Chapter Thirty-Two - Unfortunate Escape
New York, New York, United North American States, Earth
April 17, 2183
The more Applejack spoke, the more Twilight drew in on herself, subconsciously trying to make herself as small of a target as possible. She had tucked her tail around herself, her shoulders hunched, and her ears lay flat against her skull. Applejack wasn't being unkind, but she was bringing up every point that Twilight had secretly thought when it was late at night.
"What am I supposed to do?" Twilight finally managed to ask, her voice small.
Applejack opened her mouth to answer, but a knock at the door interrupted her. She glanced over at Big Mac, nodding at the door.
Standing from the couch, he gently untangled Applebloom from himself before he went to answer the door. Opening it, he found a young woman standing there with an open sided cart covered in trays of food. Big Mac didn't step aside, looking at her in distrust.
The woman actually shifted uncomfortably at his look, but she managed to not look away from him. That was a feat in and of itself, considering that she stood only about a foot taller than Big Mac. He far out-massed her. "The front desk has sent up a selection of our finest foods as an apology for your troubles. We hope that the rest of your stay in our city is far better than it has been so far."
Big Mac studied her for what seemed to be an uncomfortably long amount of time. The woman could do nothing but stand there with an awkward smile as she waited for him to make his decision on whether he'd let her in or not. He stared a moment longer before finally stepping aside.
Quickly, she rushed inside and wheeled the cart carefully against the wall. Directing an uncomfortable smile at all of them, she said, "Have a wonderful day," before leaving the room as fast as she possibly could.
As soon as the door clicked shut, Twilight was out of her chair and trotting over to the cart. The rest of them followed her up, but before they could open any of the trays, Twilight placed herself firmly between them and the food. "Don't touch anything. Let me check it first."
They all thankfully backed away without protest, letting Twilight at the food.
Igniting her magic, Twilight did a quick scan of the entire cart with a spell her brother had taught her, making sure there wasn't anything dangerous or explosive hidden in the plates.
Opening the first plate, Twilight found that it was just a bunch of chocolate covered strawberries. A quick scan for poison and contaminants came up clean.
With a soft snort of satisfaction, Twilight moved onto the next tray.
Much like the first play, it was just a dessert, this time a complete peppermint cheesecake. It also came up clean.
The next plate.
Twilight jumped back in surprise as a metal ball about the size of a grapefruit lifted upward before she could even lift the cover, hovering above room. It floated forward, before projecting a hologram of a tall asian man dressed in a finely tailored suit and long black hair pulled into a top knot.
He smiled tauntingly at Twilight, giving her a short little bow of his head. "Hello there, Emissary."
Twilight froze, instantly recognizing that voice. It seemed to ring around inside her skull, smashing a headache into existence. Her stomach tangled itself up in knots, and her ears swiveled back against her head. She took a shaky step back, her pupils dilating to almost pin prick. Sensing her fear, Gilda leaped out of her seat and rushed up to her marefriend's side.
"You recognize me. Good! I have a feeling we'll be getting to know each other very well, Twilight Sparkle." The man closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, reveling in Twilight's fear.
"Who the hell are you?" Gilda asked, growling, as she clenched her talons.
"Who do you think?" Rolling his eyes, the man looked down his nose at Gilda, completely unimpressed at her posturing.
Gilda looked at Twilight, then at the man, then back at Twilight. "This was the guy?" She asked, gesturing over her shoulder with him at a claw.
"I never saw him," Twilight whispered, quiet enough that only Gilda could hear her, "but that's his voice."
"I'm glad you recognize me, Sparkle. I'd be hurt after our lovely time together."
"Don't call me that." Even though she tried to be tough, her voice came out more like a squeak, and she winced at how weak she sounded.
"Call you what?" The man stared her down, and she shifted her hooves nervously. "Twilight?" He laughed, shaking his head. "I'll call you whatever I want. You need to learn that you're not in control here."
Stepping firmly in front of Twilight to block the man's view of her, Gilda flared the remnants of her wings and screeched! "Wherever you are, we'll find you, and we'll make you pay for what you did!"
"That's cute. Adorable actually." He looked right past Gilda's ineffectual attempts at hiding her marefriend at Twilight. "You're like a little puppy. How does it feel, Sparkle, to be fucking a barking puppy?
"I just want all of you to know how out of your depths you are." Before Gilda and Twilight even had a chance to answer, the man was moving on to the others in the room. He looked right at Rarity. "Rarity Belle. You're an emerging fashionista with a penchant for sleeping around. I've got to say, you've got quite the taste in Asari. I've seen the pictures of your latests tryst on the extranet. You are quite the naughty animal."
"The extranet?" Rarity blanched, and she ignored Sweetie Belle's eyes on her. This was the worst. Possible. Thing!
"Pinkie Pie." He moved right along. "How saccharine. Do I even need to go into what I know about you?"
Pinkie looked away, her expression flat.
Waiting a moment, he looked away from her when she didn't respond. "I thought not."
He finally turned to look at the Apple family. "You three were certainly a surprise. I wasn't expecting Sparkle to throw her lot in with you."
"Enough!" Twilight worked her courage up enough to step past Gilda, stomping a hoof on the floor. "Why are you doing this? What do you want?"
The man looked down at Twilight, condescending. "I'm here for you, Twilight. Isn't that obvious."
Studying the room, Applejack noticed that magic was sparkling with violent restraint around Twilight's horn. The mare was twitching, her eyes holding something dangerous in their depths.
Smartly, Applejack edged from Twilight, and the man looked right at her.
"Eager to leave, Applejack?" The man glared at her, and with a single statement, they all drew up short.
Twilight shivered, anxious, her hooves shaking. How could he see what was happening in the room?
How could he see what was happening in the room!
"That armor doesn't really suit you, Sparkle. First time wearing it?"
"No!" Twilight panicked and her magic exploded from her horn. A burst of light-
- and they were suddenly all in the main conference room of Solar One.
Before anyone could say anything, the world went dark and Twilight passed out, the magical strain too much.
The air carried the soft scent of Celestia's favorite flowers, which could be found planted all across Canterlot. It was familiar, and it instantly gave Twilight the feeling of home, well, normally it did that, but right now she was just a ball of anxiousness. Gilda was standing next to her in front of the little gate leading to the doorway of her childhood home.
Gilda stared up at the house nervously, uncomfortable in her dress clothes. She wasn't really used to wearing clothes at all, but life back on Equestria was full of things she wasn't used to. For Twilight, she was doing her best to make a good impression for her parents, and it was the only reason why the unicorn was able to get her inside the custom tailored suit the castle's seamstress had made.
The suit did a lot to gracefully hide and divert attention from her scars and wounds, which was probably the only reason why Twilight had been able to get her inside it in the first place.
Sensing her nervousness, Twilight leaned in and gave her a quick, reassuring nuzzle. "They're going to love you. Don't worry so much."
Gilda just looks at Twilight with an "oh, really" expression. She'd seen enough movies since her return to Equestria that she'd gotten a feeling for how these types of things went.
Twilight rolled her eyes then opened the gate, trotting up and knocking on the door.
The two of them stood there waiting. A moment passed, then the door opened to reveal Princess Cadance standing in the doorway, a wide smile on her face. Gilda could only raise an eyebrow as they both started the strangest dance she'd ever seen... And calling it a dance was being generous.
"Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake, clap your hooves and do a little shake!" They cried out, drawing the attention of some of the ponies passing by on the street.
Gilda tilted her head at the sight of Twilight and Cadance both with their rumps in the air and pointed at each other. She finally decided, "I don't wanna know."
Cadance straightened, the dance apparently complete, smiling warmly at Gilda, sparing only a quick glance at her disfigurement. "You must be Gilda."
"Yeah." Gilda waved at her awkwardly, hoping her blush wasn't too obvious. "Hi."
"It's wonderful to finally meet you." Cadance didn't so much as budge, and Gilda allowed herself to relax just a smidge. She wouldn't be getting an unwelcome hug from this pony, and glancing at Twilight, she had a feeling that everyone she'd be meeting tonight had been given a very thorough lesson on how to act around a former slave. "Twily has told us so much about you!" Cadance stepped aside, motioning for them both to come in. "Come on in. Dinner's almost ready and everyone's waiting to meet you!"
Twilight and her mother Velvet stood in the hallway away from the rest of the guests, just near the kitchen. With one ear swiveled towards the living room, she could hear Cadance and Shining Armor amusing Gilda with stories of her childhood, but she found she was too focused on her mother to care and get embarrassed.
"I... I don't know what to say." Twilight tilted her head, trying to process what her mother had just said.
Velvet glanced back at the living room before focusing on Twilight. She bit her lip, nervous but still willing to go forward and talk about the touchy subjects. "It's just, well…"
"Well, what?" Twilight asked, a hint of steel in her voice.
"I'm very happy for you, sweetheart, but I just want you to really think about what you're jumping into with Gilda." Velvet plowed right on ahead, missing her typical grace and poise.
"Jumping into? I'm not making this decision rashly, mom." Twilight narrowed her eyes in confusion. Where was all of this coming from? "I love Gilda!"
"I'm not questioning that," Velvet said. "I'm just asking you to think about what a relationship with her will mean."
"What WILL it mean, mom?" Twilight's voice had gone quiet and cold.
"Gilda's a very damaged griffin, honey. In all likelihood she'll be fighting her Hallex addiction for the rest of her life. She has scars that go far beyond the physical, and she's barely had a chance to process what she's been through. I just want you to really think." Velvet took a step closer, placing a kind hoof on her daughter's shoulder.
"And what are you wanting me to think? That I should break up with Gilda?" Twilight whisper shouted at her mother, brushing her hoof away.
Velvet didn't say anything, but it was clear on her face that Twilight had struck the nail on the head.
"What?" Twilight shook her head, astounded. "No! What? Why would you... Mom?" Twilight was so confused that she didn't really know how to react.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't be her friend, but she isn't ready for a romantic relationship."
"You just met her!" It was getting harder for Twilight to keep herself quiet, her anger building. "How do you know?"
Twilight and Velvet turned to find Gilda nervously standing there. Hiding her anger, Twilight smiled warmly at her. Velvet looked away, uncomfortable.
"We should be heading back," Twilight told Gilda. "It's getting late."
Gilda looked confused, but she didn't argue with Twilight.
Waking up, Twilight found herself in her bed on Solar One. She had a splitting headache and it took her a few moments to come to full lucidity. She didn't know how long she laid there, staring up into the darkness, but with a groan, she finally sat up.
Looking over at the bedside, she saw a note scrawled out in Gilda's rough chicken scratches, telling her that they were all down in the dining room.
Slinking into the dining room, Twilight found the Apples, Gilda, Pinkie and Maud, Rarity, Sweetie Belle, and Spike sitting around a table. They were picking at their meals. The man had obviously shook them up far more than anyone wanted to admit. No one noticed her at first. She stared at the group, chewing on her lip, feeling more than a little embarrassed and overwhelmed.
It was Rarity who noticed her first, and she gasped in horror, drawing everyone else's attention.
"Darling!" Rarity practically bolted from her chair to get to Twilight. If it was possible, she would have left a smoke trail. "Your mane. Don't worry, I can fix it before you even say 'what'."
"What?" Twilight asked in confusion.
"Done!" Rarity stepped back, giving a nod of satisfaction.
Sure enough, Twilight's mane was now back to its normal style, all signs of bed head gone. Rarity trotted back over to her seat and gracefully sat back in it.
Twilight stood there stunned for a moment before shaking it off, taking a seat next to Gilda.
"How are you feeling?" Gilda asked, nuzzling her marefriend with her beak.
"I've got a headache." Twilight moaned. She dropped her head against Gilda's shoulder.
"I imagine so." Rarity nodded in understanding as she took a sip of her tea. "The amount of magic you expended, well, I never could have pulled that off in a million years."
Twilight just grunted, shrugging. She turned her attention to the Apples, who were sitting close together, protective around their little sister. "I'm sorry to drag you into all of this. It's all spiraling out of control and I don't know what to do."
"Shucks, sugarcube," Applejack said, looking up at her. "You didn't cause any of this. None of us asked for this, not even you. Seems to me that it's all that darn books fault."
"Eyup." Big Mac agreed, giving a nod of his head.
Twilight was thankful for their words but she didn't really believe a word of it. It showed on her face. "Is there anywhere we can take you? I hate we've unconvinced you so much."
Applejack and Big Mac shared a look.
"We thought you were trying to gather all of us Element Bearers together," Applejack said when she looked back at Twilight.
Twilight shrugged, scuffing a hoof on the table.
"The way we see it," Applejack continued on, "the safest place in the galaxy is right here on this ship. We'll come with you if it's all the same. That fella would just have an easier time getting to all of us if split up all across the galaxy."
Twilights eyes teared up, and she nodded her gratitude. "Thank you."
Kai Leng was just finishing packing up all of the equipment in their crates when there was a knock at his door. Taking calm, even strides over to the door, he opened it to find Hope Lilium standing there.
"Well?" He asked, waiting. Everything hinged on whether or not Hope had accomplished her role or not.
"It's done," Hope confirmed, a little smirk on her face.
"Good work." Kai Leng stepped out of the room, handing the room key to Hope. "Take care of it."
Before she could respond, Kai Leng was walking down the hall and away from her, straightening his suit.