-----While our heroes face this dilemma, let’s take a small step back in time, back to the gathering of the Covenant in Canterlot-----
A large hall sits packed with all manner of ponies and creatures dressed in ornate and fancy clothes. Some stand at attention, ready for combat, wearing full-fledged battle armor. A small group of griffins stand in the back due to their large stature, so as not to obscure the view of some of the others.
The Co-ruler of Equestria and Princess of the Sun addresses the court. She stands tall and firm in her blazing white battle armor, which almost seems to waver across her frame as if crafted with a gentle breeze. The armor has a slight golden shimmer to it. White opals accent the ornate breast plate, forming an image of the Sun Princess’s cutie mark. One large, gilded opal is attached to the crown of the Trojan-like helmet. The Princess removes her helmet and sets it on the table before her, revealing her white head and flowing mane. Celestia's voice echoes across the large stone room in greeting to those gathered, bright, yet solemn.
The Princess of the Moon, sister of the Sun Princess, stands beside her, also dressed as if ready for combat, but bearing a very different style of armor. While her sister’s consists of a magical white metal that flows across her body, Luna's seems to be made of dark ebony that holds firm to her form. Contrasting Celestia’s armor, seeming to be one flowing piece, Luna’s is made of a series of accented, interlocking platelets that jut out from various points with a midnight blue shine. Beveled and engraved accents (inlayed with silver) decorate various points of the armor, mostly on the shoulders and helmet, leaving the breast plate mostly bare, except her cutie mark etched in the middle of it. Donning a Medieval style of helmet, Luna moves to greet her citizens.
Cordialities aside, Celestia slams her armored hoof on the small table beside her to make sure she has the attention of everybody in the room. "This is something that we've never faced before. It goes far beyond all of us. This is something that individually would be able to crush every single one of those gathered here like we were nothing more than parasprites. All of us here, in fact, all of Equestria is doomed unless we all work together." She motions to the crowd. "This is the reason I have gathered you all here today. Who or whatever causing this must be-"
The Princess's rant is cut off as a horn bellows, causing the parties in the room to frantically look around and utter comments of bewilderment. A scroll suddenly appears in front of the Celestia, derailing her train of thought. She simply stares at the scroll still hovers before her, surrounded in a golden aura.
"Aren't you going to open that, your Highness?" a gray pegasus asks as he motions towards the scroll. Celestia recovers from the surprise and nods at the pegasus as she unrolls the scroll and begins to read over it. As she reaches the end, her eyes shoot open in terror and she lets it fall to the table beside her.
"Who’s it from?" the stallion asks.
Luna turns to her sister and gives her a worried look as Celestia stares blankly at the increasingly worried crowd. Realizing she is before a large crowd, the Sun Princess puts on a stern expression and offers the crowd a bow, before using her magic to retrieve her helmet and the scroll.
"My apologies, a matter of utmost importance that has come to my attention," she says, rising from her chair and turning toward the large arched door behind her. “Please feel free to partake in some delicacies my sister and I have prepared while I take care of this matter. Luna!" Celestia snaps as she opens the doors.
"Um yes, sister?" Luna responds, jumping at the sudden outburst.
"Come with me."
Luna turns back towards the crowd, offers them a bow of her own, then leaps from her place at the head of the room and follows her sister though the chamber doors. Celestia bows once more towards the court as the doors slowly swing shut, only to break into a full gallop away once they've shut completely.
"Sister?" Luna questions, taken aback by princess's sudden actions.
"Follow me!" The moon princess blinks at the command for a few moments before giving herself a quick shake and chasing after her sister.
"What's going on? We are confused," Luna says as she catches up to her sister. Celestia's expression is serious.
"We must make haste, our old friend has returned."
The moon princess's face twists in terror. "Thou couldn't mean-"
“Yes, my dear sister. Discord is back."
"B-but that is not possible. Twilight Sparkle and her comrades sealed him way with the elements... unless..."
Celestia nods as she quickens her pace. "I see your memory is as sharp as ever."
"What would possess them to-"
"I wish I knew..."
The two princesses continue to charge down the long halls, their armor clanking with each step. Guards and other members of the castle dart out their way as they pass by. Celestia takes point as she guides her sister though a series of winding hallways and corridors, eventually unfolding her large wings and taking flight to gain speed.
"Where arst we going?" Luna asks as she flies takes flight with her sister, a look of concern on her face. The Sun Princess remains silent as she soars ahead, much to the dismay of the moon princess, only to abruptly stop in front of a set of small arched doors bearing a plaque with the Sun princess's cute mark.
"Time is of the essence, my dear sister," Celestia states as she uses her magic to open the small doors and trot through them, entering a pitch black room save a single beam of light, shining down on a large white chest.
"Sister, how is this possible? We ask that you explain. This does not make sense to us," Luna states as she follows her sister into the darkened room. The sun princess abruptly stops and turns to the Alicorn behind her, causing Luna to jump slightly.
"The Elements are linked to the ones that bear them, gaining strength from the magic of friendship, they are an unstoppable force... However." Celesta cuts herself off and lets out a heavy sigh as she turns her back to her sister and starts to approach the large white case.
"Tell us!" Luna demands, chasing after her sister. "How is a power that we, the rulers of this land, once wielded as our own weakened when in reality it should be stronger than ever given their current holders and Twilight Sparkle's ability to harness great power from them?"
Luna's words hang in the air as Celestia stands silently before the box. Her white armor practically glows as low light of the room reflects off it. She heaves another sigh and drops her head, using her magic to open the box and view the Elements inside of it.
"I don't know." The princess utters as the lid slams shut. "Either the Elements have weakened somehow, or there is something amiss that we haven't yet figured out."
The moon princess says nothing at her sister’s reply and slowly trots next to her. "Dost thou have a plan?"
Celestia frowns at the question as an ornate archane symbol appears on the floor below the white chest. "I believe in the bearers that hold the elements." Luna nods and uses her magic to create another similar symbol around her sisters; causing the large trunk to vanish.
------ Well, that was a bit of an ordeal. Looks like we’re almost caught up. Let’s check back in on the Mane Six and the Blue Blur-----
A series of frantic hoof-and-footsteps echo across the cobblestone road as six mares plus one hedgehog charge down it. Twilight, wearing her Element of Magic, leads the other five ponies, each donning their perspective Elements, with Sonic running besides her.
"Any idea where this 'Discord' guy is?" Sonic inquires as he slows to match the Unicorn's pace. Twilight's expression grows even more serious she pulls ahead.
"Just one, and it's right up ahead."
"Twi, you don't mean-" Applejack begins as she matches her speed to the lavender mare and starts to run alongside her. Twilight lets out a heavy sigh and nods. "-now why in tarnation would that fella be in the Everfree Forest?"
"That's the only place I can think of that he'd feel at home around here."
Sonic raises his hand. "Uh, the hedgehog is confused. What's so special about this forest? Is it haunted or something?"
Applejack lets out a dark chuckle at the question. "Oh, Sugarhog, do Ah wish that were the case."
"The Everfree Forest is a self-sufficient, self-reliable place that lives on its own without needing assistance from ponies or anything,” Twilight explains, cutting the hedgehog off.
"So?" the blue hedgehog states bluntly. "That's how it's like in my world."
Fluttershy lets out a gasp. "So, everything moves on its own? It doesn’t need anypony to control the seasons or anything?"
"Pretty much," Sonic states as he matches the yellow Pegasus's pace. "The sun and moon rise on their own-well technically they don’t rise. The Moon revolves around the Earth while the Earth revolves around the Sun, so whichever side of the Earth facing the Sun has daytime while the side facing the Moon, on the darker side of the Earth, has nighttime, with a few rare exceptions called eclipses. Seasons automatically change during the year, along with everything else you ponies insist on meddling with."
Rarity frowns at the hedgehog's comment. "We don't 'meddle’, darling, it’s more like we give a gentle push now and again."
"Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe," Sonic retorts as he pulls ahead. Rarity lets out a low growl as she watches the blue hedgehog dash away.
"Can we stay focused here!" Twilight exclaims, diverting everyone from the previous conversation.
"Yes, right, of course." Rarity replies as she increases her speed.
"You got played!" Rainbow Dash sniggers as she flies alongside the white Unicorn.
"Whaaat? What in heaven’s name are you talking about?" Rarity snaps as she turns to the cyan Pegasus.
"Sonic was just trying to ruffle your feathers, and I'd say he did a pretty radical job of it too," the cyan mare replies as she flies ahead of the white Unicorn and matches the others’ speed. Rarity lets out an annoyed scoff and blows a flock of hair away from her face.
The seven stand before the edge of the Everfree Forest. Most of them seem troubled by the fact that they have to enter, while the few that don't seem annoyed or disgusted, with Sonic maintaining a neutral expression.
"So, here we are again," Sonic says as he walks slowly towards a large tree. "Back to where it all began."
The six ponies exchange looks as they turn to one another in confusion. "What do you mean?" Pinkie Pie asks as she trots besides the blue hedgehog.
"This is the place where I drove off those piles of walking firewood, saved the town..." Sonic lets out a heavy sigh as he motions towards the scorch mark leading into the forest. "...where I arrived."
Pinkie places a foreleg on Sonic's shoulder. "You alright, Spiky?" the mare asks in a worried tone as the blue hedgehog turns towards Pinkie at her question.
"Yeah I'm fine, it’s just..." He sighs. "...Let’s get moving. We need to find this guy right?"
------ And on that note, back to Celestia and crew!-----
Celestia stands in “The Hall of Memories”, the hall with numerous plates of stained glass depicting prominent events in Equestria's history, glancing at most of the windows, but leaving a few untouched. The shine of the full moon brightens the otherwise dark hall. The Princess stands before one of the uncovered windows, still in her shimmering white armor, with a look of concern on her face as she looks out at the starry evening sky.
Heavy trotting breaks Celestia away from her reverie as a black male Pegasus appears before her, wearing a slightly modified version of standard issue Royal guard armor. Celestia turns towards the stallion, forcing on her usual smiling expression. "What do you have to report, Iron Horse?" The Princess asks as the Pegasus removes his helmet.
"The Elements have arrived safely and are now in the possession of those who can wield them." The Princess of the Sun nods at the stallion's report and lets a sigh of relief slip out. "Are things that bad over there?" the black stallion asks as he places his helmet back on his head. Celestia opens her mouth to respond, but is stopped as another loud voice echoes down the stone hall.
"What is the meaning of this?" a fancily dressed blue unicorn demands as he enters through a large set of double doors. The Princess and the Pegasus turn towards the sudden arrival. "You summon most of Equestria for a meeting only to skip out partway through, and now I find you standing in dark, talking to your new pet project. I'm beginning to question our Princess's mental state if she abruptly leaves an important assembly to have a little chat," the blue stallion huffs as he stops a few feet from the two.
Iron Horse frowns at the pony’s remark and leaps between the blue unicorn and princess. "Mind your tongue, unicorn. You’re in the presence of the ruler of our land." His steely blue eyes almost glowing from behind his helmet as he speaks.
The blue stallion smirks at the comment and flicks his long yellow mane away from his eyes. "I don't take orders from a rookie happened to have the former leader of the Royal Guard owe him a favor."
The black Pegasus scowls at the unicorns remark. "I may be new to being a guard, but don't assume I'm not qualified to protect this kingdom!" the stallion retorts. "While you were still in diapers, I was defending our land from-." The princess holds up her hoof to silence him. "I will not have petty bickering in my presence. State your business or leave us," Celestia orders as she closes the gap between herself and the blue unicorn, her large frame towering above him as she steps forward. The stallion swallows hard as his normally impressive stature and presence is dwarfed by the Princess's.
"Starting trouble again, Crusty?" a booming voice calls out giddily from the other end of the hall, prompting the three to turn towards its source. Iron Horse stares at the new arrival in confusion while the blue Unicorn lets out annoyed sigh and flicks his yellow mane away from his face.
"Chips," the stallion scoffs. "Why am I not surprised?"
A tan male Pegasus, with mirrored sunglasses grins at the remark as he approaches the group. "Becasue I always get there just in time to save your sorry flank," he responds half-jokingly. His grin fades as he peers over his sunglasses, revealing a pair of burning red eyes. "By the way, only my friends call me 'Chips'. You can call me Ainsworth." The blue unicorn rolls his eyes at the statement. "Also-" the Pegasus begins as he mashes his muzzle against the unicorns, "-where the buck, do you get off?!" Ainsworth snaps as his flaming red mane flares up. "You’ve got a lot of nerve to speak to our Princess like that!" the tan Pegasus menaces as the scared unicorn begins to back away. Iron Horse notices the Princess out of the corner of his eye attempting to hold back a smile.
The blue unicorn takes a few steps back, adjusts his tie, and runs a foreleg through his mane. "We were called here from all corners of the kingdom on such short notice for an emergency meeting, making many of those present drop everything they were doing and rush over here, only to be made sit and wait as the Princess wanders the castle halls," he states sulkily to the tan stallion before him, gaining a smirk in response.
"Says the pony whose territory is too afraid to admit its issues and, instead of dealing with them, caters to its' leader’s kid."
"You heard me!" the tan stallion snaps. "He's a real chip off the old block, I tell ya. He’s always starting something, never finishing anything, trying to get some tail, or asking his daddy to bail him out. I bet him along with Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber have gotten into some sort of sticky situation already." He grins. "10 bits says he'll come running in here any minute, begging you to clean up his mess."
The blue stallion scowls at the statement. "I don't need a lecture from the pony who rules a land of excess and sin."
Ainsworth chuckles as the comment. "Las Pegasus is what it is, a place where a pony can unwind and have a little fun. I've made no attempt to hide that, unlike a certain stallion I know who acts high and mighty and attempts to white wash his land’s problems away with fake smiles and handouts." The bitter truth in this statement seems to strike a nerve in the stallion as he scowls and tosses his head to the side. Chips smirks at this and continues. "So, when you get that train wreck you call a son under control or stop acting all high and mighty while you hide your territory’s problems, then you can 'suggest' how one should rule a country. Otherwise, get the buck out of here!"
Ainsworth's last comment hangs in the air for a few moments as the blue unicorn nervously pulls at his tie. "I don't have to take this!" he snipes as he makes a miserable attempt to act unfazed by the Pegasus's statement. "I bid you adieu," he adds sharply as he turns to leave and starts trotting towards the large double doors.
"Bye-bye Crusty." Chips waves. "Don't let the door hit your flank on the way out."
"By the way, it’s not Crusty,” the Unicorn shouts, now fully through the double doors, “it's Royal Crust!". The doors slam shut behind him for dramatic effect. Ainsworth chuckles at the Unicorn’s performance.
"What a jerk," the tan Pegasus states as he turns towards Celestia and Iron Horse.
Iron Horse looks back and forth between the Princess, who is smiling at Chips, and the tan pony in front of him. "If you don't mind me asking, ma’am, why not just rid yourself of that guy and find somepony else that's not so..."
"…difficult?" Ainsworth throws in. The black Pegasus nods.
"It is not I who makes the decisions over who runs a territory. The citizens of each territory vote for their own leaders, with me overseeing all of it and making sure that the wrong people are not put into power," the princess states as she turns to the stallion. "It wouldn’t be very sensible of me to simply change out the leaders whenever we don't see eye to eye. Doing so would also defeat the purpose of having the Covenant if I am merely changing out its members to suit my own needs."
Chips sighs. "Besides, despite his hoity-toity attitude. He actually doesn’t do such a bad job running his territory."
"But you just said-" Iron Horse interjects.
"-I said he tries to hide all his territories problems, even though there aren’t actually all that many problems to speak of," the tan pegagus states. "All territories have their own problems, but he thinks having them will show sort of weakness or something."
The Sun Princess slowly trots up to the tan Pegasus. "Indeed, one that tries to hide and avoid his problems is only weakening himself." Celesia stops a few feet from the pony. "Though political nonsense aside, how have you been?"
Ainsworth smiles as the question and takes a few steps forward. "Good, good, just been busy with this debauchal and the usual issue you get trying to keep the peace."
The Princess frowns at the Pegasus's statement. "You barely write and almost never visit. I was beginning to think..."
"Hey, I've been busy ruling a territory," Chips retorts.
“And I a kingdom.”
“Touché,” Chips chuckles, a wide grin on his face.
“A student of mine has taught me that no matter how busy you are, you should always make time for your dear ones,” Celestia says softly and wraps a foreleg around the stallion. "I've missed you," she says warmly.
"Me too." The tan Pegasus replies as he returns the gesture.
Iron Horse silently watches the event unfolding before him with a perplexed expression on his face. "I think we should tell him, before there’s a misunderstanding and wild rumors spread like wildfire," Chips states as he looks up the Princess and releases his hold.
"That probably would be wise." Celestia replies as she removes her foreleg from the Pegasus and returns to a standing position. "You see," the Princess begins as she turns to the Iron Horse.
"Tia here took me in when I was just a young foal and had lost my folks," Chips states, cutting the Princess off and gaining a sad look from the Ruler of the Sun.
"Yes, when I found him, he was just a small colt wandering the castle grounds…”
Next Chapter Preview:
Rainbow Dash: "There is no way Trixie was able to defeat one of those."
Fluttershy: "It's not happy that we're here invading its territory."
Applejack: "Any ideas, Sugarhog?"
Sonic: "Just one...RUN!"
The Whispering Woods