Luna watched the rising sun through the window of the hotel room. Perhaps her sister was watching it with her even now, somewhere back in Canterlot. Yet Luna knew she couldn't return there. Somewhere out there lay her own path, a path that would take her back … but not to Canterlot. Luna wondered what she would find at the end … if she would ever return to see her sister.
Rarity's voice broke her out of her gloomy thoughts and she turned to the others who had gathered in the room, waiting for her to explain. They all seemed eager to know what their next step was going to be. Everypony except Luna. She tried not to show her hesitation and sat down on a nearby pillow. "From what Trixie has told me, the pony in the asylum was Twilight's great grandmother, Manna Sparkle. You all know the story of … Twilight, and how she …" Luna took a moment to gather herself. "How she died. It seems Manna was the victim of the same malevolent spirit as Twilight, and now Trixie. It appears to be a family curse that Trixie has now inherited. Yet Manna escaped by breaking her own horn, though we know nothing of what else happened back then. It seems that once her tormentor passed on to Twilight, and now Trixie, Manna broke free and now pursues her vengeance against the spirit of her and Twilight's ancestor."
"So she's after the same as we are?" Spike, sitting with Rarity, asked?
Luna nodded. "It would certainly seem so, but I wouldn't trust that mare, and it appears that she doesn't trust us one bit either. But we know what she seeks, and I know where to find it. Whether she actually knows where it is too …" Luna shook her head. "It doesn't matter." The others looked at her expectantly. "Manna, it seems, seeks the Mirror of Souls, an ancient artifact that would allow her to cross into the world beyond and confront the spirit of her ancestor. That is her plan, but it won't work."
The others waited patiently for her to continue. Luna's mind drifted back through the ages, to a time before the nightmare. "The mirror is a powerful piece of alicorn magic from the time of Discord. It was through it that my sister and I discovered the Elements of Harmony and how to use them to defeat Discord. Only an alicorn can use its magic. Manna took some of my blood, but even if the mirror is still intact and functioning after all this time, it won't work for her."
Trixie looked up from where she was lying next to Fluttershy, resting and tending her wounded tongue. "Are you sure? Ah mean … your blood did thish?" She ruffled her wings a little.
Luna hesitated. "We still don't know exactly how that happened. I am fairly certain that my blood alone could not have done it. I suspect Twilight's sacrifice had as much to do with it as my blood did, though surely neither would have been enough on its own and perhaps other factors played a part as well. Even so, it is not clear whether you could use the mirror either. Manna seems to have suspected that you might not have that power at least, from what you told."
"But you could!" Spike interrupted eagerly.
Luna nodded slowly. "If the mirror is still there and intact, yes … yes, I could. The mirror was lost long ago, however, during the last days of Discord's rule when much of the land and seas were changed. Equestria once encompassed much of what is now sea, and the mirror was in a grand city in what is today the southern sea. One of many such sunken cities, the most famous of which is of course Marelantis. If it still exists, it has long since been claimed by the deep."
There was a long silence as everypony mulled over the information to themselves. Finally Pinkie broke the silence. "How do we get there? We have to get there!"
Everypony looked to Luna, who knew they had all reached the same conclusion. This was the path they needed to take from here, she knew that too. "I suggest we all get some rest. We will travel south by hoof. If we follow the roads and stay within Equestria's borders we should be able to make good time and not run into anymore … trouble. Once we reach the sea we will need to take ship, but let's save that worry until then. For the moment we need to rest, then resupply in the evening."
Everypony seemed to agree with that plan for now and got ready to get some rest. Luna turned back to look out through the window, gazing into the distance.
Trixie stepped into the small shop and looked around at the shelves full of various and sundry items and supplies. It was not the finest of places, a little rustic and simple, but like every other place in town it seemed to have been shined up in a great hurry. Apparently the presence of her and Luna was difficult to keep from the local ponies, and like everywhere else they went out of their way to greet the royal pair. Trixie was merely happy to not be trampled by a mob of festive ponies upon entry. An old mare peeked out from over the counter at her, watching nervously as Trixie walked along the shelves. Once she would have been happy for the attention, to have ponies bowing and scraping at her hooves, but the attention of strangers no longer made her feel joy or any thrill. Yet neither did she seek solitude … something was missing from her life, and something dark now lurked in the void instead.
She picked a few items off the shelves. Dried and canned food, good for long travels. They had lost everything with the balloon and needed to restock for the next step of their journey. While the others took care of other matters, Trixie had volunteered to do the necessary shopping of basic necessities. She mentally checked her list and looked around the shop. She needed fresh bandages and healing herbs for Fluttershy. The pegasus' leg was still in a bad state, and they had only been able to give it a very crude treatment. Her own tongue was already doing much better, the swelling nearly gone though it still hurt.
She approached the mare behind the counter. "Do you have any medicinal herbs?" she asked as she loaded everything else onto the counter and began counting the payment. "I need plenty of bandages and basic remedies for wounds and infections."
The elderly mare bowed deeply. "Of course, Your Majesty!" she said and hurried out back for the requested items. Trixie could hear her scramble about and mutter to herself.
While waiting, Trixie turned to one of the shelves. She briefly glanced over her shoulder at the door—half expecting to see Luna enter behind her—before looking back at a small hoofheld mirror on display. Quite ordinary, unremarkable, a simple piece of glass in a wooden frame. Trixie checked the door again before picking up the mirror, holding it up before her. Nothing but the empty shop stared back and Trixie lowered the mirror again in sadness.
She picked up a few more things, quietly paid the shopkeeper and left. As she did she slipped the small mirror into one of her saddlebags, tucking it in safely beneath the other things where it would stay hidden.
Rarity called as she trotted down the path through the small local park, her horn shimmering in the early evening. She hadn't seen her darling cat since it fled from the asylum kitchen. Her gem-finding spell had turned up no trace of Opal's jeweled necklace back there and Rarity had been worried sick for the poor thing, lost and alone somewhere out there in these unfamiliar lands. While the others prepared for the trip, she had gone out to search the city. Her spell had picked up a trace which had lead her to the park where she hoped she would find the lost critter.
Peeking under a bench, she called out again. "Opalescence, darling? Momma is sorry, you can come home now! Oh, of all the worst possible things—" She broke herself off and sat down heavily on the bench, sniffling a little sadly. Twilight, Sweetie Belle and Zecora's deaths, all those poor innocent ponies in the asylum slaughtered, Fluttershy and Trixie suffering even now, Celestia worrying for her dear sister who only just returned after a thousand years of banishment and nearly died less than a week ago. Who was she to put her cat above all of that. "Of all the worst possible things, this is … at the very bottom," she muttered, lips trembling.
The gleeful voices of a pair of nearby foals broke her out of the gloom, and her horn flared slightly as she glanced up. A pair of young fillies, twins judging by their nearly identical looks, ran up to what Rarity assumed to be their mother. They looked poor and in need of a solid meal, and a bath, in stark contrast to the fine object one of them was holding in her mouth. Rarity recognized Opal's jeweled necklace immediately, her eyes widening at the sight.
The filly with the necklace held it up to her mother, dangling the trinket eagerly. "Look Mommy! Look what we found!"
The other filly giggled joyously. "It's so shiny! I bet it's worth a million bits!"
The mother picked up the fine piece. "Oh my … where did you find this?"
"In the bushes over there," the two fillies chimed. "It was stuck on a branch. Can we keep it?"
"I-I'm sorry, dears." The mother looked deeply conflicted. It was obvious that the small family could do well with the money such a find would bring. "It … It must belong to somepony who is probably missing it. W-we should bring it to the guards so they can find the owner."
"Aww!" the twins chimed in sad agreement, hanging their heads low.
"Now now, you know it's … it's the right thing to do. You wouldn't want somepony to take your toys if you lost them either, would you?" The fillies shook their little heads and muttered something Rarity couldn't hear. The mother smiled. "There you see. Now come along."
Rarity watched as they began to walk down the path. She wiped a few tears from her eyes and stood up, approaching the family. "Excuse me … I'm sorry to disturb, but my cat, Opal, she ran away and I couldn't help but notice that you found her necklace. I was wondering if perhaps you had seen her? She's a white, fluffy cat and very dear to me, you see."
The family looked at her with a mix of fear and awe. The mother glanced down at the two fillies who shook their heads, jaws hanging a little. "Uh … Um, we only found t-the necklace, ma'am," one of them finally managed.
Rarity's ears dropped and she hung her head slightly. She had dared to hope, even though deep down she had expected that to be the answer. "Oh … alright, then. Thank you."
"W-We're mighty sorry, ma'am. We didn't mean to take it … here." The mother held up the necklace, but Rarity stopped her.
"No, no! Please …" Rarity smiled through her tears. It was time to let go and move on. "Please keep it. It … would just remind me of poor Opal, and I dare say you need it more than I ever did. Take it with my blessing, and may it bring you good fortune." The mother hesitated, but Rarity looked insistent.
The fillies brightened as they watched, and their mother smiled thankfully. "Really? Oh … Oh thank you, good ma'am. You're very kind."
"Think … think nothing of it!" Rarity felt her voice faltering slightly. "I-If I could just ask one thing. I promise I won't ask much, but … if you find my cat, by chance, would you … would you make sure she gets a good home? She can be a little difficult, but I'm sure somepony around here could take good care of her."
The family looked at each other. The twins both looked hopefully at their mother, who finally nodded with a smile. "O-of course, ma'am."
Rarity smiled sadly. "Then I … Then I can't ask for more. Thank you, and may fortune smile upon you and your family." She turned around, head hanging low.
She was stopped by a gentle tug on her tail. "Ma'am?" She turned around and looked at the young twins staring up at her admiringly. "W-what is your name, ma'am?"
Rarity knelt down and smiled at the two young fillies, "Please call me Rarity, dears."
Pinkie put the bowl of warm water and soap down on the floor next to the bed and sat next to Fluttershy. She looked at the pegasus who smiled back at her warmly, yet Pinkie felt no joy herself, no bubbly feeling deep in her chest wanting to burst out in a fit of giggling or outright laughing. All she wanted was to laugh and smile with her friends again, to see them all happy and full of joy again, but how could she smile or laugh with all the death and suffering around her?
"Are you feeling better?" she asked while unwrapping Fluttershy's wounded hoof. The wound still looked infected, and the others had seemed worried about it. Pinkie had volunteered to stay behind and take care of Fluttershy while the others went out to get supplies and prepare for the trip. She wanted to feel helpful, wanted to do something to be of use, but what use was a party pony who couldn't party?
Fluttershy just smiled, gently as always. "A little," she said, in her eternally quiet voice.
Pinkie wanted to cry at that voice. She dipped the rag in the warm water and began washing the infected leg, cleaning away pus and dried blood. It made the leg look a little better, but the deep wounds left behind by the bear trap now gaped openly at her. "I'm sorry, Fluttershy. I don't know if—"
Fluttershy placed a hoof on hers and rubbed it softly, her gentle eyes telling her to stop speaking. "It doesn't matter, Pinkie."
Pinkie looked down. "Is there anything I can do for you? I just want something I can do."
Fluttershy sat up as best she could in the bed and nuzzled Pinkie. "There is one thing you could do …" Pinkie looked up at her hopefully. "There is only one thing I really want, Pinkie."
Pinkie looked at Fluttershy expectantly. "Yes?"
Fluttershy smiled. "I want to see you smile again, Pinkie. I want to hear you laugh again, just like you did before all of this. Back when we were all together."
Pinkie looked down and closed her eyes. "I don't know what there is to laugh or smile at anymore."
Fluttershy nuzzled her again. "Smile for me, Pinkie."
Pinkie looked up and smiled sadly. It wasn't much of a smile, but it seemed to make Fluttershy happy. Pinkie felt a little warmer inside as she saw her friend brighten up like that, it made her feel a little better herself, even if it wasn't much.
"See? I knew you could still smile, Pinkie!" Fluttershy wrapped her hooves around Pinkie as best she could with her wounded leg. "I don't know what's going to happen, Pinkie, but I know I don't want to face it without you or your smile to lighten up the dark. I don't want you to ever stop smiling." She gave the pink pony a light tickle, which caused her to giggle slightly. Fluttershy smiled.
Pinkie sniffled and giggled all at once, "Thank you, Fluttershy. You're the bestest friend a pony could ever have!"
Spike let out a long burp of green flames, from which a small pouch formed in mid-air.
The pouch clinked a little as Luna picked it up with her magic and opened it to inspect the golden bits inside. "It's a most curious choice of communication you and my sister have established. And a little bit gross, actually."
"But useful!" Spike said as he coughed a bit and patted his chest. A letter was one thing, but bags of gold and other big deliveries always left his throat a little sore.
Luna nodded. "Quite. It would make things a little more difficult if we had to buy everything on our good names alone."
"Glad to be of assistance!" Spike said cheerfully. It felt good to be doing something useful once again, instead of lounging about the empty library all day. "And it's a dragon thing. The breath, you know," the young dragon began as they turned down a small path outside town. "All dragons have a special breath. A little like cutie marks and special talents. And messenger dragons were very import in the ancient dragon societies, you know," he explained proudly, puffing himself up to look important.
Luna smiled. "Yes, I'm quite familiar with the history and cultures of the dragons, though I don't recall other messenger dragons being quite as …" She searched for the right word. "Uh, noisy, when delivering messages."
"Just part of my unique charm," Spike answered, brushing his scales back with a claw.
Luna chuckled a bit. Or perhaps it was his youth, she thought to herself. Either way, the dragon had managed to cheer her up a bit, at least for a short while. She pushed open an old gate and stepped through to a small lot of land with several wagons and carriages lined up in rows. Luna walked casually down the rows, inspecting each of the carriages.
"What are we looking for?" Spike asked as he rode along on her back.
Luna stopped and considered. "Something large enough for us all preferably, but if not that then at the very least it must be covered. We need to make sure Fluttershy stays warm, dry and off her legs." She turned and looked at a small, covered carriage. "Like this one, though perhaps bigger if we can get it."
Spike nodded quietly and looked around. "Do you think she will be alright? Fluttershy, I mean."
"I don't know," Luna said sadly, looking down. The worry of earlier, briefly banished by the previous conversation, began to return as she continued down another row. "Hopefully Trixie will find something which will help. There's not much else we can hope to do here in Hoofswell. But whatever happens, we will do all that we can to help her."
They continued in silence for a while before Spike spoke again, having watched Luna as they walked. "You seem very worried lately."
Luna bit her lip a little and smiled. "I'm sure we all are. Aren't you worried, Spike?"
Spike scratched his chin. "Yeah, but you seem very tense and … jittery." He gave Luna a poke between the wings, causing her to jump a little and twitch a wing reflexively. He grinned as she turned to stare at him. "And you look like you're somewhere else half the time."
Luna frowned slightly. "Please refrain from poking me like that. It is not very … polite to poke a lady, much less your princess like that! And I'm just …" She sighed. She probably wasn't fooling anypony. "I suppose worried is right. I fear for Trixie, I fear I'll lose her, and you all. I don't know what we will find, if it will even help us or if it's just a wild-goose chase. Or something worse."
Spike gave her another friendly poke. "Oh come on, don't worry like that. You do your best, and we all trust you. I'm sure we'd all be totally lost without you."
Luna looked over her shoulder at the dragon riding on her back. She sighed and tried to give a smile. "I suppose you're right. We all do our best, don't we?" Quietly she wondered to herself if they were trusting her blindly, trusting her too much? What if she was the one who was lost?
Trixie pushed the door open and walked into the hotel lobby. She stopped when she spotted Rarity sitting on a couch under a small palm tree, reading a magazine. "Hello Rarity, what are you doing down here?" she asked as she walked over to the other unicorn.
Rarity looked up and smiled a little, though it was clear she had been crying. "I got back and … I, you know, thought that Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie might want a little … time to themselves."
Trixie glanced towards the stairs. "Is Fluttershy alright? I got her some herbs and fresh bandages that should help with her wound."
"I think she's doing better." Rarity covered a slight blush behind the magazine she was reading. The giggling she had heard through the door left her with the impression that barging in would have been most inappropriate. "So I take it your shopping went well? You got everything you were looking for?" she asked to steer the topic in a new direction.
Trixie merely nodded and sat down next to Rarity. She glanced at the magazine for a while before looking at Rarity. "And how about you?" Trixie wasn't sure how to approach such a situation. She had never been known for her skills at listening or making ponies feel better, but Rarity and the others were the only friends she had, the only ponies who made her feel less lonely and lost now.
Rarity lowered the magazine, shoulders slumped. "I lost Opal. I couldn't find her, just her necklace which I gave to a poor family … I don't think she's ever coming back."
Trixie nodded slowly and looked down. "I'm sorry." She wasn't sure what else to say in such a situation. It wasn't something she was used to saying, even after everything. "I know you loved that cat. Maybe she'll find you, though … pets have a strange way of finding their way back, don't they?" Trixie had never owned a pet herself, but that seemed like the kind of thing she always heard about pets.
Rarity shook her head. "I don't think … I mean, maybe it's for the best. Maybe I needed to let go and focus on what is important here. Namely you, and everypony else. My friends." She looked up again. "I just hope she finds a good home."
Trixie looked down quietly. "Thank you, Rarity. For coming along, and for being there for me and for us all. I just hope one day I can make up for everything. I don't know if I can trust myself anymore, or if you all can trust me. I just don't want to hurt any of you."
"Friends are always there for each other," Rarity said and smiled at her. "Even when the going gets tough. You know, I certainly didn't have high thoughts of you when we first met, but I can see now something of what Twilight saw in you. And I know she would have stood by you 'till the end as well."
They both looked up at the sound of a carriage stopping outside. Rarity put down the magazine and stood up. "That must be Luna and Spike. We better go see if Pinkie and Fluttershy are ready to go, then."
The carriage rolled steadily along the rocky, uneven road, pulled by a simple come-to-life spell cast by Luna, and enthusiastically steered by Spike. The rest of the group were tucked inside, a little tightly so as to make room for Fluttershy to lie down comfortably. Trixie looked back at Hoofswell as the small town disappeared in the darkness behind them. It was going to be a long and arduous trip to the sea and beyond, but hopefully it would be an uneventful one.
As she settled in under a blanket and looked up at the stars, Trixie thought of the small mirror secretly hidden away in her saddlebag, and of the little purple filly she had talked to back in Canterlot. If only she could pull out the mirror and look into it, to find her … but she knew Luna wouldn't approve. She sighed sadly, feeling the strange loneliness deep inside, despite the others around her.