"Spike? Spike!" the purple Alicorn called out through the dim-lit room. Stacks of dusty books were laid out around her in an odd semi-circle, effectively cutting the newly made princess off from the rest of the library.
The little dragon's voice sounded muffled from the other side of the paper wall, and he reached one of his claws through the small gap between two of the stacks. "I'm here, Twilight."
"Spike! What are you doing out there? I need you to take a letter!" Twilight wondered in mild annoyance, using her magic to move the offending books out of the way.
Spike scratched the back of his scaly head with a soft chuckle. "I wasn't the one who built a book fort, you know?"
Princess Sparkle snorted at that, moving a dark tome in view. "I have no time for jokes, Spike. Look at this book I found!"
Spike did as told, his left eyebrow slowly rising on his face. "I am. What about it?"
"Don't you see anything peculiar about it?" the Alicorn huffed, swaying the book around in front of her dragon helper.
Spike, for his part, dutifully answered her question by slowly shaking his head from side-to-side. "Not really, no. All these books look the same to me. Now, gemstones, that's a whole different subject." He licked his lips while softly rubbing his belly, getting a dreamy look on his face.
Twilight's face darkened as she studied the dragon closely. "Look at the letters!"
Spike leaned forward and stared at the book, frowning in confusion as he tried to make sense of the title. "Those are letters?"
"YES!" Twilight all-but shouted, fluttering her wings in frustration. "Don't you see? This book is not written in the Equestrian alphabet! It predates even the oldest books we've seen in the Crystal Empire's library! This book may hold the key to Equestria's origins!"
Spike blinked blankly, but then shrugged helplessly. "Ok?"
Twilight deflated and let out a long sigh. "Just take the letter."
Celestia excused herself from the meeting room immediately after the letter appeared. Most of the planning to be done went past her anyway, as her advisers made decisions she felt were too pompous for her own liking. It was all part of being a princess, she had gotten used to it by now.
Soon would be the Summer Sun Celebration, and she once again had chosen Ponyville, the town her star pupil lived in, as the location for the main event.
Celestia lightly chuckled to herself as she let the words pass through her lips. "Star pupil," she mused, shaking her head lightly, her long mane barely moving to follow the motion. No, Twilight had surpassed that title. She was a princess now, like Celestia herself, her sister Luna, and Cadance over in the Crystal Palace.
The solar princess stared at the rolled up piece of paper floating in front of her and frowned. Twilight should be fine on her own, her magical abilities and quick thinking had saved Equestria numerous times in the past. IF she sent a letter, something serious was going on.
A nod was given to the guards on either side of the doors as she passed them by into her personal quarters and they closed the doors behind her. She set her large body down amidst the pillows which formed the main seating area in the room and folded her large wings to her side as she simultaneously unrolled Twilight's brief.
Her lavender eyes scanned the words on the paper with a quickly deepening frown. Even with Spike's poor penmanship, the message was clear as day. Twilight had found the legendary Tome of Origins. A book which had not been seen since before Luna's banishment to the moon, more than a millennia ago.
"Guard!" Celestia called out, and one of them quickly trotted in. "Find my sister," she told him, getting up from her spot to stare out the window. "And send a message to Cadance and Shining Armor to come to Canterlot as soon as they can."
The guard saluted and set in motion, galloping down the hallway while the other guard closed the doors behind him.
Celestia looked out over the lands of Equestria and let out a deep sigh. "This time Zecora won't be enough to guard the woods," she told herself, "We'll need to go to Everfree ourselves."
The sound of her poor chickens clucking in distress woke the yellow pegasus from her slumber.
"Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed, barely louder than a whisper, and quickly threw the sheets from her to canter over to the window.
"I do hope there's not another fox in the henhouse. The poor dears should know they can always ask me for some proper food," Fluttershy mused, but she did not see the usual flurry of feathers that usually accompanied such a visit.
Angel, her white bunny, came running up to her and pointed at his ears, then covered them with his paws.
Fluttershy turned to him in mild confusion, not entirely sure what the little bun was trying to tell her. "Yes, Angel, I know they make a lot of noise. I will have to go see what is going on before I can help them rest again."
Angel facepalmed and shook his head, hopping first up on the bed, then up on the windowsill to point out in the direction of the henhouse, and the Everfree Forest beyond.
Fluttershy nodded. "I will go do that now then," she decided, quickly flying down to the first floor and out into the garden.
"Oh my goodness, please calm down," she asked of the clucking chickens all waiting for her at the fence farthest from the tree line. "Can you please go back to sleep, dears? All this noise is keeping poor Angel awake."
The flock of chickens calmed down considerably at seeing their caretaker, clucking confusedly between themselves. "See? Now there's no reason to be this worked up, is there?"
Fluttershy gently flew over the fence and landed beside the lead hen, nosing her a bit closer toward the henhouse. "There, there. Now we're all calm and we can..."
Fluttershy froze mid-sentence at the loud sound coming from the direction of the Everfree Forest, and her chickens bolted in every which direction in sheer panic again!
At the repeat of the sound, the yellow pony threw herself at the ground and covered herself with both her forehooves and wings, shivering all over in a display of unadulterated panic! All thoughts of getting her hens back in their house were forgotten in her spell of mortal fear...
"And, in conclusion," Twilight orated, with the other princesses staring at her from their positions around the large oval table, "I think we need to translate what this book has to say as soon as possible!" At that, she pointed a hoof at the large tome lying before her on the table's surface.
"Thank you, Twilight," Celestia offered from the opposite end of the room, seated beside her sister Luna, "but that won't be necessary." Her large form pushed up to tower over her sister and those present.
"What? But didn't you hear what I said?" Twilight snapped, putting her forehooves on the table on either side of the book as she stared across it at her former teacher. "This book may contain the secrets to why we're here! It's the oldest book we've found yet!"
Celestia let her former student calm down, patiently waiting for her turn again before she trotted around the table, nodding at Cadance and Shining Armor in passing. "I know."
"But how? What? Since when?" Twilight decried, confusion and dismay prevalent on her face.
"Since Luna and I were first given the book by our parents," Celestia offered in a soft tone, moving to Twilight's side and giving her a gentle nudge. "Sit down, please, and I will explain all."
Twilight just stared dumbfoundedly for a moment, but then lowered her head a little and took position opposite Cadance and her brother, muttering softly to herself.
Celestia righted her stance and looked at each gathered in turn. "As you may be aware, Luna and I grew up together a few millennia ago and were forced to fight Discord when he first showed himself in our lifetime."
Several heads bobbed up and down, but Luna looked down, knowing what would come next.
"Blinded by the praise I received for locking Discord away," Celestia continued, "I did not realize my darling sister was being taken by a darkness which ultimately turned her against me. You all know how that played out. If it wasn't for princess Sparkle, my sister would have still been trapped by the darkness, and Equestria with her."
Luna nodded solemnly to that, but dared to look up at Twilight with a thankful smile.
"The darkness that gripped my sister was known to us before we had even met Discord. It has been described in the book that Twilight unearthed from the library underneath our old palace. The same palace which once held the Elements of Harmony."
All eyes turned back to Celestia at this.
"Luna and I received this book from our parents," Celestia offered, motioning towards the tome on the table, "and we can both read the alphabet used in it. We know what it says."
Twilight jumped up at that. "What does it say?"
Celestia smiled at her former pupil's continued eagerness to learn everything there was to learn about the world around her, but then forced her smile away in favour of a more serious look.
"The book tells of the human world, Earth, and the creatures that live there. It tells of the disciples of Faust, and the ones which came before her. It details of the experiments which ultimately led to our world coming into existence."
All but Luna stared at her with dumbfounded expressions, and Celestia closed her eyes.
"The first generations failed much in the same way as the spells of unicorns first learning to use their magic. There were elements in there which we covet, as they led up to our world as we know it today, but mostly they lacked depth and solidity. They were not meant to last."
Celestia focused and conjured the image of a white Alicorn with a red mane and tail over the table, her cutiemark showing an ink well with a quill hovering in front of it. "It wasn't until this pony, Faust, that our world finally took form and substance. A portal was created between Earth and Equestria, and the humans came to this world to see what they had crafted."
"Unfortunately, they brought with them the demons from their own world. Anger, jealousy, the emotions which we all know do nothing to maintain the harmony on which Equestria was built."
Shining snorted, and Celestia smirked at him. "Their demons created the evil elements of our world. The changelings, the timberwolves, the diamond dogs," she paused for a moment. "Discord."
"So why call for this meeting, Celestia?" Cadance wondered, "I mean, if it's just about the book, you would not have let Shining and me come all the way from the Crystal Palace."
Celestia shook her head and sighed, nudging the book on the table with one of her forehooves. "This book should have never been found. The only way to close the portal between Earth and Equestria, to close the gateway through which evil found its way into our lands, was to lose it."
Twilight's face lit up as she got what Celestia was talking about. She always was a quick one.
"This tome was used by our parents as an anchor for the spell. As long as it remained lost, it would keep the barriers between worlds closed. As long as nopony knew where it was located, it would keep the humans out."
Twilight nodded solemnly. "That was a good idea."
"Until my star pupil found it, yes it was," Celestia smiled. "But now that it has been found, the portal is slowly opening again. The humans and their evil will once again be able to seep into our world from theirs."
Shining put a forehoof up on the table and Celestia nodded at him to speak.
"This may be a dumb question," he started, "but where is this portal located?"
Celestia chuckled and shook her head. "Not a dumb question at all. It is just what I expected from the former captain of my royal guards."
Shining blushed lightly behind his fur and pulled his forehoof back from the table.
"The portal," Celestia began, leaning forward a bit, "is in the Everfree Forest."
"The Everfree Forest?" Twilight decried.
"Yes, Twilight," Celestia responded with a light smirk, "the Everfree Forest. There is a reason why we asked Zecora to live there."
Twilight looked dumbstruck at the revelations. "Zecora?"
"Yes," Celestia repeated again. "She's waiting for us to arrive the day before the Summer Sun Celebration. From what I've heard, the humans have already started to arrive."
"Now what the hay are ya talkin' about, Fluttershy?" Applejack wondered with a deepening frown, trying to make sense of her pegasus friend's scared babbling.
"A.. a... a noise... fr.. fr... from th... the forest!" Fluttershy stammered again, still looking around herself like a mare possessed, almost as if she were expecting a pack of timberwolves to appear out of nowhere and guzzle her up.
"Why, it sounds like the poor dear heard a noise coming from the forest," Rarity repeated, looking out from behind her designer glasses. "How dreadful. There, there." And, with that, she gently moved one of her forehooves to pat Fluttershy on the back.
The comforting gesture had the exact opposite effect, as the poor yellow pegasus' nerves were beyond frazzled, and she leapt a few feet into the air in surprise, bowling over Rainbow Dash who had been hovering above. Fluttershy quickly grabbed a hold of her friend, and if it wasn't for Rainbow's strong wings the both of them would have plummeted straight down again.
As it was, Rainbow merely gasped for air while trying to detach Fluttershy from her form again in mid-air, raising an eyebrow at her friend's behaviour. "When did I turn into a comfort pillow?"
"Oh, but you would make a darling pillow, Rainbow dear," Rarity chuckled. "I'm sure you'd look absolutely adorable in an art nouveau decor."
"Har har," Rainbow grumbled, finally managing to detach herself from the clingy Fluttershy.
"So what are we waiting for?" Pinkie decried loudly, as an embarrassed Fluttershy landed near the group again. "We should go investigate! Remember what my grandma said;" and she took a deep breath of air.
Before Pinkie Pie could start off in a new rendition of Giggle at the Ghostly however, an orange hoof moved to cover her mouth. "Ah would appreciate it if yah'd wait until we got word from Twilight, Pinkie," Applejack sighed, removing her hoof only after Pinkie mumbled "Ok!" from behind it.
"Talking about our princess friend," Rainbow scoffed, "Where is she? Do I have to fly over to Canterlot to get her purple butt back down here, or is she ever going to come home?"
"I'm sure she has far more important matters to attend to, Rainbow darling," Rarity swooned. "Just imagine all those royal affairs. The parties! The dresses! Oooh..." She quickly moved a chair behind her and fake-fainted backward onto it.
Applejack frowned at Rarity's overly dramatic display. "Right. Look, ah think she'd be here if it was important, right? Maybe we sho..."
A flash of light interrupted Applejack, and all the ponies turned to face the purple Alicorn who had appeared on the field beside them, the glow around her horn slowly dissipating as her teleport spell finalized.
All the ponies, except for Fluttershy. The bright flash alone was enough to send the frazzled pegasus in a scared stupor again, and Rainbow made some annoyed noises as she was once again used as a comfort zone for her friend.
"Girls! I'm so glad to find you all in one place! I have terrible... Why is Fluttershy clinging to Rainbow Dash?" Twilight started, raising an eyebrow at the sight before her.
"She was tellin' us about the noises comin' from the Everfree Forest, Twilight," Applejack explained. "We had been wonderin' when you'd come here."
"I'm here now?" Twilight offered, watching Fluttershy blush as she detached herself from Rainbow again. "What noises?"
"Ah, see, I... er... my chickens were all in a panic. And I thought at first it might have been a fox in the henhouse, but those poor foxes know they can come to me for food at any time," Fluttershy started, her voice barely above a whisper, and her explanation diverting from the point she was trying to make.
"I found her cowering in her chicken enclosure earlier this morning, Twilight," Rainbow cut in. "She was talking about hearing a sound like AROOOOO!"
Fluttershy immediately meeped and dove into a nearby bush to hide behind it at Rainbow's best timberwolf impression.
Twilight facehooved. "I already know about those. It's why we need you girls to join me and the other princesses as we go visit Zecora tomorrow."
"In the Everfree Forest?" Fluttershy piped up, but then whimpered as Twilight nodded. "Oh my goodness..."
It was a strange procession that made its way into the Everfree Forest, on the morning of the day before the Summer Sun Celebration.
In the lead was a Pinkie Pie as bouncy as a Pinkie Pie could be, eagerly singing her new song; Giggle at the Forestry. It was basically the same song as Giggle at the Ghostly, but she had changed a few words in a way which didn't quite fit with the song's rhythm.
It didn't phase her though, and she sang her song loud enough to send birds and small critters rushiing for safer grounds long before she would come near them.
Behind her, walking side-by-side, were the sister princesses; Celestia and Luna, trying to talk to one another in hushed tones in the brief pauses where Pinkie drew breath. They were dressed in formal attire, freshly polished shoes on their hooves and their crowns sparkling in the sunlight reaching through the canopy above.
Twilight, Cadance, and Shining Armor walked directly behind them, the latter looking like a proper guard; his head turning every which way in search of anything that might wish to jump out of the bushes, while his ears were trying to follow the conversation his wife and sister had.
The slightly more disorganized group in the rear was made up of the remaining Element of Harmony bearers. Applejack and Rainbow Dash took turns to make sure Fluttershy continued onward, while Rarity was lost in her own world, complaining non-stop about how the mud would get on her polished shoes, how the twigs would pull her dress apart, how the canopy overhead didn't let nearly enough light through to show her freshly washed mane...
Celestia had told her guards to wait at the entrance of the forest, and Spike had chosen to stay behind to "make sure the guards would not go out of line". Twilight knew the little dragon was scared of the forest, and she had agreed to him staying behind. She felt better knowing her assistant was out of harm's way anyway. Who knew what horrors the humans would bring with them?
It didn't take long for the group to reach the clearing in which Zecora's house was located, and they stopped at the edge as they saw the Zebra stand just outside, clearly waiting for them. An odd looking orange horn was held in her right hoof, and she was in the process of lifting it to her muzzle. She locked her lips around it and blew air through the thin end of the weird thing.
"UHUAAOOOOOOOOOOO!" it exclaimed loudly, making Fluttershy cling to Rainbow's side yet again.
"Really?" Rainbow sighed, moving to get free from her friend's grasp.
"Ooh! That's cool! What is it?" Pinkie offered, bouncing over to Zecora.
"A vuvuzela is its name. Don't you think timberwolves sound much the same?" Zecora replied, wisely keeping the device out of reach from Pinkie's grabby hooves.
"Yes. Yes, it does." Celestia nodded. "It is good to see you again, Zecora. Although I wish it were under different circumstances. What is the news from the portal?"
"Only one came through since the portal returned to my sight," Zecora offered, pointing a hoof towards a shimmering oval a little away from them. "She has been waiting for you, why don't you head inside?"
Celestia and Luna shared a confused look, but then set in motion to the Zebra's tree house, closely followed by the rest of the group.
As they stepped into Zecora's home, they were greeted by a white-coated alicorn, softly sipping her tea. Her red mane sat atop a friendly face, and her red tail lay loosely over her hind legs, half hiding the ink well and quill that were her cutiemark.
"Hello, my children," Faust offered in a warm voice, lowering her cup to the table in front of her. "I've been expecting you."