Pushing aside branches and undergrowth a unicorn stepped through into a large clearing. Her coat was a light blue with a mane of dark purple, she turned her head to look behind her. Her lilac eyes probed the darkness.
“Are we there yet?” She asked while continuing to search for her companion who had fallen behind. For a few moments she continued to stare into the dense growth of the forest. Appearing beside her from the bushes came her companion, a buckskin male pegasus with a black mane, his green eyes stared at her with annoyance.
“It will be at least another fifteen minutes until we get there; and, it will be even longer if you insist on going on ahead and leading yourself in the wrong direction.” The pegasus replied.
“Well, maybe if you weren’t so slow I wouldn’t have to.” She snorted in return, turning back to face her friend.
“Someponies actually have to move branches out of the way to get through; we aren’t all privileged to have a magical horn do all the work for us.” The pegasus replied, biting down on a rather youthful tree limb and holding it aside to walk through. After passing through the obstruction he let it go so that it would smack his friend in the face.
“Ow!” The unicorn exclaimed, reeling back in pain from where the springy branch had whipped her.
“Come along Sapphire, we don’t want to get caught out here in the forest when the sun goes down.” The pegasus said, trotting along into the clearing.
“Coming Solarin,” Sapphire called after her companion,
Solarin didn’t know why he agreed to bring Sapphire along with him today. They had grown up as friends in a small town on the outskirts of Canterlot. The town backed up against a large and dangerous forest to the west instead of the road east heading into Canterlot. Because of this the region was mostly used for farming and rarely saw visitors. Solarin had spent much of his youth exploring the edges of the forest behind his hometown. Days upon days of trotting through the woods had taught him how to look for signs of wild animals. It was his love for the outdoors that called out to his pursuit in life. The sign on his flank taking the shape of three hoof prints to signify his skill in tracking.
His longtime friend however was another story. Where Solarin was gifted with a natural sense of direction Sapphire wasn’t so blessed. Solarin remembered how one time Sapphire had followed him into the woods after he left and had eventually gotten lost. After he had finished his roaming and returned, the village was in an uproar over the missing filly. Distraught and too worried to wait he had galloped back into the forest in search of Sapphire, he had barely ran five minutes before he saw her calmly trotting through the forest heading back to town. She was levitating a large flat piece of tree bark in front of her face, looking up she noticed Solarin and grinned.
“It’s quite easy when you actually know which way is which.” She said, levitating the object over towards Solarin. On the smooth side, in charcoal, was a map, and an intricate one at that. Just as Solarin had found his calling so had she, an enlarged Cardinal Rose affixed itself to her flank, signifying her own calling in life, a cartographer
Ever since that day Sapphire hadn’t accompanied Solarin on anymore of his expeditions, preferring to stay in town and take commissions to draw maps. Which is why Solarin had found it odd when she had approached him the other day, asking to travel with him the next time he went into the woods. She had barged into his house without even so much as a knock and demanded that he guide her.
“Absolutely not,” Solarin had replied looking up at her. He had been busy trying to pack his saddlebags for his next excursion and he didn’t appreciate Sapphire’s intrusion.
“Why?” She asked.
“Sapphire, this isn’t some picnic. There are dangerous things in those woods and I’m not about to take some green-eared filly to work my mane into knots.” Solarin snapped. He hadn’t meant to use such a harsh tone with Sapphire but when rushed he was prone to get into bad tempers.
“Well of course I know it’s dangerous. There is a reason why forests such as that one stay unmapped; in fact a majority of the maps drawn for it are my of my own hoofwork; done from your observations. “Sapphire responded. Her tone leading more to boasting at the end then defending her position.
“Right, so if we’ve done such a wonderful job so far then why bother to come along now?” Solarin asked.
“Because of this, “She said levitating a large piece of parchment from her saddle bag. Sapphire set it down on one of Solarin’s tables and let it open; Solarin let out a sigh, he stopped packing his bags to look over at the paper. On the parchment was a detailed map of the nearby region, it showed their village near the very bottom and the forest covering almost the entire surface. The map was not only detailed but extensive; it showed the Equis River where it flowed over from the east out of Canterlot, through the forest and then west down to the settlement of Fillydelphia. The map would have been complete except for the large white area covering a large portion of the forest’s interior; which included a section where the Equis ran through.
“You see, right there” Sapphire said pointing her hoof at the blank section of the map between the two ends of the river. “Because of the elevation difference between Fillydelphia and most of the forest it is of my expert opinion that there is a waterfall somewhere in this region.”
Solarin knew of the place she was talking about; having passed through it on numerous occasions he often times used it as a landmark.
“Aye, there is one there but—“Solarin began to say.
“Oh good, then you must simply guide me there. “Sapphire said interrupting him. She looked rather ecstatic, close to start jumping around in joy, she usually did this whenever she was proven right.
“My answer is still no.” Solarin said, “It’s just too much trouble to foalsit you while you make your little doodles.”
“Doodles?!?”Sapphire exclaimed. “I’ll have you know that what I’m doing is making history. This is an important scientific discovery.”
Solarin sat there stunned, he had gone and made her flustered, and knowing from experience if he kept this up it wouldn’t be long before she started throwing all his belongings around his house with her magic like some telekinetic tornado.
“Pleeeeeease?” she pleaded, her eyes staring at him with a pathetic and begging look.
Solarin finally gave in, he sighed.
“Fine, but you must listen to what I say and not just go wandering off, understand?” Solarin said
“Yes, yes anything you say” Sapphire replied, her mood quickly changing back to the ecstatic state it was a moment before. Solarin was never able to refuse Sapphire when she looked at him with those eyes, or to the threat of a household disaster.
Fortunately, to Solarin’s surprise, Sapphire handled the trek with minimal complaint. It was starting to approach mid-day and their destination shouldn’t be much farther ahead. Pushing through a thicket of bushes Solarin began to hear the familiar sound of rushing water.
“We’re almost there.” Solarin told his traveling companion.
“Really? How do you know?” Sapphire asked in return.
“Just listen,” He replied, Sapphire stopped in her tracks and lifted her head up in the air trying to hear the sound that he mentioned.
“I don’t hear anything” She finally said after a few moments
“Well, then just look,” Solarin said, using his shoulder to push himself through a rather thick area of growth. Sapphire followed behind him, using her magic to part the branches and leaves in front of her.
Sapphire gasped, the forest ended abruptly into a wide meadow. Wildflowers and grasses spread out across the area. To the north and east rose cliffs going a hundred or more feet into the air. At the far end of the meadow was their objective. Far from the ground the Equis River gushed off the edge of the cliffs and fell a hundred feet before falling back to earth with a crash. Without the protection of the trees the water’s noise was deafening. Veils of mist surrounded the cascade, obscuring the image and with a white blanket of vapor.
“Wow,” Sapphire said her eyes wide and mouth agape as she stared at the scenery.
“Yeah, it certainly is amazing.” Solarin replied smiling.
“It’s not amazing, it’s historical!” Sapphire whinnied “To think that there was a waterfall of this size in this part of Equestria, I’ll be sure to go down in history now. I need to get some measurements.”
Sapphire started digging through her saddlebags, pulling out tools and other devices. She galloped off at full speed towards the waterfall levitating large objects over her head and trying to hold the rest in her mouth, all the while trampling over the wildflowers and sending the animals scurrying.
Solarin just watched her dash off and chuckled; turning his head he undid the straps to his saddlebags and let them fall to the ground. Rummaging through one he pulled out an apple and forced himself to rest. It had taken the two ponies a few hours to reach their destination; Solarin had opted to start the journey later than he normally would to make sure that Sapphire was prepared. He didn’t wish for their trip to go overnight, camping in these woods was a hard task even for himself and he now had Sapphire to preoccupy himself with. The two of them would have to head back soon if they were to return before nightfall, and Sapphire would insist on using all the time she could to collect data. Solarin took the time he had now to rest and look after her, she was using several tools that seemed foreign to Solarin. Sapphire had planted a large pole near the base of the waterfall and had galloped back towards the edge of the forest where she was currently looking through a glass mounted on another pole. Every so often she would pause and write down something on a scroll. Feeling his eyes start to grow heavy Solarin decided that now would be a good time to take a quick nap.
“Ewww, I think I stepped in something!” Sapphire exclaimed pausing to remove her hoof from a puddle of mud.
“Then look where you’re going and stop dartin’ your head back and forth like some frightened foal.” Solarin said.
“I can’t help it, everything is making noise.” Sapphire complained. It had taken far longer than Solarin had anticipated for Sapphire to collect data on the waterfall. Now the two had to do what he had hoped to avoid, find their way back through the forest in the dark. Thankfully Sapphire made the walk easier with her magic. Weaving a spell to make her horn shine bright illuminated the surrounding area just enough for Solarin to navigate them safely back home. As Sapphire had noticed however, was that the light did nothing to deter the nocturnal wildlife; both ponies could hear the snapping of branches and the wing-flaps of fauna all around them. It had already taken them longer on the way back then it did to travel to the falls, but Solarin began to spot signs and landmarks that meant they were close.
“Almost there Sapph, you should be able to see the town lights soon.” He said, turning his head to look back at his companion.
“I’ll believe that when unicorns learn how to grown wings, my hooves are killing me.” Sapphire complained. Solarin just rolled his eyes and pushed on, and sure enough he started to see the flickering lights of their village. Solarin waited and let her catch up to him.
“See?” Solarin asked with a smug look on his face, Sapphire took one look at the lights as she came up beside him and then turned to look at him with a wicked grin on her face.
“Race ya,” She said already galloping off toward the lights leaving Solarin behind and, without a magical light, in the dark. Solarin smiled and took his time to slowly trot back to avoid any injuries. By the time Solarin passed the last tree he saw Sapphire lying on the ground in front of him trying to catch her breath.
“I…Beat…You…” She said, pausing in between each word to catch her breath.
“Yes, I can see that. Now go on home, I’m sick of foalsitting for the day and want to sleep.” He said, Sapphire just stood up and stuck her tongue out at him in response. Solarin watched her trot off towards her house before setting off in the opposite direction to his own.
It couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes when Solarin heard the scream. He had been walking past the town’s drinking hole where even this late ponies were still up, laughing merrily into their cups. The sound could have belonged to anyone, but Solarin’s mind flashed straight to Sapphire.
“Oh no!” Solarin exclaimed to himself, whipping around he galloped back towards where Sapphire lived. Solarin arrived as soon as he could but it was as he feared, near the door to Sapphire’s house were signs of a struggle. Sapphire’s saddlebags lay on the ground, straps broken, with their contents strewn across the dirt. Even in the dark Solarin could make out the tracks. Including Sapphire’s there were three sets of hoof prints, after the doorway that number had decreased to two sets with signs of one of the sets pulling a heavy bag behind it. Solarin prayed that Sapphire was unhurt and galloped off in the direction of the prints.
It didn’t take long before Solarin reached them. Just as Solarin had suspected, two large ponies were making their way out of the town towards the forest. Tied behind them was Sapphire, struggling within a net of rope. As she twisted back in forth against her bindings Solarin could see that the two ponies had managed to gag her.
“Sapphire!” Solarin yelled out to her. Startled by the sudden noise the two ponies stopped. Sapphire looked up from underneath the netting; and upon seeing Solarin redoubled her struggling.
“Let her go” Solarin snarled, lowering his weight in order to charge the two of them. The pony pulling the netting gestured at Solarin to his partner, who turned around to confront him. Solarin didn’t wait for the other pony, he charged after the one pulling Sapphire. Unfortunately, he was soon cut off by the other pony before he even got close to her. The pony before him was a lot bigger then Solarin had originally thought. Brown coated and muscular the pony stood a good half a hand taller than him. As he looked up at his opponent Sapphire cried out to him, in her struggling she had managed to undo the gag.
“Sol! Help me!” she cried, still thrashing against her restraints. Solarin’s head whipped around to Sapphire on instinct. Realizing his mistake he tried to turn back around to face his opponent. He was too slow, just as he managed to get his head around to face his opponent a hoof caught him in the head. Everything went black.
“You look lovely today, Your Highness.” Her handpony said as Luna gazed into the mirror. Luna didn’t care all that much for dressing up but she had to agree that the dress was nice. The dress’ colors reflected that of her own, dark purple coat and blue mane. The dress flowed down from Luna’s back into a train from a specially tailored white saddle. The cloth used was of an expensive fabric and was detailed and dyed to look like the night sky; each segment was pinned together with crescent moons. Luna’s mane was covered by a veil of woven black beads. Looking at herself in the mirror Luna had to say that she definitely looked regal enough.
Sighing, Luna walked over to the door, today was one of the few days that Luna disliked, she was to attend court with her sister Princess Celestia. Luna would always get bored sitting on the throne beside Celestia and listening to the legal battles of Equestria. Luna would’ve preferred to just skip the whole thing and return to the library where she could continue her studies. The last time she had done that however Celestia had scolded her about minding her royal responsibilities.
“Better to just get this over with,” Luna said to herself. Pushing open the door she walked out into the antechamber of the main hall, as she walked through the antechamber Luna could already hear the many ponies awaiting for her outside. As she stepped through the curtains dividing the antechamber from the main hall the audience began to quiet. A herald trumpeted from the side of the room.
“Ladies and gentlecolts, Princess Luna!”
The crowd’s voice died down to silence as the ponies in attendance bowed their heads as Luna entered into the light. Spotting her sister already atop her throne Luna hurried over to join her.
“I’m glad that you could make it sister.” Celestia said smiling at Luna as she took her seat. The main hall was setup with two thrones side by side, one for each princess and adorned with their own personal seals, Celestia’s a sunburst and Luna’s a crescent moon. Above the two seats was a long banner embroidered with the standard of Equestria, a sun and moon overlapping each other. Similar banners lined the walls on both sides of the main hall, stretching all the way down to the entrance. Luna took her seat beside Celestia and turned her head to the crowd before her.
With Luna at her position Celestia stood up from her throne and cleared her throat, with her voice projecting all the way down to the end of the main hall Celestia called the court to order. Although Celestia left most of trivial tasks to her council, the court was designed to bring forward issues that the councilponies couldn’t handle. Because most of the issues still went through the councilponies beforehand they sometimes acted as representatives for the claims, most of the time however, they just acted as advisors to the princess. There were five council members in total; Councilpony Zuriel, an elderly male with an emerald colored mane and a yellow coat, was master of bits, responsible for trade and the Equestrian coffers. There was Guard-commander Gautier, a younger stallion with scarlet red coat and a brown mane, was the leader of the imperial guard and general of the royal armies. Councilpony Illyen, another older stallion, was a black and white paint with a blond mane that was quickly losing its color, dealt with issues regarding foreign countries while Councilpony Ara, the only mare on the council, brown coat and auburn mane; handled domestic disputes. Magister Ashford had passed away a few months before hand leaving the position to his protégé Magister Alitti. He was a curious figure, a small colt, even for a unicorn, he became the head of the Royal Unicorn Society at a young age after the death of the previous master Magister Ashford. His mane was almost the same color white as Celestia’s coat which seemed in opposition from his own coal colored coat. Alitti’s eyes were a light blue, faded so much that they looked like they belonged to a pony of a much more advanced age.
To Luna the court seemed to drag on for hours, fillies and colts came forward to represent towns all across Equestria. Some came to plead for help from droughts and disasters, while others quarreled with their family members over the inheritance to a household. None of these cases particularly interested Luna, what she did like however was when a noblepony accused one of his servants or stealing jewels from his manor. Luna had read about such cases in her many books and she listened intently on what happened before advising Celestia to rule the servant innocent and that it was the noblepony’s mistress that had taken the jewels. Feeling content Luna once again relaxed into her seat and waited for the court to finally end.
“Are there any other matters that need to be brought up at this time?” Celestia asked looking down at the masses below her.
“If I may your highness, there is something I would like to bring up.” This time it was Councilpony Ara that spoke up from the bench below the thrones.
“Very well Councilpony Ara,” Celestia replied, Ara stepped down from the bench where the rest of the council still resided. She walked out in front of both the council’s table and the thrones before turning to face them.
“Your Highness, I come before you as a representative of several villages and holdfasts. There have been reports of ponies going missing all over Equestria; while it may be hard to imagine many ponies are whispering rumors of Wranglers.” Ara stated. When Ara said Wranglers the audience fell deathly silent.
“There are always disappearances in large cities, are you suggesting that a few coincidentally lost ponies are the work of some old mare’s tale?” Magister Alitti said from his seat on the bench, the remaining council members chuckled at Alitti’s response.
“I might have brushed the reports off as coincidence if not for the numbers they’ve been coming in. Your Highness,” Ara said looking up at Princess Celestia from the floor, “There have been twenty-three reports from within Canterlot in this past month alone. Add on to that nearly fifty coming in from nearby towns and villages, some towns have even reported up to three of their residents going missing at once.” Again it was Magister Alitti that responded
“What would you have us do then councilpony Ara? Make it illegal to go missing within the borders of Equestria?” This got most of the main hall chuckling. Ara looked furious, trying to swallow her anger she responded.
“I implore you to have a group of ponies look into the matter, whether Wranglers or not this is a situation that needs to be taken care of. Your Highness, please see the importance of this issue.” Ara stayed silent after finishing, waiting on a response from Princess Celestia.
“Your Highness,” Magister Alitti said turning around in his seat to look up at the throne “I’m sure that Councilpony Zuriel would agree with me when I say we simply do not have the resources to indulge in this goose chase. As I’ve said before, let us leave the old mare’s tale where it belongs, scaring little foals to sleep.” Celestia took this time to speak.
“I’m in a mind to agree with Magister Alitti, Councilpony Ara, this talk of Wranglers in Equestria is foolishness. I would be happy to reconsider my judgment if you can provide any more proof to your claims”
“Thank you, your Highness,” Ara said bowing to the ground.
“Now,” Celestia said rising from her throne. “If there are no more issues then I will call this court convened.” Celestia walked out of the main hall and into the back where she was escorted by her special guard. Magister Alitti rose from the council bench and followed after her.
Luna yawned from her seat on her throne, standing up she stretched out her cramped muscles. Something didn’t seem to sit right with her about the last case. She didn’t understand why her sister had refused to investigate the disappearances. Luna noticed Councilpony Ara walking off into one of the side halls, Luna hurried on after her deciding that it would be best to discuss the matter with Councilfilly Ara and see how she could help with the investigation.
“Councilpony Ara, please wait a moment” Luna called after her, being so close to the pony Luna could make out her details better. Luna could make out lines and wrinkles on her face that meant Ara was a mare of some age. As she turned her head Luna noticed her eye color, a dark green almost hazel. Ara noticed Luna and looked a little surprised.
“Your highness, I must admit I did not think that you would grace me with your presence after that little performance.” Ara said, lowering herself to the ground in a bow.
“I was actually quite moved by your passion Councilpony Ara,” Luna replied, “In fact, I was wondering if I may be of any help in gathering some more evidence, I must say that the situation bothers me.”
“Though the help would be a luxury, I simply cannot ask that your highness involve yourself with such mundane tasks.” Ara said, trying to sound confident in herself.
“Nonsense, just tell me everything you know about the disappearances and I’ll find a way to help out.” Luna said cheerfully. Ara still looked unsure about the situation.
“I’m afraid I know little more than you do about the case, I’m even starting to doubt that this whole thing isn’t coincidence.” Ara explained, “If you want however I can give you the reports that were filed for missing ponies in Canterlot.” To this Luna agreed and Ara said that she would have the records sent up to Luna’s study.
The reports were less helpful than Luna had hoped them to be. There seemed to be little to no connection between any of the disappearances. There was no trend in age or physical description. Luna racked her brain for clues but after several hours couldn’t think of any ideas on how to proceed except for one. As she was putting the reports away a knock came at her study door.
“You may enter,” Luna called out.
The door opened and in stepped the captain of her personal guard, a large pegasus named Cobalt. Luna had heard rumors from the other guard pegasi that they believed that one of Cobalt’s ancestors must’ve been a Clydesdale, looking at his size Luna had to agree. Cobalt stood out even among the elite guard pegasi that made up each Princess’s honor guard, Cobalt stood a hand and a half taller than the other colts, his chest was muscular as well as his legs. In order to accommodate the extra weight Cobalt’s wings were large and just as stocky as the rest of him. His coat was a pale blue and where his mane would have been a darker blue was now losing its color and fading to a grey in his older age. Cobalt kept his mane short like most other guards, to ensure that it didn’t hamper his vision with helmet and visor, his eyes were an ice blue color, cold and penetrating and yet seemed to hold a wisdom gained through his experiences as a soldier. The mark over his flank took the shape of a large kite shield.
“Your highness,” Cobalt said in a gruff voice, bowing as he spoke “You summoned me?”
“Yes, I have an assignment for you if I can trust your loyalty.” Luna replied still keeping an eye on the pegasus as he raised himself back to stand at attention.
“Your highness, you have my loyalty and more, all you need do is command it.” Cobalt responded
“I was hoping you would say that” Luna said, levitating the stack of reports from where she was reading them Luna laid them out in front of Cobalt. “I need you to do some investigating, and to keep it confidential between you and I.”
Cobalt seemed puzzled at this, looking down he started to sift through the documents, after a few moments his eyes widened in surprise, he looked back up at Luna.
“I understand, I will handle this personally” Cobalt said
“Good, I’m counting on you” Luna replied, picking up the documents in his mouth Cobalt walked towards and out the door. Luna sighed in relief, she hadn’t slept since last night and it was close to early morning now. Luna felt that this was a good time to rest, she had left the research in capable hooves.