Chapter 3: Sometimes, the World Saves You
As they sped closer and closer to Ponyville, the sun seemed to suddenly plunge beneath the horizon.
"What just happened?" Twilight asked. "Did...Luna do that?"
Celestia answered, "We don't control the rising or the setting of the sun or moon in Everfree Forest, Twilight---everything works differently in Equestria from how it works in Everfree."
This made no sense to Twilight. "But...when we used the Elements of Harmony to free Luna and destroy Nightmare Moon, the sun came up just as you arrived!"
"That was a happy coincidence; that was the sun rising naturally in Everfree."
Twilight decided not to worry about it; they were coming up on Ponyville fast, and whatever was threatening their home needed to be dealt with. As soon as they were out in the open, they looked around. There wasn't a tower anywhere to be seen, but there was a dark cloud slowly creeping closer---an unusually shaped cloud, at that. Then it dawned on them what that cloud was.
"Cloudsdale?? But...I thought it never moved!" Twilight asked.
"If the corruption core attached to Cloudsdale is making all the corrupted pegasus ponies push at the same time, then it could move," Celestia thought aloud.
"But what are they trying to accomplish by moving the whole town to Ponyville?"
"Hold on a moment---you need to be close to a core for the corruption to work, right?" Rarity pointed out.
It clicked in everyone's mind. Applejack said it first: "They're tryin' to re-corrupt Ponyville using Cloudsdale's core! They're tryin' to kill two birds with one stone!"
"We've gotta stop that core before it gets to Ponyville!" Twilight declared with determination.
Lightning crackled beneath Cloudsdale, and as if in reverberation, lightning sparked from the clouds hovering above Cloudsdale, as well. It was hard to see in the darkness of night, but thanks to the illumination from those lightning bolts, it was clear that it was absolutely gushing down rain on and around Cloudsdale.
"Oh, wonderful: this is going to be one of those kinds of adventures," Rarity moaned.
"Look at it pour!" Pinkie shouted, then gasped. "Pouring rain means...RAIN GRAPES!" Pinkie's motor-mouth then switched to turbo mode: "Rain grapes are the most delicious things I've ever tasted that didn't come out of an oven and they're even better than a lot of things that DO come out of an oven and I've been working at Sugarcube Corner for years so I'd know and I still think rain grapes are the best but they only grow when it's raining really really hard and they go bad right away after you pick them so you gotta bite them right off the vine and even though you get soaking wet it's worth it because they're so good and we're all down in the dumps and we've gotta get wet anyway to save Cloudsdale so why don't we cheer ourselves up by getting some RAIN GRAPES!!?!! ...PLEEEEASE??"
There was awkward silence for a moment. Pinkie herself broke it: "On second thought, maybe we should keep our priorities straight and stay focused."
That only generated another awkward silence, since Pinkie saying something mature was not typical of her. But Rarity broke this silence: "Listen...I know that keeping my mane dry is not as important as saving Equestria, but...could we make a...quick pit stop by my boutique and pick up some...rainwear?" After a brief pause, she added, "I have more than enough for everypony!"
Rainbow Dash's orb rolled in the air---the closest a spirit could get to rolling her eyes when she didn't have eyes to roll. "Rarity, when Pinkie is more concerned about keeping our prioirities straight than you are, there's a problem."
"I think this time, we should bundle up first," Twilight said. "I'll explain on the way. Get us to Rarity's as fast as you can." Dash reluctantly began zooming toward Carousel Boutique.
Twilight continued, "There's two parts to the reason why I think we need raincoats for this. The first is because of a special property of water called 'specific heat'---I mentioned it earlier when it was drizzling in the forest. Basically, every substance in the universe has a 'specific heat': the amount of thermal energy it takes to increase its temperature. Water has a very high specific heat, which means it takes a lot more energy to heat up water than it does to heat up anything else, like wood or iron or rocks."
"Ooo, sciency!" Pinkie Pie said. There was a brief pause in the conversation, during which Twilight weighed the liklihood of Pinkie actually understanding what she was saying. Just as Twilight was coming to the conclusion that Pinkie couldn't possibly have understood a word of it, as if on cue, Pinkie asked, "What's all that mean?"
"Twi, not all of us have as much of an education as you," Applejack pointed out. "Could you please say it in english?"
"It all means that water really sucks all the warmth out of you. So if we get wet, it'll be impossible to stay warm, especially if the core catches on to what we're doing and makes the pegasus ponies move Cloudsdale up.
"That's the second part of why I think we should do this; this corruption is pulling some very dirty tricks against us. It's already tried messing with our heads, and it somehow knows exactly what to say to get to us. So I wouldn't put it beneath the corruption cores to try to make us fall over from hypothermia by soaking us with rain and then moving Cloudsdale higher in the sky to freeze us. Remember what Rainbow Dash told us about going higher up?"
"The higher you go, the colder it gets?" Rainbow Dash remembered aloud.
Rainbow rolled her eyes. "Fine. If you guys really think it's a good idea, then you go right ahead and get your raincoats. As for me---"
"You should really bundle up, too," Twilight interrupted.
Rainbow stuck her tongue out in disgust. "Maybe if I were obsessed about how I look. Maybe if I were a filly toddler playing in puddles with a rubber ducky. But I'm not either of those things, here: I'd rather get wet! I'd never hear the end of it from the rest of the Ponyville weather team if I was seen in a raincoat! If you can't handle a little rain, you've got no business being a weatherpony! Besides, if being dry is really that important, I can spin myself dry in five seconds flat!"
"This isn't a little rain," Twilight insisted. "It's a complete downpour, probably magically enhanced, that's covering the whole town, and we don't know how long we'll be in it. And spinning yourself dry will only make you colder! It won't work in the middle of a downpour, anyway."
Rainbow Dash facehoofed. "Okay...fine. There's too much at stake; I won't try to argue with you at a time like this. But I'm going to regret this...! And please don't tell anypony!"
They entered Rarity's boutique, and to their surprise, Rarity's parents and Sweetie Belle were inside! Rarity switched out into physical form and rushed toward her family, tearfully happy to see them.
"Rarity! What happened? Why weren't you at home?" her mother asked. "Where've you been?"
"Oh, Mother, Father, Sweetie Belle!! I'm so glad to see you all!"
"Rarity, what in Equestria is going on??" her father insisted.
"Oh, popsie, it's such a long story---I don't even know where to begin!"
"What're these weird bubbles following you around?" Sweetie Belle asked, bouncing Pinkie's orb on the ground like a rubber ball. Pinkie seemed to enjoy it.
"These---are my friends!" Her family looked at her as if she were crazy. "No, really, this is Twilight, Applejack," Rarity pointed with her hoof as she was saying their names, "Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie! And---" Rarity added a gasping inhale for extra drama: "---the Princess!"
Rarity's parents looked at each other in bewilderment at first, then they immediately bowed down in reverence as they heard Celestia say, "I'm pleased to make your acquintance!"
"Rarity, we need to make this fast!" Twilight insisted. "You'll have to explain everything to them while we're getting bundled up." Twilight switched out into physical form and started walking towards the back of Rarity's shop, where raingear was kept. Rarity began explaining about the cores, the corruption, and the Princess's plan to use the Elements of Harmony to destroy the cores. But to Rarity's surprise, Twilight turned away from the raincoats and starting looking around at sweaters the moment she saw where the raincoats were. She picked out a very large sweater and began putting it on.
Rarity stopped her explanations mid-sentence and shouted, "Twilight, what are you doing?! That sweater was fitted for stallions, not mares! It'll look hideous on you!"
Twilight shook her head. "I'm choosing this one because it's the biggest and fluffiest I could find.
"And you want that so it'll keep you all warm and cozy, right?" Pinkie asked.
"There's more to it than that; it's also for padding: I'm worried it might start hailing."
Rainbow Dash chuckled. "Figures an egghead bookworm like you would know about that, Twilight!"
"What in Equestria are you talking about?" Rarity asked, chuckling a little. "You're talking about 'hailing' as if it were some kind of weather! It's something you do for royalty!"
Suddenly, Celestia roared "THAT'S NOT FUNNY!!!" so loudly, the whole town might've heard it.
Everypony froze, shocked and frightened that Celestia had been angered. A terrififying silence held all of them in its grip, and Sweetie Belle was the first to break it: she got down on her knees and sputtered, "P---please don't be mad at my sister, Princess! She didn't mean it!"
Twilight swallowed and added, "I don't think Rarity had any idea what she was saying, Princess..."
Rarity began stammering: "Wha---what did I say? What did I do???"
Twilight slowly moved to the raincoat rack and began explaining, "Hail is small pieces of ice that fall out of clouds. It forms when clouds get big enough updrafts in them that are strong enough to suck raindrops up into the higher parts of the atmosphere. If those raindrops get high enough, they freeze, and then they fall back down."
"Isn't that called...sleet?" Fluttershy asked.
"Not quite," Rainbow Dash explained. "With hail, those little balls of ice can fall down, get wet when they hit more raindrops inside the cloud, then get sucked back up again, and then the water freezes on the outside. That puts an extra layer of ice on them. Then they can fall again and get sucked up again, and that adds another layer, and so on and so on, until they finally get too heavy for the clouds to suck them up again. They can get a lot bigger than sleet. Sometimes the size of golf balls."
"Wouldn't that...hurt?" Applejack asked. "An' damage buildings and crops and stuff?"
"Yes, it would," Rainbow Dash answered, "And that's exactly why they keep yelling at you to make sure your clouds don't have updrafts when you're a weatherpony."
Rarity whimpered, "I'm sorry, Princess, I had no idea---you're right, it's not funny at all!"
Celestia seemed a little sheepish, herself. "I...I'm sorry, too, Rarity. I should've known you didn't know what you were saying...and...I was overreacting in any case."
Rainbow Dash happily pointed out, "I guess the fact that nopony---besides a weatherpony, a 1000-year-old monarch who's seen it all, or a bookworm---even knows what hail is proves us pegasi have been doing our jobs since..." She trailed off, not knowing when pegasi first began managing the weather. "...Since forever, I guess."
Celestia's orb moved down in shame.
After a pause, Rainbow Dash added, "Actually, I kind of find it hard to believe any pegasus would actually make it hail. I mean, we're all trained to not make hail. Why would anyone in Cloudsdale start now? ...Unless..."
Twilight finished the thought: "Unless the corruption made them do it. And nothing is too low for the corruption."
Rainbow growled. "You're right, Twilight: the more you think about the corruption, the worse it gets! It's not just you!"
"I don't know whether to take comfort in that or not," Twilight thought aloud as she finished putting on raingear. For good measure, she also borrowed boots and a waterproof saddlebag, and she put some ink, parchments, and quills in it. "Okay, everypony---just like I did: make sure you have a sweater on, and make sure there's no way rainwater can get in to get your sweater wet. Better grab a saddlebag, too---you never know when they'll be handy."
As Rarity continued to explain the situation to her family, the mane six bundled up, one by one. Rarity made a point of taking her saddle-umbrella, too.
As Rainbow Dash came out from behind the dressing screen and began looking for flight goggles, she asked, "Okay, guys...lay it on me, how bad do I look?"
"Not bad at all---trust me," Twilight insisted. "But it's kind of hard to recognize you when you're all covered up like that; the only thing that I can recognize is your eyes."
Rainbow Dash immediately grabbed a pair of tinted goggles.
"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight scolded. "It's still nighttime, and we're flying into a storm! You need to be able to see!"
Rainbow Dash sighed, got a more practical pair of goggles, and switched back into spirit form.
"Don't mention it," Rainbow Dash answered dryly. Then added, "Seriously---don't mention it to ANYPONY!!"
Applejack was the last to finish, and after she did, she knelt down in front of Sweeite Belle. "Please...go to Sweet Apple Acres and tell Apple Bloom 'n' Big Mackintosh 'n' Granny Smith what's going on. Tell 'em I'm all right, 'n' that I'm working with my friends on the Princess's plan to save Equestria!"
Sweetie Belle nodded. "Don't worry! I'll tell them!"
Applejack added, "An' be careful; if corrupted ponies start showing up in town, you 'n' my family go 'n' hide in my apple cellar---I reinforced the door and added a lock after...well, after Twilight fell through it by accident. It should hold, and you won't run out of food down there."
Sweetie Belle nodded again.
Rarity switched out into physical form one last time to say goodbye to her family. As she did, Twilight silently thought to herself that Rarity was lucky she could see her family. If anything happened to her during this adventure, Twilight would like one last chance to say goodbye to her loved ones, too. She hoped Spike was okay, but knew that they couldn't delay for her to go back to the Library and see.
Rarity gasped and interrupted Twilight's thoughts: "Princess, we completely forgot about getting you a raincoat! I...I'm not sure I have anything in your size...!" She looked at a roll of waterproof fabric. "Ohh, if only I'd thought to heat the iron up when we first came in, I'd be able to make you a quick rain cape in two minutes!"
"I---I'll stay in spirit form," Celestia answered. "But now that I think about it---is there any other way to stop this besides going into---" After a pause, Celestia said, "...No, no there isn't. ...We need to get moving."
Just as Rarity opened the door of the boutique, she saw Derpy Hooves coming towards her, also dressed in raingear, and carrying a mop in her hooves. "Uh...Derpy!" Rarity shouted, a little embarassed at having trapped her for hours on end.
Derpy seemed to feel equally awkward. "Uh...hi, there, Rarity...it's, uh..."
"It's...been a while," Rarity finished.
"Yeah, and thanks for putting that commode there, earlier, but...uh..."
Rarity gulped; she could tell it was bad news. "But...what?"
Rarity looked like she was about to go into hysterics. "I...I'll have to hire a cleaning crew!"
"Uh...about that...it was kind of my fault, and while I'd like to pay for a cleaning crew...I...can't. But...I have a mop, so---"
"NO!!!" Rarity shrieked. "You'll burn Carousel Boutique to the ground!"
"Rarity, how is that even possible?" Twilight asked.
"This is Derpy we're talking about!" Twilight thought for a moment about what Rarity was saying, and then realized that Derpy had a knack for causing improbable amounts of collateral damage by accident, and then she began to realize that Derpy would actually be a danger to the wellbeing of Rarity's business if she went inside again without supervision.
Rarity turned back to Derpy. "Derpy, I know you mean well, and that you're trying to make your mistake right, but I forbid you to enter my store to clean the mess up!" Rarity turned her nose up into the air, closed her eyes, and insisted, "I shall cover the expense of my own cleaning!"
Derpy suddenly became very depressed, and turned around, head drooping. "Okay," she slowly said, walking away. "I understand..."
It was a little depressing to see her so depressed; Pinkie couldn't bear it. "Rarity! How could you?!" she hissed.
Rarity opened her eyes and looked at Derpy, and then saw how sad she was. She knew it was one of Derpy's longstanding anxieties that she'd be rejected because she was so clumsy, and the only way everyone had managed to keep smiles on their faces was to pretend that it wasn't a problem and never reject her for it. But...Rarity had crossed that line.
She didn't want to be the jerk, so she thought fast and trotted up behind Derpy. "Besides, it's not exactly your fault in the first place. After all, who was the one who froze you in a crystal prison?"
Derpy perked up immediately and said, "You mean it!?"
Rarity smiled back. "I certainly do!" Then she realized Derpy might take that as an invitation to clean the mess up, and added, "That's why I'm hiring a cleaning crew and not holding you responsible in any way, shape, or form."
"Better," Pinkie stated.
"I think we've dawdled for a little too long," Twilight said. "We need to get to Cloudsdale!"
"C---can I come?" Derpy asked.
"Sorry," Twilight answered. "There's no room in the Spell of Unity, and no time to explain what that means.
"O-okay," Derpy slowly said, and turned around to head home.
Rainbow Dash popped out and flew as fast as she could up toward Cloudsdale. The town wasn't moving very quickly, but it was definitely and ominously moving closer and closer to Ponyville.
As they got near the cloud city, the rain began---huge, icy drops gradually began falling out of the sky, and to Twilight's surprise, she could feel them splattering against her spirit orb. It wasn't a pleasant feeling at all. And the closer they got, the more drops there were---she didn't want to think about how awful the weather would be once they got into Cloudsdale proper, but she also knew that she didn't need to think about it: they were about to be in it.
Rainbow Dash muttered, "I hope nopony sees me wearing this..."
Twilight noted, "Visibility is actually pretty low; I don't think you need to worry..."
The downpour became incredibly thick as Rainbow Dash lighted on a cloud on the outskirts of Cloudsdale. As she set her hooves down on the cloud, the cloud squished like a wet sponge under her boots. She looked around and couldn't see anything. "Where exactly is the core?"
Twilight looked around for the Princess's orb, and it was nowhere to be seen. "Princess?" she asked. There was no answer. The Princess wouldn't have left them! She couldn't have left them, even if she'd wanted to---the Spell of Unity would've made it impossible! Twilight began looking around, and noticed a faint pastel rainbow glow on the cloud beneath them. Twilight moved her spirit orb so she could see whether the Princess was hiding under Dash's body, and sure enough, there she was. "Hey, that's a great idea! Everypony, we can take shelter under whichever pony is in physical form!" As she joined the princess under the shelter of Rainbow Dash's slicker, Twilight thought how it was no wonder Celestia couldn't hear her while she was down there, between how Rainbow's clothes were absorbing the sound and how loud the rain was.
They all quickly floated under Rainbow's chest, and Rarity added, "It's certainly better than being rained on! Good thinking, Princess!"
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, though it was hardly visible under her goggles. "Guys, where is the core??!!"
The Princess spoke up: "Where is the center of Cloudsdale?"
"That's the town square!" Rainbow Dash shouted over the storm. "That way!"
"Then try there. It's the most logical place to put a core, since its effective radius would encompass the most distance that way."
"Hold on a minute," Twilight thought aloud, "Pinkie, I think you should take point."
"Why's that?" Pinkie asked.
"Because the visibility is really low; only your Pinkie Sense will tell us if any corrupted pegasi are approaching."
"Okie-dokie-loki!" Pinkie answered, and switched out. She bounded toward the center of town.
She suddenly stopped. "Pinchy knee, guys!" she shouted.
"Corrupted ponies??" Rainbow Dash asked.
"I dunno, but it really hurts! Whatever it is, it's gonna be---" A nearby jolt of lightning interrupted Pinkie, and the thunder from it sounded more like a nearby explosion than anything else they'd ever heard. It was deafening, and their ears rung for a few moments.
As they regained their senses, they realized that Pinkie was hugging their spirit orbs like teddy bears. Her eyes were wide as saucers, her pupils small as peas, and she was shaking.
"It's just thunder, Pinkie," Applejack pointed out dryly. (Not that anything besides her tone was dry.)
"Could that lightning actually...hurt us?" Fluttershy asked Rainbow Dash.
"The corruption can't use the lightning for an attack; trust me," Rainbow answered. "There isn't a way to make lightning go where you want it to go. Believe me, we pegasi have tried."
Twilight thought of something: "But...what if the corruption's magic gets mixed into it all...?"
"...IS there a spell that can make lightning go where you want it?" Rainbow asked.
"I'm not sure, but I do know that lightning is attracted to positive ionic charges on the ground, and there are spells that can give something a positive ionic charge---"
"English, Twilight, english!" Rainbow Dash reminded her.
"There might be spells that can attract the lightning to given target, but there's no telling whether the corruption will think to try it or not."
"If that happens, our only line of defense is the sunstones," Rarity thought aloud. "I'd better try and find as many as I can!" Rarity switched out with Pinkie and began working her gem-finding magic on the sodden clouds beneath their feet.
"Wait---Rarity, what're you DOING?" Rainbow Dash asked. "We're in the clouds! You can't expect to find---" her sentence was cut off as she saw a small, clear crystal get tugged up out of the cloud beneath them by Rarity's magic.
"Wait, what is this?" Rarity asked aloud. She looked the gem over; it was completely clear, and dripping wet. "An...ice crystal? I'm not sure this'll help at all."
Twilight tried to recall the details of the spell. "Maybe it will; Princess, what did the scroll say about the Spell of Unity and gems?"
The Princess was silent for longer than they'd expected. She must have been having a hard time remembering; and it was no wonder: with the rain as loud as it was, it was hard for Twilight to hear herself think. Finally, Celestia she answered, "It didn't say 'gems', it said 'crystals'."
"So maybe ice crystals will be just as good as gems," Twilight thought alound. "Try finding a heart crystal, or else---"
Twilight's stream of consciousness was interrupted as a corrupted pegasus flew straight at Rarity. Rarity reflexively hurled the ice crystal at the pegasus, and the ice grew into a crystal prison, just like the gems had done on the ground.
After a tense pause, Twilight sighed. "I guess that answers our questions for us...but Pinkie should take point again, so she'll be able to see this kind of thing coming."
"Okie-dokie-loki!" Pinkie said again, and switched out with Rarity. But as soon as she switched out, she gasped. "There's more coming! LOTS more!"
Twilight switched out and got ready to fire a barrage of arrows of light. "Fluttershy, we might need you to distract them. Get ready to---" Twilight's jaw dropped as she saw a surprisingly large army of pegasi flying at them. She'd forgotten how huge these armies could get to be; she hadn't had to deal with them in Everfree Forest, since there weren't any ponies there.
She pushed these thoughts aside and began firing as many arrows as she could, focusing on the stragglers to try and distract them, just like in Ponyville. Again, the whole flock began chasing after the uncorrupted ones, but it never took them long to catch up to and re-corrupt the uncorrupted ones, so they just kept coming at her.
Twilight kept firing and kept alert, never letting them get near her or her friends. But she began to wonder why it was so much easier to distract the whole herd in Ponyville---then it dawned on her that she'd only had to worry about two dimensions of combat in Ponyville, and she was now dealing with three dimensions. There were more directions for her enemies to come at each other and her from.
It suddenly dawned on Twilight that some pegasi could easily dive-bomb her from above, so she decided to begin randomly jumping left and right, forward and backward, just in case. The first time she randomly jumped like this, she left her friends and the Princess, who had all been sheltering under belly her up until then, exposed to the downpour. The Princess yelped and swished back under the shelter of Twilight's underside. "Please don't do that!" Celestia pleaded.
Twilight's first impulse was to explain her worries about dive-bombing to Celestia, but she had to focus on the fight. She kept firing, and to her surprise, a lot of pegasi suddenly were no longer flying---they simply ran at her across the tops of the clouds. This made the battle simpler, and Twilight found that they didn't move as quickly as the ponies in Ponyville moved. She kept firing and firing, and before long, it became apparent that the number of corrupted ponies in the crowd was going down drastically---unlike in Ponyville, where her main survival strategy was to let the army stay corrupted and just keep them away from herself, here, she was actually able to cure all of them.
After a little while, Twilight could no longer see anypony struggling, anypony charging, or anypony fleeing. There were no longer any corrupted pegasi---only confused, drenched, freezing, terrified pegasi.
Twilight realized how lucky she was to have a thick raincoat and an even thicker sweater between herself and this storm; the poor citizens of Cloudsdale were shaking uncontrollably, while she was almost cozy beneath all her layers. The feel of a downpour beating down on her back and shoulders and head wasn't a pleasant feeling, but she was still glad to be warm and dry.
As a handful of the stallions trotted up beside some of the hunched mares, and the stallions put their wings over the mares' heads to try to keep them a little warmer, Twilight winced inside. Seeing other ponies suffering like that felt terrible, especially since she was more fortunate than they were. She looked at Rainbow Dash's orb. "Is there anything we can do to help them?"
Rainbow seemingly looked around, and saw a cloud that wasn't gushing down rain. "That cloud over there looks like it'll work," she said.
Twilight waited for Rainbow Dash to switch out with her, but she didn't. "Rainbow Dash, why aren't you flying over there to get it?"
Dash hissed back, "Because I don't want to be SEEN wearing a raincoat!! And thanks for saying my name out loud for them to hear, by the way."
Twilight answered firmly, but quiet enough so the pegasi wouldn't hear it over the storm, "What's more important to you: your image, or the citizens of Cloudsdale?"
After a pause, Rainbow Dash sadly switched out, flew over to the dry cloud, gripped it between her hooves, and beat her wings to move the cloud through the sky and over the freed pegasi---and over the pegasus who was still stuck in Rarity's crystal prison, too. She switched back in and let Pinkie Pie take point again, but as they were moving closer to the center of town, one of the pegasi shouted after her, "Thanks, Rainbow Dash!" She groaned in response.
Twilight took a moment to reflect on the battle. She had been worried she might get attacked from above---but that never happened. Why not? Anypony in their right mind would see that as a clear opportunity and---then it dawned on Twilight that the same rules as before applied: you can't be corrupted and intelligent at the same time. Those pegasi were too stupid to think of dive-bombing her. She also noted that the corruption didn't just prevent a pony from learning; it also prevented creativity.
She also regretted putting Celestia in a position where she was getting rained on; it must be even worse for her than it was for the six of them. Even while she wasn't in bodily form, Twilight felt a little warmer---somehow, their sweaters and raincoats were helping them, even in spirit form. That meant that the poor Princess wasn't getting that help; she wasn't wearing anything to keep her dry or warm! ...At least she could get some shelter by hiding under whichever pony was in physical form.
Then she began wondering why the pegasi were suddenly unable or unwilling to fly, and she decided to ask about it: "Say, Rainbow Dash---"
"Listen...I'm sorry I bugged you into wearing a rainsuit and then into showing yourself, but...but it was the right thing to do! ...And...well...I wanted to ask you something."
"What?" Rainbow groaned.
Twilight decided to let Dash's attitude slide. "...Why do you think those pegasi stopped flying in the middle of the battle?"
"Simple: they got too wet to fly."
"But we've seen you and Fluttershy flying just a few seconds after you two fell into the water! You were able to take off and save Rarity and Spike from falling to their deaths when Spike grew ten stories high and was dragging her up the mountain. And you took off right away after falling in the river! How much wetter than that can you get?"
"It's not just about how wet you get; it's also about how long you stay wet. The longer you're wet, the more the water can soak into your wings. And if enough of it soaks in, your feathers don't work, and you can't fly, anymore. Fluttershy and I got out of the river right away, so the water never got a chance to soak in. But in this rain---"
"In this rain, they can't get dry at all, so after a minute or so..."
Suddenly, another thought dawned on Twilight: "That's perfect! I just realized that a pegasus who can't fly is no good to anypony in Cloudsdale, so if those pegasi we left behind get re-corrupted, it won't do the corruption any good!"
"Wait," Applejack thought aloud, "If the corruption knows that the rain is gonna make its own troops no good, then why would it even bother makin' this storm in the first place?"
"To get to us," Twilight answered. "We're the only real threat to it in the long run, and it's got a lot of pegasi troops to spare, up here. The way things are, I think we can expect them to pop out of every building as we go---they'd stay inside until it was time to attack. We're gonna need your Pinkie-sense more than ever, once we get into town."
"You can count on me!" Pinkie answered.
They had to fight through a few more flocks of pegasi before they made it into town, but the closer to the center of town they got, the heavier the downpour became. Twilight was partly awed and partly horrified that it could actually rain harder than it had been raining before. They made a point of sheltering under awnings and stray dry clouds as much as they could as they made their way through the storm.
Rarity thought aloud, "If we get the chance, you should let me switch out and gather as many crystals as I can---even if it is ice and not gems."
"It's probably a good idea," Twilight agreed.
Rarity switched out and shuddered at the ferocity of the storm. As she began searching the clouds for whatever ice crystals she could, she said, "When I asked to take a pit stop at my boutique, I was worried you'd say no, and we'd all have to be out here in this storm, unprotected! Thank you letting me taking my raincoat for this!"
"Thank you for letting us take your raincoats for this!" Fluttershy answered.
Rarity searched for ice for a few minutes and found some crystals, but it wasn't long before she had to switch with Twilight so she could cure some attacking pegasi. After switching out to fight, Twilight noted to herself that it was raining so hard, and it was so cold, that it might actually hurt them to be out in this storm if they weren't bundled up. She also noticed that the wind was switching directions unpredictably, pelting first her left side, then her right side, then her face, then her tail, then her back again. She debated for a moment whether to say it out loud, but if the corruption was to blame for this wind, she decided she's better off saying it than not saying it: "It's almost like this storm is probing us for weaknesses!" Twilight shouted, not sure if her friends would hear.
"Well, it won't find any!" Rarity declared. "I'm certainly glad I heat-sealed all the seams!"
Twilight watched the uncorrupted pegasi in town trying to get to shelter, hiding in doorways or rushing back to their houses, going into any building they could. Twilight hoped that there were dry towels, warm blankets, and hot baths for these poor ponies waiting for them in their homes.
Suddenly, the world around them seemed to get whiter, and it was impossible to see more than a few feet in front of them. Twilight realized that, without them noticing it, the temperature had gotten closer and closer to freezing, and now, the rain had turned to snow.
"Brr!" Applejack exclaimed. "You called it, Twi!"
"Wait...does this mean that the corrupted pegasi...will be able to fly again?" Fluttershy asked.
"Probably," Rainbow answered. "Snow melts slowly enough to not soak in."
Twilight gulped. "This is really dangerous, guys!" Lightning began flashing more frequently, and with every flash, she could see more pegasi coming at them. She fired her arrows as best she could left, right, above and below. But she wasn't able to do this alone; she needed Applejack to switch out now and then to lasso a high-flier or to take some hits she wasn't strong enough to take. She needed Fluttershy to switch out and send falcons out to distract some of the larger swarms. She needed Pinkie to switch out and use her Pinkie-sense to see exactly where the corrupted pegasi were, and every now and again use her party cannon on them. How the fly strips could work when they were this cold and wet was a mystery to Twilight, but she tried to concentrate on the battle.
The pegasi kept coming and kept coming, and Twilight's arrows kept sending them back. Twilight began to wonder if the whole thing was a revolving door of pegasi that were being uncorrupted by her, re-corrupted by something else just out of sight, and then sent back to fight her---but she never could recognize the same pegasus enemy twice, even though she was trying.
Every time she turned around or jumped to avoid a charge, Twilight noticed that the clouds she was standing on were no longer squishing under her boots: they were crunching and crackling. The rainwater had frozen, and if she weren't wearing rubber boots with good grip, she realized she'd probably slip and fall off the ice-slick clouds to the ground below.
For several minutes, this battle went on, and then the pegasi quit coming. A lone figure came towards them, barely visible through the whiteout, and then it made a motion with its front legs, as if to part the snowstorm like a curtain---and the snowstorm DID come apart like a curtain! And through the now-clear air, Twilight could see their attacker: Gilda, the same griffon that had bullied Pinkie and Fluttershy. And, naturally, she was corrupted.
Twilight noticed that the corruption made her eyes glow purple, just the same as Trixie's eyes did. Did that mean the core was nearby??! She hoped the answer was "yes"; she wanted to destroy that core and get out of this storm as quickly as possible. But before that could happen, she could tell that she needed to get past Gilda.
Gilda landed and began hurling blasts of magic at them, much the same as the ones Trixie was using. Rainbow Dash switched out to dodge those, and it quickly became obvious to Gilda that magic projectiles weren't working. So she flapped her wings and sent tornadoes out at Rainbow. She tried to fight back with her own tornadoes, and she had to work hard, but she managed to send the tornado back at Gilda and send her into a dizzying spin. That gave Twilight an opening, and she began hitting Gilda with arrows.
Twilight didn't manage to get many hits off before Gilda began firing magic at her again, and she had to switch out with Rainbow Dash again. Gilda again beat her wings and sent a tornado at Rainbow Dash, but when Rainbow Dash sent the tornado back in her face, she merely gripped the cloud beneath her and wasn't stunned or even knocked away by the tornado. "What?!" Rainbow Dash said out loud. "She learned??!!"
Gilda snickered. "Long time no see, Rainbow Dash! ...Or should I say, Raincoat Crash!?!"
For a moment, Rainbow Dash was about to complain that the secret was out: she was a weatherpony in a slicker! But she stopped herself, remembering her promise (her Pinkie-promise, no less!) to her friends not to let anything the corruption does get to her. She stared Gilda down and shouted, "All right, corruption: you listen, and you listen good! We've figured out by now that you're trying to get under our skins. Well, it's not gonna work! You can keep trying to get to us and keep failing, or you can give up. And it doesn't matter which."
Gilda only responded by sneering and hurling more magic at Rainbow. She still couldn't land a hit, but Rainbow couldn't do anything to fight back.
"This isn't working," Twilight thought aloud. "Rarity...?!"
Rarity popped out and hurled ice at Gilda. Gilda tried to bat it away, but that only locked her talon in a crystal prison. While she was trying to free herself, Twilight began blasting her with arrows, and Twilight could tell the corruption's hold on Gilda was thinning.
Twilight knew that Gilda would learn to dodge Rarity's gems from here on, so as Gilda was just barely freeing her arm from the ice, Twilight shouted, "Pinkie! Party Cannon!"
Pinkie switched out, drew her cannon, and covered Gilda with fly strips. Gilda struggled to free herself, and while she was struggling, Twilight switched out and finished the fight, removing the last of the corruption.
"Rarity, help Gilda with that fly paper," Twilight said.
"I...can get it...my-SELF!" Gilda insisted, ripping the fly paper off. She eyed Twilight. "What're you doing here?" she asked with contempt.
"We're looking for this magic corruption core---it looks like a swirling purple cloud. Have you seen anything like that?"
Gilda's eyes narrowed. "And what're you gonna do with that core, exactly?"
"Destroy it and free Cloudsdale, of course!"
Gilda seemed to get angrier for a moment, then sneered. "Well, well, well...aren't you the hero!"
Twilight frowned. "Gilda, this is serious! Where is that core??!"
Gilda seemed to ignore her. "Little goody-four-shoes ponies out to save Cloudsdale!? Ha! Like that's going to happen."
"We saved you, didn't we?" Twilight snapped. "You were under dark magic against your will, and we cured you."
"No I wasn't," Gilda taunted back.
"What're you talking about??" Twilight asked, getting very suspicious. The more this conversation dragged on, the less Twilight liked it. "You were using that magic to fight us. It's not like you have magic of your own!"
Gilda grinned knowingly. "You nailed the 'dark magic' part. The part you got wrong was where you said 'against my will'."
Twilight's face went pale with a combination of horror and righteous rage: the thought that someone would welcome a world run by hatred was simultaneously terrifying and enraging. And Gilda was helping the corruption!
Gilda began flying away swiftly into the snowy air.
"Applejack, lasso her!" Twilight shouted. She thought, if we can catch her and force her to talk, we can learn where the core is from her! But by the time Applejack threw her lasso, Gilda was already out of reach.
"Horseapples!" Applejack snorted. "I cain't believe she'd betray us like that!"
Celestia cut in, "If my royal guards ever get their hooves on her, I'll personally see to it she gets brought to justice!"
Twilight tried to clear her head of the fury that was filling it. "Guys...we still need to find that core and destroy it! And we don't have time to search every building near the town square, either. Princess, can you send out your radar spell again?"
Celestia's orb swayed side to side; she was shaking her head. "It's not safe to send out the radar spell here; we need to find someplace more defensible to send it out from."
"Okay...Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, you two grew up in this town; can you guys think of a place safe enough for us to wait there while the spell comes back?"
After a moment, Fluttershy thought aloud, "Maybe...the summer flight camp training grounds?"
"They're pretty close," Rainbow Dash agreed, "And there should be some buildings with thick walls we can use for cover."
Fluttershy's orb moved down. Twilight thought to herself that that was usually a sign of a negative emotion, so she asked, "Is something wrong, Fluttershy?"
"I...don't have very fun memories of that place," she whimpered.
"Aw, don't worry about it! Nopony's gonna laugh at you!" Rainbow Dash assured her.
"Oh, yeah. Even if corrupted ponies can laugh, I'm sure they'll be way too focused on making us into dogfood and glue to even think about something like laughing!"
"Okay...that makes me feel a lot better; thanks."
Twilight rolled her eyes at the fact that Fluttershy's tone hadn't been sarcastic at all. She probably meant it completely. Twilight thought to herself how mortal peril sometimes didn't scare ponies as much as social situations, and remembered how she once read somewhere that most ponies were less afraid of death than of speaking in public.
Twilight had to push those thoughts aside as more pegasi swept down on them. She switched out and began firing arrows to try to thin them out, and shouted over the battle, "Which way to we go??!!"
"THAT way!" Rainbow shouted.
"WHICH way, is THAT way!??" Twilight shouted back, still firing.
"Ohhhh...Fluttershy, use your birds, and then let me lead the way!"
Fluttershy switched out, and tried to run away until enough falcons were circling her so that she'd be able to distract the whole herd. It worked, and then Rainbow Dash switched out and began racing through the air as fast as she could to the training grounds.
As they were flying, the snow became thicker and thicker again, and it became heavier and wetter as well. It was as if the storm were deliberately keeping the air around them at exactly the freezing point of ice to make the melting snow leech as much heat away from them as possible. Before long, it was raining slush.
Rainbow Dash ignored the weather, and landed outside a medium-sized building that looked like it would be defensible. "This is the mess hall; it has the thickest walls in the whole campground," Dash said aloud.
"This'll work, but...how do we get in?" Twilight thought aloud.
A door in a building beside them burst open, and a horde of corrupted fillies and colts poured out of one of the buildings and charged them.
"Foals??!!" Rainbow Dash growled. "The corruption is sending foals after us??!!"
Twilight steeled herself for battle. "Pinkie, party cannon!" she shouted.
Pinkie was able to immobilize a huge number of the little ponies, and Twilight began uncorrupting the stuck ones. The remaining fillies and colts began to try to corrupt the stuck ones again, but that just distracted them and left them open to Twilight uncorrupting them.
The strategy was pretty effective, but there was always an un-stuck straggler or two that Twilight had to shoot before she could focus on the whole group. But every straggler she cured scampered behind her to try to hide from his or her corrupted friends, so the battle got easier and easier as time went on. After several minutes, all of them were uncorrupted.
But just because they were uncorrupted didn't mean all was well; the little fillies and colts were still exposed to the elements, confused, terrified, and shivering. One of the littlest fillies in the back started sobbing loudly: it was clear they were suffering. A lot.
Fluttershy switched out, trotted over to the sobbing filly, and spread her raincoated wing over her to keep the storm from touching her. "We can't just leave these little ones here in this awful storm!" Fluttershy moaned. "We have to help them!"
"Let's get them inside," Twilight thought aloud. "But...how do we get the door open?"
Rainbow Dash tried to think. "The doors are locked from the inside, but I remember they had crashbars that would open even when the doors were locked."
"Let's hope they still work that way...ohhh...if I could just use my telekinesis without breaking up the Spell of Unity, I could pull that crashbar from out here...Rarity, I think this one's all you."
Rarity switched out, shifted herself so that her body was sheltering the sobbing filly, and tried her magic on the door. "I think I've got it," Rarity thought aloud. And in a moment, the door opened.
Fluttershy popped back out, used her wings to scoop up the filly and press her against her belly as she trotted inside, ushering the other fillies and colts in, as well.
They shut the door behind them just as the slush turned back into a freezing downpour. Rarity used her magic to light the fireplace, and they let the little ones huddle around the fire to try to get warm. The sight of them, exhausted, confused, too terrified to speak, and every now and again looking up at them for some reassurance, was a heartbreaking sight. Twilight knew they had done the right thing by bringing them under a roof and in front of a fire, but still... "I wish there was something more we could do for them," Twilight moaned.
"Like what?" Pinkie asked.
"Well...is there an emergency station where there are blankets or towels or something?" Twilight asked.
"There might be some blankets in the laundry," Rainbow Dash thought aloud. "Maybe the Princess can send out the radar here, then we can go get the blankets, and then we'll get back before the radar does?"
The Princess didn't switch out. After a few seconds she said, "I'm sorry, but that won't work. There's too much interference from the lightning."
"Oh...why didn't you say so earlier?" Rainbow Dash asked.
"I hadn't thought of it," Celestia answered.
Twilight tried to think. "Then...what if we went higher up in the clouds?" Twilight asked.
"That may work," Celestia agreed.
"Okay...we'd better get moving, so we can---"
"Waaaaaaaaait!!!" Fluttershy shouted. "We can't just leave these fillies and colts here like this!"
They looked back at the crowd of child ponies. Every one of the children had their eyes on Rarity and the glowing spirits around her. None of the little ones understood what was going on; they didn't know about the corruption cores, they didn't know about the Spell of Unity, they didn't know that Equestria's fate hung in the balance. They certainly didn't understand the mind-control magic that had been on them, or why there were no grown-up ponies to care for them. All they knew was that they were afraid, cold, and wet.
Twilight knew that a delay could be deadly, that the corruption spread exponentially, and that Cloudsdale was probably over Ponyville by now. There could be more corrupted pegasi from Ponyville joining the pegasi from Cloudsdale at any moment. And if they were smart enough to wear wing-protecting raincoats like Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were, then they'd be able to fly in the storm, and they would be a much bigger threat than the pegasi had been so far. Either way, time was not on their side at all.
But at the same time---what were they fighting for? They were defending the ability to care for others, and if she turned her back on these children...wouldn't she be turning her back on the very thing she was defending? Twilight finally said, "We can't be heartless about this, guys. Fluttershy's right. Even though it'll take up a lot of precious time, we've just got to get those blankets."
Fluttershy switched out and asked the crowd before she left, "Now, does anypony know how to make hot cocoa?"
One filly, bigger than the others, raised her hoof. "I do, I do!"
"Okay. Go into the kitchen, and try to make enough for everypony. We'll be back in a few minutes with blankets to get you all warm and cozy!"
They carefully shut the door to the mess hall behind them and raced toward the laundry as fast as they could, but it wasn't long before corrupted ponies were upon them. Twilight recognized a few of them as ponies from Ponyville, and just as she had feared, they had all brought raingear with them. Most of them had saddle-umbrellas; a few had raincoats. And at the front of them, leading the charge, was (of all ponies) Derpy!
They fought past them as best they could, but try as she might, Twilight couldn't uncorrupt all of them. They just didn't slow down; they never got too wet to fly. If only there were a way to get those saddle-umbrellas off...! A good gust of wind would do it, but there was no wind! That clinched it in Twilight's mind; she was convinced that some intelligence on the side of the corruption was definitely controlling this storm, but she couldn't ponder that in the middle of a battle. If only her and her friends could control the storm, even just a little, to get an edge in battle!
Then Twilight suddenly remembered that they DID have a weather-controller with them: Rainbow Dash herself! "Rainbow Dash, use your tornadoes on the ponies with umbrellas!"
"Ohhhh...!!!" Rainbow Dash moaned: these were the very ponies that she wanted to not know she was wearing a raincoat! But there was no other way around this; she switched out, showed herself, and blasted the umbrellas off their backs with wind.
Twilight switched back out and kept firing. Grounding those pegasi gave Twilight the edge she needed, and she was able to uncorrupt them all. The uncorrupted Ponyville pegasi scrambled to get their umbrellas back, and Twilight winced inside at the thought that she and her friends were now the reason they were soaked and freezing. But she resolved not to let it get to her: the corruption was the real reason all this was happening.
It dawned on Twilight that these were all adults, and they needed some adults to take care of the children in the mess hall, so this was actually a good thing. She shouted, "Everypony, head to the mess hall! It's over there," she pointed, "And we can all take shelter there. There are colts and fillies there, too, and we need adults to watch over them. I'm with the Princess, and we have a plan to save Equestria from the dark magic, but there's no time to explain it!"
The crowd moved to the mess hall---everyone except Derpy; she stayed and said to Twilight, "Sorry about attacking you---I just don't know what went wrong!"
Twilight gulped awkwardly. "Uh...don't worry about it, Derpy, just go with the others and wait for us to come open the door." She turned around to get to the laundry (and away from the awkward conversation) as quickly as possible, but Derpy asked, "Where ya guys goin'?"
"We're...going to the laundry to get some blankets and towels for the children in the mess hall. They got pretty wet and cold, so...yeah. We need to get moving," she said, as much to herself as to Derpy.
"Oh, I'll come help!" Derpy shouted, flapping beside her.
"That's not necessar---"
Derpy cut Twilight off. "I was here at summer flight camp for a looooong time before they let me graduate; I know this place really well. I can show you how to get to the laundry! Come on!"
"Wait, we already know where the...!" Twilight's sentence trailed off as Derpy flew ahead of them to the laundry, and the thick downpour blocked her from sight. "Ohhh...I hope this ends well!" Twilight shouted as she trotted after Derpy.
When they finally caught up to her, she was stacking up crates to one side of the laundry. The crates weren't quite up against the building; they were a yard or two away from the wall.
"Derpy---what're you doing??" Twilight asked.
"Well, the laundry's locked, so I figured we'd have to check the roof for a way in. And you're not a pegasus, so you can't fly up."
"And so I'm stacking up these crates to make steps so you can get to the roof!"
Twilight stared at Derpy for a moment, then decided ignoring her would be the least awkward thing she could do. She whispered to her spirit-form friends, "Guys, we need to find a way in...Rainbow Dash, is there a crashbar on these doors like there is at the mess hall?"
"I don't think there is; this door uses a lever-knob. And it won't turn from either side if it's locked."
"Great...Rarity, you wouldn't happen to know any unlocking magic, would you?"
"Sorry; fashion is my speciality. Magic...well, that's really your thing, I'm afraid."
"Maybe we should break a window to get in?" Applejack offered.
Twilight raised an eyebrow. "Break a window? Really? I'm surprised you'd even suggest something like that, Applejack! You have the Element of Honesty! Shouldn't we respect other ponies' property?"
"Yeah, but, this is important---I mean, it comes pretty near to bein' a life-or-death kinda thing!" Applejack pointed out. "I just can't stop thinking about what it would be like if my Apple Bloom was one of them little fillies shivering back at the mess hall! If she was one of them, then if she doesn't get warm an' dry real soon, she'd come down with a cold, or---or pneumonia or somethin'! And the last thing we need is sick little ponies in a mess like this! You gotta do whatever it takes to make sure things like that don't happen, Twi."
"I'd really rather not cause collateral damage if we don't have to, but...well...you're right. Let's keep the breaking-a-window idea in the back of our minds as a last resort. Maybe we can---"
A clamor of falling crates and breaking glass interrupted Twilight. It was clear Derpy had saved them the trouble of breaking in.
"My bad!" they heard Derpy say.
Twilight sighed heavily. "Let's just get in and get the blankets and towels before anything else happens!"
Rainbow Dash switched out and flew in the window. As she was flying in, Derpy said, "Hey, nice raincoat, Rainbow Dash! Where'd you get it?"
She facehoofed. "Please don't tell anypony about this!!!" Rainbow Dash begged.
"O-okay," Derpy said.
"Just...go back to the mess hall and wait for us there!" Rainbow insisted.
"Okay, see ya there!"
"That's what I'm afraid of!" Rainbow moaned under her breath.
Twilight switched back out and looked around. She saw that there were several shelves full of clean, dry blankets and towels. She noticed that there were also several raincoats hanging on a peg---raincoats that no corrupted ponies had even tried to take. She began to wonder whether this was because they were too stupid to try, and whether the small army of pegasi that Derpy had led was just pegasi from Ponyville who had happened to have already prepared themselves for the weather at the time they become corrupted, but she knew she couldn't dwell on that at the moment; she had to get those blankets and towels to the poor ponies in the mess hall.
She opened her saddlebag and shoved as many blankets and towels in as she could, then closed her bag---or rather, she let the top flap fall over the blankets that were bulging out. "Everypony else, fill up your saddlebags. We need to get as many as we can!" One by one, they switched out and filled their saddlebags to overflowing, and then they all raced back to the mess hall. The adults were trying to find a way in, since the door was still locked. The fact that they hadn't found a way in was a relief to Twilight: it meant that corrupted pegasi wouldn't be able to find a way in, either.
Rarity switched out and opened the door again, letting the whole crowd inside. One by one, the six of them switched out and dumped the blankets and towels onto a table. Rainbow Dash did hers silently, hoping nopony would recognize her beneath her layers.
"You guys sure got a lot of blankets and towels!" Derpy said, apparently looking at the pile (you could never quite tell what she was looking at).
Rainbow Dash didn't answer; she didn't want a whole crowd of Ponyville pegasi to hear her voice and realize that she was wearing a raincoat.
Derpy stared at Rainbow Dash, waiting for an answer. "Why aren't you talking to me?" she asked. Rainbow Dash froze. She just kept thinking, don't say my name! Don't say my name!!!
Derpy got a sad, concerned, guilty look on her face. She asked, "You're not still mad at me, are you...Rainbow Dash??"
Rainbow Dash facehoofed and stood still for a moment. Then finally, she cried, "That's it!! I'm a laughingstock! Every pony in Ponyville's gonna know that a weatherpony like me was seen in a raincoat! My life is over!!"
"What're you talking about?" Derpy asked.
Rainbow Dash answered, "A pegasus has no business being a weatherpony if she can't handle a little rain, and now...you all know I'm wearing this! I put it on because Twilight said something...science-y about why getting wet is bad, and...and I didn't argue, but I knew I'd regret it..." Rainbow sobbed lightly. "...And I was right!!" Rainbow Dash buried her face in her hooves, and couldn't say anything more.
Another pegasus in a raincoat stepped up to Rainbow Dash and put a hoof on her shoulder. When she looked up, the pegasus took her hood down. Under the hood, surprisingly, was another member of Rainbow Dash's weather team.
Rainbow Dash's jaw dropped. "Wha---Raindrops??!! But...but I thought you liked the rain!"
"Sure I do, but I couldn't fly or do anything to help in a super-downpour like this unless I was wearing a raincoat to keep my wings dry. That's why I put it on in the first place back in Ponyville. We saw the super-storm coming, and we knew there wasn't a storm scheduled for today, so we bundled up and got ready to try to take it apart to keep Ponyville safe, but then pegasi from Cloudsdale flew at us, grabbed us, and...well, that's when the dark magic took control and made us come and attack you. So...yeah, the whole Ponyville weather team is wearing raincoats, right now."
Rainbow Dash looked at the other pegasi as they were taking their hoods and rainhats off to help the children towel off, and she realized that the very pegasi that they had uncorrupted moments ago were the Ponyville weather team!
Rainbow Dash was dumbstruck. "Y---you mean I've been worrying about getting embarassed for nothing this whole time??"
"I...guess so," Raindrops answered, sheepishly. Rainbow Dash didn't quite know what she should be feeling at this point, so Raindrops asked, "So, uh, Chief...what in Equestria is going on, here? What was that dark magic that made us get mad and attack you? And how did Twilight and the others disappear and make you appear?"
"There's way too much to explain, and there's no time," Rainbow Dash answered. "All I can tell you is that it's all part of the Princess's plan to deal with the dark magic, and I'm working on it with Twilight and the others. For now, you and the rest of the weather team sit tight here and take care of these children until this crisis is over."
"Will do, Chief!"
As Raindrops walked away, Rainbow Dash mopped her brow and mouthed, "Whew!"
Fluttershy suddenly noticed that none of the children had hot cocoa. They had been gone long enough to make it, so she asked, "Why doesn't anypony have hot cocoa?"
The children looked over at the door to the kitchen, and they saw a filly's face peek around the corner. Her face was covered in powdered cocoa mix so that it looked exactly like she had a brown beard. There was a wistful look on her face, and she admitted, "I...don't know how to make hot cocoa..."
The whole crowd laughed at the sight of her, but Fluttershy snapped, "Stop laughing at her!" The room went quiet in an instant.
Fluttershy switched out and trotted into the kitchen to see what had happened. The cocoa machine hadn't even been switched on, there was powdered cocoa mix all over the floor, and a puddle of warm water, too. Fluttershy glared at the sheepish filly, then pulled a dish towel off the counter and began rubbing her face clean. "This kitchen looks like a filly who doesn't know how to make hot cocoa has been in here!"
The filly solemnly looked at Fluttershy, hoping for mercy.
"Why did you lie to us?" Fluttershy demanded.
After a pause, the filly admitted, "I...just wanted to be grown-up, a-and do something important like you! ...I just wanted to help!"
"You can't help if you don't know what you're doing! If you don't know what you're doing, you'll just make things worse!" Fluttershy began her lecture. "What if you had burned your little nose on the hot cocoa machine's roasting-hot metal?! You could've gotten hurt with nopony to help you!"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
Fluttershy's tone grew a little softer, but she was still firm. "Okay, I forgive you, but you need to understand that the worst part about this was that you told us you could make hot cocoa when you really couldn't: You lied. It's a terrible thing to tell a lie, especially when we're in a life-or-death situation like this one. So many things can go wrong when you give someone the wrong idea about what's going on: you're putting yourself and your friends in danger when you lie! Do you understand?"
The filly nodded.
"Okay. Now go get a blanket, try to get warm, and think about what you've done. Then come back here with a grown-up to help you, clean up your mess, and make hot cocoa the right way." The filly nodded and began to trot out of the kitchen. Fluttershy stopped her for a moment, drew her back close, and whispered, "And make sure the grown-up you get isn't the gray, crosseyed one." The filly nodded, and raced out of the kitchen.
As soon as she was out of earshot, they heard Celestia sob loudly.
"Princess...?!" Twilight asked.
"What you said about lying, just now, Fluttershy," Celesita sobbed. "You're right. I am putting you all in danger."
"What're you talking about??"
"I've been hiding something from all of you...something I've hidden from everypony since I was a young mare..."
It was a terrifying thought that their Princess was crying---the thought that she was hiding something from them wasn't scary at all; she was in a position to legitimately know secrets better left unknown to the public. But that their beloved Princess was in distress made them all as silent with fear as the foals had been.
Finally, the Princess told her secret, and she was barely keeping herself from bursting into tears. "When...I was a filly, DisQord...made it rain lemonade on me... For two whole days and nights, I ran for shelter, but every time I found relief, DisQord would snatch it away from me. I had no rest, no respite, no food...for two whole days." At this point, the Princess was so distressed, she could only construct very simple sentences. "It...was cold. It was wet. It was dirty. It was awful. All he did was laugh, while I...hurt. ...I...fainted. Luna brought me back...but I became very ill. I almost...lost my life. Ever since, I have been horribly afraid of rain."
Twilight thought back to how, in Canterlot, the days when it rained were either the days when the Princess was away, or the days when the Princess was in the deepest parts of her castle, studying magic or law or teaching her and other prize students, so far deep in the castle that you would never know if it were night or day, raining or sunny outside. And wherever the Princess went, it was always bright, sunny weather for her visit. Twilight had always thought that was clever planning, but had never suspected it was because the Princess had a phobia of rain.
Twilight thought of her own phobia of snakes, and how that easily compared to Celestia's phobia of the rain---then she remembered Fluttershy's fear of dragons, and Rainbow Dash's fear of other ponies touching her hooves. She realized that just about everypony she knew had some kind of strange quirk like that about them---then she realized that these quirks weren't something to be ashamed of, but something to simply accept.
Twilight switched out into physical form and took Celestia's trembling spirit orb between her hooves. "Princess...I'm so sorry. But...you don't have to be ashamed of your fear...it's okay; all of us have litte weird things about us like that. You don't have to feel embarassed!"
"There's...more, Twilight. Much more," Celestia added. "But...I...don't have the strength to say it!" Her tone made it sound like she had been thoroughly defeated, and was weeping on the inside.
"Then say no more," Twilight said softly. "Please...if there's anything we can do to help..."
"I...I can't think of anything...anything at all," Celestia moaned. "I don't want to hold this mission up any more than I already have. I know that the best thing to do right now would be to send out the radar here, where it's safe, and where we're surrounded by friends and allies, then shelter here while we wait for its return, and then attack the core, but...I can't enter physical form. I'm too scared."
Twilight suddenly remembered how Pinkie had been unable to go into physical form back at Sugarcube Corner until Mr. and Mrs. Cake had forgiven her, and she remembered that it was because she had been too afraid and didn't want to enter physical form. She realized that the Princess must be under the same amount of stress that Pinkie had been under!
Pinkie interrupted Twilight's thoughts. "But...I don't get it; didn't you say the lightning would make the radar not work?" Pinkie asked.
"That was the lie I told you, Pinkie. I'm sorry."
Twilight was terrified of the thought that her beloved mentor and Princess was suffering this much, but she had to know whether it was true or not. She asked, "You're...really that scared of the rain? Even indoors, when you know you won't get wet---you're that scared?"
"...Yes, Twilight. I am...that...scared!"
Twilight felt horror well up in the pit of her stomach as she realized that it had been pouring rain the whole time, worse than she had ever seen it pour before, and that Celestia had been out in it the whole time: this whole time, she had been suffering immeasurably. And, almost as bad, she had been holding it all in.
It also hit Twilight that Celestia was the light and hope for all of Equestria, practically their goddess. And here she was, helpless, sobbing and terrified---it was a bone-chilling thought that their hope and stay was in so much distress.
And worst of all, they couldn't stay in the shelter of the mess hall: they needed to go right back out in the loud, gushing, soaking, cold, torrential rain---as soon as possible, at that---to somehow, someway find and destroy the core. Celestia was going to have to start suffering all over again. ...And she knew it: the horror and terror she was feeling right at that moment, even indoors, must have been incredible! Twilight swallowed hard.
It felt like her thoughts were cramping up all over again: how can they find the core without the radar? ...What if they could get up higher than the rain clouds? Maybe then, Celestia would feel brave enough to enter physical form and send out the radar. And maybe then, they can find and destroy the core. But how can they get that far without the Princess suffering again?!! She'd been through so much already; if only they had some warm, dry place where the Princess could hide that was blocked from the sound of the storm, so she didn't have to hear it or see it! It wouldn't even have to be a very big place; in spirit form, the Princess was the size of a rubber ball. She could easily fit in their saddle bags---should she hide their saddle bags??? ...They wouldn't be very warm, but what about their raincoat pockets? ...Not all their raincoats had pockets in the same place; if they switch out, and there wasn't a pocket for Celestia to hide in, then what would happen to Celestia? Would she be pressed to the newly-physical pony's side inside the raincoat, or would she be thrust into the cold, wet, terrifying downpour? All these questions were making Twilight's head hurt---HER HEAD! That was it!
Twilight uncovered her head. "I have an idea, Princess. I think...I hope you'll suffer a lot less if you hide in my mane. It'll be warm and dry, and...I think it'll absorb a lot of the sound, so you won't have to hear the rain, either."
"Thank you, Twilight," Celestia said, and quickly moved her spirit orb into Twilight's mane.
"I think a new rule should be that whoever's in physical form gets the umbrella," Rarity thought aloud. "For that matter, you should switch with me, Twilight, so that we can test to make sure that the Princess will still be under my rainhat when we switch."
Twilight covered her head again and nodded. They switched, and the Princess was still under Rarity's hat. "All right, now...let's try willing the umbrella to stay in physical form when we switch, and see if that works."
Twilight switched back out, and sure enough, the umbrella was still in physical form, resting on her back and snugly strapped down.
"All right," Twilight said, trying to formulate a plan. "Let's get as high as we can; if we can get above the rain clouds, then the Princess can send the radar out from there. And...Princess...if you need us to look for shelter to give you a few minutes, just say so. We'll hear you; you're pretty close to our ears."
"No! We've already delayed too long, and...I've endured this long with worse accomodations than you're giving me now. You must press on to the tops of the clouds."
"Okay..." Twilight wanted to make this as quick as possible, so she went to the doors, opened them, and dashed out into the downpour without another word. It was far less uncomfortable now that she wasn't being rained on directly, but the downpour had become even thicker than it had been before, and Twilight felt the weight of the rain's impact on the saddle on her back. The horribly uncomfortable thought that the corruption might somehow now know about Celestia's phobia occurred to Twilight. She decided firmly that she wasn't going to let the storm touch her beloved Princess, no matter how hard it tried; she'd do whatever it takes to keep her warm, dry, comfortable, and safe.
"Okay...Fluttershy, you take point. Your birds will help keep us safe, and if any of us sees any corrupted pegasi, then send your birds out to distract them, and Rainbow Dash will get us away from them fast!"
Fluttershy switched out, and ducks began to circle her to keep her safe. She began flying up, higher and higher. Few pegasi bothered them, and when they did, Fluttershy's birds or Rainbow Dash's tornadoes kept them at bay. And the higher they ascended, the less and less it poured.
Finally, they were above the clouds, and a starry sky smiled down on them---but somehow, it was still raining.
"How is this even possible?" Rainbow Dash wondered aloud.
"You're a weather pony, and you don't know??" Twilight asked.
"No, I don't," Rainbow Dash moaned. Rainbow Dash looked over the side of the cloud, and saw that some bizarre wind current was drawing rain out from under the clouds, looping it back up, and then dumping it back onto the cloud. "I've never seen a wind current do that before!" Rainbow Dash thought aloud. "But...at least it's not pouring..."
"Now what do we do??" Applejack moaned.
Rainbow Dash spotted a cloud that wasn't pouring rain down, and flew towards it. She gripped it between her hooves and pushed against the air with her wings, propelling the cloud into place above the highest cloud to make a small shelter.
Twilight switched out. "All right, Princess, we've gone up as high as we can go. The rain hasn't stopped entirely, but it's a lot lighter than it was, and we have a shelter set up. This is the best we can do; can you send out the radar from here?"
Celestia peeked out from the shelter of Twilight's raincoat, then hid back inside her mane. "I...I can't," she sobbed.
"What's there to worry about, Princess?" Pinkie asked. "You won't get rained on, and it's really not raining that hard, anyway."
"I know, but...I can't switch out into physical form! I just can't!"
Twilight's heart sank, and she felt dread welling up in just about every part of her body; she'd been counting on this working. "But...but Princess!" she stammered, "I-if you can't use the radar, then we won't know where the core is, and we won't be able to save Equestria! The corruption will win!"
"YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW THAT?!!!" Celestia roared. Twilight fell to the floor and froze with terror stacked on top of horror: her beloved mentor, whose disappointment was Twilight's greatest fear, was suddenly furious with her!
Celestia continued, "You think I don't know that I'm letting all of Equestria down by being too afraid to do what's necessary?! You think I don't know the consequences of this?!" Celestia went from furious to heartbroken, then added, "You think I don't know I'm letting you down??! I know it, Twilight...I know it, and it pains me more than I can tell you!"
She broke down in sobs as Twilight lay there, still frozen in shock and terror---terror at Celestia's anger, and terror at her fear and sorrow. She couldn't think, or hardly even feel, anything!
Celestia finally spoke again. "I'm sorry, Twilight...I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you; I shouldn't have scared you like that---you've been through so much already; you don't deserve it! I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that, and...and...there are so many things I should be doing, but I'm just not strong enough. I---I have my limits; I'm only a pony! ...I'm so sorry...!"
Twilight couldn't think---not anymore. She was in utter shock.
"Twilight...please, say something!" Celestia begged. "I know how much my approval means to you...oh, Twilight, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! You're a wonderful student; what you said was true. I am letting the corruption win! I wish I could stop it; I wish I was brave enough...but I'm not!" Celestia began weeping out loud.
Twilight's friends kept silent in their fright, not sure how to react: their Princess was distraught, and their friend, who was closest to the Princess, was in shock and unresponsive.
Finally, the Princess spoke up, "Twilight...can you hear me?"
"Yes," Twilight answered, still in shock. There was no emotion behind her voice.
"Twilight...you're a wonderful student. You're like a daughter to me. I'm not angry with you, or disappointed. You've done the right thing ever since this crisis started. You've been a good hero. ...Do you understand me?"
"Yes," Twilight answered. Still with no emotion.
"I know I'm the one in the wrong. Right now, I think you're a better pony than me. I know I should be braver than I am, but I'm not. Please, Twilight---snap out of your shock; I need your help!!"
Twilight didn't answer.
"If there's one thing I've done in all the centuries I've been alive that I could take back, Twilight, it would be yelling at you, just now. I'm sorry, Twilight. Please...forgive me!"
Twilight was silent for a few seconds, then slowly got up and shook herself off a little. She began to try to collect her thoughts---what had just happened? The Princess had yelled at her. What had she done wrong? ...She had put too much pressure on the Princess. She knew the Princess was at her limits in this storm, but she'd put the pressure on her, anyway, and that made her snap. She wasn't mad, anymore, though.
"I'm sorry, Princess," Twilight finally said.
"Twilight---you don't have to be. You're not the one who did something wrong; I am. I knew how much my approval means to you, and I yelled at you anyway for telling me something that's true...it hurt, but it was true. I'm sorry, Twilight."
There was silence for a little while, then the Princess said, "I wish with all my heart I could find the courage within me to enter physical form...I want to put my wing over you and feel your mane on my shoulder, and...and...I can't...I'm so sorry..."
Twilight was finally beginning to get her reasoning back. "Princess, I knew you were suffering a lot out here, but I put pressure on you, anyway. When...when my friends were having trouble saving Equestria, I reminded them what was at stake, and then they found the courage and strength within them to win. I...hoped it would do the same thing here."
"Oh, Twilight---I forgive you for that, if there's anything for me to forgive you for. But there are some things that encouragement and knowing what's at stake can't get you past, and...and this is one of them."
Twilight made a heroic effort to think, to remember what they were doing, and to try to figure out what they should be doing. She found it hard to think about anything further away from them than the cloud they were sitting on. She tried going over the painful conversation they were having in her head, and she realized that the Princess was asking for forgiveness. She had hurt Twilight when Twilight was only trying to help---and Twilight began to wonder: since she was trying to help, but made things worse---was she really that different from Derpy? Forgiveness and overlooking accidents were the lubricants that kept Derpy able to function in Ponyville, and now, Twilight needed them, too. ...Did the Princess need it? ...Celestia sure seemed to think she needed it; she was sobbing. And, Twilight suddenly realized, she had been shock for the past few minutes. And it was because of what the Princess had said.
Twilight sat down, uncovered her head, and took the Princess's spirit orb in one of her hooves. She rubbed her cheek against it and whispered, "If...you think you need my forgiveness, Princess...you have it."
"I just want you not to hurt anymore, Twilight," the Princess said. "I love you so much; I don't want you to feel so terrible. Please---tell me if there's anything I can do, anything I can say...! Please, say it, Twilight! Anything!!"
Twilight tried to think of there was any action Celestia could take that would make her feel better---what was it Twilight had wanted her to do, before? ...She'd wanted Celestia to go into physical form and use the radar spell to find the core, so they could destroy it. That would still be the best way to destroy the core, but suggesting it again now---that would start this whole business of hurt and pain and forgiveness all over again! If only there was another way---!
Twilight thought back to the time earlier when she had hurt in Everfree Forest, and Celestia, using her wisdom, had healed Twilight's hurts. Maybe Celestia's wisdom could help her again?
Twilight finally answered, "Help me think, Princess..." Then she suddenly realized, her five friends were also right there, also willing and ready to help heal her any way they could. So she added, "And the rest of you, please---help me think, too: why do we need to destroy these cores?"
Rainbow Dash was the first to answer: "Because they're mind-controlling magic doohickies, and if we don't destroy this one, then all of Cloudsdale and all of Ponyville will only be able to feel anger for the rest of their natural lives!"
"But," Twilight thought aloud, trying to get her rusty, cramped brain oiled and working again, "These cores had to come from somewhere. In the long run, shouldn't we worry about that first, and then clean up the cores after we've dealt with whoever or whatever is making them?"
"Come to think of it," Applejack said, "I don't recall the Princess ever tellin' us much about where these cores came from in the first place. Did yer scroll say?"
"No...no, they didn't," Celestia answered. "My plan was to destroy as many of them as possible to force Satallion, or whoever is behind this corruption, to show himself to deal with us. And now...it's apparent that whoever or whatever is behind this corruption is already aware that the rain is my weakness, and it's using this storm to deal with us intend of revealing themselves." She sadly added, "I suppose my plan backfired spectacularly."
"Please don't be sad about it!" Pinkie moaned. "I'm sick of everypony being sad! We're all together, we're all warm and cozy, we're protected from the rain and the corruption---why do we have to be sad!??"
"Besides," Rarity pointed out, "You had incomplete information; it's not like anypony else could've come up with a better plan than yours!"
"Ooo, I hope you're wrong about that," Fluttershy said, "Because now we need to come up with a better plan!"
"Here's an idea," Twilight suggested. "We can fly someplace else, someplace far away from this storm, like Canterlot, and find another corruption core and destroy that one, instead. I mean, does it really matter matter which ones we destroy, as long as we keep destroying them and force Satallion to show himself?"
Celestia sighed heavily. "I'd love to flee from this storm, but...now that the corruption knows my weakness, it'll send downpours as bad as this one after us no matter where we go. As long as the corruption controls the weather factory, it has the power to do that. Running won't keep me safe; we may as well stay here as go elsewhere."
Twilight felt like her heart was about to sink, but she forbade it do so: she had to keep her spirits up. She'd think of something else---wait, did Celestia say "weather factory"? ...What if the weather factory couldn't make rainclouds?
"Then...then we'll go to the Cloudsdale weather factory and...and...and we'll break the machines there!"
"WHAT??!!" Rainbow Dash cried. "B-b-but all of Equestria needs the rain they make there! All the crops will dry up and die, all the wells will run dry, and everypony will get thirsty and dehydrated and---"
Twilight shouted back, "I know! ...It's drastic...but there's no other way to keep the Princess safe! Even if we can't get the core in Cloudsdale, we need to at least get things to the point where we can use the radar again someplace else. And since we can't find the core in Cloudsdale, the only way that's gonna happen is if the weather factory can't make rain clouds anymore! There's just no other way."
"Besides," Applejack pointed out, "After all this is over, they can always fix the machines. You remember Toola-Roola, the mechanic you introduced us to when we toured the weather factory when you won the Young Fliers Competition? She can fix anything."
Twilight thought for a moment that, if they couldn't defeat the corruption once and for all, then a drought wouldn't matter: it would be better to die a slow death of starvation and dehydration than it would be to live a long life in utter hate. Twilight thought of voicing that sentiment, but then thought better of it; it was just too macabre a thought, and the last thing they needed was something to make them sadder or more disturbed than they already were. She pushed the grim thought aside, but consoled herself with the knowledge that what she'd thought was true.
"Okay, everypony," Twilight said, finally feeling glad that she'd thought of a plan that would work and finally had something to do besides sit there and feel three different kinds of awful. She gently put the Princess's spirit orb back in her mane and covered her head snugly. "We're going down!"
At that moment, she felt a blast of wind against her face, turning the soft raindrops into icy needles. Whatever that wind was, it had blasted their cloud shelter apart, and knocked the umbrella off her back, snapping the cord that had tied it to her. Twilight once again felt rain pattering on her head, her shoulders, her back---though it was nowhere near as rough as the downpour had been below. Twilight also heard a loud noise that she could hardly have described, but she knew she'd heard it before.
Rainbow Dash shouted, "I know that sound...! It's the Wonderbolts!"
Applejack gulped. "And we gotta fight 'em??!!"
Twilight steeled herself for battle, and tried to think how they could fight a foe this fast. Rainbow Dash would be able to keep pace with them easily, but there were three of them and only one of Rainbow. Besides, nothing Rainbow could do could cure the corruption; only Twilight could do that...!
Suddenly, the rain became thicker, and Twilight lost sight of the Wonderbolts. She knew they'd come dive-bombing at them, but didn't know how to predict where they'd come from...wait, what about Pinkie?!
"Pinkie, use your Pinkie-sense!" Twilight shouted, switching out with her. Pinkie acted like she knew where they were coming from, and was able to dodge and hop out of the way of the charging pegasi. But the noise of their approach scared her. She held down her umbrella hat to keep it from blowing away, and shouted, "Okay, Twilight---what's the plan??"
Twilight tried to think---rain was the pegasi's weakness, right? If they get wet for too long, they can't fly. So maybe the right thing to do is to just let them keep charging until the become too wet to fly?
"Keep doing what you're doing!" Twilight shouted back. "They can't keep this up much longer before they get too wet to fly!"
"Actually, Twilight, they can!" Rainbow Dash explained, "At their speed, the rain won't get a chance to soak in!"
Pinkie dodged another volley of Wonderbolts. "Please think of something, Twilight! I can't keep my umbrella hat on much longer, and if it comes off, you know what'll happen to the Princess!"
Twilight tried to think---how can they slow down the Wonderbolts? "Party Cannon!"
Pinkie readied her cannon and fired right where she knew the Wonderbolts were going to be, just as she dodged out of the way---though she had to fire it with her hind legs, since her front hooves were keeping her umbrella hat from flying away. Unfortunately, all that happened was the fly strips were cut to pieces by the impact.
"We need to think of something else...what about a Crystal Prison? Pinkie, can you shout out where Rarity need to throw her gems?"
"I'll try...here they come! Up high, Rarity!"
Rarity switched out and hurled a crystal as high as she could, but it missed. Pinkie quickly switched back out, looked around, then shouted, "Ooo, ooo! Here they come! Down low!" Rarity practically bowled the ice at the Wonderbolts, and jumped to keep from getting rammed. Again, it missed.
"Ohhhh, this is like trying to thread a needle in a haystack!" Rarity shouted as Pinkie switched back out. "Wait---was that...? ...Never mind; we need to think of something else!"
"Uhhhhhh..." Twilight hesitated. She was getting desperate. "Rainbow Dash, try your tornadoes! They're wider!"
Rainbow Dash switched out and hurled a tornado at the Wonderbolts as they were flying in formation at them. All three of them were spun out of control, and they crashed onto the cloud. "I hope I didn't just hurt them!" Rainbow Dash moaned. "If one crash goes out of control, it could end a career---or a life!"
Rainbow's worrying had been in vain; they were getting up, and they began to fly. "Rarity, quick!" Rainbow shouted.
Rarity switched out and froze one of the Wonderbolts in ice, but the other two managed to take off and keep their attack up. Twilight switched out and fired as many arrows as she could at the frozen Wonderbolt. He was quickly cured, but Applejack shouted, "Careful, Twilight, any second now the other two are gonna---"
Applejack switched out with Twilight at the last moment as the other two plowed into the place where Twilight was a moment ago---and plowed into Applejack, instead.
"Applejack!!!" Twilight screamed as Applejack flew across the cloud and landed in a heap. They weren't disappearing and reappearing elsewhere, so she knew that Applejack hadn't died from that impact, but there had to have been some broken bones from that impact!
Applejack coughed back, "Keep fighting!! Worry about me later; I'm a tough ol' girl!!"
Pinkie switched out and kept the pattern up. She shouted for where Rainbow Dash needed to put her tornadoes, and Rainbow Dash knocked the Wonderbolts out of the air. But this time, Pinkie decided to try something different: instead of having Rarity freeze them, she rushed at them and hit them with her party cannon. They fell to the ground in a heap, and Twilight switched out and finished the fight. They were all breathing heavily, then Twilight said, "Rarity, heal Applejack up!"
Rarity switched out and touched a few heart crystals to Applejack's orb. After a few of them, she said, "That's enough; I feel fine. Never felt better. Lemme prove it."
Applejack switched out and bucked the crystal prison. It shattered, and the Wonderbolt was freed.
"Applejack, you didn't have to take that hit!" Twilight scolded. "You know what it's like seeing your friend get injured??"
"Yes, I do," Applejack answered. "An' that's exactly why I switched out. It was either you or me, an' I can take it better. B'sides, two minutes later, and Rarity has me on my feet again. Don't be mad about this---at me or yourself. You're doin' the best you can, an' it's good enough fer me."
"I hate to interrupt," Rarity cut in, "But the rain isn't going to get any lighter from here on out. I think we should find the umbrella back!" Rarity switched out and began using her magic to look for it.
While she was doing that, Rainbow Dash started talking with the Wonderbolts: "Guys...sorry for fighting you back there, but...you wouldn't happen to have seen a magic, swirling puprle cloud-thing, have you?"
They took their goggles off, and Rainbow Dash immediately recognized them: Spitfire, Fleet Foot, and Soarin! Spitfire shook her head. "I didn't see anything like that; sorry. Your voice...sounds like...Rainbow Dash, but you don't look like her..."
"It is me; I'm Rainbow Dash! But I'm in spirit form---this is all part of the Princess's spell that's helping the six of us fight the dark magic. There's no time to explain it all."
Twilight noticed that the Wonderbolts' flight suits were actually keeping their wings dry, so her initial strategy during the fight, which was to slow them down by soaking their wings, wouldn't have worked. But at least they had still won that fight, anyway.
Rarity found the umbrella back, straightened it out so it was no longer inside-out, pulled some spare fabric out of her saddlebag, and tied up the broken straps so that they would work again. After firmly strapping it to her back, she said, "We've got to get to the weather factory! There's no time to lose!"
Rainbow Dash switched out. "Sorry to leave you guys hanging, but we've gotta move! Get as far away from Cloudsdale as you can!"
Rainbow Dash began descending through the clouds, and the downpour beat harder and harder against their umbrella. All six of them kept their eyes open in all directions for any sign of pegasi who might be attacking them, but only one or two came at them.
"Looks like the corruption ran out of troops that can still fly," Twilight thought aloud. "At least that's one less thing to worry about!"
"Um...what if the factory is...guarded?" Fluttershy asked.
"We'll just have to fight, then," Twilight thought aloud.
Applejack wondered aloud, "I don't get it. If the rain ain't workin' to stop us, why doesn't the corruption make it stop an' then send pegasi after us?"
"It's...trying to get to me," Celestia answered. She slowly added, "...It's working, but...so are you."
"Don't worry, Princess! We'll get this storm stopped before you know it!" Rainbow declared.
They landed in the weather factory and looked around. There were no ponies in sight, but that didn't mean there weren't any at all. "Pinkie, take point," Twilight suggested. "If there are any ponies waiting in ambush, we'll want to find out from you instead of them."
"Okie-dokie-loki!" Pinkie switched out and bounded forwards, then stopped short. "Something's coming, guys!" she shouted. "But it's not ponies!!!"
Twilight switched out and readied her arrows. But what rushed into her view was something she'd never seen before: airy-looking monsters that looked almost like ghosts made of dark, purple smoke charged at her---they reminded her a lot of the corruption core. She fired her arrows at them, and while they took more hits than a corrupted pony would take, they did disappear with a shriek when they had taken enough arrows.
After they were all destroyed, Twilight paused a moment to catch her breath. She asked, "What were those things??"
Celestia answered, "I'm not sure, but they looked like...elementals."
"Creatures made of pure magical energy. The scroll---or any intact part of it---did not mention them. But it looks as if they are made of corruption, somehow."
Twilight gulped. "The corruption is getting more powerful...this isn't good!"
"Twilight...the core...!" Celestia exclaimed. "It's here; I can sense it!"
"Then maybe we don't have to break the machines!" Rainbow Dash thought aloud. "What're we waiting for?! Let's destroy it!!"
Pinkie took point again and they began searching the factory. They passed a lot of machines for making rainbows, clouds, and snow, but the only sign that they were getting near the core was that there were more and more elementals coming at them.
Finally, they came to Toola-Roola's workshop, where she was usually inventing new machines or trying to find more efficient ways of getting things done. And then they saw the core, in a way they'd never seen it before: it was attached to machinery, and had legs and claws, and even a disturbing, toothy face.
"And so, we meet at last," the core said to them. Its voice reminded them of how Rainbow Dash and the Cakes had sounded when they were corrupted.
Pinkie backed away a little at first in fear, but then realized she had to stand and fight. She pinned her ears and snarled, "I'm not scared, I'M NOT SCARED!!!"
"I disagree. And should you really be ashamed of your fear? Fear is the proper response!" the core sneered back.
Celestia shouted up to the core, with all her imperious royalty, "Who are you, and why have you invaded our home soil?!!"
"Have you forgotten already?" the core answered. "How unexpected. I know ponies don't have the best memory, but you ought to be an exception. After all, you are ageless! ...Very well, I will answer: I am Satallion. And I suppose this isn't exactly the first time we've met. After all: anywhere there is hate, there am I."
"Then why do you come into the land of the living? Why aren't you satisfied with what you already---"
The core interrupted Celestia with a booming, vile laugh. "You should know that hate is never satisfied, dear little Tia!"
"Don't call me that!" Celestia snapped back.
The core ignored her words and continued, "And I don't care about your soil, either. I want your little ponies, and I will have them! And you...you will suffer for endless ages, as nothing more than my pet!"
The core was done talking; it extended a kind of a horn-like apparatus and sent storm clouds flying at them. Rain gushed out of the clouds like Twilight had never seen before, and she knew she didn't want to get caught under one of those rainfalls. Rainbow Dash switched out and flew over the clouds, and for good measure, sent a tornado at his face to see what would happen---unfortunately, nothing did, though her tornado did deflect one of the clouds.
"It is futile!" the core taunted her. The core extended another arm, one that reminded them of a crossbow. It seemed to charge up and fire, and it sent out arrows that looked almost exactly like Twilight's arrows of light---except these arrows were a dark, sickly purple! Rainbow Dash dodged as best she could, and tried deflecting the arrows with a tornado---it had worked on Twilight's arrows when Rainbow was corrupted, after all. But it didn't work here.
"Your quest ends here!" the core shouted, and sparks filled the room and rushed toward Rainbow Dash. They surrounded her and seemed to infuse into her. She didn't feel a thing, except for that strage feeling you get when you scuff your feet on a carpet, and all your hair stands on end. Then there was suddenly a flash, a loud BANG, and then it all went black.
The next thing they knew, they were in the middle of the weather factory.
"What just happened?" Pinkie asked.
"I think...we were hit by lightning!" Rarity moaned. She checked her saddlebag. "It's just as I feared: there were ten sunstones in here before, and now there are only nine!"
"Was that the attract-the-lightning spell you were talking about earlier?!" Rainbow Dash asked Twilight.
"It must be," Twilight sighed.
"Isn't there anything you can do about it?"
"No; if I use any magic, the Spell of Unity will be disrupted, and this is the last place we want it to be disrupted at!"
"So...what can we do?" Fluttershy asked.
"Hmm...spirits aren't quite made of physical matter, but ions are. So if an ionized pony switches into spirit form, maybe that'll remove the ionization!"
"Switch out?? That's it??!" Rainbow Dash asked.
"It's all I can think of," Twilight answered. "It's worth a try, in any case."
"Why would he use an attack that we can get out of just by switching out?" Applejack asked.
"Maybe because he doesn't know we can. Or, if he thought that he can get rid of us in one shot if we make a mistake and don't switch out or don't see it coming, then he'd try it...!"
"He doesn't know the Spell of Unity will revive us each time?!" Rainbow Dash thought aloud.
"We'll find out in a minute," Twilight said.
"Wait a minute," Pinkie said. "Before we go in, I think I should ask: how do we hurt him?"
There was a pause for a moment, then Twilight finally said, "I'm not sure...all we can do is keep our eyes open and hope for an opportunity."
"If he's made of corruption, won't your arrows work?"
"Not if he has magical shields like Trixie did, but it's worth a try..."
Rainbow Dash zoomed into Toola Roola's workshop again, and the core once again chuckled: "And so, we meet at last." It said it exactly the same way it had the first time they saw it.
"Already heard it; don't wanna hear it again!!" Rainbow Dash snorted.
Twilight switched out and began firing arrows at the core, but they had no effect. The core ignored her attack, then chuckled darkly again. "Heard it before, you say? So, the Spell of Unity gives you extra lives. ...Good! Then I can kill you over and over again. The fact that I won't remember each time is a small price to pay---for the knowing that you will remember each time!" The core roared with cruel laughter, and sent a storm cloud over Twilight. She was about to switch out, but the waterfall swept over her before she could. She fell to the ground; it didn't feel like rain at all---it felt like she had been hit with a ton of bricks that happened to be made of liquid water. Rainbow Dash switched with Twilight before Twilight could regain her senses, so the next thing she knew, Dash was dodging arrows and storm clouds, and she was in spirit form.
"Have a nice death!" the core taunted, as more sparks flew at Rainbow Dash.
Applejack switched out, and the sparks seemed to disappear. The lightning crackled outside the weather factory, but didn't touch anything inside it.
"Ah, so you have learned," the core chuckled. "Go ahead; drag this out. It'll be more fun!"
"Forget you!" Applejack snorted.
"You will be forgotten!" the core roared, charging at them. It was unsettling to see such a huge contraption rushing at her, but Applejack kept her head and remembered something she learned as a filly: the more moving parts a thing has, the easier it is to break. And the spider-like legs of this monstrosity looked pretty complicated, so she flung her lasso at a few of the legs, bound them together, and pulled as hard as she could---and the core fell over! Applejack chuckled back, "Shouldn't 'a' built yerself so top-heavy!"
When they looked at the underside of the core, they saw an exposed part that seemed to glow with some kind of corruption-based magic. Twilight switched out and began firing arrows at that glowing spot. The core roared in pain, and as Twilight continued to fire, one of the core's claws fell off---it was the horn-claw that had been sending out storm clouds. Twilight was glad that the core had lost its ability to bring rain indoors, but she backed away as the core began to get back up.
The core extended a new claw that had some kind of magical apparatus on the end. "Remember...this??" The core sent waves of dark magic at them, just the same as the Manticore, Trixie, and Gilda had. Rainbow Dash flew to the ceiling to avoid them, but then the core began sending the dark waves at her across the ceiling instead of across the floor. Rainbow was still able to dodge them easily, though.
"Now, perish!" the core shouted, and more sparks flew onto Rainbow Dash. She switched with Pinkie, and Pinkie fired her party cannon at the core---to no avail. She was still able to jump over the dark waves; she was pretty agile. The core again sent sparks at Pinkie, and Pinkie switched with Applejack. Applejack looked for a place where she could lasso the core's legs again, but she couldn't see one. She tried slamming the floor with her legs, since the core still looked top-heavy. The core tottered a bit, but was still steady enough to fight.
The core sent out more magic waves, and Rainbow Dash switched out to try to dodge them. Twilight had paid close attention to this battle, and she knew that they had to try something. The one thing they hadn't tried yet was using a crystal prison on his legs, so she shouted, "Rarity! Crystallize his legs!"
"No, you don't!" the core shouted, sending sparks into Rarity just as she threw ice at his legs. She switched with Applejack just in time, and the lightning again flashed outside instead of inside.
"Now, Applejack! Pound the ground!" Applejack did as she was told, and the core fell over backwards. Twilight switched out and fired again and again, as fast as she could at the core's exposed weak point. The core kept moaning and roaring in pain, and finally, the core's magic wave-arm and all its legs fell off. The core shoved itself back up onto its base, covering its weak point once more.
"Ha ha! Now what're you going to do?" the core taunted them.
"No, what're you gonna do?!" Pinkie shot back.
"Noooot the best comeback, Pinkie," Twilight muttered under her breath.
"It certainly wasn't," the core agreed. It extended its crossbow-arm to the center of the room and began firing as fast as it could. Pinkie switched out and tried to dodge as best she could, but she couldn't help but get hit a few times. Each time, she yelped in pain, and with each yelp, the core again roared with cruel laughter. Twilight could feel herself getting angrier and angrier at this core; she honestly couldn't tell whether it was more like a playground bully or a predator, but she couldn't stomach it laughing at Pinkie while she was getting hurt.
"Now, perish!" the core repeated, sending sparks into Pinkie. Pinkie switched with Rainbow Dash, and the lightning again missed them. Rainbow Dash dodged the arrows as best she could, too, and she tried throwing more tornadoes at the core and its arm to see what it would do. But there was no effect; the arrows kept coming. The lightning came again, and Rainbow and Applejack switched to keep Rainbow safe.
Twilight's mind raced: this wasn't getting them anywhere! "Applejack, try an earthquake!" Applejack pounded the ground, but it didn't do a thing---all she got was a dark arrow in the back for her trouble.
The core roared with cruel laughter. "You will face me again and again until your precious Spell of Unity can no longer revive you! And then I will rule the land of the living unchecked, unhindered, and unparallelled for eternity!!!"
Twilight tried her best to think or something, anything, that would work. Could one of them buck the crossbow-arm and break it? ...No, the metal looked too strong. Wait---metal! The metal could conduct the electricity of the lightning!
As more sparks flew into Applejack, Twilight shouted, "Don't switch, don't switch! Trust me!!" Applejack's face took on a worried expression, but she didn't try to switch out. There was a loud BOOM, but she wasn't hit by the lightning. Instead, the core's arrow arm was hit, and the arrow-arm fell off, damaged beyond repair.
"Clever little ponies," the core snarled. "But I'm not through yet!" One more arm extended out of the core's belly, and it contained a tangled-looking mess of mini-arms, and on the tip of each mini-arm was a dark crystal. "I like your crystal prison trick; but let's see how much you like it when I use it!" The core hurled one of the gems at Applejack, but even Applejack was quick enough to dodge it. Rainbow Dash switched out and flew as best she could to dodge each crystal.
Twilight looked at the arm, and saw that, as much as it looked like a tangled mess of tiny mini-arms, it wasn't such a mess, after all. Each mini-arm was working with all the other mini-arms to make sure nothing was tangled, and the relay of dark crystals never stopped. There were a lot of carefully-coordinated small gears inside the arm, and if those were thrown out of wack...!
"Pinkie, party cannon!" Twilight shouted. Pinkie switched out and tangled the crystal arm in fly paper, and it was amazing how much that threw the arm off. The arm began flailing this way and that way, and as it flailed, it exposed another glowing magic part. Twilight wasted no time blasting at it with her arrows, and it didn't take long before all the mechanical parts on the core fell off, and the core lay defenseless.
"You may have destroyed my core's defenses," the core gloated, "But tell me this: how can you destroy the core itself? Your Princess is absolutely frozen with terror! She cannot draw you all into physical form to use your 'Elements of Harmony'!"
Twilight gulped: the core was right. The rain was still very audible on the roof of the weather factory, and visible outside the enormous, open windows.
"And tell me this," the core continued: "What makes you think you've destroyed all this core's defenses??"
Twilight heard a rumbling in the distance that was coming closer. It wasn't thunder; it was something else...then she suddenly realized that it was the hooves of an army of corrupted pegasi, all of them headed straight for the weather factory to take them out!!
"Princess, you can do this!" Twilight shouted. "If we run now, we'll be in the same situation we'd be in if we ran at the top of Cloudsdale; the corruption will still control the weather, and...and there's no time to sabotage the machines! You've got to activate the Spell of Unity to let us use the Elements of Harmony!"
The Princess only sobbed back.
"Princess, I know you better than anypony in Equestria!" Twilight insisted. "I know you won't let us down, but time is running out!" Twilight could hear that the charging army was in the weather factory by now. She suddenly realized that she was putting too much pressure on Celestia again, so she added, "But even if you can't do this now...you'll be able to try again. The Spell of Unity will revive us; you'll get another chance to find the courage within you to do the right thing."
"You mean another chance to suffer---and to watch her dearest subjects get torn apart by my little ponies!?" the core taunted.
"Shut up!" Twilight snorted.
The pegasi were getting closer and closer; Twilight could hear their hooves just around the corner---and then Twilight heard Celestia give off a scream of the most heroic effort of will she'd ever witnessed in her life, and Celestia and her five friends burst into physical form. They didn't waste a second using the Elements of Harmony on the core, and the core vanished, leaving behind scattered gemstones.
It was not a moment too soon, either: the first few pegasi were already in the workshop by the time the corruption left them. And they were the Ponyville weather team, again. Twilight wondered how they had gotten corrupted again, but she didn't get a chance to ask: Rainbow Dash shouted to them, "Don't just flap there; get this rain cleared out! Princess Celestia can't stand rain!" With that, the weather team was off like a shot. They were the only pegasi still able to fly; the rest were all far too wet to fly. Twilight was worried that there wouldn't be enough pegasi to handle this downpour, but within seconds, the rain began clearing away from the factory.
Twilight looked at Celestia. There was an absent look of shock and horror on her face, and she was breathing quickly. Twilight remembered the words Celestia had said before about wishing she could put her wing over Twilight and feel Twilight's mane on her shoulder, so even though she was still drenched, Twilight snuggled up beside Celestia and rubbed her mane against Celestia's shoulder. "Don't worry, Princess!" Twilight insisted. "It's over; you did it. You found the courage inside yourself to do the right thing, and now Cloudsdale and Ponyville are safe. You don't have to walk away from this crisis with any regrets! And the rain is gone---the hurting is behind you. Please...don't be sad, anymore!"
Celestia seemed to come to her senses. Twilight felt Celestia's wing wrap around her and tug her closely to her side. Celestia's tearful face rubbed against Twilight's cheek. "You're right, Twilight. I'm not going to live with regrets any longer...no...that's not true; I will regret never being able to do this with you again."
Twilight did not like the sound of that. "Princess, I don't know what that means, but...but the hurting is over now! I want it to be over, now! Please don't do anything crazy!"
The Princess seemed determined. "What I'm about to do is the right thing...and it'll be the sanest thing I've ever done. I'm through carrying secrets around! I should've done this a thousand years ago!"
She turned to the pegasi who were still inside the factory, confused and hoping for an explanation. "Pegasi of Cloudsdale, hear your Princess's confession!"
"Confession?!" Twilight interrupted. "But...no! Princess, you couldn't have done anything that bad! It just isn't in you!"
Celestia was silent for a moment, and then another tear trickled down her cheek. Choking back the tears, she finally said, "Your...good faith in me means more to me than I can tell you, Twilight, but...there's much more in me than you realize."
She turned back to the pegasi and continued, "You have been taught that your people have always controlled the weather. But this is not the truth: it was shortly after my rule began that you gained the ability to move clouds. And...it was because of me that you gained it." The Princess swallowed hard and built up her willpower to continue. "Since I was a young mare, I've had a terrible fear of rain, as Rainbow Dash said. And I used my magic to give all pegasi forever the ability to move clouds so that they would keep the sky clear wherever I went. I told them at the time...that I was giving them this power so they could stabilize nature and make sure our farmers never had a bad growing year, but...but it was a lie; I was really making them as much slaves to my fear as I was! I was using an entire race!! And...and I wrote the history books myself to make sure everypony believed that the pegasi had always controlled the weather; I lied to cover up my tracks.
"I want you all to know that I am deeply sorry for using you and your ancestors like this, and...and I'm prepared to pay the price for my transgressions. When this crisis is over...I will go into exile in the sun, just as Princess Luna was exiled to the moon. Then, you shall all be truly free...and I...I will never have to endure my fear again!"
Twilight had gone through a lot during this adventure, and she was worried that this was too much for her to take. But she decided she'd keep fighting, keep thinking, and keep doing the right thing until she ran out of strength. And she wasn't quite out of strength yet. She couldn't just let the Princess leave without trying to convince her to stay! "Princess, please don't go! You don't have to banish yourself for this! What would I---what would anypony do without you?!"
Rainbow Dash immediately swooped in front of the Princess and cried, "I think I speak for every pegasus alive today, and even every pegasus who's ever lived, when I say that we would gladly clear the skies for you any day, fear of rain or not!"
Fluttershy stepped up, too, and added, "And I've never moved a cloud in my life! I'm not a slave to your fear!" Twilight paused to think that every eye in the room was on Fluttershy, and that would normally terrify her. But the urgency of losing her Princess made her not only overcome that fear, but forget about it entirely.
"See?" Rainbow Dash insisted. "We're not slaves; Fluttershy is living proof of it!"
Applejack stepped forward as well, taking her hat off respectfully. "An' Princess, in the whole history of my family, we have never once had a bad growing year on account of the weather---not once in all these centuries! Even if what you did wasn't for the reasons you said, you ain't hurt a darned thing by havin' the pegasi control our weather. If anything, it was a great service to your people."
Rarity added, "At worst, you did the right thing for the wrong reason! Exile to the sun---that's far too much!"
Pinkie swallowed hard. "I...I'm not smart like Twilight, or mature like any of the other ponies here, Princess, and I'm not good at thinking of things to say, but...but I don't want you to go, either! And what really scares me is...well...who'll be our Princess if you go? Maybe Luna's kind and smart and knows how to run a kingdom, but...but you've always been the best Princess we could ask for! You're smart, you're fun to be around, you always protect your people when monsters or changelings or dragons come along...and...and I love you! I don't want you to go-ho-ho!"
"She's right," Applejack said, kneeling. "I'm askin' you on my knees, Princess: don't leave us. I can't think of anypony else what could fill the empty space you'd leave if you left us. Even if you have done wrong...I still want you as my Princess."
Rainbow Dash turned to the crowd of pegasi. "Don't we all feel that way!?!"
The crowd roared its agreement.
Rainbow Dash screamed at the top of her longs, "THREE CHEERS FOR PRINCESS CELESTIA!! HIP HIP!!"
"HOORAY!" the crowd echoed.
Rainbow Dash inhaled deeply for the last one, and even louder, shouted, "HIP HIP!!!"
And the crowd echoed even louder, "HOORAAAY!!!!"
The Spell of Unity kicked in again, and only Twilight and the Princess were left in physical form. The Princess's face showed shock: she hadn't been expecting them to forgive her. She'd been expecting to have to leave everything she'd ever cared about in shame; she'd expected to be hated and treated like a criminal. She felt like she was a criminal...but these ponies had given back to her everything she'd been willing to give up. She wasn't prepared for this.
Horrible silence hung in the air, and Twilight wasn't sure what Celestia would do or say next. The only thing she could think to do was to silently rest her head against Celestia's shoulder and gently nuzzle her.
The Princess slowly looked down at Twilight, her expressionn unreadable. Twilight stared back. Finally, Twilight whispered, "Please...tell us you'll stay."
After another few seconds of silence, the Princess finally said, barely loud enough for the pegasi crowd to hear it, "I'll stay, Twilight."
The crowd did not cheer; the ones in front were the only ones who had heard her answer, and they knew better than to break up this tender moment with a lot of noise. But there was a lot of relieved whispering to spread the news, and the relief in the room could practically be felt.
For a few minutes, they all just stood there---Celestia holding Twilight close with her wing, Twilight resting her head on Celestia's shoulder, relieved that there would be no more danger of losing her beloved Princess forever, and both of them very glad that she and her friends had averted another disaster. The crowd wasn't sure how to react, but they were awaiting any order, any request from their Princess.
Twilight was beginning to ask herself whether they could afford a delay like this. Her heart told her it was worth it, but her mind questioned that. Weren't there more cores that needed to be destroyed?
Celestia seemed to have the same thing going through her mind; she said, "Twilight...this crisis is not over. Our work is not done."
"Will you send the radar out now, Princess?"
"No...I know that there had to have been a core somewhere in Canterlot, and it's the closest. I'm still not quite myself, and you're probably feeling the same way, but...we can't delay."
Twilight nodded. "How do we get there?"
"On my back," Celestia answered, getting down on the ground.
Twilight had NEVER been on the Princess's back, and the thought of her having a load on her back of any kind was somewhat unsettling to Twilight. She was a Princess; carrying loads was for her subjects, not her! But Twilight didn't complain; she just enjoyed the honor while she could, and climbed up.
"You may not be able to cast spells, Twilight, but I can." As soon as Twilight was securely mounted, Celestia rose up, spread her wings, and flew up towards the moon. They quickly winked out of existance as Celestia began a teleportation spell that would take her back to the castle.