Author's note: This is a sequel to an earlier story of mine, "Petriculture." I highly recommend reading that story first. It can be found here.
As the last guest filed out of the palace’s great hall, Pinkie Pie finally allowed herself to sit down on her haunches. “Ugh... that was so boring.” It was like the Grand Galloping Gala, but worse: despite how dull the Gala had been, at least she’d been allowed to try and liven things up a bit. This was different, however: this was a gathering meant to welcome some high-profile diplomats from the Griffon Kingdom for some sort of trade negotiations, and thus there had been very strict rules of decorum to follow, since offended diplomats tended to be difficult to work with.
It was the sort of responsibility that Pinkie had never expected would come with being the Element of Laughter. Technically, the position carried no ceremonial duties, but for this gathering, all the technicalities were being ignored. Apparently, the logic went as follows: the Elements of Harmony were important ponies, which meant that their presence made this event an important party, and because the important party was being held for the diplomats, that implied that they were important, and it was super-important for important diplomats to feel important (especially when they were griffons).
However, all the efforts to avoid offending the guests of honor couldn’t make up for the fact that Pinkie was starting to feel offended by the idea that this snoozefest could be referred to as an actual “party.” Plus, as she’d tried to explain, there wasn’t much point in letting the Element of Laughter attend a party when she wasn’t even allowed to make anypony laugh. The Equestrian diplomatic team responded by giving her a list of preapproved jokes which were guaranteed not to cause any of the griffons to storm out of the room in a huff.
Of course, Pinkie Pie also thought that referring to these alleged witticisms as “jokes” was really stupid, since in her opinion, jokes were supposed to be funny. For example, the first one on the list went as follows: “Why did the griffon cross the road? Because there was an annoying twit trying to have a stupid conversation with her on the sidewalk when she had better things to do.” Still, when Pinkie had tried that one out on the head diplomat, he had burst into uproarious guffaws (which only reinforced her conviction that griffons had a really weird sense of humor).
Her only consolation had been that she hadn’t had to suffer alone, as her friends had also been dragged into this pit of tediousness along with her. Even Rarity, who had a much higher tolerance for this kind of soirée than the others, had tired very quickly of it, mostly because she had been placed in line immediately after Pinkie. She was therefore required to listen to each of Pinkie’s “jokes” twice, since the immediate repetition of a bon mot to someone else was considered to be a high form of praise in griffon culture. But at least Rarity could take some solace in the fact that she had an excuse to wear the Element of Generosity for the entire evening. In fact, all of Pinkie’s friends were wearing their respective magical necklaces (or tiara, in the case of Twilight Sparkle), because they were the closest things they had to uniforms, and griffons were generally impressed by uniforms.
“I presume you’ve had a long day?”
The pink earth pony twisted her head around to see Luna, Princess of the Night, standing over her with a bemused look on her face. She sighed as she flopped onto her back. “I guess you could say that. I never thought that I’d be so happy that a party had ended before.”
“Surely, you are exaggerating.”
“No, I’m not,” Pinkie replied.
“No... indeed you are not, for if it were otherwise, you would doubtless have exhorted me to refrain from referring to you as ‘Shirley.’”
“I can’t ever remember being so bored in my life.”
“Have you tried using your imagination to make things more interesting?”
“Yeah, but it didn’t really work very well.”
“Truly? I would think that of all ponies your imagination would be the most vibrant.”
“Just because I used to be an imaginary friend, that doesn’t mean I’m actually good at using my own imagination. After all, when I lived in Twilight’s head, she did all the pretending for me.” This was true enough—in fact, if it hadn’t been for her stunningly lame imagination, Twilight Sparkle probably never would have questioned her made-up cutie mark story in the first place. “I mean, when you’re an imaginary friend, you don’t really need to imagine how the real world would be, you know, different. You just change things in the pretend world, and see what happens. It’s like when I tried to make imaginary friends of my own; I couldn’t figure out what they might look like, since I had problems with making changes without actually being able to see what it would look like in the real world. So, I just grabbed a bunch of stuff that I found around Sugarcube Corner, and just made up some personalities to go with them.”
“Very interesting.... And may I ask why you desired imaginary friends?”
“I... I thought I needed them at the time. I don’t really like talking about it very much.”
“I see. Well, be that as it may, I am certain your life has been made easier now that you no longer need to obscure your genesis.”
This particular assertion was quite true. As Pinkie Pie explained to the Princess, she and her friends had decided that the best course of action would be for her to inform all of the ponies who needed to know about her past—specifically, the Cakes, the staff at the Ponyville Hospital, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders, whom the earth pony felt were owed her actual cutie mark story. As far as everypony else was concerned, Pinkie neither publicized nor hid her history, informing only those ponies who politely asked her about her origins. The usual reaction to this information was a few seconds of shock, generally followed by immediate acceptance. In this, Mr. Cake’s response had been fairly typical: “That... explains a lot, actually.”
Unsurprisingly, there was no perceivable change in the relationships Pinkie Pie had with her closest friends, with the possible exception of the ones who lived in the town library. The few times Pinkie had tried to refer to Twilight Sparkle as her “mother” had gained her little more than the unicorn’s mild irritation. Upon learning this, Rainbow Dash had naturally encouraged her friend to continue, until Twilight reminded the pegasus that she could be thought of as the earth pony’s metaphorical father. Still, the librarian seemed willing to let Pinkie Pie refer to her assistant as her twin brother, if only because Spike seemed to be quite enamored of the idea of having a twin sister.
Perhaps the most noticeable change, however, was the sudden boost in Pinkie Pie’s willingness to talk about ideas that were much more cerebral than the planning and staging of parties, brought about by the fact that she no longer felt any need to hide her ability to do so in the first place. She had, after all, been created to be Twilight Sparkle’s friend, and the unicorn’s ideal friend would no doubt be somepony with whom she could share an intelligent conversation about her often esoteric interests. That, however, didn’t make it any less surprising when Pinkie’s friends realized that she was just as intelligent as her creator; the earth pony simply had a smaller knowledge base, since her attention had always been more focused on making friends with others, rather than studying facts and data.
This, however, suited Twilight just fine; she now had somepony with whom she could discuss the finer intricacies of magic, because even if Pinkie Pie wasn’t acquainted with all the minutiae, she still had a firmer grasp of magical theory than the overwhelming majority of other earth ponies (and pegasi and unicorns, for that matter). Granted, the pink pony rarely used technical terms in these discussions—she still referred to Twilight’s instruments as “science-y stuff”—but it was enough to give the unicorn the confidence to renew her studies of her friend’s unique abilities.
Indeed, the pair had already made several important contributions to the burgeoning field of Pinkiology. To begin with, they had firmly established that Pinkie Pie was an earth pony (physiologically speaking) and that she could and did use earth pony magic. Second, her more unusual abilities, such as her Pinkie Sense, didn’t appear to use any variety of magic that was detectable by current methods, although Twilight had posited a possible connection between Pinkie’s ability to pop out of all sorts of random places and her own exceptional teleportation skills.
However, the most glaring question of all still remained unanswered: How had Pinkie Pie left Twilight Sparkle’s mind in the first place? Obviously, the burst of magical power that had flooded through the unicorn’s body after Rainbow Dash’s first Sonic Rainboom had something to do with it, but the actual means by which a white pegasus in Twilight’s head had appeared as a pink earth pony on the outskirts of Ponyville eluded all attempts at explanation. In recent weeks, it seemed to be affecting the unicorn’s behavior, as her enthusiasm began taking on the obsessive qualities that had caused her so many problems in the past. Still, despite the setbacks, Twilight seemed quite certain that a solution would present itself—it was just a matter of knowing where to look.
Pinkie Pie had just finished explaining this to Luna when her Pinkie Sense suddenly kicked in. It was the sort of thing she would have ordinarily called a “doozy,” except that the word “doozy” didn’t accurately represent how completely and utterly wrong it felt. It started with a weird tingling in her spine that rapidly pulsated from her neck to her tail, making it seem like her backbone had a severe case of nausea. From there, it spread downward towards her hooves, giving them that “pins and needles” feeling that she got whenever she slept on her legs wrong, and upward towards her ears, which began feeling uncomfortably hot, as though they were locked in tiny saunas. And when the bizarre sensation had finally passed, the earth pony was left with a disgusting aftertaste in her mouth, like moldy strawberries topped with sour cream.
This wasn’t the first time it had happened: that had been several months ago, soon after Twilight had begun investigating Pinkie’s manifestation in earnest. However, the sensations had never been this strong before. She hadn’t yet figured out what they meant. Her first thought was that it was because Cranky Doodle Donkey had actually shown up at one of her parties, but that theory had to be junked when it recurred a week later. Besides, as far as she was concerned, Cranky showing up at a party was a good thing, and Pinkie Pie couldn’t see how this could be anything but bad.
She looked around the grand hall, now almost entirely empty save for her friends and Princess Luna. Well, all but one of her friends. “Hey, guys?” she suddenly asked. “Where’s Twilight?”
“She an’ Princess Celestia went off ta talk about somethin’ or other,” Applejack replied. “Knowin’ Twi, it’s prob’ly some sorta obscure magic thing.”
That might have been an acceptable explanation, were it not for the fact that Pinkie already knew what the conversation was about; earlier, Twilight had told her that she was hoping that a conversation with her mentor would break whatever mental logjam was preventing her from cracking the code of Pinkie Pie’s existence. It certainly didn’t seem like a proper doozy... but given how bad this one felt, the earth pony eventually decided that she couldn’t risk being wrong.
“Guys? We need to find Twilight. Now.”
The subsequent search of the royal castle proved fruitless—after searching every room, corridor, nook, and cranny in the vast building, there was no sign of Twilight Sparkle or Princess Celestia to be found. Pinkie Pie even managed to coax Luna into checking her sister’s bedroom, only to learn that it, too, was empty. This, however, did nothing to discourage the pink earth pony, who was growing increasingly convinced that the mega-doozy meant that something was wrong with Twilight, and the rest of her friends were simply swept along in the current.
It wasn’t too long before Pinkie hit upon the idea of checking the Canterlot Library, since the abundance of resources available there made it an ideal place for two scholars to discuss magical theory. She and her friends raced towards the building, pausing only briefly to allow Princess Luna to raise the moon before beginning their search anew. It didn’t take long before they heard the sound of two familiar voices raised in heated conversation emanating from a small study near the Star Swirl the Bearded wing. As the ponies entered, Twilight Sparkle was in the middle of a discussion about magic with Princess Celestia, which, in and of itself, was not particularly unusual. What was unusual was how confrontational the librarian was being with her mentor.
“Can’t you at least give me a starting point?”
“I’m sorry, Twilight, but that’s just not possible.”
“What’s going on?” Pinkie Pie asked as the remaining ponies filed in behind her.
Celestia sighed as she realized that the disagreement she’d been having with her student had attracted spectators. “Twilight Sparkle’s continued research into your sudden manifestation has stalled, and for whatever reason, she refuses to believe that I am unable to help her.” Her voice had a somewhat weary tone, as if she was getting a little tired of making the same excuse over and over.
“There must be something you can do!” her student insisted. “You know more about magic than anypony else I know.”
“And yet I do not know everything. Twilight, perhaps you should set this matter aside for a few weeks. Your anxiousness is clouding your judgement.”
“This is too important. If I can figure out how I made Pinkie Pie appear in the real world, it could revolutionize magical theory.”
“Indeed it would, which is why I probably would have begun investigating the matter myself, were it not for the fact that I haven’t the faintest idea where to begin.”
“But... but there must be an explanation....”
“I know that you’re frustrated, Twilight, but I assure you that I know nothing about the matter that can help you.”
“Oh, come on, don’t give me that! You have to know something about how I manifested Pinkie Pie. You did the same thing when you created Discord, didn’t you?!”
Celestia froze on the spot as her eyes widened in shock. “What did you say, Twilight?”
The unicorn’s breath had already gotten noticeably faster, as if she had realized—too late—that she’d just made a huge tactical error. She swallowed hard and answered, “I said that you created Discord the same way.” Apparently, Twilight had decided to pretend that her statement had been intentional, rather than make a futile attempt to worm her way out of it.
The white alicorn’s eyes narrowed to slits. She didn’t break eye contact with her student as she spoke to her sister: “Luna, lock the door.”
The Princess of the Night did so swiftly and wordlessly, much to the distress of the Elements of Harmony, who were already reeling from Twilight Sparkle’s initial assertion. “What in tarnation—”
Celestia abruptly interrupted Applejack’s display of confusion. “The subject of this conversation will not leave this room. Understood?”
The farm pony nodded slowly, allowing the Princess to return her attention to her student.
“Twilight, how could you possibly know anything about Discord’s origins?”
“Well, uh, Pinkie Pie figured them out.”
The room’s attention shifted to the earth pony in question. “Uh, well, I guess that’s sort of true,” Pinkie admitted. “I mean, I figured out that Discord used to be an imaginary friend like me in, like, three seconds. Really, you all would have figured it out too, except you didn’t know that we could even exist in the first place.”
“I see,” Celestia said. “And how exactly did you conclude that I created him?”
“Um, actually, I never said you did. I told Twilight that I thought he must have been created by somepony like you—a really skilled magician with a playful personality. I never thought you were the one who really did it. So... um... if it’s alright to ask....”
“Yes,” Celestia said quietly. “I did. I didn’t intend to... not really. Unfortunately, I was still quite young and foolish at the time, and the actions I took after he appeared...” The Princess trailed off, as if she had suddenly realized that she was getting carried away by her memories. “Never mind. I refuse to speak about that matter any more than is absolutely necessary, and there are more pressing matters at hoof.” She turned back to her student. “Twilight Sparkle, for the past thousand years, the only ponies who knew Discord’s true story were Luna and I. During that time, I have never told a soul about it, and Luna was unable to do so, due to her exile. So, I ask you again: how could you possibly know that I was the one who created him?”
“I... I didn’t,” the purple unicorn finally answered. “It was just a hunch based on Pinkie Pie’s theories. I just threw it out there to see how you’d react.”
“I might accept such an answer, if I didn’t know that you’d never be the type to play that sort of mind game.”
“I never woulda thought Twilight would be the type to get up in Princess Celestia’s face like this,” Rainbow Dash muttered. “Something weird’s going on here...”
The rest of the ponies in the room, however, didn’t seem to be paying the pegasus much attention.
“In any case,” Celestia continued, “I couldn’t help you if even I wanted to, because I never fully understood how it happened, and after Discord’s defeat, I decided to avoid it entirely.”
If this information was intended to mollify Twilight Sparkle, it failed spectacularly, as the purple unicorn’s eyes widened in horror upon learning of this wanton discarding of knowledge. “You... you can’t be serious! You could have been on the cusp of discovering an entirely new field of magic, and you just walked away?!”
“Were I to learn what happened and write it down, I could run the risk of somepony intentionally creating an equally dangerous ‘friend’ in the future. You must understand, Twilight, that there is no way of knowing whether Pinkie Pie’s relative mental stability is normal for beings like her and Discord.”
Her student, however, didn’t seem to hear her. “You just walked away....”
“My first commitment is to the safety of my subjects, not to intellectual pursuits,” Celestia said in another attempt at clarification. “This was an unfortunate necessity.”
“You... walked away....” Twilight repeated, her voice sounding more hollow.
An uneasy silence settled over the room for nearly a minute before Rarity dared to break it. “Twilight, darling, are you going to be alright?”
The librarian didn’t answer her friend and chose instead to shift her focus to the other royal in the room. “What about you, Princess Luna?”
The Princess of the Night seemed taken aback by this. “Me?”
“Yes, you. You saved your research about this, right? You aren’t the type to just cast off information like that.”
“M-My research?” the younger Princess said with a bewildered stammer. “How could you—”
“Enough!” Celestia interrupted with a shout. “Twilight Sparkle, this conversation is over. I may be willing to accept that you’d guess that I created Discord, but there is no conceivable way you could have guessed that my sister was involved. But this, too, is irrelevant, because Luna didn’t play any part in Discord’s manifestation—she just assisted me in refining his original personality. After his appearance, we were far too busy dealing with the chaos he caused to worry about what caused him.”
“Actually, sister,” Luna interjected, “I did undertake some research in the brief window between Discord’s appearance and his subsequent usurpation. It’s very much unfinished, mostly because I hit a metaphorical wall within a few weeks, but I thought that my notes might be useful if he ever escaped from his prison. I did, however, take precautions to ensure that they could not be used without authorization.”
Celestia looked absolutely flabbergasted. “What sort of precautions?”
“I cannot say, sister.”
“You do not trust me?”
“Of course I trust you. However, at the moment, I do not trust Twilight Sparkle.”
“Sister, do you seriously think that I would be willing to trust anypony with any information I would hide from you? No, I assure you, there is no way your student could have possibly known about my notes through any conventional means. Perhaps she has simply been astronomically lucky with regards to her presumptions, but I doubt it. If she’s anything like I was at her age—and she is—she would not be this confrontational about the matter unless she was already certain she was right.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Twilight said defensively.
“Don’t play games with me,” Luna replied with a scowl. “Of all ponies, I should think that I’d be the last you could fool.”
“Um... what’s going on?” Fluttershy asked meekly, but nopony bothered to answer her.
“What does it matter if I’m playing games?” Twilight asked indignantly. “Especially since my mentor does it all the time.”
“Twilight, there’s no need to fling baseless accusations,” Celestia said in an attempt to defend herself, but her protégé was having none of it.
“They are not baseless! You’re always hoarding knowledge for stupid and pointless reasons!”
“If you’re referring to the incident with Philomena—”
“I’m referring to the fact that you didn’t tell me more about the Elements of Harmony before Nightmare Moon returned!” Speaking of which, the Element of Magic adorning the unicorn’s head started giving off a dim, sickly, barely perceptible glow. As Twilight’s irritation became more obvious, her body posture became increasingly intimidating, even to Princess Celestia, who rarely had reason to feel threatened by anypony.
“Twilight, if I had told you everything outright, you would have wasted precious time holding job interviews to find the Element-bearers instead of actually forming genuine friendships.”
Apparently, the unicorn hadn’t thought of this possibility, as it seemed to throw her off: “Well... maybe... but you could have at least let me in on your plans! If I had known that you weren’t going to resist being abducted, I could at least have been confident that you had some idea of what you were doing.”
Celestia had been surprised multiple times over the course of her conversation, but it was only this declaration that managed to render her speechless. “It... can’t... no....”
“I see that you have realized what has happened, my sister,” Luna said solemnly.
“Well, we haven’t!” Rainbow Dash said in an annoyed tone. “What is going on here?”
“It’s quite simple,” Luna replied. “It is conceivable, albeit very unlikely, that Twilight could have simply made educated guesses that my sister manifested Discord, and that I would have attempted to research the matter on my own. But when I returned as Nightmare Moon, I confronted my sister from within the privacy of her bedchamber, where I knew that no guard would ever dare to enter unbidden. Quite frankly, there is no possible way Twilight Sparkle could have known that Celestia offered no resistance—unless the Nightmare itself told her.”
The other ponies turned their attention back to their friend, hoping for some sort of denial, but where Twilight had previously stood, there was now nothing but a swirling, shimmering, lavender mist, punctuated here and there by the glittery sparkles that the unicorn left in her wake whenever she used her magic to teleport.
“No...” Applejack said in a pained, worried voice. “It... it can’t be. Not Twilight...” But as the mist began to coalesce into a solid pony, the unthinkable worries of the unicorn’s friends became impossible to deny.
Her coat retained its lavender color, and her mane and tail, while much longer, were still indigo with a distinctive pink stripe, but the rest of Twilight’s body had changed drastically. Where she had previously been about as large as an average mare, she was now much taller—about as tall as Luna, in fact. She also shared the Princesses’ elongated muzzle, neck, and legs, and therefore their svelte body shape. Her horn, too, was much longer and sharper. In fact, given that she was still wearing her tiara, one might think she’d become a royal alicorn were it not for her lack of wings. For its part, the Element of Magic was still glowing dully, although its intensity was now waxing and waning at regular intervals. But the most dramatic change was arguably the most subjective one; her eyes, normally bright and inquisitive, now looked cold and calculating. There could be no doubt; the Nightmare had taken Twilight Sparkle.
Pinkie Pie, like the rest of the ponies in the room, was absolutely stunned by this turn of events, though she couldn’t shake the odd feeling that she should have seen this coming. As each passing second made the tension more uncomfortable, the pink earth pony concluded that the first step she could take towards making up for her oversight was to break the silence, which she did by uttering one of the most blatantly obvious statements in the history of ponykind: “This... isn’t good.”