Without the parchment, Moonstone would never have left the castle, and without the bushwoolies, Moonstone would never have acquired the parchment, but it was the bathroom faucet that truly spurred him into action.
He'd tried everything . . . shutting the bathroom door, putting a pillow over his head, stuffing tissues up the faucet, soundly cursing the offending plumbing with every obscenity he knew, but nothing could stifle the maddening drip-drip-dripping that was clearly audible even after he pushed the bed as far from the bathroom as possible. And so, despite the frost feathering the windows and a wind chill that made his eyes wince shut, the powder blue unicorn bundled up in his warmest clothes and stalked out of the inn.
The watery sunlight provided no warmth, though it gave the snowdrifts a brilliant, sparkling glow and gleamed on Moonstone's rainbow mane. Snow packed down to a smooth and icy whiteness squeaked under the unicorn's hooves and faintly reflected his colorful tail as he walked down the longest street in town. It was also the shortest street, since it was in fact the only street in the tiny village of Snowvale, lapping in a circle around the stone wall surrounding the little settlement.
Snowvale. Aptly named, thought Moonstone. Back in Dream Valley the crocuses were blooming as the last icicles melted themselves to nothing, but Snowvale had received several inches of snow only yesterday and the icy berms flanking the street towered so that the little houses and shop (singular) behind them were barely visible. Despite the town's high elevation, mountains in the west reared to even greater heights.
"I hope it's not up there," Moonstone muttered aloud.
"What's that, sonny?"
Moonstone turned to see an elderly mare dumping a shovelful of snow off the roof of a faded blue house.
He didn't answer immediately, instead winking himself to the top of the snow berm in a flash of magic. The speaker, he saw, was a pegasus with pink hair and a white body that blended in with the snowy background.
"How long until the snow melts off, would you say?" the unicorn asked her.
The pegasus leaned on her shovel, scratching her chin. "A month, month and a half mebbe."
Moonstone scowled. Too long! If Flare found him . . .
The blue unicorn swung around moodily. Unfortunately he failed to recall that he was atop a large, slippery mountain of frozen snow until his first step. His front hooves scrambled for a purchase as he leaned backwards, and he slid gracelessly to street level on his rump. The fact that the old pegasus watched this debacle without any sign of either sympathy or amusement somehow made it worse. Moonstone picked himself up and hurried down the street with as much dignity as he could salvage, his head held high.
Soon he was stepping through the wooden gates set in the town's defensive wall, privately questioning what kind of vicious beasts justified building ten foot walls around a dinky village. He shrugged and trotted through the gate anyway. He wasn't immune to fear by any means. He just reserved it until he was face to face with something with glowing eyes and too many teeth. Right now his biggest concern was that he'd die of boredom waiting for the melt-off.
Two months! Two months with nothing to do. Well, he was at least going to learn the geography of the area, the lay of the land, in the meantime. It would save time, he told himself. It did indeed. He got caught in a blizzard in the middle of the wilderness that very day, instead of having to wait two weeks until the next one.
Elsewhere, and elsewhen
"Well that was a . . . different Winter Wrap Up," Twilight said, picking her scarf off the ground and trying to rub the dirty hoofmarks off of it.
"Wow, that was AMAZING," Pinkie Pie squealed. "How did Ditzy FIND them?"
"I didn't even know there were pteradactyls living in Equestria," Fluttershy confessed.
Applejack gazed skyward, where the pegasus ponies had just managed to shoo the last of the leathery winged birds-or whatever the hay those ptera-thingies were-into a hastily built cage made of clouds. She could just make out the grey-coated and purple-haired form of Ditzy Doo, who seemed to be gesturing in explanation, and Rainbow Dash, who seemed to be burying her forehead in her hooves.
"Well, they sure did wake up the li'l critters right fast," the farmer pony ventured. As soon as the first yawning bunny had caught sight of the flying reptiles, it had thumped its foot in a frantic warning, waking up half the animals before Fluttershy even strung up her bells.
"What I wonder is where the southern birds are," Fluttershy said in concern. "I hope they're all right."
"I'm sure they're fine, my dear," Rarity reassured her, patting her shoulder. "I suspect Ditzy merely took a wrong turn again."
"I'LL say!" Rainbow Dash landed in front of them. "From what she told me, she drifted southeast. Then she found this dead volcano with a big crater in the middle and all these huge lizards in it that were as big as an Ursa Minor and some of them had spikes and stuff and it sounds totally awesome-" She realized she had switched from exasperated to enthusiastic somewhere in her description. She coughed into her hoof and put on a frown as she added, "But NOT during Winter Wrap Up. Eh heh heh."
Pinkie giggled. "Are you kidding? It made Winter Wrap Up even more fun! They were all 'whoosh!', and I was all 'ahhhh!', and then Fluttershy and Applejack-"
"Yes, Pinkie, we were there," Twilight Sparkle cut her off. "At least it'll make an interesting letter to Princess Celestia," the purple unicorn added, trying to look on the bright side despite the fact that her scarf would never be the same after falling in the midst of a stampede of panicking ponies.
"Yep. Dear Princess Celestia, today I learned that big flyin' lizards and little tweetie birds ain't the same thing."
All the ponies chuckled, and Rainbow Dash grinned. "I gotta admit-I'm impressed that Ditzy convinced them to follow her."
"Indeed, they seem to feel right at home," Rarity said, pointing a hoof and raising an eyebrow. The others followed her gaze to see a pteradactyl that had evaded capture sitting happily in a hoof-made nest that was at least one hundred and twenty percent too small for it. It clacked its beak happily as the branch sagged.
"As interesting as they are, I'm afraid they'll have to go," Twilight said. "Who knows what effect they'd have on Ponyville! Do we even know what they eat?"
"Ooooo, maybe cupcakes!" Pinkie Pie began to bounce off to find some, but Applejack absently stepped on her tail, pinning it to the ground. Unperturbed, the pink earth pony continued to bounce in place.
"If they get a hankering for apples, they could wipe out my whole crop."
"Yeah, and if they eat animals-well, I'm sure they don't eat animals," Rainbow Dash corrected herself quickly, noticing Fluttershy's eyes get wider. "Anyway, I'd better go round up some pegasuses-"
"Pegasi," said Rarity.
"-to herd them back to that volcano." The rainbow-haired pegasus glanced up at the cloud cage, smiling at the thought of seeing some of the weirder creatures Ditzy Doo had described. She half wondered if Ditzy had made up the big lizards with horns over their eyes and fins on their backs. She wasn't as reliable as her cousin Derpy but . . .
"Wait! Wait! Before you take them back I want to sketch them. I can't wait to tell the princess all about them!" Twilight's eyes lit up. "They might even be listed in my books-an animal like this could easily be exaggerated into a mythical monster."
"What needs exaggeratin'? " Applejack wondered.
"And Fluttershy, do you think you can get me a sample of their feathers . . . er, that is . . . Hair? Scales?" She looked at the beast roosting in the nest. "Scales."
"Of course, Twilight." Fluttershy smiled first at Twilight, then at the avian.
"Okay, thanks! I just need to grab my notebook and some reference guides-oh, and I'll get The Geographer's Big Book of Geography for you, Rainbow, to help guide you to the volcano."
"Uh, thanks," said Rainbow Dash, picturing herself trying to fly hundreds of miles while clutching a heavy tome.
"Be right back, girls! Ohhh, this is going to be so much fun!" She was still clapping her hooves together in excitement as she teleported away.
"That's our Twi," Applejack chuckled. "Happy as a hog with a slop bucket when there's an excuse to crack open a book."
"Thank you for that . . . colorful simile, Applejack." Rarity managed to suggest that she was wrinkling her nose without actually doing so. "I for one am simply relieved that winter was successfully wrapped up on time. And without casualties."
"Yay, it's spring! Time to . . . spring!" Pinkie Pie bounded across the meadow, and, somehow, jumped on the pond like a trampoline.
"And it's a lovely day," Fluttershy said, scritching the contented pteradactyl behind its ear, or rather where its ear should have been.
"Heck yeah! And now that the sky's clear, it's time for some serious flying! I've been sitting on this idea for a new trick all winter-"
"Oooo! Did it hatch?" Pinkie stopped bouncing and sunk into water up to her ankles.
"-and it's gonna knock the Wonderbolts off. their. FEET!" Rainbow Dash rocketed into the air with a huge grin.
The other ponies backed away, already familiar with the blue pegasus' ability to knock ponies off their feet. And they continued backing up, right to the edge of the pond, since Rainbow Dash kept swooping alarmingly close, shouting enthusiastic explanations as she blurred past.
"SEE I'M GONNA-"
Applejack clamped her hooves to her hat to keep it from blowing away.
"-THEN I LOOP 'ROUND AND-"
Rarity's perfectly coifed mane caught in the breeze and tumbled over her face.
"-DOUBLE BACK AND OVER AND-"
Fluttershy squeaked and covered her eyes.
"-CALL IT THE ATOMIC AERIAL RAINBOW-"
Pinkie Pie smiled merrily, not blinking an eye as Rainbow Dash nearly took off her nose. "Go Dashie!" she cheered, waving some pompoms that had appeared from nowhere.
There was no doubt about it, Rainbow Dash's newest trick was an impressive sight. She etched three orbital loops in the air, their centers overlapping. Her speed and her rainbow wake made the pattern appear to hang solidly in the air, made of rainbows, wind, and a sky blue blur tracing the pattern over and over. It would've been safer to fly higher, but Rainbow Dash let her hooves brush the grass at the lowest dip of the loop, reveling in her skill.
The wind stung her eyes but she grinned, pumping her wings as she caught a brief glimpse of her friends staring in awe. None of them would truly understand the difficulty of keeping a constant speed, not overshooting at the apex at the top of a loop or crashing into the ground at the base of it, remembering which direction was sky and which was ground when gravity seemed to have given up and gone home early. But they knew cool when they saw it.
"PRETTY NEAT, HUH?" she called.
What happened next was not exactly anyone's fault.
Rainbow Dash could not have known Twilight Sparkle and Spike would teleport into the rings of the Atomic Aerial Rainbow.
Twilight Sparkle could not have known she'd be greeted by a pegasus-propelled whirlwind instead of a gentle spring breeze.
Spike could not have known that grabbing Twilight's neck in a panicked, vice-like grip would cause her second attempt at teleporting-destination "anywhere but here"-to fizzle, releasing the magic she had gathered.
The fifty pounds of reference books Twilight Sparkle had brought from the library could not have known anything at all, being inanimate objects-but being books, they probably did anyway.
Twilight Sparkle gave a cry of anguish, perhaps from fright, perhaps because pages were being torn from the library books as the wind pulled them into the rainbow circuits surrounding her.
"Rainbow Dash, stop!" cried Twilight as the empty, battered cover of The Geographer's Big Guide to Geography flapped past.
"I CAAAN'T!" The books weren't the only things that had been pulled into Rainbow's wake-magical energy surged around her, freed from Twilight's control-and while it followed Rainbow Dash's trail, it also pulled her along. Ahead, a storm of churning paper obscured her vision. She had to break out of the loop, but what was above her right now, earth or sky? All she could see was white and an occasional flash of Twilight with Spike clinging to her leg. Rainbow Dash fought down panic as a page plastered over her eyes. A frantic toss of her head to send it swirling away.
And again, what happened next really was not anyone's fault.
It was not Rainbow Dash's fault that the page hit the magic with a sizzle or that this particular leaf, full of occult symbols and speculations and the first known magic, which is knowledge, sent the arcane energy jolting through the three overlapping rings into overdrive.
It was not Fluttershy's fault that her grab at Rainbow's tail did nothing but pull her after the blue pegasus.
It was not Rarity's fault, nor Applejack's, that their attempt to leap into the storm and pull Twilight to safety came just a moment too late.
And it was certainly not Twilight Sparkle's fault, trapped as she was, that the entire sphere outlined by the Atomic Aerial Rainbow flared with occult energy so bright that the rainbow colors washing over its surface were barely visible.
One could argue that Pinkie Pie could have alerted the others to the combo that had hit her moments before-ear flop, eye flutter, knee-twitch-a sign to watch out for opening doors. But it probably would not have changed much had she had spoken up. "Wait for me!" Never one to shirk danger where her friends were involved, she leaped towards the sphere, cutting its surface with a perfect swan dive.
The ponies disappeared but the sphere remained for a few minutes, glowing and thrumming. The pteradactyl, perched more on than in the pony-made nest, regarded the it with interest. This place offered as much excitement as the volcano, and, as a bonus, here it didn't come from almost being eaten. Its ancient reptilian brain came to a decision. It stretched its wings and flew lazily into the sphere. A moment later the magical glow disappeared with a pop, like a soap bubble.
Somewhere, somewhen, it started to snow.