Scootaloo barely registered the nudge she felt at her side as she adjusted her position slightly while dozing. She was having the most wonderful nap she'd had in recent memory, which was coupled with a dream about flying high in the sky along with Rainbow Dash with both of them as members of the Wonderbolts. Another more insistent poke at her side earned an absent wave of her foreleg as she tried to fend off the invader to her dream world. She settled back into her nap, mumbling and murmuring about her adoration for the rainbow-maned mare only to be abruptly ripped from her dream by the sound and feeling of several heavy books landing on the table right in front of her. She startled and fell over backwards onto the floor from where she'd been sitting. Once she got her bearings, she looked up and met the rather perturbed gaze of the white unicorn filly who'd been trying to wake her up.
"Scoot, we came here to see if we could find a way to earn our cutie marks," Sweetie Belle said in a scolding tone. "Not to turn Twilight's library into a site for a slumber party."
"Hey, it's not my fault I can't keep my eyes open for this stuff," Scootaloo said as she got back to her hooves. "Remind me why we're doing something this boring again."
"'Cuz it was Sweetie Belle's turn to pick," Apple Bloom told her without looking up from the book she was still intently reading. "An' we still need some time to lay low after your last idea."
"It totally would've worked!" Scootaloo told Apple Bloom insistently. "Parkour is so in right now, it's got to be our talent!"
"Then maybe we can try it again somewhere that isn't the middle of Ponyville's town square on market day," Sweetie Belle remarked as she sat back down to her book.
"Ponies in this town have no appreciation for self-expression," Scootaloo grumbled as she sat back down and stared with contempt at the stack of books in front of her. "I still don't get why we're doing this, though. We tried the whole librarian thing before."
"We ain't tryin' to be librarians this time," Apple Bloom reminded her. "We're Cutie Mark Crusader Historical Researchers, remember?"
"Just sounds like another fancy way to say 'librarian' to me," Scootaloo commented as she started looking through the books in front of her.
The three fillies had only been back at their "research" for a couple of minutes when Twilight Sparkle and Spike entered the library, having returned from their day's shopping. Spike carried a bag of groceries off to the pantry while Twilight walked over to the trio, her saddlebags bulging with new books.
"How goes the research, girls?" she asked with a smile. She was happy to see the three fillies doing something that wouldn't lead to either a visit to Nurse Redheart or another session of scolding from the Mayor about property damage.
"Slowly," Sweetie Belle said in disappointment. "We really appreciate your letting us use the library, Twilight, but none of these books is giving us any ideas about something historical we could try and discover more about on our own."
"Not to mention…" Scootaloo said, already yawning again from her utter boredom. "This isn't the most exciting thing in the world to do for a living."
"Well, keep at it girls," Twilight told them encouragingly as she levitated her saddlebags over next to her desk. "Books can be quite amazing if you give them a chance. You never know what kind of adventure they might lead you on. I'll be right back, I'm gonna help Spike put stuff away and I'll bring you all some cookies I brought from Sugar Cube Corner."
"Thanks Twilight," the three fillies called out as she left. No sooner was Twilight out of the room than Scootaloo made her way over to the saddlebags she'd just set down.
"Scootaloo, what in tarnation are you doin'?" Apple Bloom said, shocked at the Pegasus filly as she nudged the bags open.
"Hey, she's got new books in here," Scootaloo told her. "Maybe one of them has something in it."
Apple Bloom frowned at her friend's casually nosy attitude. "You're goin' through somepony else's private property! That ain't right, I tell ya!"
"Bloom, they're books," Scootaloo told her as she continued rifling through the bags. "She's gonna put 'em on the shelves for everypony to read anyway."
Apple Bloom just shook her head and returned to her book, all the while muttering to herself about proper manners and how she, herself, got yelled at extensively for going through Applejack's things once while attempting to see if she could get an investigative reporter cutie mark.
"Hey, dig this guys," Scootaloo said as she fished a book with a red and gold colored cover out of the bag. She set the book down on the table for the other two to see.
"'The Colts Templar: Ponies of the Crusade'," Sweetie Belle said, reading the title. "Hey, that sounds like us!"
"Let's check it out!" Scootaloo said as she eagerly opened the book. Sweetie Belle quickly joined her, and Apple Bloom finally did a few moments later after finally getting over her indignation at Scootaloo's earlier rudeness.
The three fillies quickly scanned through the book's contents, which covered the history of an ancient society known as The Colts Templar. They were a group dedicated to protecting Equestria from ancient evils, though over the years their methods for doing so became more and more questionable and extreme. The society was disbanded hundreds of years ago, but not before one last act they did to ensure Equestria's safety for all time.
Twilight returned to the main study with a plate of cookies levitating just by her head. She was just in time to see the girls close the book. They all looked over at her and immediately rushed up to her. Twilight quickly levitated the cookies higher so they wouldn't knock the plate over.
"What do you know about The Holy Oat Pail?" all three girls asked simultaneously and with eyes practically bugging out of their heads.
"The what now?" Twilight asked in response.
"The Holy Oat Pail!" Sweetie Belle said as she rushed back over to the book and opened it to one of the last pages. "It's the last treasure of The Colts Templar!"
"It's an ancient artifact found during one of their crusades," Scootaloo added. "It's supposed to be the very oat pail Princess Celestia ate her first oats from as a filly!"
"And it's s'posed to be magical!" Apple Bloom said in breathless excitement. "Anypony who eats from it will have their heart's desire granted to 'em!"
"Girls, that thing is just a legend," Twilight told them dismissively. "There's never been any proof that The Holy Oat Pail ever actually existed, let alone that it actually did what it was purported to do."
"Well 'o course there ain't no proof," Apple Bloom told her matter-of-factly. "The Templars hid it away so it wouldn't fall into the wrong hooves. Says so in the book."
"There's got to be more information somewhere," Sweetie Belle said, flipping the book closed. "Don't you have any other books on The Templars?"
"Or any research you've done on them?" Scootaloo asked as well.
"Actually, I don't," Twilight said, setting the plate of cookies down on the table amidst the piles of books. "I just happened to find that book at the book fair that's at the market today. I bought it because it sounded like an amusing story, that's all. I'm really not interested in mythical ancient artifacts."
"Who'd ya get the book from, then?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Who else?" Twilight replied simply. "Booker. He always helps me find the most interesting books."
"Maybe he's got some more stuff, then," Scootaloo said. "We'd better get over there and check it out!"
Twilight was about to remind the girls to eat their cookies, but was interrupted as they quickly wolfed down their treats and yelled their thanks back to her on their way out the door. Twilight just laughed and shook her head as Spike emerged from the pantry and looked grumpily at the mess of books they left behind.
"Would it have killed them to clean up before running off?" he complained as he began collecting books to put away.
Twilight held back from commenting on the girls' departure and instead set to helping Spike clean up the books. She quietly wished the girls luck in their endeavor, wherever it ended up leading them.
Fortune smiled on the girls as they quickly located Booker among the stacks of books he'd brought for the Ponyville book fair. Unfortunately, the book Twilight had bought from him was the only one he'd had on The Colts Templar or The Holy Oat Pail. Feeling defeated, the three fillies sat together near the town well trying to figure out what to do next.
"Maybe we could try going back to the library again?" Sweetie Belle asked, though she knew she was grasping at straws now.
"Ain't no point in that," Apple Bloom told her. "Twilight already said she ain't interested in this sorta thing. I doubt we're gonna find any more help there."
"Maybe we should try asking around town," Scootaloo suggested. "I mean, there's gotta be other ponies around who've heard of it."
"That's not a half-bad idea, Scoot," Sweetie Belle said. "Let's get to asking!"
And so began the Cutie Mark Crusader Crusader Inquiry. They asked Applejack.
"What makes ya think I got the kinda time t'be readin' 'bout some silly ol' oat pail? I got apples to sell!"
They asked Rarity.
"I think I heard once that the pail was a lovely silver color. I think it would make a stunning accessory to this ensemble I've been working on. Oh that reminds me, girls, I need to do another sizing with you for your dresses…"
Half an hour after they finally got away from Rarity, they asked Rainbow Dash.
"They're not the Wonderbolts, so what do I care about 'em?"
They asked Fluttershy, or at least they tried to; however, just from hearing the name of The Colts Templar, Fluttershy locked herself in her home and refused to answer the door for an hour.
They asked Ditzy Doo.
"I dunno anything about a magical oat pail, but I have a fantastic muffin tin at my house. It makes perfect muffins every time! That's pretty magical to me."
They asked Vinyl Scratch.
"Colts Templar? I think I have a couple of their tracks. Aren't they eurobeat? Or was it dubstep? I'm sure I heard a remix recently that had something about an oat pail in the title…"
After an exhausting day of questioning various residents of Ponyville, the Cutie Mark Crusaders finally made their way to Sugar Cube Corner in hopes of at least salvaging the day with some treats of some kind or another.
"Welcome to Sugar Cube Corner!" Pinkie Pie announced from behind the counter as she heard the bell at the door chime when the three fillies entered. Her expression changed to one of curiosity as she saw the glum looks on the girls' face. "Hey girls, why so sad?" she asked.
"Just another day of wasted effort," Scootaloo said as she took a seat at a table along with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle.
"Still workin' on those cutie marks, huh?" Pinkie asked as she picked out three cupcakes and placed them on a tray for the girls. The three fillies nodded and said their thanks as Pinkie served the treats to them. "Y'know, life's too short to get all worked up over this kinda stuff. You should really just get out and have some fun while you can. It's not all parties and fun when you're older."
"This coming from a pony who makes her livelihood throwing parties and having fun," Sweetie Belle said under her breath. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom both chuckled at her comment.
"Hey Pinkie," Apple Bloom said, getting the pink pony's attention. "I know ya probably won't even know what I'm talkin' about, but you wouldn't happen to know anythin' 'bout The Colts Templar or The Holy Oat Pail would ya?"
"Hmm…nopey dopey," Pinkie said after a moment of thought. The girls all just nodded as they continued to eat their cupcakes. "But now that you mention it, I do remember hearing somepony talking about something like that recently," she added after another moment.
"You did?" Scootaloo asked, suddenly much more energetic. "Who? When?"
"Zecora was in town again a couple days ago," Pinkie said as she recalled the events of earlier that week. "She stopped by to pick up some sugar cubes since, after all, this is Sugar Cube Corner. It'd be weird if we didn't sell sugar cubes here along with everything else. And as usual I tried to get her to buy some other stuff too since all she ever buys here is sugar cubes which are soooo boooring, but she didn't want any. So then I asked her what if I made sugar cube flavored cupcakes, and she just kinda laughed at that but-"
"Can you maybe just skip to the important part?" Sweetie Belle asked, feeling her head spin a bit from Pinkie's rambling.
"Oh, right!" Pinkie said, remembering the point of the story. "Anyway, she was about to leave when I noticed she'd dropped a small book of some kind. I brought it to her and she thanked me for it. She said it was one of her most important books. I asked her what it was about and she said…"
Pinkie paused to pull her mane up into a mohawk and took on a serious expression. "It is filled with tales from near and far of a society known as The Colts Templar," she said in her best impression of the zebra. Her mane immediately returned to its usual puffiness as soon as she finished her impression.
"Of course!" Apple Bloom exclaimed. "Why didn't I think of it sooner? Zecora's gotta know a bunch 'bout The Colts Templar! We gotta go ask her!"
"Yeah, but it's way too late for heading into the Everfree Forest today," Sweetie Belle noted as she saw the setting sun just outside the window they were sitting near.
"Then we'll go first thing tomorrow morning," Scootaloo said resolutely. "You know the way to Zecora's house, right Apple Bloom?"
"Sure do," Apple Bloom said. "Big sis an' I take apples out to her all the time."
"Then we'll meet up at Sweet Apple Acres tomorrow morning and head out from there," Scootaloo said. The three fillies agreed and, after devouring their cupcakes with their newfound gusto, thanked Pinkie and each headed out for their respective homes for a good night's sleep. Pinkie poked her head out the front door and watched to make sure they were well on their way and then headed back into the shop, stopping by one of the back doors that led to a darkened room.
"Do you think they suspect anything?" a voice asked from the darkness in a whisper.
"Nopey dopey," Pinkie replied with a grin. "They'll head for Zecora's tomorrow for sure. Will the others be ready for them after that?"
"They've all assured me that they are prepared to go through with their parts," the voice replied. "I have full faith in them."
"I'm still not super-duper sure about this plan," Pinkie said, a hint of uncertainty evident in her voice. "Are we sure this is the right thing to do?"
"It'll work," the voice assured her. "And trust me; when all is said and done, they will thank us in the end. Get some rest for now. You have much to prepare for as well, remember? Your part in this is not done just yet."
"You got that right," Pinkie said with a nod. "That goes for you too, though. You need a good night's rest too."
"When this plan comes to fruition, everypony will rest easier," the voice told her.
Pinkie nodded in agreement and began closing the shop down for the night as the voice took its leave of her. Hopes and dreams would either be realized or dashed by this time tomorrow. No matter how it played out, though, it promised to be a day nopony would ever forget.
Zecora was settled into a pleasant bit of meditation when a familiar pattern of knocks came at her front door the next morning. It was the same manner of knocking Apple Bloom always used when she came to visit. Zecora found it funny since she wasn't expecting another delivery of apples for several days, but answered her door anyway. She was quite surprised to see Apple Bloom's Pegasus and unicorn friends standing behind the earth pony filly on the other side.
"Good morning to you, little Apple Bloom," Zecora said in greeting. "Your visit today is not a normal one, I presume."
"Sorry if we're interruptin' your meditations or somethin' Zecora," Apple Bloom said apologetically. "We've got somethin' real important we wanna talk to you 'bout."
"By all means, do come in," Zecora told them. "Then a conversation we may begin."
"Does she always talk like this?" Scootaloo asked Apple Bloom in a whisper as they all entered the strange house.
"I think it's kinda neat, actually," Sweetie Belle added. "It's giving me some lyric ideas."
"I thought you hated singing?" Scootaloo asked her.
"I hate singing in front of lots of ponies," Sweetie Belle said to correct her friend. "But when it's just you guys or my sister, I kinda like it."
"Hush you two," Apple Bloom told them quietly. Once her friends were seated, she turned to look at Zecora again. "We, uh…we were wonderin' if we could ask you about somethin' we've been readin' about lately."
"Your request is interesting and quite rare," Zecora said, unaccustomed to having ponies actually come to her for help. "If I can be of help, my knowledge I will share."
"Well see, Twilight bought this book at the book fair yesterday," Apple Bloom said, recalling the prior day's events as she tried to think of how to pose her question politely. "We all read through it, an' after askin' 'round town we found out you might know somethin' more 'bout this, so…um…we were wonderin'…if it ain't askin' too much…"
"Oh for the love of Celestia!" Scootaloo cried out as she lost her patience with Apple Bloom. She stood up and looked right at Zecora. "We wanna know what you know about The Colts Templar and The Holy Oat Pail!"
Apple Bloom glared angrily at Scootaloo for being so straightforward and rude while Sweetie Belle shifted away from Scootaloo a bit, just in case her two friends got into a shouting match. Zecora looked over the three fillies carefully and silently. She then went to her windows and unrolled the shades so they were covered. She also ensured her front door was securely locked and then walked to her saddlebags, fishing out the small book that Pinkie had mentioned to the girls the previous evening. She placed the book on the table in front of the girls and sat down, a look of dire seriousness on her face.
"Before I begin, one thing I must know," she said, looking over each of the fillies in turn. "How far are you three willing to go? Will you face up to the perils in my story just for the sake of fortune and glory?"
"If the Holy Oat Pail is real, then we absolutely want to find it," Sweetie Belle said. "Something as amazing as an oat pail that can grant your heart's desire is something all ponies everywhere should be able to use."
"Not to mention maybe it can finally help us find our talents so we can get our cutie marks," Scootaloo added. This time both Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle glared at her. "What? That's why we're really after this thing, after all," she said defensively.
Zecora laughed a bit and nudged her book open. "Fear not, my young guests. I will now comply with your requests."
The three fillies fell dead silent as they leaned across the table to look into the book as Zecora spoke to them.
"I have sought the Oat Pail for many a year," the wise zebra told them. "But the ability to find it I lack, I fear. Reaching the pail is something no one pony can do. To be successful, of friends you must have two."
"Hey, there's three of us!" Scootaloo pronounced. "We can totally do this! That oat pail is as good as ours!"
"Not so fast my eager young filly," Zecora told her. "If you think it's that easy, you truly are quite silly."
"You don't know the half of it," Sweetie Belle said, earning her a glare from Scootaloo.
"The temple where the pail resides is on the edge of Everfree," Zecora told them, opening the book to a map that seemed to lead to where the temple was located. "But to enter it you must first assemble a key. The pieces of the key have been hidden far and wide. They must be found before an attempt for the pail is tried."
"What do you mean 'attempt'?" Apple Bloom asked. "I mean, once the door's open we can just walk on up an' take the pail, right?"
Zecora simply shook her head at Apple Bloom and turned several pages to another section of the book. "The Templars wished for the pail to never be misused, so they placed several tasks to keep would-be thieves confused," she told them. "Inside the temple you'll face trials numbering three. If you fail even one, the pail you'll never see."
"Are these trials…dangerous?" Sweetie Belle asked, swallowing nervously as she spoke.
"Only to those with greed in their heart," Zecora told her with a smile. "Not to mention those who are not quite so smart."
"So we gotta find the pieces of the key, an' then we can get into the temple an' attempt the trials," Apple Bloom said, going over everything. "I don't s'pose we could borrow that book of yours, Zecora?"
Zecora laughed lightly as she closed the book and slid it across the table to Apple Bloom. "I would only ask that you allow me a glimpse of that which I have longed for years to see."
"We'll bring it back no prob!" Scootaloo told her. "C'mon, Crusaders. Destiny awaits!"
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle quickly thanked the wise zebra and then ran off after Scootaloo. Zecora watched them run off and wished them well before deciding to put on a pot of water for some tea.
"My only hope is that those girls will succeed," she said to herself. "They certainly possess all the skills they will need."
Next Chapter Preview: The search for the key fragments is on! Where will the clues in Zecora's book lead them first?