Chapter 1: The Royal Messenger
1 The Royal Messenger
Sapphire was so excited that she couldn’t stop moving. It felt like her hooves were filled with dancing beans. She dashed among her fellow first years of Unicorn University, making sure everyone was ready to go. They were all gathered together on the Looping Lawn, under the two tallest oak trees. The large knobbly branches stretched out far above them, covering the rainbow cluster of unicorn students.
Sapphire noticed that the sun was lower in the sky. She straightened her shoulders and shook her long, braided blue mane. “Okay!” she shouted to get everyone’s attention. “Let’s get into our places. Shamrock, Firefly, you guys head across the field to make sure the banner is high enough so that Fairy Green can see it when she flies in.”
Shamrock, a mint-green colt and one of Sapphire’s closest friends, nodded so enthusiastically that his large, black-rimmed glasses went crooked. Using her horn, Sapphire straightened them for him and then held out a large conch shell on a string. “I borrowed this from gym class. Just yell into it, and we’ll be able to hear you from across the lawn.” Shamrock slipped his horn through the string and straightened his neck so that the string fell down around his shoulders.
“Wow, cool, just like Coach Ruby!” said Firefly, a red-and-gold unicorn.
Sapphire watched Shamrock and Firefly run across the field. She still couldn’t believe they were all going to meet a real fairy tomorrow. Fairies lived throughout the five kingdoms, but as royal messengers they usually only appeared to deliver important notes or news. So you didn’t meet them unless you were someone super important. But when Sapphire’s teacher, Professor Sherbet, had heard that her close friend Fairy Green was traveling through Sunshine Springs for the annual Fairy Gathering, the professor had asked if her friend could stop by to talk to the first-year students.
Ever since she was little, Sapphire had wanted to travel the five kingdoms. Growing up by the ocean, she’d seen ships travel by from all over the world. She would spend hours at her bedroom window, wondering where they were going and why. But the ships were always just out of reach, close enough to dream about but too far away for Sapphire to talk to anyone on board. So she couldn’t help but feel like this meeting with Fairy Green was the start of something very big. As her good friend Twilight would say, it felt like pixies were dancing in her stomach.
It was time for stage two of the Welcome Plan. Sapphire turned to a snow-white unicorn with a red-and-white striped mane named Peppermint, and to a three-legged gray unicorn named Storm. “Okay. Is the banner ready?” Sapphire asked.
The banner certainly looked ready. Sapphire marveled at how Peppermint and Storm had managed to arrange the flowers so that they spelled out WELCOME TO UU, FAIRY GREEN! They used bright flowers for the letters and green plants for the background. Sapphire noticed that all the flowers had the same shimmer. Curious, she leaned in closer.
“I used my ability with weather to make it shine like that,” Storm said proudly. “I protected the morning dew so it wouldn’t dry up with the sun.”
“Great work, Storm,” Sapphire said with a nod of approval.
Peppermint scoffed and flipped her mane. “Well, I used my weaving ability to knit the flowers all together. We wouldn’t even have a banner without me,” she whined.
“Oh, it’s really glitter-tastic! You guys make a fantastic team!” Comet assured her. Sapphire nudged her rose-colored friend with her flank. Comet was always so positive and encouraging. She always made everyone feel like they were part of things, like they belonged. Sapphire loved that about Comet.
“It’s absolutely perfect,” Sapphire agreed.
Peppermint and Storm grinned and tapped their horns together in a high-U.
“Okay, Comet,” Sapphire said. “You’re up next!”
Comet had woven fairy’s thread through her mane, and it glittered in the bright afternoon sun. But despite all the sparkle, Comet suddenly seemed rather dull. Her eyebrows were scrunched and her mouth twisted to the side. It was a look that was certainly unusual for cheerful Comet.
“What’s wrong?” Sapphire asked, her own eyebrows arching with concern.
Comet hoofed the grass beneath her. “It’s just, well, I’m nervous about my part. I’m sure I can fly up to the top of the trees, no problem, and I bet I can manage to tie the ropes to the trees. Just… what if I can’t get back down again?”
Comet had the gift of flight, but she was still learning and had a hard time with her landings. She almost never made it back down without a teacher to help. But they had all agreed to enact the Welcome Plan on their own, no grown-ups allowed.
Sapphire smiled at her sparkly friend. She knew just what to do.
“Peppermint!” Sapphire called—perhaps a little too loudly. Peppermint was right next to her, after all. “Could you weave some ivy around Comet?”
“Um, totes. That’s so easy,” Peppermint said with her signature mane flip. The red-and-white strands of her mane twisted and twirled together like a bunch of little candy canes. Sapphire couldn’t help but admire it.
“Great,” Sapphire said. “How about you wrap ivy around Comet’s waist, and leave a lot of extra so I can hold one end while Comet flies up to the trees. Then, Comet, when you’re ready, we’ll just pull you back down again!”
A huge smile with bright pink dimples immediately replaced Comet’s frown. “Let’s do this!” she cheered.
“Woo-hoo!” Sapphire joined in, followed by enthusiastic whoops from Peppermint and Storm.
Before long the beautiful banner was hung between the oak trees. After finding the right height, Shamrock and Firefly ran over to the group.
The unicorns admired their work. Sapphire was proud of her classmates for pulling it all off. She thought about her own first day at Unicorn University and the rainbow banner that had welcomed the first year students. She wanted to make sure Fairy Green felt just as welcome.
“And now for the final step,” Sapphire said. “Twilight, do you have the Spotlight Flowers?”
Twilight was another one of Sapphire’s best friends, and she had the gift of invisibility. Spotlight Flowers were found only in one patch of field on campus, and from afar you could see their giant heads lifting up and casting beams of different-colored lights. Students loved to go up to the Magic Meadow to watch the Spotlight Flowers in the evening, as the flowers seemed to respond to each other and it was like watching lights dance. But whenever anyone got close, the flowers would curl up and disguise themselves as weeds, making it impossible to tell which was the disguised Spotlight Flower and which was a regular old weed.
That was, until Sapphire and Comet had hatched a plan. It had taken some convincing to get Twilight and Shamrock on board, but eventually they’d figured out that Twilight’s invisibility allowed her to sneak into the fields so that the flowers wouldn’t know a thing. When Sapphire had dreamt up the welcome banner, she’d known just how to make sure Fairy Green would see the banner even if she flew in at night. The Spotlight Flowers would make the perfect royal welcome. Luckily, Twilight had agreed to gather a basketful of the special plants to replant under the big oak trees.
But looking around now, Sapphire couldn’t see Twilight anywhere. Oh no, Sapphire worried. Is Twilight stuck invisible again?