Chapter Twenty-Five - Betrayal Cuts Deep
Armali Republic, Thessia, Parnitha System
April 12, 2183
It was a miracle that Twilight didn't ignite anything on fire as she left the hotel. Her mind felt fuzzy, and it was actually a little difficult to focus on anything as she stomped her way out the front door.
Outside, she glanced up at the tower as Gilda, Spike, Rarity, and Sweetie Belle followed after her at a much more sedate pace. She ignored them, instead choosing to sigh and hang her head, scowling as she grumbled under her breath, trotting away from the tower.
Behind her, Gilda and Rarity shared a look. The meeting had not gone at all to plan, and Twilight was obviously taking it extremely personally. They trotted forward to catch up with her.
"Now, darling, there's no reason to take this so hard," Rarity said, trying to lift her fellow unicorn's mood.
"Yes, there is." Twilight didn't even bother to look at her, her scowl deepening. She stomped her hoof in punctuation, storming her way between a giggling Asari and her Turian bond mate. The two stared after her, offended and confused by the short mass of anger that had just passed them by.
Gilda and Rarity rushed to follow after her, Spike and Sweetie Belle on their heels. Gilda offered an apologetic smile to the bond mates.
"Please excuse her. She's not having a very good day."
Before they could hear a response, they were already well down the street and out of earshot, not that they would hear anything. The couple was still trying to figure out what had just happened.
Twilight came to a sudden stop in the middle of the street, ignoring the crowds around her. The others barely managed to keep from bowling her over, practically skidding to a stop.
"What are we going to do now?" Twilight asked, not particularly searching for an answer from them. "I'm supposed to find all of the Element Bearers... And the Elements, wherever they're hiding."
"You don't know that for sure, darling. What if…" Rarity trailed off, wondering if it was such a wise idea to utter what she had just thought of.
"What if what?" Twilight apparently wasn't going to give her a choice in answering.
Taking a breath, Rarity decided she might as well say it. It didn't matter if it would complicate things, it still needed to be said. "What if things aren't going to happen the same here? You said yourself that there are already differences, and how couldn't there be? This other Equestria never achieved space travel, at least not in our alternates timeline. Us being here is the biggest clue that things are different."
Twilight scowled even deeper, but didn't disagree.
"What if this 'reality' is unique?" Rarity continued, getting into a groove. "What if, say, Sweetie Belle is the Element of Laughter, not Pinkie Pie."
"Sweetie Belle?" Twilight raised an eyebrow at that, ignoring the squeak of indignation from the filly.
"It's just an example," Rarity said, waving Twilight's disbelief away with an elegantly maintained forehoof. "What if the Bearers are those you'd never suspect."
Twilight just started walking again instead of answering right away, though this time at a much slower pace. The others easily kept pace with her.
"That can't be... " Twilight frowned, mulling Rarity's suggestion over in her head. "That's not… But it makes too much sense!"
"So did the fact that we used to be alone in the universe." Rarity countered, walking in step with Twilight. She gestured around at the multitude of Asari surrounding them. "Look where we are now. Things change, and it's not a bad thing. Maybe we just have to accept that in this instance."
"Yeah." Gilda snorted at that, rolling her eyes. Whatever changes there might be in this universe, she was sure that being a slave of the Batarians for twelve years wasn't for the better. "Whatever."
"I am sorry, dear," Rarity said, catching Gilda's unspoken meaning nearly immediately. "I didn't mean to imply that all changes have been for the good, and that pain hasn't resulted from any of it, but you have to see that the vast majority of changes our society has undergone in the past few decades have been overwhelmingly positive. There has never been a more prosperous time in all of Equestrian history!'
"If what you're saying is true…" Twilight shook her head, stepping around a pair of giggling Asari children. "That would mean that we're back to square one. How am I supposed to do what Celestia asked of me when I don't even know what it is that I'm supposed to do?"
Before any of the others could even attempt to answer her, Twilight simply turned and started wandering, though at a much more sedate pace than before. She slowly wound her way up through the streets of Armali, unknowingly making her way towards a large temple that sat at the top of the mountain that was the spine of the great city.
It took nearly an hour, and none of the others tried to speak to Twilight, either seeing that she was deep in thought, or because they simply had nothing to say. They passed by shops that sold exotic wares, and there were more than a few times that Rarity ducked inside for a minutes, to emerge with small bags she carried in her magic. It was a simple matter to catch up with the rest of the group at the pace they were going at.
Twilight finally just stopped when she found herself standing just outside the entrance of the Temple of Athame. She looked up, staring at the elegantly simple architecture. It was unlike any building that could be found on Equestria, having been constructed from a blend of ancient stonework and modern materials more often found in dreadnought construction than in buildings. Despite that, the entire building gave off the feeling of quiet worship, and deep reverence.
So engrossed was she in looking over the building that she didn't notice as a Priestess stepped up to her, her hands clasped before her as she smiled down at Twilight.
"Welcome child," the Priestess greeted, her voice soft. She was slender, a perfect example of her race, with dark blue skin and piercing eyes. "What brings you to the Temple of Athame?"
It surprised Twilight how unsurprised she was by the Priestess sneaking up on her. She shook her head in response, shrugging as her ears flicked back on her head. "I'm just… wandering. I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"Athame always has a welcome place for those who wander," the Priestess said, gesturing towards the Temple. "Please, come join me for a cup of tea. Your friends are welcome to join."
"That sounds wonderful." Twilight glanced back to see her friends standing a few feet away, politely out of earshot of the conversation. She gestured with a hoof for them to follow after after her as she joined the Priestess in entering the temple. "Thank you."
The entrance to the Temple of Athame was a tall arch that looked like it would let as many as forty ponies standing side to side to enter all at the same time. The entrance led directly to a large atrium with a statue of Athame herself at the other end, her arms held open in welcome.
None of them could take their eyes off the towering statues and priceless relics that tastefully lined the walls as the Priestess lead Twilight through the atrium.
"This is amazing!" Twilight said, staring up at a statue that towered nearly thirty feet over her. "There must be so much knowledge here."
"We do have one of the best repositories of knowledge anywhere on Thessia." The Priestess nodded and smiled at Twilight's exuberance.
"I can imagine!" Twilight really could. She couldn't help the drool that filled her mouth at the idea of getting her hooves on whatever passed for a library in the temple.
The Priestess lead Twilight down a side hallway, and they passed room after room, until they exited out into a large, but far more private meeting area. Turning around, the Priestess gestured for the others to follow her in. "Athame welcomes you to her home."
"Who, exactly, is Athame?" Twilight asked, sitting as the Priestess offered them seats around a low table near a window overlooking the ocean.
"Athame watches over us all." The Priestess lowered herself down to the tables level, sitting on her knees, her hands folded properly in her lap. "She raised us from the sea and gave us the gift of civilization. She is the maiden. She is the matron. She is the matriarch."
"What do you mean?" Rarity tilted her head, flicking an ear back, the other kept firmly pointed at the Priestess. "Maiden? Matron? Matriarch?"
"They are the three stages of an Asari's life," the Priestess explained. It wasn't often that she got to interact with anyone who wasn't an Asari. By her own reckoning, it had been nearly fifty years since she'd even spoken to a Turian, much less a human. Aliens weren't common at the Temple, and she very rarely ventured away from its walls. "We begin life as a maiden. We explore, we experiment, we fail, we learn, and when it is time, we transition into the matron stage of our lives. We settle down from our adventures and the urge to have children of our own becomes prevalent."
"And what about the Matriarch?" Twilight asked, wanting to fill her mind with as much knowledge as she possibly could.
"When an Asari has grown old enough, seen enough of the galaxy, we begin to gain followings of maidens and matrons who seek us out for our wisdom and understanding."
"And what are you?" Gilda asked, tilting her head to the side. The Priestess didn't look like she was an ancient crone, but then, Gilda didn't have much luck with aliens.
"I am still in the matron stage of my life," the Priestess said indulgently, smiling, "and becoming a Matriarch is still centuries away for me."
Out from a hidden side-door, an Asari maiden stepped out with a tray of tea cups balanced in her hands. She glided across the floor, kneeling down to set the tray on the table in front of them. Standing gracefully, she backed away and disappeared back into the depths of the room.
The Priestess reached out and started to pour the tea. "I can see that something is bothering you. There is no pressure here, but I am willing to lend an ear."
Twilight didn't look at all convinced by her, but Gilda reached over, putting a reassuring claw on her forehoof.
"Twilight…" Gilda said, catching Twilight's gaze.
It took her a moment, but Twilight finally sighed, nodding. She looked up at the Priestess, meeting her cool blue eyes. "Do you recognize me?"
"I do, Emissary." The Priestess took a sip from her teacup, hiding her smile.
"Well... " Twilight nodded, grumbling under her breath. "That makes things easier."
"Princess Celestia asked me to search out five very important ponies." Twilight took a breath, then nodded at Rarity. "I've already found one of them, Rarity, and I thought that I had found another, but she refused to join me."
"I see." The Priestess set down her teacup, focusing entirely on Twilight. "Are you sure that she is who you are looking for?"
"I am." Twilight nodded. How couldn't she be? She had a journal with all the answers in it. There wasn't any way to be more sure if a gypsy pony told her exactly what she needed to do.
"Really?" The Priestess asked, raising what passed as an eyebrow for the Asari race.
The Priestess gave a small, unreadable smile, but didn't give an answer.
Sweetie Belle sipped at the tea, but gagged immediately, spitting it back into the cup. A bright red blush covered Rarity's face.
"Sweetie Belle!" She exclaimed, giving an apologetic look to Rarity. "That was rude!"
"It was gross!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed vehemently.
The Priestess laughed, a sound like bells. "The innocence of a child is something that adults should cherish. Speaking honestly is a wonderful gift that so few choose."
"Still... " Rarity glared at Sweetie Belle, who looked singularly unrepentant. "Tact can be just as big a gift."
"You are not wrong," the Priestess said, laughing.
Rarity just sipped at her tea, pretending that Sweetie Belle didn't perform an awful faux pas in front of one of the most important Asari that she had ever met.
"If she's not who I'm looking for…" Twilight sighed, staring deep into her tea. No answers were immediately available. "Then I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"The problems that confront us in life are often just the beginning of a new adventure." The Priestess finished off her tea, managing to look as serene as possible.
Twilight just mulled that over, picking up her tea with her magic, taking a long sip. What else was she supposed to do?
They left the Temple nearly an hour later, after a wonderfully relaxing conversation with the Priestess. Twilight had to admit that the tea left her feeling a lot better than before she'd stumbled upon the Temple. She didn't have any answers, but that wasn't particularly a bad thing.
Together, they walked back down the mountain at a much more sedate pace. They had stayed for far longer than they thought they were going to, but it was worth it.
"What now, Twilight?" Rarity asked, just to the left and a little behind Twilight.
"I don't know." Pausing, Twilight took a deep breath of the evening air. "But I know we'll find out together."
She smiled, letting out her breath. "Let's go. We're here on one of the most beautiful islands on Thessia. We should have some fun."
"I like the sound of that," Gilda said, grinning. She trotted forward, wrapping a foreleg around Twilight and pulling her close.
"I could go for some nachos." Spike piped up from the back of the group, his stomach growling. Tea was good and all, but he was hungry, and in the need for some serious food.
"I don't think they have 'nachos' here," Rarity said, her distaste at the idea of nachos practically rolling from her lips. "But food certainly sounds good."
"Sounds like a plan!" Twilight nodded, grinning.
Much to Rarity's surprise, they actually found a shop that served nachos. It was too bad that they weren't actually very good. It was run by a maiden who had run across the dish on a trip to Earth, and she was still experimenting with the actual recipe.
Feeling much better and pleasantly full, Twilight and their group walked over a bridge through the famed fountain garden of Armali. It was renowned the galaxy over for its breathtaking water shows and tastefully kept flower gardens.
The fountain garden of Armali was constructed on a small lake at the bottom of the mountain, with an intricate walkway just a few inches off the water, providing wonderful views of the fountains.
"Oh Celestia, look at those fountains! They are breathtaking." Rarity stared at the fountains with wide, glistening eyes, almost moved to tears.
"Yeah." Everyone but Gilda eyed them with admiration, and the griffin just rolled her eyes. "Great. Wonderful."
Jumping up, Gilda rested her forelegs on the railing, resting her beak in her claws. "Those nachos were… bleh. We should get something better for dinner."
"We will, but it's good to admire the sights sometimes." Twilight got up next to her, wrapping her marefriend in a loose hug. The griffin had the tendency to get a little grumpy if she couldn't eat, just another symptom of her bad years.
"Yeah, alright." Gilda just rolled her eyes, though she did lean into Twilight's grasp. She indulged Twilight, turning to look at the nearest fountain. "Oh. Ah. Such wondrous beauty mine eyes can barely behold."
Twilight just rolled her eyes, dropping back down onto all fours.
"There you are!"
Jumping in surprise, Twilight and the rest of her friends turned to find Pinkie Pie and Maud walking up behind them. Maud was still dressed in her simple frock, and Pinkie Pie was wearing a bright blue shirt and a yellow skirt, a small saddlebag strapped around her middle.
"We've been looking everywhere for you!" Pinkie exclaimed, trotting up to them, her tail swishing exuberantly.
"Oh…" Surprised, Twilight blinked in confusion at seeing Pinkie so unexpectedly. "Why?"
"I've been feeling really bad about not being able to say yes to your mission." Even as they got closer, Maud hung back at the edge of their little group. Pinkie paid that no mind, ignoring all ideas of personal space as she got right in Twilight's face. "I've been feeling really bad about not being able to say yes to our mission."
"It's alright," Twilight said, waving a hoof as if she was clearing the air. "I should've been expecting it really. I was being a bit… naive."
"I'm sorry I can't be anymore help, it's just…" Pinkie smiled a little morosely. "I can't leave Smile. I'm helping so many people and ponies remember how to be happy, and it's important." She glanced down, scuffing her hoof against the bridge, biting her lip. "The galaxy can be so cruel, but sometimes all you need is someone to help you remember what happiness feels like."
"I really do understand, Pinkie Pie." She smiled at the smaller pink pony. "I'm not mad at you."
"Oh, good!" Pinkie sighed, relieved that no one was mad at her. "I was worried." Sitting back on her flanks, Pinkie Pie smiled at them, a wide grin that almost shone with relief. "I don't like causing anypony to frown."
"Thank you for being nice about this, Pinkie Pie. You certainly didn't need to be." Twilight spoke the truth. She could only imagine what would have happened if Pinkie was more like one of the nobles that she spent so much time around in Canterlot.
"I'm never mean!" Pinkie scoffed, offended at the very idea.
Already bored of the conversation, Gilda just started looking around. She noticed Maud, whose head was tilted to the side, a deep frown on her face with her ears swiveled both to the same side. For some reason that she couldn't fully explain to herself, Gilda placed herself on the other side of Twilight, keeping herself between the water and her marefriend.
The same way that Maud was doing with Pinkie, Gilda noticed.
Turning, she tried to see whatever it was that caught Maud's attention, but she didn't have any luck with that.
"I'd like it if you'd come and share dinner with us at least," Twilight said, completely oblivious to Gilda's annoyance. "There's no reason we can't still be friends."
"That sounds-" Before Pinkie could even finish her sentence, she grunted as Twilight tackled her to the ground, pulling her under the bottom railing and into the water as the statue behind them exploded in a burst of flame!
For some reason, all that Twilight could hear was Sweetie Belle's scream. Moments later, Gilda trampled her. Adrenaline pumped through the griffin, and the urge to protect her mate overwhelmed her. Attack all who'd harm the nest!
Gilda roared, an ear shattering sound that made her pride well in her chest, and for the first time since she'd been rescued, she felt strong, like a griffin should.
Claws out and ready to tear and rend, she reared up as squad of ponies in matte black armor leaped from the water, guns blazing. Their helmets concealed their identities, and even their tails were hidden. No chance of identifying them from even their mane colors.
Gilda tried to lunge forward, but a tight wrapping of magenta magic surrounded her, holding her in place. Even as the ponies opened fire on her, an impenetrable shield surrounded them, turning away the gunfire as easily as a dreadnought swatted down asteroids.
Swiveling in Twilight's magic hold, Gilda found that Twilight was standing over Sweetie Belle protectively, casting the strongest shield she'd ever created. Her muzzle was scrunched up in anger, and more than a little confusion.
Nearly as one, the attacking ponies struck the shield, hooves raised up to batter it to pieces. They're surprised when they bounce off it, far stronger than they ever believed it could be. As the student of Princess Celestia herself, it really shouldn't have come as a surprise.
Taking a deep breath, Twilight screamed, and then she simply pushed. The shield flared, then exploded outward, throwing the attacking ponies away from the bridge and back into the water. She slumped, suddenly feeling extremely tired.
Even as Twilight tried to catch her breath, Gilda looked up and caught sight of two unmarked shuttles racing towards them.
"Run!" Gilda shouted, growling deep in her chest. This wasn't at all how she imagined her day going when she had woken up.
Grabbing Sweetie Belle with her magic, Twilight took off running, followed by the rest of her friends. None of them noticed that Pinkie Maud weren't on the bridge.
Running as fast as their legs could carry them, Twilight and company raced to the exit of the fountain garden, only to find that it was blocked off by an advancing mass of ponies in the same black armor. Two of the ponies, smaller than the others but dressed in far more elaborate and expensive armor, stepped forward.
"You will come with us," the one on the right said, her voice a dull monotone.
"What in the name of Celestia do you think you're doing?" Twilight glared at them, ignoring the very real niggling of fear that filled her mind. "Do you know who I am?"
"Of course, Emissary," the one on the left said, in the same monotone. "If you don't come with us, we'll kill your companions."
"We'll start with the foal."
Rarity shrieked in protest, screaming, putting herself in front of Sweetie Belle. She would give her life to protect her sister from these freaks. "You'll have to go through me first!"
"And me!" Twilight stomped a hoof, her horn glowing with sparking magenta colored magic.
"Very well." The one on the left said, shrugging.
Together, the two of them ran forward, directly at Twilight. Before she could even raise a shield, they struck first! Their hooves slammed into Twilight's face, driving the unicorn to the ground, unconscious from the first blow.
Gilda screeched in anger, leaping at the two ponies to protect Twilight.
There was a sudden bloom of pain in her chest, followed a half second later by the dull sound of a gunshot. The griffin hit the ground with a thud, and blackness engulfed her vision.
Pinkie shivered as she pulled herself out of the water, groaning as she struck the side of her head to try and clear her ears of the water that managed to fill them. She managed to look very much like a dying fish. Unlike Pinkie, Maud gracefully leaped up onto the bridge, standing guard over her little sister while the younger mare coughed out what seemed to be at least a gallon of water.
"Ugh…" Pinkie rubbed her eyes with her hooves, trying to clear her vision of the spots filling her vision. "What was that?"
Maud didn't answer, staying silent. She kept careful watch for any more attacks, her head on a constant swivel.
"Why would anyone try to…" Pushing herself onto all four of her hooves, Pinkie look at Maud with desperate eyes. Maud could almost see pieces of her innocence peeling away. "Try to attack us?"
Maud still didn't say anything, though a small frown crossed her face.
"That's like, the opposite of what's supposed to happen!" Pinkie continued, speaking as if Maud had answered her. In many ways, she had. Pinkie knew her big sister like the bottom of her hoof, and Maud wasn't exactly the chatty type. She had long grown used to having what her sister was saying without her saying a single word.
"I do not know." Maud's answer was surprising from the simple fact that she actually spoke, not so much what she actually said.
"We have to go find Twilight and her friends." Pinkie frowned, tapping her chin with her hoof as she thought deep thoughts and tried to figure out a pan. She wasn't very good with plans. She was more the do it on the fly type.
"I do not think that is a good idea, Pinkie Pie." Maud knew her little sister just as well as Pinkie knew her. When Pinkie started to plan, chaos entered the picture and all of her abilities to see things as they happened just disappeared. No one reacted predictably around Pinkie Pie.
"I won't leave any friend hanging when they're in danger." Pinkie turned to look at Maud, a serious expression on her face. "No come on, Maud. We've got a unicorn to save!"
Maud frowned but didn't say anything as Pinkie took off running down the bridge the way they came. She just followed Pinkie as she tried her best to catch up to the unmarked shuttles, just lifting off from the entrance of the fountain garden. Their own shuttle was still on the street, and Pinkie kept keen eyes on the shuttle. She wasn't going to lose her new friends. Not now.
Consciousness did not come easily to Twilight, nor did it come without consequence. She had never had a worse headache, not even when she stayed up for a week straight studying for a test that Celestia was going to give to her.
After getting over the fact that she was in pain, she quickly came to the realization that she was blindfolded and held suspended in the air, thick straps around her four legs and around her barrel. She felt the tell tale itch of a magic suppressor wrapped tightly around her horn, and she could only whimper in fear.
She could hear everything happening around her, and she figured that she was probably somewhere empty and unused, with walls made of bricks and extremely echoey. She could smell thick layers of dust everywhere, and the smell of soap and… she had no other way to really describe the smell other than clean.
"Welcome back, Twilight," a quiet voice spoke out from in front of her, male, maybe thirty years in age.
"What…" Twilight groaned, shaking her head as she wished her headache would just curl up and die. "Where…"
"You've turned some heads, Twilight," the voice continued, unbearably smug. "My boss decided he had a pressing need to understand what it is that had you leaving Equestria so quickly."
"That's not any of your business," Twilight mumbled, trying to sound braver than she really did.
It didn't work.
"No." The man laughed. "It's not. Yet, here we are."
"Who are you?" Twilight struggled against her bonds, trying to ignite the magical suppressor around her horn. No luck.
"My name is Kai Leng." He paced his way around Twilight, taking slow, careful steps.
Twilight's ears swiveled around as the sound of hoof steps neared her.
"As we agreed, a private 'conversation' with Twilight Sparkle," a new voice spoke, also male, but far older than this Kai Leng.
"You have my thanks." Kai Leng turned to greet the other voice, his shoes squeaking on the smooth floor.
"And your credits," the other voice laughed, a purely equine sound that drove Twilight to confusion.
"Of course. Cerberus honors its debts."
"Why are you doing this?" Twilight asked, her voice desperate.
"I love Equestria, Emissary," the pony said, almost apologetic, but not enough to do anything, "but I love money more. You are simply a means to an end."
"You won't get away this!" Twilight shouted, but in her heart she didn't believe it. This was bad. This was really bad.
"I have before, and I will again." The pony laughed as he left the room. Twilight just whimpered, realizing that she'd been left alone with Kai Leng.
Whatever the ponies had used to knock her out had worn off fairly quickly… at least Rarity believed that it was quickly. She had heard footsteps in the hall outside her cell as she returned to consciousness. She didn't have any chance to try and figure out a way to escape when she saw Gilda breathing laboriously on the ground next to her, the fur on her chest matted with blood.
The magic suppressor on her horn was certainly worrying, but she had bigger problems than that. Gilda could very well be bleeding out, and both Sweetie Belle and Spike were still unconscious on the floor. First things first, keep Gilda alive.
Even as she lifted Gilda into her lap, Rarity felt a surge of relief flow through her when she saw Sweetie Belle and Spike start to stir. They were alive. That was good. Great even! Everyone was alive…
Twilight. Where was Twilight?
Gilda started to stir in her forelegs, and Rarity felt a surge of relief pass through her. At least the griffin was still alive. Twilight would have to protect herself, because at the moment, they were all helpless in what amounted to a cage, and Gilda could very well be on the doorstep of death.
"Come on, Gilda, you're doing fine." Rarity whispered to her, running a hoof over the feathers on the top of the griffin's head. Her breathing was coming in wheezy gulps, the wound in her chest bubbling with every breath. That was bad, really bad, Rarity figured.
"Twilight…" Gilda wheezed, her eyes struggling to open, failing spectacularly.
"Twilight is fine." Rarity lied, hating herself for having to do so, even while she was cooing comforting noises to the trembling griffin. "Just stay with us, Gilda."
"... 'm tired…" Gilda mumbled, clacking her beak softly.
"I know, darling," Rarity said comfortingly. "But you can't go to sleep. You have to wait until Twilight comes for us. She'll come for us."
"Mmm…" Whether she was making a noise of acknowledgment, or simply just too out of it to have actually heard what Rarity said was something only she knew.
Standing on shaky legs, Sweetie Belle made her way over to her sister, looking at Rarity worriedly. She stepped over Spike's body, even as she took in Gilda's still form. "Is she going to be okay?"
"I don't know, Sweetie Belle," Rarity said with a frown, meeting Sweetie Belle's gaze.
"Are…" Sweetie Belle looked around at the cell they found themselves in, shrinking in on herself. "Are we going to be okay?"
Rarity didn't know how to answer that.
She didn't know that answer herself.
Pinkie and Maud had managed to follow the shuttles to a secure building deep in the warehouse district of Armali. They had flown just on past, landing in a small parking lane then trotted back to the secure building. There was no obvious signs of security, but Pinkie knew better than to take that at face value.
"This is very fishy." Pinkie stared at the building from behind one of the empty shuttles. Fishy. Why would a situation be fishy? They weren't near an ocean… well, yes, they were, but there weren't any fish nearby. That statement didn't make any sense. Brain, take a note! Strike fishy from the Pinkie lexicon.
"This isn't our problem, Pinkie," Maud said simply, watching her sister.
"Yes." Pinkie squinted, looking over at Maud in confusion. "It is."
"No." Maud shook her head, scowling on the inside. "It is not."
"They're our friends!" Pinkie stomped her hoof, scowling. This wasn't like Maud. She was always ready to help someone if they really needed it. It might not show on the outside, but Pinkie had seen her go out of her way more than enough times helping somepony, or somealien, as the case may be. This was different.
"You met them today," Maud said flatly. "You know nothing about them."
"I know that they're on an important quest," Pinkie said, as serious as a Pinkie could be. "And I know that they trusted me enough to tell me what they're looking for."
"You met them today." Maud didn't so much as flinch at Pinkie's glare. She'd seen worse, and Pinkie didn't pull of threatening very well.
"That. Doesn't. Matter." Pinkie stomped her hoof with each word, doing her best to prove to Maud just how much this mattered.
"What's wrong with you?" Pinkie asked, looking at Maud strangely. This was turning out to be maybe the eleventh weirdest day that Pinkie had ever had, and her sister certainly wasn't helping any. "A pony should always be willing to help another pony."
Maud stayed silent, staring at Pinkie with unblinking eyes.
Pinkie waited for a second, before shaking her head in disgust. "I'm going to help them. You can come with me, or not, but I'm going to help them."
Maud frowned, taking several deep, measured breaths, before nodding in understanding. "Very well, Pinkie Pie."
Pinkie nodded, satisfied, before turning and heading towards the entrance of the building, creeping along a low wall that managed to hide them from the windows of the building. The wonderful thing about Asari architecture was that they often added artistic flares to their buildings, and those flares weren't always the best for security.
The lone door in the building didn't look very well secured, and Pinkie eyed it with anger in her heart. That door was between her and her friends, and it was going to have to come down.
"Step back!" Pinkie exclaimed, turning to look at Maud. "I'll break this down!"
Spinning around with confidence that was perhaps a bit too optimistic for her, Pinkie struck at the door with her rear legs.
The door didn't break.
Pinkie bounced off the door, landing on the ground with a heavy, "Oof!"
Sitting on the ground for a long moment, Pinkie cycled her legs in the air. Rolling over, Pinkie got up to try it again, only for Maud to put a hoof out to stop her. Pinkie could only watch, tilting her head in confusion as she watched Maud stepped forward.
Activating the door controls, Maud opened up her omni-tool, starting to hack into the door. Pinkie could only watch, becoming more and more confused.
Before Pinkie could even ask just what Maud was doing, the door slid open and Maud stepped inside. Turning, she met Pinkies confusamazed stare.
"Maud…" Pinkie tilted her head, looking at her sister in a new light. "When did you learn how to do that?"
Before Pinkie could demand a further, detailed answer, Maud turned and headed inside. Pinkie had no choice but to follow after her, wondering just how well she actually knew her older sister.
Following her sister's hoofsteps, Pinkie entered the building. For being the lair of kidnappers, Pinkie thought it remarkable how clean and unassuming the inside was. The walls and floors were clean, though heavily used, and it was well lit.
Catching up to her sister, Pinkie opened her mouth to ask a question, but Maud reached over and closed it again with her hoof. Before Pinkie could protest, Maud leaned close and whispered, "Later."
Pinkie kept her mouth shut when Maud pulled her hoof away, and together, silently, they headed further in.
While clean and well kept, the building quickly proved to be a labyrinth of corridors and hallways. Whoever built it had obviously not cared at all for the ease of transportation within it. Obviously a warehouse, Pinkie was confused that there weren't any readily obvious storage areas. These were just the offices, that much was clear, but where were the workers? Much like the Citadel, Thessia never slept.
Well, that wasn't completely true. Thessia rarely slept.
Despite her questions, Pinkie appreciated the decorating that whoever owned the building had done. The walls were painted a soothing, sunny yellow. It was simple psychology to try and keep the workers happy in the windowless hallways, and the pictures of Thessia's oceans were hung on the walls for the same purpose.
Maud held up a hoof at the sound of a footsteps echoing through the empty halls. Grabbing Pinkie before she could protest, Maud pulled her to the closest door and dragged her inside. Pinkie was surprised at her sister's strength, but rightly remained silent, though Maud put a hoof over her mouth to ensure that she didn't make any noise.
In the shadows of the doorway, the two of them watched as a pony in the same matte black armor trotted by, oblivious to their presence. He walked right down the hall, looking neither to his right nor his left, until he turned a corner.
Pinkie relaxed, though Maud stayed alert, ready to move at a moment's notice.
"We need to leave," Maud said, keeping her gaze on the hallway.
"No!" Pinkie frowned, shaking her head. It actually stung personally that Maud was putting up so much of a fight in doing the right thing. "I don't know what's wrong with you, Maud, but I don't leave my friends hanging. I thought you didn't either, but… you're proving me wrong today."
Maud pursed her lips, staring at Pinkie. A big decision was playing out behind her eyes, that was obvious to Pinkie, but she couldn't for the life of her figure out what it was. Maud certainly wasn't helping with that, keeping her own counsel.
After what felt like an eternity, Maud sighed, nodding her head. "Very well."
Stepping forward, she put a hoof on Pinkie's shoulder. For a moment, it looked like she wanted to say something, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn't force it out. Finally, she just hung her head, and stepped out of the room.
Following after her sister, Pinkie relaxed ever so slightly when she realized that they were alone. That didn't feel right though. She frowned, biting her lip and narrowing her eyes. Even as Maud started back down the hall, Pinkie's eyes widened as she realized what it was that she was feeling. The familiar twitching of her body shook their way through her, and she had to stop herself from gasping.
"Someone's coming!" Pinkie whisper shouted after Maud.
"Stay behind me." Maud whispered back, and together, they hugged the walls, easing forward to hide behind a pair of support pillars built directly into the walls. Pinkie seemed to merge into the shadows, though she would never be able to explain how, and her bright pink coat certainly didn't seem like it would help with stealthy movements. Maud just became perfectly still, not even blinking.
A moment passed, and just like Pinkie had predicted, an Asari glided around the corner, her hips swinging ever so subtly, and every movement she made simply oozed sensuality. She was dressed in white armor, the high quality obvious to even Pinkie's eyes. There was only a single symbol painted on it, above the Asari's left breast. A diamond, with two arms raising from the bottom, hugging the form of the diamond.
She stopped when she saw Maud, standing still in the shadows.
She wasn't hidden well enough.
"Hold it right there!" Pinkie leapt out from her cover, an uncharacteristic (and rather unthreatening) growl rumbling in her throat. Balancing on her back legs, Pinkie raised her forehooves up in a vague approximation of kung-fu. "Don't take another step!"
Accepting what had just happened without complaint, Maud stepped out from her inadequate hiding spot to face the Asari.
"I wasn't expecting to see you here," the Asari said to Maud, an unamused expression on her face. "I thought you would be… elsewhere."
Maud didn't respond to that, just staring at the Asari.
Sensing that something was wrong, the Asari tilted her head, staring at Maud with cold eyes. "What is going on?"
"We're here to rescue my friends!" Pinkie didn't stop her growling, though it didn't do anything to intimidate the Asari.
The Asari narrowed her eyes, ignoring Pinkie in favor of watching Maud unblinkingly. She tilted her head, frowning. "Ms. Fire?"
Maud closed her eyes as Pinkie looked to her, then back at the Asari, confusion plain on her face.
"Ms. Fire?" Pinkie scrunched her muzzle at that, ears swivelling in confusion. "What…" She gathered her resolve and her conviction, jabbing a hoof accusingly at the Asari. "No more distractions! Take us to my friends, or suffer the wrath of Pinkamena Diane Pie!"
The Asari laughed, looking incredulously down at the neon pink pony. In a word, threatening she was not. She looked back at Maud, amused. "She doesn't know, does she?"
Maud stayed silent, grinding her teeth.
It was enough of a confirmation for the Asari, who couldn't help the deep belly laughter that came over her. "Oh, this is rich! I thought…" she struggled to catch her breath. "Oh, god, I thought-"
"Maud?" Pinkie glanced at her sister, who was completely unamused. "What is she talking about?"
"Later, Pinkie." For once, the frustration that Maud was feeling was obvious in her voice, and it made Pinkie take a step back in surprise.
The Asari stopped laughing, glaring at the two of them. "That was cute." Now, you both are going to come with me, and I'm going to let your fath-"
Before the Asari could continue, Maud lunged forward, pushing herself into the air with surprisingly strong back legs, her forehooves pulled back to attack!
Pinkie could only watch in shock as Maud struck the Asari with her hooves. It was unlike anything that she had ever seen before, a dance of death between two surprisingly equal opponents, a dance of death.
Grabbing Maud by her forelegs, the Asari lifted her up off of her and slammed her against the wall, cracking the wall itself. Using the Asari herself and the wall as leverage, Maud drove her powerful back legs into the Asari's stomach, hard enough to knock her across the hall into the opposite wall.
Maud dropped to the ground, landing on all four of her hooves, watching the Asari as she stood straight, stretching her arms with a grin.
Pinkie saw something that she couldn't explain, and she tilted her head to get a better look. Catching Pinkie's confused look, the Asari reached up and touched her forehead, wincing when her fingers came in contact with a long flap of pale blue flesh… no, not flesh. There wasn't any blood, at least not enough for the size of the wound, and what there was, was not the rich blue of an Asari. Under the 'wound' was a shock of dark hair.
The Asari wasn't at all what she appeared to be.
Neither was Maud.
Pinkie had never seen this side of her older sister, and frankly, she wasn't sure that she liked it. If she had been keeping this much hidden from her, what else was Maud keeping from her? Pinkie wasn't sure, and she didn't know if she wanted to find out.
Before Pinkie could even finish her thought, Maud and the Not-Asari were attacking each other again, a deadly dance of hooves and fists. They were both impressive, clearly highly trained in their respective martial arts. The Not-Asari flowed around Maud's attacks, like she was water. Maud struggled to land a single blow, the initial surprise of her attack gone.
The fight continued on, and Pinkie had to leap out of their way more than a few times to avoid blows that should have broken bones. The two of them were impressive, but as the fight dragged on, it slowly became more and more apparent that Maud had the upper hoof. She was just ever so slightly better than the Not-Asari.
The Not-Asari managed to push Maud away from her with a great shout, delivering a swift high-kick down onto the pony's head, before turning and running away.
Pinkie didn't even wait a second after that, galloping forward to make sure Maud was alright.
"Maud!" She shouted, lifting Maud's head up to check that she was still… whatever it was that doctor's checked for when you got a head injury.
"I am fine, Pinkie Pie," Maud mumbled, shaking Pinkie off of her.
"What was that?" Pinkie demanded, feeling more scared than she had in a long time. Never mind that she had already survived an explosion that day. Explosions were merely a part of her life, after all. She had her trademarked Party Cannons at every show she put on, so it was nothing she couldn't handle.
Seeing her sister fight an Asari who wasn't what she appeared to be… that was something else entirely. "Where did you learn to do… all of that?!"
"All of what?" Maud asked, her voice surprisingly flat for having just sustained a possible head injury.
"All of-" Pinkie scoffed, trailing off, staring at Maud like she was crazy. Who knows, maybe she was going crazy herself. "Whatever that was!"
Maud stayed frustratingly silent.
Pinkie stared at her expectantly, and when Maud didn't answer, she stomped her hooves in frustration. "What's wrong with you? You've been acting strange ever since Twilight came and visited."
Maud still stayed silent.
"Why aren't you answering me?" Pinkie practically begged, her frustration boiling over to join with her fear and confusion.
Maud pursed her lips, mulling over just what she should say in her mind. "I… I cannot say, Pinkie Pie."
"Can't…" Pinkie asked, narrowing her eyes. "Or won't?"
Tellingly, Maud stayed silent.
"Maud…" Pinkie begged, her eyes wide, showing all of the hurt that she was feeling.
"We should leave." Of everything she could have said, that was the absolutely worst thing.
"No!" Pinkie's frustration turned to anger, and she shook her head. "Stop saying that! That's a whole bunch of…" She simply trailed off, losing the fire that had boiled over in her chest just moments ago. She was confused, and far more hurt than she could even express. "I've already said what I'm going to do. You can… do whatever you want. I don't care anymore."
Turning away, Pinkie started walking the way that the Not-Asari had come from.
Behind her, Maud frowned, watching her sister's retreating form. It took her a moment, but with a sigh, she started trotting after her little sister.
She didn't have any clue how much time passed, and Rarity hadn't let go of Gilda since she had first woken up. The griffin had been drifting in and out of consciousness since then, and Rarity was getting more and more worried by that as the minutes ticked on past. She didn't know how much longer they could hold out. The only thing keeping her from falling into a complete panic was the rise and fall of the griffin's barrel.
With one foreleg around Gilda, keeping her supported, she had her other leg wrapped around Sweetie Belle, the filly having buried herself in her side. The poor thing was shaking in fear, though she had long since run out of tears.
The worst part of this entire experience was the lack of soundproofing in their cell. They could hear every scream that Twilight made. She was nearby, but from the way the awful sound echoed, there were at least several rooms between them.
In front of the cell door, Spike paced back and forth, his face set in a scowl. He was practically snorting smoke, his anger more than perfectly clear for all to see. Every stomp he made was full of his rage, and Rarity could have sworn she had seen a few of the tiles actually crack under his feet.
If there was ever a look of someone willing to pick a fight, he was embodying it perfectly.
"Come on!" Spike shouted, his voice somehow full of the fire that was brewing in his belly. "I dare you come on in here! I'll burn all of you to ash!"
It was certainly impressive. If Rarity was one of the guards, she'd have opened the cell-door and let the little dragon get on his merry way.
Sadly, she was not one of the guards, and none of them were paying any particular attention to him. For all she knew, there wasn't even anyone outside to hear them?
Taking a deep, gulping breath, Spike reared his head back before opening his maw and letting loose a jet of brilliant green flame. A quirk of Equestrian biology, a dragon's flame was much like a unicorn's magic. Their flame matched their 'soul,' and Spike's was a brilliant green. It burned at nearly 3000 degrees celsius and could melt steel.
It did absolutely nothing against the super-composite material that made up their cell. It was almost like the bars ate the heat, making his efforts as pointless as someone trying to dig through concrete with their hooves.
"Spike," Rarity said, covering Sweetie's eyes. There wasn't any reason that she needed to see Spike's anger (and it was truly a fearful thing). Honestly, Rarity had no desire to see it herself.
Letting the flame drizzle out to nothing, Spike caught his breath before rearing back and trying again, his tail whipping back and forth.
"Spike!" Rarity shouted this time, letting her frustration at the situation be known.
"What?!" He roared, spinning around to face them, his face twisted down in an ugly visage of fury.
Rarity pulled Sweetie Belle closer when she peeked, seeing Spike looking more like the beast most Equestrians believed them to be than she'd ever seen him before.
"Calm down, Spike." Her voice was chastising, and she was simply not taking any more shit today.
"Calm down?" Spike punched the cell wall, achieving nothing else but breaking his knuckles. "Calm down?! They're torturing Twilight, and you want me to calm down?"
"Yes!" Rarity leveled a glare at him, and he actually took a step back in surprise. He had never seen Rarity level such a look at him. "You're scaring us."
Spike stopped his shouting, his chest heaving as he huffed deep breaths of air. Gilda was thankfully unconscious for the entire confrontation. She probably would have punched Spike in the face if she was awake for making the whole situation worse.
Or she might have helped him.
Rarity could never be quite sure with the griffin.
"They're hurting her…" Spike was much quieter now, his voice despondent.
"I know, Spike." Rarity did know. Every time Twilight's scream echoed in her ears, she could swear that she smelled the burning of fur and the cold night air from that horrible night in Ponyville so long ago. "I know."
They all lapsed into silence, the only sound Sweetie Belle's quiet crying against Rarity's shoulder. There was nothing else to say, and there was nothing they could do but wait.
Minutes turned into an hour, and Twilight's screaming grew louder and more hoarse, followed by long bouts of echoing sobs. Spike kept pacing in front of the door, and he scowled at each scream. Sweetie Belle fell back into an uneasy sleep, her crying having exhausted herself.
Finally, there were noises from the cell door, and Rarity and Spike straightened. Sweetie Belle stirred at Rarity's movement. Whoever, or whatever was going to come through that door, in all likelihood it wasn't going to be any good.
They certainly weren't expecting Pinkie and Maud to be there as the door slid open.
"Pinkie Pie!" Sweetie Belle squeaked, pulling free from her sister's embrace. A friendly face was definitely welcome right now.
"What were you three doing in here?" Pinkie asked, tilting her head as she studied the four of them behind the door of the cage. "This'll just take a moment. We'll have you out of there in a jiffy!"
Pinkie turned to look at Maud, pointing at the cell door just inside the room. "Use your funky secret knowledge on that door, Maud."
Not at all moved by their plight, Maud stepped forward to the door and opened her omni-tool, easily smashing through the comparatively simple security on the door and working her way through the sub-systems.
"No!" Spike stomped in front of the cell door, and he ignored the fact that the tiles underneath his claws didn't shatter from fear of his wrath. It was an indignity that he'd have to let stand. "It's not okay! They're hurting Twilight."
Pinkie blanched ever so slightly, but the look was gone from her face by the time that Sweetie pulled back ever so slightly, looking up to see what had made the older pony shudder. Pinkie smiled at Spike, "And we'll stop them. Turns out Maud is like a ninja, and she's been keeping that from me."
Tellingly, Maud didn't say a word in protest.
"Do you have any medigel?" Rarity asked before anypony could say anything else. She rubbed a hoof over the wild feathers that seemed to stick up in every which direction on the top of Gilda's head. "She was shot."
"No!" What she was referring to wasn't immediately clear, though Rarity had a good feeling that it wasn't medi-gel. Her expression held rage (a foreign emotion for Pinkie, Rarity was sure), and she looked at Gilda with a quiet tenderness that rang true with her supposed element. "Why?"
"She was trying to protect Twilight." Rarity rolled her eyes at that. Of the couple, Twilight was the more dangerous. She had lived with Princess Celestia for almost her entire life, and had been taught by the greatest teachers on the entire planet, not to mention the Princesses themselves. Griffins were strong, but there wasn't much they could do with just their claws that a regular unicorn couldn't do tenfold with their magic. Twilight… she was in a league all her own. That she'd been captured… "They shot her when she tried to attack them."
Gently letting go of Sweetie, Pinkie leaned back on her haunches and reached into her saddlebag. She came back up a moment later with a tiny little packet of medigel in her mouth, the type you would slather over a paper cut. Rarity took it anyway, tearing it open and rubbing all over Gilda's wound. It was barely even enough to even seep into the wound, but it would have to do.
"There," Maud said, speaking up from her place next to the door. With a quiet click, the door unlocked and they were free.
Immediately, Sweetie Belle rushed out, and the pink mare took the surprise hug from the filly as well as anyone could, wrapping her forelegs around her and rocking her back and forth.
"Hey, it's okay!" Pinkie did her best to comfort the shaking filly.
Even as Pinkie was holding Sweetie Belle, Spike rushed out, running to the door. Before he could make it out of the room, Pinkie grabbed him with her hoof, holding him back.
"Whoa!" She struggled to hold onto him, surprised by his strength. "Hold on for a moment there."
"I have to save Twilight!" Spike growled, belching emerald flames as he twisted in Pinkie Pie's grasp, trying to free himself.
"Rushing off on your own isn't going to help you any." Pinkie wasn't a soldier, nor was she a great tactician, but she could see the strings of logic that governed the universe.
Spike resisted for a long minute, but he relented when Pinkie didn't let go, somehow able to keep her grip on the impossibly strong dragon. For such a little fella, he must have been entirely muscle. He relented, unable to free himself from the surprisingly strong mare. "We need to save her," he whispered, letting her hold him.
"And we're going to," Pinkie said, reassuring him, rubbing up and down his scaled back. "But we're not going to do it without any planning. That's more likely to get us all killed than it is to rescue Twilight."
"I need to get these two out of here." Piping in, Rarity nodded her head at both Gilda and Sweetie Belle. There was no way that she was going to let Sweetie Belle get involved in a rescue attempt against their kidnappers, no matter how much of a crush the filly had on Twilight.
"I'm going with you!" Spike pointed at Pinkie Pie, his eyes dangerously narrow slits.
"It could be dangerous." Pinkie warned him.
"I. Don't. Care." Spike snorted flames. "Twilight is my sister, and I'm doing this with or without you."
Pinkie studied him for a long moment before nodding. Despite her next words, her voice was deadly serious. "Oki-doki loki."
Rarity struggled to lift Gilda onto her back, but once the griffin was there and she was comfortable that she wouldn't dislodge easily, she managed to get onto all of her hooves with very little problem. Ponies were deceptively strong after all, much to the surprise of the rest of the galaxy. Looking down at Sweetie Belle, she nuzzled her sister as carefully as she could. "Stay behind me, Sweetie Belle."
"There's a stairway at the end of the hall." Pointing with her hoof, Pinkie pointed to the right. "Take a right at the bottom, and then another right, and then you'll get to the exit. Our shuttle is parked nearby. Wait for us there."
"Thank you, Pinkie." Rarity nodded.
Only slightly straining under the weight of the much larger griffin, Rarity led Sweetie Belle out of the cell and into the hall. She made no complaint at the weight of Gilda like she normally would. This wasn't a normal situation, and there was no call for normality. Abnormality was the name of this game, and it would help keep them alive.
As soon as they were gone, Spike turned to Pinkie. He crossed his arms over his chest. "What do we do now?"
"Now?" Pinkie narrowed her eyes. "We save Twilight."
She wasn't sure when she stopped screaming, but it slowly came to her when she realized she was taking in deep, panting breaths. Tears streamed down her muzzle, her blindfold soaked by her crying and uncomfortable against her fur.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she idly noted that even breathing hurt. Twilight let out a choked sob, her throat feeling like it was being strangled by a thousand razor blades.
"You are putting up far too much of a fight for so little information, Ms. Sparkle." Kai Leng sounded amused, but there was a hint of frustration hidden in his tone. He had not been expecting… whatever this was to take so long.
Twilight didn't have the energy to answer. She felt dirty. He had touched her, with more than just his tools of torture. He let his hands linger on her, scratching her ear, rubbing her back, treating her like an animal. She felt dirty, blood thick in her coat, too fresh to have even started clotting.
"Is your mission really worth this much?" Kai Leng asked, leaning close to whisper in her ear.
Twilight flinched when she felt his hand on her muzzle, petting the fine fur there the wrong direction. She whimpered as a finger traced her throat.
"You're learning." Pausing, Kai Leng chuckled.
"Please…" Twilight felt the urge to throw up, but she'd already emptied her stomach nearly half an hour ago. The putrid stench still stung her nose. "Please, stop.
"Twilight." She could imagine him shaking his head at her. "Twilight, Twilight, Twilight. All you have to do is tell me what I want to know."
She just whimpered.
The sudden feeling of his fingers running through her mane made Twilight jerk back in surprise, trying to pull away from the surprise contact. The fingers curled into a fist, and he yanked hard on her mane, pulling her head back, his other hand going for exposed throat.
"You really need to learn, Twilight." Kai Leng was practically breathing into her ear he was so close. "You are not in control here."
Helpless in his grasp, Twilight didn't have the energy to care as warm liquid ran down her back leg, dripping to the ground. She simply begged. "Please…"
Kai Leng released her, pushing her head down as he walked away. His boots barely made any noise on the floor, but she definitely recognized the sound of him pouring water, followed by him drinking deeply.
A simple glass of water had never sounded so appealing as it had right at that moment. Twilight didn't dare ask though. She had no idea what he would do to her for even asked.
"That's good." Smacking his lips, Kai Leng set down the glass. It rattled for a second, the force making it roll back and forth before settling. "Nothing quite like a nice glass of water."
Twilight shivered in her bonds, her hooves twitching in the open air.
"What?" A laugh, harsh and grating to Twilight's ears. "You'd like some?"
At the sound of pouring water, Twilight dared to hope for a moment. He walked back over to her, and Twilight couldn't help but open her mouth in hopeful excitement. The only thing on her mind was the cool taste of water in her mouth.
"Whatever you may think of me…" Before Twilight could even think of being worried, Kai Leng pulled her head back, his hand gripping her jaw and forcing it open. Without any further preamble, he poured the glass into her mouth.
She couldn't breath!
Releasing her, Kai Leng stepped away as she choked, sputtering the water out all over her mouth and the floor below.
Whatever water she might have been able to swallow, it wasn't a relief. Her throat burned, and her lungs felt as if they'd been dunked in acid. She coughed and coughed and coughed, struggling to catch her breath, panic welling in her chest. She felt sick, and idly she wondered if this is what her last minutes alive were going to feel like.
"That was refreshing, wasn't it?" Kai Leng laughed. He dragged a chair up next to Twilight, and it's flimsy metal creaked as he settled his weight heavily down onto it. "Come now, Ms. Sparkle. There's no reason to make this so difficult."
"E-even if I tell you what you want…" Twilight was surprised she was able to even get out that much. She spoke in a small, weak voice, every word trembling out of her mouth. "You're just going to hurt me anyway."
"At least you're as smart as everyone says," Kai Leng said with a laugh. He patted her cheek, and Twilight just barely managed to keep herself from flinching. She got hurt when she flinched.
Twilight couldn't help the next words out of her mouth, and she instantly regretted them. "You're a bastard." She immediately flinched. That was the absolute worst thing she could have said.
Instead of pain, Twilight was met by laughter. "That wasn't a very nice thing to say. Where's that vaunted Equestrian kindness I've heard so much about?"
Twilight just stayed silent. It was the safest thing for her to do. She was surprised to realize that deep in her heart of hearts, she had found hate. For once in her life, she wished for someone to die, and for as much pain as physically possible to be visited upon him.
Before Twilight could follow that train of thought any further, the door burst open!
"Let go of Twilight, you fiend!"
Pinkie Pie's voice was a surprise, and a surge of relief shot through Twilight.
Spike's voice turned that relief to horror. What was he doing here?
The door bursting open was something that Kai Leng had not planned for. He did not let his surprise show on his face, instead turning calmly to face the intruders. Obviously, Hope Lilium would need a bit of… encouragement to ensure that nothing like this ever happened again. It was simply unacceptable.
The intruders weren't what he had expected. He wasn't met by the Equestrian Royal Guard, or even any of Armali's police force. Instead, a pink earth pony and Twilight's baby dragon companion stood in the doorway.
Not exactly a threat.
Obviously, Hope would need more encouragement than he had expected. This was sloppy.
When the slate grey pony with the deep purple mane walked in, Kai Leng's annoyance turned to confusion, and then white hot rage. It burned deep in his chest, quiet and unseen, but the pony instantly recognized his mood.
"What is going on here?" His voice had grown icily quiet, and his gaze never turned from the slate grey pony. Her appearance was a surprise, and it was worrisome in the extreme.
"We're rescuing Twilight," the pink pony said, completely oblivious that Kai Leng's question had not even been remotely addressed to her. "And there's nothing you could about it!"
Before Kai Leng could even finish his sentence, Pluto Fire stepped into the doorway, behind the intruders. A deep frown was set on his face, and his displeasure was clear for all to see.
"What is the meaning of this?" He asked.
The pink pony froze, her ears flicking backwards at the sudden new voice, one she recognized with complete familiarity. She turned, and her eyes grew wide at the sight of Pluto Fire. "D-Daddy?"
Pluto Fire froze, recognizing the pink pony for the first time. Kai Leng could see it behind his eyes as carefully kept plans decades in the making crumbled to pieces before Pluto. The ploy was over.
Kai Leng felt a little righteous pleasure at that. He would have smiled if he was in any other situation.
"Pinkie Pie…" Pluto frowned, stomping a hoof nervously on the ground. He glanced at the slate grey pony, giving her a harsh glare that made her flick her ears back in embarrassment.
Oh yes, Kai Leng could work this to his advantage.
"What?" Pinkie Pie asked (and Kai Leng struggled for a moment to remember where he had heard that name before). "W-What are you doing here, daddy?"
"Oh god!" Kai Leng couldn't help but start laughing, and he grinned as he saw Twilight flinch in her bonds behind him. Her blood had yet to start congealing, and it still lazily dripped its way down her coat. "Oh this is just wonderful!"
Leaning back against the wall, he crossed his arms over his chest and grinned at the four Equestrians. He looked at Pluto, smiling. Pinkie Pie. He made the connection, and suddenly understood. He didn't know everything, but he could guess. "She didn't know?"
"Know what?" Pinkie Pie glanced at him, keeping half of her attention on him, and the other half on her father. She looked at him, her hooves twitching in nervous anxiety. "Why are you helping him, daddy?"
Pluto Fire shifted on his hooves, Kai Leng could crow at his discomfort.
"Are you helping him?" Pinkie Pie continued. "Did you… Did you help kidnap Twilight? What…" A more pitiful face hadn't been seen on Pinkie Pie her entire life. "What's happening here?"
"Yes." Kai Leng spoke up, reminding them that he was still present in the room. "Please tell us what's going on, Pluto."
"Pluto?" Pinkie Pie cocked her head at that, looking at her father in complete confusion. "What is going on? Your name is Igneous Rock..."
That was interesting. Kai Leng made a note of that, but didn't comment. He might as well let this play out. It could bring a lot of new information to Cerberus, and that was always a good thing.
"Is this why you helped make Smile?" Pinkie's voice was so quiet that Kai Leng had to strain to hear it.
Pluto Fire's… no, Igneous Rock's, silence was not a very good sign.
"You…" Pinkie shook her head even as she spoke, wishing against everything that this was just a bad dream. "You're just using me, aren't you?"
"Pinkie," Igneous said, his voice somehow calm despite the obvious emotion roiling through him. "I think you should leave and let me take care of this-"
"No!" Pinkie stomped a hoof against the ground, snorting in anger. "I am going to rescue Twilight, and then, and then, and then…" She sat back on her haunches with a huff. What was she going to do? She shook her head, her ears tight against her skull. "You used me."
Igneous only hesitated for a second. "Yes."
"This is all wonderfully touching," Kai Leng said, standing up straight. "But I'm in the middle of something at the moment."
"Do. Not. Push. Me." Igneous turned his gaze on Kai Leng, and the full weight of his personality pushed against the Cerberus Operator. Unconsciously, Kai Leng shifted back ever so slightly. "You would not like the results, Cerberus."
"Do I even know you?" Pinkie asked her father, ignoring the staring contest he and Kai Leng were having. "Has everything been a lie? What is it that you're even doing?" She thought for a moment, and it slowly started to come to her. "Oh… oh! That… that's smart. Mean and horrible, and I can't believe that you'd do that to me, but that's smart!"
"Pinkie, you should leave." Igneous did not like the way this conversation was going.
Pinkie didn't stop. She didn't even acknowledge that her father had spoken. "Smile is just a front, isn't it? It's the only thing that makes sense. You were the one who suggested it…" Her puffy pink mane deflated (and Kai Leng had to wonder just how that worked) as she realized the true depths of her family's betrayal. "You were the one set up all the shows. You… It was all a sham."
She stomped closer to her father, muzzle scrunched in anger. "What are you hiding?" She pointed a hoof at Twilight and Kai Leng, who was watching the proceedings with an amused smirk on his face. "Who is this? Why did you give the Celestial Emissary to him? What are you thinking? Who else was in on this? Marble? Limestone? Mom?"
Pinkie froze, realization striking her. Turning, she looked at the slate grey pony (and Kai Leng could not for the life of him think of her name), dawning horror coming over her.
"Maud?" Pinkie's voice was practically completely silent.
Maud didn't say anything, her expression flat. She never looked away from Pinkie's gaze, calmly meeting her betrayal.
"Maud?" The pain in Pinkie's voice was clear. "Did you know about this?"
"We should take Twilight and leave." Maud didn't answer Pinkie's question, doing her best to divert her attention. "This isn't the place for this conversation."
Kai Leng pulled his M6 Carnifex pistol from his hip, the heavy gun unfolding in his hand even as he aimed it in Maud's general direction. "I would like to remind you that I paid for this meeting, and I'm not letting her go until I learn what I need to know."
"Let. Her. Go." From behind Pinkie Pie, the dragon stepped forward, drawing in a deep breath as he leaped at Kai Leng. He exhaled, and a roar of fire leapt from his mouth.
Kai Leng stumbled back in surprise. He had not been expecting that.
Before he could gather himself back together, the dragon was rushing him, claws extended as he slashed through the straps holding Twilight suspended in the air. She dropped bonelessly to the ground, and with surprising strength, he pulled her forelegs over his shoulders and ran from the room before anyone could stop him. Twilight's body left a bloody trail behind him.
"Damn lizard!" Kai Leng swore, getting back to his feet. He rushed to run after the dragon, but Maud leapt at him, forcing him back with her forelegs firmly planted against his chest.
"Pinkie," Igneous said, frowning, "Leave. We can talk about this later, but now is not the time."
Pinkie looked like she wanted to protest, but she had to gulp in fear at her father's stern expression. She had never seen him look so cold, and without a second thought she rushed after the dragon to help him with his burden.
Kai Leng could do nothing to stop her, as all of a sudden he was deflecting a flurry of deadly attacks from Maud, who was using her smaller form to great advantage. She danced around him, using her forelegs like battering rams to wear down his defenses.
He tried his best to level his hand-cannon at her, but every chance he got close, she struck his arm away and the whole dance would begin again.
Igneous practically roared, and Kai Leng was surprised when he found himself obeying Igneous Rock's command.
Maud backed away, never breaking her gaze with Kai Leng as he struggled his way back to his feet, wiping blood from his mouth with the back of his fist.
"What is the meaning of this?" Kai Leng asked, following Maud's example, never turning his attention from her.
"You can consider this the end of my organization's relationship with Cerberus." Igneous Rock did not have a single bit of amusement in his voice. He was deadly serious. "Leave. Now."
Kai Leng straightened, smoothing out the wrinkles on his shirt. He idly regretted the fact that he hadn't worn his armor, but there wasn't anything he could do about that. None of what had happened in the last five minutes had been expected, and he had not planned for it. "The Illusive Man will not forgive this slight."
Pushing past Maud, Kai Leng left, and Maud and Igneous Rock found themselves alone in the room.
Distastefully looking at the blood that had pooled underneath where Twilight had been suspended, Maud looked to her father.
"She is not going to accept what we do." It was as much a statement as it was a warning. Maud loved her father, and she trusted him, but she loved Pinkie more. She would not allow her little sister to be drawn into a life she had no business being a part of.
"No." Luckily, her father agreed with her. Igneous had to think for a moment, plans emerging in his mind. "Stay with her."
"I already was going to."
Before he could even respond, Maud left him alone and followed after Pinkie.
As soon as she had exited the building, Rarity had found Pinkie's shuttle and had taken off immediately. She was not going to let Gilda die on her watch, and she wasn't going to let Sweetie Belle get taken again.
The flight back to Solar One was completely silent, save for Sweetie Belle's quiet sobbing in the seat next to Rarity. She ignored the requests from Armali flight control to turn away and landed directly in front of the gangway leading to the Equestrian ship.
Rushing through the ship was a blur, and the next thing Rarity knew she was bursting into the med-bay with Gilda on her back and Sweetie Belle hot on her heels.
"Help!" Rarity shouted, her eyes landing squarely on the Doctor. "She needs help. She was shot!"
The Doctor looked up from his desk, startled from his omni-tool game. Seeing Gilda on Rarity's back, he scrambled out of his chair, an air of professionalism falling over him.
"Get her on the bed," he said, nodding towards the closest bed to the door, already starting to wash his hooves and gather the supplies he'd need.
Rarity gently lifted Gilda off her back with her magic, gently setting the griffin onto the bed the Doctor had pointed out. Task complete, she stepped back to make room, pulling Sweetie Belle close with a foreleg. She hugged her little sister, as much to calm her as to draw comfort for herself.
The Doctor started scanning Gilda with his magic and the bed's state of the art medical scanner, ignoring his audience as he quietly figured out just how serious Gilda's wounds actually were.
"Thank Celestia." He sighed in relief.
"What is it, Doctor?" Rarity asked, her heart pounding so hard in her chest it felt like her ribs were going to break.
"She's going to be fine." The Doctor didn't even bother to look at her. "The bullets missed all her major organs. She's extremely lucky. It could have been a lot worse."
"Are you sure?" Rarity looked at Gilda and her blood stained fur, unconvinced. "She's been fading in and out of consciousness since it happened."
"That's more the blood loss than anything else." The Doctor explained even as he got to work. "I can have that fixed up right quick."
Even as he started to set up Gilda's bed to mend her wound and replenish her blood, the doors to the med bay slid open again. All three of them glanced to look and Rarity gasped in surprise as Spike dragged an unconscious Twilight Sparkle inside.
At least, Rarity thought it was Twilight… She couldn't tell from all the blood and wounds covering the unicorn's body.
In her forelegs, Sweetie screamed at the sight of her crush in such a horrible state. Her purple coat was stained almost completely black with thickening blood, and she looked like she was on death's door.
"Help!" Spike shouted, and the Doctor sprung to action.
The life of a Princess was one of seemingly endless meetings and laws that it all became a blur. It was good that Celestia was so skilled a politician that she could practically do it in her sleep, because there were times that she couldn't remember what meeting she had just attended. Most of those times came when she was speaking with any of the Canterlot nobles.
Thankfully, the opening of the sphere had made her life far more interesting than it had ever been for the past few centuries. The Turian ambassador sitting across from her was a wonderful conversationalist, though she couldn't for the life of her remember his name. He was the fourth ambassador in a month. Apparently the turians couldn't settle on who they wanted representing themselves to her.
She couldn't help but hope that this one would last. He had a quick wit that she didn't encounter often.
Before she could say anything about the the trade details he had just proposed, an aide appeared from behind her and whispered in her ear.
"You have an urgent call, Princess."
Celestia nodded in understanding before turning her attention to the Turian delegation. "Please, excuse me, ambassador. A matter has arisen that requires my personal attention."
"Of course, Empress," the Ambassador said, giving what passed for a turian smile, flaring his mandibles.
Nodding her thanks, Celestia left the room, following her aide out of the conference room and into the bustling hallway of the Royal Castle. Ever since opening the sphere, the castle had become a far more busy place. Hiring had gone off the charts, and the castle, despite its massive size, was filled almost to overflowing with the new ponies.
Just outside the conference room, Solar Ace was waiting for her, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"What is it, Solar?" Celestia asked, falling in step with him as he led her towards her private day chambers.
"It's Commander Honey Dawn, Princess." They took a turn down a smaller hallway, less bustling than the larger thoroughfares. "She's on the line with urgent news for your ears only."
Celestia nodded in understanding, wondering just what Honey Dawn could have that was important enough to call her. She'd spent a lot of time with the pilot while she was touring the galaxy after the sphere first opened. She was a loyal member of the Royal Guard, and she wouldn't rather have anyone around to help protect her loyal student.
Solar Ace peeled away as Celestia opened the doors to her private chambers with her magic. Striding inside, she shut the doors behind her, sitting on her haunches in front of her desk. Activating her console, she answered the call.
"Hello?" Celestia asked.
"Hello?" Honey Dawn's voice came through nice and clear, though she wasn't looking at the monitor, distracted by something off to the side. "This is Commander Honey Dawn. Have you found Princess Celestia yet? I have important information for her ears only."
"Dawn?" Celestia asked, a spike of worry filling her mind.
Honey Dawn looked up at the sound of the familiar voice, her eyes widening in surprise. "Princess!" She sighed in relief. She straightened up, coming to what was practically a parade rest.
"What's wrong, Dawn?" Celestia asked, surprised at how calm she was able to keep her voice. Something was wrong, and she knew it.
Honey Dawn pursed her lips, hesitant, but unwilling to make her Princess wait. "It's… It's Twilight, Princess."
"What's wrong." That little niggling of panic bloomed into full blown fear and terror.
For how long Rarity had watched the Doctor work, she couldn't say. Sometime between when she had brought Gilda inside and Spike arriving with Twilight, she had been moved outside to the viewing area. She couldn't remember when it had happened, but she couldn't find the energy to care. At some point, Lucky Arrow and Tiny Berry had joined her and Sweetie Belle in their vigilance.
They could do nothing else but watch as the Doctor frantically worked to save Twilight's and Gilda's lives.
The quiet ding of the elevator opening drew all of their attention, breaking the spell of silence. They watched as Pinkie and Maud stepped out, and Rarity idly noticed that the party pony looked absolutely defeated. Her mane fell flat down her face, her tail dragging on the floor, and she trudged over to them, sitting heavily down on her haunches. She let her saddle bags drop to the floor, bulging to overflowing.
Rarity glanced away, meeting Tiny Berry's gaze, and the smaller earth pony shrugged. She turned back to Pinkie, biting her lip as Maud sat next to Pinkie. "Is… Is everything alright darling?"
It took Pinkie a long minute, and when she answered, her voice was quiet. "... No."
Pinkie said nothing else after that, watching as the Doctor used his magic to deftly pull tiny shards of glass from the bottom of Twilight's hooves.
Maud watched her for a moment, before looking at Rarity. "We are coming with you."
Rarity snorted, shaking her head. "I'm afraid that I am not okay with that. You hurt Twilight, and I don't want you anywhere near my little sister or I, much less on this ship."
"You are not in charge here." It was an idle observation on Maud's part, but she was correct. Rarity did not have the authority to kick them out. "Twilight Sparkle will decide the matter."
Rarity pursed her lips, but she knew Maud had dug to the heart of the matter. With no other course of action, they all turn back to watch the desperate surgery.
Arayda T'Dorian loved working at the dock. Her mother had pulled strings with her friends to make sure her daughter received a job, and Arayda had done everything since then to make sure she never regretted doing that. At a time when most other maidens were out shaking their naked asses in clubs or fighting as mercenaries, Arayda felt like she had made the much more mature choice to lock down a steady, safe job close to him.
Her job was simple, but she enjoyed it all the same. She simply greeted the ships that came in to land, helping them through customs in whatever way she could.
It wasn't a particularly exciting job, and the hours were often long, but she enjoyed seeing the faces of those who had traveled the galaxy (though she could never imagine doing something so unsafe herself). It let her experience the thrill of danger without ever having to have the threat of death hang over her head.
She never expected to see her boss, Matron D'Ysene, tripping over her own feet as she ran up to meet her. Her eyes were wide, and it was obvious that she had run all way from the office to the maiden. A small army of customs officers and officials were rushing after her, looking just as panicked as the Matron.
"What's happening?" Arayda asked as D'Ysene tried to catch her breath. Her crest was flush with blood, trying to cool her down. "Is something wrong?"
D'Ysene laughed, half choking as she was bent over her knees. "Only an unexpected visit from the Empress of Equestria!"
"What?" Arayda cocked her head to the side, not quite sure whether she had heard that or not.
Before the Matron could even finish her sentence, the roar of engines made all of them look up.
A sleek black ship descended through the atmosphere, looking like the sharks that swam through Thessia's oceans, all sleek lines pulling back towards the engines, bigger than any that Arayda had ever seen on a ship its size. It had to be fast, and just for a moment, Arayda shivered at the sight of it. Darkness had touched the ship, and called it home.
"The Night's Fury," D'Ysene murmured as the ship settled down in its landing cradle.
The Empress had arrived.
It took only a minute for the nervous Asari to get the gangway up to the Night's Fury's airlock for the passengers to disembark, and nearly as soon as it was in place, the airlock cycled open.
Arayda couldn't help but take a step back in fear as the Empress exited the ship. Her mane roiled angrily in the solar wind, her eyes glowing pure white. Spreading her great wings, the Empress leapt into the sky and took flight with a burst of flames towards Solar One across the space port.
Arayda and D'Ysene glanced at each other, wondering what the hell had just happened.
Gilda had woken several hours ago to learn that she had been unconscious for nearly a day. She was surprised to learn that she had been rescued, but she wasn't exactly disappointed at that fact.
She was still awake now, hours later, even if just barely. She had kept a careful eye on Twilight in the next bed over ever since. Never mind that her other eye was watching her favorite show on her omni-tool. She was safe. Twilight was safe. She knew that didn't have to be as attentive as she would have to be anywhere else, and her insticts agreed. Solar One was a fortress, and no one could breach its hull without a warning.
Solar One had been on high alert ever since they had been rescued, and the airlock wasn't opening for anyone. Twilight had been damaged practically from head to hooves, and those bandages had already had to be changed once by the Doctor.
Gilda glanced away from her omni-tool as the door opened, only to fall from her bed in surprise with a squawk of terror at what she saw.
A wave of intense heat passed into the room, before it abated just as quickly as Celestia entered, her eyes still glowing white, her mane practically burning plasma of a furious sun.
At the sight of Twilight alive and on the bed, Celestia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes again, they were back to their normal color, and her mane calmed, once again becoming a gentle aurora.
Her breathing calming down, Celestia stepped over to Twilight's bedside, leaning down and gently nuzzling the little unicorn.
Gilda struggled back into her bed, pulling her covers back over herself. Celestia didn't even notice that she was in the room.
"Oh Twilight," Celestia murmured, looking down at her student with sad eyes.
Gilda couldn't help but feel like she was watching an intensely personal moment, and that she should be anywhere else but there.
As if she sensed Celestia's presence, Twilight stirred with a groan. Celestia sat back on her haunches, watching carefully, though she was still tall enough even sitting to tower over the bed and look down at Twilight as she slowly emerged back into consciousness.
"Ugh…" Twilight groaned. She blinked, her eyes fluttering open. She found herself unable to focus on anything in the room, just seeing a great white mass taking up the majority of her vision. "Wha…"
"Princess?" Twilight's muzzle scrunched in confusion. "Wha… I don't…"
She tried to sit up, but immediately regretted that with a hiss of pain. Celestia gently hummed to her, resting a soft hoof on Twilight's forehead.
"Rest, Twilight." Celestia murmured, smiling sadly. "You're still recovering."
"Recovering?" Twilight did her best not to move, feeling strangely sluggish, like her head was full of cotton. Her voice was scratchy, and it felt like she hadn't spoken in years. "From what?"
"You don't remember?" Gilda spoke up, wanting them to know that she was in the room.
"Gilda?" Twilight turned to look at Gilda (though it wasn't like she could actually see her), even as Celestia startled at the new voice, realizing that they weren't alone.
"Yeah." Gilda waved a claw at them. "I'm here, Twi."
"Are you okay?" Twilight asked, wishing she could see clearly the state that her marefriend was in.
"I'm fine," Gilda said even as she rubbed the bandages over her chest, ignoring the twinge of pain.
"Goo-" Before she could finish, Twilight broke into a coughing fit. Tears welled in her eyes as it felt like she was tearing her throat to pieces. Celestia hummed again, rubbing her hoof on Twilight's chest to try and ease her pain.
Minutes later, after the fit had disappeared and she had caught her breath, Twilight asked the one question that mattered. "What happened?"
"You don't remember?" Celestia asked, worried.
"No…" If she could have, Twilight would have shook her head. She didn't. "Why are you here?"
"You were hurt." Celestia kept her voice quiet and calm, not wanting to cause Twilight anymore pain. "Tortured by a sadistic madman. I came as soon as I learned what had happened."
Twilight winced as a memory of hot pain through her hoof emerged in her mind. It was too much for her to take and she whimpered, drawing herself deeper into the covers on her bed, but that just jostled her wounds and she cried out, tears falling.
"It's okay, Twilight," Celestia whispered, rubbing Twilight's chest. "You're safe. You're back on the ship. I'm going to bring you back to the castle, and everything will be okay.
"N-No!" Through her pain, Twilight shook her head, determined despite her feat. She grit her teeth as the wave of pain built, then thankfully, dissipated, leaving her tired but relieved. "No, Princess."
"Twilight?" Celestia pulled her head back, surprised.
"I want to continue," was all Twilight said, her determination clear.
"It's too dangerous." Celestia shook her head, looking down in confusion at Twilight. "I never should have given you this task. All of this… it's because I was…"
"I want to continue, Princess." Twilight said again, managing to sound far more put together than she was.
Celestia fell silent, looking at Twilight with sad eyes. Gilda looked between her marefriend and the Princess. She could see the debate raging behind Celestia's eyes.
"It's too dangerous." Celestia sounded desperate.
"It's worth it."
Celestia winced at Twilight's word, as if struck. "You could die!"
"If I give up now..." Twilight put a hoof on Celestia's looking up at her teacher. "I'm just showing the rest of the galaxy how weak I am. How weak Equestria is. I won't give in to fear."
Celestia fell silent, and Gilda had never seen her look so heartbroken. She hung her head, lowering it down close to Twilight. "There is nothing I can do to convince you?"
"No." Twilight shook her head, bracing herself before sitting up and nuzzling Celestia.
Celestia sighed, but could do nothing else but accept Twilight's answer. She took a deep breath. "I want you wearing your armor whenever you're off the ship. Both of you." She made sure she looked at Gilda when she said that. The griffin blushed, her wound twinging. "I love you, Twilight. I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I love you too, Princess." Twilight smiled at Celestia. "I promise we'll be more careful."
She fell silent for a long moment, biting her lip. She took a breath before speaking. "Princess… I've failed you."
"No, Twilight, never-" Celestia tried to say, but Twilight interrupted her.
"Yes, I did!" Twilight insisted. "I couldn't convince Pinkie Pie to come with us."
Gilda coughed, drawing both of their attentions. With their attention, Gilda pointed a claw at the viewing window, and they both looked out to see Pinkie sitting with Sweetie Belle.
"What?" Twilight blinked in surprise.
"She decided to come with us," Gilda explained. "Nowhere else to go."
"Oh…" Was all Twilight could think to say.