New chapter. Thanks for your patience.
Here we go!
The Elements of Harmony gathered in the Ponyville Public Library's main foyer, sitting down around a large table. Spike scrambled around them with a tray of drinks, placing one before each pony. He lingered slightly at Rarity's side before a grunt by Twilight sent him back around the table, finishing his task and sitting down next to her.
Twilight cleared her throat. "All right, now we're all caught up on what Blueblood's little gang did with Discord's statue, so there's no need to go over it." Her horn glowed and a scroll floated to the center of the table. "Princess Celestia sent me another letter after I told her about the attacks. She's sent a detachment of Royal Guard here to help out, and they'll have the Elements with them." She paused and sucked in a breath.
Dash nickered slightly and tapped a hoof against the tabletop. "But?"
A sigh escaped Twilight. "Neither she nor Princess Luna are able to come and help at the moment."
Dash's jaw dropped. "What the hay?! Discord's statue's been stolen and her nephew's leading an open revolt and the Princesses aren't coming to help?" Her wings unfurled and beat against the air. "Come on!"
Applejack reached over and placed a hoof on Dash's shoulder. "Now calm down, sugarcube. I'm sure tha princesses have a good reason fer not being able to help out." She looked to Twilight, her eyes wavering a bit. "Right?"
Twilight floated the letter back to herself and looked it over. "Well, actually... yeah. Their magic is extremely limited while in the Everfree." She held up a hoof even as Dash opened her mouth. "What Princess Luna did as Nightmare Moon was the extent of what she could do, and even then it was very taxing to her. They wouldn't be able to do much more than anypony else could do."
Rarity spoke up. "I'm under the assumption that the wheels of government are still turning, correct?" At Twilight's nod she looked to Dash. "Well, there you go. I doubt either of them can get away at the moment."
Applejack raised a foreleg. "All right, so what's tha plan, Twilight?"
Twilight leaned back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling. "At the moment, be on alert and wait for the Royal Guard to arrive with the Elements. After that..." She hesitated before continuing. "We make a plan for searching the Everfree Forest and finding the group and Discord's statue as quickly as possible."
Pinkie Pie rubbed her chin. "Wait, have they released Discord yet?"
Twilight arched an eyebrow. "If they did, I think we'd know it by now due to massive changes in weather patterns." She arched an eyebrow and her ears twitched. "Why?"
Pinkie Pie shrugged. "Well, why haven't they? I mean, without the Elements, we're sitting ducks! Or floating ducks, or maybe-"
Pinkie's ears flattened. "Right, sorry! Anyway, so why no Discord? Why isn't he zooming around in the sky," she asked, waving her forelegs from side to side, "or making checkerboard patterns in the grass or switching our minds or making chocolate explode?"
The six ponies glanced to one another, expressions ranging from mild confusion to utter bafflement. Twilight tapped a hoof against the table and bit her lower lip. "Blueblood mentioned 'Elements of Discord' that would free him, but I don't know what those are." She turned and looked around the room at the various shelves and the books lining them. Several of them glowed, floated down and opened up. "And I can't find any mention of them in any of my books." She let out a groan. "I'm tempted to teleport to the Royal Library and start in there!"
Rarity spoke up. "Wait, did anyone else notice their attackers wearing small red jewels? The Diamond Dogs all had them attached to their rather unkempt wardrobe." She waved a hoof around her chest. "Anyone else? At all?"
Applejack's brow furrowed. "Well, now that yah mention it, I think those durned FlimFlam Brothers had somethin' like that on their vests." She glanced to Dash. "Did Gilda have anything like that on 'er?"
The pegasi's wings flexed slightly. Her eyes suddenly widened. "Oh, my gosh! She did have something like that on her feathers." She sank back into her chair and looked to the ceiling. "I should've seen that something was wrong. She had a temper, but what she did at the lake went so beyond anything ever before." She looked back down to the center of the table, her eyes unusually moist. "I should've tried harder. She was my friend since foalhood and I just..." She trailed off
Pinkie reached out with a hoof and Fluttershy extended a wing, each one gently patting Dash. She rubbed her eyes. "Thanks."
Fluttershy spoke up. "Twilight, if it's not too much trouble, could I please go back to my cottage?" She suddenly shrank slightly down into her chair as Twilight looked to her. "Well, i-it's just that my animals are all alone, and there's nopony there to take care of them at the moment!" Her cheeks flushed red and she tapped her forehooves together. "That is, if it's all right..."
Applejack slammed a hoof onto the table, rattling the cups on the table. "Fluttershy's right!" she declared.
Fluttershy's mouth opened wide. "I am? Oh, I am!" She suddenly stopped and cocked her head to the side. "Oh, about what?"
"We cain't let them varmints dictate our lives," the earth pony continued. "We've faced off against worse than them before and come out all right. Long as we keep our cool, we'll be all right." She jabbed a foreleg at Dash. "Now, Rainbow Dash? How long fer yah to get yer weather duties done tomorrow? Might be a good idea tah pop over to Fluttershy afterwards."
Dash's eyes narrowed. "I'll buck those clouds so hard and fast, they won't know what hit 'em!" She glanced to her right at Fluttershy. "Don't worry, Fluttershy. I'll be at your cottage before Angel throws his first temper tantrum!"
Fluttershy beamed at her oldest friend. "Oh thank you, Rainbow Dash! I don't know what I'd do without such good friends." Her gaze drifted over everyone else in the room and her smile fell away. "I just wish I did something when you were all attacked, instead of taking care of the animals back home."
Dash grunted and waved her off with a wing. "Oh, please, Fluttershy! I'm just glad you weren't targeted by those flankholes. If anything had happened to you?" She smashed a hoof into the table, her cheeks turning light-purple.
There was a knocking at the door. Everyone there looked to it, tensing slightly. Spike held up a claw. "I got this," he said, walking over. He reached out to the knob and grabbed it. "Who is it?" he shouted, sucking in a breath and holding it...
"Royal Guard detachment sent by Princess Celestia," a familiar male voice answered.
Spike's head whipped to the left and he blew out the flame he had gathered in his cheeks. "Shining Armor!" he yelled, throwing open the door and revealing Captain Shining Armor of the Royal Guard, Twilight's big brother and the husband of Princess Cadance. Instead of his formal uniform, he was clad from head to hoof in armor, albeit silver instead of the more common gold, with the rank insignia of captain firmly affixed to his shoulder armor.
Shining stepped forward, reaching a foreleg out and gently nudging Spike on the arm. His face lit up with a smile as he addressed the dragon. "Hey, old buddy. Good to see you again." The smile quickly fell away as he turned and looked to Twilight at the table. He squared his shoulders and marched forward. "Are you all right?"
Twilight slid out of her chair and trotted over to Shining. She raised her forelegs up, but dropped them back to the floor as she fully took in his expression. She swallowed. "Shiny. Are you all right?"
Shining's eyes widened. "Am I all right? What about you?" He cantered from left to right, circling around Twilight and looking her over. "When I heard about the attack it took just about every ounce of willpower not to rush down here." He stopped in front of her and glanced over his shoulder, his eyes focusing on someponies far away. "It finally took both Princess Celestia and Cadance to stop me from galloping down here."
A pair of guardsponies trotted in, an ornate chest floating between them. "But if I did, I'd have to go all the way back to be able to hoof-deliver these to you." The box floated over to his side and opened up, revealing five necklaces and a tiara. "The Elements of Harmony."
The necklaces and tiara floated out, each one surrounded by the distinctive violet glow of Twilight's magic. A warm smile formed on Twilight's lips as she levitated each Element to their respective bearer, gently slipping them over their heads. "Thank you so much," she said.
Shining let a sigh escape him. "I just wish there's more that I can do at the moment." He gestured to the two soldiers behind him. "I've got a grand total of eleven guards under my command here."
Dash's wings unfurled and her jaw dropped. "There's twelve of you? With Discord's statue gone and traitors with it in the Everfree?!"
Shining hung his head. "The timing could be worse for this, but not by much, Dash." He looked up and locked eyes with her. "For the record, what I'm about to say is top-secret. Do I have your words of honor that it won't leave this room?" At everyone's acknowledgment he continued. "The Griffin Kingdoms have sent envoys for 'negotiations' between their tribes," he groused out, holding up a foreleg and waggling it at 'negotiations'.
Dash abruptly settled back into her chair. "Oh, buck. You're kidding me." She glanced to everyone else in the room, taking in their looks of confusion. "Gilda explained this to me back at Flight Camp. Basically the Griffin Kingdoms are almost constantly at each other's throats, sometimes quite literally.
Rarity's muzzle wrinkled. "Eww, how ghastly!"
Dash glanced to her and shrugged. "Eh, can't argue with you there. Anyway, every fifty years or so they send envoys to Canterlot and have Princess Celestia hammer out treaties and force them not to wipe each other out. From what Gilda told me things can get very dicey in Canterlot." She looked to Shining. "That you got yourself and eleven other guardsponies away is pretty impressive, Shiny."
Shining regarded Dash with a smile. "Thanks, although only my sister can call me that." He looked back to Twilight, the smile once more falling away. "I'm sorry, Twiley. It's the best I can do right now." His head drooped, the helmet sliding down almost over his eyes.
Twilight reached up and gently patted Shining on the shoulder armor. "And I'm glad you're here." She looked from side to side as Applejack, Dash, Fluttershy, Rarity and Pinkie all walked over. "We're all glad you're here. Right, girls?"
Applejack reached up and slid her hat forward. "I think I speak fer everyone when I say it's mighty fine o' you tah get here with tha Elements, Captain." She looked back up. "So, got a plan?"
Shining glanced back to the door. "Right now, it's too late to conduct any real recon into the Everfree. I was planning on stationing two guards with each of you, then in the morning we all meet back here and make plans to begin searching for the ones who stole Discord's statue and the statue itself." He looked around. "Any objections?"
Dash raised a foreleg. "You do realize I live in a cloud house, right?"
"Which is why I brought a pair of pegasi to stay there."
Dash lowered her foreleg. "You're good."
"Thanks." Shining glanced once more to Twilight. "I understand there's a zebra and sea serpent living in the Everfree, correct?"
Twilight's eyes widened and she slapped her forehead, dragging a hoof slowly down her face. "Oh, duh! Both of them would know the Everfree like the back of their hooves!"
Pinkie rolled her eyes. "No, Twilight. Steven has hands." She hopped onto her hind legs and waved her forelegs around. "Hands, not hooves. He knows the Everfree like the back of his hands." She dropped back to all fours and looked a hoof over. "Hey, what's this speck?"
Shining's eyes drifted to Pinkie, back to Twilight, over to Pinkie and then back to Twilight. "Okay... Well, if there's nothing more to discuss, I suggest we all meet back here at nine o'clock tomorrow morning for planning." He turned around, pursed his lips together and whistled. "Fall in, foals!" he shouted.
Nine more ponies clad in the armor of the Royal Guard filed in, forming a line right in front of Shining. Each one snapped to attention as the two that accompanied Shining into the library trotted over to the end of the line. Shining trotted up to one end and began making his way down. "Tomfoolery, you're with me here at the library. Speed Burn, Flight Risk, you're with Dash. Bulwark, Spanish Steel, you're with Applejack. Tenderhoof, Eagle Eye, you're with Fluttershy. Screwball, Flight of Fancy, you're with Pinkie Pie. Finally, Brawny Boulder, Honey Fields, you're with Rarity." He stopped at the final guardpony, spun on a hoof and looked down the line. "Guard them with your lives. Any questions?"
All eleven kept their eyes straight ahead. "Sir, no sir!" they all barked.
Shining nodded. "Fall out." He trotted back to Twilight even as an earth pony mare fell in slightly behind and to his right. The other ten guardponies separated into pairs, each one trotting or flying over to one of the Element Bearers.
Applejack trotted over to Twilight, an earth pony stallion and a pegasus stallion trailing behind her. "Well, it's getting' late, Twilight. And I wanna get back tah Sweet Apple Acres before it gets even later. We'll be back nine tomorrow." She looked to her escorts. "Try tah keep up fellas." With that, she reared back, kicked the air and galloped for the door, the guardponies following behind.
Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Dash all quickly followed, leaving Shining, Twilight, Spike and Tomfoolery in the library's main foyer. Twilight let out a sigh and fell back onto her haunches. "Sorry," she muttered. "It's just been an exhausting day today." her eyes blinked rapidly and her mouth stretched open in a yawn.
Shining glanced to Tomfoolery. "Private, you're dismissed for the evening. Get something to eat and hit the sack for six hours. Relieve me then."
Tomfoolery saluted and trotted off, stopping near the table. "Captain... where's the kitchen?" she asked, her head swishing back and forth.
Spike waggled his finger and walked over to the earth pony's side. "Follow me," he said, bowing at his waist. He stopped and looked over his shoulder at Twilight and Shining. "You two gonna be okay?" he asked, taking a step towards them.
Twilight chuckled and waved him off. "We're fine, Spike. Now go get something to eat. I can hear your stomach from here."
Spike opened his mouth, but a loud growling from his midsection cut him off. He cleared his throat and turned, marching off with Tomfoolery in tow.
The lavender-coated unicorn looked to her brother and let out a sigh. "Thanks," she said, leaning into his neck. "I've had some crazy days, some even crazier than today, but this edged up close to the top." She closed her eyes. "And tomorrow's gonna be even crazier. I can feel it already."
Shining wrapped a foreleg around his younger sister in a hug, squeezing gently due to the armor he wore. "Don't worry, Twiley. We'll get through this, just like every other time you've told me about."
Twilight sat there for a minute, letting her body relax. "Thanks, big brother. But I've got a feeling it's gonna get a lot crazier before it gets better. I have personal experience with that."
Please read and review.
H-Bomber-Yeah, she's good. ;) And he's got once more chance to communicate with the outside world.
Nightw2-Thanks. And your patience paid off. :)
Guest-I never did either. She was seriously screwed over in Boast Busters.