“Once upon a time in the magical land of Equestria, a regal pony spread harmony and friendship throughout the land. But as time went on, the rulers from surrounding kingdoms grew jealous of the happiness and prosperity in Equestria. For years they watched ponies flock to her beautiful lands, and their anger and jealousy transformed them into wicked beasts of darkness, and their kingdoms were brought to ruin. One fateful day, the four dark rulers united in hopes of conquering Equestria and shrouding the land in eternal darkness. Fearing for the well-being of her subjects, the regal pony used the most powerful magic known to ponydom: the Elements of Harmony. Using their power, she vanquished the wicked ponies and banished them within the kingdoms from whence they came. With harmony restored to Equestria, the kingdom continued to thrive and the magic of friendship has reigned throughout the land ever since.”
With a sigh of nostalgia, Celestial Sky turned away from the gigantic tapestry hanging on the wall and looked to her mentor. “That was one of my favorite stories when I was a filly. It took a lot of work getting this tapestry up on the wall, but it was worth it!”
“Yes, I find it quite interesting myself,” Princess Twilight Sparkle said while staring up at the woven image that depicted the fillies story, "The Tale of Harmony." She looked around the room and sighed with a smile. “You did a fantastic job setting up this museum. It certainly brings back many memories for me, and for that I thank you.”
“It was my pleasure, princess,” Sky said.
“I trust you are ready for your next assignment?” she said as she walked out of the tapestry hall.
“Oh!” She trotted after the princess and made a quill and a roll of parchment snap out of thin air with a spark from her horn. “A new assignment? Yes!” She positioned her quill and looked up from the parchment with an eager smile. “Ready!”
“As you know, this museum is opening tonight. Although you were originally supposed to return to Canterlot after setting things up, I would like you to stay here for the evening to host the grand opening.”
Sky stopped writing abruptly and looked up from the parchment, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by the mere thought of such a task. “But your highness, I’ve never even hosted a birthday party, let alone a museum opening.”
Princess Twilight laughed, “I am aware of that, but after all the hard work you have put into this place, I think no pony deserves the honor of hosting the grand opening more than you.”
Sky looked down and smiled upon hearing Princess Twilight praise her efforts. Not a smile of arrogance but rather a smile of happiness, for she knew that she pleased her mentor, and there wasn’t anything in Sky’s world that filled her with more joy.
“By the way,” she continued, “I trust you are making some friends.”
“Excuse me?” she said as she put away her writing materials.
“Make some friends…” she said the way a mother gently reminds a child of a forgotten chore or a misplaced toy. Sky, however, felt as if she had received a rock from her special somepony on Hearts and Hooves Day.
“That was an assignment?”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it an assignment.” She shrugged. “But yes, if that is what you would like to call it.”
Sky stood before her mentor and bit her lips as she tried coming up with a reasonable excuse that would justify her negligence while simultaneously preserving her reputation. When nothing came to mind, she lowered her head and sighed.
“I’m sorry, princess,” she confessed. “I’ve been really busy with the museum, and when I am finished with work I’m too exhausted to go out and meet ponies. But I promise, after tonight I will make some friends!”
“I trust that you will. But just to be sure that you don’t put this off any longer, I would like you to write a report about your new friend. I will expect you to present it to me tonight after the grand opening, understood?”
“Yes, of course!” Sky replied immediately.
“Good.” She nodded once. “Before I leave, let me introduce you to your new assistant, Angel Eye. She will be assisting you with museum security, and I’m sure she’ll be more than willing to offer you a helping hoof if you need one.”
She looked toward the doorway leading into the next room and a pegasus with a lavender coat and a long flowing yellow mane emerged from around the corner. She gave her princess a slow bow before smiling timidly at Sky. Unsure of how to react to such a withdrawn smile, Sky simply smiled back and tried her best to avoid looking uncomfortable.
Princess Twilight walked toward the museum entrance, breaking the silence. “Now, I have some last minute things to attend to before the grand opening tonight, and when I return I trust that everything will be in order.”
“Oh, yes, princess. Of course!” Sky said, feeling grateful for an excuse to break eye contact with the strange pony. She followed the princess to her royal chariot while listing off minor tasks that she would be completing during the afternoon, hoping to assure her mentor that she had everything under control.
“Now, Sky,” Princess Twilight interrupted her ramblings. “You will complete the task I gave you, yes?” she asked as she climbed onto her golden chariot.
Sky stared up at her with a blank expression, but when she recalled the bizarre assignment she was given three weeks ago, she mumbled, “Y-yes: make some friends...oh, and have a report ready after the grand opening.”
“Very good. I will return when the sun sets at seven o’clock.”
“Yes, princess,” she said and bowed.
Her guards stomped their hoofs, signaling that they were prepared for flight. With a few trots from the pegasus, the princess’s chariot lifted off the ground and headed toward Canterlot. As she flew away from the small town, she sat up straight with her chin raised like the Equestrian ruler she was, her glittering mane flowing elegantly through the wind.
Once she was out of sight, Sky immediately stood up and ran back into the museum thinking of all the things she had to do before the fast approaching evening. There was still polishing, mopping, and aligning that needed to be done. She worked furiously on every little detail she could find, inwardly praising herself for her proactivity the entire time. Were it not for that, she was convinced there would have been no hope for the grand opening.
Before focusing her energy on setting up the complementary food, which had been prepared by a caterer earlier in the morning, she trotted through the museum one last time to make sure there wasn’t a single misplaced artifact or misaligned display. When she entered the jewelry hall, she was so glad double-checking her work was second nature for her because she found a pedestal that wasn’t exactly ninety degrees adjacent to both the wall and the pedestals beside it.
With her eyes locked on the implied square occupying the floor, she carefully reached out her hooves and proceeded to adjust it with extreme precision. Just as she was about to get it into a perfect position, an unfamiliar voice broke the silence.
Sky, being yanked out of deep focus, shrieked and bumped the pedestal, sending the showcase falling to the floor, which ignited an explosion of pure terror within her. But before Sky could even attempt to save the museum from an unsalvageable catastrophe that would shake the very foundations of Equestria, the lavender pony pushed her aside, slid into a low squat with an outstretched wing, and caught the glass case just before it smashed into pieces.
Though Sky laid on the floor feeling relieved, shocked, amazed, and grateful all at the same time, she only managed to shout, “Don’t scare me like that!”
The lavender pony got up with the artifact and put it back on the pedestal where it belonged. While she aligned it with the pedestal, she said, “I’m so sorry.”
This pony, who had just demonstrated remarkable speed and reaction time, had the gentlest voice Sky had ever heard. Judging from the way she spoke and the smile she gave her when they were introduced, Sky deduced that she was a shy pony, and seeing these seemingly opposing sides of her was uncanny to say the least. She got up from the floor and composed herself. “Sorry. Thank you so much! I guess the princess was right to bring you here.”
“Don’t mention it.” She turned away from the artifact, which was now perfectly aligned – pedestal and all. “But I can help you, Celestial Sky. That is why I was sent here, after all.”
Sky scanned the pony’s work for a final time, and when she was pleased with what she saw, she turned to her and said, “I see…” Although her work was passable, she still wasn’t one hundred percent confident that this pony was capable of being her assistant. “Well…the food is next. I guess you can get that started…um…”
She gave her that withdrawn smile again, and answered, “Angel Eye.”
“Angel Eye,” she repeated. “Yeah…just get the food set up in the lobby, and try to make it as neat as you possibly can. I mean, like Grand Galloping Gala buffet table neat!”
For the next hour, Sky double checked the rest of the museum for any misplaced information panels and spot-cleaned the rooms she feared she may have overlooked. She walked to the lobby and readied herself for the results of Angel Eye’s food preparation. As soon as she entered the room, her eyes widened with astonishment. Not only was the food set up, the red carpet was laid out and all the lobby decorations were set up exactly the way she envisioned it as well. Sky ran to the window and looked at the sun, which was still well above the horizon.
“How did I do?” Angel Eye sat on the floor and crossed her front legs.
“This is great!” she exclaimed. “How did you know what to do?”
“Well…I arranged the food the best I could, like you told me. As for the decorations, well, I found the instructions that came with them.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing that I drew out my decorations plans the night before; who knows how things might have turned out otherwise!” Sky said as she evaluated the snack table.
When Sky approved the food table, she stood upright and spun around to face Angel Eye. “Now for my final assignment,” she declared, and then she proceeded to walk over to one of the cushioned lobby benches. “Come, sit.” She patted her hoof on the seat next to her.
Sky conjured her parchment and quill for her essay, confident this would be her easiest assignment ever! After all, how does one fail an assignment that may as well be the equivalent of a filly’s what-I-did-over-the-summer elementary school paper?
She cleared her throat and then said, “So tell me about yourself, Angel Eye. What is your favorite color? What are your hobbies? Do you, a Pegasus living here in Ponyville, prefer to trot or fly? Tell me about your family, friends, and acquaintances. Are they all-”
“Excuse me, Ms. Celestial Sky?” she barely raised her hoof over her head like an intimidated student.
“Yes?” She beamed with an eager twinkle in her eye.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Angel snapped her hoof back to her side. “But, um…what are you doing?”
“Becoming your friend,” she answered as she wrote: ‘Angel Eye is inquisitive, an admirable trait in any pony.’ She looked up from her parchment. “What do you think I’m doing? Now let’s stay focused here, Angel Eye. I have to get this done before the princess arrives.”
“I beg your pardon, but don’t you have any friends?”
“Friends?” she repeated, barely listening to her. “Of course I do. What pony doesn’t?”
“Do they call you ‘friend’?”
Sky looked up and narrowed her eyes, and her quill flopped in her invisible grasp. “I don’t understand.”
Angel Eye got up from the bench. “You want to go get a bite to eat?”
“Not really,” she replied rather bluntly. “I’d like to finish this first.”
“Well, I’m getting kind of hungry, and I know another pony who can probably help you a lot more than I can…if that’s ok with you.”
Sky gave an exasperated sigh and put away her quill and parchment. “Very well then.” She stood from the bench and proceeded to lock up the museum. “I suppose it’s better that we eat something now than run the risk of picking food off the tables later.”
Once the museum was locked up, Sky created a makeshift ‘Out to Lunch’ sign and hung it on the door. Though she didn’t like the idea of leaving the museum unattended in the middle of the day, fearing that something might go wrong or that Princess Twilight might return unexpectedly, she knew she had to finish her assignment, and obviously this socially inept pony wasn’t going to get her anywhere. So she followed Angel Eye and tried her best to conceal her impatience.
“So who is this friend of yours?” Sky asked, hoping this new pony wouldn’t turn out to be just like Angel Eye. After all, friends typically find common ground based on personality or interests.
“Oh…she’s wonderful. I’ve known her since I was a filly in Cloudsdale.”
Sky was starting to notice a trait in this pony. There was a genuine kindness and an alluring gentleness within her, Sky had no doubt about that; however, it didn’t change the fact that Sky could only grin awkwardly as she tried thinking of ways to keep the conversation going. When nothing came to mind, she chose to walk in silence until she met this other pony who might actually do her some good.
Angel Eye led Sky to a simple white framed house on the outskirts of Ponyville. There were rows of cherry trees, strawberry bushes, and many other types of berry bushes next to the house and a big red barn. They walked onto the porch, complete with a porch swing, and Angel Eye tapped on a screen door. Within seconds they were greeted by a pink pony with blue eyes. What fascinated Sky most was the curls in the pony’s white mane, which almost looked like picture perfect whipped cream.
“Hey, Angel! What brings you here?”
“Oh, I just wanted to stop by to introduce you to my co-worker – she’s new to Ponyville. And maybe we could get some cake…if you’re not busy right now.”
‘Sheesh, she's even timid around her friends,’ Sky thought.
“Well, come on in!” the pony said. When Sky approached the doorway, the pink pony shook her hoof and said, “Hello there! My name is Strawberry Shortcake, and what’s your name?”
Sky had grown so accustomed to Angel Eye’s soft voice that this pony’s forceful, energy-filled greeting took her by surprise. “I’m Celestial Sky. Your friend said that you might be able to help me with an assignment.”
“Did she now?” Strawberry Shortcake turned back to Angel Eye and grinned. “What kind of assignment is it?” she said as she closed the door behind her.
“I need to make a friend.” Sky declared boldly while she conjured up her quill and parchment again. “So tell me about yourself, Strawberry Shortcake. What is your favorite color? What are your hobbies? Do you, a Pegasus living here in Ponyville prefer to-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” she interrupted. “Slow down, now! Take a saddle off and come on over here and have a piece of cake.”
Sky stared at the two ponies in bewilderment as they started cutting up a blueberry cake; it was as if they were completely oblivious to her assignment. With a low grumble, she put away her quill and parchment for the second time today without any progress, and she reluctantly sat with them.
“How big would you like your piece to be?” Strawberry Shortcake asked, holding a knife over the cake.
“Surprise me,” Sky grumbled, feeling certain that she would never finish her assignment.
“So, Celestial Sky, where are you from, and what brings you out here to Ponyville?”
Like a Canterlot messenger declaring a royal degree, Sky sat up straight and raised her head so that her chin was parallel to the floor. “Princess Twilight has personally sent me from Canterlot with the task of assembling the Ponyville museum.”
“Ah, you mean the one in that big old tree?”
“I was wondering if that place would ever be used for anything. It’s been off limits for Twilight knows how long!
“Me too,” Angel Eye said. “I’ve heard it’s been empty for decades.”
“Yep,” she said to Angel Eye. She looked at Sky and continued. “But we’re not the ones who should be talking about that. We are pegasi who moved here, after all.” She reached across the table and bumped hooves with Angel Eye.
After their odd gesture, she continued, “But what I do know is that the folks around here sure are excited about this. Ever since the day those royal carriages showed up and started moving stuff in there, everypony has been talking about it! If I may, I just want to thank you for coming here and doing this. I’m sure they have plenty of fancy historical museums up there in Canterlot. Hay, even Cloudsdale has stuff like that. So you can imagine how much it means to the ponies around here to have a place to represent their history.”
“How interesting…” Sky said before taking a bite of cake. Her patience was wearing thin, but she did her best to control herself. She swallowed and said, “I don’t mean to be rude Strawberry Shortcake, but-”
“Call me Berry,” she inserted. “I’ve learned that Strawberry Shortcake is quite a lot to say.”
“Ok then…Berry, I have an assignment to complete before the princess returns for the museum’s opening so let’s try this again!” She brought out her writing materials. “What is your favorite color? What are your-”
“Oh, this again?” Berry interrupted. “Miss Sky, you can’t go around like you’re setting everypony up for an interview. I ain’t applying to be your friend, you know,” she teased.
Sky sighed. “Well, would you mind humoring me just this once? I have to finish this report by sundown, so I don’t have time to build a friendship by initiating multiple encounters in hopes of progressing from courteous small talk to more intimate conversation. I don’t know if you Ponyville types understand this, but when the Princess of Equestia requires something from you, you do it. And if circumstances or social norms must be adjusted accordingly, so be it. Now unless you have a more efficient way of making friends in a matter of hours, which I highly doubt, I’ll happily take your advice.
She waited for a reply that she knew she wouldn’t get.
“No? Alright then. Now please, just answer my questions and this will be nice and quick for all of us.”
Sky closed her eyes and forcefully placed the tip of her quill on the parchment. When she opened her eyes, Angel Eye quickly turned away from her, and though Sky didn’t want to admit it, the awkward silence made her realize her harshness. She started feeling bad about what she said, but before she could apologize, Strawberry Shortcake stood up and glared intensely at her.
“Now listen here, Celestial Sky! I don’t know who you are or who you think are - you can be the princess’s right hand pony for all I care, but you will not talk to me or my friends that way.”
“Um…berry.” Angel Eye started to say, but Strawberry Shortcake cut her off.
“And truth be told: I think the princess would be disappointed with the way you’re handling this assignment. It goes against everything she has ever taught about friendship!”
Sky was so taken aback by Strawberry Shortcake that her magic ceased to flow from her horn, causing her writing materials fall to the floor. Was this pony right? Had she inadvertently crossed a line of common decency in her attempts to complete an assignment? Surely the princess would understand that that hadn’t been her intention. Unsure of what this meant or what it could potentially amount to, she stood up, put away her quill and parchment, and ran out the door.
“Sky?” Angel Eye pleaded.
“Miss Sky!” Strawberry Shortcake called out to her, but she was already out of earshot.
She ran from the farm and into Ponyville, so flustered that she tripped on a vine growing out of a crack in the road. Without a coherent thought in her head, she paid no mind to the onlooking ponies and continued to run toward the museum. When she was about two hundred yards away from the museum, she heard another set of hoofsteps rapidly approaching her from behind. Just as she was about to look back, an orange earth pony with a multicolored mane and tail entered into her view.
“You like running too?” the pony asked as she matched her pace with Sky. “Let’s race to that big tree!”
Anypony could see that this earth pony wasn’t running as fast as she could, and though it was bizarre, Sky continued running even though she was starting to get tired at this point. There was something about the way this pony’s face lit up while she ran that made Sky forget her mishap with Strawberry Shortcake. As odd as it was for her, all she wanted to do in this moment was run with this stranger.
They drew closer and closer to the tree, and since this pony had been adjusting her speed, Sky assumed she would allow her win or at least come close. But when they were within fifty meters of the door, she lowered her head like a trained athlete and sprinted to the museum entrance at a remarkable speed.
The pony skidded to a stop and flicked her bangs off her face. “Ha! Looks like I win! That was fun!” She laughed.
While Sky struggled to catch her breath, she noticed that this pony remained unfazed despite running much, much faster than her. It was then that she noted the satchel she was wearing, which was filled with letters and small parcels.
“Yeah, that was kinda fun. Thanks.” Sky smiled in agreement. Though she didn’t want to admit it, she knew that this pony had provided the release she needed. “I’m Celestial Sky, by the way. Sorry if I kept you from your job.”
“The name’s Wind Sprint, and I’m the fastest runner in Ponyville so don’t even worry about it! I never turn down a race, even when I’m on the job. I can run from Ponyville to Bitberg in five minutes flat! So a few seconds is nothing for this earth pony!” she said and then posed like a superstar.
“For some reason, I believe you.” Sky chuckled.
“And so you should!” She flicked her bangs again. “So why were you running?”
Wind Sprint’s question suddenly reminded her of how rude she had been to Angel Eye and Strawberry Shortcake. There was no need to bore her with that story so she shrugged and said, “No reason, it was just something I felt that I needed to do.”
Wind Sprint grinned. “I like you, Celestial Sky. I’m sure we could be good friends. We should race again sometime.”
“I don’t see the point. I’ve never seen a pony run as fast as you!”
“Hey, a race is a race, and I’m looking forward to our next one already. I would love to do one right now, but I’ve gotta get this mail delivered before sundown if I want to be here for the museum’s grand opening.”
“You’re coming?!” Sky said. When she realized that Wind Sprint had no idea why she would care, she added, “I’m the curator for the museum!”
“That’s cool! So I guess I’ll see you tonight!”
“Yeah, thanks again for the race!”
“No problem! Welcome to Ponyville, Celestial Sky!” she said before running off into the distance.
As the sound of Wind Sprint’s hoofs faded, Sky heard yet another set of hoofs approaching from behind her. Was everypony going to just run up to her unexpectedly from now on? She spun around and saw Angel Eye, and though she was a familiar pony she wasn’t exactly thrilled to see her.
“Sky!” she called out.
She gulped. “Hi, Angel Eye.”
“Please don’t be angry. She really is a nice pony, honest! She’s just a little blunt when she feels she needs to be. She wanted to apologize, but you ran out of there so quickly she didn’t have the chance. And she told me to tell you that she’ll finish up her work at the farm as fast as she can and then come over to the museum so she can make it up to you. So are you still mad? Please don’t be mad.”
“I’m not mad, Angel Eye. She’s right; I needed to hear that. The princess wouldn’t approve of my behavior. I just hope she’s not mad at me.”
“She’s really not,” she said.
“I hope so.” Sky sighed. “Anyway, let’s get back in the museum and finish things up before we do anything else. Don’t worry, I’m sure things will be fine when Strawberry Shortcake shows up tonight.”
“Good,” she said, sounding relieved. “But remember Sky, she prefers to be called Berry.”
Sky smiled as they walked into the museum together. “Right.” She nodded, feeling much better than she did a few moments ago.
Roughly three hours later, Sky stepped out of the museum and looked at the clock tower that towered over the homes of Ponyville. Just as Angel Eye said, Strawberry Shortcake showed up about an hour before the opening and lent her hoof for any last minute help. At first Sky thought things would be very uncomfortable, but as it turned out they made amends with ease. Unfortunately, despite everything that happened, she still didn’t make time to write an essay about a friend. She came to terms with her situation and assured herself it wouldn’t be the end of the world. But this was the first time she was unable to fulfill a command from the princess, so she didn’t know what to expect. She could only hope that the princess would understand.
But that matter was the last thing on her mind as she watched the sun sink into the horizon. Though the evening was beautiful, she couldn’t shake off the panic swelling inside her. She started pacing with a small piece of parchment and read:
Artifacts organized and presentable – check.
Decorations for the museum – check.
Food for the guests – check.
Red carpet laid out for the princess – check.
Checklist of Honored Guests – check
Everything was in place, and the clock read five minutes to six…so where was everypony?
“Um…Sky?” Angel Eye said.
Sky heard her, but she was too lost in her worries to respond. Maybe the ponies of Ponyville were busy with a community event that the princess didn’t account for, or perhaps the town didn’t care much for history and museum pieces. Social apathy toward museums was not uncommon, even among the classiest ponies of Canterlot. But where was the princess? As the minute hand of the clock tower inched closer to seven, the further she felt she was slipping away from her sanity.
The clock tower rang - still no princess. Sky felt like a helpless filly. But not just any filly: a filly that had been accidentally locked inside a building that was being demolished that very day, never to be heard from again.
“Don’t worry, Sky.” Strawberry Shortcake said. “I’m sure the princess is just running a little late.”
“Yeah? But what about everypony else? Highly respected royals from Canterlot are supposed to make an appearance tonight – not just the princess! And you said the ponies around here are excited for this grand opening, so where are they?!”
Just as Sky finished her sentence, two ponies walked into the museum side by side. One pony had a white coat and black mane while the other had a blue coat and a bright orange mane. Of the two ponies, Sky was most intrigued by the black and white pony, who carried herself in a way that reminded her of the ladies from Canterlot. But it was not the demeanor that fascinated her; it was her color. Ponies with a neutral color scheme was a rarity, making her a sight to behold. However, the black and white pony’s friend drew Sky's attention the instant she saw the artifacts in the museum. She left her friend’s side and sprinted to the closest showcase in the room.
“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” The blue pony squealed with delight. “Woodwind, Woodwind! C’mere! C’mere!” she said and pressed her face up against a glass case that contained an amulet from first-century Ponyville.
“Look, look, look!” She bounced when her friend got closer to her. “Isn’t this exciting?”
Angel Eye stayed true to her duty and approached the blue pony. “Hey, Pair, could keep your face off the glass, please?” she said.
“Oh, right.” She immediately complied. “I’m sorry, this is just so exciting!”
Sky approached the pony and asked, “You know about this stuff?”
“Are you kidding me? Who wouldn’t want to know about all of this stuff?! Just think of all the things that were inspired from history: the stories, the games, the costumes!” She squealed. “And now that this museum is open, I can get direct inspiration of my own!” She jumped up and squealed again before running off to another artifact.
Though Sky’s day was utterly destroyed at this point, she was uplifted by the pony who was so enamored with a simple amulet (historical value aside). Even if this pony was the only pony that would appreciate the value of the museum this night, that was enough for Sky.
The black and white pony stayed behind and grinned at Sky uncomfortably. She closed her eyes and cleared her throat. “Pardon her, she gets very…eccentric when it comes to games and such frivolity. My name is Woodwind and that was Pair A. Dice - Pair for short.”
“I’m Celestial Sky, and I am the curator of this museum.”
“Are you?” She pulled out a sack filled with bits from her side bag. “Then will you please accept my donation to this museum?”
Sky took the bag and marveled at its contents: fifty bits.
“Wow...” Sky said, flabbergasted. “Most museums are lucky if they can get any pony to donate a bit or two, and it's usually only when a filly wants to put it into one of those silly coin receptacles.”
“Yes, well, this museum means a lot to Pair, so it would be a shame if it were to shut down due to financial reasons. I also believe that hard work should be rewarded. I have seen you working on this museum over the past few weeks, and I must say that you have put together quite the grand opening.”
Woodwind looked around the room as if she was analyzing her work. With a disappointed sigh, she said, “But I must admit, it is not as…grand as I was expecting. Oh! No offense to your efforts, I assure you. It is just that I was expecting more extravagance and glamour as far as your…guest list is concerned.”
“It was supposed to be.” Sky’s heart sank.
“No matter, Pair was just thrilled to come into the museum, and you can imagine the look on her face when she saw that the place was practically empty. But I wanted to see the princess and the royals from Canterlot. Do you know when she will be making her appearance?”
Every section of her brain resisted her will to utter the one word she needed to say. With grueling mental effort, she swallowed her pride and managed to say, “No.”
Suddenly, the museum doors swung open and slammed on the wall, startling every pony. Being the security pony, Angel Eye instantly shifted into an offensive stance, ready to take on whatever might burst into the room. Standing in the doorway was a familiar orange pony: Wind Sprint. This time she was not the carefree athlete that Sky met earlier. Now her face was full of fear and confusion.
“Wind Sprint?” Angel Eye said, resuming her normal stance.
“What’s going on?” Woodwind said.
“I don’t know. There’s something freaky going on in town! Come look!”
Sky wasn’t sure whether Wind Sprint included her. All the other ponies knew each other so it didn’t feel right for her to assume that she could join them. However, she couldn’t stifle her curiosity so she lingered at the entrance and watched them run away together. Just when she was about to turn back into the museum, they called out, “Come on, Sky!”
Their call took her by surprise, but when it registered that they really wanted her to join them, she locked up the museum in what must have been a record time and followed them. Within a few blocks, she could tell that something was indeed strange. Not only was the town eerily silent, but there were unusual vines growing out of cracks in the ground that had wrapped themselves around everything from buildings to abandoned troughs.
“Oh no…” Pair’s ears drooped. “I hope this didn’t come from that weird board game I found the other day.”
“Not now, Pair!” Woodwind snapped.
“What in the hay is going on here?!” Strawberry Shortcake said. She ran to a familiar house on the block and pounded on the door. “Lily? Lily?! Open up!”
Wind Sprint let out an exasperated sigh and cried, “Incoming!”
Strawberry Shortcake and Angel Eye turned around and just barely dodged before Wind Sprint smashed down the door and charged into the house.
“Oh my goodness!” Woodwind said and placed her hoof over her chest.
“Wind Sprint!” Strawberry Shortcake shouted without hiding her disapproval. What makes you think you can just break into somepony’s house?”
“Berry…” Wind Sprint said, almost like a whimper.
“I mean, we don’t even know what’s going on here!”
“Berry!” she yelled.
Sky entered the house and found the five ponies staring into the living room in silence. She followed their line of sight and immediately understood why they were at a loss for words. The house was completely covered in vines and other greenery that seemed to be growing out of the house itself. At first Sky tried to rationalize the situation with the idea that the pony who lived here just happened to like greenhouses or something, but the thought was eradicated when her eyes met the figure in the center of the room. While the other ponies were paralyzed with fear and lost in bewilderment, Sky approached the figure with great caution.
Wrapped in a net of vines that pulsated with a dull green glow was a pony who Sky assumed was Lily. Upon observing the vines, she knew this was a form of magic, and a mysterious one at that. Aside from the obvious magical glow, the vines were not wrapped around her but rather like they were growing into her flesh. She carefully removed the vines, and when she saw that nothing detrimental occurred, she proceeded to tear away at every vines she could. The other ponies snapped out of their daze upon seeing Sky’s actions and ran to their friend.
“Lily? Are you alright?” Strawberry Shortcake asked.
“Say something!” Wind Sprint pleaded.
Words were not necessary to indicate that something was very wrong. Sky had seen this pony every now and then while walking through town, and the last time she saw her she had light yellow hair, a white coat, and a single lily for a Cutie Mark. But the pony before her had a dull brown coat and mane, and her Cutie Mark was nowhere to be found. Lily responded to the cries of her friends, but her gaze met their eyes with a disturbing emptiness. She stared at them for a moment, and then she turned away with a snort and stooped down to a patch of grass growing out of the floor. With only a moment of hesitation, she devoured the grass like a mindless beast, an act that even the most uncivilized folks in Ponyville would deem uncouth.
“Sky! What happened to her?” Angel Eye asked.
“I don’t know…” she replied. Only the Princess or the high unicorns of Canterlot would have any idea about the magic taking place. Though her immediate thoughts turned to them for help, she felt as if the town had been cast into an abyss completely disconnected from all of Equestria, and all tangible hope seemed to be worlds away.
“I don’t know,” she repeated, mostly to herself.
Suddenly, ghostly howls pierced the silent night.
“Timberwolves!” Strawberry Shortcake said.
They ran out of the house and into the road where they were immediately surrounded by six timberwolves – three on one end of the road and three on the other. Sky had heard of timberwolves before, but until now she had always felt like they were merely creatures of ponytales, and she wished they had stayed that way. Giant wolves made entirely of rotting wood and broken branches stared at her with menacing yellow eyes that almost reduced Sky to the whimpers of a filly. Her nostrils burned from the stink of their breath as their predators closed in on them. The largest wolf lifted its head and howled, and as if this was a command, the other timberwolves lunged at them with their mouths open and their claws bared.
Strawberry Shortcake and Wind Sprint charged the oncoming timberwolves. They jumped up and pounded their front hooves on their heads. When they landed, they bucked them one by one while Angel Eye and Pair. A Dice watched their backs. Woodwind used her magic to repel the wolves from herself and her friends, and Sky immediately joined her.
Just when Sky felt that they had a chance of escaping, the earth beneath their hooves split open and thick, glowing vines slithered out of the ground and swiped at each of the pony’s legs. Strawberry Shortcake and Wind Sprint, who were occupied with the timberwolves, were snared by the vines and dragged toward the Everfree Forest. Woodwind and Pair A. Dice were snatched away soon after. Even Angel Eye’s wings could not save her, for the vines whipped up into the air and dragged her from Ponyville as she screamed helplessly. Sky cut the vines with her magic, but for every vine that she cut there seemed to be a dozen more ready to take its place. When she was certain she couldn’t fight them off anymore, a violent sunbeam illuminated the night.
The sunbeam struck the ground and tore up the earth with a deafening rumble, leaving a deep ditch of charred earth in its wake. The vines burst into flames and the timberwolves were reduced to piles of ash upon a mere touch of the intense, fiery light. Sky looked for the source of the magic and she saw Princess Twilight flying above her, glowing like star in the sky.
Sky stood up and winced due to an agonizing headache that only came whenever she used too much magic. She ignored the pain and did her best not to reveal her discomfort to the princess. When Princess Twilight landed on the ground, what seemed like a legion of palace guards followed soon after and dispersed throughout the town. They broke into every building in sight and dragged out any pony they could find. It seemed that Lily was not the only pony who suffered from the effects of the mysterious vines. The once bright and colorful citizens of Ponyville were reduced to dull colors varying from brown to grey, which matched their vacant and downtrodden countenance.
“Princess…what’s happening?” Sky said as if she was on the verge of tears.
“This is an ancient magic. But I must be sure it is the one I fear.” Princess Twilight stood and pondered the situation before her. She prodded a limp vine with her hoof, and after exhausting her mind with assumptions, she stood upright and bellowed, “Discord!”
The second Sky heard that name she inched closer to the princess. Though Discord was mostly a jovial character, who was a significant aid to the kingdom and an interesting creature to socialize with, Sky could never get over his serpentine body, which seemed to have been pieced together by some sadistic collector of animal body parts. In a flash of light, the renowned spirit of chaos appeared and gave the princess a dramatically low bow.
“You summoned me, Princess Twilight?” Discord said.
“Thank you for your promptness, Discord. I believe an old threat has returned to Equestria. Look at these vines. Is this not the work of Princess Gardenia?” she asked.
“Hmm…” He rubbed his chin. “Let’s take a good look here, shall we?” He observed the vines and took a few glances around the town. When he came to his conclusion, he turned to the princess and said, “Your majesty, I don’t see why you bothered summoning me at all - not that it is a burden, mind you.”
Princess Twilight narrowed her eyes. “I can’t afford to jump to conclusions when it involves Princess Gardenia. You know that if any of my subjects set hoof in the Everfree Forest upon my command, the seal I created to contain her magic will be broken.”
“Of course, of course,” he said as she let his head slump back lazily. “But there’s really no other candidate for such masterful gardening skills. I mean, look around you: glowing vines, a pack of timberwolves, a herd of ponies who look like they’ve just been told that friendship isn’t magic…”
“Discord!” she scolded.
He bent over laughing, arms wrapped around his belly. “Oh, lighten up, princess. I couldn’t resist that one. Anyway, yes: there is no denying that this is Princess Gardenia’s work. There, are you satisfied?”
“Thank you, my friend,” she said, accepting the turmoil before her. “You may go.”
“And thank you.” He bowed again and leaned his head toward her. “And as always, if you need me, I’m just a call away.” He winked and then disappeared as quickly as he came.
“Celestial Sky,” she said gravely. “Things are as bad as I thought. Immediate action must be taken; otherwise, all the good ponies of Ponyville will be lost.”
“What’s going on? Who is this ‘Princess Gardenia’?”
“Princess Gardenia is one of the five sister rulers of ancient Equestria. I assume you have read about them.
“Yes, I have.” Sky replied. “But I don’t recall a “Princess Gardenia.” In fact, I don’t think any of them were ever named, unless there’s a book on them that I’ve never read.”
“No, there isn’t. The details of these rulers are preserved and passed down through Canterlot royalty. The story goes that a sisterhood of ponies founded Equestria. But as you know, without the Elements of Harmony to unite and guide the rulers, each of them fell into disharmony and their portion of the kingdom degenerated along with them. Princess Gardenia was the princess of the forests. Instead of using her magic to make the plants grow in harmony with the other four rulers, she attempted to create a new form of nature, a world without magic. To keep her from infecting all of Equestia, she was sealed away in what is now known as the Everfree forest. So long as no pony enters the forest upon royal command, her power will be contained for as long as the Elements of Harmony endure.”
Sky absorbed everything she heard, and though the world around her seemed to be falling apart, understanding its cause gave her mind some sense of stability amongst all the confusion. As she looked down at a vine on the ground, she said, “But that still doesn’t explain why this is happening. The Elements of Harmony are still working, right?” She looked up at her hopefully.
Princess Twilight responded to her worried expression with a reassuring smile. “Of course. All I need to do is go to the Elemental Palace deep in the Everfree Forest. I’ll try to reason with her, but if that fails I will need to use the Elements of Harmony.”
“The Elemental Palace?”
“Yes. It was the palace where the five pony sisters ruled, the very first palace of royalty in Equestrian history. And in its halls, the Elements of Harmony were born. Now while I am gone I have a task for you, Sky. I need you to use this spell on every citizen in Ponyville.”
She stood directly in front of Sky and lowered her head. At first, Sky though that she was bending down to give her a hug, but instead she placed the tip of her horn on Sky’s head, which sparkled brilliantly in an aura of purple light. Having completed the spell, Princess Twilight backed backed away from Sky, who felt as if her mind had been relieved of every grievance she had ever experienced. Before Princess Twilight could say another word, another slew of vines erupted from the ground and snared her. Unlike the vines that took away the other ponies, the ones that bound her glowed green like the vines that held Lily.
“Sky!” she shouted as she struggled against the force of the vines. They wrapped around her legs and a set of vines started piercing each segment of her spine. “Go! Go to the Elemental Palace!” A final glowing vine pierced the back of her neck and her eyes widened as if a surge of magic took over her body. Her eyes closed, her body went limp, and she fell. When she hit the ground, her crown tumbled off of her head and landed on a mound of overturned dirt.
“PRINCESS!” Sky cried.
Sky wanted to run to her aid, but a gaseous silhouette of an alicorn appeared over the princess. Within the green magical mist, bright yellow eyes strikingly similar to that of a timberwolf stared down at the fallen alicorn. In a gesture of triumph, the dark alicorn reared and a sea of vines spewed from the earth and started engulfing everything in Ponyville.
Vine after vine came after Sky from all directions, but she managed to dodge every single one as she raced out of town. Though she feared for her fallen mentor, she made her way out of Ponyville, which was now a living jungle, and ran to the Everfree Forest. She didn’t know how to get to this Elemental Palace or how she would undo this disaster, but she knew she had to done. Her princess needed her.
Twilight opened her eyes and tore away the vines that bound her. They attempted to seize her again, but with a powerful flap of her wings she ascended above the town, safe from the chaos below. She reluctantly turned a sorrowful eye away from her suffering subjects in Ponyville and focused on Sky, who she saw running toward the Everfree Forest.
A loud crack sounded and Discord appeared by her side. “Stellar performance, princess.” Discord said while holding a smiling thespian mask over his face.
“Discord, please.” She rolled her eyes.
“Now that I can speak freely, I have a fun question, Princess,” Discord said as he slithered around her. “Didn’t you cause this by sending Professor Bayleaf into the Everfree Forest the other day?”
Sky closed her eyes. “Yes,” she admitted.
“Fascinating leadership, if I do say so myself. Why are you allowing this to happen to your beloved Ponyville and your dearest student?”
“Because she needs to be pushed,” she said. “Besides, it was only a matter of time before my seal on Princess Gardenia finally broke. I can only hope that Sky made some friends. I will intervene if absolutely necessary, but it is imperative that she finds the magic of friendship.”
Discord flew in front of Twilight and looked into her eyes teasingly, “Well, look at you! Manipulating circumstances for the greater good, just like the great princess before you.”
Twilight looked down and smiled to herself as a rush a memories came to mind. She recalled the days when she couldn’t fathom the idea of even remotely measuring up to the great spell casters of Canterlot, let alone her mentor. Back then there were many things her mentor did that Twilight didn’t understand. But now, as she watched her own pupil, she felt a new appreciation for her old mentor in a way that she had never experienced.
Twilight snapped out of her sentiments, and she turned to Discord. “Circle the town and keep any travelers out of Ponyville.”
“Yes, your majesty.” He circled around her once and flew toward the outskirts of the town. “And what will you be doing?” he turned around and asked.
“Watching over Sky,” she replied with her eyes locked on the earth below. She flapped her wings and flew toward the Everfree Forest keeping her fierce gaze fixed on her beloved pupil.
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