MLP: FiM; Stolen Harmony
Prologue: A Royal Request
The sound of rustling paper filled the air inside the library as its occupants shuffled through a variety of books. Twilight Sparkle, a purple unicorn with a pink streak in her mane flipped though the pages at a remarkable speed. Her horn was alight with magic, turning the pages without her actually touching them. When she made it to the end of a book, it would be tossed from the stand upon which it stood and then quickly replaced by another from the shelf behind her.
As the books were thrown from the stand, they landed haphazardly on the floor. The task of picking up the discarded tomes fell on Twilight's assistant, a purple scaled baby dragon with green spines. Spike sighed as he picked up the latest book to be strewn on the floor. He was used to it by now, as Twilight always got like this when she was going through an intense study session. That did not mean he had to like it though.
“So Twilight,” said the drake, daring to interrupt the pony's intense speed reading. “What brought this on? I've seen you study before, but this seems more like a race.”
Twilight seemed to delay in registering her assistant's comment, her eventual response made without looking up from her book. “I'm not studying this time exactly; I'm, searching for something.”
“Anything in particular?”
“Yes, or at least sort of.”
Twilight stopped her book rummaging and turned to her assistant. “Sorry, that wasn't very informative. I've been looking through a variety of spell books for something.”
“What kind of something?” asked Spike. “Maybe we can narrow it down.”
“I’m looking for anything pertaining to the natural magical energies inherent to Equestria outside unicorn magic.”
“That’s odd;” mused Spike. “I figured you were just looking up some new spells or something.”
“What’s even more odd is that there doesn’t seem to be any real solid material on the subject. Just bits and pieces.”
“What have you found so far?”
“Next to nothing, sadly,” said Twilight, hanging her head. She picked it up again when she resumed talking. “However, Everyday Energies and Elemental Enthusiasm had a small section talking about natural power that flows in places like the Everfree Forest. The Elements of Harmony: a Reference Guide also said that part of the elements’ function is to channel extraneous energy not normally accessible to the bearers.”
“Have you tried-”
Before Spike could continue his enquiry, he felt something tingle at the back of his throat. Recognizing the sensation, he opened his mouth and let out a low belching noise accompanied by a small stream of green flames. The fire circled around the air in front of him for a moment before materializing into a scroll, which fell into his waiting claws. The scroll bore the seal of Princess Celestia; Twilight's mentor and ruler of Equestria.
“That's odd,” muttered Twilight. “I wasn't expecting anything from the Princess for another couple of days.”
Spike quickly opened the scroll and dictated the message from the Princess.
My Dearest Twilight Sparkle:
I hope this letter finds you well, and that I am not interrupting anything important. I realize this is an irregular correspondence, but I wished to bring something to your attention. In one month's time, the annual Equestrian Best Young Mage competition will be held. However, I recently had to reschedule a conference with the Dragon King and it fell upon the day of the competition. As a result, I will be unable to attend and judge the contest. In my stead my younger sister, Princess Luna, will be supervising the event.
Luna has made great progress in the time since her return, but is still somewhat timid in regards to our subjects. In order for things to go smoothly, I wish for you and your friends to attend to help Luna acclimate. I know your friends all have busy lives, so the competition will be moved from Trottingham to Ponyville in order to prevent any inconvenience to them.
Lastly, since you have learned so much about the magic of friendship since arriving in Ponyville, I would like for you to enter the competition. In doing so, I hope to provide my sister with an example of what can come of the magic not found in any book. It is my hope that this will be a good experience for you and my sister alike, and await your reply.
Sincerely; Princess Celestia
Spike lowered the scroll when he finished reading to find Twilight wearing a rather shocked expression. “You okay?” he asked.
“Okay?!” exclaimed Twilight frantically; “Spike, don't you see what this means?”
“That the Princess is asking you for a couple favours?” retorted the baby dragon.
“It's much more than that; this is a test! I've been studying both friendship and magic here in Ponyville for over a year now. I finally see why Celestia gave me this task.”
“To keep you from being a recluse all your life?” Spike’s comments seemed to be increasing in sarcasm steadily.
“For Princess Luna! Luna was isolated for a LOT longer than I was, and nopony needs the power of friendship more than her.” Twilight began to shift through stacks of old scrolls, searching for copies of her friendship reports. “Not only that, but she's providing a testing grounds for my magic too.”
“I think the Princess knows better than anyone how good you are with magic.”
“I really don't think the Princess would have asked me to compete if she didn't think it would be an actual competition,” muttered the purple unicorn, continuing her rummaging. “No wonder I felt the need to study up on more magic.”
“So you're gonna do it then?”
“Of course; I can't turn down such an important request from the Princess.”
“Alright, this is gonna be so cool.” Spike began picking up books for re-shelving. “I wonder what kind of awesome magic we'll get to see.”
“First things first, gotta send Princess Celestia my reply.”
“Can you hear it?”
“Only a whisper.”
“A chance is coming.”
“We must be ready.”
Author's Note: And so it begins. With any luck this will turn out to be the epic adventure it panned out as in my mind. If not, well it'll still be... something. Hope you readers stick around to find out.
MLP: FiM; Stolen Harmony
Part 1: The Competition
In the month that had passed since Twilight received the Princess's request, little had changed in Ponyville. The day after, she had gathered together he friends and met with the Mayor to inform them of the task she had been appointed and their respective parts in it. Twilight's friends had been intrigued at the notion of acting as support for Princess Luna, but had all agreed to do their part. They had, after all, been largely responsible for her return to the throne.
The Mayor had arranged for a makeshift arena to be set up in the fields just outside of town. This arena consisted of little more than a collection of bleachers and a raised stand for Luna and her accompaniment surrounding a large patch of firmly packed earth. Despite its modest construction, it was still large enough to accommodate all of Ponyville's terrestrial population. Additionally, cloud seating had been placed in the sky above the arena for the resident pegasi.
It was at this makeshift arena that Twilight now waited for the arrival of the Princess of the Night, alongside her dearest friends. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Rarity and Pinkie Pie all stood close to her, anticipating Luna's coming. They had been alone when they first arrived earlier that morning, but as the day progressed ponies began to arrive and take up seats to watch the show.
“This is taking forever,” muttered the sky blue pegasus. She playfully tossed her rainbow mane and snorted. “You'd think a Princess would be on time for everything.”
“Ah just hope she don't take after you,” chided Applejack. The bright orange earth pony adjusted the stetson that sat atop her golden mane. “Besides, bein' a Princess ain't easy. She's probly got all kinds of work to do before comin' out here, what with Celestia bein' away fer business.”
“Now girls, let's not fight,” squeaked Fluttershy. The cream coloured pegasus hid behind her silky pink mane as the others all looked at her. “We are here to show Luna about friendship... that is, we're supposed to-”
“Fluttershy's tooootally right,” chimed in Pinkie Pie, bouncing energetically on the spot. “We're here to show Princess Luna what friendship is all about. And what better way to do that than... a PARTY! I've been setting up plans with Mr. and Mrs. Cake for one at Sugarcube Corner after this competition is all over with. Do you think Luna likes cake? Or maybe she'd prefer moon pies. Then again, since she was on the moon for a thousand years she may have had enough of them. Apple pies are just as good of course, but if the party's for Luna then a moon theme would be more fun, don't you think? Maybe we could set up a moon bounce too!”
“Now dear, let's consider a little tact, hm?” said Rarity, brushing her curly violet mane away from her face. Pinkie Pie continued to ramble to herself as the unicorn spoke. “Luna is here to learn about friendship yes, but from what Celestia said she's still very timid and not used to a lot of attention. I think perhaps something more subtle would be ideal; perhaps a gift, a token of Ponyville's gratitude for hosting such a prestigious event. I had a couple ideas for a cape that would go wonderfully with her tiara and hoof covers.”
Twilight, who hadn't said a word all morning, was prodded by Applejack while Rarity and Pinkie Pie were each stuck in their own little worlds. “You okay sugarcube?”
The purple unicorn let out a sigh. “I'm alright, I guess. Just a little nervous. I haven't seen Luna since we defeated Nightmare Moon more than a year ago. I'm not sure what to expect. Not to mention I have no idea what's going to happen with this competition.”
“Now that I don't see as a problem,” cut in Rainbow Dash. “I won best young flier after all; there's no way you can lose.”
“Ah hafta agree with Rainbow on that one. You've got more magic than anypony else in town, maybe even in all of Equestria.” The cowpony placed a supportive hoof on her friend’s shoulder. “The competition should be th'least of yer worries.”
Twilight allowed a small smile to creep onto her face. “Thanks girls, it means a lot.”
“I'm sure that our company will mean a lot to the Princess too,” noted Fluttershy. “I'm sure Celestia was just looking out for her when she asked us to stay with her while she's here.”
“Ooh ooh, I wonder if Luna will let me do the announcing. I had soooo much fun doing it during the Running of the Leaves last fall. Spike can even be my co-announcer too! Wait, where is Spike?”
“Still back at the library, asleep,” replied Twilight. “He was up most of last night helping with the preparations.”
As the six mares conversed, more and more ponies began to arrive. In addition to those filling out the bleachers and sky surrounding the arena, certain unicorns began to arrive in the center. These unicorns had been showing up in Ponyville for a couple days, as they were the contenders for the title of Best Young Mage. Including Twilight there were sixteen in all. Most of them came as a single representative of their hometown, although three of them hailed from Canterlot, the capital city. Twilight recognized some of them, but was too concerned about meeting Luna to acquaint herself with the rest.
As the arena was beginning to reach capacity, the sound of a trumpet blazed through the air. Everypony looked up and saw that the most anticipated guest had arrives. A golden chariot descended from the sky, pulled by two pristine white, armoured Pegasi. Between the royal guards was a third pegasus, responsible for the fanfare that preceded their arrival. The entourage landed on the raised platform, where it's passenger disembarked.
Princess Luna looked every bit of her title; her coat was a greyish purple colour like a well lit night sky. It was complimented by a soft, midnight blue mane that seemed to flow on an ethereal wind. Atop her head sat a simple silver tiara, with matching silver cuffs on each of her hooves. The Princess, like her sister, was an alicorn, possessing both the wings of a pegasus and the horn of a unicorn. She was also regally tall and slender, standing a head taller than either of her guards. She gestured to her escorts, who moved the chariot off the podium before returning to her side.
With the Princess' arrival, Twilight's friends proceed to join her on the podium. Twilight was about to go with them when she was flagged by one of the ponies who had been selected to judge the competition. She was made to follow them, along with the other competitors, to the outer edge of the arena. She dismayed at being separated from her friends, and hoped that she would be able to converse with the Night Princess after the competition.
Up on the podium, Twilight's friends made their way towards Princess Luna, briefly looking back upon noticing they had been separated from Twilight. Although disappointed, they knew that she had been pulled away because the competition would be starting soon now that Luna had arrived. The trio of royal guards barred the mares' advance, until they were dismissed by the Princess. The guards moved to the back of the podium to allow the mares to approach Luna.
As they approached the Princess, the five mares bowed deeply to her. “Thank you all,” stated Luna, prompting the others to seat themselves normally.
“It is an honour to be in your presence,” stated Rarity, her voice carrying a tone of practised formality.
“It's nice to see you again,” added Fluttershy meekly.
“The honour is mine,” stated Luna, eliciting curious glances from the others. “Were it not for all of you, I wouldn't even be here right now. I owe the five of you and Twilight more than you can know.”
“So, yer majesty, if you don't mind me askin' that is, how have things been for you since ya came back?” asked Applejack.
Luna let out a sigh that made Applejack regret her question, thinking she had hit a sore spot. “Things have been... different. A thousand years is a long time after all. Still, I've resumed my old duties and Celly...” Luna's cheeks reddened a shade upon calling her sister by a nickname in public. “I mean, Princess Celestia has been encouraging me to get out of the palace more.”
“That's great!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie, startling everypony, Luna included. “It's good to hear you're getting out more. It would be really sad if after all that time on the moon you stayed isolated all by your own doing. Even better I think you should come to a party after this competition is all wrapped up. I wanted it to have a moon theme, but I figured I should ask you first-”
Pinkie Pie was cut off into mumbling as Applejack shoved a hoof in her mouth. “Slow down there; ah'm not sure the Princess can keep up with ya.”
“It's quite alright,” said Luna, although she had backed up a few paces during Pinkie's verbal onslaught. “Now, you said something about a party?”
Fluttershy had also scooted away from the ever rambunctious pink pony. “It's kind of her way of expressing... well, anything. We all want you to feel welcome here.”
Rainbow Dash, who had been uncharacteristically quiet in the presence of the Princess, spoke up as well. “Yeah; all that stuff from before is water under the bridge. Everypony in town has already gotten over it.” A stern glance from Rarity told Rainbow that she was treading thin ice, and she silenced herself, although she retained a look that suggested she hadn't said anything wrong.
“What she means your highness is that, in keeping with your sister's request, we would like to welcome you into our community properly, so you can get back in touch with your subjects.” Rarity had turned her high society persona on full blast, as she typically did in the presence of most well off ponies. “How we actually do that of course is up to you, we were just offering a possibility.”
“Well, I do appreciate your desire to be of aid-” before Luna could finish, a signal from one of the judge ponies indicated that it was time to start. “Sorry, we can finish this later. My official duties come first.”
Twilight sat in one of the corners of the arena with three other unicorns. The sixteen contestants had been split into four groups of four that would compete separately in a preliminary round, from which four finalists would be selected for an additional round of competition. Twilight knew the rules after reading them in a pamphlet, as well as having them restated by one of the judge ponies. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She couldn't help but be curious about how her friends were handling themselves with the younger Princess, and how Luna was feeling about her friends.
A hoof placed on her shoulder snapped Twilight back to her immediate surroundings. She looked to the source of the hoof and was met with a fellow contestant. He was a bright red stallion a spiky, short cropped mane of orange streaked with blue. If Twilight had seen him from a distance, she might have thought he was on fire. His cutie mark depicted an explosion that looked like it belonged on a hazard sign.
“You nervous?” asked the stallion sympathetically. “You seemed kinda out of it, that's all.”
“Yeah,” replied Twilight, brushing some sweat from her brow, “you could say that.”
“Name's Crimson Flash,” stated the other contestant. “No need to introduce yourself; pretty much everyone in Canterlot knows Celestia's apprentice.”
“You're from Canterlot?”
“Trottingham actually, but my brother moved to the capital a couple years ago to join the royal guard. He tells me a lot of the goings on up there.”
“Nice to meet you then,” Twilight said, shaking his hoof. “You don't seem too nervous.”
“'Seem' being the operative word. I work with pyrotechnics, so I'm used to being under pressure not to mess up.” The fiery pony rolled his eyes a lot as he spoke. “Lost half my tail once in an explosion; thought it'd never grow back.”
“I turned my parents into potted plants once,” said Twilight, grinning nervously. “They got better though.”
“Ha! That's crazy stuff. Good luck then, Twilight Sparkle.”
“You too, I guess, Crimson Flash.”
Twilight turned her attention back to the arena, where Luna stood on the podium, waiting to address the crowds. From this distance, Twilight couldn't make out her expression clearly. However, her friends were still there, all of them seated in fairly close proximity to her. She hoped this meant they had made a good impression on the Princess. It was true that they had met before, but the circumstances had been quite different and she didn't want to disappoint Celestia by depressing her younger sister.
Luna took a deep breath and spoke aloud to the assembled ponies, her voice mystically amplified. “Fillies and gentlecolts, welcome to the Annual Equestrian Best Young Mage Competition.” She paused for a moment, allowing the crowd to cheer and applaud for a short while. “On behalf of my sister, who could not be here today, it is my pleasure to oversee this wonderful event.” More cheering ensued. “Now then, without any further delay, let the competition commence!”
As Luna's words rang out, several of the unicorns launched bolts of magic into the air, which exploded into a display of dazzling lights. This display had been chosen instead of actual fireworks in order to prevent any potential damage to the nearby fields and forest. As the magical light show fizzled out, a group of shadowy figures moved towards the town proper. None noticed, as all eyes were on the competition.
Twilight's group was going to be the first to perform, which was cause for both anxiety and relief. She would be able to get the preliminary round over with quickly, and perhaps have an opportunity to meet Princess Luna before the final. She walked out onto the field with the other three members of her group to the cheering of the audience. She looked up and saw her friends cheering along, with calls of 'good luck Twilight' reaching her ears. The presence of her friends helped calm Twilight's nerves, and she waved at them heartily.
Looking around the arena, Twilight tried to get a feel for what was going on. The first thing she noticed was the panel of judges on the other side of the competition grounds. Her mind drifted back to the administrators who had overseen her entrance exam when she was a filly, but a pair of friendly faces told her it wouldn't be quite the same. The Mayor of Ponyville smiled at her, and next to her sat Big Macintosh, Applejack's older brother. She didn't know the other two very well, but she had seen them around town occasionally.
The ground of the arena was divided into four sections, each holding a different challenge. First was a set of targets, then a long stretch of soft earth with a large measuring tape next to it. Thirdly there was a set of numerous large weights, and the last section contained a rope with four very complex knots tied into it.
Princess Luna addressed the crowd again, to offer an explanation of the preliminary challenges. “Each of our competitors will complete four challenges, testing their magical accuracy, stamina, power and dexterity. First, using simple magic bolts, our competitors will fire upon the targets. Secondly, their magical stamina shall be tested through teleportation. They shall start at the marked line and transport as far as they can in a single jump. Next, their magic power shall be tested through the telekinetic lifting of weights. Lastly, their magical dexterity shall be demonstrated through the untying of a special magic knot. The four competitors who score the highest across these four challenges will be carried through to the final round. Now that the rules are clear, let the competition commence!”
At Luna's command, each of the four unicorn competitors moved into one of the sections to complete their challenges. As each one finished they would rotate to the next section until each had done all four challenges. Twilight found herself in the shooting range, and positioned herself before the first target. She took a deep breath and began to weave her magic. Her horn lit up as she did, glowing with the power that coursed through her.
Magical bolts were fundamentally simple magic, so Twilight had no trouble creating a dart of energy to cast at the target. She didn't use spells like this normally, so she hoped she could control it well enough. With a grunt she projected the bolt along the range, where it struck the target and fizzled out, leaving a small scorch mark. Twilight was relieved, as the mark fell just inside the innermost ring.
Moving on, Twilight switched over to the teleportation test. She focused her magical energies inward, willing herself to vanish, then created a focused channel that would allow her to flow where she willed. With a bright flash she disappeared, reappearing at the very edge of the range. For the first time in the competition, Twilight donned a legitimate smile. Everything that was being tested was fairly simply, fundamental magic, and she was had renewed confidence in her abilities. She had been nervous largely because she didn't know what to expect, but everything seemed to be turning out well.
Twilight performed well on the weight lifting, using her previous experience of hoisting a five hundred pound Ursa Minor. She lifted the two heaviest weights available for a total of three hundred pounds, holding them several feet in the air for a good ten seconds. She set them down, but staggered a bit as she moved to rotate to the last challenge. She stood still for a moment and caught her breath, now remembering why she had been sick the day after the Ursa Minor incident.
After her momentary fugue passed, Twilight moved on to the dexterity test. She observed the enormously complex knot tied in the rope for a moment before levitating it towards her for a closer inspection. The knot was magically tied, and could only be undone by reversing the magic that had tied it. Twilight worked slowly but surely, tracing the magical knot to its root. It then became a simple mater of following that trace back out to reverse it. When the cord hung loose, Twilight looked upon it with a small bit of self satisfaction.
Her group finished, Twilight and the other unicorns were cleared out of the arena while the judges evaluated their performances. Twilight wanted to take this opportunity to join her friends and Princess Luna. However, when she went towards them, it was apparent that Luna was keeping all of her focus on the competition. Her friends were talking amongst themselves, while the Princess seemed painfully distant.
Twilight sighed, feeling the anxiety that had left her welling up again. The whole point of her entering the competition had been for Luna, but she didn't seem to be in touch with the other ponies. She looked up to Luna, who caught her gaze and looked back at her. The Princess had a small but genuine smile on her face. Twilight's anxiousness eased again; at least the Princess wasn't depressed. She also knew that her friends, more than anypony else, would be able to show Luna how great friendship was. They had done it for her after all.
Twilight rejoined her group and exited the field. She chatted with the other three about their respective performances as the other groups went about their preliminary challenges. Twilight watched some of the others perform, noting a few of them standing out above the rest. Two ponies that she knew did particularly well, although one of them came as a surprise. A certain ‘Great and Powerful’ powder blue unicorn had made her way into the contest, and was drawing as much attention onto herself as she could by performing the challenges in a needlessly grandiose fashion. Despite her unnecessary flashiness, Trixie’s performance was far more admirable than the cantrips she used to employ.
When the other competitors had all finished their tasks, there was a break for the judges to finish deliberation. After a few minutes, the Mayor brought the final tallies to Princess Luna, who looked them over. She slid a glance at Twilight as she reentered the field, along with all the others for the announcement of the finalists. They arranged themselves as the same groups as before, awaiting the results.
Luna tapped a hoof on the podium to garner everypony's attention. “Competitors and audience alike, the preliminary round is over. I shall now read off the four finalists, who attained the highest scores out of a possible forty points. Third runner-up, with a score of thirty-three: From Trottingham; Mr. Crimson Flash.”
“Yes!” exclaimed the fiery stallion, pumping a hoof into the air. He moved to the front of the group and awaited the other finalists.
“Second runner-up,” continued Luna, “with a score of thirty-five: From Canterlot; Ms. Twinkletoes.”
A pale yellow mare with a pair of ballet slippers for a cutie mark joined Flash at the front of the group. Twilight knew Twinkletoes from Celestia's school for gifted unicorns, and was glad to see an old classmate among the finalists.
“First runner-up, with a score of thirty-eight: From Hoofington, Ms. Trixie.”
A glance at her friends, currently standing behind Luna, told Twilight that they were rather shocked about the first runner-up. Much of the rest of the audience was as well, given their former experience with the mare. Twilight had been somewhat surprised to see her here as well, but was not surprised at the result after seeing her compete. Trixie, the self proclaimed 'Great and Powerful', had come to Ponyville some time before, and had been the chief cause of the infamous Ursa Minor incident. It was clear, to Twilight at least, that Trixie had taken her defeat back then to heart, and seemed to have brought her magic up to match her former boasting.
“Lastly, the leader at the end of the preliminary round, with a score of thirty-nine: From right here in Ponyville, Ms. Twilight Sparkle.”
As her name was called, Twilight's friends erupted in a series of cheers and shouts, the loudest of which came from none other than Fluttershy. Twilight smiled at her friends and moved to join the other finalists. Flash and Twinkletoes gave her appreciative looks, but Trixie's gaze held nothing but contempt. It seemed that she might still be sore about having been shown up by Twilight in her previous visit to Ponyville. As well she might be sore about being edged out by Twilight in the competition, even if only just.
Luna had one last announcement to end the preliminary round; “Congratulations to our four finalists, and thank you to all of our other participants. Before the final round commences, there shall be a half hour intermission to allow the competitors a chance to recharge. Well done, all of you.” One last eruption of applause broke out amongst the audience, giving way to various conversations about the competition thus far.
Twilight stood with the other finalists as the rest of the participants made their way out of the makeshift arena. The Mayor, Big Mac and the other two judges departed as well to join the rest of the audience. The final round was to be judged by Luna herself, although Twilight had received no mention of what that round would be. Before the final round began, she wanted to take advantage of the break to meet with Luna and make sure she was doing well.
As Twilight turned towards the platform, Twinkletoes barred her path. “Twilight, congratulations on making the final,” she said, clapping Twilight on the shoulder.
“Thanks Twinkletoes,” she replied hastily, still wanting to reach the Princess.
“I'm glad to see you came out for this. It seems moving here has done wonders for you.” Twilight’s old classmate placed a hoof on her chin in thought. “I remember back when you were studying directly under Celestia; you were so quiet back then.”
“I have my friends to thank for that. If you don't mind though, I was going to have a word with them while I had the chance.”
“Oh, sorry. Go on then.”
Before Twilight could go any further, she found her path blocked again. This time the culprit was Trixie, who bore a smug smile on her face. The incessantly boastful unicorn addressed Twilight with undeserved condescension. “So, we meet again Twilight Sparkle.”
“Seems that way.” Twilight attempted to be curt, having less patience for having her path being barred once again.
“No doubt that Trixie’s presence here comes as a great shock to you?”
“Not really;” she retorted, “this kind of thing seems right up your alley. Besides, your performance was great out there. You've really improved your magic.”
“But of course; I am the Great and Powerful Trixie after all.” Trixie gestured grandly as she spoke, even rearing up on her hind legs at times.
“I didn't think you were still calling yourself that.”
“Don't be foolish, Ms. Sparkle. The Great and Powerful Trixie is and always will be, and once she wins this competition, all of Equestria will know it.” As she said those last words, Trixie brought her face uncomfortably close to Twilight’s.
“Well then good luck, I guess.” Twilight pulled away from Trixie, wanting to regain her personal space.
“Luck is unnecessary, Ms. Sparkle. You have been told before that you would never have the amazing, show stopping abilities of the Great and Powerful Trixie. Now the time has finally come to prove it.”
Twilight was rather disappointed that Trixie still maintained her mantle of smugness after everything that had happened the last time she was here. Still, there wasn't much she could do about it, so she would just have to put up with it. She broke away from the other finalists as Flash struck up conversation with Twinkletoes. Trixe just stood there glowering at Twilight behind her back.
Just as she reached the stairs leading up to the platform, Twilight was ambushed once again. This time however, it was far more welcome. “Twiiiiilight,” moaned Spike, the baby dragon having only just arrived at the arena. “Why didn't you wake me? I missed half the competition!”
“You spent half of last night preparing for the competition,” retorted Twilight. “If I'd woken you up earlier you'd have been nodding off through half of it anyways. Now that you're up though, you can see the final round.”
“The final round?!” repeated Spike, his displeasure quickly replaced by excitement. “Sweet, that means I still get the see the really awesome magic.”
“Of course, but first I want to have a talk with Princess Luna while I still have time.”
Twilight allowed the baby dragon to mount her back as she ascended the stairs to the platform where her friends and the Princess were waiting. As soon as she reached the top of the platform, she found herself knocked off her feet. Pinkie Pie had pounced on her the moment she came within sight, tossing Spike aside and pinning Twilight on her back.
“That was amazing!” she exclaimed. “You came in first in the preliminary round over all of the best young unicorns in Equestria!”
“You're something else Twilight,” chimed in Rainbow Dash. “Pretty soon Ponyville will be host to the best young flier AND the best young mage.”
“Yay,” added Fluttershy, although her enthusiasm was somewhat diminished by her lack of volume.
Applejack had moved to pat Twilight on the back, but had been knocked aside herself by Pinkie Pie. “That were a mighty fine bit of magic there Twi',” she said as she picked herself up.
“My congratulations as well Twilight, that was a most spectacular performance.” Rarity had wisely kept her distance from the pouncing path of Pinkie Pie.
“Aw come on,” protested Twilight. “It was nothing special, really. Trixie did almost as well as I did too.”
“Trixie? Bah,” spat Rainbow Dash, “I still don't know why they let that showboating snob in here.”
“While I can tell her magic has been enhanced since her previous venture here, I must say that I agree with Rainbow Dash. Trixie's conduct is still most unbecoming.”
“If y'all ask me, Ah reckon she's still sore about the Ursa Minor incident.” Applejack mused. “Ah bet she's only here to try and get back at Twilight for showin' her up before.”
“Yeah, she did seem to single me out. Still, I think it'll be interesting to see what she has in store.”
With her friends congratulations all accounted for, Twilight removed herself from underneath Pinkie and approached Princess Luna. She offered the alicorn a bow before speaking to her. “Hello again your majesty.”
“Greetings Twilight Sparkle,” replied Luna. “I am glad to see Celestia's prized pupil preforming well in this competition.”
“I have her to thank for that I think; if she hadn't taken me in, I would be a very different unicorn.”
“My sister has that effect on everypony; she always seems to bring out the best in all of them.” Twilight couldn't help but notice that Luna seemed a bit sad as she said this, as though she was excluding herself from the ranks of 'everypony'. Sensing Twilight's perception, she quickly changed the subject. “So Twilight Sparkle, how are you feeling about the competition so far?”
“Um... pretty good I guess,” replied Twilight, taking Luna’s hint to talk about somethign else. “I'm glad to have come out of the preliminary round on top. However, I think I can say for sure that I have some stiff competition.”
“Oh yeah!” burst out Pinkie Pie, disrupting the conversation. “If Twilight wins the competition, we'll need to throw her a party! It'll be the perfect excuse for Luna to have a party too! Go for it Twilight; win this thing!”
“Pinkie's got a point,” added Rainbow. “We've had worse reasons to party.”
Twilight chuckled at her friends' enthusiasm. “Alright then, I'll try my best. Would you be willing to attend your highness?”
“I think I shall,” said Luna, adopting a small smile. “Just so long as I don't stay too late; I still have other duties to attend in Canterlot while my sister is away.”
“Woohoo! I'll be sure to make this one of my best parties ever! Nothing's too good for one of our beloved Princesses.”
“Twilight'll win this thing no sweat,” said Spike. “She's been practising all kinds of new tricks since last month.”
“I look forward to seeing that then. Good luck Twilight Sparkle, the final round is about to begin.”
Twilight received one more round of well wishing from her friends before stepping down from the platform. She rejoined the other finalists in the middle of the arena, and the four of them turned to face Princess Luna. The chatty crowd fell into a hush as the Princess stepped forward to address them all once again.
“Fillies and gentlecolts, thank you all for waiting. Now comes what you've all been waiting for; the final round of Equestria's Best Young Mage competition. During the first round, our competitors displayed their aptitude in a variety of magical challenges. Now, for the finale, they will show us their very best. They shall each perform a feat of their own choosing to best demonstrate their magical aptitude. All our finalists, I bid you show us the greatest magic you can muster.”
The crowd erupted into another cacophony of eager cheering. Twilight could hear her friends calling out to her over the noise. Luna raised a hoof to silence the applause and cheering. “We shall start with our third runner-up, Crimson Flash. We shall then progress through Twinkletoes, Trixie and finish with Twilight Sparkle.”
With Luna's speech concluded, Crimson Flash made his way to the center of the arena, while Twilight and the others stepped off to the side to observe. Twilight watched eagerly, wondering what the stallion had planned for his display. She watched intently as his horn lit up with magical energy, building into a massive array of light. Once enough magic had been gathered, Flash shot it skyward, high above the arena.
The audience all craned their necks up to watch as the magic flew higher and higher into the air. When it reached a distance well above the pegasus cloud seating, the magic exploded into a massive display of light and colour. The magical firework arced outwards, creating a panoramic array of colour and shapes, far more magnificent than any conventional firework could produce. The audience let out a variety of 'oohs' and 'ahs' as the dazzling light show continued for several minutes.
Satisfied with his work, Flash stepped back towards the other finalists, allowing Twinkletoes to take the field. She took a deep breath before she began, charging her magic as Flash had done. When she was ready, Twinkletoes was enveloped in a massive flash of white light, disappearing from the arena. Twilight recognized it as a teleportation spell, but the amount of power Twinkletoes had poured into it indicated that she had travelled a huge distance.
Several minutes passed and Twinkletoes did not reappear. Murmurs began to flow through the crowd, curious as to why she had not returned. Even Princess Luna seemed confused, and turned to her guards as though to send them to search for the displaced unicorn. Before she could give the order, a scroll of paper materialized in front of her. Unravelling the scroll, Luna dictated the message.
“To the judge of the Best Young Mage Competition: If you are receiving this, then my daughter Twinkletoes has successfully teleported from Ponyville to Canterlot in a single jump. She had intended to return after a short reprieve, but has collapsed from magical exhaustion. She will be unable to return to complete the competition. Signed: Mr. Jazz Tappy.”
The crowd murmured again, wondering what that meant for the second runner-up. Twilight couldn't help but let her jaw drop a bit, as teleporting such a distance in a single jump was no small feat. After a few moments of self deliberation, Luna addressed the crowd once more; “Ms. Twinkletoes performed an admirable feat of magic. However, her absence from the competition grounds means that she is no longer eligible to finish. Unfortunately, she is disqualified from the final round.”
The crowd let out a collective expression of disappointment at this news, most audible from Twilight's friends up on Luna's platform. Twilight felt her ears droop, saddened that her old classmate had been disqualified. Twinkletoes had always been a hard working student of magic, and teleportation had been her speciality.
In spite of Twinkletoes’ disqualification, the contest continued. Trixie took her position before the crowd, revelling in the attention she was being given. Granted that attention was mixed, given her reputation here, but she basked in it all the same. Satisfied that all eyes were on her, Trixie began her performance. She charged her magic like the others, but instead of projecting it, she seemed to be wrapping it around herself.
Twilight watch Trixie struggle and sweat as she manipulated the magic in a way she was unfamiliar with. She couldn't begin to fathom what she would be attempting. As the magic surrounded Trixie completely, there was a great burst of smoke that obscured most of the arena floor. It was a windy day, so the smoke dissipated fairly quickly. However, Trixie was nowhere to be seen. The crowd once again grew noisy with whispers of curiosity.
After about two minutes of nothing, Trixie suddenly reappeared right where she had been standing before. Although she now looked rather strained from the amount of magic she had used. Twilight now understood what she had done; she had used her magic to bend the light around her, rendering her effectively invisible. The smoke had simply been for dramatic effect, as Trixie was wont to provide.
With the other finalists' performances complete, it was now Twilight's turn. After witnessing the remarkable magic displays of the other three, Twilight was no longer as sure of herself as she had been when the preliminary round ended. Still, she had a spell in mind that might do the trick, but it was grievously complicated. As well, she would need to use a huge amount of magic to pull it off.
Twilight had been studying magic most of her life, and knew the great things it was capable of. She also knew that magic permeated everything in Equestria. If she could tap into that ambient magic, she could draw in enough power to perform her greatest spell. She took a deep breath and concentrated on the magic flowing through her body. She willed it to reach out from her, grasping at all of the little bits of magic surrounding her, drawing them in.
Twilight felt the connection form, her magic extending into the environment around her. She had no idea what it would look like from the outside, if anything at all. She was busy concentrating on drawing in that magical energy to use for her own. It began to work, and she could feel the magical energy being drawn to her, steadily filling her beyond her already potent capacity. In a few more moments she would have everything she needed.
Once she had the desired amount of magic drawn in, Twilight made to sever the connection between her and the ambient external magic. Just then, something went wrong; Twilight found herself unable to sever the connection. More and more magic was being drawn to her, well beyond her ability to contain. It was just like back at her entrance exam, when her magic had gone berserk.
Her horn began to sputter, attempting to discharge the extra magic. However, Twilight was not about to turn anypony else into a potted plant. She had much greater control than she had as a filly, and was going to put it to good use. She forced all of the extra magic into her horn, willing it into a single point. With the magic gathered, she discharged it all at once, generating a massive flash of light and force that threw her against the base of Luna's platform.
The force of the magical explosion had severed Twilight’s connection to the ambient magic, and she was no longer in danger of causing any unwanted disasters. When she had seen Twilight's spell going haywire, Luna had descended from the platform, intending to aid her as Celestia had when she was a filly. Twilight's friends were right behind the Princess, and gathered around her.
Twilight's head was spinning, but she was unharmed. “I don't wanna play anymore,” she mumbled, before giving her head a shake to clear her thoughts.
“Twilight Sparkle, are you alright?” asked Princess Luna, genuine worry ringing in her tone.
“I think so; nothing's broken anyways.”
“What in the hay were you tryin' t'do anyhow?” demanded Applejack, out of curiosity as much as concern. “You were lightin' up like a summer bonfire down here.”
“Doesn't matter, it didn't work.” Twilight hung her head in disappointment.
“No worries Twilight,” called Rainbow Dash, hovering above her friend. “We all screw up some times, even somepony as awesome as you or me.”
“We still love you,” chimed in Pinkie Pie.
“And you're sure you're okay?” asked Fluttershy, giving Twilight a look over to make sure she was unharmed.
“Goodness,” remarked Rarity, “whatever you were doing did a number on your mane.”
Twilight examined her mane to find that it was now standing up in all directions as though charged with static. She chuckled at this; “I think that's the least of my worries considering.”
“Twilight,” cut in Luna, “do you realize what you were doing? The kind of magic you were drawing in was far too much for a regular unicorn. Only Celestia and I have ever managed that kind of ambient magic manipulation before, at least as individuals.” Luna seemed to be somewhat impressed now that she knew Twilight was alright.
“No wonder there weren't many books on the subject.”
“That's amazing Twilight,” said Spike, walking up to her. “You nearly managed an alicorn level of magic! I've never seen you do anything like that before. Are you sure you're alright?”
“I'm fine, really. Now then, I think I'd like to get this competition wrapped up so I can go lay down for a bit.” More than anything, Twilight seemed fatigued by the strain of discharging all that magic at once.
Luna nodded to Twilight, before turning to face the crowd. “Fillies and Gentlecolts, now that the safety of our finalists has been confirmed, it is time to announce the results. Twilight Sparkle attempted a feat of magic nearly great enough to rival myself or Princess Celestia. However, her loss of control cannot be overlooked. Unfortunately, she cannot be awarded the title of Best Young Mage.”
A silence fell over the crowd as they all donned looks of varying displeasure. They ranged from sadness to disappointment all the way to anger. Still, Luna was right; Twilight had failed in her spell, despite her preliminary performance. The crowd eventually bowed their heads in respect of Luna's decision.
Luna turned to Crimson Flash next. “Crimson Flash put on a remarkable visual display that dazzled and amazed all of us. However, the actual magic involved was fundamentally simple when compared to the other feats performed.” Flash snorted and kicked the ground in frustration.
Luna lastly faced Trixie, who had an expression of confusion on her face. “Trixie's feat of invisibility was magnificent; she magically controlled the very light around her, and showed noteworthy stamina in maintaining that state for a full two minutes. Therefore, in recognition of this impressive feat, I award the title of Best Young Mage to this year's winner, Ms. Trixie.”
Trixie's jaw dropped, as though not even she had expected this result. Luna produced a tiara made of gold, adorned with an ornament that bore a fair resemblance to the wand and stardust on Trixie's flank. She placed the tiara on Trixie's head, after which she stood there, mouth agape. She had won, just like she said she would. When her fugue went away, Trixie burst into a rather loud cheer for herself, at which point the audience began to applaud as well. The applause was not as loud as it could have been, indicating that some of the audience was not entirely satisfied with the result.
“What?!” exclaimed Rainbow Dash, jumping into the air. “How could you give the crown to that obnoxious, bull headed-”
Rainbow was cut off as Applejack bit down on her tail, pulling her to the ground. “Simmer down sally; Princess Luna made her decision. Trixie won fair and square, even if her attitude still stinks.” Applejack shot Trixie a dirty look of her own.
“I did it,” exclaimed Trixie. “The Great and Powerful Trixie again shows her magnificent magic for all to see. Behold Ponyville, for The Great and Powerful Trixie is the Best Mage in Equestria!” She let out a high pitched squeal of laughter to accompany her boast, rearing up on her hind legs again.
“Congratulations,” said Twilight, extending a hoof to Trixie. “You were rather... great out there.”
Trixie seemed taken aback, but shook Twilight's hoof all the same. “Of course; who do you think I am?”
“You're the Great and Powerful Trixie!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie, who had suddenly appeared in between the two unicorns. “You know what that means?”
“We need to throw you a party! The winner deserves a party after all, even if it wasn't Twilight. Do you like moon pies? How about cake? Candy? Caramel? Confetti?” As she said the last word, a burst of confetti and streamers came from somewhere within the curls of her mane. “C'mon, let's get you to Sugarcube Corner!”
“Wait, I-” Trixie attempted to protest, but found herself being shoved towards Ponyville by the ever excited Pinkie. Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes before following after her friend.
Twilight chuckled to herself, “Pinkie just won't be denied her parties. Are you going to join us Princess?”
“I did say I would;” replied Luna, “plus it's the sort of thing Celestia would want me to do.”
“Then let's get to it,” exclaimed Applejack. “Yer gonna love Pinkie's parties yer highness; she always throws the best ones. Yee-Haw!”
“I look forward to it.”
Princess Luna, Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy made their way out of the arena as the crowds began to file out as well. Twilight turned towards Flash, who was also heading towards the exit. “Would you like to come too?” she asked, extending an invitation to the competition's other runner-up.
“I can come?” said Flash, briefly confused. “Sweet. I'll swing by in a bit, but first I gotta couple relations here in Ponyville to visit.”
Twilight and Flash exited the arena together before heading in separate directions. Twilight caught up to her friends, and struck up conversation with them as they made their way back into town. She hoped that Princess Luna would stay as long as she could before her duties called, in order to show her the wonders of friendship up close and personal.
“All goes well?”
“There was a brief disturbance.”
“Still, our objective was met.”
“We shall proceed with haste.”
Author's Note: In a lot of stories, Twilight botching a spell seems to end up with much worse consequences than losing a contest. Guess she’s lucky this time.
MLP: FiM; Stolen Harmony
Part 2: The Heist
The morning of the Best Young Mage Competition saw most of Ponyville's population heading over to the arena to watch. Not everyone was in attendance, as there were many who could or would not leave their normal routines. However, there were also those there that shouldn't be. At the edge of the Everfree Forest, a group of shadowy figures assembled, waiting for the right moment.
There were six figures in all; ponies of varying size, shape and breed. All of them wore dark, hooded cloaks that covered most of their bodies. The cloaks had an unnatural blackness to them, as though they sucked light out of their surroundings to obscure their occupants. None of the assembled ponies exchanged so much as a glance, waiting silently for a signal.
The cloaked figures watched quietly as Princess Luna's chariot arrived at the makeshift arena off in the distance. With her arrival the time for them to make their move would be soon. The Princess' magically enhanced voice reached them, although just barely. The time to act was oh so close. Then came the fireworks signalling the true beginning of the competition. The signal received, the six figures began to move towards Ponyville, separating one by one as they made their way to the town proper.
Sweet Apple Acres was Ponyville's largest and most prosperous farm, and served as home to the Apple Family. It lay just beyond the edge of the town proper, consisting mostly of an expansive apple orchard. However; Applejack, Big Macintosh and their little sister Apple Bloom were all attending the competition to watch Twilight. The farm was vast and vacant, presenting the perfect opportunity for somepony to make their way in unnoticed.
That somepony was one of the dark cloaked figures from the Everfree Forest. This pony in particular needed the advantage of a vacant homestead, as his bulky form eliminated the possibility of stealth. The cloak he wore hid his features, but could not disguise his girth. As well, the hems of his cloak fell just short of his hooves, where a touch of deep blue could be seen.
The large pony made his way over the rolling hills that comprised the orchard, his heavy footfalls going unnoticed. He eventually came to the far side of the acres, where a large red farmhouse stood, surrounded by a white picket fence. The fence gate was open, and the intruder was able to pass through without any difficulties. He approached the farmhouse, but a figure on the porch made him stop in his tracks.
The figure in question was Granny Smith, an elderly green mare and matron of the Apple family. She had elected not to attend the competition today, claiming that it would likely be too much excitement for her old bones. She currently sat on the porch of the Apple farmhouse, sitting by herself in a rocking chair. Her presence presented a serious problem for the bulky stallion, as he had been instructed to carry out his task without being noticed.
The stallion contemplated his options; he could not simply depart and try again at a later date. Not only would the one who sent him here be enraged, but another opportunity to perform his specific duty would not exist after today. As well, he couldn't assault the old mare, as doing so would draw undesired attention to the scene of the felony he was about to commit. Abducting her wouldn't work either, for the same reasons.
The large stallion did not have the time or patience to continue deliberating, and decided to simply head straight to the farmhouse and deal with what happened as it came. If nothing else, a quick blow to the head would likely cause the elderly mare to forget anything she saw. However, nothing came as he reached the porch. Granny Smith was sleeping soundly in her rocker, snoring and muttering assorted gibberish. He waved a hoof in front of her face to make sure she wasn't aware of his presence.
Satisfied that he would go unnoticed by the sleeping Granny, the stallion walked past her and made his way up the porch to the farmhouse's front door. He nudged the door gently to test whether or not it was locked. Thankfully, it was open, as kicking it down would no doubt have woken Granny Smith. He pressed his way through the door, flinching as the old hinges creaked. The noise had no effect on Granny, and she continued snoring to herself.
Inside the spacious farmhouse, the stallion found himself in the kitchen. The Apple family were well known for being well versed in cooking apple goods as well as growing and harvesting the fruit. However, he was not here for recipes or food, he was here for something far more valuable. He moved past the kitchen and into the hall, searching for a staircase to take him upstairs.
He found one at the end of the hall, and followed it up to the farmhouse's second level. At the top of the stairs he found himself in another hall, this one with several doors on either side. The stallion grunted in frustration, as searching all of these rooms would be a hassle. Hopefully he could at least narrow down which one he had to look through. Testing the door nearest the stairwell, he found himself in a bathroom, which immediately knocked one room off his search..
The large pony proceeded down the hall, finding a bit narrower than somepony of his girth would have liked. The next door he tested he was able to rule out as well. The decor was antiquated, and probably belonged to that old mare asleep on the porch. The next door he tried could also be disregarded; the presence of children's toys and several drawings in crayon marked this room as belonging to the youngest Apple sibling.
It was in the third room that the stallion finally found what he sought. The presence of a hat rack just inside the door immediately pointed to Applejack's stetson, which she almost never removed. The room was fairly spartan, containing primarily a bed and a small dresser. Considering Applejack's outgoing nature, it made sense to him that she didn't keep a lot of things in her room.
At the foot of the bed was a sizable chest. The stallion believed he would find what he sought in there, as the lack of a closet or other storage aside from the dresser limited the number of places it could be. He kicked the chest with a powerful front hoof, knocking the lid open. He rummaged through the contents of the box, finding little of consequence. A few photographs, various memorabilia, and postcards from distant relatives. He reached the bottom of the trunk and came up empty.
The large stallion was not pleased with the lack of results. He was tempted to tear the room apart in search of his query, but reminded himself that he was told to be as discreet as possible. He shut the trunk's lid and proceeded around the room, trying to find somewhere else the thing he sought could be hidden. As he walked through the room, the floor creaked under his weight. However, at one point a particular space of floor did not creak, and instead groaned as though it would snap.
Investigating the weaker section of floor, the stallion found that one of the floorboards was loose. He found that if he pressed down on one end of it, he could pry it free. He removed the floorboard and reached into the space beneath it, grasping something in his teeth. He pulled what he found up and dropped into his hooves. It was a velvet box with a gold latch, but the dust on it indicated that it had not been taken out of its hiding place in some time.
The stallion lacked the dexterity to open the tiny latch, and was forced to mangle it in order to get it open. As he raised the lid of the box, he beheld what it was he had been seeking. It was an elegant gold necklace, the front of which was adorned with an orange citrine crystal in the shape of an apple. This was Applejack's Element of Harmony; Honesty. His prize in hoof, the stallion replaced the damaged box in the small space and put the floorboard back in its place.
Now that his appointed task was complete, the stallion left Applejack's room, closing the door behind him. He hurried back up the hall, down the stairs and out the front door. He slowed his pace as he passed Granny Smith on the porch, still asleep and muttering to herself. Once he was clear of the fence around the farmhouse, he broke into as much of a gallop as he could muster and proceeded to the place where he would rendezvous with his companions.
At the very edge of Ponyville, toeing the border of the Everfree Forest, sat a large cottage. This cottage belonged to Fluttershy, serving as her home as well as a nursing station for the animals she so loved. The cottage did not seem to have been built, but rather appeared to be an extension of the hilltop upon which it sat. The various burrows and dens interconnected with the cottage seemed like growths as opposed to additions.
It was at this cottage that another of the dark cloaked ponies now found herself. Upon separating from the others, she had followed along the edge of the forest until she reached Fluttershy's cottage. She presently found herself on the exterior of a red wooden fence an entrance open between two posts topped with hoof carved wood hearts. Immediately inside the fence stood a chicken coop, surrounded by another fence, small and made of wire.
Ignoring the chicken coop, the cloaked pony made her way through the fence and into the cottage's rear yard. Several large stepping stones formed a path that led to the back door of the cottage. Each of the windows near the rear entrance had a planter filled with sweet grass and flowers attached to it, giving the whole place a pleasant fragrance. This fragrance did nothing but irritate the cloaked pony, rubbing an itchy nose with a hoof.
The pony tested that back door, only to find it locked from the inside. She looked around to see if anypony was nearby. Satisfied that her only company was a few small birds, the pony lowered the hood of her cloak. She was a unicorn with a yellowish-white coat and a flowing blonde mane streaked with cyan and orange. Looking in through a nearby window, the unicorn observed the latch that held the door shut. Her horn lit up with magic as she telekinetically undid the latch.
The back door no longer locked, the unicorn opened the door and made her way inside the cottage. Since nopony was around, she opted not to put her hood back on. The thing was far too dark anyways, and it reminded her of dark places filled with darker things. Putting the thoughts of darkness from her mind, she observed the interior of the cottage with disdain. Everywhere she looked there were birdhouses, animal beds and other very literal creature comforts. She didn't like animals.
“At least there aren't any vermin here right now,” she muttered to herself. “The Founder says Fluttershy can communicate with animals, so they'd probably tell her I was here.”
“You're quite afraid of being found out, aren't you?”
“Only if we're found out before we finish what we came here for,” snapped the unicorn. “After that, I won't ever have to be afraid again.”
The unicorn shook her head, pushing the voice away. She could only ever be rid of it for a short while at a time. It had been with her since she was a filly, and it never really left her alone. Focusing on the task at hoof, she set about searching the cottage for Fluttershy's Element of Harmony. She checked inside a nearby closet, but only found nursing supplies. She rummaged through a large trunk, but found only a tattered dress and some other more formal attire. She even checked the inside of several of the birdhouses and mouse holes, but again came up empty hoofed.
She had checked every place she could think of here on the ground floor, and was about to move her search upstairs. She stopped short when a dull, repetitive thumping noise caught her attention. She turned and the spot, and saw nothing, until the sound came again and drew her gaze downwards. Standing there was a small white rabbit who had been pounding on the floor with a larger rear paw. Angel had a look on his face that suggested he had been deliberately trying to get her attention.
The unicorn was anxious for a moment, but then a thought occurred to her. If Fluttershy talked to the animals, then maybe one of them knew where she kept her valuables. “Hello there... mister bunny,” she said, her tone bearing a rather forced attempt at affection.
Angel observed the unicorn quizzically, but produced a frown upon realizing that she wasn't anypony he or Fluttershy knew.
“Listen, I'm looking for something, and I was hoping that maybe you could help me.” The unicorn found it difficult to maintain her attempts at cheeriness. “It's dreadfully important.”
Angel bore a look of curiosity for a moment, wondering what she meant. However, she was an intruder, and she was not to be assisted. He shook his head firmly and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Alright, then, have it your way.” The unicorn's horn lit up once again as she lifted the rabbit off the floor, hovering him directly in front of her face. She bore a stern glower as she spoke. “I need to know where Fluttershy keeps her valuables, and you're going to tell me.”
Angel was briefly intimidated, but his instincts told him that this unicorn was not anywhere near as strong inside as Fluttershy. He had seen Fluttershy's 'Stare' before, and this pony was performing a feeble imitation at best. He responded only by blowing her a loud, wet raspberry.
Displeased with the rabbit's lack of cooperation, the unicorn shot him a dirty look, which he returned. Since she wasn't going to get anything out of him, she would put him out of the way. She used her magical grasp on him to shove him into a nearby birdhouse, the entrance of which was not nearly large enough to accommodate his middle. Stuck in the birdhouse, Angel flailed his feet uselessly, trying to wriggle free.
With the rabbit out of her way, the unicorn proceeded with her earlier intent to go upstairs and continue her search. The stairs led straight to a bedroom, and there didn't appear to be anything else here on the second level. If she couldn't find the Element of Harmony here, she would have to go back to the Founder empty hoofed. She dreaded the prospect, and began turning the room upside down in her search. She pulled open every drawer on the dresser, opened the trunk by the bed and rummaged through the entire closet. She came up with nothing.
She had to find Fluttershy's Element soon, or she would run out of time. She only had until the end of the competition, at which time they would reconvene with the Founder. At present, the unicorn felt like she wanted to hide under the covers as she had always done as a filly. At that instant, she was struck with another idea, and threw the covers off of the bed.
Under the covers was the one place she had always felt most secure, even if nothing else seemed certain. There was nothing underneath Fluttershy's sheets, but she had expected that. The sheets gone, the next most secure place was beneath the mattress. Lifting it magically, the unicorn found a velvet box resting on the frame of the bed. She removed the box before setting the mattress back down and magically placing the covers back on.
The unicorn felt her horn reacting to the magical energies inside the box, and knew that she had found what she sought. She opened the case to find a gold necklace, adorned with a single opal in the shape of a butterfly. The unicorn removed the Element of Kindness from its case and fastened it around her neck. She then placed the case under the bed and donned the hood of her cloak once more.
The unicorn made her way back down the stairs, passing the still trapped Angel as she moved towards the back door. She exited the cottage and reset the latch on the back door before making her way back through the yard and away from the cottage. Now all she had to do was meet up with the Founder along with the others once they had acquired the other Elements.
Despite the Best Young Mage Competition going on, Ponyville was still an active, thriving town. This was perhaps even more true today, as the large event drew in tourists and other visitors from out of town. Certain locales were shut down for the day, their owners and operators attending the competition. Those that were open however, would see a good deal of business as non-regular customers came in and sampled their wares. One such institution was Sugarcube Corner.
Sugarcube Corner was Ponyville's premiere confectionery and sweet shop. It was owned and operated by the middle-aged couple, Carrot and Cup Cake. From the outside the shop looked like a gingerbread house straight from a fairy tale. In addition to making and selling sweets and pastries, the shop often found itself playing host to numerous parties, most of which were thrown by Pinkie Pie.
Pinkie Pie's perpetual presence at Sugarcube Corner was no coincidence, as she lived in the loft that made up the second floor of the building. Rumour had it that Pinkie would be a much different pony were she not in such close proximity to a constant supply of sugar. Regardless of rumours, it was because Pinkie lived here that another of the dark cloaked ponies found herself standing in front of the sweetshop. However, she was here with the sourest of intentions.
The cloaked pony observed Sugarcube Corner from the outside, pacing in front of the entrance. She had been there for a short while now, watching customers come and go periodically. The fact that the store was open for business today proved to be a serious problem, as there were plenty of witnesses to her intended crime. The cloak obscured her features, but it did not make her invisible. Even so, she would not get another chance, and would have to risk being discovered.
Once she entered the shop, the cloaked pony made her way over to the corner opposite the register counter and pretended to look inside one of the desert cases. She had noticed that so long as she wasn't drawing attention to herself, nopony seemed to give her any second thought. She knew that the cloak she wore had been enchanted to provide stealth, but her lack of understanding of the finer points of magic left her wondering exactly what that entailed.
From the corner of the shop, she observed the actions of the customers much more closely. She also took note of the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Cake seemed to switch between the kitchen and the counter at regular intervals, perhaps relating to which treats were being prepared at any given time. When a customer came to the counter, they received the undivided attention of the Cake at the register. Either of these times would provide a small window of opportunity for her to make her move.
The cloaked pony turned away from her corner and began to walk across the room towards the stairs on the opposite side. She took great care not to make any contact with the other customers, and stayed on tiptoes to avoid making any sound. She reached the opposite wall without anypony noticing, and was thankful for being light on her hooves. She waited at the base of the stairs for all attention to turn away from her.
As one customer left the counter, another took her place. As she left, the cloaked pony noticed that the other remaining customers both had their backs to her. It was now or never. She started her way up the stairs, her dainty steps preventing any kind of squeaking or moaning from the wooden steps. With each step she took she grew more confident that she would go unnoticed, and quickened her pace ever so slightly. When she reached the top of the stairs, she stood on a landing with what appeared to be a small bathroom to her right. Opposite this was a larger door that, given its position, must have led to Pinkie's loft.
The cloaked pony looked around, and double checked down the stairwell. Nopony was making a fuss, calling up the stairs or making any other gesture to suggest they had seen her. Satisfied, she made her way over to the far door, which stood unlocked and unbarred. She pushed the door open and made her way into the loft. It was a simple apartment with two floors, a small internal staircase connecting them. On the lower level there was a large table with chairs, a sizable dresser containing a mirror, a fireplace and a smaller table holding a phonograph.
Believing herself to be alone in the loft, the pony tossed her head back, throwing the hood of her cloak away from her face. Despite its useful enchantments, she found the thing far too stifling. She had a bright pink coat with a frizzy, electric blue mane that was cropped short. She made her way into the room, stepping over a surprisingly realistic toy alligator. She would need to make her search as quick as possible, just in case one of the Cakes decided to come upstairs for something.
Her search did not take nearly as long as she had anticipated. She had headed towards the dresser first, intending to check the drawers for jewellery. However, without any rummaging or searching, she had found it. A velvet box sat right on top of the dresser, staring her in the face. She quickly opened the case to make sure it was what she sought. A gold necklace was inside, with a balloon shaped blue topaz gemstone set into it.
“This Pinkie Pie is either a moron or a genius,” she mused. “Leaving something as valuable as this out in the open is just asking for it to be stolen. That said, if it does go missing she'll know right away. A curious creature this pony, that's for sure.”
“It matters not; you need this in order to reclaim what was taken from you.”
“I know that, and I don't need you reminding me.”
Despite her mistrust, the pony knew that the voice spoke the truth. She also didn't trust the other members of the so called 'cult', but it hadn't been up to her to select them. She didn't trust the Founder either, but he was the only one who knew how to accomplish what she and the others sought. That was the only reason she had joined them at all, and that was all that really mattered. There was only one pony aside from herself that still held her trust, but even he showed signs of wavering.
Growing weary of her internal contemplation, the pink pony closed the case and slipped it inside her cloak. She then reluctantly donned the hood once more. Instead of heading back downstairs, she made her way to the upper level of the loft, where a door with a heart shaped cutout stood. She passed through the door onto a small balcony that faced away from the front entrance of the shop.
Looking down, she saw that the alleyway beneath the balcony was vacant. She stretched out her limbs before taking a few steps back from the railing at the balcony's edge. She then leapt forward, over the railing. She touched down on the roof beneath ever so gently, barely making a sound. She took another leap, this time landing on the ground in the alley with nearly impossible grace. With her hooves back on the ground, she took off through the alley, heading back to the Everfree Forest.
Most of the establishments that remained open in Ponyville on the day of the competition were restaurants, souvenir shops and small merchant carts. Those that were closed down tended to be those that did not trade in day to day necessities. One such shop was the Carousel Boutique, owned and operated by none other than Rarity. However, she would personally object to her wares being considered anything less than necessities. She was a fashionista through and through, and was slowly gaining recognition across the rest of Equestria.
As a result of that recognition, Carousel Boutique was visited by several of the ponies from out of town. They had to leave disappointed due to the fact that Rarity was attending the competition with the rest of Twilight's closest friends. However, one visitor was not interested in the regular wares of Carousel Boutique, counting on the absence of Rarity to get what she wanted. The dark cloaked pony waited until a curious pair of mares finished their window shopping to approach the boutique.
The cloaked pony had gone completely unnoticed by the window shoppers, owing largely to the cloak she wore. She had been the one who designed it after all, and she expected nothing less than perfection from her creation. The magic laced into the fabric caused the cloak to obscure the features it covered of any pony who wore it. Not only that, but anypony observing the wearer would find their perception skewed, forcing their eyes to look elsewhere. The result was that the observer's brain wouldn't register the cloaked pony properly.
As proud as she was of her creations, the Founder had forced her to share them with the other cultists, himself included. She had reluctantly agreed, but only on the condition that they would be returned to her. She hated sharing her prized possessions, especially when she put so much of her other resources into them. The magic absorbent fabric alone had cost a fortune. Still, it would all end up being worth it if this heist was successful.
With the other ponies gone, she approached the front entrance to Carousel Boutique. A glow of magic emanated from under the hood of her cloak, reaching inside the lock to pick it open. This sort of trick was easy for her; she had been doing it since she was little. Growing up bitless on the streets of Manehattan, the unicorn found great use in magical pocket and lock picking. She had even taken those skills to such a degree that her wealth exceeded many of her targets. But for all her wealth and ingenuity, she always wanted more.
The lock released with a satisfying click, after which the unicorn slid inside the dress shop, closing the door behind her. She refastened the lock as soon as the door was shut, not wanting to minimize the suspicion of a break in. Once inside, she couldn't help but stop to admire the wares displayed within. She had read about some of Rarity's work in Hoity Toity's fashion magazine, but seeing it up close was a far different experience. Her stitching was immaculate, her designs virtually flawless and her coordination of ensembles unrivalled.
All thoughts of her original reason for coming escaped the cloaked unicorn as she began to peruse Rarity's wares. Dresses, saddles, capes and all manner of pony fashion could be found within the shop. Not only that, but each and every outfit was accompanied by accessories and jewellery that simply screamed 'fabulous'. Once the cult's work was completed, she would have to come back here and procure some of this wonderful work for herself. Perhaps she would even make Rarity design something specifically for her.
Pondering that last option, the unicorn approached one of the many full body mirrors standing in the showroom. She pulled down her hood and admired her reflection. Her glossy white coat was without flaw and her wavy mane swirled together two shades of pink. Looking away from the reflection, she began to ponder which of the outfits might suit her best.
“You must remember function over form; what you came here for is far more valuable than these vestments”
Hearing the voice snapped the unicorn out of her avaricious haze. She and it usually got along so well, but this time it raised a valid point. She reluctantly tore herself away from the mirror and made her way to the stairs at the middle of the showroom. She cast a last look of longing at a nearby rack of dresses before actually mounting the stairway.
The upper level of Carousel Boutique served as Rarity's primary workstation. Only finished pieces were displayed in the showroom below. Rolls of fabric, sewing implements, dress forms and even a few loose jewels were strewn about the room. A half finished outfit adorned one of the dress forms standing next to a table hosting a sewing machine. Despite it being a work in progress, the saddle and headdress combination showcased all of Rarity's usual dedication to quality.
However, the outfit was complimented by one item in particular that drew the unicorn's attention. Fastened around the mannequin's neck was a pure gold necklace, with a diamond cut amethyst set in the middle of it. Judging by the colour scheme of the unfinished outfit, this necklace served as the inspiration or centerpiece of the ensemble. She knew from what the Founder told her that this was Rarity's Element of Generosity. What he hadn't told her was that the item itself would be such a beautiful accessory.
“I don't care what the Founder says,” she muttered to herself, “once he's finished with it, I am keeping that necklace.”
The cloaked unicorn removed the Element of Harmony from the dress form and fastened it around her own neck. She had to do it manually as she found she could not manipulate it with her own magical telekinesis. Once it was secure she admired her own reflection once again in a nearby mirror. The more she looked herself over, the more she became convinced that she would not be parting with her new accessory. After a few minutes of self indulgence, she teleported out of Rarity's shop to rendezvous with the others.
On the far side of Ponyville from the Everfree Forest, the terrain got very hilly going into the Whitetail Woods. Between the borders of Ponyville and Whitetail, some fifty feet above the ground, was a rather conspicuous dwelling made of clouds. Consisting of three levels of stylized cumulus, bedecked with pillars and both solid and liquid rainbows, the residence was the definition of needless extravagance. Yet the entire structure came together remarkably well, combining all the most wonderful aspects of the sky in a glorious amalgamation.
This unique residence belonged to Equestria's reigning best young flier, Rainbow Dash. She had designed and assembled the cloud home herself, and it served as a reflection of her lofty dreams and ambitions. It also provided her with a little piece of her old home in the sky's greatest city, Cloudsdale. The pillars in particular drew from the Cloudesseum where Dash had earned her title.
Admiring the miniature cloud castle from the ground below was yet another of the dark cloaked ponies. Although the cloaks could disguise their features, this pony had one obvious difference in his. Around his middle there were two holes in the cloak, out of which jutted a pair of off-white wings. Upon arriving at Rainbow Dash's home, he had stopped to admire the architecture, which reminded him of the first time he had ever made a cloud home for himself. He had been similarly ambitious when he was younger, but those times were behind him.
Taking to the air, the cloaked pegasus made his way up to Dash's home, playfully looping the rainbow waterfall as he climbed. He touched down gently on the front landing and tucked his wings away at his sides. The front entrance was a large door with square hook patterns on the top and bottom edge. Despite its sturdy looking design, the pegasus knew full well that doors made out of cloud shared a common flaw; no locks. He had learned this himself after attempting to fashion a lock out of cloud, only to forget about it and dissolve the entire thing the next time he had opened his door.
The pegasus' assumption was confirmed as he pushed the door inwards without any difficulty. He closed the door behind him carefully, not wanting to accidentally dissolve it and give away that he had been there. Once inside, he stopped to admire the interior as he had done for the exterior. It was remarkably simple when compared to the splendor of the exterior design. A wide open lounge area with small arches leading to other rooms. There were no visible stairs leading to the upper levels, although a pegasus hardly needed them.
From what he had been told by the Founder, procuring Rainbow Dash's Element of Loyalty would be relatively easy compared to the other bearers. The pegasus stopped for a moment to ponder the meaning of loyalty. He really had none towards the cult or the Founder. His loyalty lay with one pony only, and she had been the one to seek out the cult. He had joined her in their ranks for her sake and hers alone. He had left everything else behind for her sake, but it would all be worth it if he could see her smile again.
Returning to the task at hand the cloaked pegasus stepped in the lounge to begin his search. He had been told that Rainbow's Element would be easier to procure for one simple reason; she was a show off. Unlike the other ponies who would have hid their Elements of Harmony away to be kept safe for times of need, Rainbow Dash would revel in the honour of being the bearer of Loyalty. It was therefore well within reason that she would not hide it, and instead show it off for all to see.
This being the case, finding Dash's Element of Harmony would simply be a matter of finding her other prizes. The best indicator of this would be the crown from the Best Young Flier competition. It didn't take long to find, as Dash kept her trophy case in plain sight, standing on the far wall of the lounge. The cloaked pegasus approached the display case and began to peruse its contents.
A number of smaller trophies, plaques and ribbons filled the lower shelves of the case. Above them were awards of increasingly greater merit. Finally, on the fourth and final shelf up, sat only two items. Each of them represented the highest honours that Rainbow Dash had ever received. On the left was a winged golden crown with a lightning bolt engraving on the front, from the previous Best Young Flier competition. The right hand item was the one he sought; a gold necklace with a ruby embedded in the front. The shape of the ruby was nearly identical to the ornament on the crown.
The pegasus opened the display case and reached for the necklace. However, his attention was caught by something on the shelf below. It was a photograph of Rainbow Dash, but with her were two other pegasi, one mare and one stallion. The mare was bright yellow with a spiky orange mane, while the stallion was had a pale blue coat with a darker blue mane. Both of them were wearing the signature blue flight suits of the 'Wonderbolts' flight troupe. The photograph was signed 'Spitfire' and 'Soarin'.
Seeing those two caused the pegasus to hesitate. They were currently the Captain and Vice-Captain of the Wonderbolts, but he had first met them right after their initial induction into the team. Back then he had been the Vice-Captain, serving under one of the best fliers Equestria had ever known. She had been there on the day they both made it through the tryouts as well. However, the Wonderbolts as they were now held no other ponies that he knew amidst their ranks.
His moment of reflection passed, the pegasus grabbed Dash's Element of Harmony and shut the display case. He turned away from the case, heading back to the front entrance. Right before opening the door, he cast one last look back at the photograph of Dash with Soarin and Spitfire. He sighed as he turned away, hoping that it would truly be worth it. With no further delays, he departed from Rainbow Dash's miniature castle in the sky, heading back to the Everfree Forest.
With the exception of a few more extravagant structures such as Carousel Boutique and Sugarcube Corner, Ponyville was a very simple town, perhaps even a bit old fashioned. Another exception to this rule was the town library, which was made from a large tree. The inside had been hollowed out, and many features of the interior had been carved directly from the wood. Additions had been made to the upper levels to accommodate a permanent resident, and currently served as home to Twilight Sparkle.
Just outside the front door of the library was a sign featuring a picture of an open book. The last of the dark cloaked cultists stood across the street, staring at the sign. This pony was different from the others, specifically in that she was of much smaller stature than they were. She was barely bigger than a filly, but her conviction was just as large as the rest. She had come to Twilight's library with the singular purpose of stealing the Element of Magic in mind.
The diminutive pony waited across the street for the right time to make her move. She was somewhat surprised to be in her current position. When she had met the other members of what would become the Cult more than a year prior, she would have never expected they would come this far. Yet here she was, standing ready to procure one of the Elements of Harmony. Her companions were doing the same all around Ponyville, and their ultimate goal was within their reach.
The Founder had created the Cult more than a year earlier, shortly after the Long Night of Nightmare Moon. They had met for the first time a week after the thirty-six hour night in the Everfree Forest, which had served as the base for their operations ever since. From within the confines of the forest they had watched the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, learning all they could about them and the town in which they lived.
Though the Cult sought the Elements of Harmony, the opportunity to procure them had never arisen before now. They had intended to attempt their heist on the night of the previous Grand Galloping Gala, when all of the bearers would be in attendance at Canterlot. However, a lack of information and the presence of the remainder of the town's population had prevented them from following through.
However; when the Cult learned of the upcoming Best Young Made competition to be held right here in Ponyville, the perfect opportunity presented itself. Unlike the Gala, the event was being held in the town, which meant that most of the town's citizens would be willing and able to attend. The presence of the Princess would also serve to draw much attention away from the rest of the town, especially since Twilight and the other bearers had been specifically called upon. As well, the elder Royal Sister being away would prevent her interference. The ultimate result was the perfect opportunity to steal the Elements of Harmony.
In the month since word came of the competition, the Cult had meticulously planned for this day. They had moved around the town, figuring out who would be where on that day, as well as acquiring as much detail on the bearer's homes as possible. They had assigned each heist to a member based on the location to be robbed and the skills required. They had all been up the previous night finishing up their plans to make sure everything was ready in time.
Going through the Cult's history and plans in her mind, the cloaked pony still found herself surprised that everything was going so well. She had been their chief source of information gathering, as her smaller stature allowed her to move about the town unnoticed even when she was uncloaked. The idea for additional concealment had also been hers, even though she hadn't the design knowledge or magic to make them. She liked to think of herself as the brains of the operation, even more than the Founder himself.
The cultist's attention snapped back to the present as the library's front door swung open hard, slamming against the sign. She watched as Twilight's assistant scurried away from the library, in a hurry to reach the arena where the competition was being held. Regardless of his actual age, he was an infant by Dragon standards, and tended to sleep like one. She had been waiting for him to depart so that she could be sure she was alone.
The diminutive pony made her way to the library's entrance, which Spike had carelessly forgot to lock in his haste. A small stroke of luck that would make things go much more smoothly. She was able to enter without any difficulty, and left the door open so that she could make her way out more quickly once she had finished. She took a quick look around the main room of the library, the walls of which were lined end to end with shelves of books. In the middle of the room there was a book stand that Twilight often studied off of.
Twilight Sparkle was a very logically minded pony, which also made her thought processes fairly easy to follow by a pony of similar mindset. It was for that reason that she had been assigned to perform this particular heist. The cloaked pony made her way over to the section of bookshelf labelled 'E'. She browsed the titles on the books' spines until she came across The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide. Since the floor was already strewn with books, she had no qualms about removing the book and tossing it aside. She removed several other books in the same fashion until she could see what was hidden behind the books.
A small but sturdy safe stood built into the back of the shelf, a combination dial sitting at its center. This was another problem that was easily solved through logical processing. By finding out where Twilight had purchased the safe, the cultist had been able to trace it back to its source, where a record of combinations was kept in case of emergencies or unfortunate cases of forgetfulness. Although this was not a perfect method, it had allowed her to narrow down the possible combinations to three, based on the day the safe was purchased and the shop it had come from.
Reaching into the back of the shelf, the pony attempted the first combination. A petite yellow coloured hoof worked the dial as she chanted the combination to herself. “Seven to the right... fifteen to the left... thirteen to the right.” The combination entered, she attempted to pull the door handle. The handle wiggled a little, but would not budge otherwise.
“You are oh so close; do not fail now.”
Ignoring the voice, she reset the dial and tried the next combination: “Eighteen to the right... twelve to the left... four to the right.”
Trying the handle again, the cultist was met with a satisfying click as the handle moved. She swung the door open to reveal the contents of the safe. A velvet box stood alone inside, housing the Element of Magic. The cases had been designed by Rarity as a matched set, the cloaked pony had discovered, serving as a symbol of the friendship they had discovered on the Long Night. After removing the box from the safe, she closed the safe door and spun the dial and then shoved a few books back onto the shelf to cover it up again.
Before departing from the library, the cultist opened the velvet case to observe her prize. Inside was an immaculate gold tiara, different from the necklace forms taken by the other Elements. Several blue glass beads adorned the tiara, but it was capped off by a magnificent magenta tourmaline in the shape of a six pointed star. The Element of Magic stood above all the others both in beauty and in power. With this in hand, the Cult's plans would finally come to fruition.
The cultist closed the box and tucked it away inside her cloak before heading back to the front door of the library. She closed it behind her as she departed, leaving it unlocked just as Spike had earlier. She then broke into a gallop through the streets of Ponyville, no longer caring about drawing attention to herself. She made her way back to the Everfree Forest, where the others would be waiting for her.
Night was falling as the six cloaked figures congregated deep within the confines of the Everfree Forest, their hoods removed in each others company. They currently stood amidst the ruined courtyard of what was once a magnificent castle. The remains of the ancient palace of the Royal Pony Sisters seemed the perfect place to base themselves. Between the inhospitable nature of the forest itself and the isolation of the old castle, they stood very little chance of being disturbed. It was also appropriate that the Elements of Harmony had been returned here, considering it was where they originated from.
The six Elements had been laid out in front of the cultists, who had formed a circle around the jewels to admire them. However, before they could complete their task, they needed to await the return of the Founder. He was the only one who knew the full details of the ritual they were to perform, and enough knowledge of the Elements themselves to pull it off.
The sound of creaking rope drew the attention of the Cult, who turned towards the gangly rope bridge that crossed a nearby chasm. They all stood alert, but relaxed when the figure who stepped out of the mist bore the same light devouring cloaks as they did. The tip of a red horn could be seen poking out from the edge of his hood. They all knew this unicorn to be the Founder.
“Greetings my brethren,” said the Founder as he approached the others.
“You're late,” barked the pegasus. “We've been waiting for hours.”
“I ask your forgiveness; I was attending to some business, keeping up appearances and the like.” The Founder’s tone was cold and calm, unaffected by the impatience of his comrade.
“How'd it go then?” asked the smallest of the cultists. “Did Celestia's silly little student take the crown?”
“She did not. She attempted to perform a feat of great magic, but lost control and failed to complete it.”
“I guess that explains the brief disturbance we felt,” mused the unicorn that had stolen the Element of Generosity.
“Did you win then?” demanded the pink mare standing next to the pegasus.
“No; the winner was some nopony from Hoofington. I do not believe her to be of consequence. Besides, I had no desire to win the competition; I merely wished to size up our potential opposition.”
“It matters not;” cut in the other unicorn. “Once the ritual is complete, we won't have to worry about anypony else. Not even the Royal Sisters.”
“Indeed you are right. It is time to begin; the Mares of Darkness have waited long enough.”
Author's Notes: Despite what it may seem, the Cultists (save the Founder) are not OCs. I adapted several other ponies to serve as the villains, but I'm not going to tell you which ones (although I think I dropped a few hints). It will all become clear in time, but for now enjoy the suspense.