"So what are we doing again, Twilight?" Spike asked. Twilight had been absorbed in one of her personal projects, leaving Spike out of the loop while she locked herself in her room and studied. When she wasn't in her room she was going off and doing errands without him, and he was getting pretty curious about what had all of her focus. When he'd woken up that morning it seemed his curiosity about what Twilight was up to would be satisfied, as she'd dragged him off with her on one of her mysterious errands into Ponyville.
"We're off to see the Mayor, Spike." Twilight explained. "As I'm sure you know I've been assigned by the Princess the task of studying friendship here in Ponyville, but I've not limited myself to that one pursuit. In furthering my general academic studies I've stumbled upon something really interesting about Ponyville's history, and I need to see the Mayor to check some things."
Spike scratched his head in confusion. "Will, at least I know what's gotten you so distracted recently, but Ponyville history? This is a nice town and all, but it's not exactly all that historically important. Also, why do you need to see the Mayor? We live in a library. There is a ton of history books right below where we sleep."
Twilight gave a small shake of her head at her young friend's lack of interest in the pursuit of knowledge and entered into lecture mode. "Spike, Ponyville has a rich and interesting history, from it's foundation by earth ponies in 566, the manticore raids of the 640's, it's near destruction by an Ursa Major and abandonment in the early 700's and re-establishment half a century later, and the first successful use of a lighter then air aircraft in the early part of the 900's. Those are, by the way, only footnotes of an exciting history that would take a good day to recount. A town neighboring the Everfree forest is going to see its share of action, after all."
From his position on Twilight's back Spike looked around with renewed interest at the buildings that comprised Ponyville as Twilight continued at a sedate pace to the Mayor's office. "Huh, this place does have an interesting history after all, I guess. Maybe I should read some of those history books we have when we get back home. But anyways, Twilight, why do we need to go to the Mayor's? You didn't explain why that's necessary, especially considering you already seem to know a lot about Ponyville's history."
Twilight nodded her head, agreeing with Spike's assessment that she was knowledgeable about her new hometown. "I guess I do know a great deal about Ponyville, but that's exactly why we're going to see the Mayor. The things I've mentioned so far are fairly average historical tidbits of information that anypony with a thirst for knowledge could obtain, but I've stumbled upon some truly interesting information concerning Ponyville. Or rather, the land that would someday become Ponyville." Twilight's voice was getting quicker as she excitedly started to get to the heart of the matter.
"You see, Spike, though it isn't currently common knowledge the Equestrian calendar begins with Nightmare Moon's imprisonment. Whatever system we ponies had used previously was abandoned as we entered a new age with Princess Celestia as our sole ruler. Ponyville's establishment as a community was around the middle of the time between our current era and the start of our current calendar. What secrets lie in the time period between Princess Luna's transformation, and banishment, and the start of Ponyville? What secrets do these lands hold from the time before even that? I've managed to stitch together from various recorded pony tales records of a settlement that once existed on the land that now comprises Ponyville, a settlement that disappeared to a pony during the time of Nightmare Moon's initial emergence!" Twilight said dramatically.
"The Mayor, Twilight?" Spike asked with a deadpan expression.
"Oh! Yeah, heh." Twilight said with a sheepish expression and a slight blush on her cheeks. "The Mayor has some of the actual mouth written journals of the earth pony explorers who founded Ponyville. It's mentioned in a rather dry history of the Mayors of Ponyville that such journals existed and that they told of some fascinating ruins that stood where Ponyville stands now. The Mayor serves as a sort of unofficial curator for Ponyville's historically important objects and I've been going over to her place to read through the collection of ancient books there, seeing if I can find out more about these ruins. It's only the fact that I'm from the University of Canterlot and the Princess's prized pupil that I'm even allowed to look at such fragile documents. Spike, you're here today to help me in my search, and please be careful, we'll be touching history today."
"So I'm going to be helping you dig through even older and dustier books then usual today?" Spike said with a sigh. "Ancient ruins sound like fun, but you sure know how to drag me along on the boring research parts of an adventure. Hey, Twilight, other then personal curiosity why are you doing this? Did you become an adventurer archeologist when I wasn't looking?"
"Adventurer librarian, actually." Twilight said with a grin, as she walked up to the Mayor's front door. "I believe I became one when my friends and I went hoof to hoof with the ancient, immortal, immensely powerful co-founder of our country and defeated her with the power of friendship."
"Now all right, Twilight. Ya got all of us sitting in yer sitting room, drinking tea." Applejack said, after taking a sip from her cup. She didn't normally like tea, considering it a bit frou frou-y for her tastes, but Twilight had a way of making her tea taste all right. "Would you care to get along with what you wanted to show us? Ah can't speak for everypony here, but ah'm sure interested to see what has you so interested."
"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie interjected excitedly, while jumping from her seat with a cup of tea balanced precariously on her head. "Twilight you make such a big effort to be involved in our lives and what we like, writing reports about your experiences to the Princess all the time, but it doesn't seem like you really, really ever let us share in what you like." With that Pinkie abruptly sat down with a pout, the cup balanced on her head doing a complex slide down her face to be gripped by her lips. She jerked her head back and slammed the tea down in one gulp, afterwards dropping the cup and letting it clatter on the table in front of her. "Mmm, good tea! Anyways, Twilight, spill the jelly beans about whatever super fun, Twilight-y thing you've been so involved in!"
"Yeah, what Pinkie Pie said, minus being high on a sugar rush. You know Pinkie, you're supposed to put some actual tea in your sugar, heh." Rainbow Dash said with a grin and a confident flex of her wings.
Rarity had been increasingly occupied trying to get her teacup perfectly arranged on her saucer, but wouldn't allow herself to be so rude as to ignore the hostess of the tea party in which she was taking part. Such rudeness just wasn't allowed in a lady, and such lack of consideration for a friend just wasn't allowed in Rarity! She looked up and favored her friend with a radiant smile. "Twilight you simply must tell us about what you've been up to, we're all simply dying to know! And besides you always shine your brightest when you are talking about something that interests you."
"That's true, Twilight." Fluttershy said, agreeing with Rarity's statement and only slightly flinching as everypony's attention shifted to her. "You may not have noticed this, but sometimes I can be a little, um, shy. Talking about things that interest me, like adorable woodland creatures, helps me come out of my shell." Fluttershy's eyes widened as she worriedly realized that what she said could be construed as an insult. "Um, not that you need any help coming out of your shell, you're such a confident pony. But not overconfident! Uh, anyways we're all so very interested to hear what you have to say."
Twilight smiled at her friend's genuine interest in her discovery. "Thank you so much. I had actually been a little worried that in my research I'd been neglecting you all so much that you might be angry at me." Twilight had to pause while her friends murmured various things indicating the silliness that they would be mad with her just for indulging in something that frankly made her who she was: her love of research and books. "Well, I suppose such wonderful friends getting mad just because I spent a week burying myself in research might seem a bit silly, but I still feel a bit guilty. This is why I wanted to share my fascinating discovery with all of you, my closest friends."
Twilight's horn began to glow, and the lights in her library home began to dim. "Now, I'm not as accomplished with illusion spells as Rarity," Rarity gave a graceful incline of her head in acknowledgment of Twilight's compliment, "however I think that what I'm going to discuss could do with some visual aids." With that said suddenly Equestria in miniature was on the table that the six ponies were sitting around, like some board game of the goddesses. Pinkie Pie playfully pretended to crush Canterlot, only for an annoyed glance from Applejack to settle her down.
On the table the image of Equestria started to go through day and night cycles, as Twilight began her narration. "Now, we mark time by the cycles of day and night, cycles once governed by our ruler Princess Celestia, and recently and in the distant past governed by both Celestia and her younger sister Princess Luna." The illusion of Equestria stopped shifting between day and night and settled on a particularly nice looking, clear day. "Here is Equestria as it exists currently. Please excuse the crudity of this representation, I did what I could with an atlas, some population estimates and some guess work." most of the ponies assembled stared at the illusion in awe and Rainbow Dash gave Twilight a bemused glance, considering that what Twilight apparently saw as a flawed representation of Equestria was pretty much exactly what it looked like from the air.
Twilight got up and started to pace around the table, giving her creation a critical eye as she continued. "Now, let's start to work our way backwards in time." The sun that held firm above Equestria began to move again as the day and night cycle of the illusion reversed itself, providing the artistic impression of the reversed passage of time that was being represented. The ponies assembled watched as communities shrank and disappeared with some communities suddenly appearing representing the towns and cities that had been abruptly destroyed during Equestria's long history. Slowly all their eyes were drawn to Ponyville, their hometown, watching it as it traveled back in time. So lost they became in the spectacle that they were shocked when time stopped again and Ponyville had disappeared. "Here! Here is the time before Ponyville's founding. The time is around halfway between Nightmare Moon's banishment and the return of Princess Luna. You'll notice that the Everfree forest is difficult to tell apart from the woods that are on the land that will one day become Ponyville. In fact, some have made the argument that they are one and the same."
Applejack cleared her throat to get Twilight's attention and politely raised a hoof to indicate she wanted to comment. Twilight nodded her head, and listened as Applejack spoke. "Ah remember that's how it was taught back in school. Teacher said the Everfree forest had grown too big for its britches, and that Ponyville was in part founded as a land reclamation effort. You saying that ain't true, Twilight?"
Twilight put her hoof to her chin and thought about Applejack's question for a moment. "Hmm, it's not exactly true, Applejack. It is true that this land was very wild and needed to be tamed by some hardy ponies in order to make it suitable for a town, but it wasn't part of the Everfree forest. Never was. There is a different reason why this land was left to be swallowed by the wilderness, and to explain that reason we have to go back further."
Everypony eagerly looked back at the illusion of Equestria, but it remained the same. "Sorry everypony, this is where things get a bit sketchy, and it's where my research has been held up until earlier today when I hit a breakthrough." Twilight said apologetically, while banishing the illusion of Equestria. "You see, I pieced together ponytales of a settlement of ponies that existed where Ponyville stands today, in the time before Nightmare Moon was banished. Historical records of that time are scarce, but I was nearly positive that the place existed. I kept searching and searching until today, with Spikes help, I found a personal diary of one of the founders of Ponyville. He had found some evidence of stone buildings and further explorations by him resulted in him finding a stone tablet that recorded what had happened to the settlement. He described it containing no writing, but it did depict what he described as an ominous night and images of ponies fleeing underground."
Twilight paused dramatically before continuing. "I believe that during Nightmare Moon's original appearance and attempt to plunge the world into eternal night an entire settlement of ponies fled underground to escape. I believe that these ponies disappearance resulted in the land that Ponyville stands on picking up a kind of supernatural dread for most ponies, and that resulted in these lands going empty from pony habitation for hundreds of years, until the settlement of Ponyville. Finally, I believe the ponies that fled Nightmare Moon, or at least evidence of their existence, might still exist somewhere. Somewhere... beneath Equestria."
"Dun, dun, DUN!" Pinkie said with a serious expression from behind Twilight. At everyponies look she just sat down and lifted her hooves with a shrug. "What? I thought the moment called for a "Dun, dun, DUN'. Please continue, Twilight."
"Er, yes." Twilight said, giving her friend a confused look. "Anyways. Everypony, I wanted to ask all of you to help me with an expedition of great historical importance. But more importantly then that I want you all to share in something important to me just like all of you have allowed me to share in the things that are important to you."
Twilight didn't seem to have to wait an instant before her friends were at her side, excitedly chatting about what kinds of preparations they would have to make.
Applejack adjusted her saddle pack, looking it over to see if everything was in order. Her brother Big Macintosh and her little sister Applebloom had loaded it up to near bursting with everything she'd possibly need on an underground expedition. Applejack smiled, even though the pack was a bit uncomfortable, because her siblings outfitting her so completely showed how much they cared about her. Applebloom especially had been insistent on making sure she was well prepared, and Applejack assumed that she took after her in showing her concern for her loved ones by taking care of them in such a fashion. She looked over at everypony else s preparations with a dubious expression. "Rarity, Ah know you like to dress your best, but you did remember to pack things that will actually help you survive a possibly dangerous expedition, rather then just help you look good during one, right?"
Rarity lifted her chin haughtily as she replied. "Applejack, I have been a party to several exciting adventures by now, a few that have had the fate of Equestria herself on the line. I can assure you I have packed the appropriate "practical" essentials for a mission filled with possible danger and hardships." Rarity then pulled out an attractive scarf that she playfully wrapped around her neck. "However, if I didn't pack just a few fashionable accoutrements I may as well be dead."
Applejack rolled her eyes, but a quick look in Rarity's pack revealed that she had packed well for the trip. She'd even seemed to leave behind her tiara and some of her bulkier jewelry to leave room for more practical supplies. Pinkie Pie had likewise packed sensibly other then taking a token supply of candy and gag items. Fluttershy had been thorough, perhaps overly so. Applejack distinctly noted some medicines that seemed to be geared towards animal as opposed to pony health. Applejack shook her head, if Fluttershy wanted to cart around the extra weight despite it probably not being needed, that was her choice. Rainbow Dash packed a little light, but she seemed to be concerned with maintaining her mobility, and Applejack deemed that a practical concern. Overall everypony seemed to be ready, and she turned to Twilight to report. "Now alright, Twilight. Everypony's ready, willing and able to get this show on the road. Do ya got anything to say to the troops?"
Twilight quickly checked her own pack, filled with standard supplies along with some specialized cartography equipment and a journal in which she had recorded everything she had discovered during her investigation. "Thank you, Applejack. Now, everypony, this is going to be a possibly dangerous expedition. I decided it was a bit too much for Spike to take part in, so he's going to stay in Ponyville while we make a preliminary journey underground to find some evidence of a possible underground pony settlement. I've decided that we'll only spend a few days underground looking for clues and should no sign of us be detected for 5 days a rescue expedition organized by Spike will be sent out to find us. Now, I have a general idea about where the entrance to the cave system that the ponies of the past used to escape what they thought was Nightmare Moon's eternal night is, but we'll still be going into the Everfree Forest to examine the stone tablet with our own eyes."
Twilight and her friend s journey into the Everfree Forest went without much event. Having left Ponyville in early morning they had much of the day to make it to the stone tablet and the bright daylight gave the hike through the forest the feeling of a nice stroll through the woods, rather then the feeling of the rather dangerous hike it actually was. The ponies, Fluttershy especially, weren't fooled by the pleasantness of the day into lowering their guard but they still felt in high spirits. Around noon they reached their destination and Twilight began the careful cataloguing of the information held on the stone tablet as her friends settled down to eat the lunch they had packed.
"Fascinating!" Twilight said while levitating her journal and furiously writing in it the details she was observing. "Girls, look at this. It's just as it was described in the journal of the earth pony explorer that came before us. There's just a very small amount of detail he missed and now that I have it I've got a pretty exact map of where to go. I had thought we'd need to take a whole day just finding the entrance yet it seems we'll actually be able to start exploring underground today."
Rainbow Dash had finished her lunch before everypony else, so she was the first to respond to Twilight's good news. "That's great, Twilight! I mean, I can't say that I'm all that interested in being in a cave and having my flying messed with because of being in such a small space," she said with a shrug. "but I do like the idea of making a historic discovery!"
"Well, it's certainly going to be historic, whatever we find." Twilight said while closing her journal and slipping it back into her saddle pack. "And as for being stuck in a claustrophobic location I can ease your worries: some of the description of these cave systems describes them as being fairly large. You should be able to fly in some of them quite easily."
Fluttershy perked up at that. "Oh, dear, that's a relief. I usually like to keep my feet on the ground, but I don't think I'd like to be cooped up in a tiny cave."
"While it's nice to know that we won't be getting any skinnier traveling down narrow cave passages Ah'm still not sure what you think you'll find down there, Twilight." Applejack said with some doubt in her voice. "Do you really think that anypony could survive down there for 1000 years? Ah can't help but think that we'll only find some dusty old bones down there." Applejack couldn't help but shiver a bit at the thought and Fluttershy actually let out an "Eep!".
Twilight wasn't a pony to let superstition keep her from discovery, but knew that she should say something to ease her friend's minds. "Relax, girls. Even if there isn't... a current underground pony settlement it's not as if though we'd be desecrating a tomb. We'd be honoring the memory of a group of ponies long ago forgotten. And if the pony settlement has managed to exist to the present day in addition to being the archeological find of the century we can also bring a group of ponies locked away below the surface back to the light of Celestia's sun."
Pinkie popped her head between Applejack and Twilight and broke into the conversation. "And you know what it would mean to find a bunch of ponies who never saw the sun before and who are ignorant of 1000 years of Equestrian history, right?"
"...We'd have to have a party?" Rainbow Dash said with a raised eyebrow.
"No, silly!" Pinkie Pie said with a laugh. "It'd provide insights into the way societies form in extreme situations, with the additional side benefit of providing another view of our own history from a culture that shares origins with our own while having developed independently, with its own concept of what was historically important. But a party sounds like a good idea, too." Pinkie nudged Dash with a hoof, grinning at her friend s cleverness. "You're gooood Dashie."
Twilight Sparkle and her friends reached the location of the entrance to the underground cave system in the early afternoon. It was in the large mountain that the dragon they had previously encountered and convinced to leave Equestria used for storing his treasure. In the mountain there was a shaft leading downwards, deeper even then the caves the Diamond Dogs had used for their own home. It took them a few more hours to climb the mountain, then to navigate the cave until they reached the inner chamber that held the large, gaping hole that would lead them down into the depths of Equestria.
"Whoa, Twilight." Applejack said, eyeing the hole. "How in tarnation are we supposed to get down there, much less come back up after we're done?"
Twilight herself gave the hole a worried look, but explained her plan in a reasonable tone. "It does look scary, but the plan I have for getting us down there is pretty safe, and takes up much less space in our packs then having to carry all the ropes necessary to climb down would have. You see, I've got a spell that will lighten each of us enough so that we'll fall like a feather. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy will be around to direct our falls should we inadvertently aim for anything dangerous during our descent. And as for getting back up when we're done I've got some individual pony sized balloons that in addition to the feather fall spell will allow us to float back up the shaft once we're done, again with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy directing us to keep us out of trouble."
Having experience with Twilight's magical ability, receiving wings from her that functioned perfectly until she had pushed them beyond their designed limitations, Rarity had full confidence in Twilight's plan. "What a perfectly elegant solution to our descent problem, Twilight." Rarity said with admiration in her voice. "I have full confidence in your plan, Twilight, but I volunteer to test it out first. Just to be sure nothing unforeseen happens when we put the plan into effect."
"That's a good idea, Rarity." Twilight said with a nod of her head. "I think the plan is foolproof, but it's always better to be safe then sorry. You go first, and if anything goes wrong with the plan me, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy can make sure even a disaster should be something we can recover from."
Twilight's horn started to glow and shining bubbles began appearing around Rarity. They converged on Rarity and her hair noticeably started floating around her face, causing a rather pleasing aesthetic effect that enhanced Rarity's beauty.
"Hmm, not as eye catching an effect as the wings, but I think I can work with this." Rarity said a she examined the effect the feather fall spell had on her hair. She shifted her head to see how her hair would now move being near weightless, only to find that the simple movement caused her entire body to rise a few inches above the ground. This caused her to flail about comically before she settled back down to the floor again.
"Careful, Rarity." Twilight said with a gentle motion of her right front hoof. "You're not used to weighing so little," Rainbow Dash snickered at how that statement could be taken the wrong way, but everypony else ignored her. "so you have to watch how you move when under the effect of this spell."
"Right as always, Twilight." Rarity said with an easy laugh. She quickly managed to correct her movements to allow herself not to float off accidently, and with a nod from Twilight to begin descent when she was ready she maneuvered her way to the edge of the hole and prepared to jump.
"Oh, I almost forgot!" Twilight said. "There's enough ambient light around here for us to see, but as we go deeper it's going to get darker. Rarity can make her own light, but Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy will need to wear some headgear with lamps attached to them." Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy quickly put on the headgear provided by Twilight. With that done Rarity carefully jumped down into the hole, with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy flying down with her to keep an eye out for her.
Twilight, Applejack and Pinkie Pie waited, quietly worrying about their friends. The light they gave off gradually disappeared, and then there was a long wait as they watched the darkness. In time the light reappeared and Rainbow Dash zoomed up to greet them.
"Hah, easy! The way down was a bit scary because we didn't know what to expect, but coming back up wasn't hard at all." Rainbow Dash said proudly.
Pinkie Pie looked around. "Hey, Where's Fluttershy?"
Rainbow Dash gave a dismissive snort. "Oh, she's fine. I didn't feel right leaving Rarity down their alone, so I thought Fluttershy should keep her company. I'm fine keeping all you ponies safe on your way down."
Twilight thought that over. "Well... I suppose with no problems going down and coming back up, and knowing the way down, Rainbow Dash should be fine guiding us alone." she said doubtfully.
"Yeah, it'll be totally fine. Trust me." Rainbow Dash said enthusiastically.
Twilight supervised the other ponies putting on their lamp headgear and cast the feather fall spell on all of them. Then with a deep breath they all stood by the mouth of the hole and leaped down, Pinkie giving a happy squeal of delight as she did so.
"Ha ha! I like this plan." Pinkie said as they floated down, their lights shining out into the darkness around them. "Any plan that involves balloons and floating receives the Pinkie Pie seal of approval!"
They floated down a bit further with little conversation, Pinkie just enjoying the floating sensation and Twilight and Applejack keeping a nervous eye out for anything that could possibly go wrong. An ominous rumble caused some concern, which was voiced by Applejack. "Um, Twilight, that sound sorta ominous to you?"
Twilight grinned nervously, as she brightened the glow of her horn and directed it upwards to see if anything was wrong. "Just a minor seismic event, I'm sure. What could possibly go wrong?" Further comment was stopped when a trickle of rock and dust landed on Twilights head.
With the light provided by Twilight's horn everypony could see in the tunnel above them as the rocks hurtled towards them.
"Rocks fall, everypony dies?" Pinkie Pie said weakly as she gazed at the source of her and her friends impending doom.
To Be Continued!