Disclaimer: I own nothing in this fic except the basic plot and the character Yellow Jacket. I make no money from this writing.
A/N: Everything this story has been building to starts in this chapter. I hope all of you enjoyed the ride, because I had a blast.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Knights of Equestria, part 11: Onwards to Midnight Castle!
Rainbow found herself in a void, but not the void she knew from her dreams. All around her for as far as she could see was an endless vista of white. A breeze played through her mane, making it flutter about around her head. On the breeze came a faint sound, like the tinkling of little bells, and children's laughter, and the breaking of waves upon a rocky shore. From somewhere up above her, or perhaps from below, light shined white and pure as crystal.
After an indefinite period of time in which Rainbow simply stood there and listened to the sound and basked in the light, something new appeared. At first she didn't notice it, as vague and weak it was against the whiteness around her, but gradually it grew closer and stronger. A pastel rainbow, its colors softer and calmer than her own wild looks, curled and twisted its way through the void towards her. From it Rainbow felt the millennia of age and sorrow it carried with it.
"Rainbow..." The sound of her name from the being sent electricity running through her spine, and the warmth in her chest to grow. "Darkness encroaches upon the day. As Twilight falls, so does the world. Silence will fall. Silence is already falling."
Rainbow watched the undulating colors of the pastel rainbow. Somehow, in this place she found herself in, all the bravado she would usually put on melted away from her, and she could only speak her inmost thoughts. "What can I do? I'm just a simple Pegasus from Cloudsdale, I'm not...I'm not some super magical expert pony. Twilight's the kind of pony you want, not me."
Something changed in the pastel rainbow, as if it was...amused by Rainbow's words, but understood the sentiment behind them also. "Life flashes by like a whirlwind; we don't always know where it will lead us. Some run and hide, despairing at life's unfairness. Others rage and scream at the randomness of life, under the strange assumption they can hurt it back. Still others work to control the paths, setting themselves as simply 'knowing better' than those they seek to 'protect'. Only a very few..."
Rainbow felt herself leaning forward. "What? Only a very few what?"
The pastel rainbow flared brighter for just a moment, its colors leaking into the white around them. "Only a very few have the strength and loyalty to themselves to face life head-on. These are the heroes and saviors of the world. Stay loyal to your destiny, Rainbow..."
The pastel rainbow faded away. Rainbow shouted and dashed forward to where it had been. "No, wait! What's my desti-"
It was the silence that woke Rainbow Dash up. As accustomed as she had become over the years to sleep past everyday noises during her naps, the absence of such noises was as good as an alarm clock to the rainbow-maned Pegasus. At first she was confused by the lack of birds singing, wind rustling, and the distant sound of ponies going about their day below her, until she remembered. After the events with Twilight Sparkle she had left Twilight's library with Doctor Whoof. She was in the DRIS, in the same bedroom she had gone to the first time.
Once a few more seconds had passed and the fog of sleep had lifted somewhat from Rainbow's head, she realized that the room was not as silent as she had at first thought. Close, right beside her left ear as she lay on her right side, there was the soft sound of a pony breathing. At the same moment Rainbow noticed this, she also became uncomfortably aware of the grey-coated forehoof wrapped around her midsection.
Rainbow looked at this hoof, blinked, and looked back behind her. Ditzy Doo lay there, curled up against Rainbow's back and ever-so-softly snoring. Dark bags hung under her eyes from several long days of worrying, and her hair looked like it needed a good hour under Rarity's care, but still something stirred in Rainbow's chest at the sight, and butterflies flittered through her stomach. Raising her head up a bit further, she could see Dinky nestled against Ditzy's back, using one of the grey mare's wings as a blanket and the other as a pillow. This sight just made Rainbow want to giggle.
Rainbow watched the mother and daughter pair sleep a few minutes longer, before sighing and turning away. Slowly, so as not to wake up either Ditzy or Dinky, Rainbow lifted the forehoof wrapped around her and slid out from under it and off the bed. She flared her wings and stretched her back, groaning in pleasure as several bones popped. Giving her mane a quick shake to rid it of the bed mane that had developed, Rainbow began to head for the door to leave.
Rainbow stopped at the sound of her name and turned back to the bed. Ditzy was awake and sitting up on her forehooves, looking at her. Rainbow did her best to smile. "Oh uh, good morning, Ditzy. I'm...sorry if I woke you up or anything."
The yellow-maned Pegasus sighed and looked down, away from Rainbow. "No, don't worry about it. This probably isn't the best time to sleep in anyway. Lots of...stuff to do."
"Yeah, stuff..." Rainbow gave her wings a shake and joined Ditzy in the act of not looking at the other pony. After several tense seconds of silence she coughed and turned away. "Well, I guess I'll just go...uh...get some breakfast and see what Doctor's up to. See if everypony's still okay and all."
Ditzy nodded her head, and then looked up at Rainbow and smiled. "Would you mind if I joined you in that? Maybe I could show you a few things I know while we fly."
For a reason she couldn't explain, the way Ditzy said this made a blush creep over Rainbow's cheeks. She shook her head and backed away from the bed, to the door. "No no, I'll be fine on my own. You should just hang here and, uh, be with Dinky."
Ditzy's smile faltered. "Dash, I-"
"Well anyway, see ya later!" Rainbow Dash turned and bolted through the door, shutting it quickly behind her. For several seconds she just stood there leaning against the door, before with a sigh she left it and began wandering down the hall.
Minutes passed as she worked her way to the control room of the DRIS, where she figured she would find Doctor Whoof and get directions to wherever the kitchen was. All the while she thought about the hasty retreat she had just pulled. As sleepy as she still was, even she could get that how she was basically running away from that particular situation. But she just couldn't deal with it right now. Not with the events of the previous day and her dream still so fresh in her mind.
"Besides," Rainbow muttered to herself as she passed through a doorway and into the control room, the second level. "What am I supposed to do when I wake and find another mare in my bed..."
"Kiss and invite her to tea?" Doctor Whoof's head popped out from behind the central dais and grinned at Rainbow Dash around the sonic screwdriver in his mouth. "Although I'm not quite sure who would wear the bow tie in that relationship. Or maybe one would wear a bow tie and the other a necktie? I don't know, Dash, do you feel more a bow tie pony or a necktie pony?"
Rainbow Dash just stared down at him. "What planet are you from?"
"Gallopfrey." Doctor groaned and bopped his head against the console. "No, scratch that, that's not a planet, it's a region in northern Equestria. Why would I answer planet? I don't know. The important question is," he walked fully around the dais and up at her from the foot of the stairs. "Are you okay?"
Rainbow worked her jaw a moment, considering the question, before giving her head a rough nod. "Yeah, of course I'm fine. Are you? I mean, you're still wearing that bow tie and everything."
"Ugh! I knew you ponies would turn this into a thing!" Doctor reached a hoof up and adjusted the bow tie at his neck. He seemed to have switched the red one out for a blue one. "Bow Ties. Are. Cool."
Rainbow rolled her eyes, but didn't bother with answering. Foregoing flying for the moment she trotted down the stairs and past him. She looked this way and that. "So anyways doc, you got a kitchen in this box? Can't save the world on an empty stomach."
"Third door to the left of the entrance," he replied, turning to grin at her. "And who said anything about saving the world?"
Rainbow shrugged and headed for the door he had indicated. "Well, Jack and...and Twilight got away from Trixie last night. There's bound to be some kind of world-saving that needs to be done." Rainbow stopped then and looked back at Doctor. "Hey, where is Trixie anyway? And the others, I guess."
Doctor shrugged and, with a little hop, dropped back into the lower level below the glass floor to work on whatever he had been working on before she had arrived. "Well, let's see. The little dragon baby came by about half an hour ago from the library. Trixie's doing some sort of cool mental meeting thing with Luna, and the cowfilly hasn't left the yellow Pegasus's side since last night."
A sudden crackle of electricity and Doctor yelped. Shaking his hoof he popped his head back out from the floor. "Oh, and your gut feeling was correct. Last night Fluttershy wasn't saying Twilight Sparkle, she was trying to say NOT Twilight Sparkle. So uh, yeah."
As the eccentric earth pony said this, it felt as if a massive weight lifted from the blue Pegasus's shoulders. Rainbow smiled and turned to continue on her way to the kitchen.
Inside the kitchen it was all silver and chrome, a dizzying change from warmer hues of the central room Rainbow had just left. Steadying herself after a moment, Rainbow trotted to the kitchen island, where she found Spike already seated. He sat munching on a large bowl of muffins. She sat down to his left and took a blueberry muffin for herself. "Hey Spike."
Spike yawned and looked back at her. Rainbow had to restrain herself from flinching at the tired look in his eyes. "Oh, hey Rainbow Dash. Yawn...about time you got up..."
"Hm?" Rainbow took a bite of her muffin and looked over at a clock on the wall in front of them. It read 10:26. "Oh...wow. That's...that's late even for me."
Spike shrugged and sighed. "We all had a late night, I guess." He jammed the rest of his muffin into his mouth and swallowed it without a single chew. "Some later than others."
Surprising herself as much as she did Spike next to her, Rainbow reached a forehoof out and gave him a tight squeeze of a hug. "Hey little guy, you sure you're okay? You look and sound like you're about to collapse."
Spike took another muffin from the bowl between them and began nibbling at it. "Oh, it's just Trixie. She's a harder driver than T-Twilight was, whenever she had an idea. After she got back and you all left, she had me running through the whole library, getting all kinds of books and scrolls for her. All of Twilight's pushiness, none of her politeness or friendship."
Rainbow sighed and hugged Spike harder. They might not have been the closest of friends, but they were still friends and that's what counted. "Hey, don't worry about it, Spike. We'll get the old Twilight back soon as we can, right?"
"Oh, I'm not worried about that," replied Spike. He shrugged off her hoof and looked at her. "I've known Twilight my whole life. Literally, she's the pony who hatched me. She's like a big sister. And the Twilight I know would never act the way she's been acting lately. There's just gotta be something affecting her, but I just don't know what."
Rainbow frowned and looked away, letting Spike's words sink in. She tried to think on it, on that crazy dream she had, on everything that had occurred the other day, and most stressing, on whatever was between her and Ditzy. She quickly regretted it. "Gah...I'm not a thinker!"
"Boy, that's right," Spike mumbled.
Rainbow glared at him for the longest moment, before sighing and slumping down in her seat. "No, I mean it. I really mean it. My whole life's been about racing and winning. Getting what I need done in the fastest, coolest way possible, be it clearing the skies or facing a dragon. I've never had to slow down and think things through. Ponies like Twilight, or Applejack, or even Fluttershy have always been there to do it for me. But now none of them are here. Hay, it's one of them thinking too much that's got us into all this trouble!"
Rainbow leaned her elbows onto the counter and her head on her hooves. "I don't know, I just have this weird feeling like I need...I need to...gah!" Two bangs rang out as she smashed her hooves down onto the countertop. "I don't know! I just don't know and I hate it!"
Rainbow smashed her hooves against the counter a couple more times, before collapsing her front half onto it in a huff. Spike fidgeted in his seat some, before reaching out and placing a hand on her back. "Hey, remember when we went to rescue Rarity from those Diamond Dogs? Boy, that was quite an adventure right? And you were so cool, just rushing ahead without a thought when you heard your friend was in trouble. And you know what else?"
Rainbow lifted her head from her hooves and looked at Spike. "What?"
Spike smiled. "Twilight always told me that you were the bravest pony she knew. She's always wished she was as brave as you are. You inspire her."
Rainbow slowly looked away from Spike, at the reflective metal surface of the wall across the kitchen from her. Rainbow Dash, the coolest and bravest pony in all of Ponyville looked back at her. A smile spread across her face and her eyes shined. Inside her chest the strange feeling roared to life. "I...thank you Spike. Thank you so-" She turned to look at him and found his eyes wide. "Spike? Spike, what is it?"
Spike lifted a claw and pointed at her chest. "Wow..."
Rainbow looked down at where he pointed and nearly screamed. Streamers of light in all the colors of the rainbow were sprouting from the center of her chest, shifting and waving, slowly encircling around her whole chest to the back.
"What the hay!?" Rainbow leapt from her seat and out the door, Spike jumping to follow her. Together the two raced to the control room, Rainbow frantically swiping at the tendrils of light with a hoof. "DOOOCTOOOR!"
Doctor Whoof popped his head up from under the glass floor again, and looked around. "Hey, I am being extremely clever down here and there's no one to stand around looking impressed. What's the point in having you all-" He spotted Rainbow and Spike standing right in front of him, both waving their arms and pointing at the light at her chest. "Ooh, ooh my. Um, wow."
"Doctor!" Rainbow hovered in place with her wings, one hoof continuing to swipe at the light. By this point it had progressed all around her chest and back and had begun to coalesce into something. It had also grown in intensity, until it was almost too painful to directly look at. "What is it, what's going on, why has there been so much dumb magic stuff lately!?"
Doctor climbed up from the lower level and trotted over to Rainbow. Taking his sonic screwdriver in mouth he began scanning all over Rainbow and the light. "Oh wow, oh wow wow wow. That is interesting." He stopped to check his readings for a moment before going back to it. "Oh, that is very interesting."
Rainbow whimpered. The light coming from her was uncomfortably warm to her, almost like it was going to set her on fire, while the little green light going over her from Doctor's device felt cold and strangely metallic. "Please don't tell me you're the kind of pony who finds it interesting when other ponies blowing up in magical explosions of...magicalness."
"Of course not, Miss Dash," Doctor replied. He had ducked low and practically jammed his screwdriver into the source of the light. "Although wait, when you say it like that it does sound kinda interesting."
"Doctooooor..." Rainbow and Spike looked up as Ditzy came flying down from the second level. She landed on Rainbow's light side and gave her a quick nuzzle before looking at the earth pony. "What's going on here?"
"Um." Doctor Whoof pulled away from Rainbow Dash and stood to his full height. By this point the rainbow light had finished spreading across Rainbow's chest and was moving over the rest of her. "What's going on? Right, what's going on. Well, I can tell you that magical physics researchers are probably burning their award-winning research in utter frustration right now, Unicorns across Equestria are feeling a power boost like crazy, the sun outside's gone all wibbly, and I think my knees are shaking. Do you need specifics or should I just stop this?"
Doctor stumbled back from the combined shout of two ponies and a baby dragon. Giving his head a shake he aimed the green light of his sonic screwdriver at the brightest point of light on Rainbow and pressed the button once, twice, three times. To Rainbow's relief the light that had spread nearly all across her body immediately began to recede, multitudes quicker than it had spread. Seconds passed, until all that remained of the light was a piece, barely visible when Rainbow Dash looked close, right at the center of her chest. Even then it was barely there, flickering between all the colors of the rainbow.
Doctor Whoof sighed and slipped his sonic screwdriver back into its pocket in his jacket. "Well, that was curious."
Once she was sure the little light that remained was not going to burst forth all of a sudden and consume her, Rainbow chuckled and brushed a hoof through her mane. "Uh, yeah, whatever you say doc. But uh, what the hay just happened?"
Doctor shrugged and turned away to the central dais. Trotting to it he began messing around with a computer screen. "Something interesting. Since there's none here to really appreciate it in the magnificent technical terms I COULD put what just happened in, I'll just say that you sprung a leak. A magical leak of magical soulness from your soul. No wait, the first one was better, let's stick with springing a leak."
"Wait, what?" Rainbow strode forward and grabbed Doctor by the shoulder, intending to spin him around to face her. "What do you mean lea-"
Doctor Whoof spun around the opposite way Rainbow had been intending to spin him and brought his face inches from hers. She eeped as he looked her eyes all over. "What were you and little Spike talking about when that happened?" He raised his head over hers, lowered it, and then shifted it side to side. "And what was your Element of Harmony again?"
Rainbow blinked, shared a look with Spike and Ditzy, and then blinked again. "My element is loyalty, and I was just getting a...kind of pep talk from Spike is all. Does have to do with anything?"
Doctor looked at Rainbow a moment longer, and in his eyes she thought she saw flicker some...satisfaction? But then the moment passed and he turned again to his screen. "Has to do with nothing. Or everything, I don't know. Everything's going all wibbly-wobbly on me right now. By the way, Spike, anything from the Princesses?"
"Not yet," Spike answered. At Rainbow's questioning look he shrugged. "I sent a letter to Princess Celestia last night, explaining just about everything I could, but we haven't gotten any response yet."
Rainbow frowned. "That can't be good." She wondered if she should tell Doctor Whoof about the warm feeling in her chest. She hadn't noticed when it was going on, but now that she thought about it, the feeling had spread along with the light. And then there was the dream...
Ditzy leaned in close to Rainbow, wrapping a wing across her back to pull her into a hug. "Hey, are you sure you're okay Dash?"
At the touch Rainbow flinched and pulled away. "What? Yeah yeah, I'm fine Ditzy. Uh, hey doc!" She fluttered over to Doctor's side and watched him fiddling around with some kind of gizmo, doing her best to ignore the hurt that flashed across Ditzy's face. "If you're gonna be all eccentric and vague about what happened to me a second ago, then answer this. You said something about the sun going wibbly? What the hay does that mean?"
"Gah..." Doctor reached up and grabbed a copper hose from above him and dragged it down, connecting it to a box seemingly taped to the bottom of the control panel. "Good question, pointless now, would already know the answer if you were up earlier listen," he turned to glance at Rainbow and the others. "Spike, you go watch little Dinky and do...whatever baby dragons do when they aren't being bossed around by bossy Unicorns of...bossiness. Miss Dash, you and Ditzy can go round up the others, eh? Rarity, that Big Mac fellow who looked like he'd be good in a scrap, don't bother with Applejack, and leave Trixie for last. She'll have something for me I think. Oh and don't be scared when you see the sky, even though it is positively terrifying and I'm shaking in my bow tie just thinking about it."
Rainbow worked her jaw and glared at Doctor for several seconds, until he looked back at her. "Yes, what?"
Rainbow snorted and, still keeping her eyes locked on him, began to edge her way to the door out. "Nothing, it's just, are you always this bossy? You're as bad as Twilight! Egghead!"
Doctor smiled and looked from Rainbow to Ditzy. "Keep an eye on this one. She'd find trouble going out to get her mail without somepony there for her."
Ditzy smirked and again fluttered over to Rainbow's side. This time just began to nudge her, making Rainbow eep and stop looking at Doctor as she was forced along to the door. "Come along Dashie, got to get the others, Doctor's orders."
"Awww, come on Ditzy, what-" And then the pair of Pegasi were outside the simple blue box, and any words she had intended to say died on Rainbow Dash's lips. Those lips worked soundlessly for seconds, her mind searching vainly for something, anything to say to fit the sight before her eyes. Finally, she could only fall back. "What?"
Whitetail wood was dead around them. Tree trunks stood as blackened husks, as if the life had been burned right out of them. The few branches that remained were the same, barren of leaves and whipped about by a wind that echoed like a haunting nocturne, full of sorrow and loss. On that wind floated the stench of burned things. Things that had once lived, but no longer.
Rainbow fell to her knees, and at the crunching that came with this looked down for the first time since she had gotten there. Her stomach nearly emptied itself at what she found. Not leaves, but hundreds, thousands, for all she knew millions of insects of every kind that had lived in the forest and earth, dead and littering the forest floor like a macabre display. Then this got Rainbow thinking on whatever could have happened to the larger forest animals, and this time her stomach did empty itself.
Beside Rainbow, Ditzy lifted into the air to avoid crunching through the dead bugs and looked around. "What happened?" She looked up at the sky. "Why is it so dark? It's almost 11 am but the sky looks like night..."
A sudden terror hit Rainbow with these words. She followed Ditzy's gaze up to the sky, and then she grabbed hold of Ditzy's hoof and rocketed upwards, ignoring the grey Pegasus's cry of alarm. Within seconds they broke through above the trees, and there Rainbow let go of Ditzy. Her gaze went to the east and froze there.
"No, not night," Rainbow Dash spoke, her voice barely but a whisper. There before them stretched a thin line of red and orange light along the horizon, lighting the immediate night sky around it blue. "Twilight."
Rainbow Dash raced through the empty groves of Sweet Apple Acres. Her mane and tail billowed out behind her, leaving a rainbow streak in her wake that crackled with lightning. The devastation had spread out even to here, the rows and rows of apple trees dead and withered, while from the barn came no sound of cow or pig. Only a sickening stench Rainbow refused to focus on.
"Rarity, Big Mac!" She landed at the front of the farmhouse, punching a small crater in the earth from the force of her sudden stop. Climbing from the crater she flew up the stairs and through the door into the house. "Rarity, where are you?!"
A sudden clatter of dropped dishes came from the kitchen, followed by Rarity's head poking out from the open door and looking at Rainbow. Her mane was frazzled and unkempt, by Rarity's standards, and her face was void of the usual makeup. "Rainbow Dash, what are you doing here?"
Rainbow rolled her eyes and trotted over to Rarity. "What do you think I'm doing here? The world's practically ending outside, and you're wasting time hanging around here doing-" Rarity stepped out of the way, letting Rainbow see into the kitchen. "Doing...nothing..."
The entire kitchen looked as if one of Pinkie's party bags had exploded in it. Balloons and streamers in the traditional colors of apples hung everywhere. All kinds of snacks sat on the kitchen counters, while on the center table sat a large apple cake, obviously to Rainbow just whipped up that morning. Around the table sat Big MacIntosh, Granny Smith, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and in the guest of honor's seat, Sweetie Belle. They were all talking and laughing amongst themselves, while the little filly wore the happiest expression Rainbow had ever seen her with.
Rarity stepped to the Pegasus's side and answered her unasked question. "Last night, Sweetie Belle got her cutie mark. We were...I just wanted to throw her a Cute-ceanera, just a private little thing you know? In case...well..." A sniffle almost escaped from her, almost, but Rarity seemed to catch it in time. "She deserves that much, I should think, just in case."
"Rarity," Rainbow said. She smiled at her friend. "I think right now this is the coolest Cute-ceanera anypony could ask for. You've done your sister good."
Turning away so that she would miss the sudden tears in Rarity's eyes, Rainbow walked the length of the table to Sweetie Belle and clapped her on the shoulder. "Hey there squirt, congratulations! What kinda cutie mark did a filly like you get?"
"I got a musical note inside a heart cutie mark!" Sweetie Belle replied, beaming and looking down at the image on her flank. "I guess singing and stuff really was my special talent after all!"
Rainbow smiled. "Well, good for you. Ya know, maybe after your big sis and I finish saving the world, I could introduce you to my good friend...Vinyl Scratch?"
The whole group in the kitchen laughed as Sweetie did her best impression of Pinkie Pie at that. "OhmygoshyouknowVinylScratchthatissooooocoolpleasepleaspleeaaseintroduceme!" Sweetie finished with her patented puppy-dog pout. Rainbow Dash's will crumbled in seconds.
"Augh, okay okay, I will! Just please don't do that to me again, it's too dangerous to mess with friendly fire!" Rainbow chuckled and looked from the now-bouncing and dancing Sweetie to Rarity, who had come up to them as they talked. "And I bet your sister would be more than happy to introduce you to HER good friend, Saph-!"
Rarity stuffed a hoof in Rainbow's mouth. She pulled her in close to whisper. "Dash dear, if Sweetie knew I knew HER, than I don't think Pinkie Pie herself would be able to keep up with her. I'd rather save it as a surprise, understand?"
Rainbow nodded her head. Once Rarity's hoof was removed she spit and stuck her tongue. "Bleck. When was the last time you washed that?"
Rarity rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue back at Rainbow. "Well excuse me dear, but even I can see that there are more important things at the moment than looking fabulous."
"Yeah, no duh." Rainbow sighed and looked at the ponies at the table. "Sorry gang, I'm gonna have to have a little talk with Rarity real quick."
Rainbow and Rarity made to exit into the hallway when Big Mac stood up from the table. "Ah figure ah should join you."
Rainbow remembered what Doctor had said and nodded. "Okay, come on."
Leaving the kitchen, Rainbow and the other two walked as far down the hall as the foot of the stairs before stopping. Rarity spoke first. "Rainbow dear, please tell me there's a perfectly good reason it's still night when we should all be having lunch. Preferably a reason that won't send me into hysterics."
"An' what in Tarnation has happened ta all the plants?" Big Mac said. "The entire orchard, a source of nourishment and support for generations of Apple Family members...all gone in a night..."
Rarity nuzzled the big workhorse, while Rainbow sighed and looked down. "I'm sorry, I really have no idea about anything. But I think Doctor Whoof does. He sent me and Ditzy out to gather everypony, including you Big Mac. Ditzy's over in Ponyville getting Trixie and Pinkie Pie right now, so we should probably hurry."
Rainbow watched as both Rarity and Big Mac shared a look and then looked back down the hall to the kitchen. It wasn't until she followed their gaze and perked her ears that she understood. From where the three of them stood, they could make out the voices of Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom. They seemed to be trying to sing a duet to Rainbow, but Apple Bloom was managing more enthusiasm than any real ability. Still though, the voices were young and happy, and for a few seconds Rainbow let them wash over her, dispelling thoughts of the ruined world that waited outside the door.
"Guys," Rainbow said when the song was over, attracting Rarity's and Big Mac's attention again. "I'm really sorry. I wish I could understand exactly the fear you're feeling. But I don't. I was born an only child, I'm not gonna leave behind any younger siblings or anything if...if things don't work out. But I..." her thoughts strayed to a little Unicorn filly, and bubbles. "But there are others that I'm terrified of losing, and I can't imagine the pain they would go through if they lost me. But we need you two. I don't know what Doctor's planning, I don't know what Trixie's planning, and I don't know what Twilight's planning. But I do know that if we don't do something, those messed up trees outside are only gonna be the beginning. We've gotta do something! For...for our Apple Blooms, and our Sweetie Belles! And our Granny Smiths, and Scootaloos, and Dinkies, and everypony that's depending on us!"
By the end of her little speech, Rainbow Dash had lifted up into the air, and now she hovered over the pair of ponies with her, her mane and tail softly fluttering in the breeze created by her wings. She looked down at them, from Rarity to Big Mac and back, waiting for their response. Rarity squared her shoulders and gave it.
"It. Is. On."
"Is this everypony then?"
Rainbow Dash fluttered next to Doctor Whoof and set down to his side, looking over the gathered ponies. "Yeah, it's all that's coming. Rarity and Big Mac came after a speech that was about 20% cooler than any I've given before. Trixie came, obviously, but Ditzy told me AJ refused to leave Fluttershy's side again, and that Pinkie Pie wouldn't respond to her knocking, and she couldn't find the Cakes anywhere to let her in." Rainbow swept a hoof toward the small crowd of ponies milling about the main room of the DRIS. "So it's just you, me, Rarity, Big Mac, Trixie, Ditzy, and Spike."
Doctor Whoof sighed and played with his bow tie, even though it looked just fine to Rainbow. "I didn't really expect any different. Pinkie Pie was definitely a hopeless case, and it's cost us valuable time making sure."
"Hopeless case?" said Rainbow. Turning to the pony beside her she raised her voice so as to attract the attention of all there. "What do you mean Pinkie Pie was a hopeless case? And for that matter, would you mind finally telling us what the hay is exactly going on? Like why it's twilight outside and everything's dying?"
"Yes please," continued Rarity, taking a step toward Rainbow and Doctor. "We've all gathered together, we are all ready to help, but what are we going to DO?"
Doctor whirled around to Rarity and bopped her on the nose. "Yes of course, we ponies love exposition. Okay then everypony, gather around! Lots of talking to do and I do not like repeating myself!" Once the others had turned their attention to him Doctor continued. "Right then, let's start with what's probably the biggest thing on your mind; the lack of sun. Once again time is short so I'll stick to the basics" This time he bopped his own nose. "No, scratch that, sticking to the basics would just leave that we are royally f-"
Trixie jumped in. "I think I'll handle this part, Doctor. You just get everything ready for the trip, okay?"
"Oh you're no fun." Doctor huffed and turned away. As he busied himself with pressing buttons, turning knobs, and fiddling with screens along the control panel, Trixie stepped forward to address the group.
"I want no interruptions until I am finished. As some of you may know, I have been consulting with Princess Luna, my mentor, since the early morning hours. Late last night Princess Celestia was gravely injured, and is incapable of raising the sun. Luna tried, but she just isn't as strong as her sister yet, and the twilight outside is all she could manage."
"Strangely fitting," said Rarity, "for the situation we face."
Trixie sighed. "The coincidence has been noticed, especially as it was a seemingly-insane Twilight Sparkle that injured the princess."
"What?!" Rainbow zoomed forward into Trixie's face. "Tell me you're kidding. Please tell me that."
Trixie magically pushed Rainbow away and shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Worse though, it has been confirmed that Twilight now knows the location of Midnight Castle, where the Knights of Equestria were sealed away, and is almost certainly already there."
Rainbow hovered into the air, her face settling into a scowl as she punched at the air. "Well what are we waiting here for then? Let's get Pinkie Pie and Applejack, DRAG them if we have to, go to Midnight Castle, and stop Twilight and Yellow Jacket!"
"It's not going to be that simple," said Doctor Whoof. He looked up from typing algorithms into his computer and waved a hoof at Rainbow. "First off, you don't even know where Midnight Castle is or how to get there, so stop being an idiot and think. Secondly I already told you, Miss Pie and Applejack are hopeless cases."
Rainbow growled and made to charge at the brown earth pony, but was stopped by Ditzy biting down on her tail. While this went on Big Mac spoke up for the first time. "Doctor Whoof, what exactly do ya mean by saying that? What's wrong with my sister?"
At this everypony's attention turned back to Doctor Whoof. He sighed and typed in one final command into the computer before turning to fully face them. "It has to do with something I said earlier last night, about how something was attacking us. I'd done a scan of Fluttershy while fixing her up, and to my utmost horror found her natural magic to almost empty. Her Element of Harmony, Kindness if I recall correctly, is completely gone."
"How is that possible?" said Ditzy.
Doctor shrugged. "Well it would be surprisingly simple actually. The poor girl was pushed beyond her limit I'd guess, some kind of emotional attack to drive her to doing something cruel or hateful, the opposite of kindness. This would have weakened her connection to the element enough for anypony with enough magical power to rip it from her."
"But what about Pinkie Pie and Applejack?"
Doctor nodded to Rainbow Dash and continued. "I had Trixie confirm it for me last night while I was working on some leads here, and Pinkie Pie is missing her Element of Laughter too. Friends getting attacked, going evil, and hooking up left and right, no wonder about that. At the moment she would be a bigger hindrance than help."
Big Mac stepped forward. "And my little sis? I reckon she's missin' her element too?"
Doctor Whoof flinched and shared a look with Trixie, before turning back to the control dais so as not to have to face the much larger earth pony. "I think that would actually be a mercy compared to what's going on with her now. We all know she has trouble lying, to herself or others, but with everything that's happened and her technically, well, killing one of her best friends even though that friend came back, her element's ramped up into something crippling..."
Trixie took over as Doctor's voice dropped off. "All this morning she's been sitting beside Fluttershy, repeating to herself over and over again exactly what she did. Unable to lie to herself about what she did, or even downplay it, she's stuck in a loop of self-hate and depression. Her own element has turned against her, eating away at her sanity."
Trixie finished speaking. Big Mac looked at her, slowly turned his head to look to the door out, and then sighed and turned back. "Ah reckon ah'd be more useful for whatever you and the doc have got planned."
"You would reckon right, my reckoning fellow!" Doctor Whoof trotted over to a box set near the group and pulled out simple ring of chrome and brass, multiple wires hanging from it. "We're going to Midnight Castle to save the day!"
"But-I-what-" Rainbow shook her head and fluttered over to hover around Doctor. "But you said we don't know the way to Midnight Castle! Wait, unless, did Luna tell you?"
Doctor shook his head and trotted over to Trixie, slipping the ring around her horn and connecting the wires to the control dais. "Nope, got run out of Canterlot by idiots accusing her of going all Nightmare Moon again. But! We don't need Princess Luna because we. Have." He tapped a command into the keyboard, and the central pillar lit up with a neon green light. Doctor spun around to face them all. "The TARDIS!"
Complete silence followed this proclamation. Rainbow Dash looked from Doctor to Trixie, to the control dais, back to Trixie, back to the dais, and then finally back to Doctor. "Trixie and Relative Dimensions in Space?"
Both Rarity and Spike fell over laughing, Ditzy facehoofed, and Trixie groaned. Doctor just chuckled and shook his head. "Clever, but no. It means Time and Relative Dimension in Space. You see, up to this day it was capable of shifting its spatial coordinates with anywhere else in the worlddon'taskhowit'scomplicatedGallopfreyansweregeniuses. But today, oh, today I was finally able to implement what for centuries ponies have only ever dreamed of. Time travel."
"..." Rainbow stared at Doctor and Trixie. After a moment she just sighed. "Time travel, sure, whatever. But WHY exactly do we need time travel to get to Midnight Castle? And you still haven't answered how we're going to find the dang place."
Trixie motioned to the ring around her horn. "Twilight and I are sisters, our individual magic will have similar base feels to them. By using samples of my magic as an example, the TARDIS will be able to scan all of time and space for a match, and then transport us there. And as for the time travel, Midnight Castle is timelocked. It only exists in one single moment, and no time else in the entire time stream."
"That...seems rather excessive," said Rarity. "These knight fellows are really that dangerous then?"
Trixie shook her head. "Not really, no. After roughly 1,500 years their bodies and minds should be almost entirely deteriorated by now, leaving nothing but the energy granted them. No, the danger comes from the evil sealed with them; Tirek the Destroyer, the Conqueror, the Annihilator. If HE gets released, well, game over. Total existential collapse."
Rainbow jumped into the air to yell what were they waiting for, but paused. Folding her forelegs across her chest she stared at Doctor and Trixie. "Well? What's the reason for not rushing off now?"
Doctor Whoof looked from Rainbow to Trixie. For a moment it seemed as if he was not going to answer, until "Seeing as the frame of time we will be aiming for is small, chances for a catastrophic failure are about 55%. Best thing we could hope for in that case would be ripping a hole in space and time the exact size of Equestria."
"And...the worst?" Rainbow asked.
"The sudden termination of our personal timelines, with a retroactive effect. We would literally have never happened." Doctor walked forward and looked Rainbow straight in the eye. "Does knowing make you feel any better?"
Rainbow didn't blink. "It's not like we really have much of a choice about going, is it?"
A ghost of a grin flickered across Doctor's face. "I think we always have a choice. That's what makes tragedies tragic. Now then, everypony!" He turned and took his position at what appeared to be the main controls for the TARDIS. "I suggest holding on here, it's going to be a bumpy ride. Any last-minute confessions or heartfelt conversations, I suggest having them now because there will be no pit stops!"
With slow steps, the group gathered around the control dais. Grabbing hold of it for support, they all watched together as Doctor pulled levers and flipped switches, as deftly as if he had been doing all his life and knew exactly what he was doing. Only the sweat on his brow and slight trembling of his limbs told them that he was as scared as they were.
"Hey, Trixie?" Spike stood beside the blue Unicorn. "I'm sorry for not really treating you like a friend, and I, I forgive you for being such an annoying show-off when you first came to town."
Trixie smiled and leaned down, giving the baby dragon a nuzzle. "I apologize for being such an annoying show-off. And I thank you for seeing how bad I was then." The room suddenly shook and they returned to grasping the dais for support.
"Big Mac?" Rarity said, looking to her left at the red pony. He looked back and their eyes met. "I want you to know...if anything goes wrong...that sowing set you gave me, with the crummy needles and rusty hooftacks and bent pins and clumsy scissors...it was the best gift I have ever gotten from anypony. And I wish we could have had more time to know each other."
Big MacIntosh smiled and reached over, taking Rarity's hoof in his. "Miss Rarity, I feel blessed with even the small amount of time we did have. Thank you for it." From the glowing glass pillar in front of them all a wheezing sound began to be heard. It was as if a pair of iron lungs was struggling for breath.
Ditzy Doo looked away from Rarity and Big Mac across from her. She hung her head, letting her blonde mane fall down and hide the tears glistening in her eyes. She almost flinched at the touch of a hoof on her right shoulder, and turned to see Rainbow Dash there beside her. "Rainbow?"
"Ditzy, I..." She closed her eyes a moment, a few tears slipping down her cheeks onto the glass below. "Ditzy I'm sorry for how I've acted. I thought about...us, too much and got scared. We were friends, and then we-"
Ditzy reached forward and cupped Rainbow's face with a hoof. "Rainbow Dash, I love you as my closest friend. I saw you needed comfort and love and companionship, and I acted. But please don't hurt yourself on my account. As just a friend or as more, I will always be right here, at your side. So be brave."
Rainbow Dash nodded, and then smiled. This moment, for all her friends and loved ones, she could do that. She could be brave. She wiped her eyes of the tears that still lingered there and turned to look at Doctor Whoof. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's do this!"
Doctor Whoof grinned back and pulled a lever. The shaking doubled in strength and the wheezing noise grew deafening, until none of the ponies there could so much as hear their thoughts. Still though they were able to make out over the din of noise Doctor Whoof's single, exuberant shout.