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"We're not done yet. Our orders were to investigate the forest... But now the group is back together! Now we can do this for real!"
...

(What luck. Rainbow Dash found her friends, or probably vice-versa. And lemme tell ya something, this world seems a little kiddy. Safa felt that way too, and don't get me started with the Pokémon thing, but this place... This is almost silly. Everything feels cuter and more cartoony, almost--it's hard to explain. It's whacky, but it's still as real as real gets. I wonder what exactly this world is. I could recognize Pokémon easily, but... this sort of feels like... Well I'm not sure, I don't watch cartoons. At least, I don't remember doing that.

Dash and I just left this forest, but we're actually turning around and going right back in. Apparently a "Princess" character wanted these girls to check out the site of the Strayer Void, 'cause it's been causing a disturbance... Anyway, Dash and her friends are catching up on stuff, which just leaves me with Safiri. It's awkward. I did lie to her...)

-Everfree Forest-

[The six pony friends are walking in a tight group, while Safiri and Cruce remain separate.]

Safiri: ...I still can't believe you did it, Cruce. I can't believe you'd just... go and be that crazy.

Cruce: [He doesn't say anything.]

Safiri: I mean really! This is the Strayer Void we're talking about! The most dangerous thing in the history of... being!

Cruce: You know, you didn't have to jump face-first into it.

Safiri: I wasn't trying to... I wanted to stop you. I wouldn't have any of the Storm coming to Safa... Think, Cruce. You may have helped Rainbow get home, but what if the Storm is here and we don't even know?

Cruce: Come on, I really don't think they're here...

Safiri: What makes you say that?

Cruce: I'unno, the Crossblade? It was the key to the void--'s the key to a lot of things, I guess.

Safiri: ...[Turns away as she speaks.] ...The Crossblade opened the void?

Cruce: Yeah, didn't you see it? The thing pretty much took it all upon itself to rip open a big hole in the sky.

Safiri: I couldn't see anything in the delta, it was way too bright... But if what you're saying is true, then maybe that's a safe way through the Strayer Void... N-no, crazy talk, sorry. That's... that just doesn't add up.

Cruce: The Crossblade's not an easy thing to understand, I mean I don't get it either you know. But I'm pretty sure I heard Vesse tell me that the Blade was what really got me through the void. That and it was literally pulling me over the water to the right spot where it could go all "lazarbeams" on the sky.

Safiri: [Shakes her head.] Jeez, that's nuts. I still don't like it, and I'm sure everyone else'll feel that way... Ugh, you still lied to me, and that stinks, even if your Crossblade did something with the void.

Cruce: ...Sorry, but... Our Crossblades... You can probably do it too if you tried.

Safiri: [She flinches, squeaking nervously.] N-not gonna happen! No way!

Cruce: Hahah, yeah, so how do we get you back home? You put yourself in the same spot Rainbow Dash had been, you realize...

Safiri: ... [Bites her lower lip.] ...Ehrm... I wasn't really thinking all would be hunky-dori-bori...

Cruce: ...What...?

Safiri: I thought we'd be in big trouble! But we're not... So now we've gotta think of a way to get back home, you and I.

Cruce: Actually...

Pinkie Pie: [Interrupts Cruce's thoughts, randomly appearing between he and Safiri.] KNOCK KNOCK!

Cruce & Safiri: [Both of them jump, startled by her presence.] Aah!!

Pinkie Pie: [Speaking fast.] Hi Safiri and Cruce! I'm Pinkie Pie! Rainbow told me a little bit about'cha two! Any friend of hers is a friend of mine! Well, actually, any friend of anyone's is a friend of mine! So how long have you two known each other? What do you look like when you're not on our world? Aliens? Ooh, I would LOVE to see that, you should send pictures! [She bounces, rather than walking.] This is so freaky! I would never have ever ever imagined I'd be on an adventure with ex-tra-ter-es-tee-alls!

Cruce: [Staring at Pinkie as she hops by his side.] (...She talks... so fast...) U-uhm...

Pinkie Pie: So do you speak in a whole 'nother alien language and you're using like super high-tech thingymabobs to understand us?

Cruce: Not... not really, 'turns out we speak the same language.

Applejack: Pinkie... [She approaches Safiri and Cruce, shaking her head.] Pardon her. She's a yapper, that one.

Pinkie Pie: Yep! Did you know I hold the record for most yapping in a single minute?!

Applejack: Now we wouldn't doubt that for a moment. Cruce, Safiri, 'don't think I gave a proper howdy-do. The name's Applejack. Pleasure!

[At this time, the other ponies gather around Safiri and Cruce.]

Rarity: I am Rarity; fashion extraordinaire of Ponyville.

Twilight Sparkle: My name's Twilight Sparkle. You can just call me Twilight, of course. [She smiles warmly.]

Fluttershy: [Flying next to Rainbow Dash.] And, um, I'm Fluttershy...

Spike: [Still on Twilight's back. He yawns, a hand near his mouth.] Haaaawh... [Some of the others watch him.] Oh, sorry. I'm Spike!

Cruce: [Grinning, watching as each of them introduce themselves.] 'Good to meet all of you. My full name is Cruce Maximilius, in case you were wondering. Leaves some room for nicknames, don't it?

Rainbow Dash: YES. [She laughs.] I wish you would have told me! I am SO calling you Maxie from now on.

Pinkie Pie: Ooh, that's a cute name! Maxie Waxie... Hmmm, it needs more pizazz, like a cake needs frosting! I'll think of something~!

Safiri: Well, I know what I'm calling him from now on...

[The ponies laugh briefly.]

Spike: Yeeep, welcome to the club.

Applejack: In honesty, we can't thank ya'll enough for bringin' Rainbow back to us.

Twilight Sparkle: Yeah! Once we get back to Ponyville, we'll need to find some way to return the favor for your help.

Cruce: Aw, thanks, but--

Pinkie Pie: Ooh! [Leaps in front of Cruce.] I know! We'll have a big welcome back bash for Rainbow Dash! Yaaay, rhymes! And it can also be a thank you party for Maxie!

Rainbow Dash: Haahhh, Pinkie, as much as I'd love to hang out and be your pony of honor, I'm beat. [She yawns.] I'm gonna need a nap.

Pinkie Pie: But that's no fun...

Cruce: I think I'll second that. I can't remember the last time I slept. Like at all.

Pinkie Pie: Awww, but that's REALLY no fun...!

Cruce: Heh, sorry.

[After their short, ironically gleeful venture through the dark forest path, Rainbow Dash leads them into the secluded clearing. The reddish mist remains.]

Fluttershy: [She sets down, shrinking in fear.] O-oh, um... I thought it was scary before, b-b-but, this is worse...

Rarity: I have never seen such thick fog! Ugh, this horrid mist is terrible for my mane... Eck! The mud is even worse!

Pinkie Pie: It's so quiet... ...ECHO!! [Echo... echo... echo...] ...Cool!

Cruce: This is the place where Dash and I landed. Should be the Strayer Void's "helipad", so to speak.

Twilight Sparkle: Hmm... [She does not wander off, however she observes what limited surroundings she can see.] Spike, see anything of interest?

Spike: Uhh... [Squints.] I see... Oh!

Twilight Sparkle: Huh? What is it?

Spike: Nothing, just some red fog.

Twilight Sparkle: [Groans.] ... I got it! Rainbow, could you try blowing away this fog?

Rainbow Dash: Hm, let me give it a whirl... [With little confidence, she lifts herself a bit higher into the air. She flutters her wings rapidly, attempting to play her part in manipulating the immediate weather... The fog persists.] I-it's no use. We're in the Everfree Forest, Twililght. The weather's got a mind of its own here.

Twilight Sparkle: Shoot, we'll never find anything out if we can't see.

Spike: Iiii don't know. Didn't Cruce say he was the one who caused those rifts to appear?

Cruce: Only one of them. The first one's still a mystery to all of us.

Spike: Right. We know enough about it as it is. Can't we go back and tell the Princess what we know? I'm sure she'll accept that.

Twilight Sparkle: No, Spike. We're here, so we may as well apply ourselves as much as we can. Alright girls, and Cruce, listen up. [She obtains everyone's attention.] Since this fog is so heavy, we'll need to make sure that there are two of us together at all--

[Suddenly, the surroundings heat up. The clearing brightens, as the fog evaporates in a scorching inferno. The forest becomes red as scarlet fires spiral around a very large stallion, completely clad in dark red armor. This sleek, yet aggressive armor catches the crimson shine of the surrounding fire... As it dies down, this stallion's suit of armor can be seen clearly. He is completely encased in it. He appears to be a unicorn, as his armored horn would suggest. At his flank, two large prongs protrude from the armor, giving him the look of some kind of mechanical beast.]

Twilight Sparkle: [Frozen.] Never mind.

Fluttershy: [Screams, hiding quickly behind Pinkie Pie.]

Pinkie Pie: [She yelps, running behind Fluttershy. The two continue to vie over who hides behind who.]

Applejack: [Gulps.] Whoa nelly... what in all of Equestria is that...?

Rarity: Such a hulking monstrosity... W-we don't need to investigate any further, do we Twilight?

Twilight Sparkle: [Spikes seems to be terrified.] Wait a moment. We shouldn't jump to conclusions! Maybe this... uhm [Can't quite make out any features beyond the stallion's armor.] ... m-maybe this pony can help us out... [She steps forth. Spike darts off of her back and hides behind Pinkie and Fluttershy.] Hey, uh... hi! Heheh!

???: [Unmoving, he watches Twilight.]

Twilight Sparkle: Sooo, you're here, we're here... Under that big... stormy thing in the sky, right? [Chuckles nervously.]

[The others watch from a safe distance Fluttershy covers her eyes. Rainbow Dash has not moved. She remains in flight, glaring at this beast of a stallion.]

???: [He is still, saying nothing.]

Twilight Sparkle: I'm sure you have your duties, and we have ours. So we can work something out, right? Maybe you've heard of Princess Celestia?

???: [Finally, he turns his head, now facing Cruce.] ...Yes... [A mechanical whirring is heard. The armor flips at his side, revealing a row of three small flamethrowers, lit and ready to fire.] Stand aside, Miss Twilight Sparkle.

Twilight Sparkle: [She gasps.] You know my name?!

???: Yes. Now, if you please...?

Twilight Sparkle: [Reluctantly, she backs away...]

[Cruce steps forward.]

Cruce: Hey, what's up? You need something from us?

???: You.

Cruce: ...Whassat?

???: Crossblade wielder. You will come with me.

Safiri: Heads up, Cruce. We're not the only offworlders here.

Cruce: [Nods.] Looks like. I don't even know who you are, dude. Why should I come with you?

???: Failure to comply will result in your incapacitation. You will be brought back.

Cruce: ...Really?

Rainbow Dash: Now wait just oooone teensy weensy moment, bub. [Flies up to the hulk.]

Twilight Sparkle: Rainbow, get back here!

Rainbow Dash: Who do you think you are, coming along and acting all high and mighty, then threatening my good friend Cruce? If you want at him, you'll have to go through ME first.

???: Stand down, Miss Rainbow Dash. I have no quarrel with you...

Rainbow Dash: ...You know my na--... [Shakes her head.] Yeah right. So far what you've said is quarrel enough for me!

???: [He glances at Cruce before returning his attention to Rainbow.] ...Your friend Cruce... What could you possibly see in the bringer of destruction?

Rainbow Dash: Huh...?

Cruce: Bringer of de--God dang it, really?! Again?!

Safiri: Wait, listen, Mister uhm... big...--l-look, Cruce can't be what you say he is!

???: Apologies, but I know what I know. He must be brought back. [He walks around Rainbow Dash, approaching Cruce.]

Rainbow Dash: Oh no you don't! [She flies into him, foot first, kicking the hulk in the side of the head. He does not flinch... Rainbow Dash is frozen in her karate-esque position. Her eyes go wide.] ...AAAAH! HOT HOTHOTHOTHOTHOT! [She pulls away quickly.]

Cruce: Dash, get back! I can handle this!

Rarity: Oh, are you insane?! You'll immolated by that monster, oooohh I simply can't watch! [She turns away, covering both eyes with one arm... however, she does peek.]

Cruce: Don't worry. I'll be fine... Safiri, make sure they're safe. [As Safiri backs away hesitantly, Cruce prepares himself, dark electricity sparking around his mouth, before a particular silhouette takes shape. That shape solidifies into the Crossblade. The neon green streaks of light have been replaced with a bright blue..] (And I thought I was done fighting with this thing in my mouth.)

Spike, Pinkie Pie, & Fluttershy: Whoooaaa...

???: The Crossblade. My sources were correct. Conflict is unavoidable, then. I'm sorry to see that. I will have to put you to rest, Mister Cruce. [An orange energy gathers around his horn. It builds slowly and steadily.] Sleep sound. [He releases the charged energy, blasting radiant scarlet plasma at Cruce.]

Cruce: [He swings his Blade forth, a heavy force-field forming around him as soon as the plasma reaches the tip of the Crossblade. The hulk's energy blast disperses around the force-field. He takes initiative, darting up to the beast as soon as the attack fades. He leaps, striking high with his Crossblade. A transparent red dome seemingly made up of hexagons flashes around the stallion. Cruce quickly hops away.] !!?

Safiri: What...?!

???: You will do no harm today, Mister Cruce. [His horn flickers. He steps forward, slamming his large, armor-coated hoof into the ground. A pillar of fire rockets Cruce into the air from below.]

Cruce: [Cries out, the Crossblade leaving his mouth. He notices this.] !! Ah! [He quickly grabs the Blade, hurling it down after. Thinking fast, he warps to the Blade, having let it build downward speed before attempting to strike at the beast's armor once again, this time a streak of white and black light following his motions. The beast's shield pulses again.]

???: [Retaliates, knocking Cruce away with a violent motion of his head. Again, his horn charges briefly before blasting away into the air.]

Cruce: [Repeats his earlier action, throwing the Blade to the ground and promptly teleporting to its location. He remains low, avoiding the stream of plasma. Seeing an opportunity, Cruce performs a quick horizontal slash, sending a shockwave of the Crossblade's magic directly at the beast. His shield flashes once again.] (Tch, this is bullcrap! I can't get any momentum if I'm not even hitting the guy!)

???: Your efforts are in vain. This is not how it needs to be... Just stop resisting. You are only making this worse for yourself and everybody around you.

Cruce: [Stands tall. He forces the Crossblade to vanish from his mouth.] How...? You know I have every right to defend myself.

???: Yes. Your actions are just. Unfortunately I am limited by my associates in that I cannot explain anything further. You must come with me.

Cruce: ...N-no... I won't come with you... I'm not going to.

???: [He stands, staring silently at Cruce...]

Cruce: [Glares in response, confident in his answer.]

???: ...Hm! [His entire body begins flickering, as if he were fading out of existence itself.] Ah, curses... The magic is still not strong enough. Mister Cruce Maximilius, we will meet again soon. Be prepared. Your decision will decide the very fate of this world. Will you come with us, or will you fight for destruction? ...Gah... [In a blinding flash, the giant is gone, leaving behind a small fire.]

...

[Everyone is silent, staring at the scene of the battle...]

Spike: That... was... AWESOME! [He hops out, cheering Cruce on.] You sure showed him what for! Wow, you were all like [Pretends to making a slashing motion.] Whoosh! And then you blocked like [Pretends to parry an attack.] Ching! Then you...! Then... then you... [Realizes he is the only one with this enthusiasm, looking around at the others..] ...Yeah...

Cruce: [Keeps his head turned away from the group.] (Sure... You think that's cool, but...) It was nothing special.

Twilight Sparkle: Nothing special? Hardly. That was unlike anything I've ever seen.

Applejack: You can say that again.

Fluttershy: [Still shaking, covering her face and whimpering.]

Safiri: Huh? [Notices Fluttershy's fear.] Hey, Fluttershy, the fight's over...

Fluttershy: [Peeks...] Oh... Thank goodness.

Cruce: [He faces the crowd.] I... hope I'm not scaring anyone. I promise, I'm not bad. I really don't know what that guy was talking about.

Rainbow Dash: Puh-lease. [Flies up to Cruce.] I know you're not a bad guy.

Safiri: That's right... You're not evil, you're just really strong.

Cruce: [Shakes his head.] Nah, no way. I'm lucky, that's all there is to it. I ended up with the Crossblade, I got taught... martial arts... somewhere along the lines--I'm a lucky guy.

Safiri: [Crosses her small arms, standing on her hind legs again.] I guess you are a little lucky. Gotta have that with some recklessness, huh? [Smirks.]

Cruce: [He chuckles.] Good point, I s'pose.

Rarity: Should we send a word to Princess Celestia about this?

Twilight Sparkle: Certainly. She'll be interested to hear about that knight. After all, he said he knew her... Everypony? Let's get back to Ponyville.

[With Twilight's instruction, the large group makes their way out of the Everfree Forest, most of them at a loss for words, except Pinkie Pie, who insists on asking others' opinions about how crazy the battle was, or what their favorite part might have been.]

...

[Before the ponies reach the edge of the forest, they are greeted by a trio of male pegasi. Two of them are fairly young stallions, while the center colt happens to be the youngest of all, and apparently the leader. They are royal guards, suited in lightweight golden armor. The youngest pegasus's armor is distinct...]

???: {The leading pegasus. His body color is white, however his bright color blends into a gentle sky blue at his nose, belly, and tips of his great wings. His hooves appear to be a darker blue, much like his sleek, flowing mane. His tail is fairly short; only about six inches in length. His headpiece worn like a bandana. It is silver, with jagged bolts rising at both sides. At its front is a rhombus-shaped cyan jewel. Each of his leg has an anklet with this design, minus the jewel. The rest of his armor is very limited. This young colt is effeminate in his appearance, possessing the curves of a mare. While on duty, it does not reflect on his personality.} Hold on a sec, guys! [The two guards stop with him.]

Twilight Sparkle: [Recognizes the armor.] Royal guards?

Spike: Aren't guards supposed to be guarding?

???: Heheh, trust me, the Princess is in capable hooves. She was the one who ordered us to check out the fireworks. She sent you into the Everfree Forest to investigate the phenomenon, right?

Twilight Sparkle: That's right. [Nods.] By fireworks, do you mean that huge inferno in the forest only minutes ago?

Impulse: Yes. I... I guess we didn't make it in time... Forgive me, where are my manners? I'm Impulse, an officer of the Canterlot Royal Guard. You must be Shining Armor's sister Twilight. And these are your friends... Including Rainbow Dash?

Rainbow Dash: [Distracted with the elegance of Impulse's wings.] ... [Shakes her head.] Oh, yeah yeah, that's me! Present and accounted for.

Impulse: You're the pegasus who went missing for nearly two weeks... Yet, here I was thinking Princess Celestia's loyal student and her friends might come out of that ruckus charred and hurt. We were all worried something terrible might've happened.

Rainbow Dash: [Speaks softly to herself.] Two weeks...?

Applejack: We're all mighty thankful for y'er concern.

Twilight Sparkle: Agreed. It looks like everyone's keeping a close eye on the forest, but I think we've figured out all we can about the red rift for today. I'll send what information I have to the Princess. We have a lot to think about, but we also have a lot to rejoice over. Rainbow's back, and safe, and that's the most important thing to us.

Rainbow Dash: [She frowns, her mind stuck on only one thing.] ...Two whole weeks...?

Cruce: [Notices Rainbow's lack of morale.] (Hmm, she doesn't seem too happy. Maybe she's still upset about that amnesia thing...)

...

(That was weird. Giant horses attacking me, calling me the bringer of destruction. I think the closest I've ever gotten to that was Safiri trying to kick my a** because of that whole lack of a Connector thingy. Which was like yesterday? Speaking of which, didn't Rainbow Dash only arrive on Safa a couple days back? This Impulse dude said she was missing for a week or something. Two weeks? I don't know. Dash seems down about something, and maybe it's that. I'll have to ask her about it, if she wants to talk. Safiri, too. I don't want her to end up missing, so we've gotta get her back home soon enough. Can't believe that girl jumped into the Strayer Void just to try and stop me. Now she's stuck here, because she doesn't want me opening the thing again. We need to think of something.

We need to think of a lot of things. I still don't know what Vesse meant by training--could it be the guy who attacked me? ...Or... did he even really attack me? He just demanded I come with him. Is he part of the Storm? That's what I want to know. So I'm going to stay with Rainbow Dash and her friends as they try and figure this out. I hope Safiri can stick around for a little bit also. I know we gotta get her home, but she may as well hang out until we can get that box checked off.)

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