Chapter 3: Thank You For The Gift, Princess
Dusk Shine was backed into a corner, surrounded by five ponies who used to be his friends. Their faces were contorted in anger as they shouted at him.
"I'll never forgive you for this!" One yelled, nearly striking Dusk with his hoof. He tried to apologize, but they just wouldn't listen! They were closing in on him now, preparing to wreak vengeance on the frightened unicorn. Before they struck, the pink one spoke.
"Dusk! Breakfast is ready!"
Dusk Shine awoke with a jolt. He opened his eyes, wincing as they adjusted to the sunlight, and let out a breath of relief - only a nightmare.
"I'll get it in a moment..." he groggily said, standing up. Dusk shook his mane out and walked to where Bubble Berry was serving breakfast. He had prepared a decent spread of berries, hay, and oats for the group to enjoy, and was happily handing it out to them.
"Thanks a bunch, sugarcube," Applejack said, grabbing a bowl full of food.
"Don't mention it!" Bubble replied.
"What made you want to make breakfast?" Dusk asked, also grabbing a bowl.
"Well, since I was up already, I said to myself 'Hey! Everypony will be hungry when they get up!', and since I make food all the time, it just made sense to make food for you guys too. Now, we won't all be starvy warvy when we get to Canterlot."
Dusk chuckled at the pink ponies explanation. "Thank you, Bubble." It didn't cross Dusk's mind that Bubble's real name was Pinkie.
After they all had finished their breakfast, the group packed up and left. All that was left behind was some charred ashes where their fire had once been.
Coming ever closer to them was the grand mountain that Canterlot perched on, and it loomed over the small group as they approached the path that led to the regal city. Even though it was just a walkway, it was still inviting and elegant. Flattened light grey dirt led the way; a nice contrast to the jutting and rocky mountain. Not taking a moment to wait, the group began to climb.
Within the hour, the group was standing in front of the drawbridge into the city. As usual, it was opening and inviting, and two guards stood at either side of it. Their golden armor shone in the sunlight, and they stood still like statues, not wavering in the slightest. It was almost surreal.
"Welp, ain't no sense standin' here lookin' at it." The orange stallion proceeded to walk over the drawbridge, the rest of the ponies following him.
The city was bustling with aristocrats, upper class, and merchants alike. Hundreds of conversations went on at once, whether they be about taxes, who bought what recently, or whether the monarchy had made an acceptable choice. The scents of various high end perfumes and colognes wafted through the air, accented by the ornate and luxurious suits and dresses that their owners proudly displayed. All of the occupants strode with a deliberate and florid gait, as if they would be judged and criticized for not walking correctly.
It was not what Dusk Shine was used to.
After a short while of walking, the group was at Canterlot castle. It was much larger up close, and it's large towers seemed to reach the heavens. The echos of higher gusts twirling through the tall peaks reverberated and reached the gate. In front of them was a large, ornate door, with another set of guards in front of it. As the six approached them, the guards spoke up.
"Are you Twilight Sparkle?" the dark one asked.
"Twilight... yes, I'm Twilight Sparkle," Dusk replied.
"The princess will see you and your companions immediately." He stomped his hoof on the ground, and with a deep creaking, the door began to open. Dusk and the rest filed through into the entry hall. The ceiling was high and vaulted, with decorative chandeliers lighting the way. A crimson, lavish carpet was spread throughout. Even though they had been here for the Grand Galloping Gala, it remained an astonishing sight, but not to Dusk Shine. He was used to travelling these hallways frequently, and practically knew how to get to the royal chamber by heart. He led the way, passing the occasional guard, all of which stood silently.
Soon, they had reached the entrance to the royal chamber. Large tapestries hung from the walls, with one side depicting symbols of the moon while the other showed the sun. Old sets of display armor stood valiantly at either end of the door, armed with decorative spears. On the large door was a picture of a sun, but half of it was a blue moon. The symbol was common, and everyone knew it represented the two royal sisters. The guards positioned at the door nodded, then pushed the doors open for the group. Inside, Celestia waited on her throne.
Excitedly, Dusk quickly entered the room. He walked towards the princess, who quizzically looked at him and his friends.
"My, what a change!" she said, her face turning to a smile. She light nuzzled Dusk as he approached her. "It's nice to see you, Twilight, although I wish the circumstances had been better."
"Me too, Princess," Dusk replied. Without another word, he pulled the spell book out of his bag. "I've brought the book, like you asked."
"Thank you. Now, let's see what you've gotten yourself into." The princess levitated the book in front of her and turned through the pages, quickly finding the right spell. Her eyes narrowed as she began to read. "My, this is a very ancient book. In fact, the spell you attempted wasn't even complete."
Dusk's heart sank. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it happens to be an experimental magic, that many powerful unicorns had been constructing together. Unfortunately, it proved to be too difficult to successfully cast, and so it was lost in time. Until, that is, you discovered it under your library!" The princess closed the book and stood up. "I'm afraid we'll need something a bit more than just a reversal spell to undo your problem. Please, follow me."
"Where are we going, princess?" Dusk asked, standing at Celestia's side.
"I'm going to show you something most ponies don't know about. Something that I've kept to myself, Luna, and a hoofful of select scholars. You'll see in a moment."
Celestia led them through a nearby door and down a long spiral staircase. The air began to grow cold and damp as they descended, despite the many torches leading down. Eventually, they reached a single bookcase at the bottom.
"We walked all that way for this?" Blitz blurted. Applejack quickly smacked him in the back of the head, causing Blitz to groan in pain and rub where he was struck. Celestia simply smiled as her horn lit up.
"Is this what we came here... for..." Dusk began, but trailed off as the books were levitated out and rearranged in such a way that the spines created a large 'L'. Shortly after, the bookcase shifted to the left, revealing a door in the wall. The word 'Library' was engraved on it, in simple writing.
"So that's what the 'L' stands for! I'm so good at guessing games," Bubble said, beaming.
"Precisely. As of late, however, it could stand for 'Luna.'" The princess gave a short sigh. "She spends all of her time cooped up in here reading. In fact, she reminds me of you, Twilight."
Dusk blushed with embarrassment for a moment, before following the princess into the library. The room was very vast, with tall bookcases reaching to the ceiling. They were arranged like the spokes on a wagon wheel, meeting at the middle and expanding outwards. On the ceiling was a very expansive mural, depicting the creation of Equestria, the raising and lowering of the sun and moon, and Luna's banishment. It was extremely intricate and detailed, and Dusk couldn't help but admire it. They walked to the center of the room, where Dusk noticed several tables and chairs were positioned. He also saw a large stack of books on one of the tables, and could hear a pony busily flipping through pages. Straining his ears, he heard the clacking of... something together. It sounded like wood against wood. Celestia cleared her throat.
"Ahem. Luna?" She asked. The clacking and flipping of pages stopped, and a cobalt pony poked her snout over a stack of books.
Dusk had a nervous twitch at the sight of the princess and immediately turned his head and mouthed to his friends 'Don't act up.'
"Yes, Celestia?" the moon princess asked. Then she noticed the others. "Oh! Ah... who came with you?"
"You might not recognize them, but these are the Elements of Harmony."
Luna cringed slightly at the words.
Celestia continued. "They're here because of an unfortunate incident involving a spell. You'll notice that they're stallions now."
Luna narrowed her eyes and confirmed the fact. "Oh my. That looks serious."
"Indeed it is. I've come here to find a particularly ancient spell. Would you care to help?"
The moon princess stepped out from behind her stack of books, revealing her full wings and jeweled necklace. "I... suppose I could help. What are you looking for?"
"Well..." Celestia started, circling around the center area. "Something along the lines of gender reversal."
Luna closed her eyes for a moment, in deep concentration. She tried to recall any book that might have a spell that strong. She opened her eyes as one came to mind. "You could try the... Forbidden Scroll."
Dusk became uneasy at the word 'forbidden.' He looked from princess to princess, waiting for Celestia's response. The room was terribly silent for an agonizing amount of time. Finally, Celestia spoke up.
"We could attempt to. However, it is called forbidden for a reason, sister."
"Yes, I know, I read all about it. It started as a collection of the most powerful spells created, but through corruption and dark intentions it became full of sinister and dangerous magic, which caused it to be seized and forbidden to be recreated by our glorious and benevolent ruler, Princess Celestia." Upon finishing, a smile crept upon Luna's face.
Celestia seemed pleased at her sister's knowledge, and returned the kind look. "That's exactly correct. However, not all of the spells within the scroll were dangerous. We shall take a look at it."
"Thank you, Princess," Dusk said, looking up to her.
"Yes, thank you very much," Butterscotch added. The rest of them took turns thanking the princess, who rolled her eyes.
"Please, there's no need to be so formal with me. Now, let's find that scroll. Luna, if you will." She nodded to Luna, who was leaning over to read a book. She perked up at the mention of her name.
"Oh, yes, of course," she said, turning. "I believe that scroll is this way..." She led Celestia and the six ponies down one of the many hallways. They continued until they had reached the very end of the room, where an old, dusty display case stood. It had an old wooden frame, and the foggy glass was just translucent enough to reveal an aged scroll, lightly hovering on a small pedestal. Celestia's horn lit up as she began to mouth several words. The case was surrounded in blue light for a moment, which then seemed to shatter and dissipate.
"Ah, even after all these years, I still remember that anti-shield spell," Celestia said, in a whimsical tone. She levitated the scroll in front of herself and unfurled it. Dusk looked at the spell as Celestia did, and noticed it was in a language he didn't recognize, even after all of his research. He also noticed that the text had a faint glow to it. Clearly, this was some powerful magic. For the next few moments, Celestia pored over the scroll, scrutinizing it's every detail. The rest sat in silence, waiting for her to announce what to do. After many minutes, and with a look of concern on her face, the Princess of the Sun finally spoke.
"This spell is indeed very old. So old, in fact, that it was made during the times when physical objects were still used for incantations."
Being versed in magic, Dusk spoke up. "What do you mean, princess? Do we need to include artifacts of some sort?"
"Precisely, Twilight. They appear to be very rare ingredients, however. I can only hope they still exist."
"Well, what do we need?" Blitz asked anxiously.
"Patience, Rainbow Dash," Celestia replied, looking over the scroll once more. "The answer is written in a riddle."
"Ooh! Riddles! I love riddles!" Bubble Berry suddenly chimed. He had been uncharacteristically quiet the whole time. "What is it, what is it?"
Celestia couldn't help but grin at the young stallion's enthusiasm. "You're quite eager! Let us begin." She began to read from the text:
Up in the heavens
The master contains the key
Down is the answer
Bubble sat down and rubbed his chin with a hoof. "Boy oh boy, this is a real stumper! What could be in the heavens?"
"Perhaps it doesn't literally mean the heavens?" Elusive said, looking at Bubble and giving a shrug.
"It must mean something in the sky then," Dusk announced. Suddenly, Blitz spoke.
"Cloudsdale! It's up in the sky, and somepony probably thought it was like a heaven."
"Very good reasoning, Rainbow Dash." Celestia spoke.
Dusk recalled the second line. "So, the master is in Cloudsdale, and it has the key. But... Cloudsdale doesn't have a master, does it?"
"Well, it used to." Rainbow Blitz said, turning his head to Dusk. "It's taught in all Pegasus schools. Long ago, there was a Pegasus king, who sorta ruled Cloudsdale like Celestia did. Eventually he got old, and after he was gone, they wanted to honor him by making him the last King of the Pegasi."
"Ah yes, I remember him quite fondly," The sun princess spoke. "He went by 'King Archimedes Darkbillow III', and was a very prestigious leader. He cared much for the Pegasus race, and his passing was mourned by many. Even today, I miss the stories he used to tell when we met. However, what's past is past. I can't be reminiscing when my dear pupil is in need, can I?" She looked down to Dusk and smiled.
"Ah don't get tha' last line. 'Down is tha answer'? Tha last two lines said it was in Cloudsdale!" Applejack said, starting to pace around. "What other kinda 'down' is there, anyhoo?"
"One could feel 'down', as in sad," Elusive said.
"You can be down for the count!" Blitz excitedly added.
"Um, it could be a feather..." Butterscotch quietly said.
"What was that?" Dusk asked, approaching Butterscotch.
"Well, when I take care of birds, sometimes they leave feathers. It's really called feather down... oh, but that's silly..."
"No, no, no, it makes sense, Butter... Fluttershy!" Dusk looked towards the princess. "I think I know what the first ingredient is."
"And that would be?" Celestia asked, waiting for her disciples answer.
"It's a feather from the Pegasus king!" the purple stallion triumphantly said.
"Very good, all of you." Celestia said, with satisfaction. "Even I wasn't entirely sure what the answer was. Now, for the next ingredient."
"There's another?" Blitz dejectedly said.
"This spell requires three material ingredients in total. One representing time, one representing memory, and one representing gender. Due to to it's owner and age, the feather would appear to be time." The princess looked over the scroll and read the second riddle:
Golden and sacred
The binds of the two beings
It hides in the throne
Upon hearing this, Luna spoke for the first time in a while. "I... I think I know the answer to this one, sister."
"As do I. What were you thinking?" Celestia asked.
"Well, the 'throne' mentioned in the riddle refers to our old throne, when we still inhabited the temple in the Everfree Forest. 'Golden and sacred' is an artifact that was placed there long ago - a gift from the Gryphon kingdom. Finally, the 'two beings' represent..."
"...us." Celestia finished. "Or, in this particular case, two opposing forces - sun and moon."
"Exactly." Luna said, confidently.
Blitz looked between Celestia and Luna quizzically. "Wait, what does that have to do with this spell?"
"Think of it as a parallel, Rainbow Dash." Luna answered, looking to the pegasus. "It is not obvious at first, but consider your problem. You are attempting to go from male to female, correct? Opposites. Sun and moon? Also opposites."
"Oh. I guess that kinda makes sense when you put it like that..."
"Then we have to tread into that dreadful forest, don't we?" Elusive said, with visible disgust on his face.
"Yes, it seems we'll be taking another trip to the castle of the solar sisters," Dusk announced, looking towards his friends. They all nervously shifted at this, knowing full well the dangers that lurked in that forest.
"Excellent work, young ponies." Celestia pleasingly said. "You've now figured out what two of the items are. It is now time to figure out the final piece of the puzzle." The princess cleared her throat and announced the final riddle:
Darkness and despair
All that remain in this place
Hide the mystic flow
The ponies pondered this riddle again and again in their heads, but couldn't seem to find an answer.
"Only place ah can think of fer 'darkness an' despair' is th' Everfree Fores'. One a' the parts is already in there, though." Applejack didn't have any idea where it could be, let alone what the 'mystic flow' could be.
"Applejack is right," Dusk said. "Princess, do you know what this could mean?"
Celestia thought for a moment. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Bubble Berry.
"Ooh! I think I know the answer to this one! Maybe the dark and spooky place is Old Canterlot! Am I right? Am I, am I?"
Hearing the words 'Old Canterlot' caused Celestia's eyes to widen. "How do you know of that place, Pinkie Pie?"
"Well, I used to hear stories from Grandpa Pie, who's great, great, great, great, great, great grandpa was in the royal guard. He told me all about Canterlot, but not our Canterlot! This Canterlot was inside the mountain back when it was dangerous and scary outside. Eventually they built New Canterlot on the side of a mountain, then they sealed up Old Canterlot so people wouldn't get confused! So our Canterlot is Canterlot, but Old Canterlot was their Canterlot, and it's old to us because we're here now when New Canterlot is Canterlot. See?" Bubble Berry grinned after his long winded explanation, leaving the other five terribly confused. Celestia and Luna, however, exchanged concerned looks.
"It's quite a benefit to your group then, if you know of Old Canterlot. It may indeed have the final ingredient," Luna spoke.
"What exactly is the last ingredient then?" Dusk asked. "What could 'mystic flow' refer to?"
"I believe the answer you're looking for is liquid magic."
"Liquid... magic?" A quizzical expression crossed Dusk's face.
"Precisely. Before magic was properly harnessed by Unicorns, it was kept in a liquid state for ingestion and simple use."
The influx of new information about the past was beginning to overwhelm Dusk Shine. He attempted to stay focused on the issue at hand, rather than the mysteries of the past. "So, the last part of the spell is liquid magic?"
"That is what it appears to be," Celestia confirmed. "So, you'll need to travel to Old Canterlot, Cloudsdale, and the Everfree Forest to gather the reagents for this spell."
"I have but one question about all of this," Elusive gathered the attention of the group. "Just where might we find all of these ingredients? Surely, Old Canterlot, Cloudsdale, and the old castle are rather large places. We can't hope to spend all of our time searching."
Luna answered one of the questions. "If I remember correctly, the throne room in the old castle will be past the third tower, in the middle of a large complex of buildings." At this point, Dusk had taken out a pencil and piece of paper and began writing down information. "The room is large and circular, with two thrones in the center. The artifact will be in the center of the thrones, and there should be a method of retrieving it."
"Thank you, your majesty," Elusive bowed while speaking, but quickly stood back up. "This still leaves the other two pieces."
"I kinda know where king's grave site is," Rainbow Blitz said, looking to Elusive. "That's where they put the king's stuff when he kicked the bucket."
"Simply wonderful. This is proving to be much easier than we thought, is it not?"
"We still don' know jus' where this magic water is s'posed to be," Applejack said, slightly darkening the mood.
"I can assist you with that problem." The sun princess closed the scroll and placed it back into the display case. The glass door shut, and a blue light encased the container, but it's glow disappeared as quickly as it was formed. A light hum filled the air, then trailed off. "If there is any liquid magic left in Old Canterlot, you will find it in the Enchantment Wing of the old royal library. There was a small pool for research purposes left there, which may still exist today."
"I can't thank you enough for all of your help, princess," Dusk Shine said, approaching her.
"It is my pleasure, Twilight. I pray that this information is correct, and helps to reverse
the spell." Celestia leaned down and nuzzled Dusk's neck. He quickly returned the gesture and they parted. Dusk then looked towards Luna, who was standing a bit behind her sister.
"I must thank you as well, Princess Luna."
"Oh. Well, you are very welcome," Luna replied, sheepishly.
"One day, we should meet for a better reason."
"Yes. I agree." The moon princess cracked a smile before looking back down to the floor. One day... she thought.
The remaining six thanked the princesses, and the group, save for Luna, traveled back to the throne room of Canterlot. Celestia personally escorted them to the entrance of the castle, and before they left, spoke to Dusk.
"Twilight, I want you to take this." The princess produced a small, transparent orb which had a faint yellow glow to it. "If you touch it with your horn, you'll be able to speak with me no matter where you are. Should you need help, simply ask, and I will do what I can."
Dusk Shine humbly knelt down. "Thank you for the gift, princess. I will be sure to use it wisely." The princess smiled before telling Dusk to catch up with his friends, who were over the drawbridge already. Dusk gave one last goodbye before turning his back on the castle and meeting with his friends.
"My, it's getting rather late, don't you think?" Elusive said, looking at the sky. Time had passed by very quickly in the castle, and they didn't realize just how long they had been there until now. "Perhaps we should find a place to stay? We don't want to go out at night."
"I'm gonna hafta agree with Elusive here," Applejack said. "It's mighty dark out, and there ain't gonna be anythin' done at night."
"If you insist, we'll find an inn," Dusk said, leading the group. Being a large city, Canterlot had several places to stay, and the group decided to stay in the first one they saw. It happened to be a tavern by the name of 'The Prime Pegasus." Inside, there were few patrons. Several sat at tables, and nopony was sitting at the bar. The bartender looked up as they entered, and gave them a warm welcome.
"Greetings, lads. Are ya here ta' stay the night?"
"Yes, sir," Dusk answered.
"Always good ta see new faces. It'll be fifty bits per night, but that includes dinner and breakfast! Hows 'at sound?"
"That there's a deal if I ever did see one." Applejack said, taking a seat. The bartender gave a hearty laugh.
"I'm likin' you fellas already! It'll be three hundred bits total, and I'll put yer names down." The six stallions each brought out their money and passed it to the bartender, who quickly scribbled their names in the large registry. When he was done, he looked back to the group. "Now, what'll it be fer dinner? Menu's right behind me, so take yer time." He walked to the side of the bar and started to clean a collection of mugs.
"So, how long do you think this'll take?" Blitz asked Dusk.
"Well, several days at the very minimum. We have a lot of travelling to do, and Everfree Forest will take the longest." Blitz frowned slightly.
"Do you really think this will work?"
"I trust the princess completely, Dash."
"Wait, your name is Dash."
"Yeah, I know that, but Blitz sounds cooler. You know how cool I need to be, Dusk."
"Fine, I'll play along and call you 'Blitz', but you have to call me Twilight."
"Deal," Blitz replied, with a grin.
"I certainly hope I've packed warm enough." Elusive said, looking over his bags. "A place like Old Canterlot seems terribly cold and damp.
"Oh no, I hope it's not too dark," Butterscotch added, his face changing to worry.
"It'll be fine, Butterscotch," Dusk said. "Elusive and I can use magic to light the way."
"I suppose that's okay..."
"Alls ah'm worried 'bout is gettin' back on the farm," Applejack gruffly said.
"Applejack, do you worry about anything other than your apple trees?" Elusive asked, looking over to Applejack.
"O' course. There's mah family, and mah finances, and mah friends."
"Oh good, we're on that list," Elusive flatly replied.
"Hey, don't start anything funny," Blitz said, looking between the two. "That's my job, remember?"
"Fair enough," Applejack said, still looking at Elusive. Just then, the bartender came back and asked about their orders. They ordered something filling off the menu, and continued to lightly chat about their upcoming journey. As they ate, a light grey mare with a pink treble clef cutie mark entered the tavern. She had dark hair, amethyst eyes, and had a large instrument case with her. The pony practically dragged it to the bar, and sat down next to Blitz, looking a bit downcast.
"Bartender," she said, half-heartedly lifting a hoof. "Get me the usual."
"In here again, Octavia?" The bartender asked, preparing a drink for her.
"Same stuff, different night," She dully replied. "We get a performance, no one appreciates the music, and we end up leaving with empty hooves."
"I'm sorry ta hear that." He pushed the drink to her, which she immediately started to drink. Blitz was listening to the conversation and looked over to her, then at the large case at bottom of the bar stool. He didn't realize how long he was observing her, as she put her drink down and looked over to him.
"Can I help you?" she asked, clearly irritated.
"Oh, uh, sorry, I didn't mean to stare."
"I just uh... overheard you."
"Great." She took another sip of her drink.
"What do you play?"
"Double bass. Why?"
"I was just curious." Blitz wasn't sure where to take the conversation. Octavia looked at him from head to toe, then finished the rest of her beverage. "Is anyone else in your ba-"
"Are you trying to hit on me?" she interrupted.
"What? No," Blitz said, starting to get red in the face.
"Are you sure about that?" Octavia pressed the issue, her face inching closer in his direction.
"I'm, uh, positive."
She gave him another once over. At this point, the conversation between the other five had ceased, and they were listening in on Blitz, eagerly waiting to see what would happen between him and this aggravated musician.
"That's good. Most stallions don't care about what I do. They just care about what I might do. You seem a bit more honest, though." She looked at Blitz, and her expression lightened up. The bartender delivered another drink, which she took some of. "I might want to get to know you more." Rainbow Blitz wasn't sure what to say, but he could feel his cheeks burning up. Was this going to happen everywhere he went? From behind him, he could hear his friends suppressing their giggling.
"That sounds... great. Yeah, I'd like that." Blitz replied, trying to keep his cool. Octavia turned away and looked straight ahead of her.
"How long are you going to be here?" she asked.
"Just for tonight, then I have to leave... for a long time."
"That's a shame."
"Yeah, I wish I could stay longer, y'know?"
Octavia finished the remainder of her second drink, then looked back to Blitz. "I might think about paying you a visit tonight. We can talk more then."
"Sure, sure." He gulped. "That sounds cool."
Octavia went back to her third drink, and Blitz turned back to his friends, all of which were quietly giggling to themselves.
"Very funny, guys..." Blitz said, sarcastically.
"You bet it is," Applejack said, a huge grin on his face.
"It is always amusing to see you like this, darling," Elusive added.
With the occasional chuckle, the group finished their dinner and headed to their rooms upstairs. They all said their 'good nights', and the humorous 'good luck!' to Blitz, and retired for the night.