Town Hall Basement
Meeting Room 3
Gray cracked plaster on the walls and scuffed floors gave a good clue that this room had seen better days. Other than that it was clean. The ponies hiding underground had different priorities than fixing floors.
Three ponies sat at a beige wooden table. Two of the cracked white plates in front of the ponies were empty. The last plate had food on it.
Margot eyed the small pile of hay and dried daisies on her plate. Cheerilee and Sweetie Belle watched Margot.
"I am sorry we have so little food," Cheerilee explained. “Our supplies are running low. The resupply caravan from Lower Canterlot is late.”
Sweetie Belle’s stomach growled loudly.
Margot realized that she needed to eat before her food was snatched away. She stuck her muzzle into the plate and ate. It tasted OK but she was still a bit hungry afterward. I want a cheeseburger now! The thought of eating the flesh of another animal made her stomach flip. OK, stomach, I meant soy burgers! The queasiness faded.
"Okay, lets begin," Cheerilee said, and looked into Margot's eyes with her green ones. "You must go to Lower Canterlot and meet the Prophetess. She will answer your questions in more detail."
"No, I want to go home," Margot replied.”Please send me home.”
Cheerilee blinked in surprise.
Margot had to get back home and finish the mission there. No going on trips with ponies.
"I can't send you home, I don’t do magic," Cheerilee replied firmly. “There is no pony here with the power and knowledge to do that. If you want to go home, you have to go to Lower Canterlot and talk to the Prophetess.”
Margot looked deep into Cheerilee's eyes to see if she was lying. It would be easier to find out with magic. Maybe I can do the Synchronization Ritual now?
Cheerilee moved closer and raised her right forehoof. Margot stopped concentrating.
There was a knock on the door. Sweetie Belle got off of her chair to answer it. An orange pegasus filly waited outside with a drooping tail and ears.
"Apple Bloom is getting worse and the healers won't get to her in time," the filly said with concern. She peered into the room at Cheerilee and Margot and then walked up to Margot.
"Do you know how you got here?" she asked pointedly.
Margot replied, "No."
"Scootaloo, this is not the right time for this!" Cheerilee said with some anger.
"Margot needs to know how she got here, and know that she owes us." Scootaloo walked up to Margot and stood up on her hind hooves. Her stubby orange wings unfurled. Scootaloo stuck her face so close to Margot's that she could smell her sweet pony breath.
"We lost a friend and others got hurt getting your unconscious body from aboveground Ponyville," Scootaloo whispered. “You owe us.”
Margot looked at Cheerilee and Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo went back to all fours. "Is that true?" Margot asked.
Cheerilee looked away and replied, "Yes, but I was going to mention that later. It is a bit much to tell somepony along with the other info." Cheerilee looked back at Margot.
"I am sorry for what happened to your friends, but I left a world where buglike ponies set off some sort of device," Margot said. “I think many people got hurt or killed. I have to go back and help my people. They expect me to do so.”
"Buglike ponies?” Sweetie Belle asked with surprise. “Did they have holes in their legs and wings?"
Now, it was Margot's turn to be surprised. "Yes, how did you know?"
"Those were changelings. Now do you see why you must go to Lower Canterlot?" Scootaloo asked with annoyance.
"Where are these changelings? How can I find out more about them?" Margot asked.
"Go to Lower Canterlot and ask the Prophetess," Cheerilee said. “She knows more about what's going on.”
"We have to heal Apple Bloom now!" Scootaloo said to Sweetie Belle with urgency.
"OK, lets do it," Sweetie Belle followed Scootaloo out of the room.
Margot looked at Cheerilee.
"They will be fine. We need to cover some other topics, Margot," Cheerilee said firmly.
"How do you know my name?" Margot asked with more surprise in her voice.
"The Prophetess told me a lot about you. Please return to the table so I can finish the briefing," Cheerilee suggested. "I will send the Cutie Ma--um, excuse me, Sky Hoof Crusaders, to protect you. I think I can get one or two volunteers to come along. It is a dangerous trip. The area between Ponyville and Lower Canterlot has turned into a desert-like area called the Shatterleg Wastes. Also, Gleaners, Remnants and worse wander there. In the past, you could just take a train but that has changed. When the Gleaners came to Equestria, a lot was lost and or changed for the worse," Cheerilee explained and looked down.
"What are Gleaners and Remnants?" Margot asked.
Cheerilee looked up. "Gleaners are ghost like creatures that feed on life and emotion. When you see the pale green glows heading toward you, gallop as fast as you can away. Remnants are ponies that were not killed by the Gleaners when they were drained. They live a horrible half life trying to chase down the living so they can replace what was torn from them. We stay safe from both groups by hiding underground." Cheerilee said sadly.
“Where did the Gleaners come from?” Margot asked while looking around the room.
Cheerilee just shrugged. ”No one knows. Then there are rumors of something called the Train. I do not believe such a thing is possible."
"Train?" Margot asked.
"If you want to waste your time with rumors, you can ask Apple Bloom or the others," Cheerilee said haughtily.
"I noticed that Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle have blue horseshoes? What do they mean?" Margot asked.
"There is a being called Oonte, she is not from Equestria. The horseshoes are given to her faithful. Some of them might be able to do miracles with her help but I am not sure. I do not know too much about her. You will have to talk to the Sky Hoof Crusaders, SHC, for that," Cheerilee said.
"You did not answer my question about Cutie Marks earlier. Do I have one?" Margot asked.
"I am not sure, it’s a blank space. Its like a piece of paper waiting for something to be written on it," Cheerilee looked around the room.
"I have to round up the volunteers and supplies for the trip. Please stay here," Cheerilee requested. She turned and left the room.
Margot sat in the empty room and thought about her options. She wanted to go home and find out what happened at the mall but then she could see that these people or ponies needed help. Not being able to do magic was also bothering her. If Margot ignored those issues, it felt like the type of work she did, helping locals fight strange things.
Somewhere in the distance, a pony let out a fear filled scream. Margot stopped her musing, then she left the meeting room to investigate.
A few tunnels away, two stallions guarded a locked wooden door. The screams seemed to be coming from behind the door.
"Hay! You can't go in there!" the light pink pony said and moved his hoof to block the door.
Several more screams of fear burst out of the door.
"What is going on in there?" Margot asked while pointing at the door with her right fore hoof.
"This room is for the partially gleaned. Sometimes the Gleaners are interrupted before they totally drain a pony. Most of the higher emotions are gone except for fear," the green pegasus said.
"Nobody can cure or heal them?" Margot asked. She wished she could help but even if she had her powers working, they could do nothing for emotion based magics. All she could do is give them a quick and painless death.
Both guard ponies sadly shook their heads no.
The light pink pony said, "They will live in fear of everything until their poor hearts fail."
Margot could not imagine living a life of constant fear. I will not ask about putting them out of their misery. That would sound cold.
"Thank you gentlestallions," Margot said and walked away.
The guard ponies smiled at her.
She tried to get back to Meeting Room Three but she ran into Cheerilee. Busted. She gave Margot an annoyed look.
"Please come with me, we are almost ready to leave for Lower Canterlot," Cheerilee said.
"What building is this?" Margot asked as they moved from the tunnels to stairs.
"This used to be the Town Hall. It had a small tunnel to help the Mayor escape and we expanded it and added more tunnels," Cheerilee explained.
"We had a Mayor and a support staff but they did not make it. Those terrible days were so chaotic,” Cheerilee said with sadness in her voice.
"I gave some good advice and somehow I became the new mayor," Cheerilee said with a breaking voice.
They waited a bit so Cheerilee could regain her composure.
The two ponies walked into a room filled with pictures from a happier Ponyville in the past. In a lot of the pictures, a light brown-coated, gray and white maned mare presided over different events.
Margot pointed her right fore hoof at the wall and asked, "Is that..."
Cheerilee replied with sadness, "Yes. I have her job now but it is a heavy responsibility. Somepony has to make sure things are running smoothly. Twilight Sparkle, um, Princess Twilight Sparkle would have done a better job but for some reason I have heard little of what happened to her."
"Who is Princess Twilight Sparkle?" Margot asked.
"To be brief because we have a lot to go over, she is one of the Elements of Harmony and a close friend," Cheerilee said then sighed.
“What is an Element of Harmony?” Margot asked with more curiosity.
Cheerilee sighed. It was a lot to tell a foreign pony and she did not really want to get in a long conversation.
“Harmony is one of the most powerful magics in Equestria. It is wielded by six special ponies that embody Honesty, Loyalty, Laughter, Generosity, Kindness and Magic. They used the Elements to defeat many enemies but for some reason several of the ponies are missing. Only Rainbow Dash, the element of Loyalty and Applejack, the Element of Honesty are with us. In the past, all of the elements lived in Ponyville. If you want more details, please speak to someone in Lower Canterlot,” Cheerilee said.
“I guess if you had all of the elements, the Gleaners would be defeated?” Margot asked.
Cheerilee shook her head yes.
A pony discreetly coughed. Margot turned her attention to the rest of the room and its occupants.
Two ponies sat at a shiny black wooden table patiently waiting for Cheerilee. One was a brown male pegasus with a black mane and tail. The other pony was a female light blue unicorn with a red and white striped mane and tail. Something about the way the unicorn looked at Margot, gave her the impression that the blue unicorn would be snooty.
"So, thats it, Cheerilee?" the brown pegasus asked.
Cheerilee nodded her head yes.
"Are those annoying Cutie Mark Crusaders going to be joining us?" the light blue unicorn asked.
Cheerilee replied with a bit of anger, "Yes."
"I surely do not want to be rude but I think such power should not be in the hooves of those fillies. It is just not right," the light blue unicorn complained.
"When you meet Oonte, maybe you should share your concerns," Cheerilee said snidely.
Margot knew her first impressions about the light blue unicorn were right.
"I have to get the supplies ready. Please introduce yourselves," Cheerilee said.
She turned and left the room.
The brown pegasus walked up to Margot and stuck out his left fore hoof.
"My friends call me a pain in the plot, but the name I was given is Far Traveler. The few friends I have left call me ‘Far’," Far Traveler said with a wink and then a smile.
Margot shook his hoof. "My name is Margot Summerholt," Margot introduced herself.
The light blue unicorn walked up to Margot and gingerly offered her left hoof to shake. "I am Skybreeze Cloud, Professor of Higher Magics at Hoofvard in Canterlot, sorry, Lower Canterlot," Skybreeze said.
Margot touched her hoof and there was no shaking. It was more like a hoof bump.
A few seconds later, the door burst open and squabbling fillies could be heard.
"Gleaners don't eat apples!"
"Then they will leave the trees alone!"
"The gleaners buck up everything so your orchard will be changed!"
"Ladies?" Far said and walked up to the squabbling fillies.
Margot recognized some of the voices. She turned around to see.
Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle and the yellow filly that Margot had seen earlier were chatting with Far. Far pointed to the table with his left fore hoof. The SHC headed to their seats.
The yellow filly with the pink bow walked up to Margot and introduced herself in a slight Western accent. "Mah name is Apple Bloom."
"Hello, Apple Bloom, my name is Margot Summerholt," Margot introduced herself.
She noticed that Apple Bloom was walking fine, the bandages that covered her fore hooves were gone. Margot wanted to scan her and see how the bones had mended but again she cursed that she could not do any magic.
"I see that the healing was a success," Far stated.
"Yes!" Scootaloo announced.
"Alright, my little ponies, I will brief you on the trip to Lower Canterlot. All of you should know how to get there in case we get separated," Far said.
"We have to go straight north, too much to the west or east and things will get worse. It’s either the Rotten Lake and swamps or the Train. I have been with the supply caravans so I know the way," Far said with a serious look on his face.
"The Train is just a rumor," Skybreeze stated.
"Maybe so but I would rather not find out the truth," Far replied.
Cheerilee returned with a sad look on her face. "We don’t have enough food and water for you," she said and looked at the group.
"We could find the caravan--" Far started.
"No, it is taking too long. Something has happened to them," Cheerilee interrupted Far.
Margot watched as the SHC exchanged glances. They touched their right fore hooves together and intoned some words. A blue glow covered their hooves and then a brown wooden barrel of water appeared in the corner of the room, afterward brown wafers appeared on the table and floor.
"Thank you, The Merciful," Sweetie Belle said with gratitude.
Cheerilee's green eyes seemed extra large as she took in the sight all of the food. "Well, um, thanks, girls," Cheerilee said.
"Praise Oonte!" Scootaloo said and bowed.
Margot noticed that the SHC seemed a bit less energetic, almost tired.
"This looks like there is enough food for our trip and for the town," Far said while he sniffed the wafers in front of him.
Cheerilee left to get some help in moving the wafers to the food storeroom.
Margot looked at the ones in front of her. The wafers were shiny brown with either fruit or hay in them. I wonder what they taste like?
Several ponies returned with Cheerilee, they gawked with surprise at the sight of all that food. Sweetie Belle counted six wafers and put them into the bags. Margot thought the wafers were light but her saddlebag felt like she was carrying lead bars. A yellow unicorn filled up bottles of water and placed those in the bags too.
"These bars feel heavy. We just might need one a day. It takes four days to get to Lower Canterlot," Far said.
"What is Lower Canterlot?" Margot asked.
"Canterlot was the home of the Dual Rulers, Celestia and Luna. They moved to a refugee area at the foot of Unicorn Range. That is now Lower Canterlot. Gleaners roam Canterlot now. I don't know more because we also used the caravan to relay news about what is going on in the rest of Equestria," Skybreeze said with sadness.
After a few minutes, all of the saddlebags were ready. Sweetie placed the bags on the traveler's backs. Then she placed a saddlebag on her own back.
"This is good, six travelers, just like the six Elements of Harmony," Far joked.
"Follow me and I will lead you to the exit," Cheerilee opened the door and pointed down the tunnel..
"Please be careful, all of you," Cheerilee warned the ponies waiting at the wooden doorway when they lined up to leave.
Margot could feel a familiar excitement fill her heart. Yes! She was going on an adventure. Hope, I survive this.