Chapter 4: Oh Heavens, Did You Say Dirt?
Groomed and all packed up, Dusk Shine made his way down to the bar just as the clock behind it struck eight. Looking around, he noticed he was the first to awaken out of the group.
The barkeeper flashed Dusk a smile as he sat down at the bar. "Mornin', son. Sleep well?"
"As well as I usually do."
"Good ta' hear!" he cheerily replied, while pushing a menu in front of Dusk. The violet stallion opened his mouth to speak, but the barkeeper interrupted. "If you'll recall, ya got yerself a free breakfast here. So, lad, what's it gonna be?"
A free breakfast! Dusk had forgotten about that detail in his slumber, and he had been prepared to leave without a meal. The rumbling in his stomach declared just how dreadful of an idea that would have been. With little hesitation, he scanned over the menu, looking for something light. Oatmeal, hay pancakes, fruit salad and... apple jacks?
"Yep! Somethin' new from one o' the Apple families. Some sorta cereal and little bits a' apple."
Dusk hadn't realized he said the last part out loud. The food's uncanny resemblance to his farmer friend had caught him off guard, especially this early in the morning. After looking at the choices one more time, he decided to order the cereal. The bartender grabbed a jar of what appeared to be apple and hay, opened it, and dumped a bit of the mixture into a bowl. He then poured milk over it, and set the dish in front of Dusk.
"Enjoy!" he said, turning to take another patrons order. Dusk looked into the pool of milk, hay and apples sitting in front of him, pondering for a moment if it was the right way to use his free breakfast. Levitating a spoon, he brought part of the mixture to his mouth, and with a nervous gulp, ingested it.
Applejack made his way down the stairs, shortly after Dusk had finished breakfast. After greeting the bartender, he took a seat next to Dusk.
"Good morning, Applejack. Did you know one of your family members has a line of cereal?"
"Shoot, do they? What's it called?"
A friendly smile crept across Dusk's face as he said "Apple Jacks."
The orange earth pony's brows furrowed into a look of concern. "...any good?"
"Oh, absolutely. You should try some!"
Applejack's expression quickly turned from concern to pleasure with the news. It wasn't long at all before he had a bowl for himself, and was digging in. While he was focused on his food, he didn't notice Butterscotch take a seat next to him.
"Good morning, everypony."
The unexpected voice next to him caused Applejack to jump and drop and his spoon on the counter. After recovering from the slight shock, he looked over to Butterscotch, who was huddled over in his seat, looking a bit fearful.
"I-I'm... I'm sorry, was I too l-loud?"
Applejack sighed, looking over the yellow pegasus. "Nah, you weren't. You jus' startled me is all. It's alright."
"Sorry about that..." Butterscotch replied, beginning to sit up.
By nine o'clock, Bubble Berry and Elusive had come downstairs and gotten their meals. Elusive explained that he had come down so late because he'd 'simply needed to style his mane just so', and Bubble had been very busy testing the bounciness of his bed. The group had a chuckle at the pink ponies silly explanation before returning to their meals and having idle chit chat.
Finally, Rainbow Blitz walked down the stairs. He knew exactly what was coming, and braced himself for the surge of questions about his late night 'guest'. The mare in question followed him down the stairs, and more than one high pitched whistle was heard as they entered the room. Ignoring the jeers, he and Octavia sat down next to the rest of Blitz's friends.
"Well, good mornin' there, loverboy!" Applejack hollered over, a grin on his face. "Have a good rest?" Blitz could almost feel the implications in his words, and he knew that a good explanation would be required.
"Yeah, I did have a good night," Blitz replied.
"And how was it for yer friend?"
"He was very charming." Octavia's smooth voice came, looking past Blitz and over to Applejack.
"My, is that how they put it these days?" Elusive retorted, lightheartedly. Everypony but Blitz and Octavia gave a light chuckle.
"Well, actually..." Blitz started, but was cut off by Octavia.
"For your information, gentlecolts, we didn't do anything... vulgar. We simply talked."
Dusk leaned over and looked to Blitz. Out of all of his friends, he assumed Blitz to be the first pony to leap at an opportunity like this one. Dusk needed to hear that again, because Octavia couldn't possibly have said what he thought she said. "I'm sorry, but... you two... talked?"
Blitz was the one to speak this time. "Well, yeah. She was practically crying when she came to my door. I decided to do the cool thing and listen to her."
"So, lemme get this straight, sugarcube. A pretty mare like her comes to your bedroom, cryin' her eyes out, drunk outta' her mind and lookin' fer attention... and ya talk to her?"
The cyan pegasus nodded. "Yep. Pretty much."
"I'm surprised, Rainbow," Elusive spoke, continuing in a dramatic tone. "That was a very sweet thing for you to do! Taking to a distressed mare like her and calming her in a time of need! Oh, such a romantic gesture." Blitz's cheeks began to brighten at the words. Elusive was right, it was a pretty sweet thing for him to do.
"See? All Blitzy had to do was be nice!" Bubble chimed in.
"And nice he was," Octavia said, getting up from the bar stool. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an ensemble to meet. Oh, and Blitz... thanks again." She turned to the blue stallion and unexpectedly gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, before turning and leaving the tavern. Dusk and the others watched her leave before looking to Blitz, who was blushing a bright crimson.
"Hoo boy, she sure had a thing for you!" Applejack said, relishing every moment of Rainbow's embarrassment. He was never going to let the pegasus live this one down. After a brief chuckle from everypony, Dusk spoke up.
"Now that we've had our breakfast, and some laughs," he looked at Blitz with a grin. "We should be heading out to the castle now. The princess will be waiting for us." The group moved out of their seats and double checked their belongings. The barkeeper gave them a smile as they began to leave.
"Thanks fer stayin', and 'ave a good day!" With that, he watched the six colorful stallions leave, and went to clean a collection of mugs. It wasn't every day that such a peculiar group walked out of the bar.
- - -
The morning sun hung brightly in the eastern sky as the group approached Canterlot Castle. As they reached the drawbridge, Dusk stopped for a moment and levitated the mystic orb out of his saddlebags. Recalling it's instructions, he moved it to the tip of his horn and lightly tapped it, causing a magic spark to jump between the two. The orb took on a life of it's own as it hummed and floated a few feet in front of Dusk. It then appeared to shatter, but upon further inspection had divided into numerous smaller orbs, which now floated about in a spherical shape, just big enough to encompass an alicorn. Seconds later, the faded shape of Celestia appeared in the middle, smiling and looking to Dusk. The holographic magic brought several 'ooh's and 'aah's from everypony, who quickly silenced as the sun princess spoke.
"Ah, it's good to see you, Twilight. It looks as though you've activated the mystic orb with little trouble."
"Yes, Princess, and it's very helpful. This magic is quite advanced!"
Celestia gave a brief chuckle before continuing. "I'll be sure to teach you about it when you're done with your quest. So tell me, what is it you would like?"
"Well, we needed instructions on how to enter Old Canterlot."
"Of course, of course. Twilight, I trust you know the layout of most of the castle, correct?"
"I studied the floor plans quite a bit, so yes."
"Excellent. Then, if you go to the lower levels of the castle, from the basement, you'll find a large, sealed door at the end. This is the original entrance to Canterlot. I will send Princess Luna to assist you in opening it."
From elsewhere in Celestia's area, Luna's voice rang out. "Celly, I'm busy studying!"
"She'll be there, don't worry," Celestia added, with a wink and smile.
"Thank you so much, princess. We'll be sure to go there as fast as possible."
"Good luck with your search!" After this, the image of Celestia disappeared, and the orb returned to it's small, glass-like state. Dusk returned it to his bag and marched forward, leading the way.
"Dusk, do you think we'll be okay?" Butterscotch asked, saying the first words in a long while.
"We'll be fine!" Blitz barged in, interrupting whatever Dusk was about to say. "Old Canterlot is just going to be filled with old books and dirt, anyway."
"Oh heavens, did you say dirt?" Elusive nearly stopped in his tracks at the mention of that icky, grimy, filthy substance that was so bothersome to fully wash out of a coat!
"It'll be fine, ya'll. Ain't nothin' we have to do but go in, get some fancy, magicky water and leave. Easy as bakin' an apple pie."
"I could really go for some pie!" Bubble Berry excitedly said, hopping around the group.
"Tell ya what, if we can fix this spell and get ta' how we used ta' be, Ah'll make pie for all o' ya!" Applejack brightfully announced. Bubble and the others gave a light cheer and laugh as they entered the doors of the castle, looking forward to finishing their journey.
- - -
Princess Luna paced back and forth in front of the large stone door to Old Canterlot. It had been over a millenia ago that she had last been to this entryway, and memories of much less peaceful days resurfaced. Fortunately, her pained reminiscence was halted by the soft clopping of hooves in the distance. The alicorn looked at the far end of the room to see Dusk Shine and the rest of his friends entering.
"Greetings, Princess," Dusk said, bowing when he approached her. The others followed his respectful lead.
"Hello, Twilight, and friends. I trust you are all prepared?"
"Good. I'll open the door for you six, but be cautious to tell either myself or Celestia when you return, so it may be closed again.
"Of course, your majesty, and thank you."
Luna's horn began to glow a bright white, and rumbling could be felt throughout the room. With the loud grinding of stone, the large door moved sideways, revealing a foreboding passageway that descended into darkness. Bits of dust and loose stone fell to the ground as the door stopped and Luna's horn lost it's magic glow. With an affirmative nod, the princess teleported out the room, leaving the group to themselves.
The passage leading deeper into the mountain was little taller than an alicorn, which left Dusk and his friends feeling a bit claustrophobic as they descended into the darkness. Not only was it small, but the blackness was so suffocating that the light from Dusk's horn could barely penetrate it. Had it not been for the dropping temperature, they wouldn't have known how close they were.
The first clue that they had arrived, other than the cold, was that Dusk noticed the light wasn't reflecting off the walls anymore, and that the tunnel had actually opened into a large cavern.
"Guys... I think we might have made it," Dusk said. His horn flashed brighter, and a large flare shot out and arced in front of them. Six jaws collectively dropped at what they saw in the new found light.
The cavern they were in was gargantuan in scale, and far ahead in front of them, an old stone castle lay, surrounded by small residential buildings. It was nearly as big as present day Canterlot, but tucked away in this mountain. Massive columns stretched between the floor and ceiling, some so wide that if Dusk and the others were to stand around it, they wouldn't be within a hoof's length of one another. The simple reality of what was lying in the mountain caused Dusk to lose all train of thought for a moment.
"It's... it's real big," Applejack said, eyes darting from one thing to another. Even Bubble Berry was at a loss of words, but not for long.
"Grandpa never told me how BIG this place was!"
"Yes... it is quite extravagant, isn't it...?" was all Elusive could say. Rainbow Blitz was knocked out of his amazement a bit quicker, thinking of all the flying he could do. He spread his wings and took off, cheering.
"Blitz! Get back here!' Dusk called, starting to run after him. This was everypony else's cue to start moving, and they trailed shortly behind the purple unicorn.
"Just look at all this room!" Blitz shouted, circling one of the large columns and diving down into a spin. "I never thought I'd be able to say I flew in a mountain!" He did several corkscrews and flips midair, but failed to notice his proximity to the column. "Oh, shoot," He managed to say, before colliding with the stone. Moments after hitting it, he slid down to the bottom and groaned, rubbing his head. Standing up, he shook himself off and waited for the others to catch up, all while being thankful none of them had witnessed his blunder.
"Finally!" Dusk said between breaths, catching up to where Blitz was. "You should really warn us before you do that."
"Yeah, maybe I should, but hey, we're in front of the castle now."
Dusk blinked, then looked up. There were indeed in front of the castle. It's large structures reflected off of the flare.
"It's so much bigger up close," Butterscotch said, looking over the building.
"You should have seen it from the sky! Also, Dusk, we might want to hurry up with this."
"Well, it might just be me, but I don't think all those important looking columns should have big cracks in them."
"Wait, what?" Dusk looked to the nearest column, and upon examining it, immediately noticed what Blitz was talking about. Large, jutting cracks were shooting through it, splitting off into hundreds of smaller ones. It was clearly from the many years of endurance this column had to put up with, and Dusk wasn't sure how long it was going to last. "Blitz, you're right. We should get this over with. Follow me, everypony."
Dusk proudly lead the group, walking right to the massive stone gates of the castle... before realizing they were closed, and he couldn't open them.
"Well that's a might inconvenient." Applejack looked over the closed gate, which hadn't been opened in hundreds of years. He then thought of his apple bucking experience. A grin crept across his face as he walked forward. "Step aside, ya'll. Ah'll get this here gate open." They all nodded silently and backed up, giving Applejack some room. He galloped towards the gate, then quickly turned and slammed his hind hooves into it as hard as he could, sending a thundering crack throughout the entire cavern.
"See, nothin' to i-"
"AJ, look out!" Blitz cried, spreading his wings and lunging forward. The blue pegasus tackled Applejack to the side, moments before the stone gate crumbled and fell, right where the orange pony had been. The destruction of the stone kicked up quite a bit of dust, obscuring the vision between Blitz, Applejack, and the others. To their relief, Blitz spoke up.
The other four sighed and ran over to them.
"Oh my, are you okay?" Butterscotch said, worriedly looking over Applejack.
With a brief cough, Applejack stood up and shook himself off. "Ah'm better than I woulda been if Blitz hadn't been quick on his hooves."
"Yep, that's me. Always saving everypony's flank." Blitz grinned.
"Don't go gettin' used to it. I'm sure ya'll are gonna get in trouble with somethin'."
"Usually do!" the pegasus flared his wings out and gave a light flap.
Dusk coughed, getting the attention of the others. "Now that the gate is... open, we should probably get to that liquid magic."
"Dusk is quite right. I'd rather not stay in this... dusty place for longer than we need to." Elusive walked forward to start and lead the group inside, but allowed Dusk to pass him so they knew where to go.
They made their way through the dark and foreboding halls, watching their every step. The crumbling building's structure threatened to cave in at a moments notice, causing each of them to be on guard - ready to avoid falling stone or a collapsing floor.. Any windows the castle once had were now shattered and broken, and old tapestries had long been consumed by insects, leaving only the faded gold bars used to support them. The light seeping in from the outside flare made Dusk's magic lighting slightly more effective, but the room was still fairly dark. He almost didn't see the sign above them that said "Library".
"We're here!" Bubble Berry exclaimed, taking notice.
"So we are..." Dusk slowly opened the large wooden door in front of them into an expansive, circular room lined by bookcases. The room had two floors, with a banister traveling around all the top level. The roof of the building had a mostly broken stain glass picture, and from what Dusk could make out, at one point it was a picture of Celestia. Immediately garnering his attention, however, was the soft blue glow coming from the middle of the room. There sat a a small fountain, with glowing blue liquid sitting in it. There wasn't a single ripple going through the solution, and as the ponies approached, they could perfectly see their reflections in it.
"My goodness, the magic here is so strong I can feel it. Tell me you feel the same, Dusk?" Elusive spoke, admiring his reflection in the water. Dusk, however, was gritting his teeth and seemed to be in pain.
"Duskie, are you okay? You don't look so good!" the pink pony inspected him with a worrisome look.
"It's... I'll be fine. It's just a lot of magic... I think... this is a defense mechanism..." Dusk said through his teeth. He backed away from the fountain, feeling the pain lessen. "It seems that the more powerful a unicorn is, the worse the pain will become."
"Shoot, Ah'll get it then, Dusk." Applejack went to Dusk's bag and opened it, retrieving a small vial from inside. He held in it in his mouth and dipped it into the pool, filling the vial to the mouth. Using a hoof, he popped the cap on the end and slipped the now glowing container back into Dusk's bag. "Well, that wasn't so hard, was it?"
"Thank you, Applejack. Now we can get out of here!" Dusk said, securing his bags.
"Finally! Now we can go on to the cool part."
"Whatever do you mean by that, Blitz?" Elusive gave him a questioning glance.
"I mean going to Cloudsdale of course! That place is so much more awesome than this stuffy place."
"Not to mention it's brighter," Butterscotch added.
"Oh boy, should I throw a party to celebrate our magic water?!"
"Sugarcube, just hold off on the parties 'til we're mares again, will ya?"
"If you say so, but means I'll have to throw an extra big, super duper funtacular one!"
"Hehe, we'll be looking forward to it, Bubble," Dusk added with a smile.
The group retraced their steps, following Dusk's lead. In a short time, they had navigated to the entrance of the castle, which was clearly noticeable by the destroyed gate. As they were talking, Butterscotch heard a faint crack in the distance.
The others continued, going back to the subject of Blitz and Octavia. Crack.
"Now, Ah'm just sayin', Rainbow, if it was me, Ah woulda-"
The group turned to look at the flustered yellow pony, who was staring at them with a furrowed brow. Crack.
"What's up, 'scotch?" Blitz asked. C-c-c-crack.
"Don't you hear that cracking noise?!" The five of them perked their ears up and look around, searching for a sound. Crack.
"There it is!" Dusk said, looking in the direction of...
"THE COLUMN!" they cried, bursting into a full gallop. With a thunderous shattering, large stone shards shot out of the stone, finally giving way to the ages of weight it had to support. The destruction of the first column began a deadly chain reaction, with each successive column falling to the overabundance of weight. Chunks of the ceiling plowed into the floor, destroying buildings and laying waste to the castle. The six ponies pumped their legs furiously, avoiding the falling rocks and debris that was rapidly spreading. Dusk looked back for a moment, but instantly regretted doing so, as all he saw was a hailstorm of dust and stone flying at them.
"We're almos' there!" Applejack cried out above the sound of crashing rock. On the spot, Dusk shot out another flare above the entrance, leading them to their salvation. Just then, a large chunk of earth fell right in front of them, shattering the ground and spraying debris around, which they narrowly avoided. However, the sudden obstacle threw Elusive off, and he was now falling behind the rest of the group.
"Somepony, help!" he cried, taking notice of the rapidly approaching wave of mountain careening towards him. With lightning speed, Blitz pulled a backflip and barrel rolled to Elusive. He quickly went next to him, flying low to the ground.
"Jump on!" he yelled, nudging Elusive with a hoof.
"Just do it!"
With no more hesitation, Elusive jumped on Blitz's back and the two took off. The others had reached the entrance of the cavern already and were frantically calling for them to hurry. With a grunt and final flurry of wingbeats, Blitz flew into the small passageway and crashed into the ground, throwing Elusive off and rolling several feet before dully hitting the bottom of the stairway. Behind him, the mountain finished caving in, and left a mass of rubble and dust where the chamber once lay.
"Is... everypony alright?" the rainbow maned pegasus slowly got up, coughing a few times. He gave his mane a quick shake and surveyed the area. In front of him were Applejack, Bubble Berry and Dusk Shine, whose hoof was being nursed by Butterscotch. He looked behind him and saw Elusive wearily getting up. His white coat was tarnished and covered in dirt, and his normally shiny and prim mane was dull and unkempt. Despite this, though, he still managed to give Blitz a smile.
"Thank you, Blitz. I suppose that this is... the second time you've saved my life."
Blitz recalled back to the Best Young Fliers competition. "I guess you're right, Rarity. Err... Elusive."
"It's fine, it's fine. Blitz... Dash... you saved me either way."
"Heh... don't worry about it. As long as you're safe." With a dignified grin, he turned back to the others. "How is everypony holding up?"
Applejack stretched his neck a bit. "Ah'm good here."
"I'm doing great!"
"Oh, I'm fine, but Dusk sprained a hoof..." the yellow pegasus finished wrapping Dusk's hoof in bandaging. "He'll need some help getting back."
"I'm sorry everypony," Dusk said, with a sad sigh. "I went and hurt myself on the last stretch."
"Oh, it's fine, dear." Elusive walked over, helping to pick Dusk up. The lavendar unicorn's eyes widened as he noticed the state Elusive was in.
"Gosh, Elusive... your..." he trailed off, not knowing what to say.
"Yes, yes, I know... Sometimes you just can't avoid a mess. Enough about me! Let's help you up these stairs."
After a particularly long climb up the dark stairway, they finally saw the familiar light of Canterlot's basement. The group was lively when they reached the top, glad to finally be in fresher air. The liveliness quickly changed to surprise however, as they noticed both Luna and Celestia waiting for them.
- - -
"Oh my goodness, I'm so thankful you're okay!" The sun princess said, kneeling down and nuzzling Dusk. "I had no idea how damaged the city had become. I'm very sorry for putting you in such a life threatening situation, Twilight."
"It's okay, princess," Dusk said, merrily. "Oh, and look what we found!" His horn adopted a faint purple glow as his saddlebags opened and the vial of blue liquid was brought out, glowing brightly. The princess had to stifle a gasp as she saw the container.
"Liquid magic..." Celestia said, eying the glowing flask. "Excellent job, all of you. You've probably found the most difficult ingredient." She looked down the hallway to Old Canterlot. "And now, the most rare."
"Oh yeah... we have the last bit of liquid magic EVER!" Bubble said, looking at vial.
"Indeed you do," Luna spoke up. "So we should keep it safe until the time is right."
"Luna is correct. I'll take this off your hooves, Twilight," the princess said, taking the vial in her own magic grip.
"Thank you, princess."
"Now, I believe the next thing on your list is from... Cloudsdale, right?"
Dusk thought for a moment, then agreed.
"I shall lend you a royal balloon for you and your friends to use."
"Yay, I love balloons!"
"That's very generous of you, princess."
"I only want the best for my faithful student." Celestia gave Dusk a warm smile. "Now, if you'll all come with me..."
- - -
On a high landing in Canterlot, a large balloon sat, tied down and holding several occupants. Applejack sat fidgeting in the balloon, next to Bubble Berry and Butterscotch. Blitz hovered in the air next to it, forelegs hanging limp at his sides. Celestia and Luna were speaking to Dusk Shine in front, discussing their plans.
"I'll contact you when we arrive, princess."
"Then I shall be waiting to hear from you. How is your memory holding up?"
"My memory..." Dusk thought back to the past, and faint visions of his friends and their adventures remained. "I'll be honest, princess. My memories are very distant, as if they're fading."
A look of concern swept across Celestia's face, and she closed her eyes in thought. "You will have to hurry then, Twilight. I fear that in few days time, your memories may completely change."
The reality of the situation was starting to hit Dusk, who began to hyperventilate. Suddenly, he was overcome by a soothing warmth, and snapped back to reality to find the princess embracing him.
"Be safe, my student. Please stay in contact."
"Before you go, Twilight, take this." Luna brought for a pendent from her bags. "It has a simple enchantment which should be able to jog your memories by looking at it."
"I'm honored, princess Luna," Dusk said, placing the necklace over his head. He took a glance at the midnight blue orb in the center, and several memories flooded back into his mind. Running through a forest... giant ring of color... anvil to the head... "Whoa." He blinked several times. "That's a bit strong."
Luna giggled a bit. "Yes, it'll do that the first time. Be careful, though, because the effect will get weaker with every additional use."
Dusk nodded. "I'll make a note of that." He looked back to the balloon. "I think we're just about ready."
"Take care, Twilight," Celestia said, with a soft smile.
"Yes, do be safe," Luna added, waving a hoof.
Dusk hopped in the balloon and untied the rope with her teeth. Slowly but surely, the balloon started to lift off. Using some magic, Dusk sparked a flame and created some wind to push them towards Cloudsdale.