Snow Heart carefully observed her surroundings while drinking tea at Ponyville Café. She sat by an outside table with view over town center. She had few times been hesitantly greeted by ponies that recognized her again. The Unicorn would usually greet back but broke off any attempts at conversation with claims of wanting to be alone.
The white mare also kept an eye out for a certain pink pony. Just in case that one decided to return and act on that welcome back song. But Pinkie Pie remained away for now, much to Snow Heart's relief.
I need to find out somehow if he's made the first payment without suspicion being drawn to me, she thought and sipped her tea.
"So it's true, you really are back," someone said, there was a slight gust of wind as a Pegasus landed by the table.
"Hello Parasol and yes it is true," Snow Heart greeted half heartily. She was beginning to wonder if it had been a good idea at all to oversee the money transfer herself. I'm not ready for this phase yet.
"Is this any way to greet an old friend? I've been worried sick about you since you disappeared." Parasol sat down uninvited much to the Unicorn's annoyance.
"I had my reasons," she responded to the Pegasus looking down at her tea.
"I guess I can see that, but you could at least have sent a letter or something. Let us know you were alright," the yellowish pony pointed out.
Snow Heart narrowed her eyes and sipped her drink. When she glanced up, her old friend was still watching with concerned eyes. The white mare sighed and put the cup down. She looked around and noticed that more ponies were sitting down by the outside tables as the day grew older.
"I did not want to be found," she stated but didn't turn her head back to her old friend.
"Then why come back now to Ponyville?" Parasol asked confused.
Why indeed, Snow Heart was really regretting this part of her plan. "I guess
I was hoping everyone had forgotten me."
"Forgotten you?" Parasol was hurt by those words. "I always keep an eye out for you every time I fly to work in Cloudsdale's Weather Factory. Scootaloo doesn't even remember you anymore and you used to love her to pieces. You used to amuse her with your ma
Parasol cringed and shut her mouth immediately. She eyed the stub on Snow Heart's forehead. The Unicorn glared at her old friend for a second but said nothing; she instead just drank her tea. The Pegasus swallowed nervously and took a moment to consider what to say next. She did remember the white mare having quite a temper.
"I'm sorry Snow, it's just that Scoot loved you too and after the
incident she kept asking about you and it was hard that I couldn't really answer her where you had disappeared to. She stopped asking in the end and seems to have forgotten all about you," the yellow pony said quietly.
Snow Heart put the cup down and remained silent. It was a bit awkward silence now at the table, neither pony was sure really how to break it. Parasol glanced at the other tables but fortunately none of the other guests seemed to be paying too much attention to them.
hate to admit it, but I had forgotten her too," the Unicorn finally spoke up, recalling when she had almost been run over by the orange filly and her friends.
"She hasn't changed much, still the same little speed demon. Just now armed with a scooter," Parasol chuckled weakly and was glad to see that cracked a smile on her old friend.
"I noticed," Snow Heart finally turned her head fully back to the Pegasus. "I sort of literally ran into them as I was coming into town."
"Oh my, did she happen to be pulling a wagon with two other fillies riding it?" the Pegasus asked and had to hold back laughter when the Unicorn nodded.
"And they had this really charming name for themselves, Cutie Mark Crusaders," the white pony mentioned and giggled slightly.
"That's them alright," Parasol now laughed. "They are literally searching for their cutie marks, doing everything they can think of. You should hear what they did in the bowling alley."
"Dare I ask?" Snow Heart asked but the curiosity in her eyes indicated that she dared.
Parasol opened her mouth to tell the tale but nothing came out. Instead the Pegasus's eyes opened wide in alarm. The Unicorn raised an eyebrow wondering what was going on and was even more confused when her friend began quickly shaking her head as if to signal someone to stop.
Then a voice addressed the white mare that caused her eyes to twitch. Slowly, as a sneer was forming on her snout, Snow Heart turned her head and saw Filthy Rich slowly approaching. The stallion didn't look too good, his mane was unkempt and his eyes shone with tiredness and worry.
"You!" Snow Heart snarled and rose up quickly.
I-I heard you were back
" Mr. Rich said.
"Mr. Rich this really isn't a good
" Parasol began saying but was cut short by the Unicorn.
"Yes I'm back! So what?" the white mare snapped. "Is something wrong with that? Do you have a problem with that? Are you worried that I will do something to your precious little Princess again?"
"No, no, not at all Snow Heart I
" the stallion tried to explain.
"Mr. Rich!" Parasol flew over the table and landed right between him and her friend. Ponies were beginning to crowd around watching the event unfold.
"I know you are having a difficult time right now Mr. Rich but please, she does not want to talk with you," the Pegasus said and stood strategically to prevent either of them to approach one another.
"I-I just wanted to
" the Earth Pony said quietly and cringed when Snow Heart began shouting:
"You have NOTHING to say that I WANT to hear!"
With that Snow Heart turned around to leave. She couldn't get far right away since there were many ponies in her way. But the moment the Unicorn glared at them, they immediately parted to make a path for her.
Parasol took one last sad look at Mr. Rich before flying straight after Snow Heart who was already galloping away. The stallion sighed mournfully and dropped his head; he turned around and headed in the other direction.
"Snow Heart!" Parasol called as she caught up with the white unicorn. "Please don't run away again."
Snow Heart didn't respond at first but she couldn't gallop fast enough to lose a fast flying Pegasus. The Unicorn slowed down her pace until she was trotting, Parasol matched her speed and for a moment the two just continued on in silence.
"Sorry about that," the white pony apologized, the scowl didn't disappear. That was close, I almost blew it.
"No, no it's alright. He did hurt you after all and your anger towards him is understandable," Parasol told her with a friendly smile. "Guess you forgot that he still lives here too."
Not quite, Snow Heart thought and eased up her expression. "I knew I might run into him
just wasn't sure how prepared for it I was."
"He's having some troubles though. His daughter was foalnapped," Parasol explained and shook her head sadly.
"Oh really?" the white mare feigned a surprise.
"Yes, they are still searching for them but nothing's been found yet," the Pegasus continued. "I think he's paid the ransom or at least so I've heard, but I don't know all the details about it."
Hm, he's paid the first payment. Perfect and this little scene at the Café might actually work in my favor too, Snow Heart thought. Maybe I should play along for a little bit. I must admit it's been nice catching up with Parasol. I can't believe I forgot all about Scootaloo.
"Look Parasol, I
I do appreciate your help there and I must admit I have missed my friends here in Ponyville." The Unicorn looked at the Pegasus and smiled faintly.
"And we have missed you." Parasol landed so she could walk beside her friend. "Are you staying somewhere in Ponyville?"
"I hadn't really managed make any arrangement, this trip was rather spontaneous," Snow Heart admitted.
"Not a problem, you can stay in our guestroom as long as you wish. I'm sure Scootaloo will be happy to meet her Snowy again," the Pegasus offered immediately.
"You're too kind," the white pony claimed and on the outside she smiled in relief. Inside the mare was laughing. Looks like the next part of the plan will work wonderfully. Let's just hope the idiots didn't blow it by being spotted.
"We are off the main road, now what?" Scootaloo wondered.
The Crusaders had arrived in Whitetail Woods. They had followed the road through it at first before heading off into the forest itself. The woods were green and thick due to the late spring season and the sun only managed to send some faint glimmers of light through the canopy.
"Look for Claymore Cottage of course," Apple Bloom responded to her friend and climbed out of the wagon. The undergrowth prevented them to use it anymore.
"The wagon will serve as a marker, so we know this is the way back to the main road," Sweetie Belle stated and pushed the wagon to a tree. Scootaloo put her scooter up against it as well.
"Sensible, now let's git searchin'." The Earth Filly nodded and removed her helmet, her friends followed suit.
The girls put their head gear in the wagon before starting off further into the woods. Whitetail Woods was not as thick or dark like Everfree Forest, but it still proved to be a challenge to get through when not walking the roads.
"How can we even be sure we will find anything," Scootaloo grunted and jumped over a gnarled tree root.
"Well we need to search first before we know for sure don't we?" Apple Bloom pointed out.
"I still think this cottage doesn't exist," Sweetie Belle claimed. It didn't matter in what direction she looked in, all the little Unicorn saw were trees.
The yellow filly turned her head towards the white one to respond but instead she walked right into something. Or somepony was more correct, the girl had walked right into a stallion with a light brown coat and darker brown spiky mane and tail. An hourglass cutie mark adorned his flank and he was carrying saddlebags on his back.
"I'm so sorry," the Earth Stallion said with a chuckle. "I didn't see you there."
"Oh it's no trouble," Apple Bloom said and stood back up, having fallen down to sit after the impact.
"Doctor Whooves? What are you doing here?" Sweetie Belle asked, the stallion sighed.
"It's Time Turner
" he muttered. "Why does everypony insist on calling me Doctor Whooves?"
He looked at the three fillies who just stared back at him, waiting for him to answer the question the Unicorn had asked. Time Turner sighed again and wondered if anyone actually cared at all about his real name.
"I'm just collecting plants for my collection." He decided to brush it aside; he had been doing it so far.
"You're a plant collector?" Scootaloo raised an eyebrow.
"Oh it's just a hobby really," the stallion admitted and opened his left saddlebag to show some of the plants in it. "Whitetail Woods is abundant with plants that don't grow elsewhere in Equestria."
"So ya come here often?" Apple Bloom asked.
"First time this year actually," Turner admitted. "Been here all weekend as a matter of fact."
"All weekend? When did you go?" the Pegasus filly inquired.
"Friday morning, why?" the stallion admitted and couldn't but wonder about the surprised expressions coming on the three fillies.
"So you haven't heard about the foalnapping?" Sweetie Belle gasped.
"Foalnapping?" Time Turner blinked and almost regretted asking because all three girls began immediately telling him about it. "Oh my, that doesn't sound good."
"No and everypony is searchin' everywhere. We came here because we think the foalnappers took Diamond Tiara to Claymore Cottage," Apple Bloom explained why the Crusaders where in the forest.
"No, she thinks they are there, we are just with her," Scootaloo corrected immediately.
"And I still say that cottage is just an old pony tale," Sweetie Belle stated.
"Oh Claymore Cottage, it's exist alright. I know where it is," the stallion claimed causing jaw drops in all three fillies. "But I was there on Friday and I didn't see anything out of the ordinary."
Apple Bloom hung her head and groaned in disappointment. Scootaloo rolled her eyes and Sweetie Belle shook her head. The three fillies were about to thank the stallion and turn away, but noticed that the male pony appeared to be considering something.
"Then again I was there Friday around lunch; you said this foalnapping happened in the afternoon. I usually take a circle in my journey and Claymore Cottage is just one of my many points to know I'm going in the right direction. So I haven't been there since then," he explained.
"So it's still possible they are there," Apple Bloom jumped feeling all hopeful again.
"Well I suppose
" Time Turner agreed unsure.
"Can you take us there?" Scootaloo asked and was starting to catch her friend's excitement, now that there was a real possibility that they were getting somewhere with the search.
"We just want to make sure they are there and then we will go right to the guards searching and tell them," Sweetie Belle told him, remembering the original plan of the Crusaders.
"Well I'm not sure it's such a good idea, if those foalnappers are there," the stallion protested.
"We'll be quiet, they won't even know where there and then before they know it, we'll have the entire Canterlot Royal Guard on their door steps," the orange Pegasus declared, then she gasped as an idea hit her. "Wait here I'll get my scooter."
" Time Turner began but Scootaloo was off before he could say more. He looked uncertain down at the other fillies who both grinned eagerly.
"Well Ah'm glad to see ya two are gettin' into this finally," Apple Bloom chuckled at Sweetie Belle.
"But now wait
" the male pony was getting a tad worried about the rising enthusiasm he was witnessing.
"I was only unsure because we had no idea where to begin to search." Scootaloo returned propelling herself on the scooter. It was easier for her to maneuver in the woods now that she didn't need to pull the wagon after her.
" the adult Earth Pony tried again to cut in.
"Yes and I said I would do this too, even if it is kinda dangerous." The Unicorn nodded.
"GIRLS!" Time Turner finally shouted loudly, the fillies immediately looked at him startled.
"Girls, we don't even know yet if these foalnappers are at Claymore Cottage. Even if they are, they probably have a guard about so this could be very dangerous. It would be very irresponsible of me to take you there," he told them sharply. The male pony didn't like the blank look he was receiving from the girls.
"Look I could get my hide tanned if I put you into danger," the stallion claimed.
"But you're already tan," Sweetie Belle said and gestured to him with a hoof.
"That's not tan," Time Turner stated and looked at his coat indignant. "That's light brown or grayish amber
anyway my point is I can't take you somewhere potentially dangerous."
"But we will only take a peek from the bushes, see if anyone is there and then high tail back to Ponyville and get the guards," Apple Bloom told him.
"Yes and I'll be even quicker there on my scooter." Scootaloo grinned and reared her scooter to make the point.
" the stallion began protesting again.
"Pleaaaaaase?" all three fillies put on their most endearing faces and cutest smiles.
"This is all going to end in tears, I just know it," the brown Earth Pony muttered before he finally relented. "Alright, alright!"
"Yay!" the girls shouted in unison.
"But we are only going to Claymore Cottage to take a quick look, if there is anyone there we are not approaching," Time Turner reminded them.
"Cutie Mark Crusaders Foal Rescuers are go!" the fillies shouted and rushed off past the stallion.
"Wait, wait!" the male pony shouted and ran after them. "It's the other direction!"
Paul groaned as he twisted and turned on the floor, his head banged on the wall. He yelped and rolled himself to the other direction. Slowly the Gryphon rose to sit. Just about every spot on his body stung and hurt. He felt for his face and learned he had lost the glass eye in the fight.
"When I get my hands on that
" Paul slowly glanced at Silver Axe who as usual sat by the dresser. The large Pegasus didn't look too impressed. "Where is she?"
Axe looked at Diamond Tiara before he began tapping on the floor. The stallion was taking full advantage that he actually had a translator for his hoof signals. He was though still on guard just in case the filly tried to be smart and mistranslate on purpose.
"I knocked her out and then sent her floating away on a cloud. Someone is bound to find her eventually," Tiara translated. She had already figured that since Silver Axe had treated her kindly she might as well return the favor. The girl was kind of amused at Paul's predicament, even if the fight hadn't ended in her rescue from her prison.
"You let her go?!" Paul shouted but regretted it almost immediately; a sharp pain in his head told him that loud noises were not an option. He groaned and grabbed his head in his talons.
To the question Silver Axe only shrugged and watched the Gryphon mutter and groan in his corner. The stallion rose up shaking his head. With a quick signal he told Tiara that he was going out to the well. Despite its age it still produced drinkable water.
The Pegasus walked past Paul who just lay flat on the ground with his talons wrapped tightly around his head. The Gryphon didn't say anything, just groaned. Axe opened the door to the cottage and headed out. He walked around to get to the old stone well beside the left side of the building.
The pony grabbed a bucket in his mouth and made sure the rope was still attached to it. He then threw it down the well and could hear faint splash as it hit the water below. Axe began pulling the rope up, using his front hooves to keep the rope from slipping back down. The bucket was almost up when the stallion thought he heard something.
Silver Axe stopped his work and looked around. Seeing nothing he grabbed the bucket handle and pulled the bucked out and put it down on the ground. The Pegasus glanced around again, almost certain that he had heard something. A suspicious frown came on him and he spread his wings to take into air. The pony didn't go too high but enough so he could glide towards where the sound came from.
He couldn't land too softly due to his weight, but the stallion acted quickly enough to push away the bush he had dropped down in front of. The Pegasus narrowed his eyes on the four startled and surprised ponies hiding behind it.
" Time Turner gulped and grinned nervously. Slowly the Earth Pony gestured to his saddle bags. "Um I'm selling these fine snack plants?"
End Chapter 9.