; neither of the three ponies said a word as the guard continued on his route. Twilight bit her lower lip, anxiously waiting for them to arrive at the end of the hall.

After a few more minutes of trotting, the guard stopped in front of an archway on the side of the hallway. Twilight gained speed to see what the guard was doing. He looked over at the three mares, opened the stained wooden doors and waited for them to arrive. “The archives are down this staircase. It’s a long way down, so please watch your step.”

Twilight caught up and stared into the doorway, “Uh, did you say it’s... down?” The hallway sloped down at what looked like the angle of the cliff face for a few hundred feet under the city. At the end of the hallway she saw the stairs curve clockwise down into the mountain. She couldn’t fathom how far down the staircase might go down into the rock, but she would soon find out. She looked back at the guard who simply stared back at her with his continued stoic pose. After taking a deep breath she motioned her friends over started her way down the hallway. When they finally made their pace, she heard the door close behind them, causing her to turn her head back. She closed her eyes, took another deep breath and continued.

Step by step, they descended into the mountain, traveling down countless flights of red-carpeted stairs. Each flight was separated with a small track of flat land to make sure one didn’t fall down several thousand stairs without pause. Twilight panted. It was the most physical exercise that she had had in a long time, and the emotional stress of her three friends’ situation didn’t help her in the least. She opened up her water and took a large gulp. Rarity was fairing as well as Twilight, while Applejack kept a swift pace with no sign of exhaustion. “How are you girls holding up?” Twilight asked, closing her water bottle and storing it.

“I’m fine. Nothin’ these legs can’t handle,” Applejack stated.

“I’m a little tired and sweaty,” Rarity said with a disgusted tone. “Do you have any idea how much further we have to go? Not only that, but I don’t want to know what it’s going to be like to have to go all the way back up.”

Twilight hadn’t thought about the trip back up, but she was too eager to see what was in the archives to care. The more she thought about it, the less she noticed the painted walls being replaced with stone and the red carpet’s immediate, torn stop. The lights still shone like the ones near the top, but it began to appear ominous. The stairwell wasn’t finished. After what felt like hours, Twilight saw two large wooden doors ahead of her. They towered over them, being at least twelve feet high. She could feel her hooves shake in anticipation. “This is it.”

“Hopefully it isn’t too large,” Rarity said, staring at the behemoth doors. “For all we know we could be down here for days.”

“‘It’s a good thing I brought enough food for y’all.” Applejack replied, comforting Rarity just a little.

“Well, here we go.” Twilight said, pushing one of the doors open. It was much heavier than she thought. She tensed every muscle in her body and threw all her weight into opening it. It ground to a halt and was open enough for the three to fit through. “Can someone find a light switch or anything?” she asked as she entered the room. It was a nearly black inside the circular room with torches illuminating the perimeter near the twelve-story high ceiling. Bookshelves lined the outside walls with a maze of them leading to the center of the room on the floor. Twilight couldn’t make out what the floor was made from, but she felt it was stone. Rarity was right, she thought, she could easily be lost in the massive cylindrical library.

“What do you reckon we do, Twi?” Applejack asked, still trying to make out the size of the room.

“Well we could split up and cover more ground, or stay together,” Twilight started. “I’m sure if one of us finds something we can yell loud enough for each other to hear.”

“Sounds fine by me,” Rarity said as she headed off to the left. “If I find anything I’ll make sure to say something right away. It is ‘Grizwald’ that we’re looking for, correct?”

“Yeah,” Twilight confirmed then looked over to Applejack. “You take the right and I’ll head to the center.”

“Can do!” Applejack responded then headed off, leaving Twilight by herself.

Twilight took a deep breath and trotted forward into the maze of bookshelves. There were so many books, most without labels or in languages she had never seen. She simply browsed through the mass of book spines, trying to find a book she was able to understand. After thirty bookshelves, she stopped to think about how to tackle this predicament. She was gaining quite a bit of ground, but almost every book was incomprehensible. What did I get myself into? she thought as her enthusiasm dropped after every useless bookshelf. She closed her eyes to think, but was interrupted by a small noise. It sounded like somepony breathing. Twilight’s breath became quicker as she tip-hooved around the shelves to investigate. She poked her head out from a shelf and saw the silhouette of a pony, head down into an open book. There was a mountain of books on the sides of the desk obscuring her view of her culprit. Wait, who could that be? Who else would have access to the archives? she thought, inching closer the pony.

The candles on the desk showed the pony to be a unicorn with a blue coat and a dark blue, flowing mane. A dark blue chest-piece covered its chest. She could only see details on the unicorn’s head. With caution she stopped her approach, wondering what to do next. “Excuse me?” Twilight called out, startling the pony out of her sleep. She saw the pony stretch with a silhouette of a wing covering its face for a short second, then folding back in. Twilight swore she was seeing things as the pony looked over to her, its teal eyes staring back at her. “Umm, could you help me find something in here? I’ve never been in the archives before,” she said, nervously laughing a little as she spat it out.

The pony sat up and trotted towards Twilight, spreading her wings. Twilight stepped back, intimidated by the sight. She hadn’t seen anything unusual when she saw it the first time; the pony was an alicorn. She could still make out little of the pony as it approached, the light still behind it. It stopped and folded its wings back, its long shadow casting itself on Twilight. “You are the Element of Magic, are you not?” it asked. Twilight swore she had heard the pony’s voice somewhere but couldn’t quite place it.

“Um, yes. Yes I am,” Twilight responded, not knowing where the pony was going with this. “How do you know who I am?”

“I’m sorry, I seem to always forget to properly introduce myself,” it said, her long azure horn glowing and illuminating the archive. Twilight blocked out the light with her hoof and slowly lowered it to see the alicorn in her full regal majesty. “I am Princess Luna, bringer of the night. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to introduce myself to you in the old castle.” She took a step back in defense. “Please forgive my actions on that night, I wish you no harm.” Her voice had a hint of despair as she retracted from her formal speech.

Twilight took a step back, confused, “Hurt you? Why would I—” she stopped to remember what happened the last time they met. “Of course I won’t hurt you, you’re Princess Celestia’s sister. My name is Twilight Sparkle. I’m glad to finally meet you.”

“Twilight...” Luna started. “I’ve heard much about you from Celess. She often shows me the letters you send her about your studies. They’re very interesting,” she said, pacing.

“She shows you those?” Twilight gasped, her face flush red from embarrassment. “What are you doing down here, don’t you have to raise the moon soon?”

Luna turned and closed all her books with her magic. “I always come down here. Ever since it was built I came down when I was awake so I could study. I couldn’t handle the voices I heard when sitting on the throne,” she sighed, continuing to clean.

“Voices?” Twilight interrupted, intrigued by Luna’s story.

“Yes. When Celess and I sit on the throne we can hear the voices of our subjects in Equestria. The voices I heard... they were never very pleasant.”

“Oh,” Twilight muttered, trying not to upset the alicorn. “Since you know your way around the archives, could you help me find a certain spell? It’s very important that I find this right away.”

“Do you know who crafted it?” Luna asked, trotting back over to Twilight.

“It’s a spell from Arcan Grizwald. Have you heard of him before?”

Luna lightly laughed, “I’m very aware of Professor Grizwald’s work. In fact the first offering Celess and I got as rulers was one of his texts. During my reign before I was banished, I tried to use a spell that would make flowers grow in moonlight. What resulted was the destruction of the entire eastern half of the castle.”

Twilight couldn’t help but laugh at Luna’s silly tale, “So, even you had deviations occur? I thought only inexperienced magic users had that happen to them.”

“Oh no, Grizwald’s spells are the most intricate spells known to ponykind. Even the most powerful unicorn would have problems with his spells,” Luna explained, trotting into the hallway. “Come, I’ll see which of his books I can find.” The two made their way down the path Twilight took to get in. Luna was able to decipher all the texts’ names for Twilight, making her feel a little better about browsing the selection. It was ghastly quiet in the room with only the sound of hooves hitting stone and the flicker of flames could be heard. “Well none of them seem to be here,” Luna said, looking over to Twilight. “They’re probably along the inner wall. Knowing how old they are they shouldn’t be up too high.”

As they left the maze, Twilight couldn’t keep herself as her curiosity got the best of her, “So Princess, could I ask you... something personal?”

Luna stopped to look over to Twilight, “Yes, what is it?” Twilight noticed her trying to regain her proper tone of voice.

“Well,” Twilight started. She had no idea how the princess would react to this question. She took a few deep breaths and continued. “Is... is what the history books say about your fight with Princess Celestia accurate?”

Luna looked down ashamed. Twilight took a step back, still wary about how the princess was going to act. “Yes, technically,” she finally said, breaking the tension around the two. “I just want to say that I was never jealous of my sister’s abilities or work, only the constant ill-gotten praise she received. I was angry at the rest of my subjects, and I still am.” Luna started trotting again.

Twilight could only watch as the armor-clad alicorn started to ramble. “My sister was always the one who loved to be in the spotlight. She was a ponies’ pony. The Summer Sun Celebration was just her way of going out and seeing Equestria. Every year, I would make my way to my chambers to sleep through the day, and I would hear ponies celebrating that the night was over. I would hear fillies cry at night because they couldn’t play outside since the night was ‘too scary’—”

Twilight started to sweat, becoming very uncomfortable around the princess, but her curiosity was peaked. “I never needed any praise for raising the moon. I never wanted that much attention. I know ponies need sleep, but it was their words that slayed me. Every winter solstice I would put my soul and everything I could into the night sky: a bright moon, a multitude of stars, the Milky Way was visible as well as the aurora borealis. I sat at the throne and heard nothing. They only cried about their lament that winter had come and the nights were too cold. They only wanted my sister’s sun. Nothing I did ever made them happy—”

The books on the shelves started to rumble, causing Twilight to become more nervous and jumpy. “Even when I was banished they wouldn’t stop. They called me a demon and mocked me from the land I called home. They then had the nerve to completely forget about me and treat me as some monster they would use to scare their children into going to sleep. Even so much as to assume I was merely myth. Every time I would begin to forget about what they did I would hear them them again; their hatred of me still haunted me, even on my own moon—” The ground started shaking. In her emotional whirlwind, Luna’s magic began to spiral out of control. “Why!? I gave up everything for them! Why did they hate me so much!?

"Luna! Stop!" Twilight yelled. The room's shaking came to a halt and the princess lowered her head. The last of the teetering books fell to the ground and filled the room with sound of them landing. The library was sick with the sound of silence.

        

"I-I'm sorry," Luna said, the archives now absent of light. "I've just never talked to anypony about this before. I shouldn't have exploded like that."

Twilight got closer, "Do you regret what happened then? I'm so sorry for prying."

Luna lifted her head and looked at Twilight with tears streaming down her cheeks, "I only regret getting my sister involved. She shouldn't have had to defend those ungrateful monsters." After gaining her composure, she trotted to the outer wall and lifted twenty books from the shelves to scan. "It's got to be around here somewhere..." she said to herself, trailing off mid-sentence.

An uncomfortable air around the princess filled the room, causing Twilight to stay a good distance away. She had no idea that Equestria was like how Luna described a thousand years ago, and she hoped that things were better now. She didn't want to fight Luna again, and Luna would be better prepared. Twilight shook off those thoughts. All that mattered with getting Fluttershy and the rest of her friends back home. With that in mind, Twilight took a look at the books Luna had brought out. "Some of these should be in Equestrian. The blue one is one of Grizwald's.”

“Alright, I'll take a look,” Twilight said, feverishly taking control of the book and setting it on the ground. She scanned through the pages as Luna hunted down more copies. Every one of the spells in the text Twilight recognized, it seemed to be a smaller version of the book she had back at her home. She read deeper, hoping to find at least a hint of where the spell could be found, but everything was word-for-word like book she had read already. She closed it and looked up at Luna who had found three other texts.

“So, did you find what you needed?” Luna asked.

“No, it's just a condensed version of the book I have at home,” Twilight responded. "Hope- fully these other ones have something.

“Most of these are older if that helps. I think there's two more around here somewhere." Luna explained, heading off again. Once again, Twilight delved into the texts. There were a few new spells near the end of the books, but most of them were repeats. Even ‘The Completely Complete Essential Spell Book by Professor Arcan S. Grizwald: The Compendium’ held nothing.

Twilight yelled out in frustration. Every other spell in the books had a counter-spell. Even ones as complicated as animal/inanimate object gene splicing had a fix, but not the transportation spell. She opened her bag and had a drink of her water. Twilight was exhausted by the hours that seemed to slip by in the archive. Over to her right she saw Luna coming with an old leather-bound book with frayed and loose pages. Applejack and Rarity were following behind her, talking to each other and Luna.

        

“This is it,” Luna called out, setting the book down in front of Twilight. “This is the book that Celes and I received as a gift when Equestria was remade. It is thousands of years old, so please take good care of it.”

The book was leather bound and quite thick. There were upholstered letters stitched into the cover that spelled out “Spells of Arcan Grizwald”. The pages inside were parchment with both Equestrian writing and a language Twilight had never seen. Many of the spells were the same, but it was the original copy; those spells were bound to be in it. The book started on page seven which stood out to her, but she didn't pay too much attention to it. Each page had calculations and very specific instructions for pose and technique to perform each spell. The illustrations showed something standing on its hind legs to demonstrate. Twilight had never seen anything like it before, but she continued her hunt unabated. After a few hundred pages of spells, the book suddenly stopped. Nothing. “Are you sure this is all you have? I still can’t find anything,” Twilight said, exasperated.

“Really? That’s the book where that spell originally came from.” Luna explained. She started to pace, thinking. “What-” she started, still in thought, “What exactly is the spell you’re looking for?”

“...and it was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever—” Twilight heard Rarity say as Luna cut out her conversation. Rarity perked her ears up to hear what was happening between the other unicorns.

“It’s a spell that sends one outside of the realm of space and time,” Twilight explained. “A deviation happened and my friends were accidentally sent somewhere and I can’t bring them back,” she started to get choked up, the guilt of that night returning to her. “I need the spell to reverse it.”

Luna began pacing. “Oh, that spell. I know that one.” She stopped and lifted the old book and scanned through the pages. She brought her head back with a sneer, “Huh, the preface and back have ripped out.”

What!?” the three exclaimed, staring at each other in disbelief.

With a distraught look Luna flipped through the book again. Twilight bit her lower lip anxiously and turned to Rarity and Applejack, “If those pages were ripped out, what are we going to do?” Her chest suddenly became heavy. “How are we supposed to bring them back now?”

“I don’t know,” Applejack bluntly stated. “That spell has to be somewhere, a copy of it had to have been made at some point.”

Twilight perked up, “That... is possible. The problem is who would have access to that first book and why wouldn’t the copy be in the archives in the first place?” she started to think.

“Hey!” Luna called out. “I have an idea about what happened.” The three turned her heads to see the alicorn digging through an old shelf filled with scrolls. “Somepony had to have come here at some point to steal those pages. I come down here every day, so I would’ve noticed something wrong right away.” She opened the scroll revealing a map and glanced over it. Her eyes widened as she scanned it. “Oh, I know,” Luna said with a small tinge of malice in her voice. “Take a look at this,” she motioned the girls closer.

        

“What is it?” Rarity asked as she approached. “Did you find that spell?”

“No, but I have a pretty good idea where the thieves who took it are from.” She placed her hoof near the northern sea. “See that country? That’s Ventia. It’s quite the distance away from Equestria, but I have a good feeling about my odds.” She moved her hoof to a small dot a little north of the country name, “This city right here is Mistral City. This is where all of Grizwald’s spells came from.”

Twilight was taken back, “Is that why those spells are so hard to do? Is it because they’re not Equestrian?”

“If there’s any other reason for it than just being advanced then ‘yes’,” the princess responded. “Now, Mistral City has some strange properties to it. It’s where space and time converge in this world, and that creates a city filled with different time periods and cultures. Unfortunately it’s filled not too friendly characters.” She looked up at the three with a stern look in her eyes. “It’s known as the ‘City of the Damned’.” Luna took the scroll and rolled it up, placing it in front of Twilight. “If the spells are anywhere, they are in that city. I have a feeling on why they either stole or destroyed ours, but that doesn’t matter. A full copy should be there.”

With a quick snatch, Twilight took the map and examined it. “So, you think we should leave Equestria?” she asked with a nervous tick. She looked over to the girls who both stared back at her with worry in their eyes. “Is it safe? What’s out there? What happens if they don’t have a copy?” She asked, placing the scroll in her bag.

“You should be fine, you have the physical representations of the Elements of Harmony. Those will help you out quite a bit.”

“Actually, we don’t have them.” Rarity interrupted. “As much as I adore it, I haven’t touched it in months.”

“Same,” Applejack joined in. “I reckoned I didn’t need any fancy necklace on this trip.”

“I’m guess you didn’t either?” Luna volleyed over to Twilight who simply shook her head. “Well, I can retrieve them for you; I did help create them after all, in a sense. I don’t know why you wouldn’t carry them around more often, they enhance your special talents in a pinch or high-adrenaline situations.” She stopped. “So, what are you going to do?”

The three looked at each other again, trying to read each others facial expressions. Twilight noticed her friends’ nervous looks which just added to her anxiety.

After a long pause, Luna finally spoke up, “Here, let me make this easier on you.” Her horn started to glow, enveloping the three in a bright white light. “I’ll send you to the guest rooms so you can sleep on it. If you want to go, I will summon your element charms and give you a note on where to go. If you don’t want to go, the pegasi will bring you back to Ponyville.” The light got brighter as Twilight felt her hooves leave the ground. She scrambled to get them back on the floor. “If you do decide to go the guards will bring you to the northern Equestrian border. You have to make the rest of the trip on hoof.”

“Wait, what happens if—” Twilight called out, but she her vision started to blur, startling her. The light became brighter, causing her body to tingle. She looked over to Luna who was simply staring back at her with a thoughtful look on her face.

“Good luck,” the alicorn said as the light fully enveloped Twilight. She could feel her consciousness slipping as she felt her whole body lightly compressed.

A mere moment later, the white light disappeared revealing a red painted room with three beds and large windows that showed the sun still setting over Equestia. They had landed in the guest room. The three stood in silence, trying to let everything that Luna had described sink in. “So, what do you girls think? Should we go? The spell might not even be there,” Twilight asked, starting to pace nervously.

“Do we really have a choice?” Rarity asked, inspecting her new living quarters. “No pony I know of has ever been outside of Equestria so I don’t really know what to expect, but we have to go regardless.”

“It can’t be too different from Equestria.” Applejack said reassuringly. “If we do I just need to make sure Big Mac knows I’ll be away for a while longer. Applebuck season’s coming.”

After a long pause, Twilight spoke up, “Well, if that city is truly where space and time can converge, Luna may be right. There might be no other place where this spell could be.” She thought aloud. “Who knows what that city will be like, we could walk into a door and find Fluttershy for all we know.” With a sigh she stopped and turned to Applejack. “Alright, I still need to write that letter to Spike, so I’ll mention something in there about the Apple family.” Twilight said, taking a quill, ink and parchment from her bag and set up on the nearest flat surface. She began to write:

Dear Spike,

Tomorrow, the girls and I are heading to the country of Ventia in search of the spell we need to bring Fluttershy back. I don’t know when I’ll be back, so please continue to watch over Fluttershy’s cottage and the library. If you can, feed Gummy and tell Mr. and Mrs. Cake that Pinkie is gone. It would really help.

Applejack needs you to tell her family that she’s gone. Apparently, it’s close to Applebuck Season again, so they need that information right away.

Thank you so much for helping at such a short notice. I promise I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Twilight

With her writing supplies neatly put away, she slid the letter under the door for the mail pony to collect then sat in her bed. She was still anxious about her coming travels, but she agreed with her friends. She had no choice but to leave. Twilight looked over at the other girls who were both sound asleep. The room had become dark as the sun fully set, letting the moon rise over the horizon. She slipped into the thick covers and closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep.

Twilight arose with the sun’s rays hitting her square in the face. She rubbed her eyes and looked over to the nightstand; the crown with her six-star purple cutie mark was there with a note. She grabbed the note and read it, noticing instructions on where the chariots would be and when they would depart. Twilight looked over, noticing that Rarity and Applejack were still sound asleep. “Girls, wake up!” Twilight hollered, causing the two to shuffle under their covers. She grabbed the crown from the nightstand, set it in her bag, and opened the set of doors. They were situated at the end of a long hallway that made its way to the main hall, so it wouldn’t take too long to leave. She heard small mutters of the other girls waking up as she went into her bag and grabbed an apple to eat.

“Is it mornin’ already?” Applejack asked, groggy from her sleep.

“Yes it is. I’m going to get some supplies for our trip, you girls meet me where that map says we need to be.” Twilight stated, heading out the door.

“Alright,” Applejack yawned, grabbing her element necklace.

Twilight made her way down the hall and out of the castle. The sun had just rose, making the whole town glow in a pale yellow light. In the courtyard she could see a chariot being set up with several pegasus guards getting strapped in for the flight. She made a mental note of the location and trotted along the main street that was near void of ponies.

Shops were just setting up for the day as Twilight noticed a small shop was set up on a street corner. It was a market store with fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. Twilight looked over the immense amounts of produce, making sure it was cost effective for their trip. She had no idea what kind of food would be on the outside so she didn’t want to take any chances.

After picking up more food than they probably needed, Twilight made her way back to the castle. She saw several dignitaries had already started to bother the guards to enter the castle as she noticed Applejack and Rarity were standing near the chariot, all ready to go. Rarity was already wearing her element proudly. The pegasi were almost finished preparing for the trip as Twilight arrived, setting down the bag of groceries, “This should be enough for a while at least.”

        

“I’m sure if we run out there‘ll be some towns along the road to pick up more.” Applejack said.

“That is if they take bits as currency,” Rarity interrupted. “Personally, I wouldn’t want to eat in a potentially disgusting road town, but if we must I’m willing to make an exception.

“We’re ready to depart, Miss Sparkle,” one of the guards stated, preparing to head to the skies. After rationing the food between themselves, they headed on the chariot. They made sure they were all securely then and took off at an astounding speed. Applejack looked down and gulped.

“I- I’ve never been on a flyin’ chariot before.” Applejack stated nervously.

“It’ll be fine,” Twilight assured her. She knew Applejack wasn’t afraid of heights: she’d walked on clouds before. The prospect of leaving Equestria must have been getting to her. “I’ve been on these many times. It’ll be over before you know it.”

As they left Canterlot, the three could see a large expanse of forest on the earth, covering most of what they could see. Small specks of pony towns spotted the landscape as mountains threatened the carefully placed clouds. On the horizon they could see a large expanse of plains and rivers as narrow roads snaked their way across the ground. Twilight’s breathing became heavy as the altitude's lower density of oxygen started to get to her. She looked down over the edge of the chariot and saw just how fast they were going. Anything she saw just flashed by her and traveled off into the distance. Before they knew, it the chariot began to slow down.

“So, what was that city called that Luna told us about?” she asked, looking over to Twilight.

“I think it was Mistral City,” Twilight responded. “What confused me is what she called it. The ‘city of the damned’. I wonder what that’s about.”

Rarity winced as the chariot started to descend, “Whatever the reason, I would rather not find out why.”

The chariot made its way through the canopy and landed on an earthy forest trail. “We have been instructed to drop you three off here at the northern border. If you would exit off the back we can make our way back to the castle,” one of the guards explained. The three hopped off, Rarity trying to shake a lose clod of dirt off of her hoof. The pegasi flew off back south, leaving the three on their own. The forest was dense, with a little amount of light able to penetrate the canopy. It felt just like the Everfree Forest. Twilight noticed they were close to the exit and trotted down the path to see where it took them.

“So, this is it, huh?” Twilight stated as she stared out into the open grasslands and blue sky ahead of her. Apprehensively, the three trotted down the path into the wide expanse, leaving the safety of their home of Equestria and began their hike to Ventia on hoof.

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<==  Chapter 3  ||  Chapter 5  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

5

Legacy

Fluttershy’s Pokédex began to beep as the clock stuck nine o’clock. Petalburg Gym was lit up to illuminate the path for aspiring trainers and to welcome them to the Pokémon League. Fluttershy didn’t feel like one of them. The sun had set hours ago, giving way to the moon and stars whose light was drowned out by the city’s buzzing lights. As she stood near the building, a group of young ponies opened the doors and entered with a large blue mudskipper with orange body protrusions and two dark blue fins on its head. The pokémon made Alerce look like a small chew toy in comparison, which caused Fluttershy to shudder.

“Hey, is it time for your fight yet?” Rainbow Dash asked, excitedly. It had been a few hours since their meal a the ‘Horse du Jour’, and she appeared very antsy for something interesting to happen. “Also, did you see all those ponies staring at me and Pinkie? We must be so cool here!”

“Maybe it’s because you aren’t wearing any clothes, remember?” remarked Fluttershy as she glanced at Rainbow’s exposed hide. She shook her head and looked back at the gym. “I’m not going to fight. I didn’t fight that colt near Oldale Town, so why would I fight a league member?” At that moment she felt Alerce rub its head against her hind leg, making her feel a little less anxious.

“If you aren’t going to do anything then why are we waiting here? We could be doing so many other things like exploring those woods over there, or we could see what else is in this town,” Pinkie argued. She looked around, surveying her surroundings for anything better to do.

“Those memories I have from that girl is telling me I have to go to the gym while I’m here. If I don’t then those headaches will come back.” Fluttershy preemptively rubbed her head, then quickly set her hoof back down. “While I’m here, I’d like things to be as calm as possible.”

Tension filled minutes slowly ticked by as the three waited. The night was quiet; the bustle of the small town had halted, leaving only lit windows and illuminated business signs for any of them to take notice of. The forests were pitch black due to the town’s lights which caused Fluttershy to feel cramped and tense. Back in Ponyville, the moon’s light would dance across the ground with help of the stars, allowing all of Equestria to be seen at night. Even the Everfree Forest, which Fluttershy steered clear of, felt more inviting than the oppressive void that the forests had become.

A few moments later the group of ponies came out from the gym, ecstatic. The blue unicorn was holding a case with several pins in the air with his mouth, hollering and jumping around with excitement. Fluttershy watched as they entered a building with a light red roof to celebrate. She took a deep breath and checked the time on her Pokédex. 9:27 pm. After closing the device, she set it back in her bag and headed towards the door in silence with Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie following in suit. She took one last deep breath, then entered the gym.

The inside of the gym felt much more massive than the outside had implied. It was built like a fighting dojo: punching bags were attached to the ceiling with chains, mats covered the hardwood floor with two distinct sides separating it. A Poké Ball design was placed in the center of the gym floor; it seemed to be the theme in the town. Red bleachers covered the perimeter with several ponies in the crowd with signs, bright white florescent lights hung from the ceilings. It was a little much Fluttershy thought.

“Wow, this place is huge!” Pinkie Pie said excitedly.

“Welcome to Petalburg Gym!” a voice bellowed from the other side of the gym. A light brown stallion with a short black mane approached the three with a smile on his face. “Congratulations on getting—” He paused and quickly galloped over to Fluttershy. “May, you’re my 9:30 challenger? The computer must’ve screwed something up. Your name came up as a weird mess of characters. I’m surprised they let you come here so early.” He hugged her, making her shrink back. “How was the move?”

“Um, my name isn’t—” Fluttershy started and was halted by a short twinge of pain. After squeezing her eyes shut, she opened them and squeaked, “It was... fine,” she paused. “Dad.”

“Uh, Fluttershy? What are you talking about—”

“So, who are your two,” the stallion asked, cutting Rainbow Dash short. He looked at them with a puzzled look. “Your two... naked friends?”

Fluttershy quickly regained her composure. She felt the confidence of the girl her memories were from coming through as she talked to the stallion. “This is Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie.” She pointed to both of them, then looked down at Alerce. “...and this is Alerce, my, uh, turtwig?” Her face went flush. She couldn’t stand not knowing what an animal was called and she had no way of remembering if she was wrong, and the stress was making it hard for her to remember.

“Haha, that is a turtwig, I assure you. I’m surprised Birch gave you a pokémon all the way from Sinnoh,” he said, trotting back to the to the opposite side of the arena.

“Um, actually he was a treecko first—”

“Alright, let’s see what your turtwig can do.” The stallion said, facing them with a Poké Ball at the ground. “My name is Norman, the fifth gym leader of Hoenn’s Pokémon League. I humbly accept your challenge.”

Fluttershy’s eyes widened, “F-f-f-fifth?” she began to shake. “I-I won’t fight you—” she tried to say as her vision became white and she felt a wave of dizziness rush over her. She wobbled back and forth before collapsing.

She heard a faint voice to her left reverberating through her head. “Hey dad!” Fluttershy quickly opened her eyes and turned her head. The girl from the day before was standing right next to her. She could see her in much better detail than before, but her body was still wispy and translucent. Her face was like that of a monkey’s, but it was sleek with a pointer chain and smaller nose. Her hair was only on the top of her head flowing down like a mane. The spirit’s eyes were much smaller on her head proportion wise than Fluttershy and she was a little taller than her as well. Fluttershy looked around frantically for something familiar, but Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were gone. The bleachers were empty as well.

May, I didn’t expect to see you here,” the strange looking Norman said, hugging May. He was wearing a red jacket and black pants like he had outside the vision. He towered over Fluttershy, making her a little anxious. “How was the move? Did you get your pokémon yet?

Yeah!” she said excitedly as she grabbed a Poké Ball from her belt and released a treecko. “I got him from Professor Birch for saving him from a Zigzagoon.” Fluttershy couldn’t believe what she was seeing. May still had her Treecko in tact. Why Alerce changed into a Turtwig that morning was all she could think about as this transpired.

Norman bent down and patted the treecko on the head, “He looks like a strong one. Maybe we can battle some day when you get stronger.” He looked up at May and placed his hands on her shoulders. “We have a legacy to uphold, May. Do the best you can and have fun. I’ll be rooting for you.

Thanks dad,” May responded with a smile before sending the treecko back into the Poké Ball. She turned away and headed towards the doors.

Wait, there’s a boy outside. It’s Wally, I think. Could you show him how to catch a pokémon? It would really make the kid’s day.

Uh, sure.” May responded as she closed the doors behind her.

Good luck!” Norman yelled as Fluttershy’s vision went white again. She shivered, trying to make sense of the scene.

Before Fluttershy knew it, her vision was perfectly clear again. She was head down into her hooves and the arena was completely silent. Embarrassed, she slowly lifted her head, seeing all the ponies in the gym staring at her with concern contorting their expressions. She got up to her four hooves and quickly uttered an apology.

“Are you alright Fluttershy? You had us worried for a bit there,” Rainbow Dash asked, but got no response. Fluttershy could only think about the vision and how everything in this situation felt wrong. Norman was waiting with a white feral monkey with a red tuft of hair on its forehead out on the field. She couldn’t help but notice its large black claws as well.

After a deep breath, Fluttershy called out, “I won’t fight you—” a sharp pain coursed through her head, causing her to double over. She took some quick breaths and let the pain subside. Why is the pain coming back? I’m not supposed to fight him, she thought, trying to deny Norman again. After feeling another shot of pain coming on she decided enough was enough. “Alright, I’ll fight you.”

She heard the crowd roar. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Pinkie asked. It was the first time Fluttershy had seen Pinkie upset since her surprise birthday fiasco, but she had no other choice.

“I-I’m fine,” she stated coldly. “Alerce, please be careful” The small turtle make his way onto the field and looked back with a smile on his face. The crowed roared and streamers flew as air horns were let off.

“Let the next chapter of our legacy begin, May,” Norman announced, pointing out to the monkey. “Vigoroth, use Focus Punch!” At that moment Vigoroth’s right fist stated to glow white. Fluttershy could see the raw fire in its eyes. Panicking, she dug through her bag and whipped out her Pokédex. She opened it up, hoping it could give her some answers. It beeped as it was opened and the screen began to glow. It showed a screen with an image of Alerce with a list of attacks he had skill enough to perform. One attack stuck out to her. It was the only one she was willing to do.

“Alerce, use Withdraw!” Fluttershy commanded, hoping it was enough to ward off whatever that beast was going to do. Alerce nodded and shielded himself.

Not a moment later, the Vigoroth sprang forward, arching its arm back and slammed its fist into Alerce and the ground, sending him flying and tumbling across the room. It stood there arched over with look of malice as it clenched its teeth. Bound after bound, Alerce slammed into the ground, Fluttershy’s heart missing a beat with every crunch she heard. Her lower lip began quivering as Alerce finally stopped sliding across the ground. He wasn’t moving.

“A-Alerce?” Fluttershy squeaked, rushing towards the Turtwig. Her throat began to close and tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to say something else as she examined Alerce’s mangled body, but nothing came out.

“Turtwig is unable to battle!” a pony in a black and white striped shirt announced. Fluttershy’s body trembled and small audible sobs were drowned out by the exuberant cheering of the crowd. She nudged Alerce with her hoof, trying desperately to find out the damage he took. There were multiple bruises on his head and legs with several scrapes as well. There was a faint smile on his face, but Fluttershy couldn’t keep her composure any longer.

“F-Fluttershy?” Rainbow Dash asked, placing her hoof on Fluttershy’s back.

“I... I...” Fluttershy squeaked as she picked up Alerce. “I’m sorry!” she cried out as he bolted out the door with tears streaming down her face.

        

“Fluttershy, wait!” Pinkie Pie yelled out galloping out of the gym with her.

“What did you do!?” Fluttershy heard Rainbow yell out at Norman, but that’s all she could hear before she powered her way through the town and into the forest. After landing on a small dew covered patch of grass she let down Alerce and quickly went through her bag. Inside was a few rolls of cloth bandages and patches laced with herbal antiseptics. She started to tape Alerce’s wounds, trying her hardest to see through the veil of tears in her eyes. After all the wounds were wrapped, she bowed her head, letting all the emotions she had bottled up rush to her at once.

“Fluttershy, are you alright? You left so quickly... I didn’t see what happened,” Pinkie asked, trying to comfort her.

“I-I don’t think I can save him,” Fluttershy sobbed, looking up at Pinkie.

“What do you mean?” the worry in Pinkie’s voice only made Fluttershy more ashamed.

“Turtles are fragile creatures and with the impact of that punch, there’s probably internal bleeding, and I can’t—” Fluttershy felt her heart break in two. “He... He’s going to die just because I didn’t want another headache,” she let her head sink into her hooves and cried. “T-they even cheered...”

“It’ll be alright,” Pinkie stated, trying to comfort her bawling friend. “It’s not your fault they made you fight the fifth guy.” All Pinkie could do was watch Fluttershy wail in the grass. There was nothing she could do for her. She trotted around Fluttershy and looked at Alerce. His eyes were open, and was trying to move. He shook his head, looking as if he was just trying to shake it off. “Are you alright Alerce, that looked like that hurt,” Pinkie said to the turtwig. He turned to her and slightly smiled, still obviously in pain. “You don’t look like your dying, but I’ve never seen anyone die so I wouldn’t know. Hey Fluttershy, do dying animals normally walk around like this?”

Fluttershy’s head snapped up at Pinkie’s inquiry. She took her hoof and wiped the tears from her eyes and saw Alerce struggling to move around, but he was moving nonetheless. “W-what? How is he...?” she sniffed, moving closer to see him better. She couldn’t understand it. In all the years she had been a veterinarian she had never seen an animal make such a miraculous recovery with no medicine so quickly.

“Hey, there you two are,” Rainbow Dash called out as she flew towards the two. “What happened, are you alright?”

        

“I’m fine, and so is Alerce amazingly,” Fluttershy responded, picking up Alerce. “I have no idea how he survived that hit, but he seems to be making a good recovery.”

        

“That’s what I figured after talking to that Norman guy. He was saying something about how, uh, ‘polka-men’ are resilient, so Alerce was easily able to take a hit like that. He was wondering why you left in such a hurry.”

“Wait, when did you talk to Norman?” Fluttershy asked, confused.

“After I was done yelling at him. He told me a lot actually. He also gave me this chip to put into your computer thing,” Rainbow took a small chip out from her hair and brought it down to Fluttershy who started to dig through her bag.

“What does it do?” Fluttershy asked as she opened the Pokédex up.

“It registers me for the league!” Fluttershy’s eyes widened at Rainbow’s explanation. She dropped the Pokédex as her mouth went agape.

“What!?” Fluttershy snapped. “After what you just saw in there? How could you want to do this?” She was shaking from the confrontation, but she had to say something.

“I had to do it after seeing what these ‘polka-men’—”

“Pokémon.”

“Right. Anyway I had to sign up after seeing what those things could do. I’ve never seen anything create a crater in the ground after one punch. We need a way to defend ourselves, and those things are what we need.”

“So you want to exploit them? I thought better of you Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow groaned, “No. Norman told me everything about the league. And, since he isn’t so confused with weird memories, I trust that he knows what he’s talking about.” Fluttershy sat down, somehow knowing it was going to be a long explanation. “Okay, so these Pokémon are born to fight. They’re really easy to train so ponies can easily make them really strong really quickly.”

“Okay,” Fluttershy said, almost knowing that was the case. Her memories, she found, were becoming more and more useful. Surprisingly, Pinkie was quiet as Rainbow spoke.

“So because they’re so easy to train and with the strange powers they have, they’re basically animal weapons in the wrong hooves.”

“Weapons? That’s a little much.” Pinkie interrupted.

“Whatever, just listen,” Rainbow snapped in frustration. “So the league here was set up to train ponies to protect themselves using these pokémon since we can’t do any magic ourselves. They don’t fight for sport, they fight for self-defense. Well at least that’s what Norman told me.”

        

Alerce leaped from Fluttershy’s hooves and started to walk around. It had been night for longer than they had thought with the air was now cold with the moon now comfortably situated in the sky. The lights in the buildings had all but gone out with the street lights making the town feel lifeless. “So, what do we do about a place to sleep for the night?” Rainbow asked, trying to change the subject. “Norman told me that there’s this thing called a ‘Pokémon Center’ that houses trainers for free for the night. We could try that.”

“That sounds like a great idea!” Pinkie said, springing up to her hooves. “Is that center the only building over there with its lights on?” she pointed to a building that a light blue glow coming from the windows and a white Poké Ball symbol lit up on the roof.

“Well, what are we still doing here? Let’s check it out,” Rainbow flew off, leaving a rainbow streak behind her. Pinkie hopped along to follow as Fluttershy picked up her medical supplies. She picked up Alerce with her head hung low and made her way to the building to catch up to the other two.

“May?” Norman called out from in front of the gym. Fluttershy turned her head and watched him gallop towards her as Alerce made purchase on Fluttershy’s bandanna. “Are you okay? I never thought that you’d run out of the gym like that...”

Fluttershy stopped to meet the stallion, slightly flinching as Norman embraced her. “I... I was just under a lot of stress, that’s all.”

“That’s good. I’m glad you came out of it okay.” Norman released Fluttershy and patted her lightly on the head. “I thought I had missed something by coming here early.” He looked over to Rainbow and Pinkie as they watched from the distance.

“I’m sorry that I worried you,” Fluttershy said before taking a step back towards her friends. “This is just so new to me...”

“It’s okay. You’ll come into your own sooner than you think.” Norman smiled as he looked back towards the gym. Before Fluttershy could move away, the stallion turned back with a beaming face. “You did well tonight, May. How the league brought you to me first I’ll never understand, but I’ve never seen you more compassionate for a pokémon than I saw tonight. I don’t know if it was your new friends that brought about this change, but I’m so glad to see you before you fully embark on your journey.”

I was more compassionate than May...? What kind of girl is she?

“Good luck, and make sure to keep in touch with me and your mother. We’ll want to hear all about it.” Norman gave Fluttershy one last tight hug before turning back to the gym. “The first gym you should go to is the one in Rustboro City. She uses ground and rock types, so your turtwig should be great against her. If you have any more trouble with your gym order, I’ll make sure to sort it out.” He turned to face Fluttershy one last time. “Make us proud, May. Let our legacy continue.”

“T-thanks,” Fluttershy squeaked as she watched Norman head back inside of the gym as the next opponent made her entrance. She sighed with relief then turned around to catch up with Rainbow and Pinkie as they stood near the entrance of the Pokémon Center. Without saying a word, the three entered the bustling building.

The inside was filled to the brim with cots and mats for ponies to sleep on. There was a direct path to a pink mare with a white doctor’s coat behind a counter. Fluttershy daintily made her way past the mob of ponies, looking at all the medical equipment behind the counter. “Welcome to the Pokémon Center! How can I help you tonight?” the mare asked, bowing her head slightly.

“Um, do you have any more room for the night? I mean with the amount of ponies here...”

“Of course, but we only have room left downstairs,” the mare explained.

“Okay. We’ll head down then I guess,” Fluttershy stated as she daintily trotted towards the stairs.

“Fluttershy, what about Alerce?” Pinkie asked, stopping Fluttershy in her tracks. “Shouldn’t you keep him here for the night?”

“Oh, you have an injured pokémon? We’ll be able to take care of him tonight to make sure he’s ready for wherever you’re headed tomorrow,” the nurse said with a warm smile.

“A-alright,” Fluttershy said meekly as she trotted back over to the desk, letting Alerce hop down onto the counter. “Are you sure it’s alright if I kept him here?” she squeaked in a panic.

        

“Don’t worry, Pokémon Centers are here to heal pokémon when they’re injured in battles. He’ll be all better by the time you wake up in the morning.” The mare slightly chuckled. “It looks like you tried your hoof in healing him yourself. You have a good eye for patient care it seems.” Fluttershy wasn’t used to getting compliments about her veterinary skills, but she liked it quite a bit. The mare took Alerce and placed him and a bed, letting a pink blob creature with stubby arms and a nurse hat wheel him off to the care center in the back.

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said before she turned back and trotted down the stairs. The basement was just as full of ponies as the main lobby, most of them already asleep. It was as lit up in bright fluorescent lights as the lobby had been, making Fluttershy wish that they would’ve slept under the stars like she did the night before. There was a small empty section on the floor, enough for the three to tightly fit in. Luckily, only one pony could be heard snoring.

“So, you have any sleeping gear in that bag?” Rainbow asked. “I didn’t pack any since I was going to sleep on a cloud on my search. That isn’t really an option here, is it?”

“Uh, I might. I haven’t really had a chance to completely go through this yet.” Fluttershy dumped out the contents of the bag to find anything the three could sleep on. All she could find was one small rolled up sleeping mat. She sighed and unrolled it. “I shouldn’t have fought Norman today.”

“Are you still going on about that? Alerce is fine. You didn’t do anything wrong,” Rainbow started.

“No, I mean a really shouldn’t have fought him. When he challenged me to that fight and I refused, I got some kind of memory vision,” she began as she cleaned up the jumbled supplies. “The girl just talked to him and left to show some kid how to catch a pokémon. Something weird is happening.”

“Huh, that’s strange,” Pinkie said. “Did anything else weird happen today?”

“I already told you about—” Fluttershy paused as she thought about the vision. “So the girl in the vision had a treecko, the pokémon I got from the professor back in that town I ended up in. Like I told you before, Alerce had turned into a turtwig when I was asleep yesterday.”

“Oh, right! Did you see anything strange then? Like... a unicorn, or a wizard?” Pinkie asked as Rainbow groaned and slapped her hoof against her forehead.

“No, nothing like that. I remember my dream was just a normal dream, but something jolted me awake. That’s when I checked on Alerce and he had turned into a turtwig,” Fluttershy paused and glanced at both her friends. “You said that you came early this morning, right?”

“Yeah,” Rainbow said, then quickly snapped back. “Wait, are you saying we did this?”

“I-I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on.” Fluttershy said, shrinking back.

Rainbow trotted to the small mattress and laid herself down, trying to make room for the other two. “Let’s just get some sleep,” she muttered as she closed her eyes and turned to her side. Fluttershy snuggled into the middle as Pinkie flopped down on the other side. She closed her eyes and saw nothing but red on her eye lids, making it hard to get to sleep, but it didn’t matter to her. She was just happy to have two of her friends help her in this strange world.

The sounds of many voices woke Fluttershy up. She stretched out and shook to get the tension out of her joints, but something felt off. She couldn’t feel Rainbow or Pinkie on either side of her. She opened her eyes and took a look around, noticing they were both gone. Her bag appeared to be rummaged through as well. Without thinking, she rolled up the mat, grabbed her bag, then galloped up the stairs. When she reached the top, she saw bunch of ponies standing in line.

She wasn’t sure what was happening, but a flurry of senses hit her: the smells of fresh baked goods, specialty fruits, and spices filled the air and pierced her nostrils. She licked her lips; with all the turmoil and thoughts she hadn’t paid attention to how hungry she was. The line was relatively small with most of the ponies already gone with their taken share. She trotted over and waited, cocking her head to the side every once and a while to see what she could get.

“Hey Fluttershy!” Rainbow Dash called out, taking Fluttershy out of her hunger filled trance. Rainbow was standing just past the Pokémon Center doors with a brown jacket with a white fluffy collar on which covered a white shirt along with black pants that covered her flank.

“Wait, did you go clothes shopping? Where did you get the money for it?” Fluttershy asked, still trying to take in the sight of her friend with clothes on that wasn’t made by Rarity.

“Pinkie and I woke up before you so we could get some clothes. We kinda took some money out of your bag. We needed to get something.”

Fluttershy sighed, moving ever closer to the massive amount of food waiting on the table. “Where’s Pinkie? I thought you said she went with you.”

“I’m right here!” Pinkie shouted, springing out from behind Rainbow Dash. She had a light blue shirt with jean overalls on. “I couldn’t find anything that looked very fun, so I got something different. Looks good, huh?”

        

Fluttershy couldn’t help but snicker. In all her time with her friends, she had never seen them look so ridiculous. She covered her mouth with her hoof, trying to disguise the laughter. “I-I’m sorry, it’s just...” Tears formed in her eyes as her laughter grew. A few seconds later she sniffed and wiped the tears from her eyes. “They look fine.”

        

“Well at least today’s starting off better than yesterday,” Rainbow said, glancing over at Pinkie. “We should probably find some pokémon to catch. We can’t be out here forever with just Alerce.” Rainbow dug through the pockets of the jacket, taking out several miniature Poké Balls. “I picked up some of these as well. Thought we might need them.”

“Alright,” Fluttershy said as she made her way to the start of the food filled table. She grabbed a plate took a small amount that filled her plate and sat down to eat. Pinkie and Rainbow trotted over and sat down beside her.

“So, what’s the plan? Are we going to go off of your weird, messed up memories?” Rainbow asked.

“I can’t really think of anything else to do. Twilight hasn’t tried to talk to me lately so I don’t know how long it’ll take them to find that spell,” Fluttershy said, digging away at her food. “I’ll get Alerce after this, then we should probably head west since that’s the only other way out of town.” Pinkie and Rainbow nodded in agreement.

“I think no matter what we find, we’ll come out of it okay,” Rainbow stated with confidence. “If we ever get into trouble, we can always use this to help us out.” Rainbow dug through one of the saddlebags and lifted out a small vial of liquid. It was mostly clear, but a wisp of teal viscous liquid swirled and contorted at the slightest movement.

Fluttershy leaned in closer to get a better look before reeling back in shock. “I-is that... armis!? How did you get that? I don’t know of any other pony that has access to that type of medicine!”

“I got it from your medicine cabnet before I left to go find you just in case anything happened to me or you. You said it was a really potent medicine, right?”

“Yes, but I never expected anyone to use it but me.” Fluttershy sighed and took another fork full of food and ate it. “I didn’t expect you to pay that much attention to what I was saying when you were over.”

“What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t?” Rainbow asked before Fluttershy’s face flushed in a bright red hue. “Don’t worry about it.” Rainbow placed the vial carefully back into her saddlebag and waited patiently for Fluttershy to finish her breakfast.

“Thanks, Rainbow,” Fluttershy said with a smile as she finished her plate. “Thank you so much you two for coming to help me. It... really means a lot.”

“Don’t mention it, Fluttershy!” Pinkie exclaimed. “Besides all of those weird things, it’s been fun so far! And the ponies are friendly as well!”

With her plate cleared, Fluttershy scooted around the other sitting ponies and reached the front desk. It had been Fluttershy’s first night in this world without a pokémon, and she was anxious to see Alerce again. “E-Excuse me, my turtwig was being taken care of last night. Could I get him back please? Also... what do I owe for breakfast and lodging? It’s my first time in a Pokémon Center, and—”

The mare turned to her, setting down her paper work. “The breakfast is complimentary,” the mare laughed. “What was your turtwig’s name?”

“Alerce.”

“Let me go check.” With that, the mare went off into the back. The three waited in silence, both Pinkie and Rainbow nipping at their new clothes. A moment later Fluttershy saw Alerce on the a cart the mare was pushing, fresh and new. She took him off and placed him on the counter, letting him climb onto Fluttershy’s bandanna. “There you go, good as new.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said, making her way out of the Pokémon Center with Rainbow and Pinkie following behind. “He really is resilient,” she remarked.  The sun was already half-way up in the sky with a small haze of clouds making their way from the west. The humidity from the other day had returned, making Rainbow and Pinkie squirm a little in their new clothes.

        

“Bleh, this is going to be disgusting later, isn’t it?” Rainbow asked, finally fitting her wing out from under her clothes. “I can already feel sweat soaking through my pants.” With that, Pinkie Pie suddenly burst out in laughter. Looking towards the path out Fluttershy knew that’s where they had to go next: against the sweltering western wind. “Alright, let’s see what pokémon we can find. There has to be some cool ones over there,” Rainbow said in a hopeful voice as they trotted towards the western forest.

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<==  Chapter 4  ||  Chapter 6  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

6

Outlanders

The plains stretched as far as Twilight could see. Semblances of small settlements were peppered in the distance, but nothing too remarkable in the barren openness. The three had traveled for hours in tall grass with the sun beating down on them, refusing to let up. A small breeze blew through the array of grasses, creating a calm whistling sound that put the ponies at ease, at least just a little.

Twilight took a swig of her water and placed it back in her bag as she licked her lips. The map they were given by the princess wasn’t as much help as they had hoped: some of the ink markings were smudged, and the path towards Ventia was nowhere to be seen. She only hoped they were headed in the right direction.

“How long have we been walking? There hasn’t been a sign or road at all; I’m wondering if we’re even headed the right way,” Rarity asked, slightly panting. She took one of the apples from her bag and bit into it.

“There has to be a path around here somewhere. Delivery ponies head to that there Ventia country, right?” Applejack asked, looking back at the two unicorns. “Luna must’ve put us in that forest if it was close to the path.”

“I’ve talked with some of the mail ponies before. Most of them just do local stops. I haven’t heard any talk about heading to another country before,” Twilight explained.

“They’re probably just being modest. As much as I would love for people to know about my boutique’s success, it’s impolite to boast in casual conversation.”

Twilight stopped, causing Rarity and Applejack to follow suit. “It’s just strange. I’ve never heard of this country, or any other ones on this map. I haven’t even read about them. It wasn’t until the princess explained it until I knew of what was outside of Equestria, if there was anything at all,” Twilight said. A bead of sweat passed between Twilight’s eyes. She let it run down, then plopped down in the grass. “I’m getting tired. If we can’t find anything soon, what should we do? We’ve been following the sun’s movement correctly... I don’t understand why we haven’t found the road yet.”

Without a second thought, the other two sat down and started to rummage through their provisions. Rarity set up a small cloth on the ground for a makeshift picnic, trying to lighten the mood. Twilight took out two pieces of flat bread and some red apples and promptly placed them on the mat. Before Twilight could even blink, Rarity cut up the food with several quick slashes of a knife and split it amongst the three. Applejack dug in as soon as she could while Twilight wiped the sweat off her brow. The heat from the sun was much more unbareable when she wasn’t moving. Except for short expeditions, Twilight never went on excursions, and it showed. She took a small bite of an apple slice and tried to savour it as much as she could. Without a proper destination, Twilight wanted to make sure they had enough rations to make an emergency trip back to Ponyville if need be.

Suddenly, the three ponies sprang to their feet as the aftershock of an explosion rushed past them. A cloud of smoke rose in the distance, towering above the plains. This was their chance to finally see another living creature from outside Equestria. Through an unspoken plan they quickly gathered their belongings and broke out into a full gallop towards the towering fume. The grass whipped at Twilight’s face, but she gritted her teeth and barreled through, still too tired to form a path with her magic.

I think I can see somethin’!” Applejack yelled back.

The grass ahead of them thinned out enough that they could see patches of shorter grass ahead. Applejack quickened her pace, plowing her way through the last thicket and made her way to the other side. Twilight turned her head to the side to prevent long grass from whipping against her face as she ran. After losing sight of the earth pony ahead of her, she bowed her head to make the final push. Just as she got up to speed, she felt no tall grass in her way, leaving only shorter grass ahead. She opened her eyes and skidded to a stop, seeing Applejack waiting. The area was a lower prairie with cut down grass covering a large expanse, showcasing an array of small towns and mountains in the distance. The sound of debris crashing caught Twilight’s attention. There was a small wagon engulfed in flames as two ponies lay on the ground, covered in burns and bruises.

Twilight bolted ahead with Applejack as Rarity made her way out from the grass patch. Adrenaline flowed through Twilight like she had never felt before: the rush of fear and anticipation was exciting, though worrisome. One stallion lay trapped under a broken off piece of wood, while the other was thrown from the driver’s seat lying on his side. Twilight stood over the stallion in the grass, inspecting his wounds and trying to calculate the force of impact. How an explosion could occur in a wooden cart was beyond her, but her interest was piqued.

A few broken ribs, severe burns to the back and several scrapes... Twilight thought as she continued her inspection. She bent down to hear for breathing; luckily he was, but it was shallow and empty. Twilight breathed a short sigh of relief and resumed her investigation. Nothing seemed too out of the ordinary, until she reached the pony’s flank: he didn’t have a cutie mark.

“Twi’, over here! I found somethin’ interesting!” Applejack yelled, motioning Twilight to head over. Still confused by her patient’s lack of cutie mark, she trotted over, wary of the still smoldering flames. Rarity had reached Applejack before Twilight and peered inside, Twilight noticing a strange look on both of their faces. She was just hoping it wasn’t anything too tragic. “Take a look at this.” Applejack pointed her hoof to a small hole which lead to the inside of the wagon.

“Did you make sure that pony was alright?” Twilight asked in a worried tone.

“Yeah, I checked, and he’s still breathin’. I need your knowledge on what this thing is supposed to be,” Applejack responded.

Twilight took a look, making sure to not get too close to the flames. Inside was a pile of wood from the outside of the wagon, but there was something hidden underneath. A mass of twisted steel and cables lay with a black liquid burning on top of it. Twilight took a step back, trying to make sense of what she saw. Upon closer inspection, she saw remnants of pistons and gears with other varying scraps that must’ve made up the exterior.

“So, what do ya make of it, Twi’?” Applejack prodded.

“It looks like machinery of some sort. Maybe it powered the wagon?” Twilight speculated, looking in once more to make out any more details.

“Well alright then. What should we do? We can’t just leave ‘em here,” Applejack stated.

“We have to get them some help, but we don’t have enough medical supplies.” Twilight hung her head, looking back and the bare flanked pony.

“Agreed, but if they could tell us where we could find some more we could gladly spare some of our own,” Rarity suggested. “Now if we could just wake one of them up we could get on our way.”

Twilight made her way back to the injured pony as Rarity helped Applejack lift the plank from the other victim. As Twilight approached she noticed the pony moving around, at least squirming. She rushed over and sat down beside him, waiting for a response. He opened his eyes and looked at Twilight as he began wincing in pain. “What... What happened?” he asked weakly.

“You were caught in an explosion a few minutes ago. Could you tell me what happened?”

The stallion struggled to gain his footing, stumbling over himself on the way up. He clutched his chest as he stood. “Ugh, I remember drivin’ and hearin’ some clankin’ in the engine.” He labored as he set his hoof back down to stabilize himself. “Somethin’ must’ve got stuck there and caused the engine to blow.”

Twilight lent herself as a crutch and helped the pony towards the wreckage where the other pony was now out of the rubble and was being treated. “Do you know where a town with supplies to sell is? My friends and I are a little lost.”

        

The pony sighed in pain, “There’s one not too far down the road to the north. It’s small, but it might be what you’re looking for.”

“Thanks,” Twilight responded as she stared as his body. “Where’s your cutie mark? Did you not get one? I’m sorry for prying.”

“Cutie mark? Never heard of that before,” the pony said before taking his forehoof off of Twilight and hobbled his way to his friend. “Thanks for your help. We can handle it from here.” The stallion lifted his friend to get him up, talking to him in a low voice.

“Are you sure?” Twilight asked, trying her best to help.

Yeah, we’ll be fine.He sat down near his friend and began to console him. Applejack and Rarity stepped off and trotted over to Twilight, leaving the two battered ponies to their wreckage.

I really don’t want to leave them here, but I’m sure they’ll be fine.” Applejack stated morosely.

“Did he tell you where we could find a place to stay?” Rarity interrupted.

“Yeah, he said there was a small town down the road,” Twilight said. Even with the wreckage she was happy to finally see a road that led somewhere. She thought maybe the old map that Luna gave them would finally become useful. As they left the burning wreckage behind, the whole world seemed to open up to them. There were more ponies with wagons with merchandise and supplies traveling along the main road, none of them giving the three Equestrians a nod or paid any attention to them. They simply went along quietly and Twilight didn’t mind. Just the view of the rolling plains and mountains in the distance was enough to make her satisfied, at least for a little while.

As they walked, Twilight couldn’t help but obsess over that one pony’s lack of cutie mark knowledge. Maybe he came from a town that never had them... but he traveled. He had to have seen them, Twilight thought. She had to let the others know. Twilight spoke up,  “So, did you see something off to you about those ponies we helped?”

“Not exactly. They seemed perfectly normal to me,” Rarity said.

“Why? Did we miss somethin’?” Applejack asked, looking over to Twilight.

“When I inspected that stallion’s wounds, I noticed he didn’t have a cutie mark.” Twilight turned her head, watching her friends exchange sideways glances. “I brought this up to him and he said he had never heard of them. You would think if he travels he would’ve heard of them, right?”

“Come to think of it, I don’t think that other pony had a cutie mark either,” Applejack thought aloud. “Maybe we shouldn’t pry too much into this. It’s only two ponies.”

        

“You’re right.” Twilight turned her head and continued to watch for any signs that pointed them to a town. The sun began its descent towards the horizon allowing the air to cool off, alleviating the three from the heat. The view along the path was consistent throughout: rolling plains with short and long grasses, mountains in the distance, the faint silhouettes of what looked like settlements. Twilight opened the map and tried to chart out how far away they were. They had passed a sign maybe fifteen minutes before, and she wanted to see what was near them. She scanned it over, noticing a distinct lack of towns on the map. The one that they had been heading to, Wheatown, wasn’t listed. The town was either too small for the map to list, or the map was older than the town. Twilight sighed in exasperation as she put the map away.

After only an hour of trekking, a small town came into view with a wooden gate blocking the path in. It looked like it had a quaint feel to it, with straw thatched roofs and what looked like a small fountain in the center. Twilight hastened her steps, eager to find out what a town outside of Equestria would be like. She blazed past Applejack, who followed in tow with Rarity as they tried catch up to Twilight. After only a minute of running later, she banked left and slowed herself before stopping in front of the gate.

“Is this Wheatown?” Rarity asked as she trotted up to Twilight.

I reckon it is. This is the first town we’ve seen.” Applejack stated.

“Well, here we go,” Twilight said as she opened the gate with her hoof. The town was very small, with only eight or so buildings lining the perimeter. Several earth ponies walked around with hoes and rakes, conversing about the days events. Two fillies ran around the stone fountain, chasing each other and rolling around in the grass. As they entered they noticed the lack of fanciful architecture like they saw back in Equestria; every one of the buildings had an old world charm to them. They looked simple and drab.

They approached a stallion who was carrying a hoe and rake on his back who was heading west into the field. Twilight assumed by the name of the town that he was off to harvest wheat, but she didn’t want to assume anything. “Excuse me,” Twilight said, catching the pony’s attention. “Do you know we could find a store here? We’ve never been in this part of the country before.” The stallion stopped and pointed his hoof towards a relatively larger building that had a wooden sign with the words ‘General Store’ written in red paint. Twilight looked over, then looked back, red with embarrassment. “Uh, thanks,” she responded as the pony turned back to the field and began to walk again.

“Well he ain’t much for talkin’,” Applejack said, peering over to the shop. “Let’s take a look at what they have then.” The three slowly trotted to the store and opened the wooden door.

The shop had a wooden design to everything, with thatched patches and designs on the walls and floor. There was a dark brown earth pony behind the counter, taking a look at some of its inventory. The store was packed with food like grains and produce, small steel weapons, canisters of oil, books on local events and history, rolled up scroll maps, small trinkets, and bedding just to name a few. Twilight forged ahead, looking up over the counter to get a better view of the storekeeper.

“Excuse me sir, my friends and I would like to buy something. Do you have a minute?” The mare tilted her head up, trotted to the counter and placed her hooves on top. She looked over the three ponies, causing Twilight to become a little uneasy.

“What can ah’ do ya for?” the mare asked, tapping her hooves on the counter.

Twilight’s face flushed red from the gender mix-up, but the mare didn’t seem to mind. “We’re just looking for some food and blankets to buy. We’re making our way to Ventia.”

“Ah’ see. Just enough fer the three a’ you?” she asked, bowing her head into the display case to retrieve a few folded blankets.

“Yes ma’am.” Twilight took a few gold bits from her bag and placed them on the counter. “I’m hoping this is enough to cover it. I don’t see any prices anywhere.”

The mare brought up a few blankets and placed them on the counter, then eyed the few bits Twilight had left. She squinted to get a better look, inspecting them carefully. After a few seconds, the mare finally spoke up, “What’s this?”

Twilight stood dumbfounded. “Uh, those are bits. You know, money.”

“Don’t patronize me, ah’ figured that much out,” the mare snapped. “So, where’d you say you were from again?”

“We’re from Equestria.” At that moment, Twilight saw the mare’s eyes widen as if she was about to be hit by an oncoming freight train. She stepped off the counter and walked to a small section of the counter that swung open upwards, allowing a pony to pass through.

“Over ‘ere. If it’s alright with ya’ ah’d like to talk to you a bit. Ah have some tea goin’ at the moment.” The mare made her way up a flight of stairs, leaving the shop completely empty except for Twilight, Rarity and Applejack. They each glanced at each other with contorted looks.

“What should we do? We need supplies, but I don’t know if I like this.” Twilight looked over to the opened pathway, rubbing her left foreleg with her right. The three sat in silence, neither of them wanting to make the decision. A high-pitched whistle of a teapot pierced Twilight’s ears now perked ears. At least it sounds like she’s boiling water, Twilight thought. The whistling died down as the mare walked down the stairs and motioned them over. Twilight grimaced as she looked at her friends and cautiously made her way past the open path and slowly ascended the stairs. She didn’t check back for Applejack and Rarity, trying to make sure that everything ahead of her was innocuous.

At the top of the stairs was a bedroom the size of the lower floor. A small, one-pony bed lay on the north end of the room with a window on all four walls. It was decorated with multi-colored banners hanging on each side of the walls with golden stitched insignias of various animals and weaponry. There was a wooden rack filled with steel swords and maces in the corner, putting Twilight on edge. Next to it was a small stove with a tea pot with rising steam coming from the spout. She finished her ascent and approached the mare who was sitting at a table with four chairs set up, each with a set of teacups and saucers in front of them. “Come, sit.”

Apprehensively, Twilight sat down as the mare poured some tea in their cups. Applejack and Rarity sat down and they all watched the mare closely, making sure she didn’t do anything suspicious. She set the teapot down in the middle of the table and took a small sip. “So, you’re from Equestria, huh? Ah’ve never met anypony from there before.”

“Your store is empty downstairs. Aren’t you afraid somepony’s goin’ to take somethin’?” Applejack asked, taking a look outside.

“No one’s stolen anythin’ in this town in years. We don’t lock doors at night like you city ponies do,” the mare explained, irking Applejack. “The name’s Zipporah. It’s nice to meet you folk.”

“Twilight Sparkle,” Twilight said, extending her hoof to shake.

“That’s an odd name fer a pony. Are all Equestrians named weirdly like that?” Twilight rolled her her eyes and sighed.

“Well, this is Rarity.She pointed at Rarity who slightly bowed. “And this is Applejack.” Applejack graciously tipped her hat. “So, you’ve never seen an Equestrian before? It’s only a few hours walk away.”

“Not sure. No one I know’s ever gone neither. Ponyfolk just tend to avoid it.” Zipporah took another sip.

“Now why’s that do you suppose?” Applejack asked.

“Sorry for my interruption, but do you not have a cutie mark as well?” Rarity prodded. Twilight hadn’t noticed, but when she dipped her head to check Zipporah’s flank, it was indeed blank. Applejack took a quick sip of her tea, her face scrunched as she did it and set it down. She looked around trying to be nonchalant as she pushed the cup away and slumped in her chair

        

“Cutie mark? Is that some weird Equestrian thing?” The old mare crossed her forelegs and looked at them inquisitively. “Ah’ve never heard of them before.”

“You’re the second pony we’ve talked to that’s never heard of them,” Twilight said as she took a sip of tea. It had a strong earthy flavor, but it wasn’t overbearing. Slightly bitter, but she could handle it. “That’s so strange. Most ponies in Equestria have them by the time they’re little fillies. Basically they’re markings on your flank to signify your special talent. Mine is conjuring magic, so my mark is a six pointed star.She leaped off the chair and pointed to her mark. “It’s always nice to have a reminder of what you live for.”

“So, you two have one as well?” Zipporah asked. “What about that necklace?” She pointed to Rarity who promptly looked down at her element charm.

“Oh this? It’s just decoration,” Rarity passed off. “It’s nothing, really. Though it does match my cutie mark which are three cyan diamonds.” She took a sip of her tea and patted her mouth with a nearby napkin. Applejack stayed quiet.

The room was quiet for a few minutes. A small rustling was heard outside as a group of stallions came out from the fields. The sun set lower in the sky, causing the sky to become a pale yellow and orange. Twilight tapped her hooves together nervously. The silence was overbearing, and she had to break the tension. “Is this where you live, Zipporah?”

“Yes,” she stated as she grabbed her teacup with both hooves. “Ah’ just tend to mah store every day.” After taking a larger gulp of her tea, she looked over to Twilight. “So, where are you three headed anyways? Ah’ know you din’t come all the way out here for our lil’ town.”

“Well one of our friends needs some help and the spell to we need isn’t anywhere in Equestria. We’re headed to Mistral City in Ventia.” Twilight said.

“Mistral City? You Equestrians never stop surprisin’ me,” Zipporah laughed. “Mistral City is a wretched place last ah’ heard. They don’t much care for Equestrians neither. Whenever one of them ponies is over in this town ah’ always hear ‘bout two unkillable demons that haunt Equestria. Everypony ah’ve met from there is quite obsessed.”

        

“Two... demons?” Twilight asked, bewildered. “I don’t know of any demons in Equestria. It sounds like made up rumors.” She dug into her pack and took out the map, unfurling it onto the table. “Could you take a look at this while we’re here? We don’t have any recent maps of areas outside Equestria and this is pretty old. Is this map still accurate?”

“Ah’ can look, sure.” Zipporah turned the map towards her and looked at it closely. She nodded her head a few times as her eyes scanned every inch. She placed her hooves on it several times, pointing out locations to herself. After a few minutes she turned the map around and looked up at Twilight. “Everythin’ looks fine. There’s a few more towns than before, but everything else looks alright.”

A muffled commotion was heard from outside. Twilight nodded to Zipporah, set the map back in her bag and took a look out the window. Two ponies passed by at a full gallop, one turned and headed towards the shop. She got up to look down at the pony. “What’s wrong, sugar cube?” Applejack asked. Before Twilight answered she saw a brown blur fly passed the window; she looked to see if she could see what it was, but it was gone.

There was a hurried knock at the door. “Griffons! We need help!” a stallion shouted and ran off. Zipporah quickly left her chair and galloped to the weapon rack, taking out three swords and a mace.

“Alright, ah’ve got weapons fer us. Take one and let’s go.”

The three looked at each other, neither of them wanting to move. “Uh, what are we doin’ again?” Applejack prodded.

Zipporah stared at them blankly. “Are ya’ joking? We don’t have time fer that, jus’ hurry an’ get over here!” Twilight took a deep breath a trotted over, taking a sword and held it in the air with her magic. “You two as well, meet me downstairs!” Zipporah grabbed a mace with her mouth and galloped down the stairs, leaving the three alone in the room.

“What should we do? We can’t go out and kill griffons our first day out, can we?” Twilight wondered, glancing at the sharp steel.

“We don’t really have a choice, do we?” Rarity said, “We’re on a mission to save Fluttershy, aren’t we? If she knew we were killing animals to save her she would never forgive us.”

Applejack took a sword and held it in her mouth, “Right. we have to be as non-lethal as possible.” With sword in mouth she trotted to the base of the stairs and looked over to Twilight and Rarity. “I’m ready when you two are.”

Rarity and Twilight looked at each other nervously. Rarity picked up the third sword, placed it on her back and held it there with magic. “Well let us go, shall we?”

“Alright.” Twilight caught up to Applejack who proceeded down the stairs. Zipporah was outside the open door, mace ready. She turned her head, and as she saw the girls she motioned them over. They followed her direction, seeing six griffons swooping and striking ponies with terrible force.

“Do ya know what to do?” Zipporah asked, surveying the town.

“Uh, no. We don’t really have this problem in Ponyville,” Twilight said as she began to sweat.

“Really? Ugh,” Zipporah groaned. “Alright, stay together. They hunt down the strays, now move!” She bolted out the door, bunching together with the other ponies. Twilight could see shutters on houses closing and doors slamming. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She looked back at her friends, then raced out into the fray.

A large dark brown griffon swooped down, clipping a white stallion in the back, causing him to topple over in the grass. A mare and stallion grouped together, grimacing and awaiting their chance to strike. Applejack burst through the door, easily vaulting over one of the low-flying griffons. As she was in the air, she kicked with her back legs, causing the griffon to slam into the earth. She landed and ran to join the ranks, creating a phalanx with the others. Rarity was the last to come out, holding the sword close to her face in a defense stance. She crept around, swinging her sword to ward off stray griffons.

“Why are they attacking!?” Twilight yelled over to Zipporah, who had just slammed her mace into a griffon’s skull. It liay there with small trickles of blood coming from the impact wound.

“They’re after us and our young, just attack!” Zipporah yelled, scrambling to make note of the griffons’ positions. Twilight wanted to argue, but a griffon with extended claws lunged at her, screeching at the top of its lungs. Twilight dodged, dropped her sword, and used her magic to create a large blinding light. She shot out a bright spark and it struck the griffon, and with the sound of thunder it crashed to the ground. It was alive, but unable to move. Rarity swung her sword wildly as she backed into the phalanx. She halted the sword and looked around, keeping her eyes peeled.

Twilight galloped to the fountain, checking to see if any griffon was hiding around it. Nothing. She looked to the sky trying to track their location, when she heard a sickening screech. She whipped her head around and saw two griffons break apart the group, one of them held a mare in its talons, trying to take off with it. Rarity was on the ground, struggling to get up. Her sword was far behind her. Twilight charged up another light spell and quickly fired it at the fleeing griffon, causing the mare to drop to the earth.

Rarity hobbled on to her hooves, her knees shaking from the impact. She was dizzy and couldn’t see straight, putting her in a panic. She hurried towards the sword, but fell over as a griffon landed right near her.

RARITY!” Twilight called out as she went into a full gallop to her ailing friend. Before she could reach her the griffon swiped, but a blinding light came from Rarity, making Twilight stumble backwards. She saw the griffon topple back as well, Rarity still enveloped in light.

 All the commotion seemed to be gone as the light stopped, revealing Rarity with glowing white eyes, her necklace and cutie mark where glowing in a bright purple light. She took a wide stance and her horn glowed, causing twenty needles to come out from her bag and form a shield around her. She lifted her head and reared back, sending the magically charged needles flying in precise paths across the town. Two griffons that were beating down on a few ponies where struck in the wings, forcing and pinning them down to the earth. They tried moving but yelped out in pain as the needles pierced muscle and bound them to the ground.

 A white griffon timidly stepped back, then took off trying to flee the magically charged unicorn. Rarity snapped her head towards it and tossed the rest of the sewing needles out, catching it in its wings and legs, letting it tumble from the sky and crash into the earth. All that remained was the griffon that confidently stood on Rarity’s steel weapon. She slowly let her head down and stared at her oppressor, waiting for it to make a move. Just as the griffon jutted its claw out and began racing towards her, Rarity took a long piece of fabric out from her bag. With the thin edge, she  slashed the griffon’s back, making it plant face first into the dirt right out of reach. With all the griffons down, the element stopped glowing as did her cutie mark. She fluttered her eyelids, bringing her eyes back to their azure color. She let out a long sigh, then toppled over herself into the dirt.

After the dust cleared, Twilight rushed over to Rarity, checking frantically for signs of life. She saw her chest rise and fall; she was breathing. Twilight sighed in relief. The air was cool but slightly charged as the battle came to a close, letting the ponies breathe easier. Twilight shook; the adrenaline was just starting to wear off as she grabbed Rarity, attempting to drag her into the shop. A brown stallion rushed over and easily hefted Rarity on to his back, catching Twilight off guard.

“Uh, thanks,” she said, trotting into the store. They went up the stairs and placed Rarity in Zipporah’s bed. Twilight sat down next to it. The stallion took his leave as Applejack came into view. Looking over Rarity, she was visibly shaking and her breathing was shallow. Magically, Twilight stripped Rarity of her necklace and looked over it, turning and inspecting every inch.

“Twi’, what happened? I couldn’t see anything over the pack of ponies near me,” Applejack asked as she plopped down next to Twilight. “Poor Rarity, it must’ve been too much for her.”

“It had to do with this.” Twilight floated the necklace in front of Applejack. “When she was in need this started to glow, enhancing her abilities I believe. I’ve never seen her do anything so quickly with that kind of accuracy and power.”

“Luna did say somethin’ about that before we left, didn’t she?”

        

“I think so. It must’ve taken out so much energy as a last resort that she just passed out. We won’t be able to move until tomorrow, if then.” Twilight let the necklace fall to the ground, its gold ornate plate slightly clanging on the wooden floor. “We should get our supplies while she’s asleep. I’ll stay here and tend to her.”

        

“Alright, I’m on it.” Applejack said. She got to her hooves and headed downstairs, leaving Twilight and Rarity alone in the room. Out from her bag she took a her element crown form her bag and looked at carefully.

        

Her curious eyes filled with trepidation as she stared at her reflection in the purple star. I’m the Element of Magic. If generosity gave Rarity the ability to single-hoofedly take out a whole pack of griffons, what would magic do? Twilight shuddered as she set the crown next to Rarity’s necklace, waiting anxiously until her friend awoke. Zipoorah came up the stairs, weapons covered in dirt and traces of blood. She put them away in the rack and looked over Rarity.

“How are her wounds?” she asked, inspecting Rarity’s body..

“Well, she’ll live,” Twilight said, choking up. “This is all my fault. If I hadnt’ messed up that spell, she’d still be making clothes in her boutique. Why did they attack us?” She put her face in her hooves, trying hard to keep her composure. “If I found an easier spell, none of this would have happened.”

“Why does that matter? She has t’ normally defend against creatures, doesn’t she?” Zipporah assumed as she placed the tea kettle back on the burner.

“No, nothing like this happens in Ponyville, we said that before. The only dangers lie in the Everfree Forest, and those creatures never come into town.” She paused, thinking of her next course of action. “What is the trail like to Mistral City?”

“It’s nothing too bad,” Zipporah answered.

“Tell me!” Twilight snapped. Her breathing became labored as her guilt finally caught up to her. “What am I putting my friends through? How many attacks will there be?”

Zipporah sighed as she checked on the tea. “If ya’ must know, the path goes through the Drakiris mountain range. That’s where the feral griffons lie. After the mountains is Ventia, whose winter is very long. It may snow for over half the year. Barely anyone makes the trip.”

Twilight stared in disbelief. “You weren’t going to tell me this!? Why?”

“Well, you hadn’t paid for my services yet.” After sighing, Twilight pointed down the stairs, hoping Zipporah would get the hint.

“Applejack is downstairs looking to buy things. Just... just take the bits; we need Rarity in bed more than the money.” Zipporah nodded her head and headed towards the stairs. She stopped, and turned to face Twilight.

“If you’re really going, I would wear some cloaks. You stick out too much.” She turned away and descended the stairs. Twilight looked down at the floor, trying to ease her guilt as Zipporah left. She glanced at the crown coldly, regretting opening the door for Fluttershy that day. The library in Ponyville felt so distant from her, and all she wanted to do was go back. She lay down on the hard wooden floor, still staring as she waited for Applejack to come up the stairs.

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<==  Chapter 5  ||  Chapter 7  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

7

Wildwoods

And that’s how you get kicked out of flight school with style,” Rainbow Dash touted as she spun around in the air. The forest was thick with trees, leaving Rainbow Dash’s trick obscured in the shadows. Fluttershy didn’t mind; she liked hearing her friends talk about themselves even without visual aid.

“Did you really pull that off?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yeah, who else has that kind of speed?” Rainbow said, flipping once again. She looked up at the canopy, slowed her flying, then landed next to Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. “You know, I think I’m going to walk. The clearance is so low I can barely maneuver.”

Fluttershy and Pinkie laughed. “That’s why I landed when we got here. I flew in a forest here before and it was hard to get out without getting hit by tree branches.” This forest was much bigger than the one outside of Oldale Town. Thicker trees were flush with darker bark as a deep green moss made its home across the forest floor. Only small rays of light could penetrate the forest ceiling, making the woods appear ominous. Both Rainbow and Pinkie looked around curiously at everything, with a mix of excited and annoyed looks.

“I’m getting a bad Everfree Forest vibe from this place,” Rainbow Dash stated. “I mean I’m not worried about it or anything, it just reminds me of it,” she backpedaled.

“Well since there are strange animals in here I can see why. I wonder what kind of pokémon will be in here. Bugs maybe?” Fluttershy wondered, checking for any signs of movement or animal sounds.

“That sounds cool I guess,” Rainbow stated. “I was just hoping for something, you know, cooler. By the way Pinkie, did I give you those Poké Balls yet?”

Pinkie looked up in thought, “No, I’m not even registered for the league. Should I even have a Pokémon, I mean I wouldn’t want to take any of yours

“We need all the help we can get if that Norman guy is right,” Rainbow Dash interrupted as she stuck her hoof onto Pinkie’s mouth to silence her. She took her hoof out and rummaged through her new bag, pulling out three Poké Balls.

“That’s great! I could look for an alligator, it’ll be just like Gummy!” She jumped up and gasped. “Oh no I forgot about Gummy! I hope he’s alright.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine, Fluttershy assured her. “Mr. and Mrs. Cake probably know how to take care of him. The animals back at my cottage however

“But he needs so much attention! I can’t imagine what Mr. and Mrs. Cake are going through,” Pinkie Pie said as she sat down to ponder. The three had a good laugh and pressed onward. Red spiked worms crawled on the leaves, along with hanging white and purple cocoons. Only the sound of rustling leaves and the crunching of fallen sticks filled the forest, giving Fluttershy some time to relax. The events of the other day still haunted her: the memory backlash, Alerce’s strange transformation, and the fight with Norman still caused her to shake. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself and focus. This was a new day, filled with new outfits for her friends, a sea side view off the shallow cliffs, and a forest with new animals to explore. Everything was serene, just as Fluttershy liked.

Fluttershy’s ears perked up. She could hear a small chirp in the distance, something that didn’t come from a worm or cocoon. She thought maybe it was one of those birds that flew with her above Oldale Town as she stopped to get a better sense of the noise. Rainbow and Pinkie stopped and looked back, confused. “Hey, are you alright? Is it another one of those weird flashes?”

“Shhh,” Fluttershy shushed them. “Do you hear that? It sounds like a tiny bird in the distance. The sound is coming from the ground, and it hasn’t moved. That’s so strange.”

Rainbow looked around, trying to see past the large thicket. “I don’t hear or see anything except us. Are you sure?”

“Positive.” Fluttershy crept closer, keeping her ears perked and listened for any sudden movements. Several chirps made their way through the forest, each one louder than the last one. She increased her speed, weaving her way through the mass of trees until she came upon a large opening. Except for a few twigs and rocks, the area was completely empty. Only a small figure at the other end showed itself from beneath the forest shadows. It was hard to see, but as Fluttershy got closer, she began noticing an orange tint to the figure. Its silhouette became clear to her, causing Fluttershy to stop in her tracks.

“What’s wrong?” Rainbow asked, stopping next to Fluttershy.

“Over there, that’s—” she inched closer, trying her best not to startle it. A few more chips came, as she approached. They sounded like sobs. “T-that’s Brendan’s torchic.” She spread her wings and flew, landing next to the abandoned bird. It looked up at her, staring straight into her eyes. “What are you doing all the way out here? Where’s Brendan?” she quietly asked, trying to comfort the distraught torchic.

“Wait, Brendan? As in the crazy fighter Brendan you were talking about?” Pinkie asked as she trotted to the torchic.

“Yeah, but I don’t understand. This was the Pokémon his father gave him.” The torchic got up and ran around the group, its small bout of depression seeming to gone. “He was so proud of it when he challenged me. Why would he leave it here?” Flutttershy looked around, trying to find any signs of Brendan. The forest floor was so dense with leaves and moss that if he had left any hoof prints, they would be impossible to find.

“Maybe it ran away? You did say he was kinda mean, I mean I would have.” Pinkie chimed in.

“Considering how Brendan acted, I don’t think it would’ve done that. It’s scared of something.” Fluttershy watched the Torchic make its way towards Rainbow Dash. It jumped up and down with glee, causing Rainbow to look down at it. A faint smile ran across her face as she patted it. It looked up at her and smiled back. Laughing, Rainbow reached down and picked up the torchic, holding it up in the air. It began to laugh with her, making random hiccup noises as well.

“So, I don’t understand. If this is Brendan’s, then why is it hovering around me?” Rainbow asked, placing the bird on her back.

“Maybe it just likes you,’ Fluttershy assumed, walking to the torchic to examine it.

“Oh! Catch it! It can be your first Pokémon, Rainbow Dash! We could celebrate afterwards, I’m sure there’s a place to make a cake or something like for Flut—” Rainbow shushed Pinkie, and ran her hoof across her mouth like a zipper. Pinkie nodded and sat down, making the same hoof motion.

“So, what do you know about catching these things?” Rainbow dug into her bag and took out a small Poké Ball. She tapped the button, causing it to enlarge to its normal size. Her head jumped back a little, but she quickly went back to pondering.

“Well, I don’t think you can catch a Pokémon that another pony owns. It just... doesn’t sound right.” Fluttershy explained. “I... I think.”

“Only one way to find out.” Rainbow exclaimed, “We should try it out!” She took the Poké Ball and tossed it in her hoof, ready to catch the bird. “Uh... what do I do? Just toss it?”

“Umm, maybe we should try it with Alerce first. I’m sure he won’t mind a small toss on the shell.” Fluttershy looked down at Alerce who nodded at her suggestion. She stepped away from Alerce, waiting for Rainbow to make her move. With a quick toss, the Poké Ball bounced off of Alerce’s shell, causing it to bounce in the air and open up. He became enveloped in in white light and turned into a wisp of energy. It went inside the Poké Ball and it closed shut. Only a moment later, it burst open in a green light, bringing Alerce out and back to his original form. “Well, I guess that didn’t work.”

“What should we do then? We can’t just leave it here.” Fluttershy started to pace, looking up at the forest canopy.

“Wait, where is it?” Pinkie asked as she frantically searched. The other two turned their heads, and looked in disbelief. It was gone. Fluttershy bolted out to the perimeter of the treeless opening and poked her head between the trees to look. Rainbow took off, hovering just below the canopy. The three yelled out the to the torchic, trying to catch its attention. Pass after pass yielded no results. Distraught, Fluttershy approached the two Poké Balls that lay in the clearing.

“Did you find anything?” Fluttershy asked with her head hung low.

“No, all that’s here are these Poké Balls. Oh, maybe you can use your memory thing to find it.” Pinkie suggested.

“But, it only shows up when something weird happens. Also I’ve never tried actually conjuring it before.”

“You’ve got to try! Maybe we’ll be able to find him faster!” Fluttershy slowly nodded and swallowed nervously. Her breathing became stuttered from the tension, but she closed her eyes and concentrated. She could only hear the ambient sounds of the forest, and saw nothing but black. The only memories that appeared were ones of her own. She bit her lower lip, straining to get a memory to appear.

After a few moments, a wave of wooziness fell over her. She stumbled to the left, almost falling over, then heard faint cries for help. They became louder and louder each time, and it began to hurt Fluttershy’s ears. Suddenly, a flash of the image of a man appeared. He held a manila envelope and was on his back, scurrying away from a man in pirate’s clothing as he yelled for help. The assailant had a knife and a wolf, waiting to attack. The vision became clearer as she felt herself running towards the man to save him. “Leave him alone!” It was May’s voice. Right as she reached the man, her vision went white. She opened her eyes and looked around. She was lying on the ground, surrounded by Rainbow, Pinkie and Alerce. She got up and shook her head, trying to keep the memory at the forefront of her mind.

“Did you see anything? You kinda just fell over.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t about the torchic. There was some thing being attacked, and the girl in the memory was trying to save him.”

Rainbow cocked her head, “Some ‘thing’? What do you talking about? You’re usually better at explaining animals to us than that.”

        

“I-It’s, well,” Fluttershy lowered her head. “It’s hard to explain. I’ve never seen a creature anywhere close to this, and they have the intelligence and language as us.”

        

“What did it look like?” Pinkie Pie jumped around with excitement.

“Well, their face was like that of a monkey’s, but he had no hair on its face and it was more defined. The only hair it had was on the top of its head, and it was quite short. Also it stood on two legs and had hands, similar to a monkey’s as well.” She looked up at the two. “I’m sorry, I’m not great at explaining things.”

“Whatever. We still need to find that bird.” Rainbow Dash trotted to the two Poké Balls that still lay in the grass. “That’s... strange. I only took out one. Pinkie, did you drop one?”

“Nope! Mine are still in my pocket.” Pinkie tapped on her pocket, causing the capsules to rustle and clank. Fluttershy and Pinkie began to slightly panic, glaring at all the trees to make sure there was nothing hiding in their midst. Rainbow picked up one of the capsules and opened it. It was empty. She sighed and closed it. After placing it in her jacket pocket, she picked up the other one. It felt slightly heavier to her. She pressed the button, causing a bright white light to burst out from it. Rainbow backed away and dropped the Poké Ball, wings spread in defense. The light formed into a familiar figure and faded, leaving a smiling torchic. It shivered, then looked up at Rainbow.

“Did it just... did it just catch itself?” Rainbow wondered as she inspected the Torchic. “Why would you do that?” she asked as she ruffled the torchic’s feathers.

“Maybe it did run away from Brendan and went to you. It was probably feeling lonely after it fled and clinged to you.”

“Ooo, you should give him a name! Is it a guy?” Pinkie rushed to Rainbow’s side and placed her hoof on her friend’s back.

“Hmm...” Rainbow began to think. “How about Igni? That sounds cool.” The torchic began jumping up and down with joy. “It seems to like it.”

“He was a lot less fussy than Alerce was when I named him,” Fluttershy stated, patting Alerce on the head. She donned a frown and looked to the north. All she could think of was the memory vision she conjured. “We... we should go find that creature. He could still be in trouble.”

“How do you know that he would even be here? Maybe that’s supposed to happen later, or it already happened.” Rainbow took Igni and placed him on her back.

“Well, every time I’ve had a flash, it’s been at the time it should be happening. I think.” Fluttershy started pacing. “We have to go see.”

“Fine,” Rainbow said as she headed to the edge of the clearing. “Let’s get going then.” The three headed through the forest’s thicket, keeping their eyes peeled for the troubled creature. Fluttershy kept her ears perked for any sounds, but all she heard was the sound of rustling leaves. None of them made a sound as they peered behind and between the trees. Neither Pinkie or Rainbow had a clear idea of what they were searching for, but Fluttershy did. She was hoping that the memory was false, or that they weren’t too late.

The rays of sunlight began to dissipate as an overcast of clouds loomed over them. The once vibrant colors of the forest became muted and dull, and everything started to blend together. She kept her head east, hoping her friends were checking in other directions. The only visuals she remembered were the two figures. The layout of the tress were obscured, but she noticed sunlight dappled their clothes and skin. It was still sunny then.

“Where could he be? It feels like we’ve been searching forever, and that fog isn’t helping us one bit,” Pinkie stated, causing Fluttershy to turn her head.

Fog? What is she talking about, there’s no fog, it’s just— Fluttershy’s train of thought stopped as a saw a thick wave of fog was headed towards them from the west. “This is all wrong. They where covered in sunlight, like it was... a few...” She stopped and frantically jumped around to find the figure. “No, no,” she whimpered. “We need to find him, now.”

“Calm down, we don’t even know if he’s out there.” Rainbow grabbed a hold of the frantic pegasus. “I know you haven’t done things like this before, but you can’t lose your head,” Rainbow said in a calm tone. “We don’t even know if your memories are correct, they could be completely fake.” Fluttershy’s breathing began to stabilize as Rainbow backed away. It had been a while since Fluttershy had heard Rainbow use that tone of voice. She figured it was the unfamiliar land they were in that caused her to act as she does with her weather team. She let out a small sigh and ventured into the fog, trying to avoid the silhouetted trees. Rainbow and Pinkie followed close behind.

After a half-hour of searching, they found nothing. Fluttershy leaned up against a tree, taking a break from the search. Pinkie was still hopping around, quickly peeking behind each tree while Rainbow sat along side Fluttershy. Alerce jumped off her trainer’s back and played around with Igni, each of them laughing as they rolled around. Rainbow Dash watched them with fascination. “So, we have to fight with them.”

“That’s what Norman said,” Fluttershy explained.

“Before I got Igni, I was all for it. I never really owned a pet, so I never knew what it was like,” Rainbow explained as she watched her Torchic run around. She paused. Igni began jumping on Alerce’s back, happily chirping. He lost his balance and fell to the ground, but quickly sprang back up. “This might be harder than I thought.”

Fluttershy’s right ear twitched, catching the faintest bizarre sound from the thicket. She turned her head and stood up, just staring into the fog. “I heard something,” she stated. She crept her head closer to the north, waiting for the sound to come back. Pinkie jumped over, crunching sticks and leaves as she went.

“Pinkie! She’s trying to listen for something,” Rainbow yelled in a whispered tone.

“Sorry, I’ll try to be quieter.” Pinkie halted, now tip-hoofing closer to the pegasi. Fluttershy slowly made her way through, keeping her ears pointed to the north. With each step, she became more nervous. The noise was sickening, making her uneasy. A moment later it cried out again and it was loud enough to pierce Pinkie and Rainbow’s ears. “What was that? It sounded like someone having a stomach ache.”

“No, it sounds like...” Fluttershy knew that sound. She increased her speed, hoping she could get there quick enough. Weaving her way through trees, she leaped over fallen branches and charged her way through the thicket. She shook from the knowledge of what was ahead, but she couldn’t stop. Both of her friends kept pace, seemingly unaware of what Fluttershy knew.

A hazy figure came into few. It was lying on the ground, making it hard to see exactly what it was. Fluttershy slowed her gallop into a trot, trying to casually approach the creature. It had not made a sound for since she started her gallop, making her nervous. After a few methodical steps, the creature became fully visible. It was a grey stallion in a while coat and black pants, with a massive bite wound on his left shoulder. He was moaning and shaking, trying to stave off the pain. Fluttershy rushed over and started to inspect the wound. “Are you alright? C-can you hear me?”

He groaned again, then forced his head over to the yellow pegasus. “I’ve been better...” he trailed off into an episode of shaking and yelps of pain.

“What happened? This wound doesn’t look good at all.” Rainbow and Pinkie caught up to her and stopped. They looked over him and stayed back to let Fluttershy work. Fluttershy began digging through her back, taking out a bottle of antiseptic and bandages.

“I was attacked. A pony came at me with a knife and a Poochyena. Just like that one over there.” He lifted his right hoof and pointed at a wolf who stood behind Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy looked over, jumping back from shock. She didn’t hear anything following her, but it just stood there, staring at her. Turning back to the stallion, she began covering the would with the antiseptic.

“This is going to sting, I’m sorry.” The stallion bit his lower lip, trying not to make a noise. He panted and let his head fall back to the ground. “Who attacked you? Do you know why?” Rainbow got closer and inspected the area around them.

“It was somepony from Team Aqua. He was wearing a blue bandanna, and had a black and white—”

“—white striped shirt and blue pants,” Fluttershy finished. Both Rainbow and Pinkie looked straight at Fluttershy, then looked at each other. The stallion stopped mid-sentence, and looked at her dumbfounded. Fluttershy quickly recoiled, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“You’ve seen Team Aqua before?” he asked, then winced.

“Um, no. It was a lucky guess,” Fluttershy fibbed. She quickly went to change the subject. “So, what was he after?”

The stallion sighed. “He took a package from me. I was making my way to the Devon Corporation, and he stopped me. He sicked his dog on me and stole an important document I was delivering.”

“So, he used his Pokémon as a weapon...” Fluttershy looked over at Rainbow as she paced and messed with her coat. She took the roll of bandages and wrapped them around the wound, pulling hard to make sure it stayed on correctly. “Where did he go?

“He went north, probably passed right through Rustboro City. Please don’t go after him though, it’s Devon Corporation business. I don’t want you fillies to involved in this.”

“Is there anything we can do though?” Pinkie asked.

“You’re doing enough as it is, but if you really want to help I do have something you can do.” The stallion planted his hoofs into the grass and tried to stand. He wobbled and fell back down, grunting in pain. “If you can, could you tell my boss about what happened? I’m being expected to arrive with it, and they need to know now.”

“What about your job? Won’t you lose it if we say it was stolen?” Fluttershy interjected.

“Don’t worry about it.” The stallion rubbed his wound, trying to soothe it. “As long as they know about it, it’s fine.”

“So how do we go about getting in? They aren’t going to let three random ponies talk to their president, will they?” Rainbow asked as she looked over at the Poochyena. “Also, what should we do about this guy?” She approached it and it began to snarl. Quickly she stepped back, making it stop. “Well, that’s new.”

“Tell them you need to talk to the president about ‘Project 746’. The receptionist will know what you’re talking about.” He tried standing again, bracing himself better this time. “Could you help me get out of these woods? There’s a house in the next route that I can rest at.”

        

Fluttershy took his injured foreleg and put it around her neck, trying to lift him to carry. “Could someone take the other side? I can’t do this myself.” Pinkie Pie hopped over, and took his right side. With Pinkie out of the way, the Poochyena approached Fluttershy, nuzzling her torso. Her body shifted, trying to still hold onto the pony as the wolf tried to play. “Not now, maybe later.” The wolf looked into her eyes and backed off, keeping itself at a good distance.

“Why does it come up to you, but when I get near it it growls at me?” Rainbow asked, then looked ahead. “Whatever, I’ll lead the way.”

“Thank you so much for this,” the stallion said, walking in sync with Fluttershy and Pinkie. The fog was lighter than before, giving way for details to show themselves. It made it much easier for the four to navigate the rest of the woods. The striped Poochyena walked along side them and glanced in all directions, seemingly watching for sudden movements. “The path to Rustboro should be just up ahead. It should take too much longer.” They pressed on, side-stepping around trees and bushes before seeing a clearing in the distance. Rainbow spread her wings, flew ahead and checked their distance. She turned and nodded her head towards the clearing, signaling them through.

As they passed through the forest, a large city sprawled in front of their eyes. Giant towers threatened the sky, and loomed over the trees and houses along the path to the city. They appeared as sentinels, silently standing in the fog’s midst. Fluttershy took her eyes off the sight and noticed a small house west, right near the beginning of the path. “Is that it?” she asked, pointing to the house with her head.

“Yeah, that’s it.” He grunted and fell to knees, bringing both Fluttershy and Pinkie with him. Struggling, they brought him back up and trekked to the building. It was small but cozy, nestling itself amongst the trees. Rainbow dashed ahead and looked inside, inspecting the building thoroughly. They crossed over a small wooden bridge and made their way to the front door. There was a sign that read ‘Rustboro Rest House’ hanging on the door. Rainbow knocked and waited for an answer. A light flickered in the window, as they could hear something approach.

“Hello, welcome to—” A dark brown unicorn stated as he opened the door. He stopped mid- sentence, glaring at the injured Devon employee. “W-what happened here?”

“It’s a long story. Can we come in? I heard you house trainers needing some rest.” Fluttershy asked, trying to look around the unicorn to see the inside.

“Well, I can’t refuse an injured traveler. Please, come in.” He stepped aside, revealing an inside filled with beds and an area to cook. There were several other ponies inside, each with their Pokémon out. The variety of them intrigued Fluttershy, but she had other pressing matters to attend to. She and Pinkie brought the stallion to a bed and laid him down, making sure he stayed on his left side as to not ruin his shoulder more. With that taken care of, Fluttershy turned to the Poochyena who sat on the floor, wagging its tail.

“Why did it follow us all the way over here? Shouldn’t it still be in the forest?” Fluttershy wondered as she began inspecting the wolf.

“I don’t know. I didn’t even hear it behind us when we were finding this guy.” Pinkie said.

“D-do you want to be my friend, wolf?” Fluttershy asked, rubbing its fur. It closed its eyes and began wagging its tail. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.” It happily barked as she dug into her bag and pulled out a Poké Ball. She brought it close to the wolf, far enough away for it to make its own decision. Without hesitation, the poochyena tapped the button on the Poké Ball. It opened and enveloped the poochyena in a white light then trapped it inside. She let go of it, letting it fall on the floor. It wobbled back and forth a few times before it was completely dormant. She picked it up and looked at it, smiling. “I’ll have to name you later.”

“Ugh, thanks,” the stallion spoke up. “I would give you something to reward you, but that thug took my wallet as well. I’m sure that Mr. Stone will be able to reward you kindly.” He took the blanket and draped it over him.

“Will you be fine by yourself? I-I mean you’re still badly injured,” Fluttershy asked.

“Oh yeah, I’m sure if anything happens the pony who runs it can help. When you reach the city, it’s on Celestial Road. It’s about four blocks north and to your left, and it’s the tallest building on the road. You can’t miss it.” He motioned Fluttershy over, bringing her head close to his. “Remember, it’s ‘Project 746’,” he whispered.

“Why do you trust us so much with this?” she said under her breath. “Isn’t it really important?”

He chuckled. “No matter what, they’ll find out eventually. The project name isn’t important, I’m just trying to get the news there faster. It doesn’t hurt anyone that three filly trainers knows that Devon is working on a project.”

Fluttershy lifted her head and backed away from the stallion. After placing her new pokémon in her bag, she turned towards the door. “Well... let’s go.” She didn’t want to leave the stallion, but she had no choice. They smiled to the unicorn as they left off to Rustboro City. “So, what should we do? I really don’t want to get involved in something like this. Well, more than we’ve already been.”

“Maybe it’ll lead to an adventure!” Pinkie gasped, “I’m always wanted to go on an adventure. I mean the Nightmare Moon and dragon trips were fun, but this has intrigue and suspense.” Pinkie began hopping as they turned north.

“Yeah, adventure sounds good,” Rainbow said. “I mean as long as we’re here, we might as well do something cool, right?”

        

“I guess...” Fluttershy squeaked.

“Great! Let’s do it right away so we have a better story to tell when we get back. We can get supplies and stuff later, adventure calls!” Pinkie let her expectations get the best of her.

“We don’t even know if this will lead to anything though.”

“Well, you can always use that weird memory thing again, can’t you? It worked for that pony, we were just a little late,” Rainbow said.

“Let’s just deliver the news and be on our way. We should probably talk about this when we know more about it, shouldn’t we?” Fluttershy asked as they approached the beginning of the city’s main road.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Rainbow said, looking over at Pinkie.

The Pokédex began to beep, startling Fluttershy. She closed her eyes and groaned, then took the Pokédex out and flipped it open. The screen flickered and the automated voice ran through its routine. “Rustboro gym at 3:30,” Fluttershy repeated to her friends. She took a look at the clock. It was 12:15 p.m. “Well, we have enough time at least.”

“Um, shouldn’t we train a little bit before your fight? I mean Alerce didn’t do so hot against Norman.” Rainbow asked in a worried tone.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt,” Fluttershy said painfully. She swallowed nervously and looked over at Igni who was sleeping on Rainbow’s back. “If we finish this early enough, maybe we can... spar?”

“I never thought you’d ask!” Rainbow said with excitement. “I can’t wait to see what Igni can do,” she sighed, and looked at Fluttershy. “I know what I said back in the forest about Igni, but if there really are ponies out there using these creatures as weapons we have to be ready for anything.” They both looked on ahead and stared at the city that was laid in front of them. The streets were crowded with ponies without their pokémon in view, all of them dwarfed by the massive buildings. It looked like Canterlot to them, except the buildings were more rectangular and dully colored, and the layout was much more structured and rigid. Ponies trotted with suits and formal dress, while others in more adventures attire. A battle took place on the side of the road between two ponies, each one of them looked as if they were only sparing.

“I’m so hungry. Shouldn’t we stop somewhere to eat?” Pinkie asked, rubbing her stomach.

        

“After the we visit that ‘Devon’ company. That is what you wanted, Pinkie.” Rainbow said.

“Okie dokie!” Pinkie exclaimed as they traveled another block. Fluttershy couldn’t help but stare upward at the towers. They eclipsed anything she had ever seen built by ponies, and it amazed her. Glass surrounded the perimeter of each of the buildings, and fanciful decorations garnered the front of each, attracting the view of everypony. She turned her head towards where they walking, looking up at the sign they were approaching.

“Alright let’s see, that was one, two, three blocks?” Pinkie asked.

“Yeah, we’re coming up to it now I think.” Rainbow said, turning her head to the left. Pinkie and Fluttershy followed suit. Like every other street, it was lined to the brim with compact buildings, though one did stick out. The tallest building on the street had an insignia of a swooping pegasus wing, with a sharp expanding line running opposite bolted to the front. Small statues of ponies lined the front, standing as guardians of the building. “Uh, I think that’s the building.”

“The one with the statues?” Fluttershy asked.

“Well, he did say it stuck out. It wouldn’t hurt to check it out.” Rainbow spread her wings and flew towards the building, Fluttershy following. Pinkie bounced around the constant stream of ponies until they reached the front doors. There was ‘Devon Corporation’ plastered on the doors, but something stuck out to Fluttershy: there were no door handles. She crept closer, scanning the doors for a way in, but as she got close they slid open. Puzzled, she moved in closer to make sure it wouldn’t close on her. She waved her hoof between the doors. They remained motionless.

“Well, I guess it’s fine.” Pinkie and Rainbow passed her into the building’s lush interior. The carpet was a deep crimson, making a striking contrast to the pale yellow of the walls. A mare with reading glasses sat behind a counter, watching as the three gaze around with stupefying fascination.

“Can I help you?” the pony asked as she removed her glasses.

“Oh yes, we need to talk to, uh, the president.” Fluttershy responded.

“Uh huh,” the mare said sarcastically. “So, what do you need to see Mr. Stone for?”

Rainbow jumped ahead of Fluttershy, “It’s about, what was that...” Rainbow rubbed her chin in thought. “Oh yeah, ‘Project 746’.”

        The mare sighed and pressed a button on a strange device and began speaking into it, “Mr. Stone, there are three fillies here about ‘Project 746’.” She waited for a response.

        

“Anypony else sick of being called fillies?” Rainbow asked, sneering at the receptionist.

        

“Follow me,” the mare said as she left the desk, and began walking down a hallway. Fluttershy hesitated, then followed at a distance. After a few steps, she pressed a button on the wall that was on the side of two metal doors. A light on the top flashed the number ‘3’, and progressively went down until it reached the letter ‘G’. Suddenly the doors slid open as the front doors did. “It’s the top floor. Please don’t be too long, Mr. Stone is a busy stallion.” The three moved through the doors into a small box-like room. There wasn’t much inside except a panel of buttons to the right of the door and that same informative light on top. The three adjacent walls were of polished metal, allowed the three to see themselves.

So... top floor,” Rainbow said to herself as she press the highest number button. “How is this supposed to—” The room began to shake and they could feel themselves being pulled to the floor. “What’s going on!?”

“I-I don’t know,” Fluttershy said, trying to make sure Alerce was still safe on her back. Just as the shaking began, it stopped. The doors slid open, revealing a small hallway and a door at the end. Couches that lined the walls for them to sit on. They each exited the room, and the doors closed behind them. Right as the exited, the door at the hallway opened, and a stallion in a black suit and sunglasses motioned the three in. Fluttershy took a deep breath and followed the pony’s invitation.

The room was as large as the base floor, but more open and grand. Windows lined the walls, leaving no sense of walls. A large Devon symbol was sprawled across the floor in front of a large wooden desk where a stallion sat in a plush chair.

“So, you must be the three here about ‘Project 746’, am I correct?” he asked in a pleasant tone. It was a blue unicorn with a dark blue swooping mane. He wore a dark brown suit with a mark stitched on the lapel. It was a yellow crescent moon with a smaller white crescent inside.

“Uh, yes we are.” Fluttershy couldn’t help but look around the room more as she spoke. “I found an employee of yours injured in the forest to the south. He told me that somepony from a ‘Team Aqua’ stole some documents that pertained to it.”

“Is that so?” he said, placing his hooves on the desk. “I’m not surprised.”

“D-does that mean you’re not going to fire him?” Fluttershy responded.

“Hmm, why do you care so much about one pony’s employment status?” He stood up and approached the three.

“I... uh... well...” Fluttershy shuffled her forehooves and lowered her head.

        

“I haven’t seen such caring young mares in quite a long time. You remind me of my daughter.” Fluttershy’s head perked back up. “I thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will make sure you are rewarded in kind. Could I see your PokéNavs?”

“A Poké-what?” Rainbow asked.

The stallion chuckled. “I thought every trainer had one by now.” He trotted back to his desk and opened a drawer. He pulled out three devices with open straps coming out from the bottom. “These are PokéNavs, they’re quite essential for every trainer. They’re of Devon Corp. design.” He carried them over and handed them to each of them. “They come with a map, clock, touch screen, feeding timer, everything you need pre-installed.”

“Why would you give us these for free? It seems like a little much.” Fluttershy asked.

“I’m letting you keep them under one condition.” He trotted back to his desk and sat down. “My daughter, Stephanie, is doing some research in the caves of Dewford Town, and I can’t contact her at the moment. I need a letter delivered to her right away. You seem trustworthy enough.”

“But, I—”

“Don’t worry, whatever is inside will mean nothing if you peek I can assure you.” One of the two black-suited ponies handed Fluttershy an envelope. “Dewford has a gym, and since you’re trainers you should be going there anyway. Also I’ve heard there are quite a lot of rare Pokémon as well.” One of the ponies began escorting the three out of the room. “Good luck!” he yelled out as they approached the door. Fluttershy was the last to go through, and she overheard the two at the other end of the room talking quietly to each other.

“Did you see those two ponies that were with the yellow pegasus?”

“Yeah, what about them?”

“Well, don’t they look fami—” She was pushed out the door and strained to hear the rest of the conversation. The door closed, leaving the three alone in the hallway.

“This is so exciting! I can’t wait to see what this ‘Stephanie’ looks like!” Pinkie yelled out as she hopped towards the metal doors.

“Wait, they were just talking about you two!” Fluttershy yelled out, desperate to grab their attention.

“Oh well, they can talk about us all they want. I’m sure its because they think we’ll be expert trainers.” Rainbow said with confidence. Fluttershy sighed and walked to the doors. She took one last sideways glance at Mr. Stone’s office. After a short sigh, she walked through to the metallic room and watched the stallion’s office disappear behind the polished steel doors.

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<==  Chapter 6  ||  Chapter 8  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

8

Analogue

Alerce stood at the ready, staring down his feathered rival. It was his first real fight, and Fluttershy tried hard to keep her nerves under control. They stood in the middle of the crowded city with ponies in business suits passing by without question. She still wasn't used to the frantic nature of the place, but while she was here she felt she had to get used to it. "Uh, use Tackle," Fluttershy commanded weakly, prompting Alerce to run at a full sprint. Igni swiftly dodged and slapped Alerce with his wing. The Turtwig struck the ground but then popped back to his feet.

“Alright, try scratching him,” Rainbow commanded, still trying to get her bearings. Igni jumped onto Alerce and scratched at his head. Alerce withdrew into his shell and spun, launching Ingi back towards Rainbow Dash. Igni started coughing and hacking; Rainbow bent down to check on him. "Are you alright, guy?" After a few more coughs, small embers flew from his mouth, catching Rainbow in the snout. She frantically rubbed her nose, trying to alleviate herself from the singeing embers. “Ow, what was that?” Igni slunk back and continued coughing.

“Uh, let me check.” Fluttershy dug through her bag and whipped out her Pokédex. She had never used it to check information without desperation, so now was good a time as any. It lit up automatically, showing a screen with several options. She clicked the button next to “Move List”. It beeped at her, saying to point it at a pokémon. She tilted it down and lined it up with Igni; it flashed white and showed a text file of available league recognized moves. “It looks like that’s ‘Ember’. Igni is apparently a fire type, so he creates fire in his body I’m sure.”

“That sounds... awesome!” Rainbow said, pushing Igni back into the fray. “Now, use that Ember attack on Alerce, not me.” Igni smiled and nodded, then turned and stared her opponent down. With a quick lunge forward, she fired a spray of small embers at Alerce. Some caught him on the face and legs, making him run and yelp in pain. With a worried glance, Fluttershy took the Pokédex and scanned over Alerce, revealing him to be a grass type. A type that’s weak to fire.

“Uh... uh,” Fluttershy stammered. She tried coming up with a strategy, but the type and power disadvantage between the two was overwhelming. In desperation, she scanned the tablet again, looking ahead on Alerce’s move set. The only attack ahead in the list was Absorb, but it was still a ways off. “Tackle him!” she finally commanded. After shaking off the embers, Alerce charged and buried his head into Igni’s chest. The both flew towards Pinkie Pie, rolling and stumbling in the grass.

As the fight went on, Fluttershy felt excited. She didn’t want to think it was May’s personality resurfacing, but it reminded her of the time she fought Brendan. No memories surfaced, which put her at ease. The endorphins that ran through her body was something she hadn’t felt since she saw Rainbow Dash pull off the fabled Sonic Rainboom. The gym fight couldn’t come fast enough; she shook with giddy anticipation.

A few minutes later, her Pokédex’s alarm went off. “Alright, that’s enough,” she said, alerting Rainbow. Alerce bolted back to Fluttershy, rubbing the burn marks on his head and legs. “It’s 2:30. I need Alerce at full strength to fight this gym leader.”

“So, are we just going to wait in front of the gym like last time?” Rainbow asked as she scooped Igni off of the grass.

“Yeah. We might as well.” Fluttershy placed Alerce on her back and began making her way to the east side of the city as she looked down at her PokéNav. The map on this PokéNav is handy after all. Pinkie leaped from the grass and bounced along side Rainbow Dash.

The gym stood next to two towering buildings, making it feel small and cramped. It was designed like any other building that wasn’t a glass behemoth: It was small and rectangular with a brown brick outside. A few windows were etched in the front just to the side of the sliding glass doors. A line of ponies extended from the entrance. Fluttershy couldn’t understand why there was a line if the fights were scheduled, but she took her place in the back to not stand out.

“So why didn’t I get a call for a gym fight? I’m registered,” Rainbow complained as she approached the line.

“Maybe it just hasn’t finished registering yet,” Fluttershy responded as the line shortened.

“I wonder what this gym leader looks like! I bet they look like all those other ponies in suits,” Pinkie exclaimed. “Maybe one of these ponies in line know something!” She hopped out of line and began talking to a young stallion. Fluttershy couldn’t make out what he said, but his face became bright red as he talked, making Pinkie giggle. His eyes darted as he talked, then he looked down at the pavement. Giggling, Pinkie hopped back and stared at Fluttershy.

“So, what did you find out? He seemed a little embarrassed,” Rainbow said.

“Oh, he was going on about how pretty she was, and how refined and cultured, too. He was so red when he started talking! Apparently she has a really good fashion sense as well. I think Rarity might like her,” Pinkie snorted as she continued her giggling fit.

“What about her pokémon? Did you find anything out about that?” Fluttershy asked.

“Nope! All he did was stammer about the gym leader. It’ll be more fun if we find out when we get in; that way it’ll be a surprise!”

As the clock ticked towards Fluttershy’s fight, her patience began to wear thin. Even after her existential crisis a day ago, she couldn’t help but be excited. She didn’t want to think that May’s personality was rubbing off on her, but she couldn’t come up with any other explanation. Rainbow and Pinkie broke that part of her, didn’t they? Her body shook as the line dwindled down to one pony. She checked the time, trying her hardest to keep her cool. It was 3:15, only fifteen minutes away from her second gym fight. She hoped that because there was such a long line that this was the first gym. Either that, or these were ponies who wanted to court her. All her trails of thought dissipated as the final pony entered the gym.

“This is it...” Fluttershy said, trailing off. Self-defense, it’s just self-defense, she repeated to herself.

“You’ll do fine. Norman was the fifth leader, maybe she’s the first,” Rainbow assured her, placing her hoof on Fluttershy’s back.

“I hope so.” She felt a knot in her stomach form as she waited, her head pained and her vision blurred slightly. Her anxiety got the better of her, but she ignored it as she stared at her PokéNav. 3:29. The last pony to enter finally left with a disappointed face. He trotted past them slowly as the three made their way through the glass doors.

The inside was much different than that of Norman’s; much more refined and cultured. Beautiful banners hung and sparkled with the midday sun. Elegant tapestry lined the gym floor, leaving a polished wood arena in the center. There were no bleachers and no seats for spectators as well. It was only the three and the gym leader alone in the building. At the other end of the gym stood the silhouette of a young mare unicorn with her head held up high. After the lights dimmed, the mare gracefully trotted her way to the center of the gym, allowing her purple and red dress to shine with the sun’s light that poured in from the ceiling. She was a white unicorn with a swirled purple mane with eyes of azure. On her shawl were three small blue diamonds. Fluttershy gasped as she stared.

“R....R...Rarity?” Fluttershy gasped, her mouth hung agape.

“What’s Rarity doing here? I thought she was back in Ponyville!” Rainbow whispered. Fluttershy didn’t understand. Her best friend stood right in front of her, but the air around her had changed. Why would she follow me here? I thought she’s with Twilight!

“Welcome to the Rustboro Gym. My name is Roxanne,” the mare stated as she approached the three. Her voice was Rarity’s, but she acted as if nothing was wrong. Fluttershy couldn’t even look at her friends when she was conditioned without having pains of resurfacing memories. Maybe Rarity went with her friends without their knowledge and landed elsewhere. Maybe she had fully succumbed to those incessant voices. “Which one of you is my 3:30 appointment, hmm?”

“I am,” Fluttershy said with a huff of confidence. “C-could I ask you something, miss?”

The unicorn formed her mouth to a pout and placed her hoof under her chin. “I don’t see why not.”

“Do you remember anything about yourself before two days ago?”

Roxanne recoiled and stared blankly at Fluttershy. “W-what do you mean? Of course I do. What kind of silly question is that?” She turned away and strode to her side of the arena. “It’s been a pleasure, unknown pony, but I can assure you that this will be the only gym you will ever attend.

“But, I’ve already been in another one,” Fluttershy retorted.

“Yeah, the fifth one in fact. She’s not afraid of you,” Rainbow yelled out.

“Norman’s? Hmm...” she scratched under her chin again. “It doesn’t matter. I won’t get into how that’s impossible, so I’ll simply get started.” Roxanne’s horn glowed, causing the perimeter lines of the arena to harshly glow in a blue light. “I am Roxanne, the first gym leader of Hoenn’s Pokémon League. I will show you the true nature of pokémon.” With her horn, she gracefully tossed a Poké Ball out onto the field, revealing a large rock with arms. It was polished, leaving Fluttershy unsurprised, but she hadn’t a clue on what to make of it. She whipped out her Pokédex and scanned the creature for information.

“Weak to grass, huh?” Fluttershy muttered under her breath. Alerce didn’t have a grass attack yet, but maybe after taking a few attacks he can—”

She stopped and stared down at Alerce who growled at the rock. After shutting her eyes, she placed one of her hooves on her forehead. This was the same Pokémon whom she cried over after the last fight, and yet at the moment she wanted to throw him back into the ring. W-what’s wrong with me? Am I really going to do this?

“Fluttershy?” Rainbow approached her, hearing small sobs from the yellow pegasus. “Fluttershy, what’s wrong? You haven’t even sent out Alerce.”

“I... I don’t know.” Fluttershy looked up at her friend. “Just a minute ago I knew why I had to fight, but I... was getting excited for this, and... I... ”

Rainbow grabbed the pegasi’s head and made her stare straight into her eyes. “You’re the Element of Kindness, I know that. A pony was just mauled by a wolf sent by a trainer, and he’s part of a team of ponies who will do the same. There are probably many more ponies with even more powerful pokémon that could come for us. You aren’t fighting for sport, you’re doing it to survive.” She let go of Fluttershy’s head and looked over at the Rarity look alike. “Alerce is ready for this, and he knows this world better than you. Trust him.”

        

Fluttershy gulped. Her friend was right. The whole world it seemed was based around fighting, and she knew it for days. For all she saw, she wasn’t ready to accept it alone. If the girl really was influencing her, maybe she could let it fight for her as she contemplated her stance. She concentrated on May’s personality and mannerisms, letting take her take over as she mentally went blank. It wouldn’t hurt to try, would it?

Rainbow could only watch as Fluttershy opened her eyes, with a new found fire and intensity. Her timid demeanor seemed to melt away as she stood with her head held high. “Alerce, go out there and withdraw until you can use Absorb. Take as many hits as you can; I have potions ready.” Alerce nodded his head and calmly entered the field.

“Oh, are we starting? Very well, you know what to do, Geodude.” The rock lunged forward, hitting Alerce in the shell. Its fist bounced off as a blue light enveloped his shell. “Keep at it!” Roxanne yelled, prompting Geodude to unleash a series of volleys at the turtwig. Fluttershy only stood, a small teeth-filled grin formed on her face, putting Rainbow on edge. Just a second ago she cried about even letting Alerce onto the field, then suddenly she smiled as he was pummeled into the earth.

“What are you doing? You can’t win with pure defense,” Roxanne stated as she flipped her mane. “You’ll have to lower your defense at some point.” Fluttershy’s mischievous smile grew as he held up her Pokédex.

“Alerce. Use Absorb, now!” She commanded in an authoritative tone. The Turtwig glowed in a green aura that enveloped him and the geodude. Suddenly a crack appeared on the rock, and green tendrils of energy coiled around Alerce. It absorbed into his skin, making all his bruises and cuts disappear. The geodude rocked back and lay on the ground, unmoving.

“What was that?” Rainbow demanded. Fluttershy cocked her head towards the pewter blue pegasus and grinned. With her wings unfolded, Rainbow took a step back. “Y-you’re starting to creep me out.”

“That was Absorb, a grass attack that steals a pokémon’s energy. Simple stuff, really.”

“L... like a v-vampire!?” Pinkie jumped.

“What’s going on with you!? One second you’re acting like the Element of Kindness, then you steal some animal’s energy like it’s some plaything? What happened to you!?”

Fluttershy huffed. “I only did what you told me to do. You wanted me to fight, so I made the necessary steps to do it.” Her voice changed between every sentence, delving deeper and deeper into something unrecognizable to Rainbow. She turned back to Alerce who sat waiting patiently for Roxanne’s next Pokémon.

        

“You’re smiling!” Rainbow snapped. “We aren’t doing this for fun!”

        

“Maybe you aren’t,” Fluttershy stated coldly.

Roxanne held her Poké Ball in the air and a red beam of light enveloped Geodude, turning it into a wisp of energy as it entered the sphere. “You know the type advantage, that’s good. You’re already better than 95 percent of trainers I have to face. Fillies these days never put in the research.” She took another Poké Ball from her dress and threw it to the field, revealing another Geodude. “I hope your Turtwig isn’t too exhausted.”

“Alerce, finish it.” Fluttershy commanded, leaving Alerce to his work. His body glowed green as he released more energy absorbing coils. They struck the Geodude with terrible force, creating a gut-wrenching crack as energy flew through the air back to Alerce. Just as the Geodude came to battle, it fell where it stood. “I didn’t know gym leaders were going to be so easy,” she smiled.

Rainbow could feel a knot forming in her throat. Her friend was gone, replaced by some pink-haired monster. “Hey! What have you done with Fluttershy?!” Rainbow screamed, catching Fluttershy’s attention. “No matter how much we need to defend ourselves, the Fluttershy I know would never take joy in this!”

“While we’re here, why not have some fun?” Fluttershy approached Rainbow whose wings stood erect. Fluttershy’s pupils were half the size, giving her a violent look. “I couldn’t do it alone, so I let May take over as I thought over things.”

“You... you let this happen!? You’re hiding behind this monster as you think about things?” Rainbow grabbed Fluttershy and stared into her eyes with fury.

“Of course. It only seemed logical. Alerce was a strong, quick and loyal Pokémon. I guess the world knew better and changed him into something more fitting. A cowardly Pokémon for a cowardly pegasus. Maybe if I keep this up he’ll change back.”

Rainbow couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Why Fluttershy would ever let this personality take over baffled her, but she had to take action. “Bring. Fluttershy. Back.” Rainbow commanded as she took her right hoof off her friend and reared it back.

Fluttershy stared back at her, giving Rainbow horrible chills. As much as she tried, she couldn’t look away from her icy gaze. Fluttery’s pupils disappeared, leaving only her teal irises. Rainbow’s hooves were stuck in place as a wave of panic washed over her face. “If you would kindly step out of the way so I can finish this, that would be helpful. You always told me to be more assertive and confident.” Rainbow shook from rage as Fluttershy’s stare became more intense. She snapped her eyes shut and quickly mulled over her options. After one last shake, she gritted her teeth and smacked Fluttershy across the face. Fluttershy let out a small scream and fell over as her body went limp; her head bounced as it struck the ground.

        

Both Roxanne and Pinkie gasped as Rainbow lurched over with tears in her eyes and her mouth hung open. She panted. She never wanted to hurt her friend, but Fluttershy left her no choice. “Dashie? Are you alright?” Pinkie asked, grabbing hold of the shaking pegasus. “Why did you do that?”

“I had to. I pushed her too far...” Rainbow watched as Fluttershy grimaced, attempting to get up from the assault. She wiped the tears from her eyes and lent a hoof to the struggling pony. Fluttershy’s eyes jolted open, her eyes as large as normal.

“W-what happened? Did I fall over?” Fluttershy asked, rubbing her cheek.

“I’ll explain later. Are you doing alright, Fluttershy?” Rainbow pulled her friend off of the ground, letting her stand on her own hooves.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. A-are you... crying?”

Rainbow wiped her eyes. “No, of course not.” She looked over to Roxanne who sent back her other Geodude. “Just finish this and let’s get out of here.”

“You know, I’ve never had guests like this before,” Roxanne yelled over. “As much as I’d love for you to stay, I do have more appointments for today and I would hate to be late.” She tossed her final Poké Ball out onto the field, revealing a strange rock creature with a giant red nose. It stood with closed eyes and no emotion, shimmering in the sun light. “Alright Nosepass, be a dear and use Rock Tomb. That Turtwig rubs me the wrong way.”

Fluttershy snapped to attention. As rocks floated in the air around Nosepass, she looked down at Alerce who appeared untouched. She shook her head, trying to alleviate herself from her dizziness. Her head was ringing and her cheek and the side of her head burned, but she had to focus. Everything between when the Geodude appeared and now was a giant blur, but she had to make a decision before Alerce was pummeled. “Use Withdraw. Hold it off.” Alerce nodded and waited out the barrage of rocks that struck his shell. She turned to Rainbow and Pinkie, “What happened? I don’t remember defeating that rock. All I remember is that it was weak to grass, and Alerce didn’t have a skill yet for that.”

“He has Absorb now. You used it twice.” Rainbow stated.

“He does? Well... alright.” After the flurry of rocks ceased, Alerce popped his head out from his shell and awaited an order. “Try Absorb. That should work.” Without hesitation Alerce performed the skill, cracking through the Nosepass’ body. Fluttershy recoiled in horror. “W-what?” The energy absorbed into Alerce’s shell, healing it to a polished shine. The Nosepass stumbled, trying to keep its footing.

“Go for it again!” Roxanne yelled. Without Fluttershy’s command, Alerce used Absorb again, letting his opponent fall face first into the floor. As Fluttershy panted from the drop off of adrenaline, she heard Roxanne clopping on the floor.

“That was marvelous! It’s been a while since anyone has been able to defeat me so thoroughly. Also that performance in the middle was simply divine and masterfully crafted.” She walked to her Nosepass and placed it back inside its capsule. “I wish more of my opponents were as much of a firebrand and entertainer as you were.” Fluttershy wanted to ask about the state of Roxanne’s Pokémon, but thought better of it. She repeated her mantra in her head as she made her way to the middle of the arena.

Self-defense, it’s just self-defense.

Roxanne scratched her chin, her eyes scanned over the pegasus. “You’re from Littleroot, aren’t you? The clothes look like their style.”

“Yes,” she stated, as she wondered what Roxanne tried to imply.

“You’re the second trainer from there to defeat me within the past two days.” She glanced down at Alerce. “You’re also the second to abandon your Hoenn starter for another region’s.”

“I- I didn’t abandon my starter. One morning I woke up and he turned into this. He was a treecko before!” She stopped. “Wait, Brendan’s already gone through here?”

“Yes he did. Quite feisty I might add. About your turtwig... Frankly, with all I’ve seen today, I’d believe anything.” Roxanne’s horn glowed, lifting a small golden thin badge from her dress. Two arrows pointed outwards away from each other, slightly off kilter from being lined up. Both were connected by gold bars that ran across the middle. “This is the Stone Badge. It proves you are worthy of starting your journey.” She placed the badge in Fluttershy’s hoof. “The next gym is in Dewford Town. Just south of the Petalburg Woods, there’s a ship that brings trainers to Dewford. If it’s full, there’s always Mr. Briney. He’s a salty old pony, but he’ll help if you know what to say.”

“Thank you.” Fluttershy took the badge and placed it in her bag. “So, you don’t recognize me at all... and you remember things from your past?” She shuffled her forehoof. “I’m sorry for prying, but you look and sound exactly like one of my friends.”

“Hmm, I’m sorry. I’m pretty sure I remember everything from my past quite vividly. You are such an odd bunch of ponies.” She turned around gracefully as her dress swayed back and forth. She walked back to her side of the arena and glanced back at the three “Thank you for such a wonderful battle. Good luck miss. You might want to get your head checked though. That impact looked like it hurt.”

Fluttershy turned away and exited the gym, weaving her way through the new line of ponies that congregated outside. A cool breeze whisked through the buildings, clanging the wind chimes that hung on the buildings down the street. The light, somber tone calmed Fluttershy as she watched her friends keep their distance. Pinkie’s eyes simply wandered, trying desperately to avoid eye-contact as she walked. Walking and a straight face was never a good sign with Pinkie. Rainbow simply stared ahead as she followed Fluttershy south. She rubbed her face; her skin was still quite raw, so much so it was as if she didn’t simply fall over. After the pep talk from Rainbow Dash, she had no recollection of what happened until she woke up on the gym floor.

“What happened to me in the gym?” she asked as she turned to her friends. “Why did I wake up on the floor with a bruise on my face?” A small twinge coursed through her cheek. She rubbed it as she waited for their response.

“That was my fault,” Rainbow Dash spoke up. “You were acting so... mental. You said something about letting May take over. Did you really do that?”

“I don’t remember doing that, but I must’ve forgotten. Why, what did I, or she, do?”

“You were smiling! Not like a good smile, but like an evil, evil smile,” Pinkie blurted. “Then you used your stare against Rainbow Dash and she smacked you in the face and got teary-eyed.”

Fluttershy’s pupils shrank. “I... I couldn’t have used the stare. I would never use it on my friends.” She looked down at the pavement, ashamed. She didn’t want to believe them, but they were her friends. Why would they lie to me? “I thought that she was only excited for fighting. I didn’t know she was so ruthless. I-I’m so sorry.”

“You know what, let’s forget about it.” Rainbow said as she hovered above the ground. “Since Absorb took care of all of Alerce’s injuries, we should be good to go through the forest again. It’s good that you’re back, Fluttershy.”

“Great idea! I would love to see what the boats look like here. Everything is so new and shiny here, so it must be amazing!” Pinkie hollered as she bounced around the group.

Fluttershy nodded and continued down the road. “Do we have enough supplies for the trip? We haven’t really stopped to get anything lately.”

“We just ate, so we should be fine. Once I do my flight training today I might run through all our food though,” Rainbow said, doing a somersault over the two. “By the way Pinkie, you still need a pokémon. We can’t have you running around without one of your own.”

“Maybe I’ll find something on that boat! We haven’t seen any cool water ones yet, so maybe I’ll...” Fluttershy’s concentration moved elsewhere as she caught a glance of a pony out the corner of her eye. It stood near a park bench with an orange lizard with a flame on its tail. All she heard from her friends were mumbles as the pony caught her peeking. He motioned to his lizard and they both came straight at her. Fluttershy stopped and grabbed Alerce, setting him down on the pavement. She squinted, trying to get a better view of the pony. The silhouette of a flowing jacket and strange hat gave way to color and detail as he came closer. Brendan?

“Hey!” the pony yelled, stopping in front of the three. “It’s been a while, girl.”

“Who’s that, Fluttershy?” Rainbow asked, staring at the strange pony.

“The name’s Brendan.” He gritted his teeth and locked eyes with Fluttershy. “So, what have you been up to? Laugh at anymore ponies lately?”

“W-what?” Fluttershy asked. I don’t remember laughing at anypony. “I just got finished with a gym fight.

“Oh, so you’ll fight gym leaders, but not me. It’s a good thing I get rid of that torchic, he couldn’t even beat Norman, let alone get any respect from you.”

“Uh, about that.” Rainbow chimed in, grabbing Igni off from her back. “Is this yours?”

“Y-yeah,” he stammered irritably. “Whatever, I’m challenging you here, filly.” He looked down at Alerce, who growled at the fire lizard. “What happened to my father’s treecko?”

“Oh, well... he just...”

“So you won’t even fight me with my father’s pokémon? I see how it is.” Brendan cut Fluttershy off. “It doesn’t matter, my charmander will burn that stupid turtle to crisp.”

“I’ll fight you!” Rainbow flew in Brendan’s face, staring him down. “I’ll take your old torchic and take you out with him!” With that she moved away, giving Igni space to move. Igni jumped up and down with glee as he fluttered his wings. Brendan stepped back as the moving crowd formed a perimeter around the two fighters. Fluttershy stepped back near the crowd, hoping May’s personality didn’t rear its head. Thinking of May, Rarity came to her mind. Maybe Twilight knew if Rarity followed the two in. She wasn’t a unicorn, so she had no access to magic. Even though, she had to try.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on Twilight. Her conversation with her last time was still clearly etched into her head. With her lower lip clenched in her teeth, she focused on Twilight, hoping that somehow they could talk.

A few seconds later, she heard a small echo reverberating through her head. With all her mental anguish, she couldn’t tell if it was Twilight or just May’s memories trying to resurface. “H-hello? Twilight?” she said, as she fell into deep concentration

“Hey Fluttershy! What are you doing in my head?” Pinkie’s voice echoed through Fluttershy’s mind.

“Pinkie? How are you... I mean how are we doing this? Neither of us are unicorns.”

“Pinkie? Fluttershy? Is that you?” Twilight asked with a somber tone.

“Twilight! I’m so glad to finally hear from you! I’m so sorry about last time... Things were a little out of my control...” Fluttershy apologized.

“Oh, it’s alright. Is Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie with you? I never got the chance to talk to you, and things are pretty hectic where I am,” Twilight asked, her voice lightening up.

“Yeah! We found Fluttershy only a few hours after we landed. Things are crazy here! There are animal fights, and tall glass buildings, and crazy ponies, and—”

“Wait, animal fighting?” Twilight interrupted Pinkie. “Like cockfighting? Everywhere we go seems to be completely different than Equestria.”

“Everywhere? Like more than one place?” Fluttershy wondered.

“Yes. The counter-spell that could bring you three back was stolen from the royal archives in Canterlot. Apparently the only other known location of the spell is in the country of Ventia. So far in the day we’ve been out, we’ve already been attacked by a pack of griffons.”

Packs of feral griffons? Is it really that dangerous out there? They eat ponies.” Fluttershy shuddered, remembering the assault from Rainbow’s old griffon friend, Gilda.

“We are able to fend them off, but Rarity was injured. We have the necklaces we got at Luna’s old castle, and it gives us more power in times of crisis it seems. Rarity’s already set off once, and she’s lying in bed at the moment, recovering. I’m just watching her as Applejack gets supplies.”

Fluttershy opened her eyes and saw Rainbow flying in the air, throwing gusts just above Igni’s head. The gale slammed into the charmander and Brendan, forcing them to turn and shield their eyes. “Stop that! You’re cheating!”

“Who me? I’m just relaxing up here.” Rainbow closed her eyes and put her forehooves behind her head as her wings continued their assault.

        

Fluttershy jumped back into the conversation, “Wait, Rarity is over with you? She didn’t come with Rainbow or Pinkie? We just saw a pony who looked and sounded exactly like her!”

“She’s right here next to me. Only Rainbow and Pinkie went through.” 

“How can we all talk to each other like this? I mean, we aren’t unicorns. This is just strange!” Pinkie asked.

“Maybe the spell wasn’t just a way to talk. We may all be linked subconsciously. This is great, now if anything happens you can talk to me at anytime.” She paused for a second. “Hold on, I hear somepony coming up the stairs. I’ll talk to you two later. I’m so relieved to hear from you two.”

“Please be careful, Twilight,” Fluttershy said as her mind grew quiet. She opened her eyes and saw the charmander lying on the road unconscious. Rainbow flew down to the ground, swooped up and planted her hooves to the ground. She picked up Igni, whose only damage was some ruffled feathers.

Brendan only scowled as he sent back his charmander. Without a word, he bolted past Rainbow and Fluttershy, rushing back into the city. “That was easy,” Rainbow remarked.

“We contacted Twilight; Rarity is still with her,” Fluttershy said as the crowd closed in on the three.

“You did? How? You aren’t unicorns.”

“Apparently Pinkie, Twilight and I are linked somehow. I can’t really explain it, but we can talk to her any time now.”

“That’s great!” Rainbow said as she folded her wings. “That pony was weird; why was he all in your face like that?”

“I ran away from him last time I met him. He must’ve been really hurt by it.” Fluttershy said, looking north into the city.

Rainbow lowered her head in thought, then looked up at Pinkie. “So, Rarity is still with Twilight, and wasn’t accidentally sent here?”

“Yeah, that’s what I just said,” Fluttershy explained. She thought for a moment, “You know, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a pony I recognized. It was a brown pony with spiked back brown mane and an hourglass cutie mark. I thought maybe it was my imagination.”

“I know that pony!” Rainbow exclaimed. “He normally works with Applejack during Winter Wrap Up, right?” She paused and looked up in thought. “So, if there’s a pony running around that looks like Rarity, and another that looks like a citizen of Ponyville...” Rainbow pondered, looking back at the forest. “What about ponies that look and act like us?”

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<==  Chapter 7  ||  Chapter 9  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

9

Fallout

With a flash, a white, slender alicorn appeared in front of the royal archive’s doors. She looked at the walls with disdain; the unpainted and unlit stone crumbled in disrepair. They showed their age quite visibly. The floor was still the dull gray stone she remembered from a thousand years ago.

“I can’t believe she hasn’t finished this yet,” she muttered to herself. She channeled energy through her horn, and swung open the two doors with ease. The inside was nearly black with only a light glow emanating from the center of the room. With a yawn, she entered the room and lit every torch simultaneously, illuminating every inch of the library.

She spread her wings and flew above the expansive maze of bookshelves. After scanning the room, she spotted a figure in the center, slumped over in slumber. “I knew she’d be here.” With a flutter, the alicorn landed in front of the desk, looking straight at the drooling princess. “Luna,” she called, springing the princess out of her sleep.

“—wha? Who?” Luna stammered as her mind adjusted to the waking world. She looked up at the smaller alicorn as she shuffled all the books off the desk, “Oh, hey Celess.”

“Down here again, huh?” Celestia started, glancing at the dusty rows of texts, “I thought you were going to start sitting on the throne and listening to your subjects. Not everypony is asleep during the night you know.”

Luna huffed. “Did you come down here just to scold me?”

“Of course not, I’m just looking out what’s best for you. It’s already been a year since you’ve come back, and you act as if nothing has changed.” Celestia put her hoof on her sister’s shoulder. “There are those who need your guidance at night.”

“...just give me some time, alright? I still have a millennia of history to catch up on.”

“I understand that. Now, I did come down here for a reason. My pupil gave me a letter three days ago requesting access to the archives. The walk from Ponyville to Canterlot is less than a day, and I haven’t heard from her since,” she took her hoof off and stood back on all fours. “Do you know if she came by?”

Luna shuffled in her seat and slid her gaze from her interrogator. “Uh, yeah. She came down the day before looking for some book. Didn’t stay for long.”

Celestia glared at her. Luna had never been good at playing large matters off, and it seemed that her banishment hadn’t helped that. “What did she get? Why was I not informed of this?”

        

Luna looked down at her pile of books. Her sister watched as the young alicorn struggled to hide her guilt. Celestia’s curiosity was peaked, but a cloud of anxiety hung in the air. “She was trying to find a spell from Arcan... but there was a problem.”

“A problem?” Celestia paced back and forth, glancing at Luna’s scattered texts.

“Yes,” Luna took a deep breath. “Do you remember the book we received from him after the old castle was built?”

“Of course. Why, what happened to it?”

“Well, the preface and counter-spells were torn out of the book.” Her teal eyes burned through Celestia as she spoke.

“Maybe the pages fell out. That is an old book after all.” Celestia suggested, staring back at her sister.

“You’re smarter than that, sis,” Luna argued. “There are tear marks and remnants of the pages still in the spine. Even if the epoxy did fail, they would have been in the book. This happened while you were in charge; you didn’t touch this place while I was imprisoned, did you?”

“Do not talk to your big sister like that,” Celestia scolded. “I just want to know what happened. Where is Twilight Sparkle?”

“She...” Luna’s eyes darted to the side. “She’s on her way to Mistral City.”

Celestia froze. “Why is she going there? Where did she get that idea?” She started pacing as the solar wind in her hair subsided.

“Twilight told me that she performed a deviation that sent one of her friends to another realm of space-time. The only book we have that had the counter-spell had the pages ripped out, and I know that one complete version lies in Mistral.”

Celestia closed her eyes and sharply inhaled. “You told her to go? Luna, you of all ponies should know what Mistral City is like. Now the Element of Magic is missing from Equestria, and my student is running head first into the dragons’ den.” Her pacing hastened. The clopping of her hooves echoed through the library, making the room feel hollow and lifeless. “She’s only a young mare! She’s completely unprepared for this kind of excursion!” A small pool of tears rested in the goddess’ eyes as her mind buzzed with fear. “Things could kill her out there! Why didn’t she come talk to me first!?”

“I didn’t know what else to tell her! She was pulling her mane out because of this. I brought her and her friends their element necklaces, so they should be fine.” Her body shook as she spoke. “If they could defeat me when I was Nightmare Moon, then they should be able to wipe the floor with any of the low-life scum there.”

“You misunderstand—” she stopped and looked inquisitively at her sister. “Her friends? You mean more than one element left Equestria without my knowledge?” She buried her face into her hoof. “Why was I not told this?”

“You’ve been busy over the past few days, and I didn’t want to disturb you,” Luna said, her face flushing with shame. “That’s probably why Twilight didn’t talk to you the day they left.”

“When did they leave?” Celestia placed her hooves on the desk and stared at her sister. She never liked pressing answers out of ponies, but Luna was stalling. “Twilight is more important to me than any business I could possibly have. When did she leave?”

“T-two mornings ago.” Luna squeaked. “I’m so sorry, Celess. I haven’t had much practice dealing with other ponies in the last millennia... so... I must have misjudged the weight of this.”

Celestia turned away from Luna and headed into the maze of bookshelves. “I have to raise the sun in less than an hour. When I do, you are to join me in the conference hall.” She turned to the distraught alicorn. “I need you to write a letter to Twilight’s assistant in Ponyville. If anyone knows the whole story, it will be him.” Celestia’s horn glowed with a brilliant white light. “If anything happens to Twilight or any of her friends, I will not hesitate to raise the banners.” With that, she left in a burst of light, leaving Luna alone in the dusty archive.

Eww, what was I doing in somepony else’s bed!?” Rarity yelled, the noise knocking Twilight from her trance. The white unicorn jumped from the bed and backed away with panic in her face. She then lowered her head in embarrassment as Applejack turned over and grumbled in her sleep. “Oh, sorry about that. I didn’t know where I was for a moment.”

“It’s alright, I’m just glad you’re awake,” Twilight yawned as she got to her hooves. Night had long since fallen as she kept an eye on Rarity. Applejack and Zipporah had gone to sleep hours ago as Twilight kept watch. She was exhausted, but she was too excited about Rarity’s waking to care.

“Twilight, I’m so sorry about what happened today. I wish I was better at defending myself, but I just made things worse by passing out at such a pivotal moment.” Rarity checked her body for injuries and tried managing her ruffled coat.

“You don’t remember what happened in the battle?” Twilight asked as she wiped her bloodshot eyes, forcing herself to keep them open.

        

“Of course I do, I just told you. Really Twilight, you must listen more,” Rarity scoffed.

“Tell me everything you remember,” Twilight said as she approached Rarity. She glanced at her friend’s body, circling her to check on her wounds.

“Fine, if I must. I swung my weapon around gracefully as I left the store and backed into the phalanx of ponies. I thought I was fine, but after fending a few off one flew right into the group and struck me in the side, tossing me on the ground. My sword lay right in front of me, just out of reach, and a brutish griffon landed on top of it. Before I could react, I passed out, then woke up just a minute ago.” Rarity looked out the window at the coming dawn. “I wish I could have been a better help.”

After making her round, Twilight looked up at Rarity’s eyes. “I know you don’t remember this, but you were the one who took down all the griffons.”

Rarity looked dumbfounded, then began snickering. “Twilight, you don’t have to try making me feel better. I think I would remember such a powerful display if it happened.”

Twilight lifted Rarity’s necklace from the floor and showed it to her. “When you were about to be struck by a griffon, your necklace activated. You took needles from your bag, thrust them into the base of their wings and immobilized them.” Rarity stared at Twilight with her mouth hung open.  “Maybe you forgot because of stress.”

Rarity paced, her legs hobbling lightly as she walked. “I really did that?” She stumbled  into Twilight, wrapping her hooves around the purple unicorn. “I’m sorry, I was so frightened.”

Twilight lay in Rarity’s embrace, baffled. She lightly pushed her away and held onto her shoulders. “It’s alright, you’re fine now.” She took her hooves off her friend and watched as Rarity folded the sheets on the bed with her magic.

“I know. I’m sorry for that outburst,” Rarity said as she let go of Twilight. “I’m just not thinking straight at the moment.” A quiet lull filled the air as Rarity’s horn ceased to glow. The two unicorns glanced around, trying to come up with words after Rarity’s scene. Twilight’s eye-lids grew heavy again as the bed beckoned her. As she slowly approached the warm, soft, feather filled mattress, she heard murmurs from outside. Wanting to ignore them, she inched closer to the inviting bed, but the whispers only grew louder, prompting Twilight to turn her head towards the window.

The sun still had not yet risen as she looked down at the ground in front of the store. Amidst the blue-gray haze, ponies stood in a crowd. Forty, no, fifty of them at minimum were huddled together. “Twilight? What are you looking at?”

Twilight turned to Rarity with her eyes half-closed as Rarity placed the choker around her neck. “There are some ponies gathered outside. I’m going down to see what they want.” She broke eye-contact with Rarity and trotted silently down the stairs, hoping not to wake Zipporah who lay behind the store counter.

With a flick of unicorn magic, she slowly opened the doors. Noise of the rabble filled the room as Twilight poked her head out the door; her eyes meeting with several ponies. “Um, hello? Could I help you with something?” The group fell dead silent as the last stragglers looked over at Twilight. She gulped and opened the door fully. “What are all of you doing in front of the store? Does Zipporah really open this early?”

“Zipporah?” A gray-blue pegasus asked. “Never heard of her.”

“Then why are you standing in front of her shop? Are you new in town?” For as small a town as Wheatown was, she never guessed that it garnered this much attention. She didn’t like what she saw. As she waited, several ponies hollered to her and continued their rambling.

“No ma’am, we just heard a rumor that there are Equestrians here,” a dull yellow colored earth pony explained. Twilight huffed out a nervous laugh and stared at the crowd. They grew louder and more distracted as Twilight laughed, making them unaware of her creeping back inside the store. Once the door closed, she rushed up the spiral staircase. When she reached the top, she stomped on the floor, causing Rarity to glance over at full attention.

Out of breath, Twilight began, “We have a problem. A huge problem.”

“What is it, Twilight?” Rarity asked.

“There’s a large group of ponies outside saying they heard rumors of Equestrians here! How did they find out about us so quickly?”

Rarity stopped pacing. “So a couple ponies know about us, what’s the problem? Did you even ask them how they heard of us.”

“Well... no, but don’t you remember what Zipporah said? She talked about two ‘unkillable demons’ and how ponies from Mistral City talk badly about Equestria. Ventia isn’t far from here, they might find us before we even reach the city.“ Twilight explained as she grabbed and unfurled her map.

“How many could there be? We’re in a small town in the middle of nowhere.”

“Forty, or fifty; I lost count.” Rarity stepped back, then looked out the window at the mass of ponies.

“Well, that is more of a problem than I thought,” Rarity exclaimed. She rushed over to Applejack, shaking her to get her up, “Applejack, get up. We have a situation, and we need to leave.” With a grunt and several thrown expletives, Applejack got off from her blanket and rubbed her eyes.

“What’s goin’ on?” She looked out the window with a puzzled look. “It’s only the crack of dawn, what’s the rush?”

“What are we going to do? We can’t just waltz out the front door with our cutie marks showing.” Rarity asked as she looked out the window to the north. “Is there a back door?”

“Will somepony please explain what’s happenin’?” Applejack demanded as she packed up her blanket.

“There’s a huge crowd of ponies outside talking about rumors of Equestirans. We need to leave before they cause any problems,” Twilight explained before turning to Rarity. “We’ll have to ask Zipporah about the door. Applejack, did you pick up those supplies I asked for?”

“Yep! I got some food, and blankets, and cloaks like you asked for. I figured anything else like fire starters would be better set up with magic. Lightens the load a bit.” She patted her saddle bags which bulged from the massive amount of supplies.

“Good, take out the cloaks. I thought we could save them for the mountains, but we need them to stay hidden.” Twilight said as she grabbed her saddlebags.

“Wait, mountains? Who told you about mountains?” Rarity asked.

“The Drakiris Mountains. They appear on the map on the border of the outlands and Ventia. Those griffons we fought live there according to Zipporah, so we have to be careful.”

“Anything else you want to tell us before we rush out there?” Applejack quipped.

“I think she mentioned something about extended seasons as well. It’s been locked in winter for ages apparently.” Twilight placed her bags on her back and took a cloak that Applejack tossed on the floor. “It might have something to do with how time and space works there, but I’m not sure.” She paused and motioned to the stairs “We should probably get going before the crowd gets any bigger.”

As the first rays of the sun cast through the windows, the crowd became louder and rambunctious. The three donned their russet, woven cloaks and swiftly made their way down the stairs. Along the back wall were crates covered in blankets and flasks of unknown liquids. Rarity and Applejack shuffled around the mess, reaching the back wall. “You two search for an exit, I’ll talk to Zipporah.” Twilight commanded, leaving the two ponies to their work as Twilight strode over to the still sleeping shopkeeper.

“Zipporah, wake up. We need a way out of here through the back.” Twilight asked, pushing against Zipporah, attempting to wake her. The earth pony stirred in her sleep, then violently sat up with her eyes wide open.

“What is it?” she asked, looking at Twilight, then over to the source of aggravating noises that pierced the shop walls.

“There are ponies outside looking for us. Somehow they found out there were Equestrians here. We need a way out without being seen.” Twilight explained, looking over to her friends who continued their assault on the back wall.

“Is that what that noise is? You ponies are nothin’ but trouble,” Zipporah complained as she hauled several crates away, clearing a path between two red, gold stitched banners. There was a black, iron door knob sticking out from the wall. “There’s a back door, but it’s been years since it’s been used. May need a bit of work get through.” When she reached the wall, she slammed her shoulder into the wall, causing a part to bow out. She held onto the doorknob and shook it, trying to force the door open. “Open you infernal door!” Zipporah cursed as she shook the door harder.

“How could we have missed that?” Rarity quipped as Zipporah began slamming her shoulder into the door. With one final hit, the door cracked and swung open. Twilight looked outside, seeing only empty grassland.

“The back of the store is clear, we have to go.” She stepped aside, allowing Rarity and Applejack through as she turned to Zipporah. “How did those ponies find out about us? Did you tell anyone?”

“I didn’t say a word, but perhaps your ‘cutie marks’ gave you away. All you can do now is stay hidden and avoid Ventian eyes at all costs.” She shoved Twilight out the door and grabbed the knob. “Go, there’s nothing left here for you.”

“Thank you for everything!” Twilight yelled as the door closed swiftly behind her. Her heart raced as she entered the grasslands, escaping the feverish horde. Rarity and Applejack lay ahead, waiting for her to catch up. While she ran, Twilight could still hear the distant cries of the crowd as she turned towards the Drakiris.

The path ahead was shrouded in a deep fog, making it hard to see the main road.  Twilight lowered the hood of her cloak, letting the open air muss her hair about. The rising sun dully lit the trail as they made their way through the dense fog. They walked alongside the trail, trying to keep away from prying eyes so close to town. Rarity retrieved a few apples from her bag and handed them to Twilight and Applejack. “Here, eat up. I have a feeling we won’t be going into towns any time soon,” Rarity said before biting into an apple herself. Twilight took a bite, trying to calm herself. She relished the apple’s sweet taste after her long night.

As the three made their way through the tall grass, Twilight’s fatigue began creeping back up on her. Her eye-lids drooped, and her trot wobbled as she forced her attention ahead. Her body ached as she moved; the lack of sleep and energy made it hard for her to think straight. She looked over to Applejack who looked as if she was talking, but no words came from her mouth. Quickly, she glanced to Rarity who nodded and responded to Applejack in kind with silence. She couldn’t tell what was happening, but made a mental note of the loud buzzing sound that danced between her ears. After only a few more steps, she fell face first into the grass, digging up a chunk with her mouth. Applejack bent down to pick Twilight up, but her body resisted. The ground felt like a puffy cloud that called for her to lie on. Applejack hoisted Twilight up and looked at her with a concerned look. “Are ya’ alright?” Applejack asked. Twilight was happy that the earth pony’s voice was able to pierce the constant noise, and she had to answer in earnest.

“Well, I didn’t get any sleep last night. I was up watching Rarity’s condition.” She blinked furiously, trying desperately to keep her eyes open. “I think I need some rest. The stress must be getting to me.”

“If you don’t mind sleeping in the grass, we could always stop off the road.” Rarity swept her hoof, showcasing the lack of ponies and visible path. “It’s not ideal, but you need your rest. You look just awful right now.”

“Thanks, I know.” Twilight responded as her two friends lifted her by her forelegs and carried her to a small patch of tall grass. The thicket was just tall enough for them to not be seen as Twilight dozed. They let her down easy and stood beside her.

“We’ll stay here and watch for anypony, or anything coming. We won’t let anyone know we’re here,” Rarity said as she set down her saddlebags and took out a small blanket. “You might need this. This fog will make the air chilly if we stay here too long.”

“Thanks...” Twilight yawned as the warm, fleece blanket draped over her. The grass was still wet with dew, but was soft and comfortable; perfect enough for her. With a tired smile, Twilight closed her eyes and let the smell of the dewy grass lull her to sleep.

A warm breeze gently brushed passed Twilight as she lay upon the observatory. She surrounded herself with books for the evening, everything from The Egghead’s Guide to Astronomy to The Advanced, Illuminating Guide to Theoretical Space-Time Anomalies. After a long day of spending the day at Rarity’s, she was ready to snuggle into her blanket and absorb herself in books for the rest of the day. As words flew by, she heard some banter from below the balcony. She shook her head and continued her assault, but it grew louder and more grating. Although the sounds came from happy, exuberant ponies, Twilight preferred the sound of silence as she read. With one last yell boring through her ears, she slammed her book closed and leaned over the balcony. All five of her friends were standing below surrounding Rainbow Dash. They stopped talking and looked up at her.

        

“Hey Twilight, come down here for a minute! I have something I want to show you girls,” Rainbow called out.

        

“I’ll be right down,” Twilight yelled back. She stepped away from the balcony ledge and teleported down to the base of the tree. Rainbow stood there with her head held high, making Pinkie giggle. “So, what do you want to show us?”

        

“I’d like to know as well. I was just in the middle of doing measurements for a client when you ripped me away from my work.” Rarity complained.

        

“Now, there’s a good reason. I’ve just mastered an insanely tricky maneuver that I’m going to use for the Equestrian Flying Nationals in two weeks. I need to get you girls excited for when I perform.” Rainbow boasted as she lifted herself off from the ground.

        

“Let’s see it! If it’s as spectacular as the Sonic Rainboom, you’re sure to win the competition! Ooo, ooo, I want to see it.” Pinkie exclaimed.

        

Rainbow nodded. “Alright, here I go!” With that, Rainbow launched into the air with blinding speed. Twilight watched as Rainbow banked around a large, puffy cloud, ripping through the outside, turning it to a veil of mist. As she made another turn, she flew through the droplets of water that in turn followed the pewter blue pegasus through the open sky. Twilight was in awe of her friend’s flying ability, but something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. A brown mass tore through the sky, headed in Rainbow’s direction. She looked down at her friends, but none of them seemed to be reacting. With a pained look, she glanced back up just in time to see the brown object to strike Rainbow with terrible force, sending the pegasus plummeting. Twilight brought her hoof to her mouth in horror, “Rainbow Dash!” Twilight yelled. Rainbow fell to the earth as Twilight heard horrible screeching coming from the east.

        

Twilight gasped as the creature swooped down in pursuit of the fallen pegasus. Reluctantly, she tore her eyes from the scene to see a mass of griffons flying through Ponyville. Fluttershy screamed and flew away while Applejack and Pinkie stood their ground. A griffon whizzed past Twilight and grabbed Fluttershy, attempting to lift her from the ground as she kicked and screamed. Without hesitation, she ran at a full gallop, charging a spell to save her friend, but she heard a terrible scream behind her. She froze, and turned around, seeing both Applejack and Pinkie on the ground with two griffons standing on their bodies. Shaking, she brought her hoof to her mouth, shrieking audible sobs as the griffons tore into their bodies. Before she could run, she caught the sight Rainbow crashing into the earth as a tawny griffon swooped in, dragging the pegasus away. She tore her eyes away as Rainbow’s lifeless body was left hanging in the griffon’s talons.

Twilight slowly backed away, unsure of what to do. Rarity was gone, and as she turned back to Fluttershy who was nowhere to be found. Her lower lip quivered and her sobbing grew louder as she looked for a place to hide. Her mind went blank in blinding fear as she looked. Her ears drooped as she turned back, the sight of crimson blood pooling around her earth pony friends burned into her weeping eyes.

She forced her eyes shut and ran, tears streaming down her face. She had to run. Keep herself safe. She opened her eyes and saw an open wooden shed. Frantically, she stormed through Ponyville, but before she could reach the shed, a loud screech pursued her. She turned her head in panic, and encompassing her vision was a pair terrible ink black wings and the piercing, ice-blue eyes of a large griffon. It screamed straight for her with its sharp claws about to seize her neck.

Twilight screamed as she woke. Her breathing was heavy, labored and stuttered as her mind adjusted to consciousness. Her body flopped down from a short jump as she felt her body sway back and forth. She was arched belly down on something small and round. Her gaze drifted to the ground, and she noticed rocks and debris moving to her left as she swayed; she was moving. She quickly looked around, noticing the brown, stitched cloaks of her friends and a unicorn with long, purple locks of hair looking at her. “R-Rarity? Why are we moving?”

“Twilight, you’re awake!” Applejack exclaimed as she turned off the road. “What was the scream all about? Had a bad dream?”

“You could say that,” Twilight confirmed as she rolled off of Applejack’s back and stretched. “So, why did you start moving?”

“Well, you were taking so long with your nap that Applejack just lifted you up and carried you on her back. I don’t know how you slept for so long with all that dreadful rocking,” Rarity said as she brushed off Twilight’s cloak.

“How long would that be?” Twilight looked at the sun’s position, trying to figure it out before one of them had the chance to respond. The sun was still quite low in the sky, just reaching a low-lying line of clouds.

“A day,” Applejack stated as Twilight’s steps stuttered in shock. “You must’ve been exhausted to have slept so soundly for that long. I didn’t see you move around at all. I just decided to carry you so we could get to Ventia quicker. We don’t have time to muck around.”

        

“I see,” Twilight said as she fluffed her cloak. “Anything notice us while I was asleep?”

“Well, somepony did ask us about our cloaks. I simply told them we were merely travelers,” Rarity said. “I want to keep our stories consistent for when we get into Mistral City. Other than that, nothing bothered us. I’m not sure how with these cloaks on and you on Applejack’s back, but we seem to be traveling at a good pace.” She lifted a few apples out from her bag and handed them to Twilight. “There are mountains just up ahead. We think it may be the Drakiris.”

“Looks like it.” Twilight turned and looked over to the horizon, taking notice of the dagger shaped mountains shrouded in a blue veil. Snow smothered over half the mountains, almost confirming Zipporah’s claim of an extended winter. The outlands were baked in the heat of the summer sun while the mountains were chilled with a snap of cold winds. “I think we could reach the base before nightfall if we move quick enough.” Twilight yawned again, and motioned her friends forward. “Let’s get moving.”

        

Twilight watched several motorized carts drive by. The three stayed silent as they went down the road, minding their words as they walked. Twilight’s thoughts drifted towards her short, but visceral nightmare. Everything in the dream felt real; normally her dreams felt abstract and fake. She went over it several times, trying to piece together every scene and detail. As she mulled it over, she let her eyes wander. The silence between the three was overbearing, and the sound of wind rustling grass acted simply as white noise. With no notice, the conversation she had with Pinkie and Fluttershy flashed through her mind. She never did tell Applejack nor Rarity about how their missing friends were. “Listen, I forgot to mention that I was contacted by Pinkie and Fluttershy the night before,” she said with glee.

“Oh? Well, what did they say?” Rarity asked. “It would’ve been nice to know about this conversation sooner.”

“I know, but it slipped my mind as things got hectic,” Twilight explained. “Pinkie said that she found Fluttershy within the day that they landed. Apparently they weren’t too far off from each other.”

“Well that’s good. They aren’t in any danger, right?” Applejack asked.

“I don’t believe so, but Pinkie mentioned something akin to animal fighting being a large event there. Fluttershy didn’t seem too worried about it, and that worries me.”

“It’s not anythin’ too dangerous it sounds like,” Applejack said before she took a bite of an apple that she got out from her bag.

“Yeah, I thought Fluttershy would be a little bit more—” Twilight stopped speaking as she looked up at the sky near the mountains’ peak. There, peaking out from the back of a gray cloud, was the moon in broad daylight, something never seen on Equestrian soil. She glanced over at the still rising sun and judged the angle of the sunlight, making sure what she was seeing wasn’t an illusion.

“Uh, Twi? What’re you lookin’ at?” Applejack prodded, knocking Twilight’s train of thought off-track.

“Look up at the mountains. Does anything look off to you?” Twilight pointed at the low hanging moon. Only the bottom half fully showed as the top obscured and faded into the morning sky.

“Well, the peaks are a little uneven. They could use a little maintenance as well, maybe get rid of some of that snow,” Rarity suggested.

“I don’t see anythin’ out of the ordinary, Twi. What should I be looking for?”

“No, don’t look at the mountains, look above them. Look to the west; there’s something very wrong going on here.”

Almost instantly, both Rarity and Applejack saw the issue. They looked at each other, then Applejack scratched her head. “What’s the moon still doin’ up at this time a day?”

“I don’t know. Luna should’ve lowered it by now, but the sun is over taking it by itself. If Celestia can do that, how was Luna able to stop the sun from rising a thousand years ago?” Twilight lowered her head in thought.

“Maybe it doesn’t work like that out here. We certainly don’t have griffons attacking us back home.”

“This land is so confusing! Why was I able to find nothing about outside of Equestria in any of my books? You would think that there is something on the subject!” Twilight ranted as she whipped out the map. “Maybe if there’s a town large enough they may have a library. I want to do some research about the world; there’s so much I need to know.” Twilight scanned the map, noticing a cluster of small towns near the base of the Drakiris. She lowered the map and saw faint silhouettes of buildings in the distance. “We should stop at this section of towns over here.” The map flew in front of Rarity and Applejack, allowing Twilight to point out the towns. “If we get there by nightfall, we can spend the night and head into the mountains in the morning.”

“Sounds good to me,” Applejack stated. Twilight rolled the map back up and put it away, continuing their hike. The further they traveled north, the more dense the road had become. Ponies in traveling gear, supply wagons, and possession-less wanderers roamed the new busy road. Twilight huddled closer to Applejack and Rarity, making sure she didn’t get separated from the group. As time went on, grasslands turned into fields, deciduous tree filled forests made way for a plethora of evergreens, the looming Drakiris reared itself higher into the heavens, and the amount of ponies thinned as they approached.

        

Details of the mountains began to appear as they approached. The sun now pushed towards the horizon as the road ahead split four ways: three headed to towns on the outskirts of the road, one continued its path north. The largest city lay to the north; with buildings taller than three stories and a large gate showcasing the entrance.

“So, which town should we head into?” Applejack asked as they approached the crossroad.

“I’m thinking the one closest to the mountain base. Maybe we can get a feel for the weather in Ventia since it’s so close,” Twilight said. She looked around at the other towns, and saw no one outside. None. No pegasi in the sky, no earth ponies or unicorns in the field or streets. Nothing. “Why isn’t anypony outside? It’s still light out.”

“We can only see a small part, don’t worry about it,” Rarity explained. “Besides, if there is no one out, there’s less of a chance for us to get caught.”

“And that works how?” Applejack argued.

As Rarity and Applejack argued about stealth tactics, Twilight saw a glimpse of ponies in the distance. A group ran across the road, yelling and hollering. Their silhouettes were faint, but they looked as if they ran with purpose, but scrambled. They were afraid. Twilight slowed her pace, stopping her friends in their tracks.

“Hold on,” Twilight said and pointed at the stream of ponies. “What’s going on over there?” More ponies spilled in from the west, rushing through the arched gates. “Why are they running?”

“It’s no use standing here, let’s find out,” Applejack stated, bolting towards the swarm.

“Wait for us!” Twilight yelled, running beside Rarity. The air near the town stayed as warm as before with no hint of chill off the mountains. Beyond the gate was a city of iron; buildings of beige brick and iron towered above the roads, eclipsing the three as they approached. One pegasus looked over to them and banked away from the crowd, touching down in front them.

“What are you doing out here, are you mad? They’re going to find you, now hurry!” He grabbed Applejack and tried bringing her towards the crowd.

Without hesitation, Applejack stripped off the pegasus’s hoof and stomped the ground. “Now hold on, what’s goin’ on here. Who are you?”

        “There’s no time, just hurry.” He looked over Applejack and the two unicorns as they approached. “You definitely don’t look Ventian.” He paced further, examining the Equetrians’ cloaks. “Travelers, huh? Come now before they find you.”

“Wait, hold on. Who are ‘they’?” Twilight demanded.

“Ventian search parties are headed through the Drakiris as we speak. There are rumors of Equestrians in the outlands, and they’re trying to snuff them out.” Twilight’s eyes widened at the prospect.

“I heard that rumor two days ago, how could they already know?” she asked.

“News travels fast around here. Last I heard the parties are already almost through the mountains.” He turned and faced the frightened herd. “I don’t have time to explain things, grab your friends and let’s go!” He commanded, trying to shove them into the crowd.

Twilight stumbled into the herd and was hit from behind, moving her with the frightened ponies through the city gates. She pushed her way through to Applejack and Rarity, huddling close as they funneled into the streets.

The high-rise buildings were magnificent but life-less. No lights shone through the windows, and only the setting sun’s light illuminated the empty, paved roads. The group flowed into several buildings and stowed away. Twilight looked over to the mountains and saw small flickers of flames traveling down the pass. Without further hesitation, she ran down the road with the split crowd and ran into a building, letting Applejack and Rarity pass through before the pegasus closed and locked the door.

A multitude of ponies sat on the floor, whispering and shaking: families huddled together, lone ponies and drifters, sharply dressed business ponies, and even ones dressed as guards. “You’ll be safe here as long as they don’t bother us,” the stallion stated as he trotted to and sat on the stairs. The three found a small place on the floor and sat there, wondering what to do next.

“Why are they all hiding? Why aren’t the guards outside protecting the city” Twilight asked as she took another look around the room.

        

“Maybe the Ventians are too strong for them. Ventia sure is a lot bigger on that map than the outlands, more potential troops,” Applejack suggested. “It wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

Before Twilight could stand up, a small filly ran up to the three and looked at them inquisitively. She was a white filly with light blue hair, staring at them with her mouth hung open. “What are the capes for? They look so cool,” she asked with enthusiasm.

        

“Well, we’re adventurers, dear.” Rarity started, shooing Twilight off to gather information. “We travel all over the world, hunting for vast treasures and riches...”

        

Twilight stood up and weaved her way around the huddled ponies, approaching a stallion in makeshift armor. He simply stared the floor, with a defeated gaze. “Excuse me, why aren’t there any ponies outside defending this town? I-I’m new here, and I’m just curious,” Twilight asked, waiting for the stallion to respond.

“We don’t have a protective force. Anypony that tries to protect us gets taken by the griffons during patrols. We haven’t had any real protection in years,” the stallion stated, his head and body unmoving. “All we can do is let things happen they way they happen. No pony is willing to fight anymore.”

“But you’re wearing the armor of a guard! Why aren’t you fighting?” Twilight pleaded.

“I’m wearing this for my own protection. I was in the guard before they disbanded it, but...” the stallion stood and unbuckled his chest plate, revealing a twisted blackened scar across his side. “I was attacked by a griffon and barely survived. I’m of no use now.” He sat back down in defeat, closing the chest piece.

“I-I’m so sorry,” was all Twilight could muster at the stallion’s explanation. She trotted back to the group, noticing that Rarity was still speaking with the filly.

“...then she kicked the dragon right in the snout, and it flew off, breathing flumes of smoke and fire all around us!” Rarity continued her tale. Before she could finish, the filly stood up and ran back to her mother, jumping up and down with glee. The mother closed the fillies mouth and shushed her. The clopping of hooves made themselves heard beyond the walls, choking Twilight with tension. No pony spoke a word as they marched. Twilight pressed her face against the window to see the coming battalion. Near the gate, a double file line of armored ponies in cloaks began their march down the street, opening doors and smashing windows to get inside the buildings.

“Search everywhere, those Equestrians are to be found!” A pewter stallion in silver armor yelled. “I want them found, now!” Twilight sunk back from the window and hid herself. Applejack and Rarity crept close to her and huddled together.

“What do we do? I haven’t even been able to find any information about this place. No pony is even willing to defend the town.” Twilight shook as the sound of broken glass came closer.

“We can’t do much. If they find us with the townsfolk, we risk their safety. They might get tried for harborin’ us,” Applejack stated, grabbing Twilight’s shoulder to stop her shaking.

“Can’t we do anything? They have no way to fight for themselves, but we do,” Twilight said, rearing her head back to look out the window again. Several ponies screamed and ran out the doors of several buildings, prompting the Ventians to seize them and throw them to the pavement, screaming. With another window smashed, Twilight turned back to Applejack who stared straight at her.

“I’m going to be honest with you Twilight, there’s nothin’ we can do. We can’t risk being caught for Fluttershy’s sake. This is the outlanders’ war, not ours. If we don’t leave now, it’ll only get worse.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Rarity asked, peaking her head between the two. “I’m sure we can’t use another back door.”

        

Twilight tried to swallow the lump that formed in her throat. “I’m going to teleport us out of here. I’ve only transported two before, but I’m sure I can move three.” Twilight said as her horn began to shine with a purple light. Several ponies murmured as she charged the spell. One colt approached, but after a few moments, the three disappeared from the room in a flash of white light.

They landed right near the city gates, just behind the battalion. Twilight shook her head and peered up, noticing the gaze of several Ventian ponies. She took a step back, preparing herself to gallop away. “RUN!” she yelled as several guards with bladed weapons in their mouths charged at the three.

“Take them out! Don’t let them escape!” the commander yelled as the three exited through the gates. Twilight was still exhausted from the long hike and oversleeping, but she had to move quickly. Four of the armored ponies gave chase. One bolted into the sky and flew over head, landing in-front of the three. Rarity whipped out five needles and hurled them at the pegasus, who swiftly dodged two, but took three in his side. He fell and clutched his side as Twilight leaped over his body. As they ran down the road, the soldiers closed their distance, yelling at them to stop. Twilight turned around, her horn flaring with energy as a sudden wall of flame erupted before the hoard, cutting off their pursuit. They stopped and moved to avoid the fire while Twilight, Rarity and Applejack disappeared into the forest of evergreens that nestled at the bottom of the Drakiris.

        

Twilight slowed her pace and leaned against a tree, panting and shaking. A large shock wave shook the ground, knocking snow off the trees. Twilight wiped the snow off her face and looked back, watching as a plume of smoke rose above the skyline and heard ponies screaming in anguish. Rarity and Applejack scoured the area for soldiers, laying low to avoid being seen. “D-Did we lose them?” Rarity asked.

“We should keep moving. If we stay here, we’re sitting ducks,” Twilight suggested as she took her body weight off of the tree. She planted her hooves and began heading through the forest, trying to drown out the outlanders’ pleas for help. The three weaved their way through the thicket as the sun set on the ruined city.

Crystalline snow gently floated down on the mountains’ peak, settling on a large pair of obsidian wings. With a ruffle of his wings, a creature watched as armored ponies with the red, Ventian flag marched through Kirsiks Pass. A sneer formed on his face as he stood silently above the marching sellswords. He looked up and turned away, peering over at the pack of griffons that made their home on the mountain’s surface. He stepped down from the rock and landed with his claws sinking into the snow.

“Sigil! Sigil Blackwing!” a griffon yelled out as she approached. She was a ivory griffon with a scar running down from her ear. After bowing, she began, “I’m sorry to disturb you, but the Wheatown team returned from their hunt.”

“Great. Inform the team from Northern Pass, make sure they’re aware,” Blackwing stated as he walked past the young griffon. “I’ll make sure there is food left for your service.”

“I’m sorry Sigil, but they didn’t come back with any food,” she said worried. “They were attacked.”

        

He snapped his head towards the girl. “They fled? It was a meager hunt of villein ponies, it should have been easy. I didn’t train cowards!” His face twisted in fury.

“They were gravely injured by several ponies, but were released. They came back here for medical supplies.”

Blackwing looked at her puzzled. “They were shown mercy? By outlander ponies? They would have beaten them to death!” He paced for a few steps, letting the falling snow cool his temper. “Where are they now?”

“They are resting at the Apex, sir. The medical teams are patching them up as we speak.”

“Thank you, Arya,” he said as he unfolded his wings. “Head back to the medical wing and await instruction. I don’t like what ensued.” With that he flew up and over the steep cliff face, arriving at the Apex. It was a large, flattened section of the mountain, surrounded by iron crossed gates and frozen thicket beds. Flames scattered through the Apex, warming the chilled griffons through the eternal winter.

A group of griffons surrounded the injured team, mending their wings and extracting the needles from their tendons. Two of them winced, and one yelled as trickles of blood poured from their wounds. “What happened? I heard a rumor about mercy from ponies,” Blackwing asked as he landed beside the team.

“Everything was transpiring as normal, Sigil, but there were three strange ponies who fought with them.” The griffon cringed as the last needle was pulled. “We almost took out one of them, but as I went in for the kill, she glowed with an intense light and took the five of us down with a shield of needles—”

“‘Five of you’?” Blackwing interrupted. He looked over the rank, soon realizing the who missing hunter was. “What happened to Tawn?”

“She was killed by a mace to the head, Sigil. One of the locals killed her before she had the chance to strike.”

Blackwing lowered his head. “She had much potential.” After a moment of silence, he lifted his head back up. “What else happened?”

He pointed to his back. “After she pierced the team’s wings, she used some strange cloth or something to slash my back open.”

“Tell me what you know about the others.” He paced back and forth, watching the silent pack.

The griffon sighed and stretched his wings. “All I can remember is that there were three of them. An orange mare with yellow hair and a strange hat, a purple mare with a dark blue mane, and the white and purple pony. They looked like outlanders, but they had strange marks on their flanks—”

“Wait, marks? On both sides of their body?” Blackwing interrupted.

“Yes, Sigil. The white one had a gold choker with her mark design as well,” he continued. “When we were being freed, I overheard that they were heading north. Maybe that’s why the Ventians hired the mercenaries?”

Blackwing looked at the group, spread his wings and smiled. “Listen well, griffons of Drakiris. Those three ponies that Sarin described are of Equestrian blood. The mark they carry is the ‘demons’ brand’, and their appearance is a detriment to Ventia and Mistral City. I want patrol teams set up and scouring the mountains for any sign of these three. Any news of their appearance is to be reported straight to me.” The surrounding griffons roared with purpose, readying themselves for the hunt. “They are not to be killed, only captured. We’ll use them to take back our territory from Ventia’s grip!” He clenched his right claw tightly.  “Now go!” The griffons roared and flew off as a group before splitting into smaller patrols. Blackwing watched as they flew off in all directions in search for the illusive herd.

        

A young, tan griffon with medical supplies approached the sigil and looked at him with concern. “Are you sure we should be messing with the demons? You don’t know what they’re capable of.”

Blackwing stared at the young medic with his icy blue eyes. “All we need to do is show them to that bastard in Mistral and we’ll have a bargaining chip into reclaiming our territory. After we get what we want, then we can have our fun with them.”

“As you wish, Sigil Blackwing,” the griffon bowed as he stepped away to tend to the injured team. Blackwing turned his head away and looked over the mountains to the south, exhilarated by the news. He closed his eyes and smiled, voraciously licking his beak.

“I’ve always wanted to taste Equestrian flesh,” he said to himself as he opened his eyes toward the horizon.

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 <==  Chapter 8  ||  Chapter 10  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

10

Mare

The evening sun cast the trail in long, slender shadows as an open field and sea revealed themselves. As Fluttershy, Pinkie and Rainbow left Petalburg Woods, Fluttershy’s nose was assaulted by the sea’s briny air, but she was calmed by the sound of waves as they crashed on the beach and docks.

“I am not being a picky Pinkie,” Pinkie protested, glaring at Rainbow.

“Yes you are! We went through the entire forest twice already and you haven’t captured a single pokémon yet.” Rainbow hovered in front of Pinkie, flying backwards as they walked. “There were plenty of worms you could’ve caught.”

“If I get a worm, Igni might gobble him up! Birds eat worms, you know.”

“No he wouldn’t. Really Pinkie, we all need to have at least one if we’re going to be here long,” she stated, then landed and resumed walking along side Pinkie.

As they turned down the path, Rainbow stopped walking and pointed south with a smile on her face. “Look, the cruiser is still docked. We made it in time!” In front of them, at the end of a long wooden dock, stood a large passenger ship with groups of ponies lined up at the entrance ramp. Stripes of white and blue streaked along the stories of glass windows above the matte, charcoal hull. Just off of the docks was a small wooden booth, a line of ponies waiting to purchase a ticket extending from it. “It’s a lot bigger than I imagined.”

“Do you think that’s where Mr. Briney is? The one Rari—I mean Roxanne talked about?” Fluttershy asked.

“I think he lives in there.” Rainbow pointed to a small wooden shack with a rust colored roof. Several small groups of ponies sat around its entrance, conversing with one another while others sparred with their pokémon. Another dock extended just past the gathered ponies, leading to a much smaller, more cramped looking boat. It was a quarter the size of the cruise liner and the hull was cased in iron. Remnants of red paint desperately clung to the sides, existing only as a testament to the ship exterior’s age and wear, the ship seeming to be in otherwise fine condition. “We should probably get some tickets before we end up stuck on that trashy boat.”

The line that extended from the booth was short, but to Fluttershy it was still another line; the third in just a day’s time. She could feel herself falling into the routine she felt funneled through on her first day, the idea of it chewing at her psyche as she shifted in agitation.. Even with Rainbow and Pinkie at her side, the voice of the girl made its way to the forefront of her thoughts, telling her she was to go south, and only south. As she stood in the line, she could only think of heading in the opposite direction, hiding somewhere until Twilight brought them all back home. With a listless stare, she looked up at the ticket vendor, hoping that by the time she bought the tickets the passengers will have been let on the ship.

“Three tickets to Dewford, please,” Fluttershy said, looking along the back of the stall.

“That’ll be 1,500 bits,” he responded, looking over the three mares.

        

“E-excuse me?” Fluttershy asked, refusing to believe the stallion’s words.

“It’s 500 per ticket. Three tickets, 1,500 bits. Take it or leave it, we’re about to close and there are still a lot of ponies waiting to get tickets,” he stated, his hoof pushing into his cheek as he leaned on the counter.

“Uh, yes, well, let me check my bag.” Fluttershy took Alerce off her back, stripped her bag off and dug through it. She pulled her satchel out and counted the gold bits that accumulated inside. After a few moments, she opened her mouth, but she couldn’t come up with anything to say. She sheepishly looked up at the vendor, then lowered her head and walked away from the line without a word.

“Fluttershy, what happened?” Rainbow asked as she hovered in front of her friend. “Why’d you leave like that?”

“We don’t have enough,” Fluttershy sighed, eying the old, rickety boat. “I have enough bits for one ticket. Seven-hundred and forty-eight bits, that’s all.”

“Maybe you and I can fly there and Pinkie can go on the boat. It can’t be that far away, right?” Rainbow suggested before flying over to a laminated poster that hung on one of the booth’s posts. After a quick scan, she flew back as Fluttershy tied up the satchel and slipped it back in her bag. “To Dewford is a little over a four hour trip. Ninety miles,” Rainbow stated, looking south across the sea. “If I go fast enough I can fly there in about thirty minutes, but...” she yawned, covering her mouth as her face scrunched up. “You know what, never mind. Let’s just visit that ‘Briney’ pony. I’m too tired for that kind of stunt today.”

Solemn-faced, Fluttershy began her march to the shack’s door, wading through the sea of ponies laying about in the grass. Before she could reach the front door, she heard Pinkie and Rainbow strike up a conversation with a pair of ponies. She sighed then turned around, trotting back to her friends.

“...bribing him. I heard that works if you have the bits,” a filly unicorn said, petting what looked like a small blue mudskipper. “We gave him 300 bits on top of the ticket price. A lot of these ponies think they can just muscle their way through. It’s hilarious.”

        

“So, bribe him with enough bits, huh?” Rainbow asked. “Sounds good to me, but what’s the downside?”

“The boat is slower. A lot slower... and only a few groups can get on. He’s very selective.”

“Thanks, we’ll keep it in mind,” Rainbow said, taking off for the front of the cottage. As the two ponies returned to their conversation, Fluttershy and Pinkie ran to catch up to Rainbow who stood near the front door.

        

“Well, they seemed nice. I hope they get on,” Pinkie said.

“Yeah, but only after us,” Rainbow said, pressing a hoof to the shack door.

With a creak, the door swung open to reveal an old, tan-furred, white-maned stallion chasing a frantic seagull around the room. The walls were paneled with wooden planks, and only a small bed, table and stove stood inside. As Fluttershy took another look around the room, she found herself only able to stare at the seagull, seeing the injured hummingbird she had bargained her and her friends’ safety to help. Her eyes darted as the ephemeral, emerald bird flapped around the room, dipping often due to its damaged wing. As the three entered, Fluttershy’s breathing stuttered as she tried desperately to keep her composure.

“Are you Mr. Briney?” Rainbow asked, causing the grizzled stallion to cease his pursuit. He dusted himself off and watched as the bird ran across the room, eating stray bread crumbs off the floor.

“Haven’t you kids learned to knock before barging into an old sea pony’s home?” His gaze pierced Rainbow Dash, but she remained calm and stoic. “What do ya’ want? You can’t be here to give me those ship parts I ordered, that’s for sure.”

“We heard that you give rides to trainers over to Dewford,” Rainbow said.

“I see, so you’re just like the rest of those freeloaders outside. Let me see your credentials, Missy. Why should I let you on my vessel?” He walked up to her and leaned in, staring her right in the eyes.

“I, uh, what do you want to see?” Rainbow stammered, trying to keep her cool.

“Your badge. Rustboro City’s Stone Badge; let me see it.”

“I don’t have it.” She pointed to Fluttershy. “My friend, uh... May does.”

        

“Then what am I talkin’ to you for?” He broke his stare and trotted to Fluttershy, pacing back and forth in front of the pegasus, his eyes now locked onto hers. “So you’re the trainer that needs the vessel, eh?”

“Y-yes,” Fluttershy answered, hoping the stallion would keep his distance. She took the badge from her bag and held it in her hoof, letting the sun’s light from the window reflect off its surface.

“That’s the one. So, what’s your excuse? Did you spend all your winnings on that ridiculous garb?” He glanced at Fluttershy’s outfit and laughed. “That cruiser hasn’t left yet, so I know you didn’t miss it.”

“‘Winnings?’ As in... money? I never got any from the gym.” Fluttershy explained, baffled by the captain’s words.

        

“Roxanne never forgets to give money to winning trainers, she’s far too generous for that.” the captain stated, wheeling on the flustered pegasus. “Are you calling my friend a cheapskate?” he asked before he resumed pacing back and forth, quickening his steps.

Fluttershy looked over to Rainbow, who mockingly twirled her hoof near her head and crossed her eyes, making her and Pinkie laugh. The staunch captain huffed and stopped, overlooking the three.

“Now tell me, why should I let you on instead of all those ponies outside?”

“Um, I...” Fluttershy started before glancing at Rainbow who motioned her and Pinkie over. The three quickly huddled, occasionally looking back at the old curmudgeon. “What are we going to do? He seems a lot worse than what Roxanne told us.”

“Maybe pull some of that ‘gym leader’s daughter’ clout. That could work.” Rainbow suggested.

“I don’t know. Don’t gym leaders make enough money that affording a ticket wouldn’t be a problem?”

“You aren’t a gym leader though.” Rainbow rubbed her chin. “Well, we’re right by Petalburg, we could always ask that Norman guy for some cash.”

“I... I’d rather not. Especially after the scene I made in the gym, he would never give us anything.” Fluttershy lowered her head. "What makes you so sure that he'd help?"

“He gave me that chip to put in your Pokédex, so he can’t be too stingy.”

“Well, this isn’t helping. By the time we get over to Petalburg, the ship will have already left!” Pinkie blurted, trying to keep the two pegasi on task. “Hmm... what about that letter we got from that Devon Corp. guy? That seemed pretty important.”

“That’s perfect! If you pull out that and your tie to Norman, we’re sure to get on that boat,” Rainbow exclaimed as Briney tapped his hoof impatiently on the wooden floor. Fluttershy broke away from the huddle and stared at the tan stallion, her chest out and head high. She knew she had to perform this act perfectly.

“So, what is it? I’m choosing in a half-hour, so you’d better hurry.”

With a deep breath, Fluttershy began, “I am May Stannis, daughter of Norman of the Hoenn Pokémon League. I have been requested by Mr. Stone of the Devon Corporation to deliver a letter to the his daughter in Dewford, and I humbly request passage on your ship.” Silence fell as Fluttershy finished her speech. Mr. Briney stood wide-eyed, then closed his eyes and laughed, making her lower her head with a flushed face.

“Hah-ha, you’re a gym leader’s daughter with no money, AND you’re a mail carrier? What, did you spend all daddy’s money on a designer saddle?” He laughed derisively. “I heard stories from him about his daughter, but I never expected her to be as pathetic as this!”

“Hey! Leave my friend alone!” Rainbow yelled, pushing her face into his.

“Dash, I can take care of myself,” Fluttershy stated, causing Rainbow to back off reluctantly. Fluttershy’s breathing grew heavy and her heart raced as she spoke. “I’m sorry that I can’t live up to your expectations, but can you please tell us what we need to know?”

“Aha-ha, what are your names so I can call you if I let you on?” Briney asked, his laughter subsiding.

“I’m Rainbow Dash, and she’s Pinkie Pie,” Rainbow explained, pointing at Pinkie who had put on a smile.

“Do you have the 200 bits per ticket at least?” He asked before writing their names down on a scraggly piece of paper. “Fuel and food ain’t free, you know.”

“Um, yes,” Fluttershy answered, moving to retrieve her bits.

“Don’t take it out now, I haven’t picked you yet. You kids are so hasty.” He walked to the door and opened it, motioning them outside. “Wait out there with the others, I’ll have made my decision soon enough.” They quickly left the cottage, the door slamming behind them.

As time passed, the cruiser raised its anchor and smoke rose from its funnels. It chugged off from the docks, leaving the poorer ponies behind to await Briney’s decision. Fluttershy kept quiet, watching Alerce and Igni play in the field while her Poochyena, Wovler, stood watch. The ponies that had gathered outside had become more and more impatient; their conversations growing louder and testier. Each minute felt like an hour as the sun descended past the horizon, making way for the soft glow of twilight. With a contented sigh, Fluttershy  watched the purples and reds of the sunset dissipate into a blackened sea of stars.

“Listen up, you freeloaders. I’ve made my decision!” Mr. Briney yelled, snapping Fluttershy out of her stargazing. Everypony ceased talking at once, chomping at the bit to hear the old sea pony’s decision. “It was a hard choice, but there are some who need this more than others. Let’s get to it then.” Alerce stopped playing and ran back to his owner, nestling in her lap. “The first group is Ethan and Lyra.” A pegasus with a gold and black jacket with his suspender-clad friend jumped up in joy, hastily grabbing their supplies and running to the dock. “The second group is May, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie.” Fluttershy’s mouth hung agape.

Had her speech worked? Was it how, dare she say, pathetic she looked to him? The mix up at Rustboro Gym? She couldn’t figure out the reason, but before she knew it she had recalled Wolver and Alerce, and was on her hooves, rushing towards the dock. Rainbow and Pinkie jumped around with joy, Igni happily flapped his wings and chirped between them.

After the last group was called, the rest of the crowed dispersed back to Petalburg Town. The final passenger was a lone mare who rushed to the end of the line with Mr. Briney close behind. As he passed, the line fell silent, patiently awaiting their instructions. With a quick tug, he pulled on a hanging string, pulling down a ramp that clung to the edge of the boat.

“Now, before you all board, place the 200 bits for the ticket in this pan here and be on your way. I’ll give you more instructions after you're aboard,” Mr. Briney explained, setting a collection pan on the ground and watching as the line of ponies made their way up the ramp. Fluttershy counted out 600 bits and and placed them in the pan before motioning for her friends to follow her up to the deck.

When the final passenger was aboard, Mr. Briney grabbed and pulled the ramp up before standing tall in front of the passengers. “Welcome to my vessel. Down on the lower deck are two rooms with some cots and a bunk-bed. That’s where you’ll be sleeping if you choose to. There are some rations in the small kitchen at the end of the hallway, but there aren’t many. The trip should only take about six hours depending on the choppiness of the sea. If you need me, I’ll be at the helm.” With that, the sea pony reeled up the anchor from the sea, letting it dangle off the side of the hull before disappearing into the wheelhouse.

As the ship's engine roared to life and the ship began moving, Fluttershy, Rainbow and Pinkie made their way to the lower deck, followed by the last, white coated passenger. They went to scope out their temporary living conditions, the sway of the boat causing Fluttershy to stumble into the narrow walls of the deck as they went down. The room was a lot smaller than she had imagined: two cots were laid on the floor and one bunk bed stood in the corner. The walls were painted in a cream white, but was chipping off as badly as the paint was outside. It wasn’t ideal, but it was somewhere to sleep. Rainbow seemed to be content with roughing it, and without hesitation stripped off her jacket and shirt, leaving only her shorts. She flopped into the top bunk, mumbling incoherently as she drifted to sleep.

        

“So, are you going to sleep too? I was thinking of going up to the deck for a bit.  I’ve never been on a boat before. This is so exciting!” Pinkie stated, bounding back down the hall towards the stairwell. “Are you coming?”

“I guess I could. You know, I’ve never been on a boat before either,” Fluttershy responded, flying up the stairwell and into the cool, maritime air. The darkness of night draped itself over the sea, with only a few stars and the moon shining down on the pegasus. She trotted to where Pinkie Pie stood and leaned against the railing. They watched as the silhouettes of distant islands and lands floated by. As the winds tugged at her mane, she smiled and shut her eyes. One moment of peace was all she needed, and the soothing rocking and cooling breeze provided just that.

“You think we’ll ever get to visit those islands?” Pinkie asked, gazing out into the distance. “There’s so much out there, but we might not get the chance to see it all. Wouldn’t it be exciting?”

“I think it would. Maybe after we get some more answers about what’s happening, we could afford to get a little sidetracked.” Fluttershy looked over to Pinkie. “How long do you think we’ll be here?”

“I think he said six hours or something, but I could be way off—”

“No, I mean here in Hoenn,” she interrupted. “As interesting as these new creatures are, I really miss home. My cottage, Ponyville, our friends, everything.”

“I’m sure Twilight will find the spell and we’ll be back home in no time. Besides, I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure, so I don’t mind how long it takes,” Pinkie said with a smile. “I’m having fun so far.”

With a yawn, Fluttershy took her hooves off the rail and trotted back to the stairwell. “I’m going to get to bed. It’s been a long day.”

“Good idea! I’ll come too,” Pinkie said, trotting along side Fluttershy as they made their way back into the barracks. Only the white mare had since joined Rainbow and was now sleeping on one of the grounded cots. Before Fluttershy could move, Pinkie had hopped into the lower bunk with a giggle, draping herself with a single sheet before laying down to sleep. With a long sigh, Fluttershy gently lowered herself onto the remaining cot and closed her eyes, quickly falling to sleep.

Fluttershy awoke with a scream, her breathing heavy and quick as sweat dripped from her brow. Her hooves shook as she clutched her neck, bloodshot eyes glancing about for any movement, but the room was still. With relief, she looked down at the floor and her blanket, letting the engine’s sound drown out her recollection of the nightmare. It was the second nightmare she’d had in this world, but the first had never been so visceral. She couldn’t even recall what the other dream was, but this dream... this nightmare hurt. It physically hurt. As she calmed down, she sat in the pitch black room, trying to stay awake until the ship docked in Dewford.

As her breathing slowed, she heard the door creak open, sending her back to full alert. She looked up, noticing a blurry wisp of a pony slipping out of the room into the hallway. Fluttershy stripped off her covers and crept over to the steel door, peeking her head through the small opening. The shadowed pony stood at the end of the hall, just out of reach of the upper dock’s halogen light. Fluttershy gulped and opened the door further, allowing her to slip through the doorway. She knew that whoever was out there was simply a pony that was aboard the ship, but her frightened state clouded her judgment, her mind composing monsters from the shadows. Apprehensively, she crept out from the room and trotted down the hall. With a bound, the shadowed pony lept up the stairs, leaving Fluttershy alone in the hallway. She quickened her pace and charged up the stairs, frantically pursuing the wisp.

Outside, the air was frigid, leaving her bristling from the cold. She took a deep breath and sidled towards the bow, scanning the deck for any signs of life. With each step, the wooden deck creaked, leaving Fluttershy even more timid than before. When she reached the edge of the cabin, she poked her head around the corner.

There, leaning on the railing, was Pinkie Pie, her tail violently twitching. With a sigh of relief, Fluttershy trotted to the side of the pink pony, watching as Pinkie stared into the distance.

“Pinkie? What are you doing awake?” she asked, drawing the pink pony's gaze. Pinkie's eyes were bloodshot and she had dark circles under her eyes, but she smiled as she saw Fluttershy.

“Oh, I heard you scream just a few minutes ago. I just hopped out of the room to get some fresh air,” Pinkie explained.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Fluttershy apologized as she turned to face the open water. “It just felt so real. I remember it quite well unfortunately.”

“Do you want to tell me about it? I had a bad dream too so that’s why I woke up. I think I screamed right when you did... maybe it’ll help both of us,” Pinkie stated.

Fluttershy turned her head up, perplexed. “You had a nightmare too? That’s strange, but alright.”

“Well, I was sitting in a meadow and it was bright, and sunny. I was surrounded by a flock of butterflies, and several bunnies and squirrels were playing in the grass. There wasn’t any fighting, just playing. It was so nice to just close my eyes and soak up all the sounds... to just let the wind run through my mane.

“Before I knew it though, I opened my eyes and all the animals were gone. Dark clouds gathered over me, blocking out the sun. I stood up and frantically searched for my animal friends, but I couldn’t find them. I ran trying to find them, and the grass crumbled under my hooves. It had all died; the entire field was dead and brown. Even the trees were withered and bare. I stood there, scared to even move, and behind me there was this horrible, ear piercing screech. I turned around and saw a huge black griffin coming after me with large melting wings and extended talons. It was its eyes though; its cold, gelid blue eyes. They felt as if they were cutting straight through me.” She shuddered, sinking down and curling around herself from the thought. “I turned and tried to out run it... but moments later I felt its claws wrap around my neck, pulling me back towards it. I woke up screaming. I... I think I’m going to stay out here for the rest of the night.”

“Hmm...” Pinkie muttered, rubbing her chin. “That monster sounds exactly like the one in my dream. The blue eyes and everything!” she exclaimed, prompting Fluttershy to jump back up to her hooves. “I was flying in my dream, then a huge, gigantic storm whooshed in and almost knocked me straight down into the ground. There were huge bolts of lightning, downpours and everything! Just when I straightened myself out, I heard a loud roar behind me. It was the same creature, and I woke up screaming as well! I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream like that before.”

Fluttershy’s mind exploded with a million questions, but she kept her mouth shut. Nothing added up to her, but she was too tired to put much thought into it, chalking it up to pure coincidence. “So, do you want to just wait up here until we get to Dewford? I’m not too keen on going back down-”

She was interrupted by a hoof to the mouth, Pinkie shushing her as she peered over the pegasus’ shoulder. “Do you hear that?” Pinkie perked and wiggled her ears. “It’s coming from the back of the ship. It sounds like claws scratching.”

With her ears perked and Pinkie’s hoof now extracted from her muzzle, Fluttershy listened closely, tuning out the sound of the motor and flowing water. Just at the edge of her hearing, she heard a slight tapping at the other end of the boat. Her heart raced once again as she slowly made her way over, following Pinkie’s lead. As they moved, Fluttershy hugged up against the wall, trying her best to be not caught off guard.

On the deck lay a small blue alligator, smaller than Fluttershy had ever seen. It walked in its hind legs, searching the boat with crimson eyes. After a while, it yawned, showcasing its sharp teeth, and plopped down onto the deck. Fluttershy approached in a side step, halting Pinkie from getting any closer. Alligators were nothing new to her, having taken care of Pinkie’s pet, Gummy. Like Gummy, this was a baby and was alone, but it could either be friendly, or extremely volatile. She begged that it was the former. As she drew within a few steps away, the alligator swiveled its head and stared at her.

Fluttershy reached for her bag to see what it was, but her hoof met nothing but air. With her backpack back downstairs, she had to fall back on her own animal knowledge. She had become so used to the machine’s guidance, that it felt awkward, but refreshing to rely on her old skills. “Hey there, little guy. Are you lost?” Fluttershy cooed, extending a hoof towards the gator. Before she reached it, however, the alligator stood, staring past her for a moment before taking off, shooting through the yellow pegasus’ legs over towards Pinkie. It hovered around the pink pony, looking at her with curiosity and sniffing at her legs.

“Hehe, stop it! That tickles!” Pinkie giggled as the alligator’s snout brushed up against her leg.

As Fluttershy looked away, a faded strip of orange rose above the horizon, signifying the coming dawn. She glanced back down at Pinkie, who had laid down and was now playing with the gator as if it were her own from back home. It hopped up, mirroring Pinkie did as the pair chased one another around the bow. She caught up to it, hugged it mid-jump, and rolled around on the deck, each of them laughing.

“Pinkie,” Fluttershy called out, hoping she wouldn’t ruin their fun.

Pinkie was flat on her back, holding the squirming alligator in her hooves. “What is it?”

“Maybe you should try catching it. Rainbow has been bugging you about it so much lately,” Fluttershy stated, watching as the ribbons of light grew higher and brighter.

“That sounds like a good idea!” Pinkie exclaimed as she dug through her suspenders’ pockets. She whipped out a Poké Ball and enlarged it, holding it in her hoof in front of the alligator. “Boop~!” Pinkie said playfully, bumping the button on the gator’s snout. The alligator was enveloped in a white light before disappearing into the Poké Ball. It dropped to the floor and wiggled, leaving Pinkie in heated anticipation. With one final shake, it ceased moving, leaving Pinkie with her very first pokémon. She loudly gasped, then scooped up the ball. With a smile, she placed it in her pocket just as the first rays of sunlight pierced the horizon. “Ooo, should we wake up Rainbow Dash? She’ll be so excited to hear the news!”

“Maybe when we get to the island,” Fluttershy stated, looking over the railing at the approaching dock.

Dewford resided on an island at the end of a small island chain, its being the largest. On the west side of the island was a large cave, with the eastern path leading to the small town. As the ships made its final approach, the bell on the ship’s tower loudly tolled and echoed off the nearby cliff faces. Both Pinkie and Fluttershy trotted to the stairwell entrance, waiting for Rainbow Dash to make her way up. “What are you going to name it!?” Fluttershy yelled, trying to make her voice heard over the ringing bell.

“I think I might name her Lady Gummy II!” Pinkie yelled back.

“Her? How do you know that its female!?”

“I don’t know!”

The bell ceased its ringing as the boat slowed down to dock. Up the stairs came yawning ponies, followed closely by Rainbow Dash with Fluttershy’s bag and Igni on her back. She let out a large yawn and stretched out her wings as she reached the upper deck. “Hey, Pinkie Pie. Hey Fluttershy. What’s up?” Rainbow asked as she fluffed her jacket. “Oh yeah, you forgot this in the room,” Rainbow said, tossing the bag to Fluttershy.

“Hey, Dashie! I caught a pokémon, and we’re almost to shore!” Pinkie exclaimed, whipping out Lady Gummy II’s Poké Ball.

“You did? Finally.” Rainbow breathed a sigh of relief. “So, what were you two doing up so early?”

“Nothing. Just watching to see when we would get to Dewford,” Fluttershy lied, hoping Dash wouldn’t pry any further.

“Oh, alright. Man, that bunk really beat that thin bedroll from the other night. Slept just like a foal.”

The boat slipped along side the wooden dock, and with a small sputter from the engine, it stopped and simply bobbed in the water. The clanking of chains filled the air as the anchor sank into the water and made its home on the sea floor. When the sound stopped, Mr. Briney stepped out from the wheelhouse looking as if he hadn’t needed a wink of sleep. The conversing ponies ceased talking and looked over at the captain who stood and surveyed his passengers.

“Listen up, we’ll be docked here for two days. That should be long enough for the trainers among you to get your badge. After that we head to Slatleport, and that’s where we’ll part. I’ll be around town if ya need me, so I leave you to your duties.” The passengers sprinted eagerly off the boat as the captain finished his instructions, leaving Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie to casually make their way down the ramp.

As Fluttershy’s hooves hit dry land, she waited for the familiar ring of her Pokédex. She assumed as she hit land, she would be notified of her gym fight. When it failed to ring, she took it out and flipped it open, staring at the illuminated display. Nothing. With a sigh, she put it away. Perhaps it might be broken. She brought Wolver and Alerce out of their Poké Balls and turned west down the path, headed for the opening of the cave. Its mouth was lined with stalagmites, each hung like pointed daggers. Its maw was wide and ragged, swallowing the eastward cliff face. Rainbow and Pinkie trotted to the edge, each surveying the inside of the cavern.

“See anything?” Fluttershy asked. The sun filled the entrance of the cave with a brilliant orange light, reaching far into the cavern’s depths. She only hoped that they wouldn’t have to venture far to find Mr. Stone’s daughter.

“Nope, just a bunch of rocks!” Rainbow called out, allowing Igni back up onto her back. “It looks very homey though, maybe a bear lives in it.” She giggled, prompting Fluttershy to follow suit. Pinkie stared at them in dismay, knowing she was the butt of their joke.

“Hey!” Pinkie yelled, huffing as she let Lady out from her Poké Ball. “Don’t think I forgot about that.”

“We did throw you a birthday party that day. Relax a little, it’ll make going through the caves a little easier,” Rainbow stated, making Pinkie grumble.

With the two ponies’ tiff over, Fluttershy made her way through the mouth of the cavern, peering at the smooth cave walls. The inside was even larger than she had anticipated, considering what she had seen as they sailed into port. It extended far past the sun’s reach, the path disappearing into a void of blackness just beyond. She gulped, wondering how far the path may take her and her friends. Rainbow and Pinkie looked around the cave as Fluttershy dug through her bag, searching for anything useful. A small plastic tube with a tiny bulb and power box lay between her medical supplies and Pokédex. She took it out and placed it around her neck, the plastic harness easily sitting in the groove of her vertebrae. Fluttershy clicked a tiny button making the bulb flare to life, lighting the cavern walls.

“There we go,” she said, beginning her trek down the path.

“Where’d you get that?” Rainbow asked, peering at the small flashlight, “I didn’t see you buy anything in Rustboro.”

“Oh, it was just in my bag from the beginning. I guess May’s mother thought I needed it.”

The sound of dripping water and scratching filled the cave as they delved deeper, putting Fluttershy on edge. Rainbow hovered; To avoid stepping on a rogue stalagmite or falling down an unlit hole, Fluttershy guessed. The yellow light filled only a portion of the trail, leaving a clear path only big enough for two ponies. Pinkie smiled as they went deeper, playfully bouncing over elevated rocks and small cracks, Lady clamped down on Pinkie’s fluff of a tail.

The sound of scratching grew louder as their trek continued. Fluttershy averted her gaze from the path and shined the light on the walls, revealing creatures covered in steel clinging to the smooth surface. She wanted to check what they were, but she was afraid that the Pokédex’s loud beeping would stir them. She estimated that thirty or forty clung on the walls in view. They rested, unmoving. Fluttershy only hoped they stayed that way in case they were dangerous. Rainbow gazed along with her, their eyes darting back and forth between the creatures as Pinkie hopped along, ignorant to their situation.

“Is that a light ahead?” Rainbow asked, pointing to a small sparkle of azure deep within. “Maybe it’s another way out.” Without another word, she blazed ahead, leaving Fluttershy and Pinkie to catch up.

“We’re in the middle of the sea, that can’t be an exit,” Fluttershy hesitantly called out. With no other options, Fluttershy sent her pokémon back into their Poké Balls and galloped after Rainbow Dash. Her eyes darted between the ground and the path ahead, trying to keep tabs on everything. Her legs grew sore as she ran; the lack of sleep made it hard for her to maintain her gallop, but she continued unabated.  Fluttershy saw that Rainbow had landed just up ahead, waiting for them to catch up. With one final push, Fluttershy caught up to the speedier pegasus, halting to investigate the source of the light.

Fluttershy tilted her head up and looked at the large expanse that lay before her. The cave ceiling rose to twice its normal height with a small stream of rushing water hugging the outer wall. No pokémon could be seen in the ghostly blue light that filled the cavern. As Fluttershy looked about she found the source to be a lantern that sat alongside what looked to be a purple-furred pony. She looked to be a unicorn, surrounded by a wall of thick books and research materials. Fluttershy could hear a simple tune coming from the purple mare, the unicorn humming softly as she flipped through the pages of a book.

“E-excuse me?” Fluttershy called out, hearing her voice echo softly off the cavern walls. “Are you Stephanie?” she asked as she began her approach.

The mare shut her book and stood, looking over the shoulder at the three as they entered the clearing. “I am, yes.” Her voice sounded so familiar, but Fluttershy couldn’t quite place it. “I’m assuming you have a letter for me?”

Fluttershy stopped in her tracks. “H-how did you know? Your father said he had no way to contact you!” As the bookish mare approached, details began to reveal themselves. She was a unicorn in a black dress with silver cuff links on her forelegs. Her hair was silver with magenta and purple stripes coursing down her mane and she stared with piercing purple eyes. “T-Twilight?” Fluttershy murmured. Stephanie looked so close to her friend, yet just a little off.

Stephanie chuckled. “I’m not sure how I knew. I was expecting you to come... just not like," the unicorn paused a moment, gesturing at the three with a hoof, “This...”

“What do you mean you were ‘expecting’ us?” Rainbow cried out.

“I don’t know. It’s the strangest thing; just the other day, I started getting visions, and one of them involved a trainer such as yourself coming, yellow one... Except I was only expecting one. Every other trainer came alone.”

        

“I’m sorry we aren’t what you were expecting.” Fluttershy stated, trying to avoid asking  the strange unicorn any more questions. She sounded just like Twilight, but her mannerisms seemed just a bit different. She was less confident about her information, making their conversation frustrating. Fluttershy dug through her bag and retrieved the letter, letting Stephanie take it from her hoof.

“Thank you,” Stephanie said as she magically tore the letter in two. All three were taken aback as the letter gently landed in pieces on the cavern floor. “I won’t be needing it, though. I already know what it says.”

“Uh... er... wha—” Fluttershy stammered.

“We came all the way down here just so you could rip up that letter? What’s wrong with you?” Rainbow yelled, stomping her hoof down in anger.

Stephanie closed her eyes and wore a cocky grin. “As I said, I already know what the letter says. The blueprints for ‘Project 746’ were stolen from an employee and you were able to retrieve it. It was then stolen again, and you took it back in Rusturf Tunnel and delivered it to my father.”

Fluttershy looked nervously at Rainbow and Pinkie as the yellow pegasus shuffled her forehoof.

“Uh, we never did any of that. We found a stallion lying on the ground with a bite wound in his shoulder in Petalburg Woods, but that’s it,” Rainbow explained. “What are you even talking about?”

“What do you mean you didn’t-” Stephanie snapped her jaw shut, staring at the three wide-eyed. “T-that’s impossible. If you didn’t stop Team Aqua from getting those blueprints, then-” She quickly raised the letter from the ground and a purple light ran up the tear, mending it back together. After scanning it, the unicorn lowered the paper, her mouth hung agape. “This is just a financial document for Devon Corp. I’ve read this letter a thousand times, how can it be different!?”

The tension in the air built as the unicorn paced around the room. Nothing she was saying made any sense to Fluttershy, but somehow Stephanie knew about the attack in Petalburg Woods. She had to know what she was talking about.

“You said something about us not being what you expected. What were you expecting?”

Stephanie halted and turned to Fluttershy. “Well, from what I recall, the one who normally wears those clothes is a unicorn, at least if it’s a pony. And, well... you’re a pegasus.” She resumed her pacing, glancing at Rainbow and Pinkie. “Also, they were always alone, and you’re traveling with two others.”

“Why a unicorn?” Fluttershy asked. A split-second later, the reality of what Stephanie said smacked her in the face. “Wait, the one who normally wears these clothes? What do you mean?”

Stephanie sat down, looking over to the mouth of the expanse. “Two days ago I started having a weird sense of déjà vu about everything I did. When I looked to the front of the cave, I saw the faces of a thousand different beings: ponies, griffins, dragons, humans, almost any creature you could imagine. Each of them held the same letter and wore the same clothes. Each a ‘May, or a ‘Brendan’.” She stopped and scratched the back of her head. “What’s your name?”

“It’s... uh...  May Stan—”

“No no, not the name this world gave you. Your real name! The one your parents gave you in Cloudsdale.”

“How—what?” Fluttershy stammered. She couldn’t wrap her head around the unicorn’s words. “How did you know where I was born? What are you even saying?”

“I don’t know how I knew, it just sounded right to me. Please, just give me your name, I need to know.”

“It’s Fluttershy,” she answered, hoping the mare would start making sense with this new information.

“Fluttershy... that name somehow sounds familiar. No one that I can recall has ever remembered their real name...I think. The details are still foggy on my end.” She looked over at Pinkie and Rainbow. “What are your names?”

“I’m Rainbow Dash, and she’s Pinkie Pie,” Rainbow answered with her head held high.

“I see. You two look and sound very familiar as well.” She took a book from her pile and flipped through it. “Now where was.... A- ha!” Stephanie exclaimed, planting her hoof into the book. “That’s what I was looking for. Analogue; a facsimile, or other worldly counterpart. You two fit the bill quite nicely,” she explained, pointing at Rainbow and Pinkie. “You look so familiar, but not quite what I remember.”

“You mean like Roxanne, and you?” Fluttershy asked.

“Wait, me?” She ran over to the flowing water and looked into it, inspecting her features. “So that’s why I’m a female now...” she droned. “I was wondering why my blazer had turned into a dress.” She turned her head back. “What’s the name of your world’s counterpart for me?”

“Um... our world? We live in the same world you know, just... far away,” Fluttershy explained, trotting over to the unicorn mare.

“Uh, Fluttershy? Twilight said something about ‘transporting through space time’ as the deviation for that spell. I don’t think we’re in the same world as we used to be,” Rainbow said, taking the butter pegasus aback.

Her body shook, sick from nerves as she made every attempt to keep herself calm. “Her name is Twilight Sparkle. She’s the pony that sent me here.”

“Sent you here, huh? Well that’s a first. Also, Twilight was it? You know I like that better than my silly gender bent name... but that would be so confusing for you.”

“Why... how do you know all this? Why are these ‘analogues’ popping up? Just... who are you?”

“I’m sorry, let me first introduce myself better. My name is, well, was Steven Stone, former champion of Hoenn’s Pokémon League. I seem to recall being human originally, or at least that’s what my memory seems to be telling me. With so many sessions, it’s been hard to keep track.”

“Um, human? What’s a ‘human’?” Fluttershy asked. “You said it before, but... what is it?”

Stephanie chuckled. “I guess you don’t have any in your world, huh? Well, they look similar to hairless apes, with exposed flesh and hair mostly on the top of their skulls. They are bipedal as well, having hands instead of hooves. Pretty basic homo sapien,” she explained.

Fluttershy remembered seeing them before, appearing in her short memory flashes. The sensation of moving fingers when she woke from her earlier nightmare coming back to her. She had the memory of a human girl. “Let me get this all straight,” Fluttershy started, closing her eyes in thought. “You’re an ‘analogue’, a human, there are these... ‘sessions’, you’re originally a male, and I should be a unicorn. Am I missing anything?”

“You know, now that you say back to me, it does sound a little ridiculous,” Stephanie laughed. “I can’t think about that right now. My mind has been running non-stop for two days, and speaking to you three isn’t helping. How about this-” From near her research supplies floated a computer chip. With magic, she stripped open Fluttershy’s PokéNav and placed it inside. “This is a telephone modification for your PokéNav. If you need to contact anyone, this is the application for it. I only have one since I only expected one of you, but that should be fine. My number is already programmed in, so if you find out anything, just call me. It would really be quite handy.” She looked up in thought. “...or is would it be ‘hoofy’? I never know with your culture’s inane equine euphemisms.”

“Um... thanks,” Fluttershy said, switching between her watch’s applications. The only name on the list read ‘Steven’. “I’ll call you if I find anything.”

“Great! I’ll be heading back to Rustboro to order some research materials.” She jumped up and down with glee. “I can’t believe this! I never expected you to be such an outlier, and you aren’t even insane!”

“Wait, what?” Fluttershy asked bewildered.

“Um... we should probably head out. Gym battle and all,” Rainbow said, rolling her eyes to the cavern entrance.

“Oh right, you’re trainers. How about this, I’ll teleport you out of here so you can go about your business. This cave is way too dark to be traveling in.” Stephanie planted her legs and her horn began to glow in a purple light.

“You’re powerful enough to do that?” Pinkie asked.

“Of course I can, I’m the most powerful psychic in my family’s lineage. Why do you think I was the champion?” As the unicorn finished, Fluttershy felt her body relax as a white light engulfed her. Before she knew it she floated in the air just as she had when she came to Hoenn. She wanted to scream, but she stopped herself in an attempt to steel her bravery. Her breathing quickened as she closed her eyes and clenched her teeth. Before she knew it, the light dissipated, leaving the three in front of the cave entrance. She hit the ground with a light thump, then ran to the hillside, panting as she leaned on it.

“Never... again...” Fluttershy panted as she stared at the ground, continuing to shake.

“It wasn’t so bad. At least we got to stay conscious this time.” Rainbow said reassuringly. She shook out her legs and wings before checking her pockets for her supplies.

“Woo! That was fun,” Pinkie hollered. “Think we’ll get to do it again?”

“If I have my way, we won’t.” Rainbow turned to Fluttershy, waiting for her to remove herself from the hillside. “Come on, we need to get scheduled for the gym fight,” Rainbow said. Fluttershy nodded and made her way to her friends. With a cloud of tension in the air, they trotted towards Dewford.

The town of Dewford was smaller than Rustboro City. Much smaller.

A Pokémon Center and market hugged the coast while the gym stood in the center of town. Besides the three main structures, there were just five other buildings, the number of docks on the island easily dwarfing that number. It was quiet, with only a few voices that could be heard over the sound of the waves striking the docks in the distance. Fluttershy walked down the road towards the gym as her friends discussed Pinkie’s new pokémon. Amidst the relative silence, Fluttershy’s Pokédex joined it, failing to tell her of her coming gym challenge. She stripped the Pokédex out from her bag and opened it, seeing only the same flickering lights as when they stepped off the boat.

Why aren’t you working? she thought, banging the sides of it in an attempt to make it work. Despite her assault, the Pokédex remained silent. She sighed before looking up at the gym, instantly realizing why she never got the call.

“Uhh, Rainbow Dash? Pinkie?” she called out, grabbing the two ponies’ attention. “You might want to see this.”

Rainbow and Pinkie galloped over, confused. “What did you want us to...” Rainbow stopped and looked at the gym. It was completely boarded up on each side, the windows appeared smashed and shattered behind the boards. Upon closer inspection, Fluttershy found a hanging white sign that read: ‘Building Condemned: By the authority of  Casein Sea Building Inspection’ in bold, red letters.

“This is the gym? I thought trainers came here for the second badge!” Rainbow yelled.

“Calm down. I’m sure there’s a reason for this,” Fluttershy said, looking around for any pony outside.

“I... ugh....” Rainbow groaned in frustration. “First that weird Twilight... Steven pony, now the gym is shut down. What’s with this place?”

“Maybe Stephanie had a point. She might be right if you think about it,” Pinkie stated. “She knew about Cloudslade, and that we found that Devon Crop employee. Maybe things aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to.”

“You can’t just say something crazy like that. I just...” Rainbow sighed, trailing off into a dejected silence.

The conversation with Stephanie had taken its toll on all three, but Fluttershy feared more so for Pinkie and herself than the cyan pegasus. The nightmare they had shared and lack of sleep, along with the unicorn’s insane ramblings, were doing neither pony any favors. With all that had happened, she had failed to pay attention to her now dry throat and rumbling belly. It’d been almost a day since  they had eaten.

“We’re stuck here for two days before the ship sails again, right?” Fluttershy asked, breaking Rainbow out of her slump.

“Yeah, why?” Rainbow wondered.

“I think we should get some food and just relax. We don’t have a gym to worry about, and we haven’t eaten in almost a day. Maybe we can get all of this sorted out in the mean time.”

Pinkie smiled and trotted past Fluttershy. “Oooo, I’ll go see if I can find us some place to eat. Maybe they have kelp or seaweed; I’ve always wanted to try that.” She giggled and hopped down the road. Fluttershy trusted her with food arrangements, so she let her hop off with no qualms.

“So, why were you and Pinkie up early last night?” Rainbow asked. Fluttershy turned to see Rainbow staring at her. “You look like you haven’t slept at all. Everything alright?”

“I’m... fine.” Fluttershy tried her hardest to stand tall in front of her friend. Her heart raced as Rainbow kept up her stare. “I just woke up early, that’s all.”

“I know things have been rough today, but I just want to know. Don’t you trust me?”

As those words hit home, Fluttershy slumped to the ground and looked up at her friend. “It’s just, what happened was so strange. Pinkie and I had the same nightmare. Well, not exactly the same, but they were very similar. We both woke up screaming at the same time, and it hurt. It really hurt.” She looked away, feeling a knot form in her stomach as she spoke. “My neck and chest felt as if they were being stabbed and crushed, and I’m sure Pinkie felt the same way and... I just didn’t want to worry you.”

“Oh...” Rainbow said in a somber tone. She dropped her stare and looked for Pinkie who was still hopping around town. “I shouldn’t be complaining. You came here alone and scared with your memories messed with, you thought your pokémon died, you’ve been getting taken over by some girl named May, you’re getting nightmares,” she lowered her head with a sigh of contrition. “...and I’m just here for the ride.” She lifted the sitting pegasus to her hooves and embraced her. “I’m sorry.” She rested her head on Fluttershy’s shoulder for only a moment, then let go and stood back up.

“It’s alright.” Fluttershy said before walking up over to examine the boards. “So, what do you think happened? Do you think that maybe we never had to come here in the first place?” She paused for a moment, running a hoof across the boards. “These look new.”

“If we ask somepony about it, we should do it tomorrow. I’m sick of answers today,” Rainbow responded as she circled around the building. “You’re right, though, these don’t look weathered at all.”

“Hey, girls! I found us a restaurant!” Pinkie yelled out as she trotted back to the gym. “It’s really cheap too, and from the ponies I talked to it sounds delicious!”

“Great, I’m starving,” Rainbow said as she and Fluttershy followed Pinkie to the restaurant. “I really should’ve gotten something on the ship.”

The restaurant looked more like a stand to Fluttershy; there were no tables on the outside, only ponies sitting on the sand covered ground. A menu scrawled into wooden planks hung above the counter behind which a lone mare stood. After ordering, they sat next to two of the ponies that sailed with them.

“Hey! Do you know what happened to the gym?” Pinkie asked, looking over the two’s plates of food.

“Not sure. There was nothing on the news about it, so it must’ve happened pretty recently. I thought my Pokédex broke when I came into town!” the gold hatted pony laughed.

“Same...” Fluttershy yawned, rubbing her eyes. Her eye-lids drooped as they sat, and she squirmed uncomfortably. She tried paying attention to what the ponies were talking about, but she only stared at the booth, waiting for her food to come. She licked her lips and shifted as she waited, trying to make herself comfortable.

“Fluttershy?” Rainbow asked. “Hey, are you alright?”

“Oh,” Fluttershy mumbled, looking over to Rainbow. She couldn’t stay awake anymore, her body screaming at her for some rest.  “I’m just really tired. I think I’ll go lay down after this.”

“Okay. How about this: leave Alerce and Wolver with us, then we’ll get some training in while you get some sleep,” Rainbow suggested, extending her hoof. Fluttershy took out her pokémon and handed their Poké Balls to Rainbow who then pocketed them in her jacket.  “I’ll put them right back in your bag when we’re done.”

“That’s sounds nice,” Fluttershy said, yawning again.

Before she knew it, her plate of food was in front of her on a small mat. It was a simple daffodil sandwich which she dug into right away, wolfing it down before she had the chance to even taste it. With a swig of her water, she finished her meal just as the other four were taking their first bites. As she set her cup down, she looked up at the Pokémon Center, hoping it was still open. “I’m going to sleep. I’ll see you all when I wake up,” she yawned, standing up.

“Alright, sleep well,” Rainbow stated, watching as Fluttershy slowly trotted into the Pokémon Center, hobbling from side to side.

The inside of the building was laid out the exact same way as the one in Petalburg, making it easy for her to find her way around. It was empty except for a nurse who stood behind the counter. She looked around, trying to find a comfortable spot to lay down. There, in the corner of the room, she spotted a small cushioned bench. It called sweetly to her, the cushions looking like soft, fluffy clouds beckoning her to lay on them. As she approached, the looked over to the nurse, who was busy with paperwork. “I-is it alright if I get some sleep here?” Fluttershy asked, her voice just squeaking out.

“That’s fine. Have a good rest.” The nurse closed her eyes and smiled.

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said before dragging herself over and plopping onto the bench. She took out her blanket and draped it over herself, shifted into a comfortable position, and let herself drift off.

“Fluttershy! Pinkie! Wake up!” Rainbow yelled, shaking Fluttershy awake. She sat up, looking around the room with her eyes still half closed. It was night, leaving the Pokémon Center shrouded in darkness.

“What... what is it?” Fluttershy mumbled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Come outside, you have to see this,” Rainbow exclaimed as she bolted out the door with Pinkie close behind. As Fluttershy shook her grogginess off, she made her way to the door and stepped outside.

“Rainbow, where are you—” she stopped after she turned to the east. A sickening orange and red glow cast itself over the horizon as a thick billow of smoke rose into the air. “What is that?”

“It looks like something is... burning. I was getting ready to go to sleep after some flight practice, and I saw a flash of light came from over there. Isn’t that where we’re supposed to go next? Slateport, I think?” Rainbow said, hovering above the Pokémon Center in an attempt to get a better view.

“I hope not, not if it’s burning at least,” Pinkie stated.

The way the orange and red light pulsated disturbed Fluttershy. She had seen fires before, but never as large nor as bright as this, nor with as red of hue. As the smoke gathered in the air, it reflected the flames’ light, making the sky appear to be burning. “What do we do?”

“We find out what’s going on,” Rainbow said as she stared out at the inferno. “It can’t be any worse than anything that’s happened today. Hey, maybe it’ll even be exciting.” With a quick swoop, she landed, looking back towards the docked passenger boat. “We should wake up Mr. Briney.”

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<==  Chapter 9  ||  Chapter 11  ==>

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HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

11

Crimson Sky

The air was still as the night had long settled on the small town. Dewford was all but asleep, except for three young mares who galloped and flew quietly through the back streets. Every building lay silent and dark, leaving the three illuminated only by moonlight and the faint red glow of the sky as an inferno raged to the east. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie followed Rainbow Dash towards the docks, hoping to find Mr. Briney still aboard his ship.

“Mr. Briney! Mr. Briney!” Rainbow yelled as they galloped up to the weather-beaten boat. It bobbed up and down gently, floating silently over the cresting waves. A yellow light flickered on in the boat’s wheelhouse before a silhouette inside moved around. “I knew he’d be here.”

“Didn’t he say he was staying in town?” Fluttershy asked as she watched the cabin door swing open. “Why is he back over here?”

“There wasn’t any place to stay for the night except for the Pokémon Center. He wasn’t there the last time I checked.”

“What do ya’ want?” the old sea pony asked, leaning onto the railing as he looked down on the three. His seagull was asleep, laying on his back as Mr. Briney grimaced. “The sun set a while ago, why aren’t you fillies in bed yet?”

“Look east, there’s something on fire!” Fluttershy yelled, pointing to the burning sky. Its intensity had faded, yet it still gave her a sickening pain in her stomach. The smoke extended over the sea, engulfing the horizon in burning cinders.

“Huh, so it is,” Mr. Briney stated, rubbing his gray stubble. “So, what do you want me to do about it?”

Rainbow flew up to the deck and hovered in front of the sea pony. “We want to go check it out, and we were hoping you would sail us over there. We have to go to Slateport anyway, right?” She flew over the railing and landed on the deck.

“Yes, in two days,” he explained, glaring at Rainbow. “Also, you three want to go towards  a wildfire? You’re supposed to run away, you stupid fillies.” He began pacing back and forth, switching his gaze between Rainbow and the other two. “Tell me, why should I risk my vessel to bring three greenhorns to a set of burning land? Fuel is expensive and I’m too old for fillies’ games.”

Fluttershy looked down in thought. Mr. Briney had been harsh before, making the three have to beg to board his ship the first time. The fire in the east gave her chills unlike any other fire she had seen before. It was the same feeling she’d had when she had fought with Norman; it felt as if the fire wasn’t supposed to happen. She didn’t realize why she had begun banging on her Pokédex for not responding until she saw the blaze in front of her; something felt terribly wrong, and it seemed that deviations were becoming worse.

“I know you don’t like us, and you think I’m... pathetic, but we have to go. Ponies could be injured,” Fluttershy argued. “We have to do something about it.”

“There are firefighters and police who can take care of things like this, what makes you think you’re needed over there?” Mr. Briney removed himself off from the railing and walked to the raised ramp. “One good reason, what is it?” He asked, eyeing Fluttershy.

Fluttershy locked eyes with him, watching his movements closely. He said there was a reason he let us on the first time... but why? she thought. If she couldn’t come up with why Mr. Briney let them on his boat in the first place, she didn’t know how to convince him to bring them back to the mainland. She looked back at the blaze, feeling the knot tighten in her stomach, then looked back up at the sea pony. “I... well...”

“Hmm? What was that?” Mr. Briney asked condescendingly.

“Please? I know you don’t trust us, and it’s an odd request, but we have to go. Seeing it there...” Fluttershy shuddered as she looked back. “I... just...” she murmured, clutching at her chest. “Please!”

Mr. Briney looked down at her and Pinkie Pie and laughed. “May, the daughter of Norman, is reduced to begging in front of an old captain.” He looked away from the ponies and up to the horizon, taking out a small, brass telescope and looking through it.

Rainbow flew down from the deck and landed in front of her friends. “Ugh, well that was pointless,” she groaned, then yawned as she trotted down the dock. “I’m going back to the Pokémon Center to get some shut-eye.”

Fluttershy yawned and nodded her head, following Rainbow back onto the island. “I don’t know why we thought that would work. We barely got onto the-” Fluttershy jumped at the sound of a loud clang behind her. She quickly turned around, noticing the ramp onto the ship was lowered onto the end of the dock. After a few quick, silent glances between them, the mares approached the ramp and looked up at Briney who stood just off to the side of the ramp.

“So, are you fillies coming aboard or not?” Mr. Briney yelled out, placing a white, black-billed hat on his head. He had donned a blue blazer with brass buttons running down its front with white trim.

Fluttershy stood confused, watching as the grizzled pony tapped his forehoof impatiently on the ramp. “I thought you weren’t going to—”

“Don’t question your captain, sailor!” Briney interrupted her, stepping off the ramp. “You want to get to Slateport so badly, you’re going to work for it. I’m your captain now, and you take orders from me. Now come aboard before I ship off without you sorry lot!”

Without another word, Fluttershy trotted up the ramp, followed by Rainbow and Pinkie, keeping her eye on the now authoritative stallion. He drew a line with his eyes towards the backside of the cabin, forcing the three to line up with their haunches to the stairwell wall. The rocking of the boat was much rougher than she remembered as she saw Pinkie stumble into the wall from her tired movements. After Rainbow brought Pinkie back to her hooves and with the three firmly lined up, Mr. Briney casually made his way to the middle before scanning the three of them. Fluttershy gulped, anxiously awaiting the sea pony’s next action.

“So you want to be adventurers, huh?” He began to pace in front of them, casually glancing towards the east every few seconds. “If you’re going to use my ship, you’re going to be my crew, is that understood?” Fluttershy nodded as Rainbow and Pinkie looked at each other, making short gestures with their hooves. “I can’t hear you, greenhorns!” He yelled, snapping the three to attention.

“Uh...yes,” Fluttershy said softly. Rainbow and Pinkie followed suit, slightly mumbling their responses.

“That’s ‘Yes, Captain.’ to you lot!” He snapped, grimacing at his lowly crew. “You want to be on my ship and act as my crew, then act like it! Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Captain!” The three yelled in unison, putting a smile on the seasoned captain’s face.

“Good, now let’s put you to work. Rainbow was it? Sound the bell above the wheelhouse as we depart. When we get close enough to the flames, fly ahead to see what’s happening. Pinkie, I need you to man the spotlight on top of the cabin; make sure we don’t run into anything in the open water.”

“Okie-dokie, Captain!” Pinkie said with a salute.

“May, before I give you your instructions, I need to speak with you in the cabin. There’s something I need to clear up with you,” Mr. Briney said to Fluttershy before turning his back to the other two mares. “Sound the bell! We’re shoving off!”

Rainbow flew to the bell and yanked on its string, causing the bell to toll and echo off the cliff face. Mr. Briney entered the wheelhouse, sitting on his wooden chair, pulling several levers and turning the ignition key. With the clang of chains, the anchor slowly rose from the water as the engines roared to life. With a sudden jerk, the boat began moving back from the dock, bowing out to face the blaze. Fluttershy and Pinkie grasped the railing as the boat turned, trying not to bowl each other over. As the boat crawled to a stop, it sailed forward with incredible speed.

“Pinkie! Man the second light, there’s no lighthouse where we’re headed!” the captain yelled out, spurring the pink pony into action. She quickly bounded around the outside of the cabin, galloping up a ramp to the top. She clicked on a switch, giving life the to bulb and swiveled it to shine its light on the dark water below. Pinkie giggled as she turned to light to and fro, blurring the light across the sea and obscuring the wheelhouse light. “Slow it down, lass. I can’t see a thing!” the captain yelled.

“Oops, sorry,” Pinkie laughed in embarrassment before concentrating the light on a single point on the waves.

With the boat now at cruising speed, Fluttershy closed her eyes and took a nervous deep breath. She couldn’t figure out why Mr. Briney wanted to speak to her, and she was hoping it wasn’t just a private berating. Step by step she slowly approached the cabin doors, her breath quickening as she came closer. Apprehensively, she pushed the door open, causing the stern earth pony to look back at her. Without a word she closed the door behind her and kept her distance.

“Y...you wanted to see me, Captain?” she squeaked out, watching the seagull hop down off of the control panel as she avoided the captain’s gaze.

“Yes I did,” he said in a soft tone. She had never heard him with such a lack of bite to his words. With another deep breath, she trotted to his side and looked out at the open sea. “Do you know why I called you in here?”

“N-no, Captain,” Fluttershy answered, watching small islands whizz by.

“You don’t need to call me that, I was just having a bit of fun with you three,” he laughed. “This is about the other day and just before you boarded tonight. Do you have any idea why I called you pathetic in my cabin when you first came?”

Fluttershy lowered her head, peeking up at the captain. “Um... to make fun of me?”

“Of course not, that would be cruel. I just wanted to get a rise out of you,” he explained, confusing Fluttershy. “Your father told me all about you when he first came to Petalburg. Oh the stories he would tell. The girl with fire in her eyes he would say; she’d never back down from a fight and send her opponents packing.” With a sudden movement, he spun the wheel, banking around a stray, empty wooden boat. “That was close... that Pinkie is a good spotter when she isn’t playing around, ain’t she?” Fluttershy responded in silence. “Anyway, I was excited to see this firebrand of a Pokémon trainer for the first time. When you came into my cabin I thought nothing of you, but when you told be your name I was shocked, let me tell you.

“You were nothing like the stories, so I tried to force it out of you. I thought you were playing games with me, so I let you on my boat to see if I was right. When I saw you come up to see your friend, I expected to see that side of you come out, but I heard you talk about your nightmare.” Fluttershy looked up at him in surprise.

“You heard that?” Her face fell, flush with embarrassment.

“Yes, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of I can assure you,” he said, patting Fluttershy on the back. “At that point I needed more confirmation of this ‘change’ you went though. I kept watching and saw you with that stowaway totodile. Any other trainer would’ve fought it, but you approached it like it was a small foal. I can’t say I wasn’t surprised when I saw that. I tried one last time right before I let you on to rile you up, but you stayed as calm as you are now. I didn’t know your father exaggerated so much.”

“Y-yeah, he does that a lot,” Fluttershy lied, trying to keep up with his story.

“Your friends, did they come with you to Hoenn? Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie?” he asked, tapping on of the gauges with a hoof as he steered with the other.

“Yes. They’re my best friends,” she explained.

“Hmm... that’s what I thought.” He paused for a moment, rubbing his stubble with his hoof. “May isn’t your real name, is it?”

Fluttershy took a step back, her eyes darting back and forth in thought. How could he know my name? I’ve only told it to one other pony, she thought, her mind scrambling to come up with an answer.

“No, no it’s not,” Fluttershy answered.

“I knew it! Call it an ol’ sailor’s intuition. May seems more of a Hoenn name than a Johto name. I was wondering why your name was so conservative compared to your friends.” Fluttershy breathed a sigh of relief. “So, what’s your real name?”

“It’s Fluttershy,” she answered with a calm breath.

“That sounds better. I think it suits you better too,” he said before turning his attention to the sky.

“What do you think it is? ...the fire, I mean,” Fluttershy asked.

“Well, it can’t be a wildfire. The humidity is too high and we get consistent rainfall throughout Hoenn. A place like Blackthorn where you come from, sure, but not here; especially not a port town.” He grabbed a radio receiver from the dashboard. “Rainbow, can you hear me?”

They waited for a moment before they heard a muffled, “Yeah... I mean yes, Captain,” from outside the wheelhouse.

“We’re getting close to the docks on this strait. I need you to fly ahead and make sure I’m not headed towards a burning dock. See if you can make out what’s going on as well, I don’t like the look of this,” Briney commanded, watching the cyan pegasus salute then bolt through the air, blazing off from the boat. Fluttershy watched as Rainbow disappeared through the smoke, leaving a small rainbow trail behind her.

Fluttershy crept out of the wheelhouse and leaned on the boat’s railing, watching for any sign of Rainbow’s return. She could see the shadow of a dock coming into view over the horizon, absent of the crimson light that consumed the land north of it. A trickle of smoke seeped its way down her windpipe, making her close her eyes and cough violently. Leaving her eyes half way open, she continued monitoring the flames. She stripped off her bandanna and dipped it in her water, covering her mouth trying her hardest to keep from breathing the smoke .

In no time, Rainbow emerged from the smoke, landing gracefully on the ship’s deck. Fluttershy took herself off from the railing and rushed to her friend, awaiting her scouting report. A hum made its way through the speakers as the captain slowed the boat to half its speed.

“What’d you find?” he asked before Fluttershy could speak.

Rainbow fluffed her jacket and desperately tried to wipe the soot off from her jacket. “The dock isn’t on fire, I can say that much.”

“What’s happening over there?” Fluttershy asked with concern. The red glow of the blaze made its way onto the boat as they inched ever closer, enveloping them in its light.

“The entire town is on fire,” the rainbow-maned pegasus cried. “I couldn’t get a good look at it, but I couldn’t see anypony left in town.” She began to pace. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. I would just grab a rain cloud and make it rain, but I can’t seem to touch them. Alerce is probably useless since he’s weak to fire. Wolver is still pretty weak. Pinkie’s alligator is nowhere near powerful enough to put out the fire. Lorica is weak to fire—”

“Lorica?” Fluttershy asked in confusion.

“You remember those creatures in the cave? The ones with the metal backs and all? I caught one of those while you were asleep.” Rainbow explained, releasing the creature onto the boat. It yawned, then looked up at Fluttershy. The crimson from the blaze glinted off its armor, flickering and pulsating in contrast to its bright, azure eyes. “He didn’t stand much of a chance against Igni, so I figure he’s not strong against it.”

“Pinkie, kill the lights!” Mr. Briney yelled over the speakers, prompting Pinkie to switch off the lantern. The boat was on its final approach to the dock, slowing its speed to a mere crawl. With a choke, the engines severely slowed and the lights on the boat flickered off. “Prepare to dock!” He called out through the wheelhouse glass. Rainbow called back Lorica and stuffed his Poké Ball back in her jacket before Pinkie hopped down from the cabin. The grizzled sea pony turned the wheel a final time and dropped anchor perpendicular to the dock, stopping the boat completely.

As the ship rocked on the waves, Mr. Briney came out from the wheelhouse and lowered the ramp onto the dock, letting the three mares onto dry land. “Do you three know what you’re doing? Will you be alright?” he asked, watching the three descend the ramp. Fluttershy could hear the concern in his tone, like a father looking after his daughters. She looked back at him, meeting him with a smile.

“We’re just seeing what we can do. I’m sure there are ponies that need our help,” the pink maned pegasus explained.

“I’ll be here if you need anything. If you need to head back to Dewford, let me know. I’ll be heading back in the morning to get ready for the group still over there,” their captain said before making his way back into the wheelhouse. Fluttershy sighed and turned around, her view now encompassed by the blaze.

The dock was connected to a large sprawling beach filled with umbrellas and fold-up chairs. Several beach balls lay scattered on the sand, while others bobbed in the tide. The three mares trotted down the dock, Pinkie galloping out ahead of them. As their hooves hit sand, Fluttershy felt the sands’ warmth flowing though her legs. It was... tepid, but unusually so. As she drew closer, the heat of the flames rushed to Fluttershy’s face. Fluttershy coughed more as they trudged along the beach and onto the stone roads of the burning town.

Slateport was in ruins; the nautical museum had fallen apart and was left in shambles, a building that held a large boat and submarine was ablaze, the steel inside glowed bright orange as the iron-cast beams emitted the crimson light they saw from Dewford. Not a single building stood unscathed in wake of the fire, each of them crumbled onto themselves in ruin. Fluttershy raised a hoof to shield her eyes, coughing from the lingering smoke and fumes. The sign welcoming them into Slateport lay on the ground, covered in embers and burning with a harsh, orange glow.

“Let’s start looking, there have to be some survivors,” Rainbow said before breaking off from the group and beginning to search through some of the wreckage, heaving off several heavy chunks of roofing and timber.

Fluttershy flew off in the other direction, trying to fan off some of the embers with gusts from her wings. After a few moments, all that remained of the flames on the wreckage in front of her were smoldering ashes, so she got to digging her way through. Each piece felt heavier for the pegasus as she continued coughing. She covered her mouth again with her rag, trying to filter the air between each removed piece. After straining to roll an iron girder off from the collapsed building, she felt the hair on the back of her neck stick up. She felt as if... somepony or something was watching her. Slowly, she turned around and squinted, trying to focus on a small, standing figure in the distance.

The figure was mostly in shadow, with the light of the flames licking at its body. It reflected the light, as though it were covered in a shined metal. Turning her body fully to face the figure, she studied it as it remained still, not moving as the flames inched closer to it. It was bulky and still, and she felt sick looking at it, feeling as if it stared straight through her. Her breathing stuttered as she trotted towards Rainbow Dash, making sure she never broke eye contact with the figure. Before she made it to her friend, it twitched its head to the right, then back up again almost instantaneously. She let out a tiny scream and rushed over to Rainbow who was still chipping away at the wreckage.

“R...Rainb...bow?” Fluttershy stuttered, tapping the cyan pegasus on the shoulder.

“What is it Fluttershy? Did you find something?” Rainbow asked, turning towards her friend.

“L..look over there...” Fluttershy pointed to the figure as it continued its stare unabated. As Rainbow came closer, a flash of light came from behind it, completely silhouetting the pony. Coiling up from behind him was a monstrous serpent, its body segmented with spheres and was covered in multiple fins with a great, gaping maw hanging open. It towered over the figure, its body reaching high above the flames as Fluttershy saw saliva drip from its mouth, sizzling as it hit the ground. She shuddered, quickly ducking behind her friend. Rainbow called out quietly to Pinkie, letting the pink pony hop over to her side as Fluttershy shook behind them.

“It’s probably nothing, Fluttershy,” Rainbow assured her, making her way towards the shadowed figure. Pinkie quickly followed suit.

“Rainbow... I.. no!” Fluttershy squeaked before running behind the wrecked buildings. She snuck her way through the back streets, avoiding eye contact with the shadowed pony. To her right was a hollowed out building with the front still intact. It wasn’t on fire, so she made her way inside, peeking out from a broken glass window to watch her two friends approach the pony. The light of the fire made its body visible, revealing a horn on the pony, its body clad in azure armor. A scabbard with a straight-sword hung on its side, clanging against its side plate as it moved closer to her friends. The beast remained behind it, floating above the ground. She ducked her head, and closed her eyes, hoping her friends didn’t engage it.

“Hey, you!” Rainbow yelled, catching the armor-clad pony’s attention. “Could you help us find survivors? There’s a lot of rubble to sift through.”

Fluttershy poked her head back up, seeing the unicorn only a few feet away from Pinkie and Rainbow. The blue-scaled monster had set down behind the unicorn, its head laying against its master's side. “There are still ponies here?” It asked in a grizzled voice.

“I think so, there might be some trapped under the rubble,” Rainbow said before turning around, frantically looking for Fluttershy.

“Why should I help them? They were given the chance to leave,” the stallion said, his tone sending a shiver down Fluttershy’s spine.

Rainbow quickly turned back, getting into the stallions face. “What do you mean ‘a chance to leave?’ Did you do this?!” she demanded, pushing her face into the stallion’s tempered steel helmet. Fluttershy held her hooves to her mouth, trying to shake off her nerves. She wanted to grab her friends and run, but she was paralyzed in place.

“You two... you look so familiar...” he droned, tilting his head to glance at Pinkie. “It’s almost as if...” he trailed off as Rainbow backed away, motioning Pinkie to her side. He tilted his head up and stepped closer to them. “Your clothes... your colors... your naivety... you two must be the Spark!”

“The what?” Pinkie asked, huddling closer to the pegasus.

He laughed. “All thanks to you I can remember everything,” he explained before his head twitched again. “If you’re the spark, then... Your friend... she turned me into this! This... horse!” He exclaimed, stomping on the ground making Rainbow and Pinkie step back.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Rainbow yelled, Fluttershy hearing a small crack in her voice. “Did you do this, yes or no?!”

“I knew the Blueprint would come when it saw this...” he said, gesturing to the smoldering ruins as Rainbow spread her wings in defense. “The last time a Spark came to Hoenn, the blueprint was with them.” He took a step forward, followed by his serpent. Rainbow’s face showcased her fury as he shoved his face into hers. “Where is the Blueprint?”

“Blueprint? I don’t know what you’re talking about, but if you don’t step off,” Rainbow growled, butting her head against his. She gritted her teeth as she stared him down. “I’ll take you down right here!”

“With what, your weak Pokémon?” He laughed, pushing Rainbow back.

“No, with this!” Rainbow yelled, as she turned and bucked the armored stallion in the helmet. He crashed to the ground, tumbling back until he was  stopped by the serpent’s bulky coils.

“Tell me!” he yelled, getting back onto this hooves. Scuff marks now defaced the once pristine armor as she could hear the muffled, heavy breathing of the unicorn. “Where... is... Fluttershy?!”

Fluttershy quickly ducked her head down, body trembled. The fact that stallion knew her name scared her. Steven knowing of Cloudsdale seemed innocent enough in hindsight, but even he hadn’t know her name. She sat down with her back to the wall, staring at her shaking hooves. After taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and searched through May’s memories for an answer to who the stallion was, but the armor was complicating her search. His voice was her only clue, but it wasn’t predominant in the girl’s memory. She was afraid to look back at the scene going on behind her so she delved into the only memory she could find,

"I came to see what was taking so long to snatch some parts, and you simps are held up by a mere child?”

Fluttershy’s eyes sprang open. The girl’s memories had only surfaced in reference to Fluttershy’s present... meaning the girl had met this stallion here. With the town destroyed and the stallion obscured, she couldn’t find a vivid memory. He didn’t sound like anyone she knew, but the voice seemed resonated with the girl. At the sound of a loud clang, Fluttershy jumped in shock and peered out the window. The stallion was flat on his back with Rainbow being restrained by Pinkie.

“I said we won’t let you touch her! This is your last warning!” Rainbow yelled, struggling to free herself of the pink pony’s grasp. “Let go, Pinkie!” she screamed.

A blood-curdling roar bellowed from the serpent, making Fluttershy cover her ears. It rose from the ground and flew, circling around Pinkie and Rainbow. With one last shove, Rainbow escaped from Pinkie and bolted straight into the air. With pin-point accuracy, she hit the creature under the jaw, sending it back through the air. It landed, swiftly turning itself to strike. With frightening speed, it flew through the air and rushed towards the cyan pony.

Pinkie ran to a pile of rubble as the unicorn got back on his hooves and shook himself off. “Kill her,” he commanded, watching Rainbow blaze up into the lingering sea of smoke. The serpent followed suit, trying desperately to keep up. As Rainbow emerged from the top of the plume, she dived back down at frightening speed, striking and slamming the creature into one of the smoldering buildings. Her breathing was labored as she hovered directly below the ceiling of smoke, noticing the serpent trapped under the rubble.

Pinkie looked over a ruined home, taking notice of the small chunks of metal and charred wood available to her. She smiled as she began hoarding them into a pile. With one quick look over her shoulder, she started dragging her pile back towards the unicorn with a sly smile on her face.

With a flash, a large, column of fire shot out from the rubble, lighting the sky as it flew towards Rainbow Dash. She quickly noticed the blast and flew down towards the ground, narrowly escaping the encroaching flame. Just as she flew towards the serpent, it broke through the rubble and struck its tail into the pegasus’ back, slamming her into the ground before disappearing. She rolled a few feet before struggling back to her hooves. With a flap of her wings, she carried herself back into the air. She searched the area, awaiting the serpent’s next attack, but it was nowhere to be found. As she looked, she felt something drip on her forehead.

Rain.

A downpour rained down from the sky, soaking the entire down in a torrent of water. Fluttershy shivered as she placed her bag over her head, trying to keep herself dry. The ground hissed as the flames were doused and the crimson sky returned back to its original, dark blue hue.

Rainbow put her hoof over the face as she flew around, looking for the serpent. With the serpent seemingly gone, she dived and dashed towards the now unprotected stallion who stood silently in the rain. Just before she could strike the unicorn, a thunderous roar filled the sky. Rainbow turned her head up, seeing the creature coiled inside a cloud as a giant flash of white cracked through it. With a thunderous clap, a bolt of lightning arced straight Rainbow’s body, making her scream in pain before crashing and tumbling into the ground. She lay there, scorched and unmoving as the monster landed beside her. Tears flowed down Fluttershy’s cheeks as she recoiled back from the window and held her shaking forehooves to her mouth.

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy yelled before clasping her mouth shut with her hooves. Just as she screamed, the unicorn cocked his head towards her.

“She’s over there; grab her!” the unicorn yelled, motioning for the monster ensnare her. Fluttershy tried forcing her wings open as the growls of the serpent came closer. She broke out into a gallop, frantically looking back to see how much time she had left but the serpent broke through the wall and circled around the frightened pegasus. She closed her eyes and shuddered, sobbing as she clenched her teeth and waited. Against her better judgment, she opened her eyes and watched the serpent circle one last time before closing in on her. For a fraction of a second, she felt its wet, yellow-scaled underbelly brush up against her fur before she felt a small shock where it had touched.

With a massive roar, the serpent recoiled back, electricity surging through its body. It writhed on the ground, squirming in agony as the pain coursed through it. Fluttershy scrambled against a standing piece of rubble, her eyes darting as they followed the flopping monster. After a few seconds, it stopped and lay motionless.

“Take that!” Pinkie yelled as she hurled rubble at the unicorn. Each piece hit and bounced off, knocking the unicorn back before his horn glowed through the armor. A blue light enveloped the debris pile and it was tossed across the town, leaving Pinkie with no ammunition.

“You useless beast, you can’t even handle a puny unicorn?!” he hollered, bringing the creature to attention. “Bind the earth pony, she’s of no use to us. I will take care of the unicorn myself.” With that, the serpent flew through the air once more and descended upon Pinkie. She scrambled down the road, trying to escape, but the tail of the serpent found its way under her belly and scooped her off the ground. It fully ensnared Pinkie and brought her to the ground, forcing her into submission. She squirmed, but the serpent tightened its grip, causing her to yelp out in pain.

Fluttershy’s pupils shrunk as she watched her two friends struggling to survive. She felt a  tightness in her chest, causing her to grasp it and slump to the ash-covered ground. She peered to her left, watching the unicorn advance towards her. In desperation, she tried again to force her wings open to fly away, to save her friends and run. A crackling roar threw off her concentration as three walls of fire surrounded her, seeming unaffected by the continuing downpour. Fluttershy turned back to the unicorn who stood only a few feet away.

“There you are, unicor—” he stopped, peering around Fluttershy. “You-you’re a pegasus?! But... you’re wearing the hat and everything! Don’t tell me you’re Fluttershy!” he yelled, stamping his hooves in frustration.

“W-what do you want...?” Fluttershy gulped, her breathing quickening as the tried to steel her courage.

“You must be the Blueprint; you have the green bandanna and orange vest.” He came closer, backing Fluttershy towards the walls of flame. “What is a pegasus doing as the Blueprint? It doesn’t make any sense.”

With the unicorn in a calmer state, Fluttershy looked with worry over to her injured friends, her anger rising towards the armored pony, her fear turning into focus. As her breathing quickened, she rose and flew into the stallion’s face, staring furiously through the eye slits of his helmet. Her pupils disappeared, leaving only her irises and whites of her eyes. ‘How dare you hurt my friends!” She screamed, pushing her face into his as it contorted in anger. “I don’t care what you want from me, but I won’t let you have it!”

She heard a small chuckle from the stallion as he casually broke away from Fluttershy’s piercing stare. “So you are Fluttershy... hollow-boned, cowardly Fluttershy,” he said condescendingly before slipping his sword from its scabbard, holding the point threateningly before the pegasus’ face. She fell back and scrambled away, her eyes returning to normal as the stallion regained his composure. “Help me, and everyone will be saved,” he stated.

“Why couldn’t you just ask?! Why did you have to do this?” Fluttershy cried, her eyes darting between the stallion and the sword. “What about my friends?!”

“Even if I did ask, you’d never help me. Why would you? You’re the Blueprint. Everything in this world is crafted to fit your standards. Every person in Hoenn was turned into one of you horse-beasts, giving you everything you could ever want. I’ve seen it happen thousands of times. Your friends did help me a little at least,” he chuckled lightly. “The Spark allowed me to remember every session, how they began and how they ended. How your starter became a coward to suit your pathetic nature.” Fluttershy’s mouth hung agape. She couldn’t formulate a single thought as the stallion continued. “I know what has to be done, and what my job is as the callen.”

“W...what is it?” Fluttershy squeaked, piling up ash behind her to toss.

“I am to break the time loop... and all I need is you,” he said before approaching Fluttershy, twitching once more. She scrambled back as far as she could without touching the flames, scraping up and keeping a pile of ash close to her.

“I-I won’t go with you!” she yelled, throwing the ash at the stallion before trying to slip by him. After a quick wave of his hoof across his helmet, the unicorn stomped on the ground, causing Fluttershy to retreat back. In the distance, she could hear the faint wailing of sirens above the crackle of the flames.

“I’m not asking you to,” he stated, inching closer, “I’m forcing you to.”

With a swift movement, the stallion grabbed at Fluttershy with one of his hooves. As he touched her, she felt the same small shock as before, watching as the unicorn jumped back. The armor on his foreleg shredded into pieces as shrapnel, scattering across the ash. With part of his armor destroyed, he lunged in to grab her again with both of his hooves. A large jolt of electricity shot through him as he seized her, throwing him to the ground and making him to scream in pain. The flames dissipated around Fluttershy as the unicorn writhed on the ground, violently squirming and crying, his body arching back from shock.

Quickly, Fluttershy grabbed one of the scraps of armor and shoved it in her bag. With the unicorn incapacitated, she ran through the alleyway to get back to Rainbow Dash before he could get back up. She glanced back, watching as the unicorn attempted to climb back onto his hooves, only to fall back down.

“Gyarados! Get over here!” he screamed, the serpent releasing the pink pony and at its master’s call and slithering towards the unicorn. She couldn’t hear him anymore, but watched as the Gyarados hoisted the unicorn onto its back and flew off to the east over the sea.

Fluttershy closed her eyes and let the rain wash away her anxiety. Her breathing slowed and her adrenaline began to fade, allowing her to focus. With the sirens growing louder, the pegasus flew immediately to the still motionless Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy shook her, trying to wake the rainbow-maned pegasus. She bent down to listen to Rainbow’s vital signs, noticing a tear in the cyan pegasus’ shorts, revealing her cutie mark. She rolled Rainbow onto her back, watching as the cyan pegasus’ chest slowly rose and fell. Fluttershy breathed a sigh of relief before Rainbow coughed and hacked, hastily opening her eyes.

“Rainbow, I’m so glad you’re awake,” Fluttershy said as the cyan pegasus looked around frantically.

“W-Where’s the monster... and that unicorn?!” Rainbow yelled as she rose to her hooves, spreading her wings instinctively before arching back in pain.

“What’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked, carefully examining Rainbow’s wings.

“It’s a small crick, don’t worry about it. It should be fine in a few days,” Rainbow assured her, slowly and carefully folding her wings back to her side. “What happened to those jerks?”

“I-I’m not really sure... that creature—I think he called it a gyarados—tried to grab me... but a bolt of lighting knocked it away... the same thing happened to the unicorn when he tried to grab me,” Fluttershy explained. With Rainbow awake and on her hooves, she galloped over to Pinkie as she struggled to her hooves.

“So you chased them off? I knew you had it in you Fluttershy,” Rainbow laughed, trotting up to her friend.

“Are you alright, Pinkie?” Fluttershy asked, helping the pink pony up to her hooves.

“Yep, I’m fine,” Pinkie stated. “Feel a little like a jelly doughnut without its filling, but I’m alright.” She brushed herself off, trying to shake some of the rain from her coat. The blaring sirens grew louder as red and blue lights flashed to the north, coming closer to the ruined city. Above them, the rain quieted, slowing to a sprinkle, then disappearing completely. The large billows of smoke from before had vanished, leaving the city in a lifeless lull save the three mares.

“So, what do we do now? Do we keep looking for survivors?” Rainbow asked, stretching her wing. “By the way, where did that stallion go anyway?”

“The monster took him east. I don’t think we have to worry about him for a while,” Fluttershy explained, noticing several vehicles emerging on the northern road.

“Why was he after you anyway? Did you do something to him?” Pinkie asked, sitting down on the soaked earth.

“He said something about me being the ‘blueprint’ or something. He’s trying to break some kind of time loop... and he needs me to do it.” Fluttershy stripped off her hat and wrung it out. “He knew about Alerce too. Something about you guys turning him into a coward. I’m not really sure.”

“Alerce, a coward? He went up against that terrible monkey in Norman’s gym, no problem,” Pinkie said.

“He was probably just trying to get under your skin. Though... you did say something similar when that girl took you over,” Rainbow said, piquing Fluttershy’s curiosity.

“What did she say?”

“I think it was something about the world changing Alerce into something cowardly... I don’t know. She was talking nonsense,” Rainbow said. Several large vehicles charged down the road, not being carried by ponies. Several large white trucks with red crosses, small vehicles with flashing red and blue lights and massive red vehicle with a ladder on its roof charged down the road and stopped near the three mares. “I wouldn’t worry about it, they were just trying to rile you up.”

“I guess...” Fluttershy responded glumly. She had no idea why the consciousness of a girl would taunt her for her docile nature. Maybe she knew something Fluttershy didn’t. She shook her head in rejection and watched several uniformed ponies step out from the vehicles and rush over to them.

“Hey! Are you three alright?” a stallion in a navy blue uniform yelled, galloping alongside several paramedics. Two of them branched off and went to examine Rainbow and Pinkie, carefully inspecting their injuries.

“Y-yeah. We’re fine, just a little shaken,” Fluttershy said, watching Rainbow fidget as the paramedic taped up her wing.

“That’s good,” the officer sighed. “There were several obstructions blocked the road here... made it nearly it impossible. Glad none of you were hurt. What was with the light show? For a second there, It looked like... like there were a lot of white flashes.”

“Oh, well...” Fluttershy started. She had no idea how to explain a stallion wearing armor with a flying serpent without sounding insane, so she decided to do the next best thing. “I don’t know, we only just got here.”

“That’s alright then. You missed a stallion in armor with a massive gyarados, at least according to the townsfolk when we were coming over,” he explained, causing Fluttershy to look down at the ground to avoid eye contact. From the ambulance, several white coated ponies brought out a large white tent with a bold red cross and set it up just off the road. With Rainbow and Pinkie bandaged up, the paramedics escorted them to the tent, Fluttershy presuming to let them rest. She looked back up to the officer who was speaking over his radio to a fellow officer.

“So, the townsfolk escaped?” Fluttershy asked, prompting the stallion to put away his radio.

“Oh yeah, droves of ponies going straight up to Mauville. I’d suggest you do the same.” He looked around the city, taking note of the utter destruction. “There’s really nothing here for you now.”

“Thanks. Could I go see my friends?” she asked, not knowing the procedure of breaking off conversations with law enforcement here. That last thing she wanted was to be arrested after that whole experience.

“Of course. You know, your friends look pretty familiar. Are they from around here?”

“Rainbow and Pinkie? No, they came with me from... Johto,” she responded, taking a couple steps towards the tent.

“What are their last names if you don’t mind me asking?” he asked with an inquisitive look.

“Um, they’re Dash and Pie,” Fluttershy stated, questioning the police stallion’s intent.

“Oh, I didn’t know the gym leaders had any relatives out in Johto. I was wondering why they looked so familiar. That news must’ve been devastating to hear when you’re a whole country away,” he said, shaking his head. “Happened so close to each other too, I was surprised.”

“Wait, what are you talking about?” she asked, halting her departure. “What news?”

“Just tell them that I’m sorry for their losses,” he said before picking his radio back up and resumed his conversation. With a glum look, Fluttershy turned back to the tent and made her way over.

Just as she arrived, the two paramedics exited the tent, talking to each other and letting Fluttershy pass through. With a small push, the tent flap opened, revealing her newly bandaged friends. They were lying on small white cots surrounded by discarded bandage wrappings and gauze trimmings. Rainbow scratched at her bandages, trying to alleviate some kind of itch.

“Hey, Fluttershy! Why do you look so bummed?” Pinkie asked, back to her exuberant self.

“Just something that police stallion just told me. It doesn’t make too much sense.” Fluttershy took a deep breath. “He says, ‘Sorry for your losses.’”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rainbow asked, wincing at the tightness of the bandages. “Nothing in this place has made any sense so far. You know what, let’s forget about that. What do we do now?”

“Well...” Fluttershy dug through her bag and brought out a shard of the light blue armor. The edges were shredded and not clean cut, the electric shock viscerally tore the armor apart. “The police stallion said that the ponies that left went north to Mauville. Maybe if we’re fast enough, we can catch up to them and see if anypony can give us any information.”

“Sounds great, let’s go!” Pinkie yelled, hopping up before Rainbow pushed her back to the cot.

“Are you sure you want to do this now? Are you alright?” Rainbow asked, giving Fluttershy a concerned look.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Fluttershy lied, trying to pass off any worry until she had some hold of the situation. “I’d rather find out information now while the unicorn is injured than stay here and do nothing while he recuperates. I had enough sleep from the day before, so I’m ready to go if you two are.”

Rainbow rose to her hooves, stretching her limbs as Pinkie followed. “I guess that settles it. Let’s go to Mauville,” she said, walking out from the tent. Just as Pinkie and Fluttershy left, they came muzzle to muzzle with a very stern-faced Rainbow Dash. “You realize what this all means, don’t you Fluttershy?”

“What are you mean, Rainbow?” Fluttershy asked, watching the sky turn to a lighter shade of blue as dawn approached.

“You’re going to have to fight, and fight hard, Fluttershy.” Rainbow stated. “You can’t think of these creatures as animals anymore. They have to be our protectors and monsters to our enemies if we want to survive. Pinkie and I can’t do all the fighting, you have to push yourself. Understand?”

Fluttershy gulped. She’d known she had to fight before, but the armored stallion made it all the more obvious. “I... I know. I told you before, I’m not afraid to fight.”

“Good... let’s get going then,” Rainbow said before turning up the road and leading them towards Mauville. Fluttershy lowered her head as she walked, her mind now focused enough to go over everything the unicorn said to her. She let her mind slowly process the information as she marched steadily up the road. Without thinking, Fluttershy let Alerce out from his Poké Ball and let him lay on her head, comforting her as the three made their way north.

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           <==  Chapter 10  ||  Chapter EX - Spike  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

EX - Spike

The Remaining Elements

It had been two days since Twilight had left for Canterlot as Spike arched over and leaned onto his knees, tired but proud. Along with the three young fillies that comprised the Cutie Mark Crusaders and a veritable mountain of animal care books from Fluttershy’s collection, the dragon had finally created order out of the chaos inside of Fluttershy’s cottage. All but a few of the animals were nestled in their beds asleep while the girls were outside, chasing down the final renegade chicken. With a long sigh, he fell back onto his behind and smiled as he relaxed for the first time since the pegasus’ disappearance.

The entirety of Ponyville was its calmest since the incident. With Twilight Sparkle leading the charge to find their fellow villager, life had almost returned to normal. Only a few ponies showed any signs of worry as they went along in their daily business. Both Rarity’s and Applejack’s younger sisters showed their concern as they worked alongside Spike, but seemed as happy and energetic as ever as they helped put the animals in line. All that remained for the dragon to do was to await Twilight’s return.

“Spike! Spike!” a yellow, red licorice maned filly yelled as she burst through the front door.

“Be quiet, Apple Bloom,” Spike shushed her, looking around cautiously to make sure the animals continued sleeping. “We don’t want to wake the animals up again and have to do another two days of work.”

“Oops. Sorry, Spike,” Apple Bloom said, lowering her voice to a near whisper. “I just wanted to say that we caught the last chicken. We’re all done.” She jumped up in joy as her two friends joined her in the doorway.

“Great. Now, I need to get back over to the library and clean up a bit. I still haven’t gotten all those books cleaned up from when I went looking for animal care books the other day,” he said, weaving through the fillies to make his way to the library.

“We’ll go with you,” the orange furred pegasus filly stated. “It’ll just get boring over here with the animals asleep.”

“Yeah, and we won’t get our cutie marks staying here either,” the white, pink swirl maned unicorn filly argued. “I already checked to see if I got my ‘house-cleaning’ cutie mark, but I got nothing.”

The girls pouted as they looked at their still blank flanks. All three had been trying for months to force their special talents to come to light, but had failed in every venture. Spike was just glad he would never have to worry about that.

With a nod of his head, Spike walked out of the cottage. “C’mon, I want to get over and back before anything bad happens,” the dragon stated, letting the girls out before closing the cottage door.

Ponyville bustled with activity as the sun lingered high in the azure sky, leaving the town balmy. The fillies behind him yammered on about their cutie mark crusades, wondering whether having a house cleaning mark would be worth it or not. As they approached their destination, a gray pegasus mare in a blue mail-cap flew down to the front of the library, leaving a scroll in the mailbox. Noticing this, Spike sprinted to the mailbox, getting there just as the mail mare was preparing to leave.

“Excuse me, do you live here? You can’t go around stealing others’ mail you know,” the mare asked, looking at him with her golden eyes, obscured by the frames of a pair of thick, black rimmed glasses.

“I live here with Twilight Sparkle... you see me almost everyday...” He paused for a moment, “Only dragon in Ponyville?” Spike exclaimed, pulling the scroll from the box. “Wait, aren’t those new glasses?” he asked, looking inquisitively at the mare’s spectacles. The mail-pony was a well-known public servant of Ponyville, and her appearance was quite well-known. Why she had it changed, he had no idea.

“Oh, these?” She removed the glasses, showing them off to Spike and the girls. “Yeah, I just got these this morning. They’re supposed to keep my eyes from going wall-eyed. Apparently they’ve been enchanted to eventually fix that,” the mare explained as one of her eyes began to drift slowly upwards. She quickly set them back on her muzzle, letting her eyes return to normal, then giving the four a salute. “Well, the mail has been delivered. I’m off,” she blurted out before taking off for the next house.

“Maybe ponies will call her Bright Eyes again instead of Derpy all the time,” the orange filly wondered.

“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom interrupted. “It ain’t nice to say that name!”

“That’s what every pony calls her! I thought it was her nickname!” Scootaloo argued, prompting the white filly to join in the argument.

With the fillies now in a heated argument regarding naming conventions, Spike rolled his eyes and decided to crack the seal on the letter, digging his claw into the binding and letting the letter unfurl in his claws. Before he read the first word, he felt a lump form in his gullet, trying to force its way out. He had experienced this many times before, and knew precisely what this was. He let it go freely, expelling the energy out from his mouth with a cacophonous belch, catching the fighting fillies’ attention. The energy swirled in the air and materialized into a letter with a dark blue band binding it. He took a look at the insignia, noticing a white crescent moon where he was used to seeing a bright, yellow and orange sun.

“Is this from Princess Luna?” Spike wondered aloud, dropping the recently opened letter to pick up the royal scroll. With a swift slash, he tore about the paper band and opened the letter, taking note of the regal, curved letters of ink compared to her sister’s more casual penmanship. His curiosity piqued, he began to read aloud out of habit, “Dear Twilight Sparkle’s dragon assistant, Wait, she didn’t even try to guess my name?” he clamored, making the girls roll their eyes.

Thou hast been summoned to Canterlot by thine Princesses in regard to the Element of Magic’s excursion outside of Equestria’s borders. We have sent thee a chariot to transport thou to our castle to report on what thou knows regarding the disappearance of the Element of Kindness, and are required to escort the remaining elements to discuss these matters in the Royal Hall.

“Thine chariot shall arrive in two hours, which thou must take by royal decree. We await thy arrival with astute patience.

“The Sovereign of the Night; Princess Luna of Castle Canterlot, Equestria

“Wait, Twilight left Equestria?!” Spike exclaimed in a panic. “Why does the princess want to talk to me about this? Maybe that’s what this letter is?” Spike picked up the first letter, letting it hang from his claw. He scanned the parchment, instantly recognizing the penmanship. As he read through the lengthy letter, his mouth hung open to the fillies’ curiosity.

“Who’s it from?” the white filly asked.

“It’s from Twilight, saying she left Equestria,” the worried dragon stated.

“Wait, if Twilight left, does that mean Applejack and Rarity went as well?” Apple Bloom wondered.

“I don’t know, but maybe we’ll find out when we get to Canterlot,” he said, rolling up the letter. “So, what do they mean I need to ‘bring the elements?’ Luna calls Twilight an Element, but then tells me to bring them to the castle. All of the ponies who beat Nightmare Moon are gone; how are we supposed to bring them there?”

“What about those necklace things they wore when they came back from beating Nightmare Moon? I saw Rainbow Dash parade it around for a few weeks after that... maybe she meant those,” Scootaloo hypothesized. “We’ll can help you find them, and then come with you! I’ve always wanted to see Canterlot.”

“Me too!” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom exclaimed at once.

“Alright, it wouldn’t hurt, I guess. I’ll try to get Mrs. Cake to look after the cottage again; I’m sure she’ll be okay with it.”

“I’m going to Dash’s house first!” Scootaloo exclaimed, galloping off towards the east side of town.

“How are you gonna get up there, you can’t even fly!” Apple Bloom yelled, running to catch up to the enthusiastic filly.

“We’ll meet you back here when we find them, Spike!” Sweetie yelled as she left towards Rarity’s boutique to find her sister’s element.

With a nervous chuckle, Spike barged through the front door of the library, tearing it apart for Twilight’s ornate crown. He first scoured the main room, skimming through each book to see if she had hollowed out space for it there. With every crown sized book searched through, he bolted up the stairs, tearing apart the unicorn’s room and study. He spared no shelf nor nook nor cranny in his pursuit, but wound up with nothing; the crown was gone. Frantically, he searched out on the observatory deck, then rushed back down the stairs and out of the library. With time of the essence, he decided to get things squared away with Mrs. Cake and search for Pinkie’s Element. Kill two birds with one stone.

Spike ran down the road and approached the cake themed Sugarcube Corner. The bakery was the only in town and was where Pinkie Pie made her residence. Mr and Mrs. Cake had graciously rented out a room for her when she came to town from the rock farms of Stone Valley. As he opened the door, he spotted a bulky, blue earth pony mare standing behind the counter, surrounded by various treats and confections.

“Mrs. Cake, could you do me a huge favor? It has to do with Fluttershy’s cottage again,” Spike panted, running up to the counter.

“Oh sure, what is it?” the mare asked with a smile.

“I was summoned by Princess Luna to Canterlot, and I need to bring the Elements of Harmony, including Pinkie’s. I can’t leave Fluttershy’s unattended, so could you go and look after it for a little while while I’m gone?”

Mrs. Cake pulled out a sheet of paper from under the counter and looked it over, nodding and muttering softly to herself. “Well, it looks like I’ll have some time open, so I can do it. If it’s royal business, I’m sure it must be important.”

“Great!” Spike exclaimed. “So... could I go up to Pinkie’s to look for her necklace?”

“Of course, dear, just don’t make it messier than it already is,” Mrs. Cake smiled, watching as Spike hurried up the stairs.

On the top floor, lay two doors: one was closed, and the other was open with the smell of saccharine air flowing from it. With a keen knowledge of Pinkie’s love of sweets, he ran through the open door and found the beige colored room covered in baking supplies, costumes and prank devices. He waded through the mess, overturning every item to check for the elusive necklace, it taking him far longer to check every part of the floor than he had anticipated. He then hurriedly looked under the bed, noticing something with a glint of light lying on the dusty carpet. He reached in and grabbed hold of it, feeling the cool metal in his claws before pulling it out to examine it. It was a gold necklace with an aquamarine balloon in the center, reflecting the sun’s rays throughout the room.

He had one.

With the Element of Laughter in tow, he rushed down the stairs and out the door, sprinting as fast as he could back to the library. As he approached the massive oak, he noticed the Cutie Mark Crusaders waiting there with two of the Elements laid down on the grass. He ran as fast as his small legs would take him and joined the three, placing Pinkie’s Element on the grass along with Rainbow Dash’s and Fluttershy’s.

“This is it? That’s only half!” Spike exclaimed in a worried tone.

“Well, I couldn’t find my sister’s, but Sweetie found Fluttershy’s in one of her drawers upstairs,” Apple Bloom stated, picking up the butterfly shaped necklace.

“I couldn’t find Rarity’s, and she’s normally so organized,” Sweetie said, then looked over to Scootaloo. “Hey, Scootaloo, how did you get up to Rainbow Dash’s house? You can’t fly.”

“It’s a long story, and involves a large wooden catapult,” the filly laughed, looking longingly at the red, lightning-bolt-shaped ruby in Rainbow’s necklace. “Rainbow’s house is awesome! There are so many Wonderbolt posters and headbands there,” she explained before donning a white, cloth headband.

“Did you take one of Rainbow’s headbands?” Apple Bloom accused.

“Of course not!” Scootaloo snapped, her stern face breaking into a smile as she touched the band.

        Spike lamented over their small haul, but tried to stay optimistic. Surely the princess didn’t need all the Elements, he thought as the sound of pegasi cutting through the afternoon air diverted his attentions.

In the sky, speeding down towards Ponyville were Luna’s royal guards, donned in the black and navy armor of the night guard, pulling a low, aerodynamic chariot behind them. Spike quickly ran into the library, grabbed a cloth bag off a shelf and picked up the three necklaces. As he stuffed them into the bag, he watched as the chariot landed only a few feet from them.

“Are you Spike; assistant to her Royal Majesty of the Sun’s personal student, Twilight Sparkle?” one of the guards asked in a gravely voice.

“Yes, sir,” Spike replied nervously, the spikes on the guard’s armor sending shivers down his spines. The three fillies quickly hopped onto the speeder along with Spike and braced themselves for the chariot ride. “We’re ready to leave, sirs,” he said, prompting the pegasi to spread their wings.

        

“Are those fillies with you?” one of the guards asked.

“Yes, sir,” Spike repeated, giving the pegasi clearance to begin their take off before climbing into the air.

Spike swallowed anxiously as they sped through the sky, watching as they soared over the Everfree Forest. With blinding speed, Canterlot and the castle came closer as well as his meeting with the royal sisters. Ponyville, the forest and the whole of the northern plains looked like specks as they continued their ascent, leaving all of them but Scootaloo frightened from the immense height. The majestic waterfalls came into clear view as they weaved through them then arched over the cliff face, landing in the royal courtyard.

The young dragon had never been so nervous before in his short life. Not only had he been summoned to the castle, he had no idea what was happening to all of his friends. He hopped off the chariot and approached the large, crimson doors of the castle. A guard was posted on each side, watching Spike and the fillies walk towards them with a small, canvas bag.

“Halt! Who goes there?” a guard bellowed as the four arrived, causing Spike to flinch.

“I-I was summoned by the princess for an important meeting,” Spike explained, taking out Luna’s message and holding it up to the two unicorns.

The two scanned the parchment, checking every inch and side. With a nod, the unicorns opened the castle doors, allowing Spike and the Cutie Mark Crusaders into the castle halls. “The Royal Hall is up the main staircase and at the end of the hall to your right.”

“Thanks,” Spike said, shaking with nervousness as he stepped into the lavender colored halls of Canterlot Castle.

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   <==  Chapter 11  ||  Chapter 12  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

12

Eternal Frost

The frigid winds of the Drakris cut through Twilight’s manteau, chilling her to the bone and causing her to shudder. Snow and ice covered most of the path and cliffs as flurries pelted the mares from the sea of dark gray clouds above, making it hard for Twilight to see ahead of her. She put her hoof up to keep the snow out from her eyes, but she knew she had to keep moving; those soldiers could still be following them. With the snows and the coming night dropping the visibility to all but null, they followed the still fresh hoof tracks of where the Ventian soldiers marched to make their way through the mountain pass.

“They followin’ us?” Applejack asked, looking over her shoulder and back down the mountain pass.

Twilight turned and peered down the path, seeing only the faint red glow of the town below. “It doesn’t look like it. We should keep moving though; I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Applejack, please tell me you bought boots from Zipporah. My hooves are freezing, not to mention all the muck,” Rarity complained, shaking her hooves dejectedly each time she stepped.

“I’m mighty sorry, Rarity. We only had room for food, the cloaks and not much else. I didn’t even think about boots at all,” Applejack apologized, peering down at her own hooves, taking notice of the ice crystals that threatened to encase them. “Ain’t as though mine are lookin’ much better.”

As they hiked up the mountain, Twilight tried to keep her hopes up but the thought of the burning town made her shudder. She kept envisioning the looks of the scared townsfolk, each recoiling at each crunch of shattered glass and burst of fire, mothers holding tightly to their children, and grizzled veterans hanging their heads in shame and cowardice as the Ventians marched.

“We should’ve helped them,” Twilight said, perking the ears of her two companions. “Those soldiers were chasing after us; those townsfolk didn’t have to be involved.”

“You ran just as fast as we did, Twilight,” Rarity stated as she looked to the purple unicorn.

Twilight sighed, trying desperately to alleviate the burden of the town’s fate from her conscience. She hadn’t slept since she had woken up on Applejack’s back, and her exhaustion was wearing on her to the point where every step pained her.

“I mean, I just....” she trailed off, hanging her head as she looked down at the hoof marks ahead.

Rarity opened her mouth to speak, but no words came as she realized her error and quickly backpedaled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think we would have to do that either. Yes, they were after us, but what were we to do? It was three ponies against an entire army, not a bunch of straggling griffons. Besides, the only reason we survived in Wheatown was because of that accident with my element,” the white unicorn finally said, leaving the three to trudge along in silence.

The trail wound around the mountain side and grew rockier and slicker as they traveled, forcing the trio to step carefully as the jagged peaks of the Drakiris loomed overhead. The snowfall softened into a gentle flurry as time wore on, but the tracks ahead had already begun to disappear with the fresh accumulation.

They had been traveling for several hours, the sky clearing to reveal the full majesty of the mountains. Even wrapped tightly in her cloak, Twilight shivered relentlessly, her fur bristling as her breath came out in increasingly dense wisps. With Equestria and the Outlands baking in the summer sun, none of the three ponies were prepared for cold, let alone the frigid mountain blizzards. The Drakiris extended along the Ventian border, creating a natural wall around the country that left no alternative ways of entering the country save for the winding path on which Twilight, Applejack and Rarity now traveled. Jagged rises and cliffs towered over the ponies while, far ahead, the trail widened, dipping into a small basin before reaching a large expanse surrounded by evergreen forests.

“What do y’all think Mistral City is like?” Applejack asked, breaking the harrowing silence.

“From the sound of it, it does not seem to be a very nice place in the least,” Rarity answered. “Do you remember what the princess called it? The ‘city of the damned?’ I know that I, for one, would never enter such a dreadfully sounding place of my own accord.”

“I don’t know, Rarity. Luna said that Mistral is where ‘space and time converge’, there could be an infinite amount of cultures and societies that have traveled from far beyond Equestria merging into one city!” Twilight clamored, trying to imagine Mistral’s visage.

She pictured a massive city, filled to the brim with ponies, griffons, dragons, and other various creatures sharing ideas and knowledge from lands long passed and far in the future. It warped her mind when she attempted to think of how it would be possible, but she continued her imaginary sojourn with a giddy smile. The streets were lined with shops and homes, each decorated with its county’s own fixtures. It was a truly a sight the scholar wished to see, but as reality quickly sunk back in, the smile on Twilight’s face was wiped away. Knowledge of the ‘demons’ and the burning town below seeped its way to the forefront of her thoughts.

“I... I’m sure it’s not so bad,” Twilight stated weakly.

“If you say so,” Applejack muttered as she shoved her hat into her bag to keep it from flying away in the wind.

“Hey! You told us there was no room for boots in the bags,” Rarity protested, huffing as she checked the contents of her saddlebags.

“Boots wouldn’t have fit in here anyhow, an’ I don’t think any of us felt like trudgin through them plains back there with boots on,” Applejack explained, ignoring the white unicorn’s dismissive roll of her eyes.

“What good that does us now, my legs are still freezing. What part of ‘eternal winter’ did you miss?” Rarity huffed.

“Wait, what’s over there?” Applejack asked, pointing out a jutting chunk of metal in the distance. It was buried halfway in snow, allowing only a curved, reflective segment to be seen.

“Hey, you can’t just—”

“Is that armor?” Twilight wondered, cutting off Rarity as she rushed ahead, curious as to the nature of the metal. It was a curved, shined armor piece, dented and splashed with splotches of blood that slowly oozed down as Twilight held it upright with her magic, giving Twilight the feeling that these wounds were fresh. Looking around, she could see that other stained armor pieces surrounded it, leaving the purple unicorn sick with unease. “This is bad... What happened here?” she asked, looking at her friends with a worried gaze.

“What is it, Twilight?” Rarity asked, slowly approaching the scene.

“Look at this.” Twilight lifted the largest piece out from the drift and hovered it in front of her friends, showcasing the golden tint of the shoulder guard. “The colors are the same as those soldiers we fought, and this blood is fresh.”

Rarity and Applejack both recoiled back from the sight, their faces contorting in disgust as a drop of blood dripped into the white snow. “What could’ve done this?” Applejack asked, peeking around and taking notice of the shredded pieces that still lay on the road.

“I don’t know, and I don’t like it. Maybe it was—” Twilight stopped herself, pondering the ridiculousness of her statement. “No, a griffon couldn’t do something like that to a fully armored soldier... could they?”

“What are we gonna do? We’re completely out in the open here,” Applejack stated, looking around at the unobstructed sky and straight, but uneven path.

Twilight looked around, desperately seeking anyway progress without drawing any attention. She had yet to see another sign of life save her and her friends, but the bloody armor set her on edge. The cliffs were bare and straight, leaving them no crevices in which to hide. Up ahead laying far past the tail was nothing but flat, open land. Snow drifts and howling winds made it hard for her to see anything, which put her mind a little at ease.

“They have to be here somewhere. Find them!”

Twilight snapped to attention, hearing the voice of an officer she recalled from before faintly from somewhere behind them. Panicked, she turned to see a trail of orange light wrapping around the jagged pass walls. Applejack and Rarity turned to look as the lights grew larger and brighter.

“Run!” Twilight yelled as the three bolted down the path, bounding over jagged rocks and pools of ice.

From the sky, several pegasus soldiers dove and swooped past the three, causing them to stagger and slow their frantic pace. The large orange glow glinted off the snow below the three’s hooves, shadows crawling out in front of them as the army made their final approach.

With the glow of Twilight’s horn, the air around the mountain swirled and sheared the snow off the cliffs, whipping it at the poised guard. Applejack ran ahead and intercepted a diving pegasus guard, knocking it down with a well-timed buck. The guard rolled down the path, smashing into the cliff side and passing out. Rarity quickly joined her friend, releasing sewing needles into the air and striking their wings with pin-point accuracy. After escaping the wind tunnel, two guards rushed down and slashed their swords at Twilight, making her jump back before she forced them back with white pulses of energy.

As more pegasi descended upon them and formed a ring around the mares, forcing them to huddle together, poising to strike. Out from the ranks, a lone, heavily armored earth pony stallion appeared, raising his hoof. The soldiers stopped their approach, backing away from the three as he moved closer. He stood, covered head to hoof in plate armor with red and gold sashes hanging off his sides. A gold dragon insignia sat prominently upon his chest, surrounded by red flames.

“You’re cornered; you have nowhere to run,” he said in a cold voice. Slowly, he made his way down the path, drawing a blade from its scabbard with his mouth and glaring at the trio.

“What do you want? We haven’t done anything to you!” Twilight yelled, darting her eyes between the soldiers to watch their movements.

“Lord Rissen has sent us to take care of the Equestrian threat, meaning you three.” the captain explained. “You can either come quietly and alive, or attack us and we shall kill you and bring the lord your corpses instead. Your choice.”

“How do you know we’re Equestrian?” Applejack yelled, nostrils flaring. “We’re just passin’ through.”

The stallion chuckled. “I don’t need to know, we’re only looking for three mares. Whether or not you’re the Equestrians doesn’t concern us; you’re coming with us either way.” The surrounding soldiers brandished their weaponry and bolted at the three. Twilight backed into her friends, horn glowing brightly as Rarity magically stripped the needles from the downed pegasi’s wings and pointed them at the opposing force. Their leader charged ahead, quickly closing the gap between them with sword in mouth. With a spell in mind, Twilight charged her attack as a piercing screech sounded above her.

Before she could look up, a tawny griffon dove and slammed into the stallion, dragging it through the snow and rocks as it tore through him with its claws. The soldiers ceased their charge as more griffons dropped from the sky and mercilessly struck at them, sending wails of pain echoing through the pass.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Twilight pushed her two friends up the path, fleeing as the soldiers were distracted fighting off the sudden assault. Above them, a pair of pegasi fought against a lone griffon, whizzing past it and striking it with incredible speed. After several attacks, the griffon grabbed one of the ponies and thew it to the ground, directly in ahead of the frantically running mares. The pegasus’ wings and two of its legs had been shattered, leaving it to cry out as Twilight and her friends barreled past.

Open field and pinewood forest lay before the mares as they continued down the pass. The sound of the griffons’ attack fell quieter, leaving Twilight feeling relived. She looked back, watching as the griffons continued their assault on the soldiers. She was almost thankful to the griffons for having distracted the Ventians. The three slowed to a trot as they entered the basin proper, panting and nervously laughing at their lucky escape. They stopped for a moment, then Twilight slipped her canteen out of her bag and took a drink, smiling as the water sloshed around in her parched mouth. She passed it to the others, giving them time to rest before they made their way through the forest.

        “Where did they come from?” Rarity asked, watching the griffons in the distance.

“Don’t you remember, those griffons we fought back in Wheatown came from here. I’m just shocked they didn’t attack us—” Twilight cut herself off as she spotted something fast approaching in the distance. Several other silhouettes joined it, making Twilight step back and point at the figures. “Wh- what are those?”

“I don’t know, but run!” Applejack yelled, jamming the canteen into her bag as they sprinted into the field, rushing for the forest’s edge.

A loud, harrowing screech came from behind Twilight, causing her to turn her head. Her eyes widened as a griffon soared towards her, staring her down with its ice blue eyes. It flew over Applejack and Rarity, extending its claw and grasping Twilight’s neck, slamming her into the frozen tundra. She winced and screamed as her side scraped across the snow, and gasped for air as the griffon’s claw pushed at her neck. Weakly, she lifted her head up, watching the griffon’s large, pewter wings fold back onto its body. She struggled and flailed her body, trying to break free, causing the griffon to press into her neck. Twilight gasped for air as she struggled to breathe, nearly causing her to black out. Several griffons landed beside Applejack and Rarity, restraining them and forcing them into the ground.

After letting the pressure off Twilight’s neck, the blue-eyed griffon opened its beak, expelling various incomprehensible chirps and screeches, staring into the purple unicorn’s eyes. The griffon fell silent, waiting as if expecting a reply. Noting her silence the griffon coughed, ears twitching as it  looked over to her two friends

“My apologies, I forget sometimes that I must use the Equine tongue when speaking to horses. It has been a while.”

“Y-you can talk?” Twilight asked, her curiosity overriding her survival instinct

“Of course I can. Just because my tribe and I live in the mountains does not mean we are degenerates. Learn some respect, horse,” it said in a gruff voice before pressing its talon a bit harder into Twilight’s throat.

“W-What do you want from us?” Twilight choked out, tears beginning to well in her eyes.

“We are after the same thing those sellswords were after: three Equestrian mares who are headed for Mistral City.”

“Sellswords? They were just mercenaries?” Twilight pondered, wincing from the claw’s pressure. “Why do you think we’re Equestrians? We’re just explorers making our way to Mistral City.”

“Oh, really?” the griffon asked, slipping the manteau up Twilight’s flank, revealing her cutie mark. “What do you call that then?”

“Hey, leave her alone!” Applejack yelled, prompting the griffons holding her to tighten their hold.

“You can’t just expose my flank like that!” Twilight argued.

“Silence!” the pewter-winged griffon snapped. “You are in no position to make any such demands.” He turned his head back down to Twilight, looking over her body. “So, you are Equestrian... The scouts were right.”

“Scouts... the griffons that attacked us?!” Twilight snapped, glaring at her captor. “They were scouts for you? We saved those griffons when the Wheatown locals were about to kill them. You should be thanking us!”

“Oh yes, I heard about this. I honestly never would have believed that the demons’ heirs could be so naive.”

“What was that?” Applejack growled.

“It’s natural selection; ponies kill and fight off griffons, and griffons eat ponies. If you would have killed my scouts like good ponies should then I never would have known about you and passed through these mountains with ease. They told me everything: your demons’ brands, colors, voices, what bags you possessed, everything.”

        

“Let go!” Rarity screamed, thrashing about with her horn glowing a light blue hue. Before she could cast a spell, the griffon the held her pushed the side of her face into the snow, drawing out a yelp of pain as her neck was cruelly twisted.

“Don’t try any magic, unicorns. We know how it works; trying to bluff us with your hooves unable to move was pointless and moronic.” He hoisted up Twilight by the neck, letting her legs flail helplessly as he held them just off the ground and motioned to the other grffins. “We’re heading out. Make sure that white one is bound; don’t worry about the mud pony, she’s not a threat..”

“Where are you taking us!? What do you want!?” Twilight yelled, tears streaming down her face.

“It’s simple. We’re taking you to the bastard Rissen to bargain for part of our homeland back. We will then take you three and handsomely reward you for your assistance.” As he spoke, another tied up Twilight’s front and rear hooves together before placing her onto the ebony griffon’s back.

Rarity was treated much the same way as Twilight, violently thrashing as they bound her and tossed her atop another griffon. Applejack, on the other hoof, was simply lifted and pushed, staggering, into the middle of the two pony-carrying griffons, but given the opportunity to walk on her own legs. She brushed off some clinging snow and slunk quietly in the middle, looking over her two friends as the griffons began marching into the field.

“What are we going to do?” Twilight whispered, looking over to make sure the griffon didn’t react. “I-I’m scared.” She knew whatever “reward” the griffons had planned couldn’t be good, and didn’t want to know what that may be.

“Try talkin’ to him. Maybe Rarity and I can think of somethin’ while you distract ‘im,” Applejack suggested, then turned her attention to Rarity. Twilight had never spoke to a griffon on her own terms before, and wished that it wasn’t in this kind of environment. Nervously, she swallowed the lump in her throat and slowly turned to the massive griffon.

“Uh, hey. I’m just curious... uh, what’s your name?” She asked, plastering a fake smile across her face.

“Why?” the stern griffon asked, turning his gaze to Twilight and staring her in the eyes. The way he looked at her nearly petrified her with fear; it was as if she were reliving her nightmare.

“If you’re going to exploit us, you could at least have the decency to give us your name,” Twilight stated, trying to match his authoritative tone.

“It’s Blackwing. Sigil Astrias Blackwing. I’m guessing the next thing you’re going to ask is about my griffons, is it not?”

“Uh... no. Why us? We don’t pose any threat to anypony... or anyone.  We’re just trying to bring our friend home, that’s all.”

“While your efforts may be valiant, I will not let a horse’s ambition trump my own. I have not braved this eternal winter my entire life for a pony to—”

“Hey, you. My rope is too tight, I’m getting rope burn on my delicate coat!” Rarity complained, kicking at the griffon in the side. “Is this any way to treat a lady? Not where I come from you don— My bag fell off and is lying in the snow and you don’t even have the decency to pick it up for me? How dare you!”

Twilight watched the spectacle unfold as several other griffons came to the courier's aide, trying in vain to calm the crazed fashionista. With the griffons focusing on Rarity, Twilight’s mind raced to think of an escape plan, silently thanking Rarity for the diversion.

“Stop thrashing! You’re just making it worse!” a brown griffon yelled, hitting Rarity square on the cheek.

“If you complain one more time, we’ll rip your throat out and bring the Ventians your corpse instead!” another griffon screamed, being wary of Rarity’s waving horn.

As Blackwing moved to join them to settle things himself, Twilight noticing that the griffons’ attentions lay fully on the now wailing unicorn.

I hope this works, Twilight thought, channeling magic to her horn. Wind from the west swept through the field, magically picking up intensity. The griffons began to shiver and look towards the fierce gusts, being pushed back as Applejack ducked down into the snow, the farm mare slinking off towards Twilight. Twilight slipped off the griffons back and onto the snow, face first. She lifted her head and spat out some snow

“What’s going on?” Blackwing hollered, unaware that Twilight had slid off his back.  “Why is there a draft coming off the mountain this far down?”

Twilight focused all the energy she could into the windstorm, lifting packed snow from the ground and whipping it at the bewildered pack as they scrambled to keep tabs on their captives. Amidst the confusion, Rarity was bucked off the griffon’s back, landing face first into the snow. With a final surge, the wind blasted and batted away the tall-standing griffons, leaving Twilight able to see Applejack and Rarity without obstruction. The fierce glow of Twilight’s horn stopped, her focus shifting to another spell. A sudden, unnatural jolt of energy ran through the mare as she charged the spell, almost breaking her focus.

Blackwing shielded his eyes with his talon, watching as Twilight’s horn began to intensely glow white. Ducking his head, he pushed against the barreling winds, folding his ears down. “Stop!” he yelled, watching as the three Equestrians disappeared in a blinding flash of white light, leaving the dying wind to take their places.

Damn it!” Blackwing shouted as he slammed his talon into the snow. The winds from the Equestrian’s spell had died down, leaving the griffons alone in the wintery wastes. The sigil grimiced and groaned as he searched for any sign of magic around them. “I can’t believe that horse distracted me. We had them!”

“We have prepared the scouting teams to find them, Sigil,” a pewter griffon said, politely bowing his head. “We are sorry for our folly; we’ll make sure it never happens again.”

“Wait,” Blackwing commanded, putting his claw to his beak in thought. “Maybe we can play this to our advantage still.”

“Sir?”

“Take the scouting team back to the pass and carry the mercenary corpses back up to the Apex and make sure the sick, the fledglings and any who will stay behind make use of them as we prepare to leave. I want the pass completely clear to get rid of any evidence of our involvement. If we leave in a small group to Mistral in a day, we can make it seem as though we never encountered the demons, pushing all the blame to Rissen.”

“Yes, Sigil!” the scout leader said with a bow. The griffon took the rest of the griffons and flew south to the pass, leaving Blackwing to stew amidst his thoughts.

How did she perform magic without a drawing a rune first? If she can perform powerful magic like that on a whim, that purple mare could be useful still. Blackwing thought, standing up and spreading his wings. Rissen’s men would have no chance against that sort of magic. Getting him to side with me would be only a matter of time. He took off, heading back to the Drakiris as a cloud of snow rose from the still earth. Mistral City will implode with the Equestrians present. A small smile crept its way across the sigil’s beak as the Apex came into view, littered with griffons gathering supplies for their hunt.

This should be fun to watch.

Twilight hit the ground with a thud, her mouth filled with snow and frozen dirt. She spat it out, squirming as she tried to free herself of her bindings. Somewhere in the distance, she heard the faint cries of the griffons before the sound drowned by the wind rustling through the forest. She looked around, seeing Rarity and Applejack still shaking off the effects of the teleportation spell.

The trees that surrounded the mares were massive, with lush green pine needles obscuring their view through the trees. It looked as though they were a ways into the forest, almost completely boxed in by the mass of trees. Twilight felt safer around a mass of trees than in the open for the griffons to follow.

        “Oh, my head,” Rarity moaned, rubbing her head with her still bound hooves. “Where are we?”

        “I don’t know, but as long as we’re away from those monsters, it’s a better place,” Twilight stated, panting and watching her breath evaporate into the air. Applejack firmly planted her hooves and checked to see if her saddlebags were still intact. “Applejack, hurry and untie us. I don’t know how far away we are from the griffons and I’m too tired to teleport us again if they find us.”

        “You got it!” Applejack said before tearing through Twilight’s bindings with her teeth, ripping them off with relative ease. Twilight shook her hooves, trying to ignore the rope burn on her ankles as she stood. A large bruise throbbed on her side and she could still feel the pressure of Blackwing’s talon pressing on her neck. The long day and night seemed to have not fazed the farmer as she quickly went to Rarity’s aid, tearing off the leg bindings.

        “Glad ya’ picked up on that diversion, Twilight. Rarity and I were hopin’ you’d come up with somethin’ if we gave you some time,” Applejack complimented, helping Rarity up to her hooves.

“Y-yeah, it was nothing...” Twilight said, trailing off as she looked at Rarity’s condition. Her face was badly bruised as well as her side was completely raw.  Applejack looked completely unfazed, let alone a small amount of snow and dirt on her belly. With a step, Twilight forced herself to move and stumbled over herself, landing face first again into the snow as a wave of exhaustion flooded over the unicorn. Applejack ran over and lifted her up to her hooves before reassuringly patting her on the back.

“You alright?” Applejack asked, watching Twilight hobble and wince as her bruises flared painfully. “We can stop here for a while if we have to.”

“No, we have to keep moving... Have to... Get.. away...” the purple unicorn mumbled before falling again, her body refusing to move from exhaustion. She lay there, watching the snow fall down through the evergreens as it began to lull her to sleep.

“Twilight?” Applejack asked, leaning down to look Twilight in her tired eyes. “You don’t look good at all. Come on, we need to find somewhere warm to rest.”

“I... can’t, I just...” Tears welled up in the unicorn’s eyes once more as her voice started to crack. “I never should’ve brought you two along.”

“What are you talking about?” Rarity asked. “I thought you were over this when we helped you defeat Nightmare Moon!”

“It’s just... Fluttershy’s disappearance is my fault, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie are gone now, we were nearly killed by griffons, and some Ventian lord is after us now... I shouldn’t have made you risk your lives to help fix my mistakes...” Twilight trailed off, staring dejectedly at the ground.

“Fluttershy is our friend too. We’ll do anythin’ to help get her back home, sugarcube. Who knows what would’ve happened to you if you came out here on your own,” Applejack protested, hoisting Twilight back up to her hooves. “Those griffons could be anywhere by now, we gotta keep movin’ like you said.”

“Right,” Twilight agreed, wiping her eyes and forcing herself to keep pace with her friends with a small wind in her sail.

As they walked through the dull, snow-covered evergreens, Twilight looked around, noticing a lack of a direction marker; the brush was so dense that she nor her friends could see outside of the forest. Each way she looked appeared exactly the same: trees blanketed by snow surrounded by a carpet of white. Wary, she caught up to friends, stopping them from advancing.

“Do we know what direction we’re going in? Are you sure this is north?” Twilight asked.

“I reckon it is, but I’m not too sure,” Applejack said, scratching her head.

“Right now, as long as we stay out of sight of those griffons, we’ll be fine. We’ll just poke our heads through the trees to make sure they aren’t there when we find a way out,” Rarity suggested, continuing to hobble forward through the trees.

“Fine, as long as we can find somewhere warm to stay,” the purple unicorn yawned, once again dropping back to follow behind as she wrapped her scarf tight around her neck. “If we stay out here much longer, we could catch hypothermia. I think I need some sleep, so let’s find somewhere quickly.”

        As the three mares walked, the sky above began to clear, revealing the rising sun. The light burrowed through the forest, illuminating their path ahead and warming the trio’s spirits.

“Well, we know where we’re headed now,” Twilight stated with a smile on her face as they continued their north-bound trek. The days prior had been a roller coaster of events, most of them tragic and highly disturbing, but the scholar felt a strange sense of calm. She didn’t know what it was, but even when she had been pinned to the ground by Blackwing, she and her friends had remained highly calm and collective. She didn’t know if it was her drive to bring back Fluttershy that had pushed back her distress, but she took anything she could get. With a small, curious smile on her face, she took a sip from her canteen before Rarity stopped in her tracks.

        “Girls, look up ahead.” Rarity pointed through the trees, noticing a small clearing ahead with what looked like small, jagged structures that were obscured by the dense brush. “What do you think it is; a town or a camp?”

        “I don’t know, but we’re going. As long as there isn’t anything that wants to eat us or exploit us for personal gain, I’m all for it,” Twilight said, continuing slowly and wary as the clearing grew closer. The trees ahead thinned out until the three made their way into the expansive grounds. “It’s... it’s...”

        “Ruined,” Applejack interrupted, taking notice of the snow covered ruins. Half-broken down wooden structures littered the clearing, most of their materials either caved into the broken down walls or came off and scattered around its base. Remnants of wooden carts and what looked to be old merchants’ booths were buried by snow and pine needles. Twilight walked in further, sighing in disappointment. “Ah, horse apples. I thought this could’a been somethin’.”

        “Hold on,” Twilight said before walking up to a ruined shack. She climbed over one of the breaks in the wall, digging through the snow and debris. After throwing out half the pile into the field, lying on the pile was a leather-bound book. With a twinkle in her eye, she hastily threw the remainder of the lumber off the book and lifted it in the air, showing her friends her find. Eager to open the text, she climbed out of the house and opened the book, allowing Applejack and Rarity to take a look.

“What’s that?” Applejack asked, trotting out the back to see the book’s cover.

“It’s a book, but I’ve never seen one so weirdly worded before,” Twilight said before flipping through the parchment pages. The ink and parchment were both mostly dry, seeming to confirm Zipporah’s claim of an eternal winter... at least one that never goes above freezing temperatures. The writing itself was still readable, but the grammar, structure and dialect made difficult for her to understand. It appeared to Twilight to be some kind of novel .

“What does it say?” Rarity asked, struggling to make heads or tails of the archaic text.

“It’s a story about... something. I’m not really sure,” Twilight explained before shutting the book. “The diction is weird; I can’t make any sense of this. Maybe when we get someplace warmer I can concentrate.”

“That’d be great once we get outta here,” Applejack yelled from the middle of the town, motioning them over to her. Twilight shoved the book into her bag and trotted over, watching Applejack put her hat back on her head. “How long until we set up camp? We can’t keep goin’ like this.”

“Later, we need to find someplace warm first,” Twilight explained, scanning the ruins again. The town looked the same all around with not a single building still standing. “What happened to this place? It’s fairly old by the looks of it.” She jumped inside another building, taking notice of standing wooden shelves filled with filled flasks. Taking a flask, she popped the cork and took a whiff, immediately pulling herself away. It was strong and pungent, burning Twilight’s nostrils. With her eyes tightly shut from the pain, she motioned Applejack over and gave her the flask. “Do you have any idea what this is?”

With a sniff, Applejack swished the flask around before taking a sip, her face contorting from the taste. She swallowed the foul liquid before violently shaking. “Yep, that’s whiskey alright. Old stuff too, never tasted whiskey so strong before.”

“Liquor? That’s it?” Twilight sighed. “I was hoping it was an old potion or something.” She took her leave from the building then trotted up to Applejack. “Let’s go, there’s nothing here.”

“Hey, over here!” Rarity yelled from the tree line, her head peeking out from the brush. “There’s a way out of the forest over here!”

Twilight and Applejack sprinted towards Rarity, watching her run through the trees ahead of them. Ahead, Twilight could see a faint line of blue sky near the horizon as the trees thinned out into a large expanse: a large, empty expanse.

“Where are all the towns?” Twilight wondered, quickly turning her head to search. The mountains in the north were now too far away to be seen, leaving only the emptiness of the snow’s white blanket.

Up to the horizon, nothing but trees rose above the ground; No towns or city lay in sight. She sighed and turned her head right, seeing a large spindle jutting up into some of the remaining clouds. With her eyes transfixed, she bolted towards the tower, barreling through the heavier snow as Rarity and Applejack followed.

The path ahead turned into a steep incline, but Twilight wasn’t fazed. A chance that somewhere habitable was just ahead made her ignore the pressing exhaustion. As she trudged on, the hill became steeper before dropping off suddenly in a cliff. At the apex, Twilight stopped and gazed over the horizon, her eyes widening at the sight.

“I think I sent us farther than I thought.”

An enormous ocean butted up against the peninsula, expanding beyond the horizon. On land, lay an enormous walled city, hazed in smoke and its entrance barred by massive iron gates. A nigh uncountable number of buildings filled the inside of the walls, surrounding the sky-piercing tower the made its home at the center of the city. Above the buildings at the city’s center, lay a flat spread of land with a mass of variously sized buildings that loomed over sections of the city. One small, hair-size path snaked its way to the gates as the crumbling ruins of other towns lay beside it, rejected and dwarfed by the outer walls of the city alone.

“Is that it?” Rarity asked, looking over to Twilight.

“The most northern city in the land,” Twilight said, re-telling Luna’s directions. “Mistral City.”

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                                       <==  Chapter EX - Spike  ||  Chapter 13  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

13

Variance

The midday sun shone upon the three mares as they made their way up the quiet pathway. The trail wound around a quiet sea as a large path lay above them, supported by large concrete beams in the water. Only a few birds flew overhead, leaving the trail feeling desolate. Fluttershy tried her best to keep the armored stallion out of her thoughts, but the silence between her and her friends made it difficult. She looked down to the ground in nervous ticks, wondering what to do. Rainbow trotted ahead with her head confidently forward while Pinkie trudged alongside Fluttershy.

“What makes that officer so sure that those ponies will want to talk to us about this?” Rainbow Dash asked, breaking Fluttershy out of her nervous fit. “Their whole city was just burned down, and even we haven’t talked for the past few hours.”

“Maybe they won’t,” Fluttershy spoke up. A siren blared ahead of them as another vehicle barreled past them on the road above towards the once standing Slateport City. “We should probably focus on staying away from that stallion until Twilight brings us home.”

“I guess,” Rainbow said dejectedly as the three trotted around the final bend.

The sight of buildings rose over the horizon as the trail straightened, giving Fluttershy a straight line of sight to Mauville City. Not another pony nor Pokémon was on the road, worrying her that the refugees had already arrived and dispersed throughout the city. Fluttershy dug through her bag, searching for any food she had left, but ended up empty hoofed. She sighed, placing the bag away before continuing up the road.

Before they could clearly see the city, Fluttershy’s Pokédex began to beep, alerting the three and wiping the bored expressions off their faces.

“Quick, open it!” Pinkie hollered. “I wonder what the next gym leader will be like...”

“Didn’t we skip the second gym?” Fluttershy asked, confused as she pulled out the metallic noise maker. “I know that the gym in that town was boarded up, but I thought we needed the second gym badge to advance.”

“You were called into the fifth gym right away, remember? I don’t think this thing is following any real pattern here,” Rainbow stated.

Without further interruptions, Fluttershy opened the Pokédex and listened to the pre-recorded message that blared from the device. Once again, the message glitched when saying her name, but continued as normal. With a beep, the message ended and the turquoise screen faded to black. “9:00 pm tomorrow.”

“Great, that gives us time to train and rest up,” Rainbow said, increasing her speed down the path.

“Do you think maybe we should talk to Stephanie before we do anything? That stallion is probably still looking for me and I don’t want to make a scene without knowing how to approach this,” Fluttershy asked in a cautious tone.

“I don’t see why not,” Pinkie stated. “Ooo, maybe he... er, she knows about the next gym. Also where to find someplace to eat, I’m starving.”

“Hopefully, I won’t interrupt anything.”

“Just call him so we can focus on the gym fight sooner,” Rainbow said, annoyed.

Fluttershy stopped and lifted her forehoof, cycling through several screens before finding the phone application. She clicked a button on the device’s side as Stephanie’s name showed on screen. The screen went dark, then brought up a strange rotating circle as a long tone ran through the speakers. Before long, Stephanie’s face appeared on the screen. It looked like she was in a library with tall shelves of books lining the walls.

“Hello, who is this?” Stephanie asked before looking at Fluttershy. “Oh, it’s you, Fluttershy. How are you doing- Wait, what happened to you? You don’t look too well.”

“Uh, I’m fine,” Fluttershy responded, puzzled as to how she could see the Twilight analogue through the PokéNav. “About... this,” she waved her hoof around her face, showcasing her drooping eye-lids, “I need to talk to you about it.”

“Shoot. I’m sure I can help with what’s going on, I mean I have been a female for the past 28 years or so so I know how that kind of stuff works.”

Flush, Fluttershy stammered then spoke up, “No, not about... that... but about what happened to me and my friends.”

“Ah, that makes more sense. Was the gym that rough over in Dewford? I didn’t think Brawly had it in him. Oh, did you hear the news this morning? There was a fire over in Slateport. You might want to be careful when you head over there.” Stephanie began taking books of the shelves and flipping through them as she spoke.

“We... already went to Slateport. That’s what I want to talk to you about.”

“You did? What happened?” She asked, looking up to the screen again.

“It’s a long story, but there was a stallion in weird blue armor that burnt the city down. He was looking for me, and said he knew everything about the session. I don’t know what to do...”

“Hmm...” Stephanie picked up a blue bound book and opened it, scanning her hoof over the words as she read. She reminded Fluttershy of Twilight so much; it was hard for her to separate the two as long as she didn’t pay attention to how she spoke. “That’s strange; there are a bunch of scribbles in this book, and they look like my handwriting... er, hoofwriting. Yeah, I think that’s a good replacement.”

“What does it say?” Fluttershy asked curiously.

“Well, it says something about a Spark, a Blueprint, a Callen and sessions. It doesn’t seem to go farther than their definitions though.”

“That’s what he talked to me about! He said I was the Slueprint, he was the Callen, and my friends were Sparks. I have no idea what he was talking about though.”

“Maybe this will help. It says that the Blueprint is the one who first enters here while the Sparks occur when another from their point of origin enters the same session. It must be a glitch in the system, so maybe that’s why everything is acting so weirdly.”

“What’s the Callen?”

“Well, it doesn’t really say. I’m not sure how accurate these definitions are since there are no places to cross-reference them. Judging by what I know about languages, ‘callen’ seems to be an old version of the word ‘called’, so maybe a chosen person or pony is what he was talking about. These definitions had to have been written during other sessions when Sparks occurred, but I still need more information. I’ll have to put in more research and get back to you on it.”

“Do you by any chance know about the stallion?”

“Who, the one in the armor?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any description of him other than ‘he was a stallion’?”

“Oh, I do.” Fluttershy dug through her bag and pulled out the shrapnel that broke off the stallion’s armor then held in front of the camera. In the sunlight the armor shone with a brilliant azure hue. “This broke off his armor when he tried to touch me.”

There was a slight pause as the scholar thought with one eyebrow raised. “It came off when he touched you? Interesting. To be honest, I really don’t know much about armor, but I do know someone at Mauville University who should know about this piece. His name is Dr. Maxwell; he’s a professor in archaeology and ancient cultures. You should go talk to him about it.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said with a slight smile. “I’ll call you again if anything happens.”

“I’ll talk to you then.” The screen went black as Stephanie hung up the phone.

Fluttershy placed her hoof on the ground and looked over to her two friends. Pinkie began to hop down the road, leaving Fluttershy and Rainbow to catch up with the bouncing pony.

“Why didn’t you ask him about the gym? Or what to do about the stallion?” Rainbow demanded, causing Fluttershy to lower her head in shame.

“I... I don’t know. I don’t want to call him again so soon... it would probably be rude.”

“That’s fine, I’m sure we can figure out what to do ourselves!” Pinkie chimed in, “It can’t be that hard to keep a low profile in a city of thousands of ponies.”

“How do you know there are thousands?”

“Look at the buildings, silly. No city with this many tall buildings has a small amount of ponies in it.”

“I guess,” Fluttershy stated as Mauville City came into full view. Buildings and ponies were strewn across the city as far as the eye could see and buildings towered over any that Fluttershy had ever seen. Various assortments of Pokémon followed traveling ponies as they went down the sidewalks, some stopping at various stands and buildings. The three made left the path and kept going straight, losing themselves in the sea of concrete and ponies that littered the walkways. Fluttershy lightly coughed as particles of dust and smog entered her windpipe.

“This place is huge!” Rainbow said excitedly. “Wait, how are we going to find those ponies from Slateport?”

“Let’s ask around,” Pinkie suggested, hopping over to a group of suited ponies. Fluttershy couldn’t help feeling that something was wrong with the city. She couldn’t place her hoof as to why, maybe May’s memories were permeating her thoughts and the city was somehow different than what the memory suggested, but trying to focus on that when it felt like everypony was staring at her made her drop that particular train of thought.

As Pinkie continued to pester the business ponies, they looked at her and their noses scrunched as a grimaced look washed over their faces. “Hey, have you seen anypony from Slateport around here?”

“Have you bathed lately? I can smell you from here!” one of the ponies stated, then proceeded to escape their rancid question up until they turned at an intersection just up ahead.

“Huh, well that’s not very nice,” Pinkie said, putting her hoof up to her chin in thought.

“To be fair, we haven’t exactly taken care of ourselves since we got here,” Rainbow said, smelling her clothes and forcing her head away as she took a sniff. “Yeah, my jacket smells fishy.”

“Tonight we should clean our stuff at the Pokémon Center. Maybe they have soap or something to put on this,” Fluttershy suggested, taking Alerce and her bandanna off her head. The bandanna was still wet from the gyarados’ conjured storm, making Fluttershy question the state of the rest of her attire. She had never had to wash any clothing since Rarity always cleaned her dresses after parties. “We should keep looking.”

With one unsuccessful questioning, the mares kept up their pace, making sure to keep their distance as they asked other ponies. As the three searched, they merged into a sea of bodies, each going every which way. No pony wished to speak to them they went further into  Mauville City.

“Excuse me, please...” Fluttershy pleaded to the passerbys. “It will only take a second of your time.” No pony paid the yellow pegasus any attention.

“This isn’t getting us anywhere,’ Rainbow exclaimed. “We should just focus on the gym fight and improving our pokémon so we can smash that stallion’s armored face in the next time he shows up.”

“I still want to find out what happened. We really should try to find out more about what we’re dealing with.”

“Fine,” Rainbow protested, continuing her search. At the corner of an intersection Rainbow spotted a young mare, standing with bags under her eyes. Her eyes darted back and forth before she bolted down the road, toppling over several ponies in the process. “Let’s ask her.”

“Okie dokie, Dashie!” Pinkie said as she burst from the sidewalk out and ran across the street with the mare in sight.

“A-are you sure?” Fluttershy asked, noticing both Rainbow and Pinkie were already gone. “Wait for me!” Fluttershy yelled as she followed behind Pinkie, watching as the frazzled mare sped down the road. The frantic mare looked back for a split second before turning down an alleyway. Fluttershy watched as her friends turned down the alley, following close behind as they kept their eyes out for their target.

The alley was dark, covered with grime and discarded trash. Fluttershy tentatively trotted down the alley, hearing a soft wail in the distance. As they went further down, they spotted the mare blocked by a concrete wall. She shrunk down and shook as they approached, whimpering as the three halted. Fluttershy didn’t want to get closer, seeing as the pony looked stressed enough without her and her friends bearing down on her.

“S-stay back, please,” the mare pleaded, shielding her eyes with her hoof as her voice cracked.

“We aren’t here to hurt you, we were just curious about what you were doing,” Pinkie explained with a warm smile.

“Why? Why me?”

“We’re looking for somepony, anypony from Slateport that could help us,” Fluttershy said, slowly resuming her approach.

“I-I’m from Slateport. What do you want?”

“I’m sorry for bringing this up, but do you know anything about that armored stallion?” Fluttershy inched closer, trying to break the cold tension surrounding them.

“Not really... why do you want to know?” The mare’s eyes dried up as she spoke, her voice ceasing to crack as well.

“I... can’t really say. Please, I’d just like to know.”

“All I remember is my husband running into the house and saying we need to leave. I grabbed all the supplies I could and my foals and ran out of the house. All I remember after that is watching a Gyarados start torching everything in sight.” She began sobbing, making Fluttershy take a step back. “My husband said he told them that he’ll kill anypony that stayed in Slateport. Did he say ‘anypony’? I think he said ‘anyone’... I guess I’m still recovering from it.” She lightly chuckled. “I must’ve embarrassed myself by running like that, huh?” The mare sniffed as she looked up at the Equestrians.

“You don’t know anything either...” Fluttershy said disappointed. “Well, do you know anything about the gym here?”

“Are you Pokémon Trainers?” The mare’s demeanor seemed to change as she wiped the tears from her eyes. She looked more positive than before. “When’s your match?”

“Uh, 9:00 tomorrow,” Fluttershy said, relieved that the conversation had lost its awkward air.

“Wow, so you’re in a prime time slot! Lucky. I’ll make sure to watch it when it comes on.”

Fluttershy looked at the white mare puzzled. “Watch? Are there stands like in Petalburg’s gym?”

“You don’t know about this? The matches are televised for ponies to watch at home. 7:00 and 9:00 at night are the prime time slots which bring in larger crowds. I can’t afford a ticket in anyway.”

“T-t-televised?” Fluttershy stuttered, her body shaking with nervousness. “W-what kind of Pokémon do they use?”

“I think it’s electric type. She might have changed it lately though, she doesn’t keep with one team for long.”

“Thanks,” Fluttershy said as the mare stood up and brushed herself off as she wiped the stream of tears from her eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Sorry for worrying you, I need to go. My husband is waiting for me,” the mare said, squeezing past the three Equestrians and trotted down the alleyway as if nothing happened. Fluttershy stood perplexed, wondering if any other interaction with one from Slateport would have been so odd.

“Now that we have that, let’s go get some training in,” Rainbow suggested, now hovering slightly off the ground. “You have a gym fight to win, and you can’t look weak in front of all those ponies.”

“Right...” Fluttershy groaned, still shivering as they left the alley and joined the remainder of the moving crowd. They were sandwiched between a stallion in a business suit, walking with a large grass snake slithering beside him and a kid in a baseball cap with a rat placed firmly on his head much like Alerce. The sight of the serpent made the yellow pegasus wary, causing her to dart her eyes to the other side of the street to avoid it all together. As much as she was thrilled about meeting new animals, the reality of the night before was too fresh in her mind. “Don’t you think we should check the university for that professor first? I mean I know that I have a gym fight coming up, but I would really feel more comfortable if we knew about that stallion first.”

“Fluttershy, we’re disgusting at the moment,” Rainbow stated bluntly. “We should train now while our clothes and fur reek, then wash up in the Pokémon Center tonight and speak with him tomorrow.” Pinkie and Fluttershy nodded in agreement, turning onto the street that led them back to the route they entered the city from.

The trail that led back to Slateport City remained desolate, giving the three mares plenty of room to spar. A cool breeze blew though the trees, rustling the leaves and making Fluttershy feel at ease. The three trotted a ways down the road, making sure they were far enough away from the city to not cause a ruckus before setting up for a fight, not that fighting in the city would raise any suspicions. Alerce lept off from Fluttershy’s head and landed on the pavement, shaking its legs as if it felt some pain from impact. Fluttershy dug though her bag and tossed Wolver’s Poké Ball, letting him breathe some fresh air before bringing the two together in a huddle.

Rainbow threw her two Poké Balls out from her jacket pocket, breaking out Igni and Lorica onto the trail. With a cocky smile, she brought the two Pokémon together and huddled like Fluttershy, discussing strategies and tactics to use against her friend’s type disadvantaged creatures.

Pinkie had released Lady Gummy II from her Poké Ball long before they reached the trail, and had let her clamp onto her tail with its infantile teeth as they approached their destination. With an excited laugh, Pinkie stripped Lady off her tail and set her down, waiting for her two friends to cease strategizing.

“Are you two ready?” Pinkie asked impatiently. “Lady and I have been ready for minutes now, and you two are just talking!”

“Hold on Pinkie, I’m almost ready,” Fluttershy said, bringing her attention back to her two Pokémon. “How strong are you two now?” the yellow pegasus whispered to the combatants. “I know that Rainbow trained you two while I was asleep, but how far did she push you?” Fluttershy put her hooves up to her mouth in thought, wondering if Rainbow’s training was enough to take down a gym leader on live television. She shuddered at the thought as she looked up, taking notice of a hoof tapping Rainbow Dash.

        “I’m ready, Fluttershy. We don’t have all day,” Rainbow called out, pushing Lorica to the forefront of the ranks.

“Alright, I’m ready,” Fluttershy announced, letting Wolver take the helm. The two Pokémon were around the same size, yet Lorica’s large steel head-plate made it appear much larger compared to the tiny wolf. Both Pokémon began to pace around between the two trainers, the Aron making sure to keep its shield facing Wolver at all times. They paced for several rotations, each not wanting to make the first move.

Fluttershy looked up at Rainbow who hovered in the air with a confident, almost cocky smile plastered on her face. She tilted her head down, looking at Fluttershy with a fierce gaze as to make the first move. The yellow pegasus wanted to reach for her Pokédex to find out how to fight the creature, but decided against it. She didn’t want to rely on a piece of technology when it came to an animal when her talent with them worked just as well.

Steel plating would make it hard for me to attack directly, especially with that shield present, she thought, trying to come out with a competent strategy.

“Lorica, bash it!” Rainbow commanded, prompting the Aron to charge straight at Wolver, giving the wolf ample time to dodge the sluggish cave dweller. With a slight sidestep, the Poochyena dodged Lorica’s charge, and opened its mouth, watching its teeth give off a wispy black glow. It looked up at Fluttershy, waiting for a command as it took notice of Lorica’s heel-face turn. Quickly, Fluttershy ignored her previous conviction and took out her Pokédex, pointing it at the wolf’s teeth. The device beeped, showing Wolver’s teeth on the screen with the caption “Bite” at the bottom.

“Again, with more weight behind it!” Rainbow called out, making Lorica sprint head down at Wolver at a slightly faster pace. To the side of the image, the Pokédex listed the attack’s specifics, including its type.

        “A Dark-type move?” Fluttershy thought aloud, watching Lorica’s continued feeble attempts at chasing down the fleet-footed lupine. I don’t want to do this but..., “Wolver, use Bite!”

At his master’s command, Wolver leapt over the sluggish Lorica and opened its mouth, once again revealing the Dark-type Bite. He chomped down on the Aron, causing it to yelp out in pain as Wolver snarled and scratched at its steel exterior.

“H-how did you do that? You can’t bite through steel!” Rainbow protested, much to the delight of Pinkie who seemed to take joy in the cyan pegasus’ annoyance. “Lorica, shake it off!”

The Aron tried its hardest to throw Wolver off of him, flailing and running about. The Poochyena refused to let go, keeping his teeth sunk into Lorica as the steel-clad pokémon tired itself out. With a thud, Lorica slumped to the ground, giving up the fight against its quicker adversary.

“Really, you’re going down like that?” Rainbow complained, watching Wolver open its jaw, taking the Aron out of its clutches. With a wag of its tail, Wolver dashed over to Fluttershy, sitting down and letting its tongue hang out. Fluttershy reached down and pet him, drawing a content smile out from the beast.

With a sigh, Rainbow returned Lorica back to its Poké Ball, looking down and putting a hoof on her stomach. “Hey, Fluttershy? Why don’t we have the main event fight, then grab something to eat? I need a win.”

Fluttershy rubbed her stomach as the mention of food brought up the fact that she hadn’t eaten all day. With no money, it was easier for the pegasus to keep her attention on important matters, anything that didn’t include food. Unfortunately, she still needed a meal.

“I’m fine with that,” Fluttershy confirmed, showing Alerce into the center to spar.

Igni quickly hopped into the ring, ruffling its feathers in anticipation. Unlike the previous two combatants, the pokémon stood still and stared each other down, each growling in an intimidating manner. Rainbow seemed to join in, staring down Fluttershy with a sharp, dagger-like gaze. How committed Rainbow was to Pokémon fighting frightened the timid pegasus.

“Scorch him!” Rainbow called out, prompting Igni to expel flames from its mouth. Alerce sidestepped as quickly as he could, but was pelted by the burning embers. As a plume of smoke rose from the turtle, he shook himself off and began to charge at the orange fowl.

“Use Tackle!” Fluttershy commanded, watching intently as the two faced off.

The nerves Fluttershy usually felt from battle seemed to have disappeared. Her only thoughts were that of the armored stallion’s presence, making her care less about her old ways and made her embrace the new to survive. It was something she felt she would never have done back in Ponyville. A small weight still formed in the pit of her stomach as she thought about it, but she found it easier to ignore.

Igni skidded across the ground on his back, quickly hopping back to its talons and shacking off the heavy blow. Flames once again flew through the ring, scattering across the ground and into Alerce’s face. The turtwig staggered back, trying desperately to shake off the burning cinders that clung to his body.

“Use your shell to block it!” Fluttershy yelled, but before Alerce could react another wave of embers clung to the turtle, making him stand with his head hanging low. He began to breathe heavily, forcing his eyes shut in pain. “Try tackling him again,”  the nervous pegasus suggested, watching Alerce burst from the ground, slamming Igni in the gut. The torchic flew across the ring, bouncing off the ground while struggling to get up.

With a confident smile, the turtwig turned to Fluttershy. She smiled back, but her expression turned to worry as turned his head down and coughed up a pool of saliva on the ground. His breathing turned to labored wheezes as he collapsed on the ground, shaking and crying out in pain. Quickly, Fluttershy flew to the distressed Alerce, trying to diagnose whatever was happening to the Pokémon.

“A-Alerce? What’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked, getting no response from the pained Turtwig. She looked up to Rainbow who looked at her with a worried gaze, same with Pinkie. As Fluttershy turned to Alerce again, a bright white light burst from the turtle, knocking Fluttershy back in shock. A small, white wisp surrounded Alerce, making Fluttershy extremely worried, yet curious as to what was happening. With a fierce cry, Alerce arched back in pain and his body began to violently shiver. Without warning, the scales that covered his body began to shed off, leaving exposed green skin. His body then began to grow in size, easily doubling or tripling his original size. With a disgusting squelching sound, new green scales pierced out from his body, releasing a sickly green-ooze that dripped down the fresh scales and caused Fluttershy to put her hoof to her mouth in disgust.

As Alerce ceased his unannounced growth spurt, a fissure line split lengthwise down his shell, cracking it in two. It fell to the earth, making way for a new shell to emerge from the turtle’s back. It ran across the entire length of his body, covering everything from his head to the tip of his tail. The shell severed the small sprout of Alerce’s head as two yellow scaled spikes jutted from the side of his jaw. Before the metamorphosis was complete, two torso length bushes cracked through the shell near its center, arranging itself comfortably on the turtle’s back. With one final gasp and head held up, Alerce slumped to the ground as the white glow surrounding his body faded away.

The three Equestrians stood with their mouths agape, staring at Alerce blankly with no words to speak of. Fluttershy gazed at the now giant turtle in a confused stupor, unable to draw any conclusion as to what exactly happened. As she snapped herself out of her trance, she hastily took her Pokédex out and pointed at the transformed Alerce. The screen showed Alerce’s familiar information, but its species stuck out to her. Where it had normally shown “Turtwig”, it now showed the word “Grotle”. Fluttershy thought she should be more shocked by this transformation, but Alerce’s change from gecko to turtle seemed much more unlikely. Curious, she pressed the button next to the species name, bringing her to a screen which showcased the species as a whole. As she read, it stated that grotle was an evolved form of turtwig, confusing her further.

H-how can a turtle ‘evolve’? They don’t go through that kind of metamorphosis...

“W...what just happened?” Rainbow asked, finally breaking from her stupor. “I mean, that was cool, but what happened exactly?”

“It says here that he ‘evolved’, but turtles don’t normally change like this,”

“Yeah, and geckos don’t turn into turtles either,” Rainbow quipped. “Does your Pokédex say anything about it?”

“Hold on, let me check,” Fluttershy said as she scrambled to find the explanation. After going through several screens, she came upon a massive list of words and their definitions. She scrolled down then clicked when “Evolution” was highlighted, bringing up its definition. “Here we go.” Fluttershy began reading, “‘Evolution what occurs when a pokémon reaches a certain stage of maturity and strength. As it reaches this point, a pokémon will change in shape, substantially increasing its natural power as well as possibly changing its type. An evolved pokémon may learn more powerful moves, but will learn moves slower than its less evolved forms. While some creatures may evolve more than once, some may not evolve at all. Evolution is always a harrowing and exciting experience for any new trainer.’”

“Does that mean... Igni and Lorica could evolve into something amazing and powerful?” Rainbow asked with an excited tone.

“That... was.. AMAZING!” Pinkie finally blurted out, rushing over to the passed out Alerce. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“Fluttershy just said what it was,” Rainbow explained, watching as Alerce’s eyes opened. With a large yawn, the grotle got to his feet and tested out his new body. “I know, let’s try out his new power!”

“Wait, what?” Fluttershy asked, turning to the cyan pegasus. “Don’t you think he should rest first?”

“Look at him, he’s fine.” Alerce plopped back to the ground, closing his eyes and snoring loudly.

“Dash, I don’t think-”

“Igni, use Ember!” Rainbow commanded, causing Igni to spew flames from his mouth again, hitting Alerce square on his massive body. He slowly opened his eyes, looking casually at the burning cinders. With one quick swipe, he brushed off the cinders and got to his feet. Rainbow’s face grew pale as Alerce bucked his head upwards, smashing Igni into the air, over Rainbow’s head and into the brush far off the path. With a sharp exhale, the lumbering giant fell back to sleep, paying no attention to the scrambling Rainbow Dash as she rummaged through the bushes on the side of the trail.

“That was incredible...” Fluttershy squeaked, slowly approaching the slumbering Alerce. She patted her hooves on his shell, hearing him let out a contented rumble. At this point, she was just happy that Alerce still acted the same as he did before.

“We need to evolve all of our pokémon,” Rainbow stated bluntly, emerging out from the brush with a very dazed Igni on her back. “If these things can evolve more than once, could you imagine how powerful they could be. Do you think that’s why that Gyarados was so powerful?”

“That would explain a lot,” Pinkie said, picking up Lady and holding the crocodile out in front of her. “I wonder what she would turn into? Whatever it is, it’s probably something massive.”

“How about we get them food and clean up for tomorrow?” Fluttershy suggested, calling Alerce back to her Poké Ball. A small part of her wondered how she would feel without Alerce outside with her, but her empty stomach stopped the train of thought short.

“Yeah, this is probably a good place to stop. Besides, we should get to the Pokémon Center early and see if we can catch a gym fight.” Rainbow said, letting Igni on her back. Pinkie hoisted Lady up to her head, letting the Totodile sit on her head as Fluttershy trotted silently alongside Wolver. Fluttershy’s nerves calmed a bit as they traveled back into the city, Alerce’s new found strength reassuring her as her scheduled fight drew nearer.

The moon rose on Mauville as the three mares finished eating. A mass of yellow, halogen lights littered the streets as brightly colored billboards and illuminated storefronts drew their attentions as the sky grew pitch black. Unlike Petalburg and Dewford after dark, ponies continued to flood the streets, hollering and growing more rambunctious as the night went on. Fluttershy gazed in awe, noticing lights strung from the top of large skyscrapers and a large white haze in the distance.

“The plan is to win to get some kind of money, right?” Pinkie asked, curious about the aforementioned plan. “That free food was nice, but I don’t think we’ll be that lucky again.”

“Well, that’s part of it, but Fluttershy’s new evolved Alerce should wipe the floor with whatever pokémon that gym leader’s got,” Rainbow presumed, weaving her way through the mass of ponies. As they trotted, Fluttershy caught the sight of several street performers putting on a show. Only a handful of ponies stopped to watch them juggle or play drums with plastic buckets. The lack of a crowd gave Fluttershy a small sense of relief about the next gym fight, but she still held onto her doubts.

“Hold on,” Fluttershy said. “What’s the plan? The matches are televised, and that stallion could be watching.”

“We’re stuck here until Twilight gets us out, right? We need to find out everything we can about this place and how these animals fight so we can survive long enough for her to bring us home,” Rainbow stated as they crossed the street and the orange roof of the Pokémon Center came into view. “We go in, give that gym leader a swift defeat, and by the time that jerk gets here we’ll already be gone. If we keep moving, we’ll hit him when he least expects it.”

“But, he said he knew—”

“By the way, what time is it? Aren’t the prime time matches about to begin?”

“Well... um...” Fluttershy looked down at her PokéNav. “It’s 7:14.”

“We’re already missing it?” Rainbow realized, quickening her pace. “We have to hurry; I need to see what, or who the gym leader looks like.”

“It might not even be an analogue,” Fluttershy stated, weaving through the bustling crowd and apologizing at every turn.

“Whoever it is, it’s probably exciting for it to be on television!” Pinkie said, quickly running along the curb and avoiding the crowd all together. “It’s just over there!”

With the Pokémon Center drawing closer, Fluttershy began running through the possibilities of analogues in her head. She was innately curious to see what Pinkie and Rainbow’s analogues would be like, or if she had one of her own. Applejack’s was still up in the air, or it could even be a pony she could have never thought of. They crossed two more roads and found themselves at the sliding glass doors of the Pokémon Center, waiting for them to open as the white light inside invited them inside.

The doors opened, allowing the three to trot in as they saw a massive crowd of ponies staring at something in the corner. As they settled in, the crowd roared and several ponies gave each other high-hooves then turned back to the corner. Curious, Fluttershy trotted over and attempted to catch a glimpse of whatever was happening. The sound of cheering and laughter drowned out the sound as she could only make out small sections of the screen in between the excited crowd.

“What’s going on? Is this the gym match?” Fluttershy asked, causing a few ponies to turn and face her.

“Yeah, and the challenger is kicking her butt!” a yellow earth pony exclaimed, quickly glancing back to catch more of the match.

“I-Is there any room so I can see? I can’t make out anything,” Fluttershy asked.

“You should’ve gotten here sooner,” A grey unicorn stated.

“Maybe some ponies will make room after the 7:00 match,” Fluttershy said, hoping to just catch one look at Mauville’s star gym leader.

“It’s worth a shot,” Rainbow said before tapping the grey unicorn on the shoulder. “Hey, any chance of squeezing in here once this match is over?”

The stallion laughed. “You’re joking, right? You have to get here at least an hour before it begins to see anything.” He scanned them over. “You’re pokémon trainers, right? Why don’t you just buy a ticket and watch it live?”

“What makes you think we’re trainers?” Rainbow asked.

“You smell like sweat and seawater,” he said, turning his back to the mares.

Rainbow scoffed at the stallion, but thought he was as good of a pony as any to ask. “Can you at least tell us the gym leader’s name?”

“It’s Wat—”

“Wattson,” Fluttershy interrupted, prompting the two conversing ponies to stare at the dumbfounded mare. “I-I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt anypony.”

“Whatever, just leave me alone.” The stallion turned away again, just before jumping in celebration as the rest of the crowd roared in excitement. Fluttershy held her head in her hoof in embarrassment, wondering if she could somehow stop May’s memories from surfacing at such inopportune times.

“Hey, can anyone tell us who the gym leader is?” Rainbow’s question became lost in sea of excited ponies, causing Rainbow to turn towards the downward-leading stairs. “Come on, let’s get cleaned up for tomorrow.”

“Sounds good to me,” Pinkie said, following the cyan pegasus downstairs.

“Wait, shouldn’t we...” Fluttershy trailed off before reaching the front desk, asking the nurse if the Pokémon Center had accommodations for them that night. After a quick nod from the nurse, Fluttershy headed downstairs, noticing the building’s larger basement in comparison to Petalburg’s as she made her way down. A dozen ponies were sprawled across the floor, some sleeping and some talking or playing with their pokémon. To the left some sinks and faucets were protruding from the wall, along with some cots and blankets pushed off to the side. Next to the sinks were several white, box-like machines with porthole windows on the doors. Curious, Fluttershy walked over and saw one of them with clothes tumbling inside. A small bell rung, prompting an orange pegasus to trot over and take the clothing out. With a look of annoyance, the pony fit her clothing into a basket and sat back down near her partner.

“E-excuse me?” Fluttershy called out, catching the pegasus’ attention. “Is this where you wash clothes? I’ve never done it before.”

With a look of utter confusion, the mare trotted over to Fluttershy. “You look like you’re my age, how come you’ve never washed clothes before?”

“Well, where I come from we don’t normally wear clothes, they’re more for special...” Fluttershy caught the mare’s eyes, noticing her shifting uncomfortably. “...occasions. Could you help me?”

“As long as you don’t stand there naked in front of me, I can,” the orange pegasus said.

“I only have one pair of clothes... and...”

“Here.” The annoyed pegasus took a pair of greyish blue leggings and a red with collared shirt with thin vertical stripes out from her basket and threw it onto Fluttershy’s head. “Put those on, then come back here with those rags you have on.” She lightly sniffed the air, recoiling as the stench pierced her nostrils. “What is that, fish?”

“I-I’ll be right back,” Fluttershy said, blushing in embarrassment. She went to the other side of the stairs where no pony was looking and stripped her clothes off, using them to dab any filth or perspiration from her yellow coat before dirtying the clean attire. Feeling moderately cleaner, she donned her new clothes and carried her traveling attire to the waiting mare.

“Alright, first off, we...” The mare proceeded to show Fluttershy the ins and outs of using a washing machine and dryer as both Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie listened in and watched. As the machines worked their cycles, the three Equestrians and the generous pegasus and her partner sat down to chat. They introduced themselves to each other as the roar of the excited crowd above them threatened to drown out their conversation.

“So, who’s the gym leader in this city?” Rainbow asked, tapping her hoof impatiently.

“You don’t know who she is? I thought everypony has seen her battle at least once,” the orange pegasus’ orchid-coated stallion friend asked.

“We’re new around here, and Fluttershy has a match tomorrow with her at 9:00,” Rainbow explained.

“That’s great! You can see what she looks like in person,” the orange pegasus exclaimed. “I wouldn’t want to spoil something so magical. I’m sure you’ll love her; she has an amazing stage presence.”

“What’s her name?” Fluttershy asked, hoping to at least get that much out of them. Considering that Wattson sounded like a male name to her and Steven had been changed into Stephanie when she became Twilight’s analogue, having the name of another gender-bent gym leader would likely explain a lot.

“Trust me, you’ll know when you get there,” the orange pegasus said as the timer on the washer had expired. With no success, Fluttershy stood and trotted to the dryer, taking her clothes out and bringing them to where Pinkie and Rainbow had set up the cots. As the pokémon matches continued, Fluttershy slumped into her cot, tired and worried, and forced herself to sleep through the incessant chattering of voices just on the other side of the room.

Night had long turned into the afternoon as the three mares studied a map of Mauville City. Cleaned up and filled with food, they had found an information booth alongside the sidewalk, a massive amount of graffiti littering its sides. Mauville was several times larger than any city Fluttershy had ever been in, making it hard for her comprehend how many ponies could live in a city this large.

“Have either of you found Mauville University yet? I can’t see it anywhere?” Pinkie asked, nudging her muzzle against the map.

“No, not ye—Here it is,” Fluttershy responded, pointing to the Chimecho district on the western side of the map. “So if that’s there, then the stadium is...” She scanned the map again, instantly finding the stadium. “There. Er...”

“It’s on the opposite side of the city!” Rainbow exclaimed, putting her head in her hooves in frustration. “Where are we now?”

“Right here?” Fluttershy pointed at the southern section of the city. “If we want to get to all three, we’ll have to head to every part of town.”

“Well, what time is it now?”

“It’s 2:34,” Fluttershy explained.

“We have less than five hours to get to the stadium. We have no money for the bus, and...” Rainbow stretched out her bandaged wing. “I can’t fly with this right now.”  Rainbow folded her wing as she attempted to chart out the route to the stadium. “There has to be a Pokémon Center close to the stadium, right? I think we should finish the gym fight, sleep, give that professor a visit tomorrow, then leave before that lunatic can track us here.”

“Shouldn’t we talk to Maxwell first? Figuring out who that stallion is more important than a gym fight, right?”

“Don’t you remember what your Pokédex keeps saying? If we don’t show up on time, you’ll be banned from the league and there’ll be no way to get the training we need to fight the stallion in the first place,” Rainbow stated bluntly.

“I guess,” Fluttershy said, disappointed by their lack of available time. “We should get moving then if we want to get there on time.”

“Sorry about taking so long this morning,” Pinkie apologized, looking down at her still warm clothes. “I’m sure we can make it there on time.”

With half of their lunches in Fluttershy’s bag, they began their trek to Mauville’s stadium, paying close attention to their only map. As the hours passed and the stadium drew closer, Fluttershy’s own nervousness began to rise. Feeling unprepared and wary of making a scene at the gym fight, she kept her head low as they traveled. Along the sidewalks were shops filled with various odds and ends that could be seen through their windows, windows that Pinkie couldn’t help pressing her muzzle against to peak inside. It never took long for the pink earth pony to catch up as her excitement for the gym battle rose. Fluttershy looked over to Rainbow to gauge her feelings, noticing her eyes staring straight ahead, unwavering. She was obviously confident in her plan which gave Fluttershy a small sense of relief.

Along the streets, there were vertical banners hanging from every street light. They were light yellow with the silhouette of a pony with swirled hair hanging down its front and were advertising the city’s gym. Fluttershy couldn’t tell what kind of pony the mare was, nor did she look familiar to her, causing her to believe that she wasn’t an analogue.

“Hey, do either of you recognize that pony on those banners?” Fluttershy asked, prompting Pinkie and Rainbow to give them another look.

“I’ve never seen a pony like that before,” Pinkie explained. “What do you think, Dashie?”

Rainbow Dash intensely focused on the banners, her face showing her deep in thought. “I don’t know... She looks familiar, but I can’t put my hoof on it. Whatever, we’ll find out soon enough.”

“Oh, okay,” Fluttershy said, perplexed by Rainbow’s slight familiarity with the mare. Fluttershy was now even more curious about her opponent as they continued down the sidewalk.

Hours passed as the sun began shining in the orange hue of dusk. The stadium loomed in the distance, rising as tall as many of the larger buildings. Ponies swarmed the outside and accompanying areas; all of them were either headed to the stadium or were there already. Fluttershy’s throat dried as she noticed the volume of onlookers, making her shiver. Two large beams of light shot from the stadium into the sky and a large screen lay near the entrance of the rectangular stadium, flashing many different images and videos of pokémon fighting inside.

“There are a lot more ponies than I expected,” Rainbow Dash spoke up, quickening her pace to reach the snake-like line that formed from its entrance. Pinkie and Fluttershy soon followed as the butter pegasus tried to keep herself from hyperventilating. The roads near the stadium were blocked off by orange and white striped wooden blockades with ponies in black riot gear that had the word “POLICE” written on their chests in white.

“Why is there all this security?” Fluttershy asked as they trotted past the blockade. “They can’t do this every night, could they?”

“Did you see how popular these gym fights were with those ponies back in the Pokémon Center? I’m not surprised they have to increase security with us being the opponent!” Rainbow exclaimed, sounding proud of her boasting.

“No pony knows who we are though, do they, Dashie?” Pinkie added, looking for the end of the line.

“May is a gym leader’s daughter, isn’t she? They obviously hyped that up and got ponies to buy up tickets.”

“I really hope this is just the normal attendance...” Fluttershy muttered, watching ponies as they sat under open tents, drinking and grilling vegetables in an open concrete field. Several of the ponies began hollering and celebrating, downing drinks as they did so. There was a smell of barley and hops in the air, a strong air wafting over the stadium’s outside. Fluttershy turned her head away from the hooligans, noticing that they were now at the end of the line. Rainbow had already started a conversation with the pony in front of them as Pinkie played with Lady.

“Are there normally this many ponies here? It seems like a lot,” Rainbow asked, yelling over the excited crowd.

“Oh no, tonight is special,” the tan unicorn started. “They were showing ads about this, uh, mystery trainer during the 9:00 match. It’s sounds awesome!”

Fluttershy turned her head to the unicorn in full alert, trying to piece together why her match was special. She peeked her head to the side, catching a glimpse of the screen. A shadowed pony appeared on screen with a red question mark over it, followed by text about the final match of the night. The pegasus gulped, realizing that both gym leaders she faced before hadn’t known her either. With her nerves racking her she brought her attention back to the conversation to try to calm herself..

“Hey, what time is it?” Pinkie asked as she got up from letting Lady crawl on her stomach. “You think the line is gonna move soon?”

“6:43,” the stallion said, watching the line in front begin to move into the stadium. Fluttershy turned to the tailgaters, seeing them pack up their supplies and head to the back of the line as it moved at a relatively quick pace. The cheering grew louder as they approached, watching the line shrink until they arrived at four booths with ponies inside, taking tickets from the spectators’ hooves.

Fluttershy was next. She cautiously trotted up to the tired looking mare in the window, wondering what to do.

“Do you have a ticket, or are you here to purchase one. We only have a few hundred left,” the mare explained.

“I’m, uh, the challenger for the nine o’clock match,” Fluttershy explained, watching the mare give her a curious look.

“You are, huh? Let me see your Pokédex; I need to see if your trainer ID matches.” Fluttershy reached into her bag and pulled out her Pokédex, slipping it through the opening in the glass pane. The mare in the booth quickly opened the device, flipping through the menus until the reached Fluttershy’s ID. “Hmm, 78342. The paper says that as well...” The attendant closed the Pokédex and gave it back to Fluttershy, unlocking the turnstile to let the pegasus through.

“Oh, could you let me friends in as well? They’re right behind me,” Fluttershy asked as Rainbow and Pinkie waved their hooves.

“I don’t see why not.” Rainbow and Pinkie promptly thanked the mare as they caught up to Fluttershy. “When you go in, go down the first hallway you come across to the left; a security guard will see you to your waiting area.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said as she entered through the stadium’s massive gates.

Inside the stadium under the seats were dark with only a sparse number of fluorescent lights illuminating the area. Beyond the hallway lay a set of stairs leading up to the bleachers and a large set of doors at the ground level. Most of the crowed piled up the stairs as several went up to booths, buying drinks and snacks. The walls of the entrance soon passed, leaving the three in the presence of a massive corridor to their sides, wrapping around the field.

Fluttershy looked to her left, noticing a lone pony in a black suit wearing sunglasses waiting in the middle of the hallway. Curious, she and her friends trotted over to the stallion, distancing themselves from the ecstatic crowd. The noise of the crowd grew dimmer as they approached, giving the timid pegasus a little piece of mind.

“Are you trainer number 78342?” the stallion asked, lifting his sunglasses to get a better look at the mares.

“Yes, I am,” Fluttershy responded, handing her Pokédex to the stallion as she watched another similarly dressed stallion approach. “You must be the security guard that attendant was telling me about.”

After the stallion went through the Pokédex he gave it back to Fluttershy and placed his sunglasses back on his face. “Right this way; let me show you to your box seat as you wait for your match.” The guard turned and nodded to the other stallion, causing him to turn up a distant flight of stairs.

“Box seat? What’s that?” Pinkie asked excitedly.

“I’m more curious about who this gym leader is. No pony has said a word to us about it,” Rainbow complained, glaring at Fluttershy. “Maybe somepony shouldn’t have interrupted that stallion in the Pokémon Center.”

“W-Well, ponies have said that its a ‘she’, and Wattson is normally a male name,” Fluttershy stated, averting Rainbow’s gaze. “She has to be an analogue like Steven, but this stadium and city don’t feel right.”

“What do you mean? Nothing looked out of the ordinary to me,” Pinkie said as they began to ascend the plush, crimson carpeted stairs.

“I... I don’t know. It’s probably something with May’s memories. It doesn’t seem to important at least.”

The staircase climbed to mid-point of the stadium, leading to a narrow hallway with wooden doors on their right. It was much brighter than the area below, leading Fluttershy to believe that this was a much classier area. The stallion ahead trotted to the door just around the bend, opening it and waiting for the three to enter. Excited, Rainbow and Pinkie barged through the doorway, leaving Fluttershy to enter the plush, nicely furnished room.

As she entered, the first thing she noticed was the room-sized window that gave a clear view of the entire arena. Ignoring the other furnishings, Fluttershy trotted up to the window, noticing the massive amount of ponies in the stands. Not a single seat appeared empty as even more attendants swarmed the stadium. Fluttershy gulped and shivered, averting her eyes from the crowd and down to the field where a stallion stood with a green, pink-bellied raptor-like pokémon with leaves jutting from its arms and a long one that flowed down from its head. On the other side was a stage with wires strewn across its empty floorboards.

“Fillies and gentlecolts!” the speakers blared, causing the crowd to fall silent for a moment. “Welcome to Mauville Stadium for tonight’s entertainment! Each opponent tonight is fighting for the illustrious Dynamo Badge, which will bring them closer to Hoenn’s Pokémon League and becoming Hoenn’s new champion!” The crowd erupted in hoof stomps and cheering. Fluttershy could feel the sound permeating the glass, shaking her as the stallion below stood tall.

“Ooo, this is so exciting!” Pinkie said, pressing her front hooves and muzzle to the glass.

“Our first opponent is a technical engineering student from Mauville University, showing up with his pokémon, Grovyle.” The stallion pumped his hoof into the air as she heard part of the crowd begin chanting ‘M U! M U!’ as the announcer continued.

“Wow, some of those ponies painted themselves red and white!” Rainbow said, looking at the crowd.

Fluttershy turned to Rainbow who was transfixed on the stage that lay below. “We should go talk to that pony after the match. You know, save us from traveling all that way.”

“Yeah, sure,” Rainbow said, sounding as if she was ignoring the timid pegasus. Fluttershy again turned her attention back down to the stage.

“Will this science major be victorious this day? Only one mare stands in his way. Introducing the gym leader that needs no introduction, but wants one regardless. A mare whose electric power can be seen in the legendary Mauville storms!”

The lights inside the stadium suddenly shut off, leaving only one spotlighting the stage as smoke began to pour from the floor boards. As the spectacle occurred, the crowd’s enthusiastic roars grew to their highest point, giving Fluttershy the feeling that the stadium would shake apart. Fluttershy caught a glimpse of a light blue mare as she made her way out of the smoke, her light blond hair swirling at both ends as she posed for the ecstatic crowd.

“Fillies and gentlecolts, introducing Mauville’s own gym leader, the Electrifying and Powerful Wattsie!”

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<==  Chapter 12  ||  Chapter 14  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


14

Ally

With a quick snap, May retracted her arm from the arc of electricity. The telltale burn of it lingered as her hand throbbed and grew numb. She held the trembling limb to her chest as she continued to duck and weave past the free-glowing streams of electricity standing between her and her adversary.

“How is this even allowed?the girl asked herself as she watched her agile grovyle leap easily past the transformers. It looked back at her though the maze, the leaves on its forearms bound together as a blade as if to signal its anxiousness for the ensuing gym battle.

“Hold on, I’m almost there,” May hollered after the grovyle as she ducked under the final stream of electricity. After a deep breath, she brushed herself off and looked at a man that stood at the back of the building with a spiteful glare. He was a portly old man with a jagged white beard covering his chin, wearing a brown, leather jacket with a lightning bolt insignia above one of the pockets. The man stood idly as May stumbled to her feet, her arms and legs covered in burns.

“Welcome to Mauville Gym. You must be May Stannis. I’m Wattson,” he said, looking his challenger over. The grovyle took a fighting stance, growling through clenched teeth. May lifted her hand and the lizard fell silent, leaving only the sound of crackling electricity as she approached the old trainer.

“I am. I’m here for the Dynamo Badge,” May spoke with ferocity, raising her voice to be heard over the sound of the buzzing electricity behind her. She removed her badge case from her bag and flipped it open to show the man, the pair of badges withing gleaming in the light from the electricity.

“Very well,” the gym leader began. “I’m ready when — know what you must be going through right now. It must be tough,” the old man said, permeating the dull silence of the gym. “I’ve lost many family members over the years. I’m sure that your grandfather’s death must weigh on your thoughts.”

May looked down dejectedly at the floor, tears welling up in her eyes. “Yeah... I just wish I could’ve known him a bit better before he’d died.” May’s grovyle sidled up next to her, a small smile cresting the girl’s face as it comforted her by nuzzling into her hand.

“He was a good man, that much I know. I talked to him quite a bit back in the day,” the old man said with a warm nostalgic smile. “But, back to you, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be taking classes right now?”

“Things haven’t been going so well... my mother has been feeling ill since Grandpa died and my dad wanted me to go out and experience things while I still could,” May said, shaking a little as she spoke. “He said with the move and Grandpa’s death, I should try something less stressful, so here I am.” May paused for a moment. “Has Brendan been through here? He’s about my age, wears a green bandanna and a black and orange jacket? I was supposed to meet him around here.”

“Oh yes, I remember the lad. What strange pokémon he had,” Wattson said, looking up in thought. “He was here a few days ago, but that’s about all I can tell you.”

“Thank you,” May responded, her tone resonated with disappointment. She slipped her badge case back into her pocket, hoping to win another badge to place next to her sole accolade from Rustboro. “I’m sure I’ll find him soon enough.”

“Even with all that’s happened, you’re still so calm and collected,” the portly man chuckled. “You really are your father’s daughter.” From his coat pocket, the man drew out a Poké Ball. With a soft smirk on his face, he considered the ball of a moment before tossing it onto the field. The ball split open to reveal a small, wolf-like creature that snarled as it sprang to the ready. “Let’s get started, then.”

With a snap of his fingers, the lights of the gym grew dim as a large lightning bolt shaped neon-sign glowed brightly behind him.

“I am Wattson, the third gym leader of Hoenn’s Pokémon League. May Stannis, daughter of Norman, I humbly accept your challenge — for admittance into the Pokémon League!”

With a mask of fierce determination, May took her battered hand and thrust it towards Wattson, prompting her grovyle to take up its battle position. “I’m ready when you are, old man.”

“Very well,” Wattson stated coolly before everything slowly blurred and grew dark.

Fluttershy awoke with a jolt, the ecstatic cheering of the crowd drawing her back into consciousness. She held her head in her hooves, trying to piece together the strange memory flash that had just occurred. It had been days since one had manifested on its own, but none had ever been so strange, so fractured. Fluttershy looked below, watching the university student trot out of the arena as Wattsie turned away. She appeared to be discussing something with a black-suited stallion.

A small tap on the glass drew the pegasus’ attention to Rainbow Dash, the cyan mare staring intensely at the field below, hooves pressed against the glass. Her muzzle was pressed up as well, teeth bared in a scowl, her wings fully spread. The yellow pegasus wanted to approach her, but thought better of it, recognizing a familiar intensity in Dash’s demeanor.

Before Fluttershy could return her focus to the memory, Pinkie Pie hopped out from around Rainbow, catching Fluttershy by surprise.

“Fluttershy, you’re up! You must’ve been super tired, I tried waking you up over and over and over again during the fight!” The pink mare looked at Fluttershy inquisitively, tilting her head in confusion. “You alright? You don’t look too good.”

“I-I’m alright,” Fluttershy said, pausing to think if Pinkie could help her piece the memory together. “It’s just... I had a memory flash again.”

“You did? That explains a lot,” Pinkie Pie stated, leaning on Rainbow in thought as her friend turned her head towards Pinkie in irritation. Not a second later, they both toppled over into the paned glass and slumped to the floor. With a quick shake, Pinkie sprang to her hooves and continued, oblivious to the death glare emanating from the downed pegasus. “So, what was it about? Anything important or exciting?”

“Well, it was strange. It was like there were two memories happening at once, I guess, both of them getting in each others’ way. It started off normally with the May you saw at Rustboro Gym about to fight Wattson, but then it was like she changed into a quieter girl.” Pinkie’s face contorted in confusion as Rainbow got to her hooves, rubbing her head as she got up. “They talked about her grandfather and Brendan, and then May was back to her old self. That’s all that really happened.”

“Brendan? That jerk from Rustboro with the fire lizard?” Rainbow asked, wings folded back onto her sides. “What was she talking about him for?”

“She said something about finding him, but never said why. I’ve never seen this May before, so I don’t know if I should trust her,” Fluttershy stated as a security guard entered the room.

“Fifteen minutes until you’re due down by the doors, miss,” he said before stepping out for a second and letting the student from below into the room.

He was a brown earth pony in an open white collared shirt, a PokéNav strapped to his ankle and denim shorts on as well. He quickly scanned the room and placed his bag down by the door before venturing further into the suite.

“A-are you sure this is the right room?” he asked with a slight stutter, prompting a quick nod from the guard before he closed the door. The young stallion turned and faced the three mares, not saying a word as he approached the couch.

“Hi! What’s your name?” Pinkie enthusiastically exclaimed, hopping right up to the stallion. He recoiled back in a nervous fit, stumbling over himself as Pinkie loomed over him.

“I-it’s Jake,” the stallion stated, as Pinkie backed off to let him regain his hoofing.

The three’s plan to meet with the university student after the match was much easier than Fluttershy had ever anticipated, putting a confident smile on her face as she pondered what to do. With no more obvious choice, Fluttershy trotted up to Jake in hopes that he could tell her about Professor Maxwell.

“Hello,” Fluttershy said, causing Jake to turn his head with his mouth slightly agape. “You’re a student at Mauville University, right?”

He stared at her with a dumbfounded look before forcing his mouth shut to avoid looking foolish. “Yeah, I am. Why? Do you go there? I think I would have remembered such a-- I mean, I think I would have remembered you,” Jack asked as his face flushed a deep red.

“No, I just need to know about a teacher there. Do you know a Professor Maxwell?”

“Maxwell... Oh, yeah! He’s, uh... the ancient cultures and archeology professor. Are you trying to get into his class or... Wait, you just said...” He planted his hoof on his head with a pained expression plastered on his face.

“Is he there now? Could we go talk to him?” Fluttershy asked, trying to steer the conversation back to the professor’s whereabouts.

“Umm, I think he’s out for the week,” Jake said, lowering his hoof from his forehead to his chin in thought. “Yeah, he’s up at Mt. Chimney with some students to study the volcano. He has a bit of a history going off-topic and delving into geological studies,” the stallion stated with a surprising lack of stutters. “He should be back within the week.”

“Where is Mt. Chimney?”

“Wait, seriously? Who doesn’t know about Mt. Chimney?”

“I-I’m sorry, I’m still really new to Hoenn,” Fluttershy squeaked.

“Oh, it’s just north of here on the way to Lavaridge Town. It’s the tallest mountain in the range. You can’t miss it.”

The door opened once again, revealing the same security guard from before peeking through the doorway. “You’re expected down at the front gate in less than five minutes. Let’s go.” After the security guard had left, Fluttershy turned away from Jake to get her bag as her friends did the same and stood by the door.

“Thanks for your help,” Fluttershy said as she caught up to Rainbow and Pinkie. As she was about to exit the room, she stopped and turned back to face the young stallion. “Sorry for asking, but what kind of Pokemon was that next to you at the start of the match?”

“You mean my grovyle?” Jake asked, tossing out a Poké Ball, revealing a sleeping pokémon.

“Y-yeah,” Fluttershy responded, glancing over the grass lizard as she sat down next to it. As she looked it over, she felt a warm yet somber sense of nostalgia rush over her. It was the exact pokémon that May had in Fluttershy’s vision, but something felt wrong. Instead of the comfort that May had received from the pokémon, Fluttershy felt as if she’d just been punched in the gut. With her body shaking, she rose back to her hooves and gave Jake a small smile.

“Thanks for showing him to me,” Fluttershy said graciously.

“It’s actually a ‘her’, and you’re welcome,” Jake said as Fluttershy exited the room.

As the pegasus went down the stairs, she stopped and turned to see that Jake was peering down at her from the doorway. “Oh, would you be able to show us where the Pokémon Center is around here after the match? We have to get some rest before going to Mt. Chimney tomorrow.” None of the mares had thought of accommodations for that night.

“Uh, s-sure. I’ll be near the challenger’s side exit after the match,” Jake replied. “It’s on the east side of the field.”

“Thank you so much,” Fluttershy said before she descended the stairs. As she caught up to her friends, her mind focused solely on the encounter with the grovyle. She wondered for a moment if the pain came from Alerce’s transformation, but she hadn’t been very attached to the lizard before he had changed. Before she could come up with any more ideas, however, she had already caught up with her friends. Rainbow was at the front, hastily marching down as Pinkie trotted with a calm but excited attitude just behind.

The rumble of the crowd shook the stadium as their match slowly approached. Since she was unconscious during the entire match, Fluttershy still had no idea what the gym leader looked like or if she was, in fact, an analogue. Judging by Rainbow’s intense expression as she awoke, her friend must’ve known something about the mare.

“Rainbow? Why were you staring down at the field like that?” Fluttershy asked. Rainbow turned her head to face her questioner. “You looked really angry back there.”

“I was,” Rainbow answered bluntly. “Don’t you two remember that unicorn that came into town with that mobile stage? The one who boasted about how she was ‘the most magical unicorn in all of Equestria’? I swear that you two were there.”

“No, I don’t remember that,” Fluttershy said. As she said this, Pinkie sharply inhaled in a gasp.

“Oh, right! Fluttershy, I went off with you to see some of your animals when she was talking, remember?” Pinkie asked, looking at Fluttershy, and then back at Rainbow. “That unicorn just sounded obnoxious, and I remembered that I had to help Mrs. Cake finish a cupcake order for Sugarcube Corner, and you forgot Angel’s birthday, so we had to have a party for him, so we left!”

“Well, I’ll explain what happened after you left,” Rainbow began. “She called herself ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’ and I nearly gagged on how full of herself she was.”

They had reached the bottom of the stairs, noticing several ponies buying food at the stands next to the arena doors.

“When everypony was sick of her bragging, AJ, Rarity, and I challenged her to shut her up, but all she did was twist what we did around and made us laughing stocks!” Rainbow’s face grew bright red as she spoke, stomping towards the door now instead of trotting. “I did this amazing trick through clouds and made a rainbow show up above me, and she twisted it and spun me around before zapping me with lightning! I can’t wait to get my hooves on her when I get the chance.” The security guard stopped in front of the inner arena doors and waited beside the three mares.

“What happened to her?” Fluttershy asked, her curiosity piqued.

“She said she could vanquish an Ursa Major, but Twilight saved Ponyville when two town doofuses brought an Ursa Minor for Trixie to fight. After Twilight humiliated her by defeating it, the coward ran off.” Rainbow peered up at the screen near the gate that was playing a commercial. “Haven’t seen her since.”

Several minutes passed as they waited for the last stragglers to return to their seats. Fluttershy could hardly hear anypony inside the stadium, lending it an eerie silence. Rainbow stood tapping her hooves on the floor impatiently. Pinkie decided to sit down and proceeded to yawn every once in a out of boredom. Just as Fluttershy was about to lie down as well, the announcer’s voice blared through the speaker system.

“Fillies and gentlecolts, tonight we have a special, mystery trainer as Wattsie’s final opponent!” The crowd began cheering uproariously, putting Fluttershy on edge as she began to seriously question her ability to win. Alerce had just evolved, and Wolver was still fairly weak by comparison. She didn’t want to embarrass her friends in front of so many ponies. As she began hyperventilating, the announcer continued above the noise of the rowdy audience. “All anyone knows about this trainer is that he or she has only one badge but is a fierce competitor judging by a flawless combat record!”

Flawless record? Fluttershy wondered, her mind in a panic. Did the fight with Norman not count?

“Please welcome your final competitor of this weekend’s arena fights!” The doors slowly creaked open, the stadium’s massive lights blinding the three as they shone into the dark hallway. With a pained gulp, Fluttershy trotted into the grass-filled arena with Rainbow and Pinkie following close behind. The amount of ponies inside the stadium was staggering to her, and being below the crushing stare of that many eyes didn’t help to calm her nerves in the least.

“You alright, Fluttershy?” Pinkie asked. “This is so exciting, don’t you think? I know that thousands of ponies are watching, but it’s like a giant party in here!” Fluttershy hesitantly nodded as they stopped at the challenger’s end of the rectangular fighting ring.

The lights in the stadium suddenly grew dark as a singular spotlight shone on an empty stage. There was yellow fabric with stars and lightning bolts skirting the bottom of the stage, and a large, light-blue symbol of a magic wand swirling with magic was plastered above. As smoke poured over the cable-strewn stage the loudspeakers boomed, “Now without further introductions, the Electrifying and Powerful Wattsie!” With a crack of lightning, a pony stepped forth from the swirling smode, sending the crowd into a frenzy of stomping hooves. It was a light blue mare with a blond swirl of a mane. She wore a yellow cape covered in black stars and a closed yellow vest with the magic wand insignia pinned on the front. On her ankles were gold cuff links and over her eyes was a yellow, translucent visor that concealed the color of her eyes. Wattsie looked off somehow, as if something was missing...

“Where’s her horn?” Fluttershy asked, turning to a confused and angry Rainbow Dash.

“I don’t know,” Rainbow admitted.

“So, one of you is Wattsie’s opponent, hmm?” the gym leader asked, speaking in the third person. “Don’t keep the crowd waiting, which one of you will be fighting Wattsie tonight?”

Fluttershy inched ahead of her friends, readying herself to speak before Rainbow Dash shot past her in a swirl of wind and wings. She skid to a stop in front of her friends before pointing her hoof at the blue mare. “I am!” She shouted, shocking both Fluttershy and Pinkie. The crowd roared in anticipation as Wattsie held her hoof in the air, calling for silence.

“So, rainbow-hair, what’s your name? It seemed to have been glitched when I got it,” Wattsie asked, staring straight at the angry mare.

“The name’s Rainbow Da—” Before she could finish, she felt a pair of hooves force her mouth closed as Fluttershy nearly tackled her onto the field.

“D-don’t say your last name,” Fluttershy warned her, confusing her brash friend.

“Why? It’s just my name...”

Fluttershy shuffled her hooves nervously and whispered, “Do you remember that police officer I talked to yesterday? When I mentioned your last name to him, he talked about some loss the Dash and Pie families went through. Please, we don’t need any more attention drawn to us than there already is.”

Rainbow huffed. “Fine.” The new challenger pushed Fluttershy to the side before stepping into the trainer’s box. “The name’s Rainbow... Bolt.”

“Rainbow Bolt, huh? You look more like a Dash to me,” Wattsie mused, giving Fluttershy shivers. “You know, now that I take a better look at you, you look just like Winona Dash... same cutie mark and everything...”

Winona? Fluttershy wondered, watching the showmare think of her next line. Where do I know a Winona? There’s Applejack’s dog, but... does May know a Winona? Could she be a gym leader?

“What a shame that you don’t have her classy silver mane instead of that ridiculous multicolored flop,” Wattsie commented, the crowd cheering as Rainbow’s face flushed a bright red. Fluttershy knew that, normally, Rainbow wouldn’t be offended by an off-color remark about her mane, but apparently, whatever this Trixie had done, she really hit Dash’s soft spot.

“Hey, why don’t you stop talking and fight already!” Rainbow snapped, taking the showmare aback.

“Alright then. If you’re that ready to lose, the Electrifying and Powerful Wattsie will be glad to oblige.” Out from her cape, Wattsie threw a Poké Ball to the field. As it hit the ground, it broke open, releasing a pudgy, orange mouse with a lightning bolt at the end of a long, thin black tail onto the field.

“Raii~” it growled in a low tone as electricity sparked from its yellow cheeks.

“Destroy it, Igni!” Rainbow called out, tossing the torchic’s Poké Ball onto the field. As Igni appeared, laughter erupted from Wattise as well as the crowd.

“A torchic? Wattsie has never seen such a pathetic starter in her entire life,” she snickered, succeeding in riling up the crowd.

“Wha—Igni isn’t pathetic! Igni, show her what a ‘pathetic’ torchic does!” Rainbow commanded, gritting her teeth and growling as she stared the showmare down. With a flash, white hot embers shot from the torchic’s mouth, hitting the mouse square in the belly. Without even wincing, the electric pokémon brushed off the embers off before taking a defensive posture.

“You’ll have to do better than that, Bolt. Raichu, use Body Slam,” Wattsie commanded, and the raichu sprang into action. Before Rainbow Dash could react, the pokémon had sprinted down the field and slammed shoulder first into Igni, sending him flying towards Rainbow. He hit the ground hard, carving a long divot in the battlefield.

“Igni, are you alright?” Rainbow asked, turning to see the raichu’s cheeks flowing with electricity. Strained, Igni forced himself up, stumbling over himself as he returned to the center of the arena.

“Raichu, finish it with a Thunderbolt; Wattsie is getting bored,” Wattsie stated, and the raichu began to glow with an intense, yellow light. Fluttershy could only watch as Rainbow’s mind raced to find something, anything for the dazed Igni to do as a large bolt of electricity was fired into the sky by the raichu.

“Igni, run!” Was the only thing Rainbow could yell out before the lightning bolt arced downward and struck the torchic, causing Rainbow to hold a hoof to her mouth as it hung open. With blackened feathers smoking, Igni flopped to the ground. Rainbow bolted out onto the field, scooping up the fallen pokémon and held it in her hooves. She pulled Igni close to her chest, silently lamenting her decision to jump into the gym fight as she glared menicingly at Wattsie. The crowd erupted in boos and heckles, and Wattsie stood with a large grin on her face as she looked down on the shaking Rainbow Dash.

“Are you done?” Wattsie asked condescendingly, holding her hoof up to try to quiet the crowd.

“No!” Rainbow snapped, taking Lorica’s Poké Ball and tossing it onto the field before she galloped back to the trainer’s area with Igni safely back in his Poké Ball. “I’m not finished with you yet!” She stared Wattsie down as she wiped the lingering tears from her eyes.

“So, your amazing plan to show up Wattsie after using a torchic is to challenge me with an aron? Trainers never cease to amaze me with how shortsighted they are.” Rainbow’s face glowed bright red as she watched the raichu begin to glow again.

“Lorica, Tackle!” Rainbow commanded, watching the now trembling Lorica try to speed down the field. He had made it halfway to the Raichu before it released the built-up discharge, firing the bolt directly at Lorica. It arced straight through him, causing him to fall over, his body twitching from the electrical surge.

Angry, the crowd clamored for more, raining boos and heckles down on Rainbow as she slowly marched onto the field. Fluttershy felt a lump form in her throat as she saw Rainbow’s mouth quiver at the sight of her fallen pokémon. With her eyes closed, Rainbow took a Poké Ball from her jacket pocket and sent Lorica back in before staring fiercely at the showmare, clenching her teeth as she glared at her opponent.

Before Rainbow stopped staring Wattsie down, Fluttershy noticed the gym leader flipping a switch close to her head that was connected to her mic. Fluttershy watched as Wattsie spoke to Rainbow, buts was unable to hear the mare’s voices over the incessant booing of the crowd. After Wattsie spoke, Rainbow turned and walked back to her end of the field with frustration strewn across her face.

With another flip of the switch, the microphone crackled over the loud speakers as Wattsie held her hoof to her chin. “Audience, Wattsie is surprised at you. Wattsie thought you knew better than to heckle her warm up.” Rainbow stopped, her mouth hung agape before snapping shut as her frustration turned to rage once again. “Wattsie is sorry for the delay, but the mystery trainer is still among these three.” The gym leader pointed at Fluttershy, catching the pegasus off-guard. “You! May Stannis, you are Wattsie’s real opponent.” A swell of excitement came over the crowd as Fluttershy approached the trainer’s box.

“H-how did you know? Why do you think it’s me?” Fluttershy asked, watching a smug smile creep over Wattsie’s face.

“It was easy, when Wattsie received the name of her opponent, it crackled ‘May Sta’ and ‘Flutters’. Any trainer worth their salt would know your face, May.” As the crowd cheered on, Wattsie motioned with her hoof, calling Fluttershy over to her side of the arena. Curious, the pegasus obliged, trotting over as she saw Wattsie once again shut her mic off.

“What is it?” Fluttershy asked as she reached the cable-strewn stage. “Shouldn’t we be fighting?”

“I know this may be personal, but what’s ‘Flutters’?” Wattsie asked, dropping the third- person speech and talking in a surprisingly mellow tone. “I just want to make sure none of the crowd hears it if it’s too personal.”

“Well, my name is—” Fluttershy paused, contemplating if the gym leader would believe her or not, and if she could even trust her with the truth. From what Fluttershy could glean from May’s memories, it didn’t seem like she would have anything to do with the armored stallion, but Rainbow’s story of the unicorn in Ponyville gave her cause to doubt. “It-it’s Fluttershy. My real name isn’t May.”

“Fl... Fluttershy?” Wattsie repeated, confused. “Why does that name sound so familiar...?” As she thought, Wattsie’s face turned into that of shock, making her stammer to try to say something. “I... n-never mind. You’re here for a gym battle; I won’t make you wait.”

The pegasus simply nodded before trotting back to her side of the arena, the speakers crackling to life once again.

“Sorry for the delay, Wattsie needed to make sure Ms. Stannis knew who she was dealing with,” Wattsie said, grinning as the crowd began chanting her name. “Let’s get this started, then.” Wattsie reared up on her hind legs and raised her front hooves in the air. The stadium once again grew dark as a single spotlight shone on the field, leaving everything around them black as pitch. “I am Wattise, the third gym leader of Hoenn’s Pokémon League! I accept your challenge, May Stannis. Come, show us what you can do,” Wattsie recited before sending her Raichu back into the arena, its cheeks sparking as it readied itself. “Show us all.”

With a deep breath to calm herself, Fluttershy tossed out her first pokémon. She tried keeping her concentration away from the outpouring of attention she was getting from the crowd. Freed from his Poké Ball, Alerce planted his legs firmly on the ground, yawning loudly as a smile grew on Wattsie’s face.

“A grotle? That’s more like it,” Wattsie said before thrusting her hoof out towards Alerce. “Raichu, Body Slam it, now!”

With a nod, the raichu sprang forward, charging the motionless Alerce. Right as it got close, Alerce whipped his head down, and then drove it up into the raichu’s chin, sending it soaring back across the arena before it impacted in a cloud of dust. The crowd grew silent as the mouse got up and shook itself off, charging for another attack. Oddly, the raichu’s sparking cheeks had gone dark, leaving Fluttershy confused.

“Why isn’t she using electrical attacks?” Fluttershy turned to her friends and asked. “Is Alerce strong against them?”

“Does the Pokédex say anything?” Pinkie asked. “There has to be something about it there, Oh! Or maybe you could just ask Wattsie!”

“I don’t think that she’ll tell me anything to help me win,” Fluttershy explained, glancing back at Alerce who was defending, awaiting a command. “What do you think I should do?”

“I don’t know! I’ve never fought with pokémon before. You’re the only one with a gym badge!” Pinkie argued.

“The only reason I won was because May took over when I froze up.” Fluttershy’s body violently shook. “I don’t think I can rely on that every time...” She looked down upon the grotle as it blocked the punches of the slowly tiring raichu.

It jumped back and panted, looking to Wattsie for its next command. The crowd stayed silent as Fluttershy stepped up to fight.

“What’s wrong? Wattsie has to keep her audience entertained,” Wattsie stated, watching her raichu heaving heavily from repeated blows to the turtle’s shell.

“Alerce, use Razor Leaf!” She commanded instinctively.

At his master’s command, Alerce shed a legion of pointed leaves from the brush on his back, they glowed with a faint green aura as they swirled around him. As Wattsie opened her mouth to issue a command, the leaves cut through the air, slashing at the Raichu as they passed by and stabbed into both the raichu and the stage behind it. It toppled over, and then exerted all its remaining effort trying to stand, only to be hit by another wave before falling unconscious. The crowd erupted in cheers as Wattsie frowned, returning the raichu back into its Poké Ball. She turned her mic off and whispered to the fallen pokémon before glaring at Fluttershy.

“Wattsie didn’t expect you to bring a grass type to my gym, May. You have merely caught Wattsie a little off-guard, that’s all,” Wattsie said, the crowd responding in kind. “I assure you, it won’t happen again.” Another Poké Ball was thrown out into the field, revealing a small, web-winged mouse. It looked like a flying squirrel with yellow-tinted flaps of skin for wings. “Flying-types beat grass, rookie. Emolga will take care of this.”

“A flying squirrel?” Rainbow huffed. “You can beat that thing, no problem.”

Unwilling to risk Alerce’s safety, she took out her Pokédex, scanned the Emolga and waited for a response. That mouse is so tiny; why does Wattsie think this mouse will do better than the last? The screen finally lit up again, revealing no answers to the confused pegasus. “It doesn’t know what it is!” Fluttershy stated, turning back to her friends.

“Use Wolver then if Wattsie is so worked up about it!” Pinkie suggested.

“Right.” Fluttershy nodded in agreement, returning Alerce back to his Poké Ball. She brought Wolver out, confusing the crowd and putting a smile on the gym leader’s face.

“Using an unevolved pokémon in place of an evolved starter?” Wattsie scoffed. “Emolga is already at his strongest, unlike that mutt you call a Poochyena. He never evolves, but is powerful enough already. You sure you want your precious pokémon to be taken out so easily?” Wolver began snarling as Rainbow slammed her hoof to the ground.

“Where does she get off!?” Rainbow argued. “Fluttershy, stamp that rat out!”

“Aren’t you being a bit harsh?” Pinkie asked. “I don’t really see what you find so wrong with her—”

“She humiliated me in front of everyone and is calling us idiots for not knowing their dumb system!”

“I don’t know; she told Fluttershy that flying is strong against grass, didn’t she? She’s helped a lot so far.”

“Are you done stalling?” Wattsie called out, bringing Fluttershy’s attention back to the fight. “Wattsie would suggest you issue a command before my whole audience falls asleep.”

“Alright then. Wolver, tackle it,” Fluttershy commanded and Wolver responded in kind. As he bulleted towards the flying squirrel, it launched itself into the air, hovering just out of Wolver’s reach.

“Air Slash,” Wattsie stated coolly, prompting the Emolga to swoop down with a glowing set of wings. It buzzed by several times, slashing at Wolver as he tried forcing it down to the ground.

“Bite it!” Fluttershy called out and, as the Emolga passed again, Wolver caught it in his mouth, biting down on it before releasing it. “Tackle!” As the electric pokémon stumbled back, Wolver plowed into it head first, causing it to fly back and cry out in pain. Before she realized it, a small unwanted smile had appeared on Fluttershy’s face. She shook her head to rid herself of it as a panic gripped her. She had never taken joy in animals’ suffering, and she racked her mind as to why it was happening now, thinking that May’s personality was seeping further in. The smile quickly faded as Wolver fell to the ground, its breaths coming in short, stuttered gasps.

“Wolver, are you okay?” was all Fluttershy was able to ask before a familiar ghostly white aura enveloped the fallen pokémon. “T-that’s...”

As Wolver tried to stand, he hacked up saliva, much as Alerce had before. His body arched back and grew in size. The pewter fur on his back and legs thickened into a sea of black as his eyes shrunk and twisted, granting him an angrier demeanor. Three final black streaks cut down his face before the aura dissipated and Wolver howled, much to the excitement of the crowd.

“Evolving your pokémon in the middle of the match?” Wattsie chuckled. “You definitely are your father’s daughter.”

“Th-thanks,” Fluttershy responded, wondering if Wattsie’s compliment was genuine or just a remnant of her old personality from May’s memories. The pegasus took a deep breath, and Wolver looked over to her for instruction as the Emolga struggled to stand. “Use Tackle,” she commanded, prompting the newly evolved pokémon to charge the electric squirrel and knock it into the front of Wattsie’s stage. It sat, pinned to the stage by the sheer force of the tackle, before sliding unceremoniously to the ground where it collapsed, unconscious.

“Wattsie has no more remaining pokémon!” the announcer declared, inciting a massive roar that filled the stadium as Wattsie dropped down from the stage to console her fallen pokémon. As she sent it back to its Poké Ball, she turned her mic off and directed Fluttershy to come to the middle of the stadium. “May Stannis is the winner and is one step closer to challenging the Champion of the Hoenn League!” the announcer said. Fluttershy nodded, slowly trotting to the center as she reveled in the cheers of her captivated audience. Maybe being seen by all these ponies wasn’t bad after all, she thought. Wattsie dug through a bag that had been concealed by her cape and held out a gold badge. It was shaped like a circle with a bar piercing through it diagonally.

“Here you go, you deserve this. The Dynamo Badge,” Wattsie said, placing the badge into Fluttershy’s hoof. “Take this as well.” She took a small bag out from behind her cape and placed it next to the badge. “2,400 gold pieces as your bounty. Maybe one day I’ll figure out why your name sounds so familiar to me. It just feels so... ominous to me.” She turned her microphone on again before stepping back and gesturing to Fluttershy. “Your champion!” Wattsie said, lifting Fluttershy’s hoof as the crowd cheered even harder while Fluttershy tentatively bowed.

“T-thank you,” Fluttershy said before placing her new badge beside her one from Rustboro. After shaking Wattsie’s hoof, she made her way back to her friends who looked eager to see her.

“That was amazing!” Pinkie cheered, hopping around as they made their way to the exit. “I can’t believe you already have another evolved pokémon!” Pinkie petted Wolver as he walked beside the three, nuzzling up against Fluttershy.

“Thanks, Pinkie,” Fluttershy said, patting Wolver on the head as they left through the side exit.

There, standing in the middle of the hallway, was Jake. He galloped up to the three with an excited look on his face.

“Congratulations! I saw the whole thing on the TVs up there,” he said, pointing up to the two televisions at the top corners of the gates. “You said you needed to find a Pokémon Center around here, right?”

“Yeah,” Fluttershy answered, looking over at Rainbow Dash who still seemed to be fuming. “A-are you okay?”

“Oh, she’s just being a cranky-pants,” Pinkie said with a snort, making Rainbow groan and roll her eyes.

“It’s just... I’ve been humiliated by her twice... TWICE!” Rainbow shouted before she sighed. “Let’s just go to the Pokémon Center.”

“Uh, twice?” Jake asked. “Did you fight her before?”

“What? No, I just... Never mind, let’s just go.”

“Alright, follow me,” Jake said, leading them out of the stadium and weaving through the massive crowd of ponies. As they all exited, he started to take them west, making sure they stayed close to him so they didn’t get lost within the rabble. They crossed a street and went down the sidewalk. Fluttershy yawned as the adrenaline of the gym match began to fade. “You know, there’s a lot of history down this road,” Jake started. “A long time ago, Mauville City was just a small town. A lot of the original buildings still stand, ones from before the population of the city skyrocketed-”

“Cool it with the history lesson,” Rainbow interrupted. “I just want to get to sleep and get this day over with.”

“Rainbow!” Pinkie shouted, scolding Rainbow as she momentarily halted her joyous hopping. “You know,” Pinkie began, turning back to their guide. “You kinda remind me of my friend Twilight, talking about old buildings and history and all that boring stuff!”

“Boring? I don’t think it’s boring...” Jake said, his enthusiasm deflated by Pinkie’s comment.

“Yeah...” Fluttershy agreed with Jake, the mention of Twilight’s name bringing up thoughts of home.

She was close to forgiving herself for making Twilight try that difficult spell, but it was hard when she hadn’t heard anything from the unicorn in such a long while. Fluttershy looked up at the buildings and noticed most of them had intricate designs carved into their stonework. They all exuded an old world charm, each of them weathered by the ravages of time, but they stood tall, comforting the pegasus with their sense of permanence, of stability. It put a smile on her face and gave her something to focus on as they made their way to the Pokémon Center.

“Here we are!” Jake stated, holding up a hoof to stop the girls from going any further. Fluttershy looked to see the familiar Pokémon Center symbol set in sandstone near the top of the four story building, lit only by the light from wrought-iron lanterns lining the road. “Yep, it’s the oldest Pokémon Center in the whole city. Probably the earliest remaining revival style hospital in the entire region!” He said this with such enthusiasm that it made Fluttershy wonder if he was actually majoring in architecture.

“Thank you so much,” Fluttershy said, trying to see if there was any way to see into the old building. “Is there some way we can repay you for this?”

“Oh, no worries. I didn’t really have anything to do after my match anyways, so I figured this was a good way to kill some time. I’ll probably be staying here for the night. My grovyle needs to be healed up, and they have some really comfortable beds upstairs.”

“Sounds good,” Rainbow said, excited for a change. “I’ll go up ahead and see if they have any rooms. I want to get up and take a look at my wing before I go to sleep.” With that, Rainbow made her way through the doorway, leaving the three to go in of their own accord.

“I need to drop off Alerce and Wolver off at the nurse’s desk. Go up without me, Pinkie,” Fluttershy said, opening the door for herself and peeking inside. The inside of the hospital looked to be the same as all the others, complete with the couches and television in the exact same positions. The only thing that seemed to be different was that the stairwell on the right went up instead of down. Pinkie and Jake soon followed.

“We’re in room 3E on the third floor,” Rainbow announced before charging up the stairwell. “Meet you girls up there!”

“Wait for me, Dashie!” Pinkie hollered, galloping up the stairs after the pegasus at the same breakneck speed.

After the pink pony disappeared up the stairs, Fluttershy made her way to the front desk. She noticed the white mare behind the counter waiting intently for Fluttershy.

“You friends with the rainbow-maned one?” the nurse asked just as Fluttershy returned Wolver to his Poké Ball.

“Yes, I am,” Fluttershy answered.

“Here are two keys to the room. I was going to give your pink friend a key, but she left before I could.” She slid two keys across the counter, looking at the Poké Ball in Fluttershy’s hoof. “Just one pokémon tonight?”

“No, two actually,” Fluttershy said, taking out Alerce’s Poké Ball and placing both on the counter before snatching the two keys from the counter top. “Thanks for looking after them. They were just in a gym fight.”

“Oh! Are you May? I just saw you on the TV. Nice job,” the nurse said before taking the two Poké Balls. “I’ll make sure they’re all healed for you in the morning.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said before trotting towards the flight of stairs. She then noticed Jake sitting down on one of the couches. “What are you going to do, Jake?”

“I’ll just get my own room. No need to bother you girls anymore than I already have,” he explained, passing by her as he made his way to the counter. Fluttershy bid him a quick farewell and ascended the stairs, reaching the third floor. She made her way down the plush-looking hallway and found room 3E on the right side towards the end of the hall. Fluttershy took one of the keys and unlocked the door. Inside, she found Pinkie setting up her bed as Rainbow inspected her wing.

“How’s your wing feeling?” Fluttershy asked, trotting up to Rainbow to inspect it herself. “Do you want me to take a look at it?”

“I’ll be fine. I think it’ll be just one more day until I’ll be flying again,” Rainbow said with a look of determination on her face. As she folded her wings back, she yawned and hopped up onto her bed before covering herself with the burgundy sheets. “Good night,” Rainbow said before turning away, a series of soft snores soon emanating from the cyan pegasus.

Fluttershy trotted up to her bed to get it ready, gently fluffing the sheets while Pinkie simply plopped on her bed and fell asleep instantaneously. Fluttershy chuckled, setting her backpack down before she headed for the light switch. Flipping it off, she yawned as she trotted back to her own bed. After putting her Pokédex and PokéNav into her bag, she carefully slipped herself beneath the covers and closed her eyes. She shifted herself a bit, trying to make herself comfortable before she found the perfect spot. As she relaxed, she sunk her head into the down filled pillow, her breathing slowing as she drifted off to sleep.

Fluttershy slowly opened her eyes, yawning as she squirmed beneath the covers.

It was still the middle of the night, and things were quiet and tranquil in the room. After tossing and turning several times, she scooted off the bed and rummaged through her bag to get out a canteen of water. As she dug through the bag, she felt something was off about the room. Fluttershy had no idea what it was until she stopped digging and listened to the silence.

The complete and utter silence. Not even the noise of her friends sleeping.

Quickly, Fluttershy flipped the light on only to find both Rainbow and Pinkie to be gone. Not knowing what to do, she went through her bag again and realized that her PokéNav was missing.

Where are they? Fluttershy wondered in a panic. Why did they leave me alone up here? What happened to my PokéNav...? What if—

Without another thought, she slung the backpack over her shoulder and left the room in search of them. Fluttershy traveled down the stairs as quickly as she could and found the same nurse that she had talked to before still standing behind the counter.

As she trotted over to her, Fluttershy asked, “Excuse me, h-have you seen my friends?” Thoughts of Rainbow and Pinkie being ponynapped played themselves out in her subconscious.

“The two mares you came in with earlier?” the nurse asked as she took a step back to make some distance between her and the frantic pegasus. “They both came down just a little bit earlier.”

“Do you know where they went?” Fluttershy inquired anxiously, leaning over the counter.

“The one with the rainbow-mane said something about going north to train.

“What about Pinkie?”

“Well, I asked her out of curiosity, but she just shushed me and said it was a secret.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “You hang out with some strange folk.”

“Thanks,” Fluttershy said, galloping out of the Pokémon Center and heading north to try to find Rainbow Dash.

The streets were relatively empty with only a few sleazy-looking ponies loitering about. Without her PokéNav, she had no map to rely on, so she began zigzagging her way from street to street as she went north, trying to find someplace where Rainbow might be training.

Ten minutes passed by before Fluttershy finally found her way out of Mauville City. She had exhausted herself with worry and now found herself slowing to a trot as she passed the city limits. Luckily, city lights illuminated much of the path out, including small street lights and a few lanterns which lined the northbound path. Fluttershy kept her pace, keeping her eyes peeled as she looked deep into the forest brush. The only things she could hear were the quiet sounds of nocturnal animals moving around within the trees. She used this to calm herself, imagining she was trotting peacefully just outside her cottage. She continued to dwell in her fantasy until a loud crash from farther down the path snapped her back to reality. Worried about what it could be, she sped up to a gallop, wondering if it might have been Rainbow. From the sounds of it, it was hard to imagine what was ahead could be training.

Her breath quickened as she bolted down the road, looking around frantically for any sign of her friend. Suddenly a blue blur flew by directly in front of her face, making her to stumble backwards as she watched it slam headlong into a tree. Fluttershy stared at it for a moment before recognizing it as Rainbow Dash, the cyan pegasus dropping face first into the dirt.

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy shouted as Rainbow opened her eyes with a fierce, determined look before getting to her hooves and galloping back towards the brush. Fluttershy extended a hoof to try to stop her, but it was of no use as the rainbow-maned pegasus disappeared into the forest.

All she could see was the occasional rustle of the bushes until a large plume of flame rose up from behind the brush, licking the leaves and making her worry the forest was about to burn. As she heard more impacts, Rainbow was knocked out from the brush again, skidding to a stop on the ground with her teeth bared.

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy yelled again, finally catching the roughed-up Rainbow Dash’s attention. She had several cuts and scrapes all over her body as well as dirt and leaves sticking to her coat. “What are you doing out here?”

“Training,” Rainbow replied monosyllabically, watching an unfamiliar bipedal pokémon hop out of the brush.

It was almost as tall as the mares, standing on legs that were reminiscent of Igni’s. It had an orange lower and a yellow upper body with wing-like arms each ending in a trio of claws. It stood proudly with three orange feathers atop its head, looking at the pair of pegasi with a fierce look in its crimson eyes.

“What’s that? Did Igni—”

“Yep!” Rainbow announced proudly. “He evolved after just a few minutes. It was so awesome! Anyway, Lorica and Lady weren’t much of a match for him afterward, so--”

“You brought Lady with you?” Fluttershy asked in a worried tone. “What pokémon does Pinkie have with her now?”

“Wait, what do you mean ‘what pokémon does Pinkie have’?” Rainbow asked, perplexed. “She isn’t back at the Pokémon Center?”

“No, she’s gone too.” Fluttershy stated, worried about what Pinkie could be getting herself into. “Do you have my PokéNav? It’s missing from my bag.”

“I never touched it. I just brought along Lady for some training,” Rainbow explained. “Like I said, we need to have all our Pokemon evolved to stand a chance.”

“Oh, okay,” Fluttershy said, sitting down and catching her breath. She took a swig of water while Rainbow sat down next to her.

They both sat in relative silence. Fluttershy watched the movement of the leaves as a calm wind blew, letting the cool breeze give her a strong feeling of being back in Ponyville. It reminded her of when she would sit near her cottage and simply listen to the leaves rustle in the winds.

“Hey Rainbow, do you miss home?” Fluttershy asked, immediately wondering why she would ask such an obvious question. The way that May’s personality and the whole region had begun seeping into her own thoughts made her worried that her friends were feeling the same.

“Yeah. This adventure is fun and all, but getting back to Wonderbolts training can’t come soon enough,” Rainbow said, smiling as she returned Igni to his Poké Ball. “I can’t say I’m not excited to meet that professor tomorrow; that armored stallion must be pretty important if a professor knows about him.” She paused for a moment, before jumping in front of Fluttershy. “Wait a minute; did you see anything in your memories about that armored freak? I’m sure May would know something.”

“I-I didn’t see anything. I only remember one thing he said. Though, his voice sounded really familiar...”

“As in May saw him a lot?”

“No, more personal than that. His voice just sounded... off somehow in the memory. Like he was acting or something.”

“Maybe you’ll get more out of May once we meet this Professor Maxwell guy,” Rainbow said as she stood up, looking back at Mauville City down the road. She yawned and helped Fluttershy to her hooves. “I’m going back to the hotel for some shut eye. You coming?”

“Yeah,” Fluttershy confirmed as the two mares trotted back to the city, the pair dead quiet from exhaustion as they both let the cooling winds calm them in preparation for the well deserved rest which lay ahead.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure Pinkie is just fine.”

Mauville Stadium was quiet; all the ponies had left for the night. The entrance was guarded by a single pony, dressed in a navy blue uniform. Luckily for Pinkie, he was asleep at his post, allowing her to slip easily into the stadium.

As she made her way inside, she noticed that the lights lining the outer hallways were dimmed but still on, letting her at least see where she was going as she traversed the shadowy stadium.

Her first impulse was to go into the arena to see if there was any sign of the pony she was looking for, being Pinkie Pie, she did just that.

All the bright lights that had lit the stadium just a few hours ago were completely dark, leaving the arena lit only by the dim fluorescent light seeping in through the cracks around the doors to the hallways.

The pink pony tilted her head up, looking for any sign of life in the stadium. She was on an important mission, and she wasn’t going to fail! As she made a pass, she could see no lights on in any of the box suites or offices that lined the middle and upper crests of the stadium. It seemed that nopony was home.

But just as she was about to leave to search elsewhere, a white light flickered on. Pinkie looked up and squinted to try making out the pony that had just entered an office in the upper section of the stadium. Pinkie gave a little hop and skip of excitement as she realized the mystery pony was Wattsie, draped in a nightgown. The pink pony immediately began to wave her forehooves frantically in an attempt to catch the other pony’s attention.

After Pinkie flailed her hooves for a few seconds, Wattsie pressed her face against the window and looked down at the now ecstatically bouncing Pinkie. With what looked like a sigh, Wattsie stepped away from the window and disappeared from view. Pinkie decided to wait, hoping that Wattsie had left to meet her down in the stadium and hopefully not to call the police. As she predicted, after several minutes of waiting, Wattsie entered the field from the northern gate. She yawned as she approached Pinkie, trotting lazily as she forced her eyes to stay open.

“Who are you, and what are you doing here?!” Wattsie demanded with a hiss. She stomped towards the pink pony, face contorting in frustration as the darkness of the stadium cast deep circles beneath her eyes. “It’s three in the morning, and I have a lot of paperwork to get done for tomorrow.”

“My name is Pinkie!” Pinkie exclaimed, trying to avoid using her last name as Fluttershy had insisted. “I just wanted to talk, and--” She stopped and shot Wattsie a curious glance. “Hey, what gives? You aren’t talking in third person anymore.”

“Oh, that?” the gym leader chuckled. “That’s just my shtick. It helps bring in an audience.” She trotted closer to Pinkie, looking her over before stepping back. “W-wait, aren’t you Rainbow Bolt’s friend? Oh no, you’re not here to sue for defamation of character, are you?”

“Oh, nothing like that, silly,” Pinkie said with a smile.

“Good,” Wattsie said, breathing a sigh of relief. “You have no idea how many trainers come after me with their lawyers after challenging me. It feels like I spend more on legal fees than I get paid some weeks.” She looked around the stadium with a faint smile on her face. “So, what are you here for then? It must be important for you to be out so late.”

“Of course!” Pinkie dipped her muzzle into her overalls and pulled out Fluttershy’s PokéNav, giving it a quick once over before putting it around her ankle. “You heard about what happened to Slateport, right?”

“Everypony has heard about it by now. Somepony leveled the entire city with a gyarados, correct? That’s what they keep telling me at least.”

“Fluttershy, I mean, May probably doesn’t want me talking about this with you, but we could really use your help.”

“My help?” Wattsie asked, cocking an eyebrow at Pinkie’s suggestion. “Need my help for what? And what does that have to do with Slateport for that matter?”

“Well, the stallion that destroyed Slateport was chasing after my friend, and probably still is.”

“You’re telling me you know who it was? You were there?!” Wattsie asked, her tone suddenly anxious.

“All we know is that it was a stallion. Nothing more, really. I’m trying to get a group of ponies together to help track this stallion down, starting with you and Stephanie. This will probably be huge, so—”

“Stephanie? As in ‘former champion of Hoenn’ Stephanie?” the gym leader scoffed. “I don’t know who you think you are, but there is no way you could be in contact with that Stephanie.”

“I have her number right here!” Pinkie exclaimed confidently, fumbling to find the phone application on the PokéNav. After just a few seconds of Wattsie staring at her while she fought the interface, she found it and thrust the PokéNav towards Wattsie. “See! Right there,” she said in triumph.

“Yeah, well that’s probably her public number,” Wattsie said as she looked over the screen. “I mean it’s on her business card, and--” She stopped for a moment, reading and rereading the number that was displayed before her. “T-this is her PokéNav number. How did you get this?”

“We met her in a cave near Dewford. She was really interested in May, so she gave us this PokéNav and her number. We’ve been in contact ever since.”

“Does Stephanie know about your little plan?”

“Well... She doesn’t know that I’m talking to analogues about it, but she knows about what happened in Slateport.”

“Analogues? I’m not sure I’m following—”

“Will you put down your number?” Pinkie interrupted, batting her eyes at the confused gym leader while putting on her biggest, most disarming smile.

“If Stephanie is in on this, this must be important. Here.” Wattsie began typing on the screen, entering her contact information right below Stephanie’s. “There we go. Naturally, I’ll be talking to Stephanie after this to make sure you aren’t just pulling my leg. Don’t expect my number to be the same if you are.”

“Okie-dokie! I’m sure it’ll be fine. Sure, Dashie won’t like it if—” Pinkie clasped a hoof over her mouth, hoping Wattsie hadn’t heard what she had just said.

“‘Dashie’?” Wattsie asked with a small smirk. “Anyway, I need to get some paperwork done and get some rest before I fight any trainers tomorrow. I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t see you out.”

“Of course. Talk to you later, friend!” Pinkie said as she trotted towards the arena exit, smiling as she looked down at Wattsie’s number on the PokéNav.

“Before you go, are you going anywhere tomorrow?” Wattsie asked, catching Pinkie’s attention just before she reached the exit. “Lavaridge, perhaps?”

“Yeah. Mt. Chimney first, though,” Pinkie explained, trying to be open with her new friend as she walked through the arena gates.

Wattsie watched Pinkie walk away and then turned to go back up to her office. A random pony being involved in the Slateport fire and having contact with Stephanie was alarming to her, making her anxious for the day to break so she could make her crucial phone call.

In the dim halls of the stadium, Pinkie hop-trotted with even more than usual, bubbling with a new confidence. With Wattsie being so quick to join, Pinkie’s plan was coming together much better than she had ever hoped. Much to Pinkie’s relief, even if the three mares from Equestria didn’t know much about Hoenn, the analogues certainly would.

Feeling secure in the knowledge that they now had two allies in their midst, Pinkie slowly made her way out of the stadium and back to the Pokémon Center to prepare for the next morning’s journey to Mt. Chimney.

Fluttershy and Rainbow will be so excited!

The rest of the night had passed quickly and the rising sun’s rays now illuminated the mares’ room. With less sleep than she had hoped for, Fluttershy awoke with a rumbling stomach to find that that both of her friends were still fast asleep. She sighed in relief to see that Pinkie was back in her bed. Not wanting to wake them, she quietly slipped out of bed, slung her bag onto her back, and made her way down to the main lobby.

Multitudes of ponies were lined up for the breakfast table, many more than Fluttershy had yet seen in a Pokémon Center. She sighed as she eyed the length of the line, realizing that it would be quite a while before she would have any food in her stomach. Deciding not to wait alone, she took the time to pick up her pokémon before returning back up the stairs to their room. As she entered, she found both Pinkie and Rainbow awake and preparing for their hike north.

“Morning,” Fluttershy said with a smile, receiving the same greeting back from both of her friends.

“Did you already check how long the line was for breakfast? I’m starving,” Rainbow asked, groaning as she heard her stomach growl.

“It looks like a twenty minute wait at the least.”

Rainbow sighed. “Alright, but we should get going as fast as possible. We don’t need to give that psycho anymore time to find us than he has had already.”

“Ooo, how did Lady do last night in training?” Pinkie asked.

“She did alri—” Rainbow cut herself off to stare at the pink pony. “Wait, you knew?”

“Yeah, of course. I saw you take her Poké Ball when you left. I didn’t mind though, I didn’t need her for where I went.”

“Pinkie, where did you go?” Fluttershy asked, watching Rainbow confront Pinkie as well.

“Well, I—” Pinkie was cut off by the loud ringing of Fluttershy’s Pokédex.

“Why is it going off now?” Fluttershy rummaged through her bag for a minute before pulling out the buzzing Pokédex. “Shouldn’t this only go off for a gym fight?”

“Open it!” Rainbow hollered in alarm, causing Fluttershy to open it in a panic.

“[[ TRAINER ( UNKNOWN - RAINBOW DASH ), YOU HAVE BEEN FORMALLY REQUESTED FOR A REMATCH AGAINST THE ( MAUVILLE CITY ) GYM LEADER AT TIME ( RIGHT NOW ) AT LOCATION ( NORTH EXIT OF MAUVILLE ). THIS MATCH WILL HAVE NO LASTING AFFECT ON— ]]”

Before the message could end, Rainbow Dash knocked the Pokédex out of Fluttershy’s hooves and sped out the door, leaving both Fluttershy and Pinkie alone in their room.

“Rainbow Dash!” Pinkie yelled after the cyan pegasus before galloping off to catch up with her friend. After jamming the Pokédex back in her pack, Fluttershy quickly followed suit. They rushed down the stairs and watched Rainbow finish scooping a hoofful of food directly into her mouth before speeding out the door, leaving behind a slew of disgruntled and tired trainers.

“Rainbow Dash, wait,” Fluttershy squeaked out. “I’m so sorry,” she said to the crowd of angry ponies as she and Pinkie barged out of the Pokémon Center.

As they looked down the road, they found Rainbow already a ways away, galloping around a distant corner. Confused, Fluttershy turned to Pinkie.

“What’s gotten into her? How did that message know Rainbow’s last name?”

“I may have talked with Wattsie last night and accidentally said ‘Dashie’ around her...” Pinkie admitted, grabbing Fluttershy’s PokéNav out of her overalls pocket. “I did get her phone number, though!”

“So that’s where it went. Anyway, why would she challenge Rainbow again?” Fluttershy stopped as she realized Rainbow was getting farther away the longer they talked. “N-never mind, come on,” Fluttershy stated before unfolding her wings and quickly rising above the buildings with a few hard flaps of her wings. She looked down below and watched Pinkie begin her galloping weave through the streets and saw Rainbow speeding towards the northern edge of Mauville.

With Rainbow in her sights, Fluttershy buzzed the tops of the city skyscrapers as she flew to intercept her. Before she knew it, however, Rainbow had disappeared into the forest, the thick branches of which obscured Fluttershy’s view.

After passing over the final building, Fluttershy made her descent. She glided down, watching Pinkie speed around a corner and head straight for her. Pinkie skidded to a stop as Fluttershy landed, both of them peering down the path.

“I don’t get it; Wattsie helped us more than she made fun of Dashie, right?” Pinkie asked as they entered the path.

“She did help me win... at least, I think she did,” Fluttershy answered as the cyan pegasus came into view. Rainbow Dash was stopped just past a bridge over a small creek with Igni out and standing next to her. “Rainbow!” Fluttershy yelled, catching Rainbow’s attention.

“Fluttershy! Pinkie!” Rainbow called out before glaring angrily at Wattsie who was standing in front of her with her raichu standing between the two. “There, both my friends are here like you wanted. Now, what do you want?” As Rainbow stood poised to strike, Fluttershy and Pinkie came up next to their friend, all three of them waiting to see what the gym leader would do.

“I called you out here for a rematch, that’s all. Just as a way to apologize for earlier.”

“Why are you apologizing to me? Don’t you have your gym to worry about?”

“I do, but your friend came to me last night and told me of your predicament. I talked to Stephanie this morning and your story seems to have checked out.” She paused for a moment. “I still worry about that girl.”

“Who told you my last name?” Rainbow shouted before Pinkie tapped her on the shoulder, the pink pony wearing a sheepish grin as she wave her hoof nervously. “Fine, whatever. You came out here because of Pinkie?”

“You could say that.” As she said this, she took a few steps back, separating her from the raichu. “So, I’m willing to give you a rematch as a small gesture of good will. I saw how angry you were with me yesterday, and I would much prefer to begin this partnership on favorable terms. It looks like your torchic has evolved into a combusken, so you look to be more than ready this time. I swear, between that and the Mightyena, you three continue to surprise me.”

“No thanks. I don’t need your pity rematch,” Rainbow responded harshly, before letting out a sigh as the gym leader stared at her, perplexed. “I’m sorry I went off like that, but if you’re willing to help, I think I can put my bad feelings aside.”

“If that’s your choice, I’m fine with it. I know why you would change your last name with what has happened recently, and I don’t blame you. You look just like her,” Wattsie said, stepping aside and prompting her raichu to do the same. “If anything happens, call me. Mauville City is the largest in all of Hoenn; every bit of news passes through here at some point. Good luck; I’m sure you’ll get a call from Stephanie at some point today.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said as Rainbow and Pinkie walked by, passing the gym leader and her raichu. Fluttershy slowly went to catch up to her friends, passing the raichu, but being stopped by Wattsie’s hoof.

“I know why your name is so familiar, Fluttershy,” Wattsie said, intriguing the yellow pegasus. “When I talked to Stephanie, she told me something about you being a ‘Blueprint’. I had read something about that in journals before, and your name came up. I never thought I’d meet you in person, though.”

“Uh, thanks?” Fluttershy said, wondering why Stephanie hadn’t said anything about this when she met with her the first time. “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you act like you knew why Rainbow hid her last name from you? I heard something about a Dash and Pie family member before, but nopony has said a word.”

“I’d hate to ruin your day talking about such things,” Wattsie said, removing her hoof from Fluttershy’s way before glancing towards the distant mountains. “I hear Mt. Chimney is nice this time of year.”

“T-thanks,” Fluttershy said, before galloping up the path to catch up to her friends as the implications of the gym leader’s words lingered.

She decided to ignore it for now, greeting her friends with a silent smile as they began the trek towards Mt. Chimney.

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            <==  Chapter 13  ||  Chapter EX - Spike  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

EX - Spike

Royal Decree

The air in the castle was thick with anticipation as Spike and the three Cutie Mark Crusaders made their way down the long hallway. At the end stood two massive crimson paneled doors, both of them closing off the princess’ throne room. Spike clutched his woven bag tightly, trying to let the chime of the Element necklaces calm him.

“What do you think they’re talking about in there?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“We’ll find out pretty soon,” Scootaloo replied as they reached the end of the hall, nervous chatter emanating from the other side of the doors. Some voices sounded utterly distraught while others seemed merely anxious. With a deep breath, Spike pushed open one of the doors.

The room was enormous; it looked like it could house at least hundred or more ponies without a problem. Colorful stained glass lined the walls, and ivory pillars hold up the high ceiling A large rectangular table stared at them widthwise, seating many armored ponies and others in white and blue uniforms. At the head of the table sat both Luna and Celestia. Luna’s mane flowed with solar winds as Celestia’s lay uncharacteristically flat. All eyes were on Spike and the Crusaders as they entered, leaving the room in a harrowing silence.

The dragon smiled nervously. “Uh, hello,” he said as if he had interrupted something important.

“Oh, Spike,” Celestia said with a warm tone, standing to greet the four. “I see that you received my sister’s letter. Please, we were just about to start.” She peered down at the Crusaders, then back over at Spike. “Where are Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie?”

Spike pushed the bag into his chest as his claws nearly punctured the bag from worry. If she didn’t mean the necklaces when she meant the Elements, then... “T-they aren’t here yet. Pinkie had to, uh, finish baking something! You know how she is.” A nervous laugh filled the hall. He dreaded hearing what the princesses would say when they found out that he only brought the necklaces and not Rainbow Dash or Pinkie Pie.

“I trust that they’ll be here soon,” Celestia added, taking a seat at the end of the table.

The dragon gulped and proceeded with the bag of Element necklaces to one of the raised chairs. He set the canvas sack down on the table, nervously squirming as all the armored and well-dressed ponies’ eyes were on him. With nowhere to sit, the Cutie Mark Crusaders reluctantly sat on the floor beside Spike and watched as Celestia raised her hoof to catch all at the guests’ attentions. Slowly, the nervous chatter turned into silence as they all turned to face her.

“Thank you all for coming on such short notice. You are all undoubtedly curious as to what this meeting is about, but know that you must not speak of this with anypony outside this room,” Celestia began, turning a hard stare to the ponies assembled.

The assembled ponies and one dragon nodded as Spike’s anticipation made him shift in his seat. Celestia took a deep breath and sighed, looking over at Luna before she began.

“A day ago my student, Twilight Sparkle, left the country under my sister’s direction to seek out one of Arcan Grizwald’s texts,” Celestia stated, prompting a murmur to course through the guests. She looked over to Luna, then back to the crowd. “I’ll let Luna explain the details,” she spoke dispassionately, Spike noticing the darkened circles beneath the alicorn’s eyes and languid form.

Luna stood from her seat and paced around the table. She took a deep breath. “Twilight came to me in the royal archives to look up the counter to a specific spell that she had performed. After finding the original book, we found that the counter spells had been ripped out.” A look of confusion washed over the officers as Spike watched curiously. “Another copy of the book is held within Mistral City’s walls... Even in their current state, I trust that I needn’t remind you all of the inherent danger.” The guests began talking amongst themselves as Spike looked down at the three fillies who stared back just as confused.

“Do you know what she’s talking about? Twilight’s never told me anything about that,” Spike asked, receiving only shrugged shoulders and shaking heads in response.

The stream of chatter ceased as one officer raised his voice. “Please excuse the interruption, Princess, but where is this Mistral City?” he asked, causing Luna to turn her head and shot the guard a confused looked. Celestia’s head suddenly turned to look at her sister’s with a worried and guilty face

“Where is Mistral City?” Luna repeated scornfully. “I thought officers had to finish at least primary school first.”

Spike looked nervously around at the ponies. He had never heard of Mistral City either, and, from the way the guards were looking at each other, neither had they.

“It’s the only city within Ventia’s borders. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of Ventia either.”

A concerning silence fell in the meeting room as the princess stood awaiting an answer.

“I haven’t heard of Ventia either, Princess,” a guard stated matter-of-factly. To Spike’s surprise and Luna’s as well, the remainder of the guards and officers nodded in agreement.

Luna’s face was a mask of disbelief, turning abruptly to her sister. “Sister, what is the meaning of this? Is... Is this some kind of cruel joke!?” The room sat in stunned silence from Luna’s outburst, each pony watching Celestia to see what she would say. After a few seconds of silence, Luna’s expression began to twist into worry as Celestia sighed and lowered her head. “Sister?”

“This isn’t a joke, Luna,” the princess confirmed, further baffling her sister.

“How could they not know about Ventia? About the war?” Luna interrupted with flustered hoof stomp. “What could have happened during my imprisonment to make everypony forget? It is the most important piece of our history!” The night princess paused a moment as a dark look crossed her features. “What have you done, sister?”

   “After I had you banished, I had to erase everything about that part of our history,” Celestia admitted. “The population’s fear and worry had lingered long after your transformation into Nightmare Moon. I couldn’t handle running the country alone with the possibility of war from an outside country still on their minds. During that time, I had the scholars remove all traces of Ventia and the wars from the history books.” Spike hung on every word the princess was saying, and he noticed that everyone else was as well. “Eventually, they faded into legend and hearsay before disappearing altogether. I’ve kept an eye on them just in case something were to happen, but the need to say anything to the public never arose, so it remained a secret.” Luna sat back down into her chair and faced her sister, dumbfounded.

“What do we do now?” Luna asked.

“I’m so sorry for keeping that from you, Luna. I promise I’ll never keep anything from you again.” She embraced her younger sister. “Please, finish your story. We’ll take care of the details afterward,” Celestia explained, gesturing with a hoof to their rapt audience.

“Right.” Luna turned back to the awestruck guests. “I sent Twilight and two others, Applejack, the Element of Honesty, and Rarity, the Element of Generosity, along with their necklaces to help bring back Fluttershy, the Element of Kindness. This leaves only two of the Element bearers here in Equestria.”

Spike felt a wave of nausea wash over him. Please don’t ask for Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, he begged over and over while the room erupted in nervous chatter. He slumped in his seat, clutching the bag and holding it tightly to his chest once again.

“I thought Twilight and her friends knew what Ventia was like. If I hadn’t, I never would have sent them somewhere so dangerous.” Luna lowered her head and closed her eyes. “I’m so sorry, sister.”

“D-dangerous?” Spike spoke up before clasping his mouth shut with his claws.

“Ventia was our oldest and most powerful enemy. I don’t know if they still hold onto their old grudges or if they have recovered from the second northern war, but it is best that we not take chances,” Celestia explained. “Now, Spike, when were Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash supposed to arrive? Luna and I have important strategic details to discuss with them.”

“Uh..., I… uh...” Spike stammered as all eyes fixated on him. Without another word, he slowly placed the bag on the table and opened it, letting the three necklaces unceremoniously fall out onto the table. They hit the wood with a terrible clang that echoed throughout the silent hall.

“What’s going on?” Celestia asked. “Where are Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie? Surely a cake doesn’t take so long to bake!”

“When you said that you needed the Elements, I thought you meant the necklaces,” Spike admitted. “Twilight sent them to help find Fluttershy, and I didn’t want to disappoint you. I-I’m sorry.” A roar of chatter erupted amongst the armored stallions as Celestia’s eyes shrunk to pinpoints.

“So all of the Elements of Harmony are gone...” Celestia stood and began to pace with a pained expression on her face. She turned to Luna who looked back with a nervous, gloomy face. “There will be a change of plans,” Celestia announced, walking over to a window that looked out to the north. “I want a scouting team sent out to find them by any means necessary. Ventia lays just past the northern outlands. If any harm has come upon them...”  She paused for a moment and gave a sharp, anxious sigh. “We will march on them in retaliation. Choose your best, and bring them to me for details. We will not sit here and wait for Twilight and her friends to show up on their own.” The room stayed silent as the distraught alicorn delivered her declaration of war. “We will need volunteers to march across the outlands, so find any willing in your districts and get them ready for training. Luna and I will leave you to it while we speak in private.”

“Are you sure that war is really the best course of action?” one of the officers protested. “I mean no offense, your highness, but is your student worth the lives of our citizens?”

“It is not just my student, but six of our citizens are in either hostile or wholly unknown territories. Each of them holds one of the Elements of Harmony that helped repel the Ventians in the second northern war, and broke the curse on my sister only a year ago. If Ventia is able to harness or corrupt the Elements’ energies for themselves and still holds ill will against us, I’m unsure how well we could stand up to them,” Celestia explained grimly. “This isn’t about just my student anymore; it is about keeping Equestria safe.” The older princess walked over to her sister. “You are all dismissed. I expect a progress report from you all first thing in the morning.”

        

With the orders given, the officers and soldiers stood and marched out of the hall, each of them discussing what their princess had just declared. Spike made to leave as well, but was pulled to the floor by one of the Crusaders.

“Shh...” Scootaloo said, putting a hoof to Spike’s mouth. “Make sure you stay hidden so they can’t see you.”

“What’s going on?” Spike asked, confused.

“We need to hear what’s happenin’ to our sisters,” Apple Bloom explained as they slipped under the table and lay on their stomachs. Their ears perked to listen to what the princesses were about to say. A few minutes had passed after the last guard had left the room before Luna began to speak.

“Are you certain we must go so far? Your student isn’t a child,” the princess said, catching Spike and the fillies’ attention.

“This is now a matter of national security, sister. I know you meant well, but Twilight has never faced anything like Mistral City before,” Celestia explained, pacing back and forth along the back wall. “I told you, I’m not afraid to raise our banners against them.”

“I know. I only sent her because I knew that she could handle it. I’ve read some of the letters that she sent you... She’s stronger than you realize.” Luna said reassuringly.

“I know. I just worry about her, that’s all. It was hard enough when she moved to Ponyville, but this... this is so much worse.” The sun princess shook as she looked at her sister with tears building in her eyes.

“They have their Elements with them, so they have an ace up their sleeves if need be.” Luna walked up to her sister and nuzzled her, prompting Celestia to respond in kind. “Twilight is the embodiment of magic like you were back in the old days. She’ll be fine.”

“Thanks, Luna,” Celestia said as the two separated and walked past the table, grabbing the three necklaces on their way out of the room. The hall stood silently as Spike and the Crusaders were left alone, waiting a few moments  before any of them moved.

“Let’s go before somepony finds us,” Sweetie Belle said, moving out from under the table.

“Good idea,” Scootaloo said, following suit along with Apple Bloom.

Spike crawled out and headed for the door with the others, quietly opening it and seeing Celestia and Luna disappear around a corner at the end of the long hallway.

“I just hope Twilight will be alright,” Spike said, still shaking with nerves from the meeting.

“I’m sure everypony will be jus’ fine,” Apple Bloom reassured him as they began to walk down the hallway.

“What do we do now? It’s not like we can become Cutie Mark Crusader Rescuers,” Scootaloo pouted.

“Spike,” Celestia called out, halting them immediately. She stood at the end of the hallway with the three necklaces floating magically next to her.

“Y-yes?” Spike asked, approaching the sun princess slowly.

“Luna and I require your assistance.” She looked down at the Crusaders. “You three as well.” She trotted to them, placed the Elements in their canvas bag and handed it to Spike. “If Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie aren’t around, we have to find another way to use these against Ventia if anything were to arise.”

“How can we help? Why us?”

“You three are the closest to the true Elements, more than Luna and I ever since her transformation. Spike, aside from my sister, I trust you more than anyone else right now Go down into the archives with the academy’s headmaster and find a book whose cover bears the six elements.”

“What do we do once we find it?” Spike looked up, watching Celestia loom over them with grief ridden eyes.

“Bring it to me in the observatory,” Celestia directed. “We need to force them to work with my sister and I once more.”

        

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<==  Chapter 14  ||  Chapter 15  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

15

City of the Damned

A harsh, cold wind whipped across the cliffside as Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack descended the narrow, zigzagging path towards the gates of Mistral City, staying wary of the sheer drop beside them. Twilight pulled her cloak tight around her with magic, letting the wind shear off, which gave her some comfort. As they drew closer, noise from the bustling city properly came into view. There was a cacophony of harsh noises and mechanical clangs, giving context to the plumes of smoke that rose and concealed the city’s massive center tower and platform that towered high above the wall. Twilight knew the amount of fresh air inside would be very limited, so she tried to savor every breath as the details of the gate and the outer walls became clearer.

“What do we do ‘bout this?” Applejack asked, fighting the howling winds. She motioned to a pair of guards that stood on both sides of the massive, wrought iron gate. They ran behind a large mound of snow and huddled. Applejack peered from behind the packed snow and watched the guards stand at attention. “Those Ventians know that we’re comin’... and we can’t exactly sneak in there with that giant wall blocking our way.”

“Perhaps Twilight could simply teleport us in?” Rarity suggested. “It doesn’t seem that hard to get by.”

“I don’t think so,” Twilight said, still exhausted from their trip over. “Considering that we’re the only ones out here, those guards will be watching our every move; we have to be discrete. Second of all, this is a walled city, so we’ll be better off if we’re seen entering like everypony else.” She peeked her head up and looked over at the still stationary guards, checking to see if they were watching. “As long as we keep a low profile and hide our cutie marks, we shouldn’t come off as suspicious.”

“How do ya suppose we do that?” Applejack asked. “I ain’t shavin’ mah flank.”

“Back before Applebloom found her friends, she wanted me to give her her cutie mark before her time. What resulted was only a temporary mark, but if I can invert the spell matrix, I may be able to invert the effects as well. It should be able to remove ours for a short time.”

“Apple Bloom did that? The nerve a’ that girl. Don’t she know how to be patient?” She sighed, then looked up at Twilight with a worried look on her face. “Not that I’m doubting you or nothing, Twi', but the last time you tried a spell you were unsure of we wound up out here to fix it.”

“This is different. Only Grizwald spells can cause deviations if I get them wrong. If this one fails, it’ll just fizzle out, no harm done.” Both Rarity and Applejack looked at her, appearing to be more inclined to bolt than allow the purple unicorn near them with her magic. Twilight sighed. “Of course, I’ll try it on myself first.” She frowned as her friends both breathed a sigh of relief.

Twilight’s horn glowed a bright purple as she prepared the experimental spell. She released the energy in a small burst and in only a few moments, the cutie mark that branded her haunches disappeared in a small flash. Twilight lifted her cloak to inspect them closer, noticing her cutie marks were completely gone without a trace, only purple fur left in its place. She smiled at her success, but she was unsure of how long the spell’s effects would last. The longevity of the original had been but a few fleeting moments; she could only hope that it would last long enough to get past the guards.

“I can hardly believe that worked,” Rarity said, inspecting Twilight’s blanked haunches. “I thought it would surely be harder to do than that.”

“How long is it supposed to last?” Applejack asked.

“I’m not sure. I haven’t tried this before,” Twilight explained.

“What happens if it wears off before we reach the gate?”

“We improvise.” Twilight smiled nervously.

Quickly, Twilight erased any trace of the other two ponies’ markings before turning around to face the looming wall ahead. With a gulp, she trotted out from behind the snow bank and towards the gates, taking slow and deep breaths. Even with her friends with her, she was still nervous about approaching a Ventian after all she had seen and heard thus far. Even after a lifetime devoted to study, she was left grasping at straws when it came to the Ventian people. She hadn’t come across them ever before, even while studying outlying equine cultures. It was as though they had simply been written out of history.

As if on cue, the two armored ponies snapped to attention, watching carefully as the Equestrians approached. Beads of sweat trickled down Twilight’s brow as one of them, a unicorn, stepped forward. He was dressed in obsidian and silver armor with no symbol whatsoever, simply a blank spot where the commander of the mercenaries’ sigil had been inset.

“What business have you in Mistral City, unicorns?” the guard asked as Applejack, and Rarity caught up to Twilight and stood by her side. The sounds of creatures of all sorts had made themselves clearer, and to threatened to drown out the guard’s voice. “From whence do you hail?”

“From the south,” Twilight blurted out instinctively. The map that Luna had given her was hopelessly specific to Equestria and Ventia, most of the surrounding nations left in tiny print at the edges, which Twilight had naturally glossed over. “We’re from Carse.” It sounded right. At least it did to her. She studied the guard’s face closely, watching a smile grow across his snow-caked face.

“I’ve been to Carse before. It’s really a nice country. Do any of you know a pony named Katt? I’ve never met a filly that baked a better papaya roll.” The blush on his face was easily seen through the snow, making Twilight slightly unnerved yet relieved. Every sign leading up to Mistral City had signaled mortal danger, ranging from the Ventian lord’s mercenaries to the pack of griffins that had assaulted them as they passed through the mountains. Never in her wildest imagination did she think that she would be greeted by a young stallion talking about papaya rolls.

“I haven’t, but she sounds like a very lovely girl,” Rarity chimed in, buttering up the guard as only she knew how. “Do you have a thing for her, perhaps?” The guard’s face flushed an even deeper red as she asked this.

“Well... maybe... What are you three doing out here in a hellhole like this?” He hurried to regain his composure, wiping the blush off his face. “Carse couldn’t have gone under that quickly, could it? Times are tough, but that would be ridiculous.”

“We’re explorers,” Twilight explained, the guard nodding attentively at her every word. “We heard a lot about Mistral City, so we decided to take a look.” The other, more ornery-looking pegasus simply snorted and sat down on a wooden stool, rolling his eyes. “I’m a scholar by trade, and I wanted to see the city for myself.”

“Explorers, huh?” The tan pegasus looked at them with narrow eyes. “You look a little too well fed to be explorers.”

Excuse me?” Rarity asked with a fiery bite. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“I-I’m sorry, he just meant that it doesn’t look like you’re starving, that’s all... Oh, I get it now. You’re dignitaries, aren’t you? Your accent isn’t very common in Carse... but that and your tones sound a lot like their ruling class if you ask me.”

Twilight breathed a small sigh of relief before her lips curled up in a smile. “Well, the government didn’t want anyone to know about our arrival.”

“I see. This has to do with Lord Salkie’s rotten food export just last week, doesn’t it? News must travel fast to get to Carse so quickly. Normally it takes at least a week and a half for shipments to get there.” Twilight was surprised, knowing that news could travel instantaneously in Equestria due to pegasi and dragonfire being the primary modes of long distance communication. The scholar in her wanted to press the guard for information about the Ventian postal system, but she suppressed the urge and simply nodded along with him. “Well, I won’t keep you then. I’ll open the gate for you.”

He turned away and walked up to the stone archway that surrounded the metal gate and pressed his hoof against one of the stones. A green light emerged from his hoof before the entire gate was enveloped by light itself. With a cacophony of screeching metal that swallowed the sound of the rest of the city, the gate slowly rose.  It made a large metallic thunk as it stopped, the green energy fading as the guard removed his hoof from the stone. He trotted back to the three mares, looking pleased with himself. “It’s been awhile since I’ve done that.”

“Thank you very much,” Twilight said with a small smile. She had walked only a couple steps when the guard stopped her with a hoof. Panic shot up her spine as she looked at him, the guard motioning for her to lean closer.

“Just between us, there are rumors that there are Equestrians either coming here or have already gotten into the city. The lords have been scrambling to make sure they aren’t blamed for this, so be careful about what you say around them if you see them. You and your friends’ coats are a little colorful to be from around here, so some guards may suspect you immediately. Don’t tell anyone that I told you this.” He glanced at the other guard who was busy looking out through the gate. “Good luck. Lord Salkie isn’t known for his small temper. Just head down the road to the upper level entrance and you should find them up there.” He took his hoof off of her and stepped back, gesturing towards the gate. Applejack and Rarity walked up to Twilight’s side as they trotted past the guard house.

Twilight was ecstatic, but slightly confused. Not one peek under their cloaks and they were let through the gate. Is no pony supposed to know about us coming?

“And don’t let that dirtpony servant touch anything, y’hear?” The pegasus called out.

Applejack made to respond, her face contorted in anger, but Rarity halted her with a look, successfully corralling her back into line as they passed beneath the massive gate.

From the inside, the wall looked to about hundred feet thick, made completely of limestone and iron girders. A small pathway was built into its side with stairs leading up into the wall’s interior. Twilight shook her head, wondering what could be so dangerous in such a desolate, frozen wasteland that they would need guards posted at all times in addition to such fortifications. She looked up, noticing a pair watching them from above with spears in hoof. The guards’ heads moved as the three walked on, monitoring their every step. She ducked her head nervously as they passed into the city proper.

All of the clanging and haze began to make sense as she entered. A stream of ponies, small dragons, and griffons passed in front of the gate, a few of them stopping to watch the three enter. The streets were overflowing with merchants and blacksmiths, selling an impressive array of craftworks and other goods to their well-appointed patrons.

Smoke rose from the rooftop chimneys and wafted through the air from the brick and wooden homes that lined the straight path before them. Small wintergreens made their homes near the doors of the merchants in small clay pots. Curious, Twilight broke away from her friends and walked up to one of the merchants, watching him bring a hammer down on glowing red steel, sending a cascade of orange sparks to the cobblestone below. Weapon blacksmiths were rare in Equestria and especially in Ponyville.

“Like what you see?” the blacksmith asked, setting the hammer down and wiping the sweat from his brow. He submerged the hot steel into a vat of water, sending a large plume of steam skyward before taking it out to showcase to onlookers. A faint glow still shone from the wide blade, its edge smooth and sharp. It was formed of a pewter-colored metal that glimmered in the sun and glare from the fallen snow.

“It’s quite impressive,” Twilight said, several others nodding along in agreement.

“Smithing’s been my family’s trade ‘fer generations. There’re dozens of old family secrets are poured into each one of my blades. Some of them go back hundreds, if not thousands of years.” He paused with a thoughtful chuckle. “My grandpa always said that our lineage has been doing this even before the Frozen Ages.”

“Before? When did it start?” Twilight asked, the blacksmith turning to face her with a confused look.

“No one really knows when, miss. Some say it was a freak chance of nature, while others a punishment for the dead land. I’ve always believed that it has always been this way.” He showcased the leading edge of the blade, holding it for all to see. “You heard me right, skills honed since before the Frozen Ages. Only the gold for such a magnificent—”

Punishment for the dead land? What does that mean? Twilight wondered quietly, tuning out the blacksmith’s sales pitch.

Before she could find the words to press him further, Twilight was hurried out of the way and thrust into the back of the crowd. The blacksmith silently prepared another sheet of metal to put into the fire while the ponies and a dragon filled in, blocking her view.

With a sigh, she forged ahead, catching up to her friends as they soaked up the city’s culture. Up ahead were several homes painted white and cream, nearly blending in with the white-gray slush that coated the ground. Twilight didn’t mind the slush as it at least didn’t feel like needles pressing into her hooves as she walked through it.

With the upper level approaching, Applejack glanced over at the bushels of fresh berries in front of a shop while Rarity preoccupied herself with reclaiming the signature swoops and curls of her mane and tail, trying to make herself presentable as they walked towards the city’s central tower. Twilight slowed down from her brisk pace, letting her friends keep up before an odor shot up her nose, making it wrinkle in revulsion.

With nothing else on her mind, she turned her head every which way, trying to locate the source of the pungent stench. She looked between a pair of houses and spotted two guards standing with spears, much like the ones on top of the wall. One wore a red and silver dragonscale armor while the other the standard black and gray. A silver, gilded dragon was perched on the guard’s chest as an insignia. Twilight quickly broke her gaze with the pair, attempting to look inconspicuous as she trotted quickly away down the road.

The smell only gained strength as the straight and narrow path led them to the edge of the upper platform. It was roughly thirty or so stories above the ground, a flat disk that snow seemed to be able to pass right through. Its underbelly appeared to be in shadow, yet light touched the ground underneath as if nothing were there.

As it started to snow again, most, if not all, of the shopkeepers closed up and moved inside while others went inside the immaculate homes that lined the street towards the center, leaving the three alone and shivering. Loud clangs and commotion could still be heard from beyond the houses, leaving Twilight to wonder what was beyond the guards’ barricade. Before she could try to investigate, however, she was eyed by one soldier whose eyes locked onto hers. Averting her gaze, Twilight tore up the middle of the path until she nearly reached the upper platform’s edge.

Just ahead was a lone soldier guarding a set of stairs. A small buzzing sound began to swell and drown out the rest of the city noise as they approached. Upon further investigation, the stairwell was blocked off by a soft green light, much like the one the guard had used to raise the gate. Twilight looked up and kept her eyes on the lip of the disc as she pass underneath. After a single step into its range, a look of confusion washed over her.

The whole upper level had disappeared!

“Look,” Twilight said to Applejack and Rarity, nudging them. When she looked over, they were already staring upward at the empty void. A small flurry of snow and gray clouds were the only things she could see.

If it disappears when you come near it, how can ponies walk on it?

She looked back down at the green energy, her mind hastily forming a conclusion. It was enchanted. A hundred questions came to her mind before she was caught by Rarity’s hoof, stopping her just in front of the humming force field. Rarity smiled sweetly as they faced the guard, nudging Twilight to do the same.

“Passes,” the guard said, sitting forward in his chair to get a closer look. Twilight glanced at her friends, each of their faces showing their own brand of confusion.

“Uh, passes? We were never told about that,” Twilight explained, her hooves tapping with nerves as the guard stared up at her with his sunken eyes. “We have something important to see up there, so if you could please let us through-”

“Can you afford them or not?” the sentry interrupted, tapping the butt of his spear on the ground.

“Exactly how much are these passes?” Rarity asked, stepping forward. She reached for her saddlebag, but swiped only air, only now remembering that it was lost during the griffin attack. Rarity began to play with her hair instinctively, trying to fake that that was what she was trying to do in the first place.

“100,000 gold pieces a piece,” the guard put it bluntly. Twilight reeled back, but then tried to compose herself in the hope of appearing as if the price hadn’t phased her. “Are you buying any, or are we done here?”

“What do we do, y’all? We can’t give him bits,” Applejack whispered, leading Twilight and Rarity back away from the guard. “And those lords would have a better chance of finding out about us if we’re up there with them. What if the book ain’t even there and we’re being led into a trap?”

“We can’t afford to take any chances,” Twilight agreed. “Ask first, then act after. We shouldn’t rush into anything here.”

“Y’all know where there’s a library ‘round here?” Applejack hollered, watching the guard snap back to attention after becoming entranced with his spear play. “We don’t have any money for ya, but any information would be much appreciated.”

The sunken-eyed soldier laughed before getting to his hooves. “Finding anything other than scum down here would be a miracle in and of itself. If you really can’t afford it, I’d be happy to show you out.”

Suddenly, Twilight was knocked off balance by the push of a soldier and fell into the snow. She looked up and saw two guards west who had blocked the alleyway stepping aside, clearing out a path.

“Stop it!” Twilight cried out, looking back at her assailant before being struck across the face with a sheathed sword. She felt a bruise already beginning to burn on her cheek as she was pushed forward, stumbling into the alley. The soldier jammed the sword in the back of her neck and pushed her into the snow. She broke the fall of Rarity as she crashed unceremoniously on top of her while Applejack was at least able to keep her footing and turned to yell something that Twilight couldn’t quite make out as her ears buzzed painfully. Rarity quickly shook off her daze and rolled off of Twilight, extending a hoof to help her friend back onto her hooves. As the adrenaline wore off and her daze subsided, the stench from before reared its ugly head once more, sending her reeling.

The slush that had littered the ground in the alley had turned into solidly packed snow with pieces of trash sticking out along the walls. It wasn’t white, but a coal black, peppered with the white of the recent snowfall. Twilight pushed forward down the long alley, leaving the relative warmth of the strip behind as frigid air funneled through it. With her hooves left completely unprotected, she tore off a piece of her cloak and magically formed a rough set of boots, covering most, if not all, of her hooves.

Rarity followed suit, her eyes lighting up at the prospect of doing the work that she was best at. Taking some thread out from the cloak, she used a small piece of scrap metal from the ground and fashioned it into a needle to sew the new boots. She hummed and smiled as she worked on the scrap of cloak, something Twilight hadn’t seen her do for quite some time. Twilight felt a small respite from the cold that they had trudged through, watching the fashionista lose herself in her work.

The feeling was fleeting as a sharp pain in her side flared up, causing her to hunch over. She became fully lucid at that point, tending to her wound before scanning her surroundings once more to see the grime and filth that coated the walls of the alley. She approached it and took a whiff, wrenching in repulsion as she forced herself away.

What is this? she asked herself, stepping closer to run her hoof through it and inspect the black, grainy substance.

“What are you doing?” Applejack asked Twilight as Rarity finally finished her makeshift boots.

“The whole hallway is covered with this... dust...” She looked up and noticed the array of smokestacks that stood on top of the high, flat-looking roof. Upon closer inspection, it crumbled in her hoof, releasing the smell of rank sulfur into the air. “We’re right next to a factory. But, I didn’t see where that house ended.” She looked back down the alley and saw that the house never stopped. “What is this then? Ash?” They walked along a wall that bled ash and exhaled smoke. “It’s fake... but why?”

“What would they gain from faking a house in front of a factory? It don’t make much sense,” Applejack asked, inspecting the wall of ash herself.

It was warm, Twilight could tell as she ran her hoof over it. She brushed some of the ash off, revealing white and yellow cinders still burning behind the ash.

“This is steel!” Twilight exclaimed. She brushed off more, seeing the entire wall looking the same way. “It’s a steel mill... What do they need so much steel for?”

“I don’t know, but why would they hide this from the outside? It don’t seem right.”

“I’m not sure.” Twilight put a hoof to her chin in thought as she looked up into the void that the vanished upper level left. “I think the bigger question is what is so important in the upper tier to place such high security and cost on such a large part of the city. Not even Canterlot is this highly guarded. I don’t think you could even fly up there if you tried to.”

“Why do you say that?” Rarity asked.

“Didn’t you notice that once we went below the disc that it disappeared? It appears to have an enchantment on it that made it vanish when we passed underneath. If they need a guard to let somepony through, I’m sure it works above as well. That green barrier is most likely the only entrance that enables you to reach it at all.”

Applejack looked to the sky as well, watching the snow fall through as if nothing were above them. “So how do they get any fresh water up there? The snow passes right through.”

“We can worry about that later. We still haven’t seen what’s at the end of the alley, so let’s keep focused on what’s down here for now,” Twilight said, Applejack and Rarity nodding in agreement.

With their sights focused on their surroundings,the walk through the alley seemed to be shorter than Twilight had thought. Stopping for a moment, she bent down and wiped some soot from the snow before placing a hoof full of pristine snow against her face to reduce the swelling on her cheek. A factory whistle and the laughter of children funneled through the alley as they stood mere steps from the exit. Several kids ran by, Twilight taking notice of their slag- and dirt-covered faces and ragged clothing. She trotted into the street proper and froze, unable to process the sight.

Ramshackle housing lined the winding streets as families huddled outside next to oil lanterns, holding their hooves out for warmth. The dust that had caked onto their flesh made most appear older, and hoofwoven garments laid over their ragged bodies. The children swung back around, giving the Equestrians another chance to see that their rib cages were prominent on their shriveled bodies. A stallion in his middle ages began to violently hack and cough, a similarly aged mare putting her foreleg around him to comfort him.

“This is terrible,” Twilight said, breaking the trio’s silence.

“I think we know why that upper level is so well-protected now,” Applejack chimed in, stepping back to let a family covered in dirt-caked rags with scraggy, unkempt manes pass by her. “What kinda fancy pants lord would be down here in the slums?”

Applejack’s comment made Twilight’s mind work overtime to make sense of everything before coming to a conclusion. “They have a feudal caste system.” With a turn of her head, she saw a soldier in navy and silver armor turn the corner with a sword still in its sheath. His face had a slightly plump quality to it and, compared to the ponies around them, he seemed rather well-off. Quickly, Twilight ran her hooves through Rarity’s hair, messing it up to let it fall in loose strands before stripping her of her necklace and stuffing it into her bag.

“What in Celestia’s name was that for?” Rarity hissed, trying to fix up her hair again. “I just got it cleaned up, and what are you doing with my necklace?”

“Look at everypony around you. If we don’t want to be caught by guards, we need to be incognito. Keep your hair down, but at least make it presentable,” Twilight said, realizing that all the ponies in the streets were earthy colors while they were bright and colorful and, worst of all, clean by comparison. “And don’t mention anything about back home.” Rarity simply nodded as she simply untangled her hair.

“I hope it doesn’t all look like this,” Rarity said as they started walking down the street.

Suddenly, a piercing whistle blew from the mill, causing the three to cover their ears. The shrill tone didn’t seem to affect the others as most of the males stood and marched into the building without a word. Twilight caught a glimpse of their eyes, sunken in with dark circles underneath as soot seemed to be melded into the skin around it. She wished Rarity was talking about the grime like she would have normally, but, no, she meant the people with their defeated gazes, and Twilight couldn’t agree more.

Luna had been right about Mistral City. The moniker of City of the Damned felt like an understatement to her now.

“What’s the plan?” Applejack asked as the whistling finally ceased. The remaining ponies in the streets silently went back to their businesses as the soldier walked by. He gave them only a cursory glance before continuing his patrol. “Where do we even start?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight admitted, already sick of hearing the words out of her mouth. Down the road she could see a line of stallions and a few mares heading towards the outer wall, marching two to a row. Most held pickaxes in their mouths and wore helmets with with spotlights on the front. She could hear murmurs amongst them, even over the constant, growing noise of the factories. “I think we should take a look around. Watch ponies to try blending in better.”

“Blend in? With them? I hardly think I can look the part in so short a time,” Rarity said, looking the ponies over. “Still... we have to hurry. I shudder to think what Fluttershy could be going through right now.”

“Don’t worry. I’m planning on speaking with her tonight. Worst case, we’ll force our way to wherever the book is and get them out of there. For now, we’re going to be discrete.” Twilight scooped up another hoof full of snow and pressed it against in her cheek. The swelling was minimal, but the her cheek still stung. “Walk around and pay attention to what ponies are doing. I’m sure we’ll come up with something.”

The three resumed their trek down the road, staying relatively silent as they kept their eyes focused on the small groups of ponies remaining outside. The streets were quiet outside of the intermittent clangs and whirrs emanating from the factories, making it hard for them to walk by unnoticed. Houses and shops that they passed by all looked the same, each of them cobbled together from various types of wood and metal. A couple inside one of the shops waved through a window, catching Twilight’s eye, one appearing to be surprisingly clean and free of the soot that caked everything else. Several woven baskets with thatched lids were stacked in front of the shack and a small evergreen stood flanking the doorway. With nopony else to base their investigation on, Twilight broke off and entered the shop.

The interior looked much like Zipporah’s shop in Wheatown, only smaller and stuffier. The walls reflected the haphazardly constructed look of the exterior but were reinforced with steel beams that ran from the wooden floor to the low ceiling. Behind the counter was an assortment of dried fruits and grains, hoofwoven clothing, barrels of ale and cider, and even a few wooden and steel toys to Twilight’s surprise.

A furred, but homely mare stood expectantly behind the counter, smiling at Twilight as she trotted closer; she was illuminated only by a small lantern whose flame flickered in the draft that blew through the shop. A mat with red trim covered the floor that clashed with the navy and silver banner hanging on the back wall, emblazoned with a silver eagle in the center.

“Welcome to our store, newcomer!” she said, her voice rough but sweet. “I hope the whistle didn’t scare you too much.”

“Thanks,” Twilight said, wishing that they didn’t come across so obviously green.

“So, where do you come from? It’s hard to believe that anyone could come all the way to Mistral without any money. Most creatures freeze to death before they ever even get close. Y‘know, it had been so long since I’d heard what the gates sound like when they open, I thought something horrible was happening!”

Applejack and Rarity walked in behind Twilight as she thought about how to respond. “Why do you think that we have no money? This isn’t where the guards send everypony?”

The shopkeeper laughed. “They sent you here, didn’t they? The Steel District’s under Lord Balan himself. If you even had a cent to your name, they would’ve sent you to at least the mining or textile districts. Who knows, maybe even a cultural district if you caught ‘em in a good mood.” Her husband took his gaze away from the front window, walked behind the counter and sat down. “Plus that nasty gash on your face shows it pretty well.”

“When we were forced through the alley... the house that was on the main road just merged with the factory behind it. Why would they fake that?”

“No one who really cares about us in the lower level actually comes to Mistral. They probably had to make the entrance presentable to not scare off potential visitors or allies. It’s a callous thing for them to do, but unfortunately it works.”

“That’s horrible,” Rarity interjected. “So that blacksmith that we saw... was he fake as well?”

“It was probably one the government hired to perform for the King’s Alley folk. Liars and cheats, all of them. Not like the hard working folk down here... lack of money and all.”

“If nopony has any money, then why would you keep your shop here?” Twilight asked, perplexed.

“This has been my family’s business for generations. I’m not about to pack up and head out. There’s too much history here for us to just leave.”

“But... why would you call us over then? You think we’re broke, right?”

“Can’t a pony say ‘hi’ to her new neighbors? I’m sure you’ll get enough money to move to a better district at some point; you look like you have good heads on your shoulders.”

“We have money, but it just isn’t usable here,” Twilight interrupted before the shopkeeper had the chance to get out the welcome baskets.

“Honey, we’ve seen every currency in the entire continent pass through here at least twice,” her husband chimed in, his words filtered through a bushy gray beard. “Whatever you have should be good enough.”

Twilight gulped. She had said too much, and just outside were guards which could easily come in and capture them. The cold and her weariness had stretched her mentality thin.

“We aren’t from the continent. We’re sailors,” she lied, watching for their reactions.

The shopkeeper simply smirked. “You don’t need to lie to us. I know sailors when I meet them. If you really don’t want to talk about where you’re from, I can understand. I’m sure I can trade whatever you have with some of our reserves.”

“How much would this give us?” Twilight dug into her bag, pulling out one bit and placing it on the counter. The shopkeeper grabbed the bit and held it close to inspect it. A bit was just a flat piece of gold without any country or city name pressed into its surface, so Twilight had no misgivings about giving one up.

“Hmm. I haven’t seen anything like this before.” She paused a moment to bite down on the coin. “It looks to be genuine metal though...” She began to mutter to herself, something about alloys and karat weights. “The best I can do is tell you to head further into the city. We can’t put this to any use here, but I’m sure there are places that can.”

“Where? Do you have a map?” She took the bit back and put it away.

“Sure. It’s the only thing except for flour and grain that our lousy government will give us for free. They use some type of special paper for it too, one that I know doesn’t come from around here. Head west from the bank towards the Calwyns’ district. That family is richer and more lenient about certain... transactions than the Balans are.” She slid over a folded sheet of paper. Light shined off the map as if it was coated in some sort of resin, and the drawing inside was color-coordinated between districts. Magnified areas of the map were pushed into the corners, allowing Twilight to read the names of places too small on the larger map.

“The Calwyns... what are their colors?” she asked, now extremely glad that she had taken the shopkeeper’s invitation.

“They hold the crimson and silver.” Twilight began to sweat from nerves. “Dragons are their sigil, and there’s even a rumor that they are dragons themselves. No one can be a lord unless they are a unicorn though, so I wouldn’t put much stock in that,” the shopkeeper finished, smiling blithely at Twilight’s apparent apprehension.

“Thank you so much,” she said, trying to stay calm. “Is there by chance anywhere else we could trade these in?”

“You’d die of starvation afore you got there. Besides, the Calwyns’ district is rumored to be where a few of the richest folk stay... the ones that aren’t allowed into King’s Alley at least. You should have a better time there than anywhere else.”

"Thank you for your help," Twilight said, folding up the map and placing it inside her pack. The shopkeeper bent down and rummaged through a pile of what appeared to be damaged merchandise. Twilight stuck her head over the counter to see what she was looking for, but was thrown back as the homely mare sprang back up and placed several items on the table.

“For your travels,” she said, spreading the items across the counter. Three pairs of worn boots, a new pack, several pieces of flatbread and two canteens filled with water laid out before them. A warm, yet sly looking smile grew on her face as the three looked over their new provisions.

“What's all this for? Y’all just givin’ this to us?” Applejack asked, perplexed.

“Of course. You'll need all this to make it to the Calwyns' district with ease,” the shopkeeper stated. However, as Twilight made to accept the goods, the shopkeeper drew them back a bit, a strange grin gracing her face. “But I do require a small, but modest fee.”

“What is it?” Twilight asked warily, watching the shop keeper lean in close to them.

“I want to know where you came from.”

“You just said that you didn't care!” Twilight retaliated, slamming her hooves on the counter. “Why ask now?”

“Security in the Calwyns' district has been ramped up as of late, and you three seemed awfully keen on not setting hoof there." She patted one of the boots. "Does Rissen worry you so much that you can't tell me where where you’re from?”

There was that name again.

Rissen...

The lord that the griffons’ leader had promised to deliver them to.

The one that sent a battalion of mercenaries to hunt them down.

If he had heightened security in the district... and every other district was several day's walk away... we have no choice...

Twilight caught her eyes darting back and forth in thought and quickly looked down to concentrate on the items, trying not to appear worried.

“I won't tell a soul,” the shopkeeper promised.

“First, tell me if there's a library in their district. We're looking for a book to help bring our friends home.”

“From what I've heard, yes. You definitely won't find one here though unless you look in the right places. Lord Balan has always been too drunk and too stupid to give us anything of worth.”

Twilight sighed, her mind racing to come up with what to do if the shopkeepers attacked them when, or if, she told them. “I'm worried about what would happen to you two more than anything.”

“Oh? Well, no one pays attention to anything that goes on around here anyway. Thieves, murderers and other scoundrels pass through unnoticed until they reach one of the other districts. Even if they were reported, the guards are too pampered and out of shape to do any real work.” She laughed, making Twilight wonder if it would actually be safer in the dragons’ den than staying where they were. She turned to Applejack who just sternly nodded her head.

“W-we're from Equestria.”

Silence filled the shop quickly as her words hung in the air. Without a word, the mare pushed the items towards them, forcing them straight into Twilight's chest. She gestured her head to the left as she stepped back from the counter. Her husband walked through the door on the left side of the shop, his boots clomping down on wood as he went down a flight of stairs.

“Keep yourselves hidden as much as possible. Let no one in red and silver speak with you,” the mare ordered with an intense look on her face.

“T-thank you,” Twilight said, grabbing the supplies and placing them inside of the new bag. “We'll be careful.”

“Remember, you have friends here. Don’t forget that,” she said, placing a hoof to her lips before blowing out the lantern on the counter. "Travel safe."

“We will.”

They walked out from the shop into sheets of snow falling from the sky, being by the frozen crystals as they heard the tumblers of the lock on the door turn behind them. It was hard to see what was in front of them, providing them with better cover than they could have hoped for. The wind was weak: just one more blessing as they descended into Rissen's territory. She passed the new bag, the Element of Generosity, and a quartet of boots over to Rarity, as well as a set to Applejack. Twilight slipped off her makeshift boots and slipped into the new ones, her hooves already feeling warmer as they provided much more of a barrier than the canvas ever could. She tossed them to the side of the road, thinking that perhaps one of the families could use them later.

“What was all that about?” Rarity asked as Twilight unfolded the map. The snow slid straight off, alleviating her fears that it might be ruined in the snowstorm. “What friends? What does that mean?”

“I don’t know, but I'm sure we'll find out soon enough,” Twilight said as she charted a course to Rissen's district. The route wound through the back alleys, keeping them off of the main road. “It shouldn't take more than a few hours to reach it. Their district extends surprisingly far south.” She folded up the map and tucked it away. “I suggest eat something while we still have the chance.”

After walking for a few moments, they found a spot between two houses where the snow was stopped by one house's large chimneys. They sat down and opened Twilight's bag, taking out the remaining apples and water they had left. She picked one of the apples up, noticing brown spots covering half of it. With her mouth already parched and her throat dry, she bit into it and grimaced at the taste of overripe fruit. She took a few more bites before tossing it away.

“Hey! Don't just throw food away!” Applejack reproached her, picking the apple up from the ground and using the fresh snow to clean it off. We don't have any money, and you're tossin' perfectly good apples?”

Twilight simply sighed, taking a large swig of water to rid herself of the taste. The water was half frozen and had ice chunks floating in it, but she gulped it down regardless, pressing the bits of ice against the inside of her still sore cheek, before taking a small bit out of the flat bread. It tasted surprisingly sweet for such old looking bread, and it was oddly soft as well. She savored the taste as she ran her hoof over the route again, trying to keep every turn and straightaway in mind before they headed off. After downing another swig of water, she rose and packed away the rest of the food. “Are we ready?”

“I'll be just a second, darling," Rarity said, carefully lacing up her boots. “Well... they are not very stylish, but I guess they’ll have to do for now.” She stood as Applejack did, looking behind her to see the streets still empty of life. Rarity glanced over the peeling sides of her boots, a grimace forming on her face. “Once we finally find a place to settle, I will fix them up so they are at least presentable.” She paused and looked over them again. “These may take some work, mind you,” she muttered darkly. “Lead the way, Twilight.”

The maze of alleys stretched through the district like a grid, allowing them to run through with little chance of being spotted. Houses and other buildings provided perfect cover for them from both the wind and prying eyes. Chutes for the denizens to toss their trash were mounted every few feet, explaining the countless piles of litter strewn across the ground.

After they had traveled a dozen or so blocks by alley, the noise of the steel mills began to subside, only to be replaced by the sound of chatter and even laughter, throwing Twilight off. The contrast between the people's banter ahead and the ones in the Steel District was like night and day, giving Twilight some hope that not all of Mistral City would be as soul-crushing as Lord Balan’s slums.

Soon, they reached a crossing, forcing them into the streets. Houses along the street appeared uniform with nicely painted railings encircling their balconies. Most had an upper level from which intricate tapestries and banners hung, illuminated by the wrought-iron lamps that lined the street. A multitude of ponies were outside, conversing and working while kids played in the freshly fallen snow, their faces vibrant and youthful.

Twilight glanced up at one of the lampposts to find a banner declaring it to be the Textile District.

Several griffons flew by overhead, prompting Twilight to duck back into the alley. On closer inspection, she noticed that they had small, wiry bodies that slipped peacefully through the air. They were much smaller than Blackwing’s griffins, allowing Twilight a brief sigh of relief. With a nod, they continued their run through the streets under the cover of still falling snow.

The backstreets wound much more severely in the new district, much like a spider's web in its intricacy of turns and connecting alleys. Twilight had to consult the map several times as disputes on which way to go erupted amongst the trio. The constant sound of snow crunching between their hooves was a constant companion as the buildings they passed had become fancier and more structurally sound while the streets grew considerably louder.

“Why are we going this way?” Rarity asked, tiphoofing around freshly tossed out garbage. “We’ve been going through nothing but trash; I’m not going through any more.”

“Because its north, just like the map says,” Applejack argued, striding past Rarity and Twilight.

“Is that even the right way? There could be a dead end down there!” Rarity huffed, running back to Twilight to check the map.

“I looked at that map myself; I know where I’m goin’!”

“Ha! See, we can go around it! I refuse to run through anymore muck.”

“We’re escapin’’ from some lord that wants us killed, and you’ve got time to be fussy?” Applejack asked, stomping her hoof down.

“Be quiet!” Twilight yelled softly, making her friends stop follow her directions once more, but not without a sharp glance shared between them as they waited for Twilight to pass.

By the time their quarrels had finally subsided, they slowed their pace considerably to catch their breath. The air in the district was surprisingly clean, allowing Twilight to relax without fear of headache, coughing, or feeling worse than before.

After hours of constant movement within the alleys, even more commotion could be heard coming from the streets as the sky began to grow dark. Twilight opened up the map and figured out where they were, realizing that they were on the cusp of the straightaway that led into the Calwyns' district. She took out her flask and drank heavily from it, preparing herself for anything once they crossed the threshold. She pointed it out to Applejack and Rarity who steeled their nerves as well. Twilight took a deep breath before moving forward at a considerable speed, seeing red and silver banners hanging on the taller buildings as she made her final turn.

Unlike Balan's district, the alleyways were clean. The walls that had separated them from the buildings had completely disappeared. A significant amount of snow was moved out from the alleys, revealing the stone pathway that they were now walking on top of. The cross sections of the alley were higher in number, making them have to stop to survey the area more carefully.

They had passed through several such intersections when she found herself staring up at something that she never expected to see: an armored pony riding atop a feral dragon headed straight for them in the cross section.

Twilight motioned her friends forward, sprinting for the end of the alley before the dragon knight could turn to hunt them down. “This way!” She looked behind them, watching as the dragon peeked its head into the alley, took a whiff of the air, and began bounding towards them at incredible speed.

It opened its massive jaws and lunged forward, missing Rarity’s tail by a scant few inches. Quickly, Twilight's horn glowed with a purple light as she turned to face the beast. She shifted the snow from the roof tops, causing it to crash to the ground and stall the dragon from heading further. She stumbled back into a sprint before it burst through the bank, swiping at Rarity once more and dragging her to the ground with a frustrated roar.

“Get off of me!” Rarity screamed, blasting the dragon off with magic. It tumbled through the snow, whipping off its rider before getting back up with a snarl. Rarity scrambled to her hooves just as the dragon lunged forward, the soldier calling for it to return. Applejack raced forward and rammed into it with her shoulder, knocking it back to the ground sliding on the snow. A plume of fire wildly erupted from its mouth, charring the walls and melting the snow around it.

“Run!” Twilight called out then charged down the alley, looking for a way out. Ahead was yet another intersection, just far enough to stop and plan their escape.

“What now?” Rarity asked, panting. They stopped as they reached the crossing, looking down the different paths to find a way out. Twilight turned back, watching the soldier mount the dragon once more, his longsword in mouth.

“There!” Applejack cried out, pointing to Twilight’s right. Down the short path was a multitude of creatures walking down what looked like a main road while the other two led to more back alleyways. “We oughta be able to lose it in those crowds.”

Twilight and Rarity simply nodded before bolting down to the main road, hearing the low rumbling roar of the soldier’s mount get louder and echo through limestone maze. The sound of chattering of the townsfolk grew, drowning out the dragon’s cries as they ran. Moments later they burst out from the alleys into the open, quickly vanishing into the crowd.

On the side of the road packed, a gathering of creatures crowded in front of a regally-appointed, ornate-looking building painted in royal crimson and silver. Twilight heard them shout angerly as countless guards in dragonscale armor pointed their weapons at the rowdier civilians. She weaved through the stream of ponies and dragons and trotted to the outside of the furious crowd

Twilight caught her breath before the sound of the crowd's uproar turned everything into a mishmash of sound. Before she could even begin take in what was happening, she was shoved and slammed into other ponies. She looked behind her and saw the dragon come out from the alley, sniffing the air before walking along the road, seemingly giving up on the scent with a disappointed snarl as the knight yelled out something that couldn’t penetrate the noise of the crowd. She breathed a sigh of relief before a stallion dressed in a royal-red coat with silver trimming crested a high platform from which he could be seen above the crowd. Twilight looked around her noticing both of her friends weren’t with her. She peered between the enraged ponies, but they were nowhere to be found.  A diminutive, black dragon perched on his shoulder as he raised his hoof in the air as to demand silence.

“Do not be alarmed, citizens. This was the punishment that Lord Calwyn saw fit for a crime that was unforgivable. If your deeds are not as heinous as this scoundrel's were, you shall receive his mercy."

Twilight shoved ponies out of the way, trying to get close to the front of the crowd. The crowd booed and began to throw rocks and snow at the officer as well as something to his right that was just out of view. She nudged past the remaining ponies then stopped, standing frozen in horror at what had been set up on the stage. Her body began to shake with nerves while she felt her stomach turn, her mind pleading and screaming for her to run away.

A stallion's lifeless body hung from the gallows, flesh torn and bloodied by the whip, the word TRAITOR branded on his chest. As the body twisted under the crowd’s onslaught, Twilight could see three deep gashes in his haunches dripped with still fresh blood that fell onto the snow, staining it with a deep crimson hue.

Three cuts... exactly where a cutie mark would’ve been.

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                                        <==  Chapter EX - Spike  ||  Chapter 16  ==>

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Contact: [email protected]


HOENNSHY                                                                                                                                        FENIX

16

In the Dragon’s Den

Shrieks erupted from the frenzied crowd as the dragon-mounted guards circled around them. The guards struck quickly, felling several before the group could begin to retreat. Twilight twisted her head, looking from the panicked creatures about her to the gallows where the stallion and his diminutive black dragon had already disappeared from view.

Heart thudding against her chest, she wove through the crowd, narrowly avoiding the spear heads and blades the guards pierced haphazardly into them. Without a second’s thought, Twilight pushed off another mare in an attempt to change direction, sending the mare directly into a guard. With a growl of indignation, the guard jabbed the blunt end of his spear into the mare’s gut, sending her to the ground. Twilight watched as the guard screamed at the scared pony, barking accusations of assault and battery before striking her again and again. Twilight quickly swallowed her guilt, broke away from the group and scurried into one of the alleyways. She stopped just within the safety of the alley, peering back to bear witness to the end of the guards’ work.

Citizens lay scattered across the ground, heaving and crying out as the guards loomed over them. Several of the injured were picked up by other citizens and laid across a dragon bereft of the regalia the guard’s dragons bore. In short order, even the stragglers were escorted from the meeting ground. Twilight watched them closely for some sign of Applejack and Rarity, praying that neither had been a victim of the frenzy, but all proved to be strangers as the street was left deserted save for the scattered belongings lost in the chaos. She ducked her head back into the alley as the victorious guards marched by. When the last soldier passed, she leaned her haunches back against a wall and slid down until she landed with a wet plop in the snow.

For the first time since she had left Equestria, Twilight was completely alone. She scanned the streets again in the hopes of finding her friends bounding towards her, but the streets were empty. Those that remained staying hidden inside their homes and shops. She wanted to call out their names; she wanted to yell out amidst the silence, but she knew it was too much of a risk. Names like ‘Rissen’, ‘Balan’, ‘Calwyn’, and ‘Astris’ were all commonplace and expected in Ventia while ‘Applejack’ and ‘Rarity’ were objects of suspicion.

Without any other options, Twilight slunk away into the alleys in search of a warm place to stay the night. The snow had nearly stopped falling as the clouds dispersed to reveal the oranges and reds of the setting sun, giving her a moment of repose before she felt the knot tighten in her stomach. The image of the mare being knocked down and beaten by the guard played over in her head, each iteration becoming more twisted than the last. As she came to a crossroads in the back alleys, she put a hoof to the wall and felt herself pushing that mare into the guard. The memory haunted her senses and immediately snapped her hoof back. Even with the clearing clouds, the cold winds persisted, funneling through the alleyways, lashing at her face as she pressed onwards. Her body was wracked by exhaustion, something she had been able to ignore amongst her friends, but now stood at the forefront of her thoughts. Slowly, she hobbled along and hugged the wall until she heard voices fill the air once more.

Gas-powered lights began to shine from windows as the hour turned from dusk to night. Several ponies here and there conversed, donned in clean garb that reflected the new district. She slowly trotted onto and down the road, looking towards the alleys for any signs of where her friends may have gone. Twilight’s eyes grew heavy as she wandered, making it difficult to keep them open as her thoughts shifted towards finding a place to sleep that night.

Where are they? she thought as the last of the snow floated down from the sky.

She was surrounded by Ventians from every side, all of them ignoring her as they passed. Only the streets were illuminated now with the light from shops and lantern posts, leaving the alleyways and other unpopulated areas black as pitch. She sighed in exhaustion, staring at the ground with a defeated gaze.

Her head hung low. She walked slowly, keeping her cloak wrapped tight around her. She saw neither hide nor hair of her friends amongst the crowd, bringing her to focus her attention in front of her. Before she could even begin to clear her head, however, she heard a soft, popping sound and, as she peered beneath her cloak, her cutie mark slowly reappeared on her flank. Twilight knew this would leave Applejack and Rarity only a short time before they too would be at risk of exposure, sending a chill down her already frozen spine. She had never felt more guilty or more alone in all her life, and the flaring pain in her side only served as reminder of the danger she had thrust them all into.

I should have waited for them... she thought before stopping and placing a hoof to her face in dismay.

Before she could berate herself further, she looked up and saw a sign bolted upon a three story tall building that read Inn in ornately-carved red letters. Lacking the energy to even entertain the possibility of another option, Twilight stumbled to the door and weakly pushed it open, the hinges creaking as it swung outwards.

As she entered the inn, Twilight nearly melted beneath the rush of warm air caressing her frozen, wearied body. She let off a gentle sigh as the warmth of a roaring fire soothed her from its hearth, earning her a stare from the lone mare tending the desk. A few patrons who sat on cushioned chairs in the lobby looked up at her as she approached the counter, but only paid her a cursory glance before resuming their chatter. Twilight placed a shaking hoof on the desk before looking up at the mare who wore a stern scowl. Twilight opened her mouth to talk, but the cold and shock of recent events stole her voice as she tried to speak. She resorted to only looking up at the mare's brown eyes, watching them dance around puzzled.

“How many?” she asked, rummaging through an open wooden drawer. “Just one?”

Twilight nodded. She looked over her shoulder at where Applejack and Rarity would have been standing if they were they still with her. One of the patrons, peering over a scroll, stared at her incredulously and she quickly turned back to find an iron key on the counter before her.

“It’ll be two gold pieces.”

“W-will these do?” she asked, digging into her bag to pull out two bits. She placed them on the counter, watching with a light head as the mare examined the bits. She could only pray that she would be allowed a warm place to sleep for the first time in nearly a week.

“Well these aren't any currency I've ever seen, but they seem real enough. I’ll be going down to the Shade Market tomorrow, and if these aren't worth gold, I'll have you arrested for thievery, y’hear?” she threatened.

“The Shade Market?” Twilight took the key, holding the cold metal in the sole of her hoof.

“Aren’t from around here, are you? It's two streets past the twin spires and deep in the belly of the wind. Mind your way and your manners. You also shouldn't look like garbage when you get there; those rogues’ll take notice,” she explained, gesturing to Twilight's ragged attire.

“Hey, I don’t look like garbage!” Twilight protested. The mare only smirked and turned to fill out a ledger on the counter behind her. Twilight sighed to herself, then trotted towards the flight of red carpeted stairs near the far wall. Twin spires? Belly of the wind? Those aren’t directions! Those are... those are just riddles! Twilight thought as she reached the top of the stairs and walked down the hallway. Soon enough, she found herself at a door near the end of the clean, nicely furnished hallway. She looked down at her key and saw the number ‘207’ engraved on it, before looking at the door in front of her and seeing the same number. At least her business practices are better than her directions.

After finding her room, Twilight slipped the key into the brass doorknob and opened it. It was much roomier than she had expected. A fireplace sat past the foot of the large, plush bed that lay in the middle of the room. A candle sat on an oaken nightstand beside the bed, as a window with floral-patterned shades greeted her on the far wall that looked out at a decent view of the street. She entered and placed her bag on the floor, rubbing at the furrows it had dug into her hide before flopping onto the soft, fluffy bed. It had been so long since she had slept on a proper bed that she sunk right in and refused to move, adjusting herself to sink further in.

Before she could become too comfortable, however, she still had a promise to Rarity to keep. She sat up and slowly scooted off of the bed, closed the door, and magically sparked the logs into a blazing fire. Twilight sat and watched the flames dance as smoke curled into chimney above, letting the warm light and heat cast away every last ounce of cold that clung to her body. She closed his eyes and focused on Fluttershy and Pinkie, hoping they weren't asleep or possibly worse off. Not a moment later, she felt the twinge that signaled a connection, allowing her to breathe a small sigh of relief.

“Fluttershy? Pinkie? Can you hear me?” she asked silently.

It took a few moments, but she finally heard Pinkie gasp and Fluttershy let out a startled meep that couldn't come from anypony but her.

“Twilight? Is that you? I'm so glad you're alright,” Fluttershy said, sounding shaken and more than a bit unnerved. “How has everything been there?”

“Did you find the book yet?” Pinkie asked in her usual excited tone.

“No, not yet. Everything is fine here, though,” she lied, their voices bringing back the guilt she had swallowed back in the Ventian forest. “How are things there?”

“They’re... fine,” Fluttershy said. “Things have been getting a lot stranger here. We did find somepony who's exactly like you, Twilight.”

“Yeah, she's really strange, but you’d like her! She studies a lot and is as obsessed with books as you are, except they're all about rocks,” Pinkie chimed in. “We've done so much since we last talked! We've sailed on a boat... explored a cave... battled this crazy stallion and a gigantic sea monster

“Wait, you did what?!” Twilight interrupted, perturbed by just how nonchalantly Pinkie had let that slip. “A sea monster?! Was it a hydra?! A kraken?! Scylla?! We were trying to be quiet, but if you’re in danger, we can just—”

“Y-you don't have to worry. We're all fine,” Fluttershy said with striking and uncommon conviction. “We're headed for a volcano right now to find out who that stallion with the gyarados could be. I don't want you to risk yourselves to get us out any faster.”

“Alright, I'll stick to the plan.” “What’s a gyarados? Why are they traveling to a volcano?” Twilight asked herself aloud. She swallowed her curiosity and continued. “Has anything else happened that I should know about?”

“I don't know if this is important, but Pinkie and I shared a dream a few nights ago.” Fluttershy's voice grew softer and more anxious, giving Twilight cause for concern. “But I really shouldn't... i-it's not important.”

“Tell me, please,” Twilight said, her guilt and worry settling together in the pit of her stomach.

“O-okay. Well, both Pinkie and my dreams started off fine. I was in a meadow with forest critters and Pinkie was flying through the clouds. After a few minutes, the grass and trees withered, and a loud shriek came from behind me.”

“The clouds turned to nasty, black storm clouds for me! Then, that same scream sounded like it was coming straight towards me!” Pinkie explained.

“I looked back, and a large black creature with talons and blue eyes flew after me and I tried to run away—”

“Did you say talons and... b-blue eyes?” Twilight interrupted, her own dream racing to the forefront of her mind.

“Yeah! It had giant wings, and even a beak! I had to stand at the side of the boat the entire night just to get my mind off of it...” Pinkie explained.

“What did it do? Did it hurt you?”

“Well, i-it raced towards me, grabbed onto my neck and dug its claws into me. After that I woke up,” Pinkie said.

Twilight's breathing instantly became labored as their words sank in. Their dreams didn't exactly match hers nor each other’s, but the ebony griffon analogue was still prominent and clear in all three.

“C-could you two hold on? Just for a second?”

Without waiting for a response, she severed the connection and promptly dumped the contents of her saddlebag onto the floor. She shook it, watching as a few apples, Celestia’s letter, the Element of Magic, a canteen filled with water, the old Ventian story book dropped out before catching in midair one particular item: the spell book she had carried with her from Equestria, the one that contained the telepathy spell. Tearing through the pages, she found the spell, running a hoof over the words. Once, twice and thrice over she read it before she found it: a small passage at the bottom of the page, little more than a footnote.

“The caster links his or her mind with the ones he or she contacts, transferring their feelings with the ones he or she links with,” she read aloud. “The host may permanently sever the connection at any time if the link becomes too dangerous, but shall not be able to reestablish the link for several weeks thereafter.”

She hunched over and placed her head in her hooves, panicking as she thought over her options.

If I sever the connection, my only link to them would be Rainbow, but that would place her in the same danger as the others. No... this is too valuable. I’ll just have to be more careful. Reluctantly, she closed the book and threw it onto the pile of her saddlebag contents before taking a centering breath and scooting back towards the roaring fire.

“Sorry, I needed to look something up.”

“Okie dokie!” Pinkie said, her voice a bit distorted as the link solidified. “How are Rarity and Applejack? Having fun in the city?”

Twilight gulped, feeling her knees buckle under her own weight. “I-I lost them a few hours ago. There was an attack, and we were... scattered. I'm alone here in an inn. I... I don’t know if they’re together or apart, but I couldn’t find them anywhere.” A weight felt like it was pressing on her chest as she spoke, afraid to think about what could be happening to them. “It's worse here than I imagined... much worse...”

“Oh.”

“Couldn’t you talk to them like you're talking to us?” Fluttershy asked, her voice thick with worry.

“I... can't. I just...” She paused, hanging her head. “I know I’ll find them.”

“Good luck,” Pinkie said, tone matching Fluttershy’s.

“Just don't do anything dangerous, okay? I-I... Just please stay safe,” Twilight said as a small welling of tears formed under her eyes.

“We will,” Fluttershy said before Twilight heard the connection cut, leaving her only the sound of the crackling fire.

Slowly, Twilight stood and trudged over to her bag. She grabbed it and placed it near the side of the bed before falling into the plush comforter, then threw her cloak off and letting it crumple onto the floor. Looking back on her flank, she recast the spell to rid herself of her cutie mark before turning towards the window. Silently she lay, listening to the sound of her own heartbeat as the conversation resonated in her mind.

As the hours ticked away, the sounds of city life outside gave way to silence and Twilight continued to lay, motionless, on the feather bed, wrapped in warmth as she fought to keep her mind blissfully blank as her body recovered. As the last flicker of flame fizzled out in the hearth, the wood little more than a chunk of blackened charcoal, the room was left pitch black and silent, broken moments later bay a soft sound.

The sound of sobbing.

A loud commotion erupted from downstairs, causing Twilight to toss and turn in a stubborn refusal to wake. Sunlight filled the room as noise from the busy streets seeped through the walls, making things harder for her to lay in bed. Eventually she gave in and sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes before scooting off of the bed. As she looked back, she saw the large wet spot on the pillow, returning all the feelings that had led her to the previous night’s breakdown, but she quickly brushed it aside. She knew that she’d have an easier time now that the sun was up again, and easier time finding her friends.

She hurriedly donned her cloak and levitated her bag onto her back before exiting the room. The door shut behind her, she stood in the hall, digging through her bag for the room key. She smiled as her hoof touched, fishing it out a sliding the cool metal between her teeth before trotting down the hall. As she descended the stairway, she found herself above a large crowd of ponies gathered in the inn’s lobby. Gingerly she waded through the massive crowd to reach the counter, bumping into several of them, drawing angry looks. They weren't as noble looking as the ponies she had seen populating the lobby the night before, their bodies wrapped in leather and steel while their manes appeared coarse and unshorn. She silently stepped around them before a white mare with pallid purple hair and a tattered cloak stopped Twilight in her tracks.

“I knew it was you! I had my doubts earlier, but it really is you!” Rarity exclaimed, wrapping her tired forelegs around Twilight. “It’s so wonderful to see a friendly face.”

“I'm so glad to see you,” Twilight said with a warm smile as she embraced her friend. She took a deep breath and sighed happily before nuzzling Rarity’s cheek, feeling the weight of her worries vanish. “How did you find me? Where were you?”

“After the guar