Chapter 5: Are You Sure We're Going the Right Way?
The rush of wind blew through Dusk Shine's ears as the large purple balloon sailed through the sky. His horn held a steady glow as he pushed the vehicle with a magical gust of air in the general direction of Cloudsdale. Behind him, Canterlot was fading to nothing but a black speck on the horizon. He stood firm in the basket of the balloon, looking forward and not saying much, focused only on channeling his magic. Suddenly, he cringed, accidentally stepping on his injured hoof. Picking it up, he leaned against the basket of the balloon and regained his concentration.
"Ugh, this is so slow!" Blitz complained, flying next to the balloon, forelegs crossed and mouth in a pout.
Dusk shifted his eyes to the sky blue pegasus and shook his head. "Not all of us have wings, Blitz."
"Yeah, I know that. If you guys could fly, this would be so much quicker." As if to prove his point, he made several fast laps around the basket of the balloon. "I mean, come on!"
"Blitz, darling, do be patient. Besides, this gives me enough time to fix my mane," Elusive said, stroking his mane with a hoof while levitating a mirror in front of him. The unicorn didn't have much time to clean himself off after his tumble in Old Canterlot, and even after hours of adjusting and preening, he still pouted at his reflection. The whole ride had been spent brushing and styling his tail and mane.
"Yeah, but you have something to do," Blitz snapped back.
"Jus' calm yourself, Blitz. We'll be in Cloudsdale 'fore you know it." Applejack reassured, leaning on the edge of the of the basket. Every so often, he brought a hoof to his hat to keep it from flying away in the breeze.
"Ooh, Blitzy! Wanna play a game?" Bubble asked, bouncing in place and beaming towards Blitz.
The pegasus rolled his eyes before hovering closer to the balloon. "Why not?"
Bubble was near ecstatic as he got closer to Blitz, fidgeting with anticipation. "Okay, okay, okay! Are you ready?"
"Sure," Blitz flatly replied.
"I spy something... blue!"
Blitz's eyelids were half shut, partially in boredom, partially because he knew exactly what Bubble was thinking of, and he couldn't believe he would pick this game, of all things. With a sigh and a roll of the eyes, he replied, "...the sky."
"That's right!" Bubble exclaimed, throwing his hooves in the air. "Alright, your turn!"
Blitz sighed. He brought a hoof to his forehead and shut his eyes, giving a soft frown. "You know, I just..." It was at this moment that Blitz gave up on trying to find something to do, and went with Bubble's craziness. Removing his hoof and letting his forelegs hang limp at his sides, he looked around, then noticed Butterscotch in the corner, quiet as a mouse. "I spy something yellow."
The pink pony shifted his eyes, scanning everything around him. He then spun, getting an idea, and his vision darted towards Butterscotch. "Ooh, ooh! I know. It's Butterscotch!"
"You got it," Blitz replied, sarcasm lacing his voice.
Just then, as Bubble was about to call out his next object, he noticed how glum Butterscotch looked. He hopped to where the butter colored pegasus was sitting and took a seat next to him. "Hey, Scotchy. What's wrong?"
Butterscotch blinked a few times, then turned to Bubble Berry. He seemed to be disconnected from everyone else, and had to shake his head to focus. "Oh, um, I was just thinking."
Bubble cocked his head to the side and frowned. "Thinking about what? Whatever is was, it was making you all saddy waddy."
The pegasus turned his head to the side, a section of hair covering his eye. "I wasn't sad, Bubble. I was just... concerned." He said that last word at little more than a whisper.
"Concerned about what? Is it about the balloon?" he looked up, as if in inspecting the dirigible for any problems. "The balloon is fine, because Dusk has it all under control!" Bubble said, returning to his cheery self.
"No, it's nothing like that."
"Then what's wrong?"
Butterscotch nervously shuffled his hooves in place, avoiding eye contact with Bubble Berry. "Well, um... I was... thinking about the past..."
Bubble cocked his head to the side, an expression of bewilderment mixed with puzzlement crossing his face. "What about it?"
The yellow pegasus looked to Berry, his light teal eyes beginning to water up.
"...'Scotch?" Berry said in a soft voice, his usual smile drooping into a frown.
"I... I can't remember things..." Butterscotch admitted, closing his eyes and looking downwards.
The soft hum of magic floating in the air stopped as Dusk Shine's concentration broke, causing the balloon to hang in the empty sky. The purple unicorn looked down at Butterscotch with wide eyes. "Butterscotch..." he slowly started, trying to remain calm. "What do you mean, 'you can't remember things'?"
"How I got my cutie mark... I... I can't remember it... no matter how hard I try."
"Everypony," Dusk announced. "Try to remember important parts of your past." The unicorn scanned over the faces of his friends, only to find their thoughtful expressions turning to those of sadness and fear. His heart sank in his chest as he too wasn't able to remember key moments of his life as a mare.
"Jus'... what does this mean, Dusk?" Applejack asked, his eyes begging for an answer. Dusk could only close his eyes and shake his head.
"AJ... it means we need to hurry up," Dusk replied, his horn beginning to glow again. Once more, the balloon was sailing through the sky, although a bit quicker this time.
The mood of the balloon's passengers had dropped, with neither of the friends talking to one another. They each stayed in their places, motionless and silent, too busy thinking about their dire situation to do anything else. Even Bubble Berry, who was normally happy and bright in even the most frightening of situations, remained mute - he couldn't laugh at something like this.
Rainbow Blitz was the first to speak, and that was because he had spotted Clousdale in the distance. "Keep going, Dusk!' he said, from his flying area around the balloon. "Cloudsdale is real close now!"
Dusk's horn grew just a bit brighter as the balloon proceeded to the city in the sky, it's large rainbows and Roman styled columns visible even from a distance. Dusk could even see the top edges of the coliseum. Now that the city of clouds was within reach, he thought this would be a prime opportunity to tell his friends about the necklace.
"Everypony, listen up," he said, in a commanding tone. The rest of the group turned and looked at him, their eyes filled with concern. "You might have noticed the necklace I'm wearing." Dusk said, touching the amulet with his bandaged hoof.
The others let out murmurs of agreement and nodded their heads.
"Princess Luna gave this to me," Dusk continued. "It has a special enchantment on it, which will replenish your memories by looking into it."
Applejack let out a sigh of relief. "Well, shoot, Dusk. You shoulda' just said somethin' before. That'll save us a heap of trouble, won't it?"
"I wish it was that easy, Applejack," Dusk said, looking downwards. "But the effect becomes weaker with each use." his vision shifted back up, his eyes moving between each of his friends, their attention locked onto him. "We need to use them very carefully, is that clear?"
The group shook their heads in affirmation.
Dusk nodded as well, his mouth curling into a smile for the first time in a while. "I've already used it once, so you'll each get a look when we arrive in Cloudsdale."
"That sounds fair to me," Elusive chimed in, flipping a lock of his purple mane. "And it's such a lovely hue..." he added, admiring the blue gem around Dusk Shine's neck.
"Yes, it is quite nice, but don't look to deep into it. The spell might accidentally trigger," Dusk warned, covering part of the gem.
"Then I'll be sure to be careful around it." Elusive then brought a hoof to his chin and looked around in thought. "Do you think the Princess would part with it?"
Dusk chuckled and shook his head. "Most likely not, but you can always ask." Moments later, the balloon shook as it bumped into something soft. Dusk blinked, then realized what had happened. "Oh, we're here!" he announced, the wind pushing against the balloon settling as his magic faded into the air.
"Finally!" Blitz cheered, doing several stunts around the balloon.
"Now, let me just cast the cloud-walking spell," Dusk said, casting it on those who needed it.
Bubble leaped out of the balloon, landing face first into the clouds they had docked at. "Boy, I am so glad to be out of that balloon! I was going loco in there!" The pink pony rolled around in the fluff, tiny bits of cloud pulling off the main bits and clinging to his puffy hair. Dusk rolled his eyes and smiled as he hopped out of balloon as well, the clouds catching him.
"So, Blitz," Dusk started, following the flying blue pegasus with his eyes. "How do we get to the tomb of King Aurelius?"
Blitz hovered in the air for a moment. "Oh, that's easy! It's this way!" He said, before bolting off in the direction of Cloudsdale's main district.
Dusk sighed, tapping his hoof against the ground.
"How long you think it'll take for him ta realize?" Applejack asked, adjusting his hat as he stood next to Dusk.
"I'll give him another ten seconds," Elusive replied, looking in the direction he had flown off.
Sure enough, after several moments, Blitz flew back, with his characteristic rainbow trail behind him. His cheeks were red as he touched down. "Yeah... right... no wings," he said, averting his gaze and giving a sheepish laugh. "Just uh... follow me." He turned, and started to walk in the direction he came from.
- - -
After the lengthy trip through Cloudsdale's residential district, the group found themselves in front of the tomb of King Archimedes Darkbillow III. The building was of decent size, and despite being made of cloud, seemed aged and faded. It was almost as if the building were made of storm clouds, rather than regular ones. Large, intricate columns stood, holding the front of the roof, in classic Cloudsdale fashion. Various text from an older language was engraved throughout the architecture, representing Darkbillow in some way. There was even a statue of the pony himself, standing tall and upright in front of the entryway.
Dusk admired the statue, taking notice that it was made out of the same thick construction cloud that much of the other core structures of Cloudsdale were made of. It reminded him of the arena that the Best Young Fliers competition had taken place in.
"From what our books said, he was a cool pony," Blitz said, flying near the statue. It was very modest in size, only slightly bigger than Blitz was.
"Oh, yes, he was one of the first pegasi to push for trade routes and traffic between Cloudsdale and other towns," Butterscotch spoke up. Everypony looked to him in curiosity, and he sank a bit in his spot. "I... um... read a lot about him..."
"Celestia made him seem like a very kind pony," Dusk added, looking up to the statue. Although he had an intimidating name, the statue told a very different tale. It wore a soft smile, and old, bagged eyes. The mane was slicked back, and a crown - very similar to the one from the Best Young Flier competition - adorned it's head. It's face had a mid-length beard, which was styled into that of a lightning bolt, and similar could be said of the eyebrows.
"This guy sure had some style, huh?" Blitz said, motioning to the eyebrows and flashing a cheesy grin.
Elusive rolled his eyes. "If 'style' is the word you would like to use..."
"Enough admiring this old stallion, we have some feathers to get!" Bubble Berry said, with a wide grin on his face. He bounced happily past the statue, humming to himself. That was when he noticed his tail twitch. "This should be a piece of ca-" he started, before being cut off by the feeling of his body slip through the clouds and plummet downwards.
Everypony gasped as they watched their pink friend disappear through the white fluff, his screams of fear fading by the second. After realizing what had happened, Blitz kicked a hole in the clouds and flared his wings.
"I'm coming for ya, Bubble!" he yelled, darting through the layer of cloud. He sped through the air, leaving his rainbow trail floating behind him. Similar to when Rarity had fallen, he had no goggles on, so the wind stung at his eyes as he pushed himself downwards.
Berry looked around in a frenzy, waving his hooves in every which way. His mind was spinning as he plummeted, still unsure of how he ended up like this. Looking upwards, he saw Blitz flying towards him and yelled "Blitz, help me!"
"I'm almost there!" Blitz screamed over the sound of the air rushing past him. It was then that he felt the all too familiar sensation of the air resistance building as he approached sonic speed. Panic began to overcome him, as he recalled his failed attempts at a Sonic Rainboom when he had first become a stallion. He gritted his teeth, pumping his wings faster, as Bubble was only feet away from him.
The air resistance was building up.
The distance between the two was closing.
The soft crackling of electricity could be heard, building up.
"And... got you!"
Blitz held out his forelegs and pulled upward, catching Bubble Berry and stopping their descent. The pegasus looked up, noticing how far he had traveled. "No Rainboom today... but I guess I didn't need one," he said to himself.
"Whew... thanks Blitz!" Bubble said, shaking a little. Although he was smiling, there was still a great deal of fear in his eyes. "You're really saving everypony, aren't you?"
Blitz grinned, flying upwards and back to Cloudsdale. "Looks like it. I've gotten AJ, Elusive, and now you. I'm on a roll with this adventure!"
Bubble let out a nervous laugh, looking at Blitz and clutching him a little tighter. "Let's just get to Cloudsdale... then we can celebrate."
"Oh... right. Yeah," Blitz said, his cheeks reddening a bit.
- - -
"This is really bad. This is really, really bad!" Dusk said, pacing around. "They aren't here yet. Why aren't they here yet?!" The unicorn looked around to everypony around him, as if they would give him an answer.
"Jus' calm down, Dusk. I'm sure Blitz an' Berry are jus' fine," Applejack replied, trying to calm his unicorn friend down. However, Applejack could feel the nervous sweat forming on his brow.
"Calm down? How can we be calm!? Bubble just fell off of Cloudsdale!"
Dusk spun around at the voice, finding Blitz carrying Bubble. Blitz hovered closer to the cloud, allowing the pink earth pony to jump off and land on the solid cloud. He fell to his knees, kissing the whiteness.
"I never thought I'd ever want to be on a cloud this much!" he said, hugging the soft material.
"Thank goodness you're alright!" Elusive said, trotting over to Bubble Berry and Rainbow Blitz. "We were all terribly worried when you fell!"
Bubblle gingerly rubbed his face into the clouds. "I was worried when I fell, too!"
"I'm glad you're alright..." Butterscotch said in a soft voice, joining Elusive.
"We're all glad you two are okay." Dusk said, joining everypony else. He breathed easy now, knowing his friends were fine. However, he was still frowning. "But I don't know why you fell. That spell should have worked..." he pondered for a moment before his eyes widened. "Oh no, I forgot to contact Celestia!"
"What's the big deal?" Blitz said, dropping out of the air and landing next to Dusk.
"She told me to contact her when we got here!" he said, using his magic to dig the orb out of his saddlebag. "And we've been here a while!" He tapped the orb to his horn and it began the same separation process it went through the previous time. Before long, many orbs were hovering in a spherical pattern, and the transparent image of the sun goddess appeared.
"Greetings, Twilight. I see that you are in Cloudsdale." she said, smiling.
Dusk bowed down, looking to ground with hot cheeks. "Yes. I'm sorry for not contacting you sooner, princess."
Celestia only chuckled. "It is no concern, Twilight. Now, have you located King Darkbillow's tomb?"
The unicorn stood up, looking into the eyes of his mentor. "We have, princess. In fact, we're right in front of it." He used his hoof to motion to the thick cloud building.
"That is excellent to hear."
Dusk shifted his weight and bit his lip. "There's just... one problem, princess."
Celestia raised her eyebrow, her lips moving into a soft frown. "Oh? What might that be?"
"Well... I gave all of my non-pegasi friends the cloud walking spell, but when Bubble Berry stepped near the entrance, he fell through. I'm... not sure what went wrong."
The princess closed her eyes in thought. "It would appear that there is a protective spell all around the building." She opened her eyes again, looking straight at Dusk. "I'm afraid only your pegasus friends will be able to enter."
"What?!" Butterscotch and Rainbow Blitz said, in tandem. They stopped what they were doing, shocked by this new information, and all they could do was stare at the princess in disbelief.
"Normally, this spell cancels out all magic except natural cloud walking; this way, nopony would be able to damage or steal anything in the building. That includes your imitation cloud walking spell, Twilight." She frowned, looking to Dusk with sadness in her eyes.
"So... that means... only Butterscotch and Blitz can go in," Dusk said, slowly turning his head to look back at the two pegasi.
"This is correct, Twilight," Celestia confirmed. "Please, have them go as quickly as possible. I do not know how much time you'll have left before the gender altering spell finalizes."
Dusk turned back to Celestia, nodding. "Of course, Princess. I'll contact you when we have the feather."
"I will be looking forward to news of your progress, my faithful student. Farewell, and good luck." With that, the smiling image of Celestia disappeared, the small orb reforming and falling in front of Dusk. He levitated it back into his saddlebag before turning to his pegasus friends.
"Well, you heard the Princess," Dusk said, sighing. "You two will have to go in by yourselves." he moved his gaze to Rainbow Blitz, who was being rather quiet. "Blitz, you know about this place, so you'd know where the feather is, right?"
A wide smile spread across the cyan pegasus's face as he averted his gaze and shifted his weight. "Yeah... uh... about that..."
"Oh, please, tell me you don't know," Elusive said, rolling his eyes and flipping his mane.
"Um... Well..." Blitz stammered, looking at everything and everypony except Dusk Shine.
The unicorn snorted, his eyes half lidded and mouth tucked in a frown. "You don't know, do you?"
"...Not exactly." Blitz replied, his facing getting red as he looked to Dusk and cracked a weak smile. The group sighed, with looks ranging from rolling eyes to disappointed frowns being cast in the rainbow maned pegasi's direction. "Hey, I never told you I knew where it was!" he said, in an attempt to defend himself.
Dusk shook his head, sighing. "Either way, you and Butterscotch have to go in and find it, because you two are the only pegasi here."
"Yeah, I know..." Blitz said. He turned to look at Butterscotch, who was looking at the ground and remaining very silent. "Yo, 'Scotch, are you ready?"
Butterscotch looked up to Blitz. "I suppose so." he said, shifting his forelegs in place.
"Alright, let's get it over with, then." The cyan pegasus walked past the statue and into the building, Butterscotch following close behind.
"Good luck!" Dusk called, as the two disappeared into the building. A small frown moved across his face as he lost sight of his friends. I hope they find it...
- - -
"Does it have to be so dark in here?" Blitz asked, straining his eyes against the darkness. For a building that was supposed to be a monument to the greatest leader Cloudsdale ever had, the architects certainly slacked with the lighting. He look around, noticing the mass of hallways and turns available, then sighed. "Oh, come on. A maze? They really added a maze?"
"I guess it makes sense." Butterscotch said, also looking around. "This place has many artifacts from King Darkbillow's personal collections, and it would be terrible if-" he caught sight of Blitz's curious staring. "...if they got stolen."
Blitz turned a corner, only to find three more paths available to him. "Seriously? Ugh, I don't care about any of that junk, we just need this dumb feather." He looked to the three different routes and motioned his hoof between the three, mouthing the words to 'eeni meeni mini mo'. He finally landed on the middle route and smiled, beginning to walk in that direction.
"Are you sure we're going the right way?" Butterscotch asked, looking around to get a sense of direction.
"Nope!" the blue pegasus replied, continuing his determined strut.
"Oh..." Butterscotch trailed off, lowering his head and looking down. He sighed and continued walking straight ahead. Several moments passed in silence, before he asked "What do you think the feather looks like?"
"Um, Blitz?" he asked, looking upwards only to find a cloud wall, shaded in the darkness of the building. The yellow pegasus looked to his sides, then turned to check behind him, finding only an empty hallway. "Blitz?" he said, in a louder voice. Butterscotch shifted his eyes from side to side, his mouth turning into a more and more worried frown. "Blitz!" he yelled out, running back the way he came and looking down the corridors. Not finding his friend, he let out a frightened squeak, then began to run down the hallways wildly, trying desperately to find his friend.
Meanwhile, Blitz was casually walking down a hallway, eyes half lidded out of boredom. He stretched his wings out, flapping them a few times before ruffling them up. "We've passed like three rooms so far with nothing but crud in them!" He heard no response, but figured it normal - Butterscotch was always quiet. Blitz made several more turns, and not finding anything useful, turned to talk to his friend. "Hey, Butterscotch, do you think..." he paused, noticing the empty space behind. He stared at the place where his fellow pegasus should have been, blinking several times to make sure he wasn't imagining things. "You have got to be kidding me."
Blitz backtracked, looking down the halls he had passed in vain. His buttery friend was nowhere to be found. He walked down several more corridors, only to find himself now getting more and more lost with every turn. With a frustrated groan, Blitz spread his wings and took to the air. "Now there's two things I have to find!" he said, beginning to fly through the narrow halls.
Elsewhere, deep in the cloud maze, Butterscotch was running down whichever hallway was closest. He pumped his legs, catching fleeting glances down other corridors as he passed them, looking for any hint of a blue pony. He was so caught up in his desperate searching that he nearly ran past a small pedestal, illuminated by a single beam of light coming through the ceiling.
Noticing the peculiar object, he stopped his running and moved closer to examine it. It was a rather small pedestal, made out of cloud and crafted into an old styled column. On top of it rested a glass case, circular and rounded at the top. Butterscotch could barely see the light glare off of it because of how polished and clean the glass was. What caught his attention, however, was the object resting within the glass, hovering just inches above the pedestal.
A tuft of charcoal grey feathers floated within, fluttering from the magic keeping them aloft. They were faded and dull, clear victims of time's grasp. Butterscotch stifled a gasp as he looked upon the feathers, fearing they would crumble if gazed upon the wrong way. "These must be... Darkbillow's..." he said, looking through the glass. His thoughts were confirmed as his vision shifted downwards and he saw a dusty plaque below. It read:
Here lie the last living remnants of our King.
King Archimedes Darkbillow III
May he live eternal in the Summerlands.
After several moments of stillness, Butterscotch removed the glass case with care. Pausing for just a moment, he plucked one of the feathers from it's resting spot and cringed on instinct, expecting a trap or some other terrible device to spring. When nothing happened, he opened his eyes and sighed with relief. He then placed the feather into his saddlebags, making sure to do it with the utmost delicacy. When he had secured his bags, he put the glass back on the pedestal and smiled, for it looked like nothing had been changed.
This was when Rainbow Blitz careened into the room, slamming into Butterscotch and knocking both of them to the ground.
"Oh, Ouch!" Butterscotch whimpered, hitting the floor with the thud and sliding a few inches.
Blitz jumped up, wide eyed and filled with confusion. "Oh my gosh, sorry 'Scotch!" he exclaimed. He reached out a hoof. "Are you okay?!"
"I'm... fine..." the yellow pegasus replied, his voice wavering.
Blitz stuck a hoof out and became red in the face from embarrassment. "Let me help you out."
Butterscotch, with his head spinning, took the hoof and was pulled to his hooves, wobbling as he stood fully up. "Hey... Blitz..." he said, shaking his head to get rid of the dizziness.
The cyan pegasus was about to say something, but then he noticed the room they were in. Upon seeing the glass case, he asked "Are those Darkbillow's feathers?"
"Yes, they are," Butterscotch replied, able to hold his train of thought now. "I already took one." motioning to his saddlebag.
"Oh, awesome," Blitz replied, with a cheeky smile. He then looked as his surroundings again, with a puzzling look on his face. "We should, uh... try to get out of here."
Butterscotch nodded. "They're probably worried about us. We shouldn't keep them waiting."
"Alright, let's... try to find our way out," Blitz said, making his way to the nearest corridor. He then paused, looking back to Butterscotch. "And this time, stay close to me."
He smiled as he brushed away part of his pink mane from his eyes and looked to Blitz. "Of course."
- - -
Dusk Shine paced around in front of the building, occasionally looking in the direction of the entrance. Upon seeing nothing changed, he went right back to his idle trotting, an imprinted circle starting to form in the area he was walking.
"What do you think is taking so long?" he asked, looking to his friends who were still outside.
Applejack tipped his hat up, looking under the brim to Dusk. He was sitting against a piece of architecture and crossing his forelegs. "Ah'd say they're probably jus' lost or somethin'. Ah wouldn't worry too much 'bout it, Dusk."
"But what if something bad happened? What if they need our help?!" The unicorn began to pace faster.
"Dusk, darling, do be calm. What's the worst that could happen in some musty old crypt?" Elusive asked, running a filer across one of his hooves. He inspected it carefully and smiled, moving to the next hoof.
"A lot can happen! Who knows what kind of ancient traps could be in there? I bet I have a book about this at the library..." Dusk thought, tapping a hoof to his chin.
Bubble Berry bounced over to Dusk, smiling and cheery as ever. "Applejack and Elusive are right, Dusky. It's just a boring old building!" He hummed a tune and skipped around Dusk, who didn't look amused in the slightest. "And besides, Blitz is the toughest pony around. If anything bad came along, he'd kick it right in the flank!"
"Ah can vouch for that." Applejack chuckled, tipping his hat back down and closing his eyes.
"But what if something really bad happens to them?!" Dusk almost frantically asked, his mane beginning to become distraught.
"It wasn't so bad," the pegasi's voice said from nowhere. Dusk almost jumped out of his skin, reeling around to find Blitz and Butterscotch approaching them. His imaginative fears dissipated, and out of habit, he ran and hugged Blitz.
Blitz's eyes went wide with surprise for a moment, caught off guard by the hug. "Whoa, Dusk, buddy, I'm fine."
The unicorn broke away, blushing. "Sorry, I just got worried about you two."
"It was only a maze," Butterscotch said, with a light smile.
"But how did you get out?!" the unicorn asked, looking between the two of them.
Blitz laughed. "It turns out all we had to do was keep going left."
"Well, that's a relief," Dusk said, his bewildered expression turning to a smile. His gaze then shifted to the pegasus's saddlebags. "Did you get the feather?"
Butterscotch nodded, opening his saddlebag and shifting through it. Very carefully, he pulled it out of the bag, clutching it between his teeth. Dusk stared at the ancient down, inspecting it curiously. He reached out a hoof to touch it, but decided against it, drawing back afterwards.
"It's incredible," he replied, in a hushed tone.
"Yay, another ingredient!" Bubble Berry exclaimed, bouncing over to Dusk and Butterscotch. Butterscotch managed to tuck the feather away right before Berry hugged him. "I think we all need a group hug!" he said, motioning for the others to come over.
"Shoot, why not," Applejack said, getting up and walking to Berry. He wrapped a foreleg around Butterscotch and grinned. The earth pony then felt a leg touch his neck, and looking over, he was surprised to find Elusive next to him.
"We're all together in this, Applejack." he smiled. "And I won't let our personal differences change that."
"Shucks, Elusive. Ah guess Ah can respect that."
"I would certainly hope so," Elusive replied, in a singsong voice.
The six of them gathered in for a large hug, laughing together. After the fun had died down, they stood in a circle, talking amongst themselves. "Okay, okay everypony," Dusk started, smiling. "We're almost done, but there's one more leg of our trip. I'll contact Solaris and tell him the-" he stopped himself. "Who the heck is Solaris?" he thought, questioning the name his mind had brought up.
"Who?" Butterscotch asked, cocking his head to the side.
Dusk Shine shook his head. "Um... nothing. I meant to say, I'm going to speak with Celestia and tell her we have it." In a moment's notice, Dusk had brought the orb out, and it was dividing and spreading into a sphere in front of him. The others spread out, giving the magical object room to expand. Celestia's image flickered, sitting at a table and chewing some food with her expected grace.
"Oh! Sorry to interrupt you, princess," Dusk said, shying away from the image.
She swallowed, then smiled. "It is quite alright, Twilight." The princess levitated a fork full of salad to her mouth, and right before biting it, asked "Have you found the feather?"
Dusk nodded. "We have. The last thing we need is the artifact, right?"
Celestia finished another bite of her food. "That is correct. Do you recall where you defeated Nightmare Moon?"
"Yes, princess. Your old castle in the Everfree Forest."
"You will find it there, my student." She set her fork down, finished with her meal. "Now, answer me something, Twilight."
"What would you like to know?"
"Tell me the story of your cutie mark."
Dusk Shine blinked, taken aback by the question. "Oh, um..." he pondered for a moment, trying to look back into his memories for when he received. However, all that came to mind was darkness and mystery. "I..." he stuttered, trying to remember anything about that fateful day.
Celestia frowned. "You do not know, do you?" she asked, her mood sinking by the second.
"No... I don't," Dusk said, looking into the eyes of his mentor.
"Sometimes... I think you're too talented for your own good, Twilight," Celestia said, pushing her plate away from her. "The spell is quickly catching up to you, and I am beginning to fear for the worst."
"What do we need to do, princess?" Dusk asked, looking around and fidgeting.
"First, calm yourself, Twilight," Celestia said, becoming serious. "Second, you must leave Cloudsdale and head to the Everfree Forest immediately. Not even I know how much more time you have before the spell becomes irreversible."
"Of course, princess. We'll leave as soon as possible," Dusk replied, still looking distraught.
"I will leave you now, my faithful student. Please, hurry." Without another word, the image of Celestia disappeared, with a fizzle. The orb reformed itself and fell to the ground with a tink. Dusk levitated it into his saddlebag and looked up to his friends, which were staring at him with varying expressions of fear and worry.
"You heard the princess. We can't just stand here. Let's move!" Dusk said, looking over their faces.
"He's right, ya'll. We best get a move on!" Applejack added, moving in the direction of the balloon. The rest expressed their agreement and followed, transitioning into a full gallop as they raced against time itself.
- - -
"Quickly, get on!" Dusk yelled, jumping into the basket. In his haste, he tripped over his injured hoof, but the edge of the basket saved him from an embarrassing fall. Applejack followed, leaping next to Dusk - Butterscotch and Elusive close behind. Blitz wrestled with the rope to tie it down, and after snapping it with his teeth, also got into the balloon.
"Punch it, Dusk," Blitz said, leaning over the edge.
The purple unicorn looked at him with confusion, which turned to a sigh. Concentrating, his horn lit up an the balloon began to it's journey to the Everfree Forest. Glancing down at the pendent around his neck, a thought occurred. Should I use it now? He pondered the question, thinking hard about the choice he was about to make.
No... I can't waste it.