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Weather Manifesto: Chapter 3: Dark Times

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Row after row of empty administrative offices only amplified the dread growing in Ink Well's chest. Ditzy was nowhere to be found, and what's worse, there wasn't a single pony to ask. No matter where he looked, this wing of the factory was completely empty. How could there not be a single pony in all of these offices? It's a facade! There's obviously something dangerous going on here, and what did you do? Drag Ditzy into it! Brilliant! If you'd just-

Ink Well's train of self deprecation came crashing to a halt at the next hall when the sound of exertion made itself heard. He ducked into the nearest office, watching through the askew door as two burly guard ponies carried a lumpy package wrapped in white down the hall, followed by an aged pure white stallion, who smiled warmly and offered words of confidence to the younger workers. It may have just been him being paranoid, but Ink Well couldn't help but think that their burden was oddly pony shaped...

Careful to keep himself hidden, he watched them continue down the hall, only slipping from his spot when they threatened to exit his sight. They didn't once notice him, keeping focused on their task as they followed the hallway all the way to the far end before turning. As soon as they were gone, Ink Well was in action. He flew the way they came, scanning the hall for a clue, anything. He had a horrible hunch that he knew exactly what was in their mysterious package, but he hoped with every fibre of his being that he was wrong. Fairly soon he spotted what he was looking for: a bright red spot on the stone flooring.

It was just as he feared, blood, still fresh and soaked into the cloud beneath. There was a trail that slid into the office across the hall, owned by Prof. Ozone. The same one from Rainbow's story, I'd guess. The factory director? He must have his hooves in many pies to be able to speak for the Wonderbolts.

He quickly pulled his mind from that thought, putting it to work on more pressing matters. He had found blood, damning evidence wherever it was, but he still had a missing pony to find. He needed a solid clue for her, something like her bag or her hat or...

A glint of the light caught his eye as he moved, bringing it to about a dozen small pieces of crystal littering the floor. They were spread out, scattered from the door behind him, as though they'd been thrown or hit against something. Further inspection made small flecks of blood on some of the larger pieces show up, meaning that this was probably the weapon, whatever it was, but it wasn't until one final clue was found that Ink Well was sure.

There, stuck beneath the largest chunk of bloodied crystal, a blonde hair stared accusingly at him.

He turned tail and flew down the hallway, the sight of that single hair enough to send his pulse skyward as he chased the three ponies from earlier. He was too late... He was too late and there was no telling what would happen now that she-

No! She was fine. Well, not fine, but injured, nothing more. Sure, that's bad, heck, that's horrible, but that's still better than the alternative. All he had to so was keep her safe, and to do that, he had to save her. Luckily he remembered where those other ponies had turned off.

Banking sharply at the next hall, Ink Well noticed where they'd gone and stopped, wings snapping sharply to his sides and causing him to tumble awkwardly to a halt. They had taken her into Processing, which wouldn't have stopped him were it not for the addition of a guard to his pathway. This one was new, bright, and savvy to all of the rules in the book, if the air of how he carried himself were anything to go by.

That was a problem. He'd be looking for ponies to bust, not average workers; the psychic would give Ink Well away in an instant. Without that his costume was nothing, and since that was the only door he'd seen, sneaking wasn't exactly an option either. Angrily he backed up, appraising the situation for all possible outcomes. There were none that would end well, which unnerved him, but not nearly as much as the feeling of each second ticking by painfully slowly. Time moved agonizingly slowly as he waited for the guard to flinch or droop or yawn or anything that would give him a chance to get by.

But none came. After a minute that felt like an hour, Ink Well turned around, panic setting in as he ran back into the administrative section. Ditzy needed him, and he needed help. He ran down a few random halls, fear getting the best of him, before stopping and forcing himself against a wall to calm down. Stop! Right now! Panic will get you nowhere. Think clearly. You found Ditzy, now all you need to do is rescue her, and for that you need help. Who can help you that is in this building? In an instant he knew the answer.

Mind clear and goal set, Ink Well set off in search of Rainbow Dash.

----

The barren administrative section was completely silent, and even with a goal in mind, panic was growing in his chest once more. He'd already tried the records room, empty after his hasty departure, and random searching through the halls had been fruitless. The lack of ponies, suspicious before, had suddenly grown menacing, and the similarity of hall after hall of identical offices only added to the maze of thoughts addling his mind. Through each twist and turn, him mind was focused on one task: find Rainbow Dash. If anypony could explain or help, it would be her.

A flash of colour caught his eye, a rainbow shining out against the white and grey of the stone walls and floors. Immediately Ink Well ran after it, biting his tongue to hold back from calling out. If it wasn't Dash, he'd have to at least act calm while asking for her, which drawing unneeded attention to himself wouldn't allow for. Turning the corner, he saw the colourful phantasm disappear into a door. He ran to it, composed himself, and stepped through, ready for anything.

"Find whatever you were looking for, Inks?" Sitting behind a mountain of paperwork was Rainbow Dash, a confident smile on her face despite his intrusion.

Immediately Ink Well's shoulders dropped, releasing his cool act and letting his nerves show. "Rainbow, I need your help."

The smile faded as she saw his expression, his worry infectious. "With what?"

"I need to get into Processing."

Rainbow shook her head, shifting her focus to the paper in front of her. "No can do Ink Well, sorry."

What little relief that had been building up from her forthcoming help vanished as Ink Well stared at her. "Huh?"

Rainbow reiterated, her attention still on the paper before her. "I said I can't help you."

Ink Well could feel both frustration and worry building up within him, but he did his best to keep it at bay, channeling it into a piercing look he struck Rainbow with. "Why not?"

Instead of caving, Rainbow got aggressive under his stare, leaning over her desk. "Let's start with 'I work here and I'm going to be in serious trouble if you get found out already, so I'm not gonna push it trying to get you in deeper.'"

Anger flared up inside Ink Well, causing him to get into her face. "Is a little trouble seriously going to stop you? Weren't you the one reminiscing about the Equirer? What's changed since then, Dash?"

She looked him straight in the eyes, unwavering. "How about you? Weren't you the one worried about backlash? Anyway, it's not like I'd do any good. I don't even have clearance for that wing yet."

Ink Well huffed, turning away from the desk. "Probably the only pony in this whole factory."

The fur on the back of Rainbow's neck bristled. "What was that?"

Ink Well started to wander around the office, gesturing vaguely with a wing as he spoke. "Well, a hundred empty offices, all the ponies have to be going somewhere, makes sense they'd be there. You must really be a nopony to be the last one stuck."

Rainbow began hovering over her desk, a frown set on her face. "You take that back! I'm the biggest thing to hit this factory in a hundred years, Ozone said so. I just need to prove I can deal with the paperwork before I can deal with the real stuff." Ink Well shrugged, causing her to rear back, almost preparing for a charge. "What, you think I'm a liar?"

"No, but I'm pretty sure he is." He spun around, staring her down where she hovered in the air. "I'm going to make three little assumptions about what I've seen. One: Ozone is the old white stallion in charge of this place. Two: he said you need to work on this paperwork, which is nothing but the transferring of 'Raw Materials' to Processing, with nothing at all to do with the weather. Three: the only ponies other than you who actually use these offices are you and those little actors out front. Sound about right?" Rainbow continued to hover defensively, but a hint of doubt in her eyes confirmed his suspicions. "Don't you think it's a little odd? There must be more workers than they could ever need in this factory, why would they need a talented flyer like you for simple weather control? What could they be hiding?"

Rainbow's frustration flowed through every fibre of her being. "Why can't you accept that I work for this factory? I'm no flyer, I'm a factory technician!"

"You're a racer, not an accountant, Rainbow! Is this really what you dreamed for your life?"

"Stop it!" Rainbow tackled him to the floor, rage burning in her eyes. "Don't you talk to me about dreams. Some dreams aren't meant to be."

Ink Well just looked at her coldly from where he was pinned beneath her. "Is that really what you think?"

Rainbow glared at him a moment longer, analyzing his face to avoid thinking about the question. Eventually she pushed off of him, standing back up and facing away to collect her thoughts. "What do you even need in Processing that's so important?"

"Ditzy."

Rainbow turned back around, thinking it was some sort of joke, but the serious look on Ink Well's face stopped her. "What? What is she doing in there?"

"Ozone and two guards attacked her and dragged her in there, and I don't want to imagine what they'd be doing..."

Rainbow shook her head in disbelief, the picture of the kind old stallion coming to mind, his perpetual smile and joyous blue eyes completely conflicting with what she'd just heard. "No way, Ozone couldn't hurt a fly."

"I can show you the blood stain." Silence hung in the room as both ponies studied the other, unwilling to speak until everything fell in line in their mind. Eventually, Ink Well took a step forward, his demeanor remaining dark. "Rainbow, Ozone isn't telling you something, and you can't keep blindly following without asking why. What are the 'Raw Materials?' What's going on in Processing? I know you must be asking yourself the same. I have spent months discovering what happens when a pony doesn't act on her suspicions. Somepony gets hurt. Somepony already has been."

After a long pause, Rainbow sighed, resignation in her voice as her deliberations finished. "What do you want me to do?"

"Just distract the guard. I'll take care of the rest."

----

A throbbing pain in the back of her head was the first sensation Ditzy Doo felt, groggily pulling her back to consciousness, though her vision wouldn't have told her as much. She looked around, blinking a few times to make sure her eyes were open, but they weren't lying to her. It really was pitch black, wherever she was. And oddly fuzzy... She shook her head to clear it, only to be rewarded with a fresh stab of pain, which caused her to fall back to the ground, eyes clenched shut and forehooves wrapped around her ringing head.

When finally the sensation dulled a little she was able to take in a few more details about her surroundings. The air reeked of strong chemicals and... something. It was powerful and distinctive, yet she couldn't put her hoof on that stench. What she could put her hoof on was a slightly squishy, fuzzy floor, like a carpet on a mud patch. She poked at it a few times in various places and was rewarded with varying firmness, from stone hard to jelly soft. The fuzz was poking into her side, which it shouldn't have been if her uniform was still on, so... She felt a little bit of disgust rising in her throat as she realized Ozone must have taken it off of her. That horrid pegasus had knocked her out, taken her clothes off, and dragged her into this smelly, muggy, stuffy room, all because she'd given him a package! Imagine what he must do to ponies he hated... Well, one thing was clear: wherever she was, it wasn't somewhere she wanted to stay.

Just as the ringing in Ditzy's head stopped and she was beginning to consider getting up again, a sound perked her ear, a sound a mother could recognize in an instant: a little foal was crying. It was echo-y and metallic, giving the room a small, circular feeling with the way it bounced, but as the only sound it was clear as day, and it was calling out to her.

Slowly she lifted herself up, but all of her limbs felt like weights and her head protested, causing her to groan in pain. In response there was a gasp, the cries quieting, replaced instead by fearful whimpering. The foal must have been scared out of its mind, which wasn't helping Ditzy at all with managing her own unease. Still, she powered through it, willing her heavy limbs to move across the uneven, mushy ground towards the source of the crying. Maybe she was alone in a dark room, unsure of how she got there or what would happen, but so was that foal, and that was no state for somepony so young.

It took a few moments, and even with the short distance Ditzy stumbled more than once in the dark, but eventually she was right in front of the foal, who backed up and whimpered at the pony in front of it. Ditzy reached out a hoof, eliciting a frightened squeak and a new wave of crying from the tiny form. The sound tugged at her heartstrings, pleading for all of this scariness to go away, something Ditzy wished she could do. In an effort to comfort it, she knelt down, bringing her face to where she thought its was and smiling gently, hoping it came across. "Shh, shh, shh. It's okay. I don't want to hurt you, I just don't want to be alone in the dark either."

The crying calmed a little at that, the foal no longer trying to keep its distance from Ditzy, though it was still sniffling and trembling in the dark. Unwilling to let that continue, Ditzy pulled herself over to the foal, wrapping her legs and wings around it in a hug. She felt the form jump at first, then lean into her, hesitantly accepting the show of affection. Ditzy just redoubled her efforts, trying to make the hug as comforting as possible.

At that the foal burst into tears once more, wailing and nuzzling into Ditzy's chest. Ditzy just pulled it closer, rocking slowly and cooing to the bundle in her hooves. "There, there. You'll be alright. We'll get out of here soon enough..." Eventually her words got through, the crying lowering to a sob, then a whimper, then some trembling, and finally just a little bit of sniffling.

Ditzy was content to sit in the dark like this, but the foal couldn't possibly be enjoying it, and during the hug a horn had poked her in the cheek more than once, identifying a unicorn in this dark cell amongst the clouds. When it was calm, she pulled back slightly, just enough to look hopefully face to face at the foal before her. "Do you know a spell that can make some light?" she asked as kindly as she could.

The foal wiped a tear from its eye, then spoke for the first time since Ditzy had awoken. "I... I tried one earlier, but I just couldn't..." It was a filly's voice, warbling and threatening to break into tears once more.

Ditzy gave her a quick hug, trying to edge some of that sadness from the voice. "It's okay. I know it's scary in here, but just try your best. I'm sure you can do it."

The unicorn filly nodded, then started to focus. After a few seconds, a small lavender glow formed around the filly's horn, which condensed at the tip before changing to a bright yellow. It wavered for a moment, but another encouraging squeeze from Ditzy brought it back even stronger, brightening it until it lit up Ditzy, the filly, and a little of the room around them. Ditzy kept her eyes on the filly, smiling and encouraging her the whole time. "There we go! That's great! I knew you could do it!"

When the spell was cast, the lavender coated filly breathed hard, her blonde mane swishing on her head as she tried to get find air amid the nasty stench. When finally she had, she smiled, looking up at Ditzy with bright golden eyes. A moment later her eyes widened, a look of unbridled joy and surprise appearing on her face. "Mommy!?"

Ditzy's own eyes had widened, welling with tears of joy at the sight as the light had come up. "Muffin!" Both ponies came together, their embrace tighter than ever. The love radiating off of them was palpable, heating the entire chamber as they tried to express how much they'd missed each other over the months of separation. Both of them nuzzled together, words unable to explain their happiness. She may have been so much larger than Ditzy had remembered, and so much better at magic than before, but there was no questioning it. The filly in her arms was Dinky, her own little Muffin, and nothing was ever going to separate them again. Just seeing that face had been enough to affirm that, a sight more precious than Celestia's light after her time spent in the dark.

As soon as that thought crossed her mind, Ditzy's eyes opened, the joy within them tempered by fear. What was Dinky doing up in the Weather Factory? And the question remained, where were they? She scanned the room, unable to comprehend the sight. They were in a cold steel cylinder, quite a bit higher than she was tall, though the top was hard to see in the dim light. Occasionally a drop of green liquid dripped from the ceiling, pattering against the floor and adding just a little more strength to the chemical smell in the room.

The floor, though, was what churned Ditzy's stomach. It was a mass of ponies: unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies, laying in a jumbled mess that comprised the ground. And every one of them was completely still. Some looked like they were sleeping, peaceful, calm, even a slight smile on their face, but others... they stared blankly, endlessly, with eyes that screamed only one thing, their faces locked in a rictus of pain and fear. And they were all around the reunited family, accusing eyes cursing their happiness.

Ditzy's mind tried to shut down at the sight, the thought that she had walked on, and fallen into, the mess bringing bile to the back of her mouth. But she suppressed it all; the shut down, the bile, the horror; and tried to think rationally, fear for the daughter happily nuzzling her chest her driving force. "Dinky, can you turn down your light spell?"

Dinky pulled back, causing a small heart attack in Ditzy that was stopped when the two made eye contact. "But why? It was so dark before, I don't want to go back to that..." Dinky's head started to drift downwards, but Ditzy stopped that, placing a hoof beneath her chin and gently lifting it back to look at her.

She forced a smile, focusing on her daughter's face and not the one grimacing just behind her. "I just don't want you to get tired, Muffin, and if you're using less magic, you won't tire out as quickly."

Dinky smiled innocently. "But I'm not tired at all mom! And it's been so long, I don't want to not be able to see you..."

Ditzy's heart warmed at that, even as she applied a little more pressure to keep Dinky from looking down. "I'm not asking you to turn it off, just to dim it a little, okay?" She then hugged her close again, pressing her close to her heart. "I promise I'm not going anywhere."

Dinky leaned out of it, comforted by the gesture, and agreed. "Okay..." She then closed her eyes, and slowly the light level faded, dropping until it only lit up the two ponies' faces. After that, Dinky opened her eyes again. "How's that?"

Ditzy smiled, hugging Dinky close again. "That's perfect, Muffin." Yet, even with them in the dark, she could feel all those ponies around her, staring, crying for help that she just couldn't give. What kind of horrible place are we in? She looked back down, ruffling Dinky's hair with a hoof, but the feeling of dread just would not leave.
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Thing have gotten rather dark...

But brighter times lie ahead.


Both for me as a writer and for our heroes. I may have lulled with all the stuff in school and my own issues with the chapter, but no longer.

Thank you for your patience, and have a wonderful day.
© 2012 - 2022 Medicshy
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Pinkeepiper's avatar
How the hay is Dinky sitting on a cloud? Who cast a cloud-walking spell on her?