The grey and yellow streak climbed higher into the morning sky, blurring slightly into the low-lying cloud cover. Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth and put her head down, flapping her wings for all they were worth as she rocketed into the air towards her goal.
As she climbed closer, the grey streak resolved itself into the familiar form of Derpy, Ponyville's reliable mailmare, her less-than-graceful flight weighed down further by the worryingly large bag of letters she was hauling on her back.
"Derpy, Derpy!" Rainbow Dash may not have been blessed with subtlety, but she did have speed on her side. With a final flick of her wings, she caught up with Derpy and did a neat mid-air somersault, to come to a stop directly in front of her fellow pegasus. Derpy stopped, blinking in confusion.
"Derpy!" Rainbow Dash paused, panting, her breath coalescing into mist at the high altitude. Her mind raced she had to somehow convince Derpy to hand over all the post without a fuss. She would have to use all her persuasiveness and charm, especially if she wanted to keep Twilight's name out of this whole sorry affair. Finally deciding on a course of action, she thrust out her hooves at the confused pony.
"Give me that postbag!" she demanded loudly.
Derpy twitched in confusion, automatically hugging her bag close to her, and then her brow furrowed in annoyance. "No!" She suddenly snapped. "I'm the mailmare Rainbow Dash, not you! Try doing your own job for once, you... you..."
With a shake of her head, Derpy leapt higher into the sky, speeding away faster and faster. Rainbow Dash's jaw fell open. "I was sure that'd work!" she squeaked to herself in disbelief, before stretching her wings and letting loose with her own burst of speed. "Derpy, come back!" she yelled, though the force of the wind as she flew was so strong she couldn't be sure that her words were reaching anywhere. "They're not just letters you've got, they're evil letters! You can't deliver them!"
Her quarry vanished into the thick cloudbank that loomed ahead, rolling along heavily in the morning sky. Without hesitation, Rainbow Dash dived in, swiping her hooves about to clear the dense cloudstuff from her vision. "Derpy?" she called, a bit more hesitantly. "Derpy, this isn't funny, I'm serious!"
"When are you ever serious?" Derpy's voice echoed from somewhere in the cloudbank. Rainbow Dash whirled round and round but all she could see was whiteness, stretching to infinity. "The mail always gets through! It's my duty!"
"Oh for the love of..." Rainbow Dash scowled and with a quick burst of speed darted forwards to grasp at a slightly darker patch of cloud. The cloud dissipated to nothing, but a quick flurry of motion told her that Derpy was close. Then the impact of a postbag on her head told her that Derpy was closer.
"Hnn!" Rainbow Dash winced out, biting down hard as she tumbled out of control. Thankfully the fall through layer after layer of cloud soon slowed her descent, and she came to a stop upside down, sprawled in the light, cotton-like cloud mass. "That's it!" she snapped, looking around for a sign of her nemesis. "Derpy, if those letters get to Ponyville there's going to be trouble! I don't care about your job, I'm going to take every one of those letters and burn them, you got that?" Her wings roared into life, fanning the clinging clouds from her. "So..." she cleared her throat, attempting to make her voice sound slightly more intimidating. "So you'd better give them up now. I'm the best junior flier in all Equestria, you've not got a chance!"
The answer came in another kick to the back of Rainbow Dash's head. "Maybe, but..." A pained Rainbow Dash turned around to see Derpy, determination fixed on her face as she hugged her mailbag to her. "...I'm the best mailmare in all Ponyville!" Derpy leapt away again, even higher, quickly vanishing into the clouds.
"This is ridiculous!" Rainbow Dash cried in despair. "You're the only mailmare in Ponyville!" She started to follow Derpy higher and higher, breaking through the top of the cloudbank, the air moving from softly chilly to an almost biting cold as the two pegasi continued their chase, two tiny specks in the vast lonely upper atmosphere.
Each beat of her wings now caused Rainbow Dash pain. The air here was thinner and colder, and tiny ice crystals were starting to form on her hooves. But still she pushed herself, watching as Derpy continued to gain distance. She had thought that catching Derpy would be an easy job, but somehow being the best flier didn't count for much when pitted against a pony who was determined to do her job. Still, there was a chance...
Rainbow Dash saw exactly what she needed. In a bolt of blue she darted not upwards, but horizontally, giving Derpy more time to escape. She kept Derpy in view out of the corner of her eye, but her goal was a lonely grey cloud laden with rain which had been happily bobbing along. Catching up with it, Rainbow Dash grabbed the cloud, hefting it slightly as she judged the weight. Derpy's postbag might give her an advantage in dogged willpower, but it could also be used against her. With a heft, Rainbow Dash pushed the cloud aloft as hard as she could, watching it sail upwards. Then she sped off horizontally again, a new burst of resolve on her face.
Derpy continued to hug her postbag to her chest as if it were a small filly, huffing and panting as she flew for all she was worth higher and higher. Her wings screamed in protest at being forced to fly in the thin, freezing air and every breath she took felt like being forced to gargle with pins. She paused, struggling to hover in the air to regain her strength, wildly looking about for Rainbow Dash. She rankled at the thought of that show-off pony, out to tease her or steal her job no doubt. Ponyville's number one prankster wouldn't beat her though; she had an important job to do! She-
"Hey! Over here!"
Derpy's thoughts were interrupted by a cry from below her, to the left. Rainbow Dash was back, slowly climbing higher though the fatigue was showing. "You're persistent!" Derpy called back, glaring down at Dash as she started to flap her wings harder. "But you're not going to catch me!"
"No!" Dash called back. "I'm not!"
At that moment, a distracted Derpy was hit full-on by a sopping wet cloud which had hurtled upwards from her bottom right. Derpy wheeled about, attempting to regain control as the cloud spilled its watery contents over her before spinning off into the ether.
Derpy shook her head in annoyance, her mane now soaking and hanging down over her face. She hugged her wet mailbag closer to her defensively as she flew higher, away from the approaching Rainbow Dash. "All mailmares make a promise to Princess Celestia that the mail will always get through!" The water made the air even colder now; she felt an ice-cold prickling arcing across her body. "You can't hurt the post while-" She broke off, her teeth chattering, her wings twitching. Something was wrong. "W-while..."
Rainbow Dash was getting closer. To Derpy's horror, she found that she couldn't move her wings anymore. She couldn't move anything anymore. She was frozen solid, and the soaking wet mailbag had become a heavy ball of ice.
She hung in the air for what felt like an eternity as Rainbow Dash continued to climb higher to meet her, though dimly she knew it could only have been a fraction of a second because soon she would be tumbling helplessly downwards through the iron grip of gravity.
The last thing she saw was Rainbow Dash's brightly coloured mane, which seemed even brighter against the cold, barren, upper atmosphere, and those warm round red eyes of hers. And then she felt two strong hooves wrap around her, and a voice whisper into her ear: "Trust me".
And then they both fell.
If Twilight heard the clattering and banging as Spike and Saddle Stitch boarded up the door to her room, she did not make any indication. Nor did she attempt to curiously peer out of the window as Rainbow Dash made her desperate flight into the sky.
Instead she was lost in a flurry of fiction, the pages of the book seemingly embracing her as she turned them, warm inviting words pulling her in until it felt like the only thing that existed in the entire world, the only thing that mattered, was her book.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she turned each page, enraptured by the adventures those perfect words sent her on, each page inlaid with the most beautiful illustrations which seemed like they must belong in a gallery; a far cry from the childlike scrawlings she had been reading just a day earlier.
She and Yellowstar had flown across Equestria at faster than the speed of thought. They had fetched stars from the sky to light the land that was forever dark. They had dived into the dreams of an enraged dragon to rescue the one perfect happy memory it still cradled. Though the book contained more and more danger, more monsters, Twilight felt safe with Yellowstar next to her.
She smiled happily, looking up from the book at the regal pony that paced up and down the room as she read. Yellowstar was looking more magnificent than ever: her hair draped over her face in perfect curls as she stared out of the window curiously at the rising morning sun. Her newly grown wings flapped slightly, stretching in the light, casting a flickering shadow over Twilight. From a distance, Twilight thought, it might be possible to mistake her for Celestia or Luna. She was almost like a real Princess. Almost real.
But not quite.
"Twilight Sparkle." Yellowstar turned her head towards Twilight, her voice soft and gentle, yet tinged with a strange worry. "Why are you not reading? You said you would read the book, only when it is finished I can be free."
Twilight realised her mistake, and glanced down at the pages again, unsure of whether to address Yellowstar directly or continue to read. She bobbed her head up and down in an attempt to do both. "I'm sorry!" she yelped out. "I didn't mean it, I was just thinking about how you would make such a wonderful Princess..."
Yellowstar trotted closer to Twilight, nuzzling her slightly, sending a joyful burst of fuzz throughout Twilight's body that made the small pony instantly relax, her mind racing back to her foalhood, of happy evenings curled by the fireside with her mother.
"Are you not happy Twilight Sparkle?" Yellowstar smiled warmly, her horn glowing as she soothed Twilight. "I can make you happy." She turned her head to look out of the window again. "When I am made real, I will use my magic to make every pony happy, all the time. Every pony will live happily ever after, because there will be no sadness, no cruelty, no loss. I will not allow it; I will be the perfect Princess. The sky will always be blue and the birds will always sing and, and nothing bad will ever happen."
There was a deep feeling of wrongness bubbling in Twilight's stomach, but it was instantly submerged as another wave of euphoria swept over her and she found herself gently stroking the book. "I can't wait" she simply replied, her heart longing for the perfection that Yellowstar had promised. "I'm sure my friends will love it."
"All ponies will be your friends" Yellowstar began pacing again, almost impatiently. "Everypony will be friends with everypony else, there will be love and trust and nopony will ever be alone again." She fixed Twilight with a gaze, her eyes pulsing suddenly with a raw energy again. "But Twilight Sparkle, you must hurry, you must read faster, no matter how much it hurts. I feel danger coming. You must reach the end before it is too late." Then, slightly softer. "Please. For me."
Twilight beamed back as she turned the page. "Of course Yellowstar. I couldn't think of anything better."
As the morning sun continued to rise, more and more ponies slowly awoke to greet the day. The town square was full of excitable chatter, of the clattering of carts and ponies starting to go about their daily business...
...And of a strange whistling drone that began quietly and distant at first, and then grew steadily in pitch until every pony outside was standing puzzled, craning their necks skyward in an attempt to work out the source of this peculiar noise.
They did not need to wait long. The question was answered in the form of a rainbow-coloured streak that hurtled vertically downwards from the heavens, to impact in the town fountain with an enormous splash that managed to completely drench any unfortunate onlookers who had not been fast enough to flee in time. A haggard Rainbow Dash hauled herself out of the fountain, clutching a sodden mailbag triumphantly in her mouth, and using her hooves to pull out Derpy who was doing her best impression of an icicle.
"I... was aiming for the mattress shop!" Rainbow Dash gasped apologetically in the direction of Derpy, before rubbing the lump on her head with a pained expression. "That fountain... was not as deep as I thought!"
Pushing past a gaggle of bemused and slightly shocked bystanders, Rainbow Dash half-collapsed in a fit of panting, eyes wild and mane soaked and ragged, but gleaming with victory. "Did it!" she choked out.
"And about time too!" A stern, authoritative voice cut through the air and caused Dash to twitch slightly in annoyance. An old, brown unicorn with a nervous dragon in tow marched towards her, shaking his head as one would towards a naughty filly.
"Spike here told me you were supposed to be a good flier or something!" Saddle Stitch tutted haughtily at the exhausted and bedraggled Rainbow Dash. "Though frankly I can quite imagine Ponyville's standards are quite low if today's events are anything to go by!" He gave the mailbag a kick, letting the contents spill out over the town square.
Spike stared down at the letters wide-eyed, and immediately dived in, his little arms scurrying about as he started to pick out the envelopes that looked like they were written by Twilight. Without warning, he felt himself hoisted into the air with a yank of magic, and found himself eye to eye with Saddle Stitch.
"Spike!" Saddle Stitch exclaimed haughtily, shaking his head again. "Spike, have you lost your mind? What are you doing?"
Spike felt his face flush red. "I... I'm looking for the letters Twilight wrote, you know, the ones that have the story that drives you mad in them..." He trailed off as Saddle Stitch continued to stare.
"Spike." It was his name, but coming from Saddle Stitch it felt to Spike like an insult. "Spike, if you make one mistake, somepony will get their letter from Twilight, read it, go mad, and then you, yes you, will be sent to jail by Princess Celestia for causing this sorry mess. You don't want that, do you?" Spike shook his head mutely. "No. Good. You must burn the evidence, it will be as if this disaster never happened and I can go back to my nice cosy library and pretend I never met you or Ms Sparkle."
With a flash, the magic holding Spike in the air vanished, and the little dragon landed heavily on the ground. Spike rubbed his behind in pain, and looked at the pile of letters again. "But... they're not all from Twilight!" he protested.
This time it was Rainbow Dash who replied, having by this point regained most of her lost composure. "He's right Spike, we can't risk it. Besides, the sooner we sort this out, the sooner we can make sure Twilight is okay."
Scrunching up his eyes, Spike opened his mouth and let loose a gout of flame, real flame, which danced around the mailbag slowly reducing its contents to burning cinders. As they stood around the makeshift fire ensuring that every scrap of paper was burnt to ashes, Rainbow Dash planted the frozen Derpy next to the flames to thaw the poor pony out.
"Well..." Spike sighed heavily. "I guess that was the right thing to do. There can't have been anything too important in there..."
In a house not too far from the impromptu bonfire, a tiny foal stood expectantly by the front door. "Do you think I'll get lots of birthday cards in the post?" little Pipsqueak asked his auntie as he stared excitedly at the mailbox. "I hope I get a letter from mummy and daddy! And maybe Princess Luna..." His bottom lip started to quiver slightly. "Or... anyone..."
He settled down to wait.
"The mail! The mail!" Rainbow Dash and Spike struggled to restrain Derpy who was attempting to throw herself into the fire. The grey pegasus had unexpectedly burst quickly free from her icy imprisonment, and seemed to be ever so slightly upset at the loss of her precious postbag. "I can scoop up the ashes and deliver them!" Derpy wailed, making another lunge towards the flames.
"No! Derpy! Calm!" Rainbow Dash cried out, but it wasn't having much effect; as she had discovered, Derpy was like a force of nature where the post was concerned. She tried another tactic, pointing a hoof at Saddle Stitch, who was making no motion to help them stop Derpy from incinerating herself. "Derpy, I'm not making this up, this isn't a stupid prank, you've gotta believe me! Those letters were evil and dangerous! Look, that's Saddle Stitch, he's the royal librarian in the service of the Princess, he's an important pony, he'll tell you!"
Derpy seemed to respond to this, slowing her struggles slightly as she looked almost quizzically towards Saddle Stitch.
The old unicorn just shrugged and rolled his eyes at Rainbow Dash. "I've got no idea what she's talking about!" he snorted. "Evil letters indeed! I was just in Ponyville for... a stroll in this lovely town."
Derpy wailed out at this revelation and leapt towards the remains of the fire again, only a sharp tug from Spike on her tail stopping her from becoming charbroiled. "Come on Derpy!" Spike cried in desperation. "You're causing a scene!"
Indeed she was, Saddle Stitch realised. She was causing a shouting, crying, flaming scene, which was slowly gathering a crowd of ponies who were starting to murmur amongst themselves. Soon one of them would gather up the courage to intercede and find out what was going on, and questions would be asked.
"Ahem." He leaned in closer to Derpy, placing a hoof around her neck in a friendly gesture. Derpy ceased her struggling to blink in confusion at the old unicorn. "Look... Doopy, is it? I do indeed work for Princess Celestia, and I'm here in Ponyville on a secret mission for her." He looked around and lowered his voice. "It is so secret that you don't need to tell the Princess about it if you ever see her, because she already knows. Now, these letters..." he waved a hoof at the burning pile. "These were evil letters, and if any pony had read one then there would have been terrible consequences. So burning them was the right thing to do." He smiled warmly. "So, we can forget this all happened, right?"
Derpy calmed down finally, looking between Rainbow Dash, Spike and Saddle Stitch, and then forlornly at the burning paperwork. Finally she spoke, her voice trembling. "Fine, but... I already delivered some letters this morning!"
Saddle Stitch's smug smile turned into a choke. Today was not a good day.
Twilight snapped her neck up in alarm as a wailing, sobbing cry suddenly broke the serenity of the room. Yellowstar had toppled over, collapsed in a pile of limbs on the floor. Her beautiful tiara and necklace slipped out of place as she stared at Twilight through terrified eyes which were no longer pools of power, but large, watery and red. At that moment she looked more like a little filly trying to play dress-up than an actual princess.
Twilight gave a gasp as she saw small flickers of flames licking hungrily around Yellowstar's mane, as the larger pony cried out with a panicked mewling, frozen in fear. Leaving the book, she dashed over and started frantically using her hooves to beat out the small but growing fire.
As quickly as it had started it was over. Twilight gave a slight wince as realised that she'd singed her own hooves, and then stood back to allow Yellowstar to stand up.
She didn't. Yellowstar just pressed herself into the corner of the room, shaking slightly, a perfect tear falling down a perfect cheek, cutting a perfect path through the daubs of soot that lightly dusted her face. "They burnt me" she whispered to Twilight, her voice trembling. "They burnt those lovely letters you wrote with the words of my story. I do not want to die before I am real." She wiped away a tangled strand of singed hair that had fallen over her face as she tried to compose herself, the only sound in the room being that of her ragged, terrified breathing.
"That is a bad way to go," she finally said, standing upright to her full height as she once more towered over Twilight, readjusting her tiara and fixing the smaller pony with a kindly yet stern gaze. "Twilight Sparkle my faithful friend, you must keep reading. Finish the book before they realise our deception and return for me." Her eyes regained their luminescence, and yet there was still a watery tremble within their depths. "Don't let them burn me, Twilight Sparkle. Please."
Twilight nodded, biting her bottom lip slightly at the state Yellowstar was in. "I'd never let anypony hurt you Yellowstar, I promise" she whispered back, returning to the book. As she sat hunched over its pages she felt that blissful contentment wash over her again and she smiled, turning the page.
The room went black.
It was like a curtain that swept across the walls, ignoring the sun that poured through the window until the entire room was swathed in an inky night, the only light being the energy that gleamed from Yellowstar and a faint purple glow that emanated from the book. Twilight jerked her head up in alarm, mouth gaping open. "What's that?" she mouthed quietly towards Yellowstar as she took a step back.
"This is the end of the story approaching, can you not feel it?" Yellowstar swept a wing around Twilight, her bright eyes sweeping around the darkened room. "I will protect you Twilight Sparkle, do not worry."
All Twilight could feel was a cold icy dread like a crackling coldness across her chest as she gazed out into the infinite blackness, comforted slightly by the warm glow of Yellowstar. "I know" was all she could whisper back.
"Stupid, stupid Yellowstar." The voice came out of nowhere, echoing around the small room as if it were a voluminous cave, the blackness stretching into infinity as mocking laughter pealed out. "Stupid little selfish Yellowstar."
Yellowstar didn't respond; Twilight could hear her rapid breathing again as she glanced about the room looking for the source of the voice. "Who are you?" she called out hesitantly into the darkness. "Yellowstar's not stupid, she's the best pony, how dare you say that!" She slowly stepped forwards defiantly, placing herself between Yellowstar and wherever that strange voice was coming from. "You don't know anything! She's the hero of the story!"
"Oh, she is, is she?" A face leered out of the darkness catching Twilight by surprise as she felt herself leap back. A large silver alicorn stepped from the shadows, beating her wings softly as she stalked forwards. She could almost have been a mirror image of Yellowstar, but her face was twisted into an angry sneer.
"Silver Crescent." Yellowstar's voice was low and accusatory as she stared at the newcomer, her front hooves pawing at the floorboards. "You wicked pony. Be gone from here. This should be a happy place, it is not for you."
At the mention of that name, Twilight squinted at the large pony that towered over her. It looked like Yellowstar's small filly companion, but she had been so small just a day before and now she was rivalling Yellowstar in stature. A part of Twilight's mind thought that such a change didn't seem particularly realistic, but she quickly pushed such doubts from her mind. Every story needed a villain, after all.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Silver Crescent started to circle Yellowstar, who turned to keep pace with her. "You'd like me to be utterly evil!" Her voice changed into a jeering tone. "Is that the only reason anypony would have for hating perfect little Yellowstar? The dumb little filly still trying to play dress up and princesses?" She darted her head forwards, and to Twilight's horror, Yellowstar recoiled slightly. "I hate you Yellowstar because you're not the best pony. You're a fraud, a failure, and you're alone because that's what you deserve!"
The accusation hung in the air until with a short, sharp snap, Yellowstar replied. "Go away" she intoned icily. "Go away and do not come back. I am the best pony and I will be the best princess this land has ever had and I will make every pony happy forever and ever and ever."
"Fine!" Silver Crescent turned into the blackness and stepped away. She gave one last look towards Yellowstar and smiled a sickly smile. "Because that is all you can conceive of me, I will be evil. I will be the most evil pony you've ever met Yellowstar, and then we will meet one last time." The darkness swallowed her and then she was gone.
Twilight turned the page. The curtain of night dropped instantly from the room, and the soft sound of birds tweeting their morning chorus filtered into the room as if nothing had happened.
Yellowstar continued to stand stock still, her tiara slightly askew, staring sadly down at the floor. Twilight moved over to her and gave her a reassuring nudge. "It's okay" she soothed. "There has to be a villain. In the finale you have to fight her and beat her and then you've won, and then the story can be over and you can be free! That's how stories work."
Yellowstar considered this for a moment and then slowly whispered one word. "No." She turned to Twilight and gave a warm yet slightly shaky smile. "I am Yellowstar, Twilight Sparkle. I am better than that. My story will end without a fight, I will find a way. I will live happily ever after, and so will everypony else. I promise."
Twilight smiled back and settled back down to read, a new look of determination on her face. There wasn't much time left before those nasty ponies who wanted to stop her and Yellowstar would come back. She had to read quickly. The future of Equestria depended on it.
Saddle Stitch eyed the sweet shop suspiciously. The outside had been vulgar enough, but inside sat a myriad of sickly treats, each one enough to turn his stomach. For him, a good meal was a boiled turnip which he would often enjoy while appreciating a classic work of literature in his private room in the library. He stifled a sneer at a plate of cream éclairs: it was the food of the ignorant masses, who were content to stuff their faces with sweets instead of savouring the more intellectual pursuits.
He had felt extremely uncomfortable letting Spike and Rainbow Dash loose on their own around Ponyville, but splitting up to recover the letters was a far faster way of recovering them before they were read. He shivered inwardly trying to cover up what had happened to Twilight would be hard enough but there was no telling what would happen if more ponies became afflicted with the madness the book possessed. It wasn't worth thinking about. He had carefully instructed his companions to keep their mission low key as not to 'sully Twilight's good name'; hopefully this whole business could be over with before breakfast...
"Miss... Pie?" At once Saddle Stitch dropped his air of aloofness at the ravishing beauty that propped up the counter before him. With a cough, he brushed back his mane and sauntered up to the counter, putting on his best approximation of a smile. "I was just admiring your fine line of pastries, we don't see their like up in Canterlot you know. In the castle. Where I work. In my very important job." He wriggled his eyebrows for extra emphasis.
The pony behind the counter looked at him quizzically. "Is there something wrong with your face dear?" she gasped, peering at his wiggling eyebrows. Then she pulled back. "I'm Mrs Cake, if it's Pinkie Pie you're after, she's in the back. Do you want me to get her for you?"
Saddle Stitch inwardly cursed himself for his forwardness. "Ah, my apologies madam, forgive this old fool" he smiled. "I was told a talented young baker lived here, and I just assumed..."
"Oh my!" Mrs Cake giggled, putting a hoof to her blushing cheeks. "Oh you scoundrel!"
Saddle Stitch pushed the offensive; he was sure that he was allowed a small diversion before he had to save the day. "You know, it does get rather lonely up in that big castle. I have a special reading spot just made for two, where you could read the most romantic works of literature ever published. If you ever fancy a break. All on me, of course." He winked again. "If you know what I mean."
"Oooh" Mrs Cake clapped her hooves together. "That sounds lovely! Did you hear that Mr Cake? We're going to Canterlot Castle!"
To Saddle Stitches' disgust, a strange yellow lanky pony trotted down from a stairwell and smiled a strange droopy smile at him. "Well that sounds lovely sir, just what me and the missus need!"
"Mr Cake. Of course." Saddle Stitch retorted slowly as the elation of his previous success turned to ashes. "As I was saying to your lovely... wife..." He trailed off, thinking desperately of a way to salvage the situation. "I'm the royal plumber and you are free to stay in the Canterlot sewage pipe whenever you want."
"Oh" Mrs Cake's face dropped into disappointment. "Oh. I must have misheard. That doesn't sound fun at all."
"No it doesn't does it" Saddle Stitch muttered as he trotted to the kitchen door that Mrs Cake had previously indicated. "Now, I have an appointment with Miss Pie. Palace business. Palace sewage business."
As he grumpily threw open the door he was met by a cacophony of sound and a plume of icing sugar that exploded out into the main shop. To his horror, he could see a strange pink pony bouncing up and down on the floor and (somehow) walls, her eyes rolling about as she let out a strange warbling.
"Woo! Woo! Woooooo!" trilled Pinkie Pie as she rebounded off every surface available, throwing out streamers and balloons and globs of chocolate icing around the kitchen, seemingly unaware that she was being watched.
Saddle Stitch felt the clutches of despair engulf him as he slumped to the ground, cradling his head in his hooves. "Oh Celestia save me, it's too late! She's read the letter and become consumed by madness! Everypony will find out and I'll be ruined! Ruined!"
"Oh that letter!" Pinkie Pie's face suddenly loomed a bit too closely to Saddle Stitch's, and he recoiled slightly. "No, that's on the table, I've not read it yet! Woo woo woo!" She started hopping about the kitchen again as if completely oblivious to his presence.
With a scowl, Saddle Stitch stood and trotted over to the table, staring at the crazy pink bundle of pony. "Yes. It is Ponyville. I should have known" he dryly snapped as he moved to take the letter. "I'll just take this and you can get on with... whatever it is you're doing."
Pinkie Pie stopped in mid-bounce, staring at Saddle Stitch sternly as her face collapsed into a frown. "That's my letter, you're not allowed to take other pony's mail!"
"Yes but..." Saddle Stitch raised an eyebrow as he looked directly behind Pinkie, his mouth open in shock. "Oh no, look, a dragon!"
Pinkie Pie didn't respond. She kept her gaze firmly fixed on the interloper. "Seen one, seen them all."
Saddle Stitch grimaced. Then without missing a beat, he added "I mean, it's a gigantic flying donut from space which is shooting chocolate sprinkles and stealing all the trees!"
Pinkie Pie's expression did not change. "Seen one, seen them all," she repeated.
Saddle Stitch thought for a bit. "A... butterfly?" he offered, having run out of ideas.
"What? WHERE!" Pinkie Pie's entire demeanour changed as she whirled around looking for the mysterious butterfly, enthusiastically peering out of the window.
Sighing in contempt, Saddle Stitch used the distraction to read down and snatch the letter from the table. To his annoyance, he could not find anywhere that he could quickly hide it no pockets, no bin, not even a handy office paper shredder. There was only one thing to do.
As Pinkie continued to peer excitedly out of the window, Saddle Stitch ate the letter.
The day was not going well.
"Fluttershy! Fluttershy!" Rainbow Dash raced across Ponyville in a rainbow streak, darting from shop to alleyway to park in a desperate search for her friend. Her house had been empty, the post already collected, and Rainbow Dash knew it was only a matter of time before she opened the envelope and read the contents. And then it would be too late.
"Fluttershy!" Rainbow Dash breathed a sigh of relief as she skidded to a halt. There in front of her sitting on a bench was Fluttershy, juice box in one hoof, open letter in the other.
"Oh hi Dashie!" Fluttershy smiled, looking up from the letter. "I got this from Twilight, she said she's sent me a bit of a story to read and that I'll really like it!" Her wide, watery eyes looked towards Rainbow Dash in happiness. "Isn't it wonderful to have such a lovely friend!"
"Yeah, whatever. Give it here!" Rainbow Dash made to snatch at the note, but Fluttershy pulled it out of her reach in a rare act of defiance.
"That's very rude Dash!" She admonished sternly. "You can have it later, but Twilight sent it to me and I will respect the wishes of my friend that I should read it!"
"Yes, but..." Rainbow Dash quickly thought over the options; she had hoped that Fluttershy would instantly give in. Saddle Stitch had been very clear that she wasn't to mention that there was a madness inducing fiction in Ponyville, because it would destroy Twilight's reputation or something, and get Spike sent to jail. She hadn't known that Spike had so many friends in Canterlot looking out for him, that was a nice surprise. "But... it's my story!" She exclaimed finally. "You know Fluttershy, that one I wrote! Twilight wanted to share it, but I was thinking about it more and it's awful so give it back!"
Fluttershy considered this, looking down at the note in her hooves. Then she looked up at Rainbow Dash and sweetly smiled again. "Don't worry Rainbow Dash, if it's written by you I'm sure I'll love it anyway, even if I don't love it. It'll be the best thing ever because you're my friend."
Rainbow Dash scowled. "No Fluttershy, you won't like it because...." She looked around and her eyes alighted on a cute rabbit hopping past. "Because it's full of exploding rabbits. Oh boy do those rabbits explode! Blood and guts everywhere, there's not a page where somepony's not exploding."
Fluttershy almost dropped the letter in horror, giving a squeal, her mouth agape. "Dashie!" she wailed. "How could you!"
Rainbow Dash took the letter, approximating the best apologetic look she could think of on her face. "I know, I guess there's something wrong with me, I'll go and get some rest and then we can pretend it never happened!"
"Oh boy I LOVE stories like that!" Rainbow Dash recoiled as the precious paper was torn from her hooves by a rather excitable little Snips. The young colt gleefully clutched it to his chest. "I love violent stories, thank you Rainbow Dash."
"Did I say it was violent? I meant it was a love story. Yeah. Lots of soppy love and kissing and stuff." Rainbow Dash pulled a face, inwardly smiling as Snips looked crushed dropping the letter to his hooves. Then as Fluttershy gave a squeak, she turned back to her friend. "But it's really violent soppy love, don't forget!"
"I could go for a bit of grim dark love!" came the voice of Mr Breezy as he picked up the letter before Rainbow Dash had the chance to take it. "In a purely ironic manner, of course" he added with a shifty cough.
Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes. "Yes. Of course" she hissed. "But did I mention it was also... a light-hearted comedy!" Mr Breezy considered this, and was about to pass it back when it was intercepted by a lemon coloured pegasus pony who swooped down from the sky to grab it in her mouth.
"Violent romantic comedies are the best" Lemon Dreams mumbled through the wodge of paper stuffed into her mouth, hovering just too far above the slowly gathering crowd for Rainbow Dash to easily grab her.
"Yes but it has a weird creepy hairless ape thing!" Rainbow Dash cried in triumph as Lemon Dream's face crumpled. "It wanders into Ponyville and everypony becomes its friend, but it has weird hooves with lots of fingers and looks ugly."
A squeal of joy emanated from behind the bench as Lyra leapt out. "I adore stories about weird hairless ape things!" she cried, making a dive for the letter.
Slowly but surely the amount of ponies crowding around Rainbow Dash increased, and the more she tried to dissuade them that the letter contained the worst story ever, the more excited they seemed to get. "What the hay is wrong with these ponies?" she cursed to herself as Caramel leapt into the fray after she claimed that the story contained a rapping apple. "Is there nothing these ponies don't like?"
Trying to snatch the letter back into her hooves, she cast her head desperately about for more inspiration. Through the throng of ponies, she saw a little orange and purple filly playing alone on the street. "Got it!" she whispered. And then louder. "SCOOTALOO! Of course! The main character is Scootaloo!"
At once the babble of excitable voiced ceased and all the ponies surrounding Rainbow Dash suddenly moved away, muttering and shaking their heads in disappointment. A turquoise pony threw the letter down at Rainbow Dash's hooves. "Scootaloo? How could you!" she admonished, slowly walking away.
Scootaloo jerked her head up in excitement at the mention of her name. She put down the twig she had been playing with and started to race happily towards Rainbow Dash. Had she heard right? Had her greatest hero really written a story about her? Her heart leapt with glee and she gave a little laugh, her eyes twinkling with happiness.
She skidded to a stop as Rainbow Dash set upon the story with barely restrained ferocity, stamping and tearing it until there was nothing left. "Trust me kid" Rainbow Dash looked down with a knowing smile. "You'll thank me for this one day."
"Now where could it be?" Spike whipped about Rarity's house in a hair-tearing frenzy (or would have, if he had hair). Upon hearing that the last letter Derpy had delivered was to Rarity, he had begged pleaded to be allowed to be the one to rescue her. Thankfully his search was unimpeded since Rarity was nowhere to be found - but neither was the letter.
"I've failed her!" Spike slumped against a chest of drawers in despair. "It was all down to me and I messed it up!" He carefully closed the chest, putting Rarity's clothes back as he had found them. Usually it would be uncouth for him to be going through a lady's private possessions, but this was an emergency!
Spike almost jumped out of his skin, recovering slightly as he realised that the voice was not that of Rarity catching him in the act, but of Rainbow Dash. Her head was bobbing outside the window, with a rather stern looking Saddle Stitch staring on.
"I can't do it!" Spike wailed, pressing his nose up against the glass. "I can't find the letter! Rarity's doomed and it's all my fault!" He could see Saddle Stitch nodding vigorously at this comment.
"Hold on, we're coming!" Rainbow Dash winked, and half dragged a protesting Saddle Stitch out of view. Moments later they were inside the room with Spike, Rainbow Dash already zipping about the room in a blur of activity.
"I've already looked everywhere!" Spike sighed. "It's no use, it can't be here. She must have taken it with her, wherever she's gone. She'll be reading it and going mad and it's all because of me!"
"Indeed!" Saddle Stitch glared haughtily at Spike, trotting over to Rarity's en suite bathroom and waving a hoof over the sud-laden bathtub. "She can't have been gone too long, this water's still hot. We should cut our losses here and search Ponyville for her. I can't imagine what would happen if a pony of my standing was found routing around in somepony else's house! It would be a scandal!"
As if to answer him, all three froze as the front door slammed and Rarity's distinctive trilling hum filled the house.
Spike looked at Rainbow Dash in horror. "She can't find us here!" he squeaked out, tugging in desperation at the locked window frame. "What'll she think!" His head spun around as all three raced about the room looking for a way of escape as Rarity's hoofsteps became louder and louder.
"Don't worry!" Rainbow Dash suddenly announced. "I've got another brilliant idea!"
Rarity sung happily to herself as she stepped into her room. It was another lovely day in Ponyville, and what better way to start the day than to have a lovely bath and read a lovely letter from her lovely friend.
She daintily dipped her front hoof into the bathwater and smiled. It had been too hot earlier, so she had taken a brisk constitutional walk to give it time to cool down. Wrapping a towel around her mane to keep it neat, she slid gracefully into the soapy bathtub and sighed in contentment, breathing in the delightful aroma of the scented water. "I wonder what Twilight sent me?" she pondered out loud, using her magic to gently lift the letter, hovering it over her relaxing bath. "I bet it's something yeargh!"
This last comment was directed at two little purple arms that suddenly rose from the bubbles and grabbed the letter, screwing it up and tearing it until it was illegible. "I did it!" Spike cried happily as his head bobbed up from under the water. "I saved you!"
"Ew! SPIKE!" Rarity screamed, scooting in horror towards the edge of the bath as she attempted to shield herself from the little dragon. "What in Celestia's name are you doing in my bath?"
Before Spike could respond, Saddle Stitch's head broke through the suds and he gasped for breath, wild-eyed. "P-palace business!" he grunted out, trying to catch his breath. "Sorry."
"Ew! A creepy old pony!" Rarity cried in shock, shuffling even further back and clutching the walls of her bath for dear life.
A soaking rainbow mane burst through the water as Rainbow Dash coughed out, looking sheepishly at Rarity.
Rarity just scowled, glaring back. "Oh," she sighed. "Rainbow Dash. I should have known."
The four sat awkwardly in the bath together for a while. Finally, Rainbow Dash spoke. "This is a dream Rarity. Just go back to sleep."