It was dark and stifling in the mine and the air was rank with the smell of machinery and dirt; the only light available was the jittering circle cast by a helmet lamp bobbing up and down in tandem with the sharp metallic clangs of a pickaxe. The miner grunted as he swung the pickaxe into the side of the mineshaft, knocking out loose chunks of dirt and rock. The miner panted in the stifling environment, it was too hot and the air was stagnant. The ground was hard and black, high amounts of carbon, minerals, and pressure saw to that. But where there was carbon, minerals, and pressure, there were diamonds and other gemstones. The diamond dog miner swung his pickaxe with all the strength his long ape-like arms could muster, battering away chunk after chunk, searching for gems.
"Look!" cried an excited voice. "I found one! I found the first gem!" The miner turned to see one of his fellow miners dancing in joy, holding in his paw a ruby the size of a tangerine.
"And what a gem! This is your lucky day Tozer!" He said to his dancing compatriot. There was only the two of them down here; this was an expeditionary dig, to set up seismic sensors while searching for gemstones. Naturally, neither of them had expected to find any gems, but instinct practically forced them to at least try to find some while they prepared the equipment.
Tozer smiled and slipped it into his vest pocket. "Sorry to snatch this'un from ya Balt, but y'know the rules 'First gem found in the shaft goes to the finder'! This'll cover my grog bill for a whole year!"
Balt snorted and went back to chipping. "Good thing you have your priorities straight!"
"I'm a realist!" Tozer said as he continued to work. "I could bark all day about company stocks and shares, but at the end of the day the grog is what keeps me happy!"
"Yeah! Grog keeps your wife happy too!" He said chuckling, knowing what pushed his young friend's buttons. "Takes the edge off waking up next to your sorry hide every morning!"
There was a sound like a surprised squeak before the sound of machinery filled the air once more.
"Heh…" Balt said, the lack of expletive laden retorts filling him with unease. "…H-hey Tozer, don't take it so personal, ya? I'm just tuggin' your tail!"
The sound of machinery filled the air.
"Tozer?" Balt said as he began to turn around. "Tozer, you-"
Stars exploded in his head as something hard and jagged hammered across his face, lacerating his cheek and sending him sprawling on the hard rocky ground. Wide-eyed he rolled onto his back, shining his helmet lamp up at his assailant. For an instant he saw a horrible visage that was diamond dog in shape but something else entirely; damp green mottled skin, lank stringy black hair, and huge dilated sun-orange eyes, and teeth, green-yellow teeth. Another blow cracked his helmet in half, shattering the light and causing the inky veil of darkness rushing in. He felt enormous clawed hands clasp around his head, a foul organic stench emanating from the putrid dank flesh permeating the stifling mine air. He let out a final scream before the hands wrenched his head around; the thunderous sound of his own vertebrae snapping was the last thing he heard before true darkness settled in.
As the scream echoed up the mineshaft, the workers who followed it down heard something like sobbing before finding the mangled bodies and nothing more.
(Dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da etc)
The Mines of Dragon Mountain: Part 1
"Get back here!" shouted a heavily accented voice from behind. Twilight Sparkle wasn't listening; she was far too busy running. "In the name of the Emperor, we demand that you stop!"
Twilight looked over her shoulder at the three bizarre looking aliens shouting demands, their bodies looked just as any pony's body should but where their neck and head should have been sprouted a torso, complete with and set of arms and the head of a pony. Two of the creatures clad in shiny gold armor raised their weapons and glittering balls of blue-white plasma arced forth, sparking and flashing as they missed her by a hairs breadth.
"No you fools!" bellowed the more important looking of the three, reaching out and striking their weapons from their hands. "The emperor wants his bride unharmed!"
Twilight ran down a hallway, she had to admit that the emperor's castle far outstripped anything in Equestria in terms of sheer decadence and raw enormity. Everywhere was marble, gold, silver, and platinum; everything was encrusted with precious stones and the statues were among the best pieces of workmanship she'd ever seen. This was the residence of the most powerful being in an interstellar empire after all, it had to be showy and gaudy or else how would anyone know? A sign would suffice, or maybe a nametag. But what had truly gotten her attention was the library; it occupied roughly one quarter of the enormous building; a room a thousand meters on each side, forty meters high, filled to bursting with books and tomes, scrolls and parchments, and even stone tablets from ancient times! The entire history of a powerful and successful civilization was at her hoof-tips, the sheer enormity of the knowledge was-and then the one-hundred-and-twenty year old alien emperor 'requested' her hoof in marriage. So now she was running from a platoon of heavily armed alien guards intent on 'persuading' her to reconsider his most generous offer.
"Down that hall's a dead end!" she heard from behind her. "We have you now your ladyship!"
She scurried up to the door, pulling on the handle in vain. She spun around to see the three guards approach her joined by twelve similarly armed soldiers. "In the name of Emperor Alzex Mollari, we demand that you…'reevaluate' your decision regarding his Excellency's requests!"
Twilight's ears perked up slightly, a smile spreading across her face as she looked back at the guards. "I'm sorry gentlemen, but his Excellency will have to be content with his harem-city."
"That's my ride!"
A blast of warm electrified air blasted back her mane; the wonderful sound of the TARDIS filled the air. The telltale light began to flash as the impossible ship began to materialize. The guards jolted forwards, circling the box just in time to see her slate blue purple and pink tail as it disappeared behind the doors of the blue box. The guards began hopelessly blasting the box with their weapons, the powerful super-heated plasma harmlessly fizzling and dissipating across its surface with an insultingly impotent *poof*.
The box was gone, and with it their chances for a raise.
Twilight entered the TARDIS, she still couldn't quite get used to the impossibility of a ship that was several orders of magnitude larger on the inside than it was on the outside, but after a month of adventures with The Doctor she had come to accept the impossible as something new and exciting rather than frustrating. Greeting her was all her friends; the ever-energetic Pinkie Pie, whose eccentricities perplexed even The Doctor. The always-brash Rainbow Dash whose impulsiveness would have been a serious setback if she were not so capable. Rarity, whose usual poise and grace somewhat damped by the sulk she was in, having been dragged away from the most sophisticated and glamorous social event in the stellar neighborhood will do that. Timid and soft spoken, Fluttershy only hugged Twilight tightly, whispering her joy at Twilight's return. Applejack simply smiled and patted Zecora on the back, garnering a smile from the pensive zebra.
"Brilliant…" said a voice behind her. She spun around to see The Doctor looking at a monitor by the door. "…I still can't get over that! The Centauri Republic is populated by actual centaurs here!" he turned to face her, a smile on his face. "I love this universe!"
Twilight didn't like to admit it to herself but The Doctor, a good-looking stallion by any metric, had a smile that could make marble statue swoon. She wrapped her forelegs around his neck in a grateful hug. "Perfect timing! How'd it all go?"
"Excellent!" The Doctor said, gesturing at the group. "You all did wonderfully! Rarity and Pinkie did an excellent job of distracting the palace officials!"
"A party is the best distraction a pony could hope for!" Pinkie cheered.
Rarity sighed longingly. "Yes, it was a magnificent party, such elegant dresses, the culture, the glamour! Amidst royalty and nobility, it was where I truly belonged…"
Twilight rolled her eyes and turned to Applejack. "You, Zecora, Rainbow Dash, and The Doctor did what you had to do?"
Applejack winked and clicked her tongue. "Those weapons and warships ain't goin' anywhere anytime soon! The Professor did somethin' to' em that'll pass for a design flaw if they check!"
"Sonic'd the reactor alloys, they'll melt the second the get over 1% capacity! All the 'kaput' without the 'boom'! A someone will probably get canned, though…" The Doctor said happily.
"If it saved some lives a job will suffice, to be the only sacrifice," Zecora said before adding. "And were it not Rainbow Dash's sonic rainboom, those guards surely would have spelt our doom!"
Rainbow Dash donned a pleased expression and polished a hoof on her chest. "They probably thought it was a weapon or something because it was so awesome!"
The Doctor turned to Twilight. "All in all a job well done! The Centauri Republic's vaunted battle fleet is going to have to make due with a shoestring budget for the next few years, aught to put a damper on their recent expansionist regime! The surrounding governments would thank us!"
The muted thud of the TARDIS powering down permeated the console room and a slight jerk under their feet signified its landing.
"Where are we now Professor?" Applejack said excitedly. "Off tah save some civilization from rampagin' mutant fruit or some such?"
"Again?" The Doctor snorted. "Like I'd shortchange you lot with a rerun!"
Rarity smiled. "Is it that planet made of Cerrulian gemstones that you told me about? Where there are beaches of diamonds on oceans of sapphires?"
"Maybe later," The Doctor said before spinning around to the group. "No…we have just landed on the most important planet in the whole universe!"
Pinkie Pie gasped with joy and sped for the door. "Oh! Oh! Oh! Is it a super big whole-planet party? With alien music, alien dances, and alien goodies like space sugar cubes and space sugar canes and space sundaes and space sun-beams and space sasparilla? Where the parties are longer and funner than anything…" She burst out the door. "…In…Ponyville?"
The ponies exited the TARDIS; around them were the quiet, thatched roofed houses of Ponyville, the dirt roads quiet and deserted. It appeared to be quite early in the morning.
Rainbow Dash shot into the air, looked around, and dropped back to the ground. "Ponyville is the most important place in the universe?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Isn't it?"
"When are we Doctor?" Fluttershy said, looking around at the empty streets. "There should at least be somepony out, even early in the morning!"
Zecora smiled. "I know these town ponies have never been dozers, so this quietness must be blamed on hangovers!"
"Heh…that was a good one…" The Doctor laughed and nodded. "Yep! Six AM local time, approximately twelve hours after we left. Everypony is sleeping off the celebratory applejack…not you, the drink."
"Ah know Professor. Sweet Apple Acres supplied the spirits, remember?"
"But why are we here?" said Twilight. "Are you dropping us off?"
"No silly!" chirped Pinkie Pie. "The Doctor is just stopping here to fuel up!"
The Doctor cleared his throat and said. "One of these days I'll find out how you know these things Pinkie."
"No you won't!" Pinkie giggled.
The Doctor shook his head. "…Anyway…yes Ponyville is my new pit stop for the TARDIS."
"What kind of fuel can you get here of all places?" said Twilight, stepping over the streamers and deflated balloons from a party that was, to her, ancient history. "Does the TARDIS run on small town quaintness?"
The Doctor smiled as he always did when he got to show off his knowledge. "You see, when I first arrived with the Hervoken and the Carrionites, there was a multi-dimensional tear in the walls of this reality. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna closed these tears but as with all wounds it left a scar. This scar in the fabric of reality bleeds off harmless radiation that my TARDIS can use to power its passive systems. The scar is in a geosynchronous orbit with Ponyville and constantly showers it with this harmless radiation. All I have to do is park the TARDIS in Ponyville, activate the collector, and KA-POW! Fill 'er up! Remarkably similar to another pit stop I frequented, actually."
"So, you're not dropping us off?" Twilight said cautiously.
The Doctor blinked in confusion, a look of concern on his face. "No…do you want me to? You can leave the TARDIS whenever you want, I won't make you stay."
She shook her head frantically. "Oh no! I love traveling with you Doctor, we all do! I was just-well you see…never mind."
"Alright then!" The Doctor said, smiling again.
Twilight suppressed a sigh of relief that shocked her with its genuineness; she was honestly horrified at the aspect of returning home, returning to normal life! She could still remember that fateful night The Doctor literally dropped out of the sky and into her life. He had initially brought her near unbearable confusion as every aspect of his existence was an affront to everything she had learned to trust in up to that point; magic, physics, logic, the very cornerstones of how she perceived the world were either shaken, flaunted, or outright defied. It was a challenge to her sensibilities that could not be ignored, and in her quest to find answers she had inadvertently involved herself and her friends in a battle against an unspeakable being of unequaled malevolence.
The mere recollection of the S'Müz sent a shiver down her spine, the existential manifestation of hatred and negativity, a being of such manifold atrociousness and depravity that its cohorts, a cabal of powerful alien witches, were but minor nuisances in comparison. A small part of her was actually glad that the first enemy they faced with The Doctor was nearly without peer in terms of sheer monstrousness; compared to fighting an enormous thinking cloud of malefic psychokinetic energy, the fact that she had nearly become the exotic fille de joie to an aging alien emperor barely registered as a minor event to her now. In fact, much of what they had experienced as a group over the past month had been eased by their initial trial by fire, they had made powerful enemies and had become heroes of legend on far away worlds, witnessed the deaths of stars and the births of galaxies, the true magnitude of the universe had unraveled before them and it was glorious. Seven ponies from what could generously be described as a backwater planet had borne witness to the majesty of creation and had saved whole civilizations, all thanks to a pony-shaped alien and his impossible blue box. Now, back in Ponyville, it all seemed so small; the town, the planet, the sky, all of it was positively minuscule. She knew that one day she would return to her home of her own volition, but she also knew that that day could only come after many more days of travel, of adventure, of fun.
"Hey Doctor…" said Rarity. "I had a book on loan from the Trottingham Library that I brought with me. We've been traveling for about a month and even though it's the next day in this timeline does that still mean it's late?"
Rainbow Dash laughed. "Unless they have a pan-dimensional chronitonic wave manipulator thingie, I don't think you have to worry."
Rarity laughed before adding nervously. "And if they do?"
"Pray," Twilight said with a mischievous smile on her face. "We library types are pretty hardcore when it comes to overdue books! They may just put a hit out on you!"
"Speaking of that…" Fluttershy said. "What if the Centauri blame us for their ships being sabotaged? Could that be an act of war?"
"It could be…" Twilight said, recollecting the star charts she had been so interested in. "But I checked the star charts, not only are we a year's travel from their border, but they'd also have to send warships through Minponi territory to get to here, and not even they would be that stupid!"
The Doctor stood ramrod stiff before clapping his hoof against his forehead. "Oh! Dammit! How could I have forgotten?! I'm so thick! I'm Mr. Thick-Thick Thickety-Thickface!" He spun around to the confounded ponies, a look of utter dismay on his face. "We were supposed to retrieve and return the Triluminary to the Minponi!"
"So?" Rainbow Dash snorted. "Those bone-heads dumped us in prison for eating some flowers! Let'm wait!"
The Doctor shook his head frantically. "Not just any flowers. You all ate from the memorial garden; those flowers were fertilized with the remains of their most venerated officials. As far as the Minponi are concerned you all killed and ate their most respected citizens! That's an act of war!"
Fluttershy gasped, looking ill. "What will happen if we don't return the Triluminary?"
"Oh nothing, they'll just declare war on your entire species and send a battle fleet to melt Equestria's surface into molten glass," The Doctor said with a shrug. "I was only able to convince them to not do that if I got their dinky little artifact back from a rogue faction! You lot are still banished for life from Minponi territory under pain of death, though."
"For eatin' some stupid flowers?!" Applejack exclaimed, furious.
"Despite their accountant-monk demeanor, the Minponi are very prone to…overreaction," The Doctor said as he trotted back to the TARDIS. "No matter the reality, they take themselves far too seriously!"
He turned to see the group following him, a mildly irritated look on his face. "What part of 'banished for life' didn't you understand? They've got genetic scans and telepathic nets set up to find you lot if you show up! I'll be right back!"
Twilight gasped. "You're…leaving us?"
The Doctor paused and turned around to the plaintive faces before him. "No, never…But I have to do this alone, the Minponi won't uphold their end of the agreement if you're all present, even in the TARDIS. I'll be back in a couple days or so, trust me," Twilight looked at the ground, disappointed, The Doctor smiled and stepped forward. "Trust me?"
"Sure ah trust yah Professor!" Applejack said happily. "It'll be nice tah get back into normal life for a while! But you come an' get me when you're back!"
"It's been divine, Doctor! Don't be a stranger!" Rarity said. "Ooh! I'd better call Mr. Stardust back!"
Rainbow Dash smiled and stomped her hoof. "You'd just better come back, I still haven't flown in the zephyrs of Clorin like you promised!"
Fluttershy stepped forward and bowed her head. "I loved seeing all the alien animals Doctor, please drop by the next time you're in!"
"You'll be back!" Pinkie Pie said with certainty. "Now I just have to figure out how to make Alteran cupcakes without gorble eggs, it'll be fun!"
"If you must leave then you must go, just be sure to drop by and say hello," Zecora said with a respectful bow.
"Just…come back in one piece," Twilight said lowly. "You know where to find us."
The Doctor smiled and nodded. "Until we meet again, you've all been brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!" he opened the doors to the TARDIS and stuck his head out. "Allons-y!"
The doors closed and that wonderful alluring sound began, a blast of warm electrified air, a few flashes of light, and the TARDIS was gone, leaving behind the pony's accumulated luggage.
"Crap," Twilight said quietly.
Rarity sighed as she opened the door to her boutique; there was something to be said about the comforts of home. She had done her best to spruce up the TARDIS, maybe get a few carpets in to cover up the grated metal floors, a clean up on that awful cluttered console, anything! But every time she redecorated the next morning it was back to its normal kitschy self. It was sometime during her sixth attempt at redecoration that The Doctor mentioned something about the ship being alive, and that it probably had its own ideas about how the internal design should go. Bad taste knows no boundaries, it seems. At least here she could maintain a truly elegant design philosophy. Even so, she was definitely looking forward to whenever The Doctor next came calling; the things she had seen, the things she had done, she could scarcely believe that a single month had held so many adventures! Faraway worlds, alien cultures, sights to behold and customs to witness; travel with The Doctor was non-stop, every time the adventure ran down in one place The Doctor would flip a switch and they'd be off once again. It never stopped and would have been exhausting otherwise, but each adventure, each new place, and each new person met brought with them a sense of accomplishment and achievement that more than made up for it. There was danger of course, and her life had been directly threatened on at least twenty occasions, but after their first adventure she felt her friends and her had been steeled to the worst the universe could throw at them, facing and defeating what could conservatively be called a god will do that. It was amazing how much things like a kilometer long serpent or a genocidal dictator lost their ability to intimidate when they were but sweet dreams compared to what she and her friends had witnessed. Genuine lack of fear does a lot to deflate such events into more manageable forms; truly, there was nothing that could perturb her now.
"Rarity?" said a voice from behind.
Rarity turned around to see her little sister Sweetie Belle, her mane was mussed and unkempt, it was early and she hadn't been through her morning grooming rituals yet. The look on her face was that of tired disorientation giving way to excitement. "You're back…"
Rarity felt an uncontrollable joy rise in her; she hadn't realized how much she missed her klutzy little sister until that moment. "Sweetie Belle!"
Still half asleep, Sweetie Belle wasn't aware of what was happening until she had been scooped up into a tight affectionate hug. Rarity felt a small tear roll down her cheek as she drew her little sister closer. "Oh Sweetie Belle…I missed you!"
"You did?!" Sweetie Belle said in amazement.
Rarity broke the hug and smiled at her. "Oh yes!" she said before remembering, "Waitaminute! Aren't you supposed to be at Applejack's? I thought she was taking care of you while I was gone!"
"She was…" Sweetie Belle began. "…Big Mac and Applejack were off working and left Apple Bloom and I with Granny Smith, so we waited until she was asleep and went to Ponyville to find Scootaloo and then-and then…" Tears began to well up in the little filly's eyes as her speech became hitched with sobs. "T-thuh-there was a thuh-thuh-thing! It was a cloud b-b-but there was something inside! It huh-hurt to look at, an-an-an-nd everypony just started running and shouting! And I-and I-and-"
Rarity drew her into a comforting hug, silencing her rapid-fire speech before it descended into babble. "I know Sweetie, I know…the monster's gone now. There's nothing to be afraid of."
Sweetie Belle calmed herself down and looked up at Rarity. "I got separated from Apple Bloom when everypony started panicking, so I ran here and hid in the basement. I was too scared to come out until late, and by then I was too tired to do anything but sleep and…I'm just so glad you're back!"
"Me too Sweetie Belle…me too."
There was a curt knock on the door, followed by a familiar voice. "Delivery for Ms. Rarity! I hope you don't mind my forwardness ma'am, but this package is labeled 'urgent'!"
Rarity opened the door to a familiar grey pegasus mare, Ditzy 'Derpy' Doo the walleyed mailmare. "Ah! Ms. Doo, I would have figured you'd have taken the day off like everypony else!"
"No ma'am!" Ditzy said with pride. "Neither rain nor hail nor sleet nor snow nor heat of day nor dark of night nor Eldritch Abomination shall keep this carrier!"
"You're a better mare than I, Ms. Doo," Rarity said with a smile.
"I'm flattered, but one Mister…er…'Stardust' seems to think the world of you ma'am," she said as Rarity signed the postage. "Express delivery via personal courier, an ex-Wonderbolt if I'm not mistaken, very fast. It has the bureaucracy stamps all over it too, so it must be magical. Very expensive to get through all that red tape in a timely fashion, one would have to grease a few hooves if you'll excuse the common parlance."
Rarity gasped and levitated the package into her boutique. "Must be important! Oh, um, well thank you Ms. Doo! I hope to see you in here sometime, I have a dress design that would suit you perfectly!"
"Will do Ms. Rarity!" Ditzy said as she took off. "You take care now!"
Rarity smiled as she closed the door, Ditzy wasn't remotely as scattermaned as everypony assumed she was, in reality she was actually quite intelligent, especially when it came to her profession. She did, however, have a not-undeserved reputation for being clumsy, and the walleyes didn't help matters of course.
"Whatcha got there sis?" Sweetie Bell said, combing out her mane. "Did someone send you a present?"
Rarity opened the box and gasped, inside amidst packing straw and padding was a single emerald sphere. Within the rounded gemstone was five other multi-colored gems arranged in a pentagram. "An Emerald Contact Combine!"
Rarity levitated it gingerly out of the protective straw and padding. "It's a new kind of communication device, my richer clients have things like Carnelian Conversation Apertures or Ruby Communication Ansibles, but this…"
The gems inside flickered and glowed, a spectral image of a handsome refined diamond dog appearing above the sphere, it was a recording from Zeitgeist Stardust. "Ms. Rarity, if you are receiving this I can only assume that the business with the blue box was resolved. I have sent you this ECC in hopes of establishing a more efficient means of communication with you, and I hope that in this capacity we can expand upon our professional relationship. Anyway, down to business…I have decided to go with color swatch number three-B, the black-blue color, for the main body silk, with crimson internal lining. As for the rest I will defer to your suggestions on the matter, I look forward to your response."
"Well! A lady's work is never done! I'm going to get started on this suit…" Rarity smiled and turned to Sweet Belle. "…Right after you and I have a little breakfast, hmm? Waffles?"
Sweetie Belle smiled happily and nodded. Rarity escorted her sister into the kitchen and began to tell her where she had been.
Applejack strolled up the long dirt road to Sweet Apple Acres; her saddlebags now packed to bursting with trinkets and memorabilia from her amazing travels. It was about 6:30 AM meaning Apple Bloom was doing the rounds up near the pigpen. The pigs were ideal tenants, all they wanted was a roof over their head and a steady supply of food and they'd sniff out delicious and valuable truffles when the season came. The traffic Sweet Apple Acres got from their annual truffle sale more than covered any rent the pigs may have had to pay otherwise. As predicted Apple Bloom was pouring buckets of slop into the feed trough, politely and friendlily responding to the pig's half muffled thanks.
One of the pigs said something and Apple Bloom turned around, a smile spreading across her face. "APPLEJACK!"
Applejack couldn't help but smile as the little filly ran towards her at full speed. "Hey there Bloom!"
"Ah didn't know where you were but Big Mac said you were fightin' that scary monster cloud an'whenyoudidn'tcomehomeahthought-" Apple Bloom said before being silenced by a raised hoof.
"Whoa there sprout! Slow down or yer tongue'll catch fire!" Applejack said with a smile. "But don't you worry none, that monster won't be botherin' anypony anymore! Yer sister Applejack saw tah that!"
"So, just what was that thing Applejack?" Apple Bloom said, bouncing around her older sister excitedly as they walked up the road to Sweet Apple Acres. "Big Mac told me that you had somethin' tah do with beatin' it! All the ponies in town was so scared and panicky they almost trampled me an' Sweetie Belle!"
"Well, ah got some stories for you!" Applejack said before realizing what Apple Bloom had said and she turned to her energetic younger sister, a stern look on her face. "What were you and Sweetie Belle doing in Ponyville without a grownup?! Land sakes! Where is she anyhow?!"
"Ah don' know, we got separated last night…" Apple Bloom sagged immediately and looked down at the ground. "Ah'm sorry Applejack, we just wanted to find Scootaloo so we could plan our next crusade! You weren't there an' Big Mac was busy, an' we couldn't ask Granny Smith to head out…"
"So you went into the city without supervision and now we don't know where Sweetie Belle is!" Applejack sighed and shook her head. "Ah'm not looking forward tah telling Rarity that we lost her kid sister!"
"How was ah supposed to know a horrible monster was rollin' into town that day? Besides, she probably just went tah her house when we was separated! I was gonna swing by when ah'd done all m'chores! Ah-" she said before being silenced again, this time by an affectionate hug from her sister. "Applejack?"
"Ah just missed you is all. It'll be so good tah see Big Mac and Granny Smith again!" Applejack said, a broad smile on her face. "Ah've got stories to tell!"
"Missed me?" Apple Bloom said. "But you saw me last night, just before ah went tah sleep!"
Applejack chuckled to herself; this was going to be an interesting day of stories. "It was a lot longer tah me! C'mon sprout, I'll tell you all about it after I say hi tah Big Mac an' Granny Smith!"
Apple Bloom beamed adorably. "Okay! But, uh, keep it quiet. Big Mac's feelin' a little under th'weather today! Ah think it was somethin' he ate!"
"Close enough," Applejack said with a laugh. "S'okay though, ah picked up a little somethin' from Inebrë-8 that'll clear that right up!"
" 'In-ee-bree-ate?" Apple Bloom raised an eyebrow. "What're you talkin' about?"
Applejack opened the door to their home and entered. As usual Granny Smith was up fixing her exceptionally large grandson an equally large breakfast, she looked up from her cooking and saw Applejack, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Applejack! Good of you tah come home! An' here ah thought you'd let a little ol' monster keep you from work!"
"Y'all know me better'n that Granny!" Applejack said as she walked up close and nuzzled her grandmother.
Granny Smith smiled, a hint of shock on her weathered features. "Land sakes girl! What's gotten into you?"
"Ah'll tell you in a sec!" Applejack said. "Where's Big Mac?"
Granny Smith's eyes darted over to Apple Bloom and back to Applejack. "Err he's upstairs in bed…he's feelin' a mite 'delicate' this mornin'," she said, punctuating 'delicate' with a wink. "Ah think it was somethin' that that Caramel boy talked him into dri-um-eating."
Applejack raced up the stairs quietly, careful not to wake her brother. She nudged open the door to his room; an enormous snoring lump dominated what was once a bed, now a small mountain of blankets of pillows. Applejack stealthily made her way over to the bed and prodded what she assumed was a flank. Her prod was greeted with a grunt. She prodded again, harder; this time rewarded with a louder grunt and a leg roughly the size of a small tree warding her away.
"Is that anyway to welcome your own sister home?" She said, tucking her nose under the bed frame. "Rise'n'shine yer majesty!"
With a hefty grunt her powerful compact workhorse muscles flipped the massive bed onto its side, sending a shocked Big Macintosh spilling out onto the floor.
"AJ?!" He exclaimed indignantly. "What the Sam Hill're you doin'?!"
Applejack chuckled and pulled a small black object out of her left saddlebag and pressed it to his forehead. Blue energy arced from the object and Big Mac bolted upright, eyes wide. "AAAAAAH! Whoa-I-who-what-it-how'd you do that?!"
Applejack put the trinket back into her saddlebag. "Just a little something I picked up on Inebrë-8. Handy-dandy ain't it?"
"What the hell are you talkin' about?" Big Mac said, eying his sister cautiously, she seemed in awfully good spirits to not be planning some kind of prank.
"Oh, it's just a colony of the Terpin Conglomerate. There's a fungus that pumps alcohol straight into the atmosphere, so the Terpinites invented that little doodle-hickey tah 'maintain optimum functionality' as they put it."
"…What the hell are you talkin' about?" Big Mac repeated.
"Oh just come to breakfast you scattermane!" Applejack said dismissively. "I'll explain it all over some home cookin'!"
Rainbow Dash raced across the skies of Equestria, her heartbeat thundered in her ears as she soared through the air. Everything seemed strange; it was something she just couldn't quite put to words. The way the air smelt was familiar and comforting, the way the wind blew across her body as she tore through the skies was as it had always been. She could see the minute eddies and dead pockets in the air and skillfully dodge them or work them to her advantage. What Rainbow Dash understood about flying, what she knew in her heart but could not articulate, was that true control while flying, true finesse, was even more important than speed and power.
A finely honed sense of airflow, balance, and her innate pegasus sense when it came to identifying the consistency of the air ahead allowed her to not only to compensate, but also to manipulate. The key to her speed was power, but the key to her endurance, to her grace, to what made her a truly gifted athlete was her control. There where times when she would look at how other ponies flew and she would feel a sudden sense of superiority, Applejack would call it egotism but Rainbow Dash knew she was better than someone just by looking at how they fly. Most pegasi simply power their way through the air, flapping their wings and occasionally tucking their legs in to reduce drag, more skilled 'professional' trick fliers were a little better but they still seemed to treat the air as though it was an obstacle. Fliers like the Wonderbolts understood, they moved through the air at unthinkable speeds while still maintaining the control and finesse of a complex dance, they could use the air rather than just push it. And so could Rainbow Dash, in movements that were barely conscious her body would shift for optimum airflow, reducing drag and maximizing speed with a minimum of effort.
She smiled to herself; the citizens of Ponyville needed a wakeup call. She rose into the air, one thousand, fifteen hundred, two thousand, twenty-five hundred…at three thousand meters she looked down at the sleepy town; there were clouds lazily drifting about over Ponyville, marring what would have been a flawless blue sky for those below.
"I'm gonna have to talk to my team about getting drunk on a work day…" Rainbow Dash said mischievously. "Wakey wakey, everypony!"
She angled herself down towards the ground and was off like a shot. The wind howled in her ears as her mane was blown back and thrashing as she picked up speed. The air around her began to warp as the shockwaves rolling off her body began to collect moisture. The wind was deafening, lashing against her body with an almost painful intensity, tears streaming from her eyes were blown across her face.
"…Allllmost theeeere…" she said through gritted teeth. "C'mon!"
As the town rocketed towards her she saw the barrier as she began to strain it, it pushed back against her but she kept on pushing through, gravity and skill where on her side. The air began to arc and prism as she prepared to give her final push; this was where she had failed all those times before, but not this time. She gritted her teeth and gave one final ounce of power to compliment her perfect form. The world filled with color as a terrific *crack* split the air and rattled the windows below. Rainbow Dash pulled up suddenly, her mane and tail becoming a fused blur of rainbow colors, behind her trailed a sparkling rainbow extending from a single glowing epicenter of incandescent light. The super-sonic pegasus grinned widely and looked back, forms of surprised ponies leaving their houses becoming smaller and smaller as she arced away. It was good to be home.
Rainbow Dash set down on a cloud and laid back. A nap sounded like a good idea. As she looked up at the sky and waited to doze off she felt herself feeling somewhat restless. This was all too easy. The sense of accomplishment from doing her signature move had already begun to fade. She had noticed before that the air felt strange, strange in its utter familiarity. This was the sky she had flown in for every year of her life; she knew it like the back of her hoof. All the little eddies and wind currents were so tame and bog-standard that flying at her exemplary level barely took any conscious effort. Flying in alien skies, skies that had never had a pegasus in them before, was a different experience every time.
Even for a more articulate pegasus pony the sensation would have been difficult to explain to wingless ponies, it was like the sky itself was an ocean and the seemingly calm 'surface' belied a complex and alien lattice of wind currents, updrafts, air eddies, downdrafts, and unpredictable weather. Flying in it and feeling those forces, being unable to predict and manipulate them, was akin to drowning in terms of the panic it often brought fliers. Flying in these new skies made her feel like a novice again, a temporary sense of inability before the inevitable exaltation of mastery. She had conquered the skies of countless worlds! She had encountered tornadoes made of lightning, she had flown between levitating mountains, encountered and evaded enormous predators that disguised themselves as storm clouds, and above all else she had survived! Wonders upon wonders seen, challenge after challenge met and defeated, and yet…
She sighed in frustration and lightly kicked the cloud. "That idiot."
All she had ever managed to get out of The Doctor was a 'good job, Ms. Dash' or a 'brilliant' or two, but he used that word so much it was practically his catchphrase. It was something she found nearly unbearable; ponies should be in awe of her, should watch her feats and gasp as they wonder 'how does she do it?' But The Doctor? It was almost like he wasn't impressed at all with her skills, that every compliment on her flying was more like a parent flattering an overactive foal rather than genuine commendation. What was worse was the almost irrepressible need she felt to impress him. The Doctor had that way about him, like he'd seen everything at least once. It had a way of making a pony want to impress him, want to show that old stallion that there was something unique and wonderful about them, something to make them worth his time.
She had come to appreciate and even somewhat depend on The Doctor's abilities; of all the times he had gotten them out of scrapes not once did he seem completely out of control. Sure, he was silly and funny and even charming in a dorky sort of way, but time with him revealed an edge, something hard and cold inside him. Something dangerous. That was another thing that made Rainbow Dash want to impress him, he seemed happier with them around, that coldness inside him was chased away. In his own way he needed them, needed their company, their friendship, because without it that cold vengeful being inside him would do something terrible, something The Doctor himself would be horrified at. Rainbow Dash sighed, The Doctor was intelligent, brave, heroic, and good; all were things that truly endeared him to her and she was even willing to admit that he was very easy on the eyes. But for all his intelligence and bravery there was still that undeniable tint of arrogance and superiority; that he felt that he knew better than anypony else. Combined with that vicious edge to his soul Rainbow Dash could definitely see The Doctor doing something frightful, his unwavering self-confidence not allowing him to see even the slightest possibility that he might be wrong. Without someone there, someone he respects, he might very well follow through. That was what she and her friends would bend over backwards to do, earn his respect. Be his conscience. Be his friends.
Rainbow Dash contemplated this and inhaled deeply. A small bird caught her attention and she followed it with her eyes, watching as it bobbed up and down before disappearing into the clouds. "Well, I'm bored. I wonder what Pinkie's up to?
She rolled over onto her hooves and flicked her mane, preparing her wings. Her take off ritual was interrupted by what felt like a small earthquake…in the clouds. The vibration in her hooves increased exponentially, a low thunderous rumble building like an explosion or a stampede or…
An immense white shape plowed through the cloud-head, sending the semi-solid substance scattering like vapor. Rainbow Dash cried out in alarm as one of the many bellowing nacelles extruding from thing's body obliterated the cloud she had been resting on. She watched it as it passed, its enormous bulk belying its true speed. Once it cleared the cloud-bank it turned in a fashion that Rainbow Dash would have not thought possible considering its size. Its size! At least three hundred meters long by fifty meters wide, it was long and tubular and tapered at both ends, four huge fins sprouting from the sides of the stern-most end. On each side of the main body there were six sterling white oblong pods, a familiar glowing aura emanating from the tapered ends of each, magitech no doubt. On its underside was what appeared to be part of a hotel, with dozens of windows dotting the sparkling streamlined fuselage. The behemoth vehicle lowered itself down into the still half asleep town, Rainbow Dash angled herself towards the airship and with a single powerful flap she sped towards it at full speed.
Mr. Cake smacked his lips as he opened his eyes, it was early and he had the distinct impression that he should be sleeping, an impression immediately reinforced by his detoxifying body.
Pain behind the eyes. "Eeeerg…"
Nausea like a roiling can of worms in his stomach, worms made of lead. "Uuuugh…"
There was a stale taste in his mouth; the taste of whatever had been on his tongue the previous night, in this case strawberry wine and Mrs. Cake. "*Smack-smack*"
Who or what could have jostled him from his much needed rest?
*CRASH* *clatter* *Giggle* *SHATTER* oopsy-doopsy-whoopsy*
Pinkie Pie, who else could it have been?
He yawned and groaned as he got out of bed, turning to check that his wife was still asleep. She was sleeping off the alcohol like he should be doing, but duty called and it was up to him to supervise Pinkie Pie. He smiled as he pulled the cover over Mrs. Cake's sleeping body, she had been up all night cooking up sweets and goodies for the town-wide party, all those poor ponies had been through something of an ordeal and she had taken it upon herself to help any way that she could. It was only after considerable persuasion on his part that she had finally decided to start celebrating, things got hazy after that…
"Sweet dreams Honey-Bunny," he said quietly and made his way to the door, following the clatter of hooves and cupcake trays, bowls, and various other cooking paraphernalia. He sighed; He and Mrs. Cake had taken Pinkamena Diane Pie off her parent's hooves almost five years ago, they had been happy to see her go despite her being one of the few bright spots in their lives. They owned a rock farm kilometers from everywhere, they knew Pinkamena had to leave in order to thrive, she was just too vibrant a person to be squandered on such a place. Just as well too, Pinkie just so happened to be a savant when it came to baking, literally being able to bake soufflé with her eyes closed. He had come to think of her as the daughter he and Mrs. Cake never had. She was sweet and kind if a little exhausting, and there was literally no situation she could not brighten with her personality, a valuable asset for a confectionery, as happy customers were generous customers.
"…Noooow…" He heard her say. "…No gorble eggs, so I'll just use some Bhut Jolokia Peppers instead!"
"Pinkie Pie?" Mr. Cake said, still somewhat groggy. "What are you doing up so early?"
Pinkie Pie spun around and beamed at him. "Oh! Mr. Cake! I'm just making some Alteran Cupcakes! Oh they're great! The actually walk up to you and politely request that you eat them! They're sweet, spicy, savory, and some other flavor whose true nature cannot be grasped by mortal minds! I call it god-berry!"
Mr. Cake sighed and rolled his eyes; Pinkie must have gotten into some celebratory cider. Everypony agreed that she had enough spirit already and should never dip into the drink, especially since 'the incident'. "Pinkie, it's eight in the morning and Mrs. Cake and I are feeling under the weather, if you would please-"
Outside a thunderous *Boom* shook the windows and a wave of incandescent light shone in, casting the room in a rainbow glow. The shock caused Pinkie Pie to drop all the assorted trays and plastic bowls she had been carrying, adding their clattering to the cacophony.
"…That was loud," Pinkie said with a giggle. "A Rainbow Dashalarm! Not a Dashalamb, the sheeple from WoolTech-6!"
"Heh-heh…very good Pinkie, now would you please go back to bed?" Mr. Cake said, preparing to clean up after her.
"Why would I do that? I only just got in, silly!"
"What? Where have you been all night Pinkie?"
Pinkie Pie sighed and smiled. "Oh! Where haven't I been? I've danced on worlds far from here! I moonwalked on the moon and I watched stars form; I partied with kings and cracked jokes with The Cutie-Marx Brothers! Harpo's my favorite!"
"They've been dead for forty years Pinkie…" Mr. Cake said before remembering not to encourage her ramblings. "…And what have I told you about accepting drinks from strange ponies?"
"Umm…Don't?" She said before giggling. "Aw no Mr. Cake! I'm fine! The night before yesterday a stallion calling himself The Doctor fell out of the sky in a little blue box, see? Only it wasn't a box! It was a spaceship and a time machine! So my friends and I have been traveling through time and space with The Doctor, having fun adventures, helping people, and eating the local sweets! We just got through with sabotaging a powerful alien armada!"
Mr. Cake paused, looking at Pinkie Pie with a skewed expression. "You've been travelling around in that box that fell out of the sky?"
"You and all your friends?"
"Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Zecora!
"And that stallion?"
"Well we couldn't fly the TARDIS without The Doctor!" Pinkie said, rolling her eyes. "That's just silly you silly-billy!"
"Of course, what was I thinking…" Mr. Cake shook his head and sighed. "Awfully cramped in there isn't it?"
"Naw! It's dimensionally transcendental!" She chirped.
"Bigger on the inside?" Mr. Cake said soberly, all this was sounding less and less like the standard Pinkie Pie fare of silliness. "Pinkie, I think you should get some sleep."
There was another thunderous sound; this time it was a steadily building blast of wind as it beat against the window. Mr. Cake saw all the ponies outside exclaiming as their manes were whipped around by the sudden and vicious wind before they looked up at the sky, mouths agape with shock.
He turned to see Pinkie racing out the door, leaving the pots and pans to clatter loudly in the floor, Mr. Cake sighed and began to clean up. "See you later, then."
Pinkie Pie raced out the door and looked up, her fluffy mane bouncing and jumping in the hurricane winds and with a big smile on her face. "We have these?!"
Above her and getting closer was a colossal white airship, the body was a sterling cloud white and the structure seamlessly extruding from the bottom was a dazzling platinum with bright silver ornamentation. The swirled metal decorations were stylized representations of wind, swirling and curling about, and in the middle of them was the name Brünhild, in huge five-meter high Copperplate text. Several large clawed mechanisms on chains were lowered to the ground, touching down and digging into it, anchoring the airship in place.
"Hey Pinkie!" called a familiar voice.
Pinkie Pie looked up and smiled. "Oh hey Rainbow Dash! How's your morning been?"
The sky-blue pegasus flicked her rainbow mane and shrugged. "Eh, it was okay. At least it was until this big thing rolled in!"
The airship lowered down on its anchors until the bottom of the structure was a mere four meters above their heads. There was a loud mechanical hiss and a long ramp detached and extended from the underside, reaching down to the ground with a whirling hydraulic sound. It came to a stop at the hooves of Pinkie and Rainbow Dash, they looked up at the ramp as four figures began walking down it; the two in the middle was a tall thin bone-white diamond dog and the other a long-legged cream-orange unicorn mare with a bright red mane and dark green eyes, they were both flanked by two enormous brown diamond dogs, their long ape like arms as thick as tree trunks attached to densely muscled barrel chests.
The thin white diamond dog stopped in front of Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, a smile on his face as he gestured at Rainbow Dash. "Ah! What luck! You were one of the ponies in that box that absconded with Ms. Rarity!"
Rainbow Dash sighed and rolled her eyes. "Yeah…Zeitgeist Stardust right?"
"I'll have you know my client is not obligated to-" The bespectacled orange unicorn said before being silenced by a gesture from Zeitgeist.
"Litigia, please!" he said sternly before turning back to Rainbow Dash, running a hand through the expertly styled white fur on the top of his head. "Yes, you've heard of me I trust."
"Well, Rarity wouldn't shut up about some big name client named Zeitgeist Stardust," Rainbow Dash said appraising the airship. "Do you usually land your airship in the middle of towns?"
He smiled and laughed. "Heh…no. You see I was flying through on official business and I thought I'd drop by and talk to Ms. Rarity about our business arrangement."
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, she detested people who minced words. "You mean your suit for the gala?"
Zeit paused before nodding. "Yes."
"You're doing all this for a suit?" Rainbow Dash said incredulously.
"Yes," He said glibly. "It's going to be a nice suit."
"Rich people are weird…" Rainbow Dash said with a shake of her head. "Come on, I'll take you to her. I'm sure she'll be happy to see you,"
"Thank you Ms…hm, I don't think I caught your name."
Rainbow Dash flicked her tail. "That's 'cause I didn't give it. C'mon, Rarity's boutique is this way."
His smile faltered and he followed after her. "…Of course Ms. Dash."
Pinkie paused for a moment before hopping after them, a wide smile on her face. "I like where this is going!"
Twilight knocked on Rarity's door, biting her lip anxiously. 'C'mon Rarity…'
The door opened and Twilight was greeted with the bright adorable face of Sweetie Belle. "Oh…hey Twilight Sparkle. What're you doing here so early?"
Twilight smiled impatiently. "Oh, hey Sweetie Belle! I'm just here to see Rarity about a favor."
Sweetie Belle looked over her shoulder before signaling for Twilight to come in closer. "Good thing you came, I think Rarity's gone crazy!"
Twilight blinked and said. "What makes you say that Sweetie?"
"Well, she keeps going on about how she's been traveling in a time machine, meeting aliens, and fighting monsters! She even said she had been worshiped by a bunch of primitive aliens! The, uh, the…umm…Zopy? No…Zattie? Shoot…Zentraedi?"
"The Zottil," Twilight said before she could stop herself.
"Zottil, yeah! She-" Sweetie said before realizing. "…Waitaminute…How did you…?" Twilight cleared her throat awkwardly. "…It's true?"
"I really need to talk to Rarity," she said, pushing her way in.
"By Celestia!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed. "Rarity said you'd been with her the whole time! You and all your friends! You all went! Wait until Apple Bloom and Scootaloo hear about this!"
Twilight sighed in frustration. 'Applejack's probably told her family too! If we're not careful we could all get sectioned…until I ask Princess Celestia to pardon us, that is…'
Rarity entered the room and saw Twilight. "Oh! Twilight, is there something wrong?"
"Nothing wrong…" she said sheepishly. "…I was just wondering if you had a gemstone to spare. See, I haven't seen Spike in a long time and I wanted to surprise him with a treat."
Rarity smiled and nodded as she went off to her jewel box. "Yes of course dear! I think I have a cloudy ruby around here somewhere, no good for actual jewelry or decoration, I just use them for stand-ins whilst I embroider the proper patterns for the finished product," she produced a rather large clouded ruby. "Ah! Here it is, I heard Spike say clouded rubies are just as good as clear ones, albeit with a sharper taste. He said that they were definitely something to have with a nip of Cabernet Sauvignon or a nice rich Zinfandel."
"So that's where all my wine has been going…" Twilight said, a small amount of irritation in her voice.
"Zecora is staying with you for a while right?" Rarity said as she put the gem into a small ornate box. "I can't believe I forgot that her house was destroyed! It all seems so long ago…"
"It was long ago for us. I bet the wreckage is still burning!" Twilight said, shaking her head. "It takes a bit of getting used to, dropping in and out of time like that, going everywhere, seeing so much…"
Rarity paused and looked over at Twilight, it was fitting that someone who reads so much could be easily read in return. "Twilight…he'll come back."
"He didn't come back for them…" She muttered.
The purple unicorn sighed and shook her head. "Rarity, you think we're the first people he's traveled with? The Doctor's old, I mean really old."
"Yes," she said thoughtfully. "He's a looker for a stallion of nine-hundred…very shapely haunches…"
Twilight almost responded to that last part before relenting. "I don't think he's nine-hundred…I think he's a lot older than that! But anyway, he told me that he's had at least two dozen people he's traveled with, barring all of them dying how can you explain the fact that he was alone when we found him?"
Rarity paused. "…All I meant was that The Doctor doesn't seem the type to break a promise. Don't worry Twilight, The Doctor will be back in no time and you'll be back off to the stars!"
"We'll see…" Twilight said wistfully.
A knock at the door turned both their heads, a familiar drawl sounding through the wood. "Rarity? Rarity! You there?"
"Applejack?" Rarity said before turning to Sweetie Belle. "Oh!"
She ran over to the door and opened it, a somewhat nervous looking Applejack walking into the boutique. "Rarity! Ah don't want tah worry you, but have you seen-" she said as she looked over at Sweetie Belle. "Sweetie Belle! Oh thank Celestia you're safe! Ah'm sorry Rarity, it's just that we left Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle with Granny Smith an'-"
Rarity smiled thankfully. "No need to apologize. You and Big Mac were at work, I never expected you to watch her at all times. Anyway, it all worked out in the end!"
"Still…" Applejack said seriously. "Ah brought Apple Bloom here to 'pologize fer puttin' Sweetie in danger like that!"
A somewhat downtrodden Apple Bloom shuffled out from behind Applejack. "Ah'm sorry Rarity."
"You're forgiven Apple Bloom," Rarity said warmly. "Now why don't you and Sweetie Belle go play for a bit, I've got a suit I should get to work on!"
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle voiced their agreements and shot out of the room giggling and chattering to one another.
"A suit? Fer that Stardust feller?" Applejack said, with eyebrow raised.
"The same!" Rarity said proudly. "He sent me a message with regarding his choice of fabric with this!" she said as she produced the Emerald Contact Combine.
"An ECC?!" Twilight exclaimed. "B-but those are barely in production yet!"
"One of the perks of owning the company that makes them is early acquisition," said a somewhat deep refined voice.
The ponies turned around to see the form of a tall thin white diamond dog and two ponies, one of who was Rainbow Dash.
Twilight gasped and rushed forward, her eyes aglow with excitement. "Mr. Stardust! Celestia's mane! I can't believe I'm talking to-er-all of my equipment have Stardust-brand components, I find they're the highest quality outside of special-grown Canterlot gem mediums-oh I haven't introduced myself, have I? That's so rude-I'm sorry-I'm-"
"Twilight Sparkle," he said with a smile.
Twilight inhaled sharply in shock. "You know my name?"
"Indeed. The fact that Princess Celestia's star pupil almost exclusively patronizes our products is a point of pride amidst our marketing team," he said before pointing to the other ponies in the room. "I also know of Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy. I did a little research after you and your friends showed up in that box."
Rarity stepped forward with a large smile on her face. "Mr. Stardust-er-Zeit! How good it is to see you again! I hope you don't mind me asking, but why have you come here?"
Zeit cleared his throat and looked at the cream-orange mare at his side, who cast him a stern look back. "Just stopping by on my way to…official business. A recent development, I sent the ECC before its occurrence."
"Mr. Stardust…" The unicorn mare said flintily.
"Excuse me mares, I have not introduced my counselor. Allow me to introduce Litigia Statute, she pulls my choke chain when I get too…yappy."
The mare donned a severe expression and said. "May I remind Mr. Stardust of his duty to his company? Details regarding the nature of this trip are strictly need-to-know."
He cleared his throat and turned to Rarity. "Which is why I dropped by. I'm afraid that this business will detain me from the Grand Gala, thus negating my need for a suit."
Rarity blinked in surprise. "O-oh…I see…well, at least you had the good character to tell me in person…"
"Indeed…" Zeit said, watching as the young unicorn held back her disappointment. "…Which is why I've decided to treat you to an all expenses paid weekend at Dragon Valley Resort!"
Litigia gasped in shock, green eyes wide. "Sir?!"
He continued. "…For Ms. Rarity and…" he turned to one of his body guards. "Feist, how many spare rooms do we have on board?"
The enormous diamond dog responded with a refined voice unfitting of his huge stature. "Three rooms Your Excellency; one three-bed family room, one three bed steerage compartment, and a single VIP luxury suite."
Zeit turned back to the ponies. "…Seven friends of her choosing!"
Rarity's mouth hung open in shock. "The Dragon Valley Resort? With the magical hot springs rumored to take years off one's appearance?"
"Not that you need it Ms. Rarity."
Twilight stepped forward. "The resort near the mine that's the source of 80% of all of Equestria's spell-medium gems?"
"More like 88.34%, Ms. Sparkle."
"Isn't that a place fer rich, powerful business people?" Applejack said hopefully.
"From all over Equestria! Many of them are advertisers and marketers! Were one to, say, charm them with a hearty hoof-shake and a winning smile they'd be inclined to promote just about anything to just about everyone!" he said before turning to Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. "Ms. Dash, the thermals above Mount Calcipher make for some of the best flying on the planet…but only the best fliers can master them; and with all those aforementioned advertisers around, who knows, good things are bound to come from such mastery! Ms. Pie, the local bakeries and confectionaries are without peer outside of Canterlot, and the parties can go on for days!" he smiled and turned to all the ponies. "So…interested?"
Rarity, Twilight, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash all huddled together in a circle.
Applejack nodded. "Ah say we go! It's just fer th'weekend! And ah'm sure ah can drum up some advertisement fer the Apple Clan!"
"Yeah! I've heard Spitfire of the Wonderbolts got found by the team after riding Mount Calcipher!" Rainbow Dash said in an excited whisper.
Rarity smiled. "Well, far be it from me to turn down such a generous offer! Applejack, do you think Big Macintosh and Granny Smith would mind looking after Sweetie Belle for a few more days?"
"Not at all Rarity, Granny Smith loves havin' Sweetie around!"
"I wonder if Dragon Valley bakeries have gorble eggs?" Pinkie muttered. "Only one way to find out!"
"Yeah! And there's a whole mess a'critters and whatnot fer Fluttershy to gawk at!" Applejack said excitedly.
"I don't know…" Twilight said quietly. "…We just got back. Shouldn't we at least-"
"I bet he'll take us there in his big pretty airship!" Pinkie said enthusiastically.
"He has an airship? Here?" Twilight said.
"Oh yeah!" Rainbow Dash said, a smile on her face, knowing just which buttons to push. "Great big thing, seems to use some kind of magic crystal technology to get around. Landed it on the other end of town!"
Twilight stood up, a big smile on her face. "When do we leave?"
"As soon as possible," Zeitgeist said with a smile.
Zeitgeist made his way towards the Brünhild's ramp, followed closely by Litigia and his two bodyguards. "That went well."
Litigia scoffed and cast him a harsh look, her cold green eyes locking onto his grey ones. "Well?! What part of 'need-to-know' did you not understand? Now we'll have that little diva and seven of her cackling friends traipsing about where they don't belong! If they learn of what's going on at the mine it could be very bad for the company's image!"
Zeitgeist smiled and gestured calmingly. "Settle down Litigia, that 'little diva' as you call her is the key to Stardust Industry's future monopoly. I was merely facilitating her future cooperation. Besides, they'll all be too busy with their respective obsessions to bother with our business. Like all ponies they're single minded, easy to distract with the right stimuli…no offense."
"None taken. Ours is a society of savants, it's how we got to where we are," Litigia said with pride. "It fills me with confidence that you know my people so well, manipulative bastards are always a viable investment."
"You flatter me," Zeit said flatly.
One of the bodyguards raised a paw to his ear, touching a finger to the blinking carved gem in his ear. "Your Excellency, the superintendant of Calcipher-Del-Kaffelerram Mine is on line three. He says his security force has apprehended one of the…'perpetrators'."
"Very good Hahnenkam, tell him I'll be a few minutes," Zeit said, good-natured smile disappearing from his face. "Also tell him I should like to have this 'perpetrator' interrogated…aggressively."
"By your command," Hahnenkam said.
Twilight burst into the library, a huge smile on her face. "Zecora! Spike! I've got a surprise for you!"
Spike rushed down the stairs and jumped at Twilight, catching her in a big hug. Twilight smiled through partially gritted teeth, most ponies didn't realize that Spike was far stronger than he looked and right now he was just a little too overcome with joy to reign himself. "Twilight! Oh! I was so worried when you didn't come back for the night!"
"Spike, I tucked you in last night, you knew I was alright!" Twilight said affectionately, touched by the young dragon's sentiment.
"Well, yeah, but ever since that Doctor guy showed up things have been weird! That cloud, that thing inside the cloud, I was just scared that something else got you!"
Twilight drew him in close, she hadn't quite realized how much she had missed Spike until she had seen him sleeping that morning; she just had to give him something special. "Oh! That's right. Spike, I have a gift for you."
She handed him the box and he looked at it. "What is it?"
"Open it up and see!"
Spike tore away the box in a matter of seconds, his eyes widened as he produced a large red gem in his little purple hands. "Oh wow! A clouded ruby, this'll go great with the new wi…uh…this'll be great! Thanks!"
"Twilight Sparkle you are back, you found the thing that you did lack?" Zecora said as she entered the foyer of the library.
"Hey Twilight, did you hear? Monsters blew up Zecora's home!" Spike said, worried. "Can she stay with us until that gets sorted out?"
"Yes Spike, she'll be staying with us for a while, okay?" Twilight said smiling at Zecora.
"Great! I've always wanted to know how she makes that tasty tea you're always bringing home Twi!"
Twilight smiled. "The tea will have to wait! Rarity just got paid a visit from Zeitgeist Stardust, and he's taking us for a weekend at Dragon Valley Resort!"
Spike gasped. "I'm coming too?"
"Well, I need my scribe if I'm going to write to the Princess about what I've learned, right?"
Spike cheered and hugged Twilight again. "Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou! Oh! I gotta pack!"
Zecora approached her, her eyebrow raised. "To a resort you say, and without the need to pay?"
Twilight smiled. "Yep! He had to cancel the suit Rarity was making for him, but I guess he felt bad and decided to take Rarity and seven of her friends (that's us) to Dragon Valley Resort for the weekend!"
"All of us plus young Spike, what is this Mr. Stardust like?" Zecora said warily. "I of all people have come to see, that nothing in life is truly free."
Twilight was taken aback by this question, just what was Zeitgeist Stardust up to? "W-well…He seems like a nice person, very polite and obviously well regarded. I guess we'll just have to see. Worst-case scenario, we kick a little arse and Princess Celestia teleports him into the sun…or I do, I've been working on that sort of thing lately."
Zecora blinked before laughing at what she hoped was a joke. "Twilight Sparkle, I rest assured; I'm sure his motives are completely pure. You know how I like to stress and worry, now let us pack in a hurry. "
"We're still packed from this morning," Twilight said with a smirk.
Rarity stood outside the enormous airship, tapping her hoof impatiently. She turned to see Zecora, Twilight Sparkle, and Spike chatting amongst themselves, and Applejack extolling the virtues of proper business connections to Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy was excitedly talking to Rainbow Dash about the unique biosphere of Dragon Valley, something about several species of lizards unique to the area and the natural population of phoenixes being among the highest concentrations outside of their natural habitat in the big volcanic chains. Fluttershy had been surprisingly enthusiastic about the trip, but then the resort had an attraction for all of them. Obviously Zeitgeist and the business potentials stemming from a friendship with him was first and foremost on Rarity's mind; Applejack was chomping at the bit to spread the Apple Clan gospel to all the rich patrons of the resort; Pinkie Pie was surely going to bring a few alien baked goods to life, no doubt causing an uproar amidst the bakers and patrons in the process; Rainbow Dash had her sights set on the infamous air above the actively-volcanic Mount Calcipher in the hopes of being discovered by a talent agent; Twilight got to see where all her precious technology came from and she got to look at all the neat magitech of a rich well-equipped occultophile like Zeitgeist; there was no doubt something there for Zecora and Spike too; new herbs to catalogue and use, not to mention the fact that one was rumored to not be able to take ten paces without tripping over a delicious (for a dragon) gemstone; above all else this was an opportunity to unwind after a month with The Doctor.
The uptight orange unicorn mare Litigia Statute approached the group and caught their attention with a curt whistle. "Fillies and gentle…dragon. Boarding will now commence. We are expected to arrive at Dragon Valley Resort at 06:00 hours of Saturday. Flight time will be twenty-one hours at a cruising speed of one hundred fifty kilometers per hour. Altitude: five kilometers."
"Excuse me Ms. Statute…" Rarity said hesitantly. "Where is Mr. Stardust?"
She locked a cold gaze on Rarity, sending a shiver down her spine. "Mr. Stardust is indisposed at the moment. Please give your baggage to the boarding staff and they will show you to your rooms."
Zeitgeist stood before a hologram of another diamond dog, Calcipher-Del-Kaffelerram's chief of security. "Bring it in."
The diamond dog motion and two large guards hauled in what appeared to be a skinny, hairless diamond dog with a bag over its head. Its skin was the sickly green-yellow color of rotting tallow. The guards secured the creature and removed the bag. It was hideous, its face was flat save for a grotesque warty protrusion that could sparingly be called a nose, and lumps and growths dotted the leathery green skin of its face. Its lower jaw extruded a good deal out from its face, giving it a petulant and almost pitiable pouting look.
Zeit motioned and the guard to the creature's right shoved the butt of his truncheon into the creature's potbelly. "What are you doing here?!"
The creature mumbled in its own language, and was struck again. "Tell us! Do you know who you're dealing with?! Duke Stardust's patience wears thin!"
The guards then both laid into the creature with truncheons and shock sticks. Zeit merely watched for minutes as the creature was given time to regain its composure before being pummeled again. Zeit raised his hand and they stopped. "Grundel…answer me."
The creature raised its head, surprise clear in the one orange-red eye that was not swollen shut, Zeit continued. "Yes…I know of your kind. Tell me, why do your kind destroy my expensive mining machines? Kill my personnel?"
The Grundel grimaced in what could have been regret and croaked. "…No other way…must stop…must save," It gulped with a loathsome sound and continued. "The Thin White Duke and his mine will unleash the Holder of The Source of Darkness!"
Zeit stepped forward, intrigued. "Who?"
"The Great Corrupter!" The Grundel shouted as he shook back and forth and pulled against his restraints. "The Demon God Tirac!"
"What-" Zeit began to say before the Grundel stuck out his long purple tongue as far as it would go and biting down with a horrible crunching sound, cleaving it in half. A vile green ichor poured from the Grundel's mouth as he threw his back and made a series of swallowing motions followed by a string of gurgles. As a final grotesquery the Grundel's jaw proceeded to snap to one side and up, breaking it and locking it in place.
The guards rushed in and tried in vain to pry his jaws open, but to no avail. The Grundel shuddered and twitched before slumping forward dead, green blood coating the front of his mouth and dripping from his flared nostrils and wide bloodshot eyes.
"He's dead sir," The security chief said.
"I can see that you cretin," Zeit snapped. "I will be there within fifteen hours. Make the appropriate arrangements as I will be bringing my own forces."
The hologram saluted and turned off, Zeitgeist activating the comm in his room. "Captain Aufwuchs, category: Diamond; Code: Red. Execute."
"Condition Red Diamond, sire?" replied the voice.
"Best possible speed," Zeit said through gritted teeth. "Airzones be damned!"
"Right away, Your Excellency."
With a thunderous roar the Brünhild lifted off from the ground, its twelve rotating engines pushing the huge airship up into the air. The engines tilted to give the airship forward velocity as it rose, the nacelles housing the engine crystals glowed bright blue and the enormous vehicle blasted forwards and up at a reckless velocity. In less than two minutes the Brünhild was two kilometers into the air and was plowing through the clouds at over two hundred kilometers per hour. It would make Dragon Valley in less than twelve hours.
It had begun.