Chapter 1: First Move
The majestic city of Canterlot, capital city of all Equestria, was a wondrous marvel of pony engineering, art, and magic. It was a shinning jewel carved out of the side of a mountain and decorated with precious metals and gems mined from deep within. Canterlot's towers of smooth stone rose prominently into the air. Like fingers from the hand of a giant; stretching high, reaching endlessly for the blue sky as if to claim the sun for itself. For miles and miles in every direction this awe-inspiring place dominated the horizon for every citizen pony that dared to lift their eyes from the Earth. It was the center of culture, learning, trade, and science. It was also an object of philosophical wonder and legend. There were those who believed it had existed even before ponykind, stretching back into the days when gods and angels shaped the land.
In the center of the city was the royal castle, the central seat of the monarchy and home to the princesses Celestia and Luna. It was a large square structure of the finest hoof polished marble decorated with statues of tempered gold and silver as well as large carved murals colored in the finest paints and adorned with gems. The murals were dedicated to the memory of those who had come before and had built this place as well as wishing for the prosperity of the nobility and all the citizens of Equestria.
On this particular day Princess Celestia was not in a happy mood. If one were so bold as to ask her why she would say it was time for her to pile-drive some of her staff into the ground out of a need to vent her pent up frustration. If there was one thing she dreaded most about ruling over Equestria it was these end of the month mandatory council sessions. At these times it would be necessary for her to entertain the kingdom's cabinet of numerous advisors, political leaders, scholars, and scientists as she was subjected, nay forced, to listen to their financial and economic reports, treasury counts, construction schedules, population propagation charts, food stock counts, among many others. Poets they were not and everything was read so dry and devoid of prose that it was like a sandstorm in her brain trying to erode her sanity.
Then the real fun began as she was required to sign of stack after stack of paperwork to the point that she developed a horn cramp from magic strain. As a princess it was her royal duty to keep abreast of all of this, but she had grown weary to the monotony and tedium that seemed dominate her life over the many long years of rule. There was hope though, a light at the end of the tunnel as it were. This was the last such meeting before the beginning of the Summer Sun Festival which was tonight. It was finally a chance to get out of this stuffy castle and have a little fun, maybe do a little catching up with her favorite student. All she had to do was keep a smile on her face and draw upon an extra reserve of patience.
The council chamber was large circular room big enough to hold a congregation of several hundred ponies. Banners hung from the wall and each bore a different insignia of a city or town under the Princess' rule. Overhead a stained glass dome was covered in still art depicted various scenes, in beautiful watercolor, of historical significance. It gave the room a bright and cheerful atmosphere as the sun effortlessly shined down through it.
Princess Celestia sat at the head of a circular table made of a rich dark mahogany wood. Sitting with her were twenty other ponies of varying professions. The circular nature of the table signified equality as it allowed everyone who sat there the freedom to look upon the face of every single occupant without obstruction. As the Princess and the politicians continued with business, palace servants periodically appeared to serve light snacks and refill goblets with refreshments.
"…and due to the continuing peace I recommend the following cuts in the defense budget." spoke General Star Sword. He was a white pegasus colt dressed in elaborate royal gold armor and bearing the insignia of ultimate command over the Equestrian military on his helmet, a sword flanked by four stars. "We should further reduce the number of palace guards by ten percent and divert the funds towards more immediate concerns regarding…"
"No." Princess Celestia sharply interrupted him.
"B-b-but your highness," he stuttered in indignation.
"General," Celestia raised her hoof for silence, "you've proposed the same cutbacks for the past year and I've made it quite clear that any further reductions would be unwise. Unless you wish to leave the security of this city in such a miserable state as to invite troublemakers into our very midst?"
"With all due respect your Excellency," chimed Administrator Golden Sacks, head of the treasury. He was a yellow earth pony with green hair and a cutie-mark consisting of a pair of golden moneybags. "It has been over fourteen centuries since the army has been called upon to defend these lands from a hostile force. I'd also like to draw attention to your own pupil who has proven most capable at handling several minor 'incidents' that have occurred within these lands. If a single unicorn can soundly deal with these problems then we need not waste our funds on the expensive training, upkeep, and maintenance of an army. I for one…."
"No!" Celestia sternly reinforced her earlier answer with a stomp of her hoof, "In case you haven't noticed Mr. Sacks, there has been an ever increasing number of 'incidences' recently in Ponyville and in other surrounding areas." Celestia placed both of her front hooves on the table and lifted herself to tower above the assembly. "As it stands there are just enough guards left to keep Equestria relatively safe and secure from the common thief and wildlife. Now, while I am grateful that my dearest pupil and her friends have managed to settle many of the more 'unique' problems themselves we should not dismiss the value of military preparedness in the unexpected event of a greater unseen threat!" Celestia lowered herself back into her seat. Several advisors clapped their hooves in agreement while others wanted to speak in opposition, but knew better than to cross Celestia.
"Enough of this," Celestia continued after the clapping died down, "let us move on to the next item of business." After she spoke the economic specialist, Ledger, rose to give his report. Celestia only paid him half a mind as she took a deep draw of water followed by a servant refilling her goblet.
"…there has been an large upturn in the cost of precious gems and metals as demand continues to outstrip an unusual downturn in supply. Investigations have not discovered any foul play or thefts from the mines at this time, but it continues to be a major concern of local metal workers and fashion designers…" As he was giving his report there came a loud and impatient knocking on the assembly's main door.
"Enter." Celestia commanded, relieved for the interruption. A guard pony dressed in a more traditional set of golden armor entered the room with measured step and undisguised pride, yet his eyes darted around the room nervously.
"My princess," the guard was sweating uncontrollably while he bowed down, "I bring terrible news."
"What news?" Celestia felt her relief fading.
"I'm sorry your majesty, but it appears there has been a theft from the royal treasury!" A disbelieving gasp arose from the assembled crowd. Celestia ignored them as she arose from her seat and approached the guard.
"Tell me guard pony, what has been stolen?" she now stood over the guard who somehow managed to bow even lower.
"My lady," the guard continued, " My partners and I were on our way to the treasury to relieve the previous shift when we happened upon a disturbing sight." His breath caught in his throat out of fear.
"Guard," Celestia said with warm concern in her voice. "Please stand and tell us what has happened." Slightly reassured by her words the guard stood, but did not make direct eye contact with the princess.
"The three guards on post were on the ground with terrible wounds from an unknown attacker. The wounds suggested the attacker came from behind."
"From behind?" General Star Sword interjected angrily, "Impossible, that would mean the thief attacked them as he left the vault, but the guards watch over the only entrance. Are you absolutely sure of that?" The guard nodded.
"Yes sir! They were struck by a blunt instrument from behind."
"Are they still alive?" Celestia feared the worse.
"They were still breathing when I last saw them. I ordered them taken to Dr. Hawkeye's office and after that I surveyed the vault in the hope of capturing the thief." The guard inhaled sharply before continuing. "I'm sorry to say there is no sign of him and we're not sure what has been stolen yet, exactly." Something about that last sentence raised a red flag in Celestia's consciousness. "What do you mean you don't know what has been stolen?"
"Your majesty it appears that a hidden safe was opened and any contents it might have held was removed. I apologize," the guard bowed low again, voice trembling with anguish, "but I was not aware of this particular safe and worse I have failed in my duty to protect it."
The Canterlot treasury was a massive vault that held the kingdom's surplus currency of minted gold coins in numerous stacks of neatly arranged and counted piles. More than that, the vault also home to numerous artifacts, treasures, and weapons of immense value or lethality. Most of these were held within secret safes in the walls and floor. Any guard pony awarded the honor of protecting the vault was tasked with memorizing the location of each and every one of them. If a guard was not aware of a safe then either he was lacking in commitment to his duty or…
"Was this safe," Celestia said gravely, "located on the third floor balcony hidden under a statue model of Canterlot?"
"Y…yes," the guard was speechless with incredulity. How did the princess know?
"I'm canceling this council meeting until further notice," Celestia immediately turned to address the room of advisors, "Everypony return to your stations and prepare for further instructions." The advisors looked upon each other in confusion and alarm before gathering their possessions and papers. As the gathering of individuals began to disperse a melodious voice, like the ringing of silver bells, called out amongst the shifting of chairs and shuffling of hooves.
"Sister Celestia!" it came from a pegasus unicorn with grayish purple skin, light blue mane, and a cutie-mark of a crescent moon.
"Luna! What are you doing here?"
"I heard about what happened," Luna panted, "I came to see if it was true." Her eyes begged for it not to be so.
"I'm afraid it is." Celestia confirmed to Luna's abject disbelief. She then used her wing to lift the chin of the still bowed guard before her, speaking in a firm and critical voice "Guard, I have orders that need to be passed along."
"I am at your mercy Princess Celestia." The guard said eagerly, prepared to do whatever it took to redeem his earlier mistake.
"I need the city to be sealed off. Double the guards at every post and increase the patrols over every aerial route. No pony gets in or out without explicit consent from my immediate subordinates or myself. I feel we may have a traitor in our midst and they cannot be allowed to leave with the treasure." Celestia then paced a few steps before she continued. "My sister and I will be heading to the throne room to discuss our next course of action. Once we enter I want the doors sealed until we finish our deliberations. Make sure that no pony disturbs us, not even my own pupil Twilight." She then motioned for the guard to leave, which he did without hesitation.
"This can't be happening," Luna trembled in fear. "Not again, I won't go back."
"Shh, it'll be ok, I promise," Celestia kissed Luna on the cheek and nuzzled her closely in an attempt to comfort her. "Come with me my dear sister. I think it's time we paid a visit to an old friend."
It was the beginning of another beautiful day in the peaceful village of Ponyville. The morning sun trailed a lazy path slowly overhead illuminating the landscape with its majestic rays. With the conclusion of the summer rains the day before the land was filled with an especially upbeat vitality. On this day ponies of all types, colors, and professions milled around with an unusually high sense of firm purpose as they set about their daily errands. There was a heightened atmosphere of anticipation; an expectation of something wonderful about to happen. Tonight would mark the start of the Summer Sun Festival, a celebration at the conclusion of the longest day of the year. It was a tribute to the sun and Princess Celestia beloved ruler over all ponies in the Kingdom of Equestria.
The town square was jam packed with merchants of all trades plying their wares of goods and services to the assembled masses and especially anyone who passed within earshot. Anything any pony could want was there food, clothes, jewelry, trinkets, toys; a feast for anyone with the coins to spare. The diversity of merchandise was second only to the thousands of voices that filled the air, intertwining and mixing in song of life and joy, and happiness. Yet, there was one certain pony that was not keen on partaking in the excitement that had swept up so many. For her she had found something far more interesting.
Removed from the inexhaustible hustle and bustle of the day, seated in the spacious lobby of the only library in Ponyville, was the unicorn pony Twilight Sparkle, star pupil of Princess Celestia. She was intently absorbed in reading a large and very old tome with pages that were a decayed brown and yellow, the cover was faded and worn thin, and it had a distinct musty smell as if it had been locked away in an attic for countless years. Carefully using her magic horn to gently turn each page Twilight was about to begin the final chapter in earnest when her companion, the small purple dragon Spike, opened the front door and hastily stepped inside.
"Tch," he gave a puff of disappointment as the surveyed the empty library shelves and the piles of books seemingly tossed hither and thither upon the wooden floor. He slowly shook his head when he spotted Twilight.
"Twilight Sparkle," he said in a business tone, "I know I shouldn't be surprised, but how can you be reading at a time like this. We're really going to be late."
"Just a few more minutes Spike, I'm almost finished." She turned another page with a gentle nudge before sinking even deeper into her bookworm trance than before. Once she began reading a book it was almost impossible to break her away before she finished it.
"Twilight!" Spike gave an audible sigh like a disappointed father, "The Summer Sun Festival is tonight and do I need to remind you that you promised Pinkie that you'd help her with the cooking." Spike replaced a few books from the floor back onto the shelves purely out of habit. He wished Twilight would take better care of the place it was becoming ever more difficult to keep his patience over the pony's disregard for proper sorting. Everyday it was the same thing books all over the floor out of an impatient urge to find the desired text, whatever it was, and it could be anything at any time.
"Did you know Spike," Twilight spoke as if she hadn't heard, "that before the coming of Nightmare Moon a millennium ago that the last Great War ever fought in Equestria took place almost 1400 years ago. According to this book the 'War of Thrones,' all of Equestria witnessed two great armies clashing in a final climatic battle that would determine the next successor to the throne. What is even more interesting is that it all took place on the spot where Ponyville would later be founded."
"Yeah, yeah that's interesting and all, but seriously if we don't hurry the food will be late and we wouldn't want to disappoint the princess especially after what happened last year."
"Last year?…last year," Twilight's brain began to reboot. "Has it already been a year since we arrived?" she put the book down.
"Yup," Spike suddenly became overly excited, "in fact I hear Princess Luna will be joining us for the celebrations this year. So we need to put some extra effort into it and make sure she really feels welcome."
"Your right Spike, " Twilight placed a bookmark between the pages, "if anypony needs a warm welcome it's Princess Luna." Before Twilight could begin to gather her things the front door opened and in trotted a white unicorn with an immaculately styled violet hair.
"There you are Twilight, darling, and Spike too. How are you both on this magnificent day?" Rarity greeted them warmly.
"We're doing fine, thanks." Twilight replied happily, while Spike nearly fell over in complete awe of Rarity's beauty. It was no secret that Spike had a crush on her, but it still remained to be seen if Rarity was even truly aware of this.
"Can you imagine that I thought you'd be at Sugarcube Corner with Pinkie by now," Rarity glided around the piles with grace, "but here you are with your nose buried deep into another book. Oh, what are we going to do with you Twilight Sparkle?" It was a rhetorical question; Rarity knew there was no curing the total nerd in Twilight.
"Sorry Rarity, I couldn't help myself," Twilight's ears drooped in embarrassment as Spike rolled his eyes. "I found it…"
"You found it?" Rarity playfully gasped in shock "You'd lose your head in this place if Spike wasn't around to put it back on." Spike pumped his chest in pride over the compliment. "Seriously you should treat your possessions with the utmost care. Just like a certain refined and overall perfect pony that you might happen to know." Rarity fanned her mane a few times before batting her eyelashes in a knowing smile.
"I'll get right on it." Twilight sarcastically deadpanned.
"Anyway you were going to tell me where you found it."
"Yes," Twilight was grateful to get the conversation back on track. She could appreciate Rarity as a close friend, but there were times when the fashioner unicorn was a little stuck up. "I found the book locked away in a box hidden in a corner of the attic and I was curious." Twilight briefly looked around the library before addressing Rarity again. "You wouldn't happen to know who the previous curator of the library was before I lived here? I've been meaning to ask somepony, but I keep getting sidetracked by one thing or another."
"I honestly have no idea, I never used to come here before. Libraries can be such stuffy places full of dust that is unhealthy to a lady's skin. At least that was true until we became friends." Rarity raised a hoof to her chin in thought, "Hmm…the mayor would be the best pony to ask, dear. You should start there."
"Thanks Rarity," Twilight smiled, "we can ask her on our way over to Pinkie's place."
"Oh no Twilight, it can wait until tomorrow. We have…" Spike was unable to finish as the front door suddenly and violently crashed open with a force of a bull having rammed it head on. Entering the room in a tornado was a hyperactive pink pony with a mane of poofy magenta.
"Twilight, Spike!" shouted a frantic and hyperventilating Pinkie Pie, "You need to come with me now!"
"What's going on?"
" My pinky sense went off. It's gonna be a doozy!" Pinkie said in-between gasps before light speeding out the way she came.
"Follow that pink blur!" Twilight shouted as she bolted out with Spike on her tail, leaving behind a stunned Rarity.
Twilight, Spike, and Pinkie arrived in front of the Ponyville mail office. This worn, unassuming wooden structure was the heart of all communications between Ponyville and the outside world. To the immediate right of the main door hung a well-used bulletin board, made of simple corkwood, which the local ponies had come to know as the Equestrian Daily. It was the place where important news bulletins, job applications, quotes of the day, advice from the mayor, and special deals were pinned up for all locals to read and peruse. A large gathering of ponies has assembled in front of it and their heated discussions made it difficult to separate one conversation from the next..
"There it is." Pinkie Pie pointed to an editorial that carried the royal sun crest and Celestia's signature. Twilight had to force her way through the crowd before she was able to read it.
An Emergency Declaration From Princess Celestia.
On this day a crime most foul as been committed against Equestria. A vile theft from the royal vault has resulted in three loyal guards suffering serious wounds and a treasure of great value and significance to be purloined.
Until the perpetrator is brought to justice the following shall be enacted immediately:
All appointments with, and from, the Princess are hereby canceled until further notice.
Canterlot shall be closed to all further visitations. All routes in and out of the city are closed. Any individual attempting to arrive or depart without government permission will be arrested under suspicion of theft, conspiracy to commit theft, and disobedience of this royal decree.
3.) A reward is offered for any information that leads to the successful recovery of the stolen treasure. Contact your local mayor's office for further details.
Twilight had to read it three times before she was able to gather her thoughts and return to her friends with the news.
"Princess Celestia has canceled her trip for the Summer Sun Festival!" Spike was heartbroken from disappointment.
"I'll tell you why," Pinkie Pie said gravely in an unusual bout of anger. "It's because some terrible teeny meanie-pie thief must have stolen all of Celestia's treasured cupcakes."
"Uh, I seriously doubt that's the case" Twilight groaned at Pinkie's naiveté.
"Her cookies then? The apple pies? Cause that'd be even worse." Pinkie began to hop in excitement at the endless possibilities of pilfered pastries and pies "Maybe…"
"No Pinkie, the guards wouldn't be putting food in the treasury. Besides wouldn't it be a lot easier to steal food from your shop instead of a the royal treasury?"
"Your right," Pinkie's expression widened in disbelief. "Oh no, what if they are already helping themselves to my raspberry cake." With that shocking thought she was off at warp speed to secure her baked assets
"I'm just wondering what was taken that would require a lockdown of the whole city." Spike pondered aloud. "Must be something pretty crazy, or important."
"Like a weapon!"
"Gah!" Twilight recoiled in terror as Pinkie Pie returned with raspberry frosting all over her face. "Don't do that!"
"Yum." Pinkie just continued to smile as she licked her lips, while Twilight facehoofed in exasperation.
"Spike, I need to you to address a letter to the princess." Without delay Spike readied an empty scroll and a quill pen.
"Dear Princess Celestia. I…" her voice trailed off in a moment of hesitation. "I wish to extend my sincerest concern for the events that have happened in Canterlot. I am prepared to offer any assistance I can provide to help in the search for the perpetrator."
"Me too, me too." Pinkie pie added with an earnest bobbing of her head, "I want to play detective too." She produced a magnifying glass seemingly out of thin air.
"Count me in as well Twilight," Spike mirrored the sentiment.
"Also, I do not doubt that my friends will wish to help too." Twilight gave a thankful smile to both Pinkie and Spike. Hearing her friend's ready offers of assistance went a long way to helping ease her concerns. "I hope to hear from you soon and that there can be a quick end to this terrible ordeal. From your faithful student Twilight Sparkle." Sensing the end of the message Spike neatly rolled up the scroll, sealed it up with Twilights insignia, and with a puff of green fire sent it off to the princess.