“…I’m sorry,” I grumbled.
Twilight Sparkle looked up from a book on applied something-or-other. The little librarian glasses were still perched on her nose but that didn’t me any less irritated with her as she adjusted the spectacles and blinked in surprise. “Wha—Oh! Bon Bon! Lyra! You’re back!”
“Yes. Thank you for seeing us again, Twilight Sparkle,” Bon Bon said warmly.
The earth pony turned back to me and prompted, “Now, Lyle, I don’t think she heard you.”
I sighed. Now I knew Bon Bon and Lyra were an item; she certainly seemed comfortable enough nagging me and I was just borrowing Lyra’s body. I grudgingly restarted my apology. “Twilight Sparkle. Hey. Uh… First off, I’m sorry about earlier. You were trying to help—even if you were wrong I might add—and I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”
I glanced over to Bon Bon. There. Happy? She nodded in satisfaction at my unvoiced question. All right. With that, I could count on the earth pony’s support for what came next… however successful it might or might not be.
To my surprise, Bon Bon started to speak before I could say anything. “And I’m sorry too, Twilight. I was upset, but there was no call for saying… the things I said.”
“Apology accepted. For both of you. And I probably could have handled the situation better, too,” Twilight replied, glancing back and forth between Bon Bon and me. For my part, I was simply staring at Bon Bon. Really? She’d yelled at Twilight Sparkle, too? For me?
Bon Bon nodded and continued, “Oh and that’s still Lyle, actually. I’ve talked with him. I know Lyra better than anypony else, so I think I’m in a position to say. But I think Lyle really wants to help us with this.”
“Um, oh…kay?” Sitting down with a thump, Twilight looked back and forth between us—first at Bon Bon, then at me. Then back to Bon Bon. Her eye twitched a bit.
“I’ll do what I need to so I can prove I’m the real deal, Twilight,” I offered, “but we’ve got a time limit here. Lyra’s supposed to perform in the—urk!”
Twilight Sparkle could have been a recolored Rainbow Dash, so quickly did she move. A purple haze dropped over the world as her magic wrapped me in an intangible yet unbreakable grip. I struggled as best I could, pushing out with hooves and magic alike, but all I was left with were sore legs and a concentration-destroying tingling sensation on my horn. I was trapped.
Bon Bon, on the other hand, the unicorn simply grabbed and tugged to the far side of the room. Dragging the cream-colored mare’s head down to her muzzle, Twilight whispered urgently. I strained to listen, pushing against the amethyst bubble of force. “Are… serious?! …try… sure to work… You can’t… Ridiculous!”
Looking back at me, Bon Bon raised her voice so I could still hear her side of the conversation. “We don’t want you to do any of that, Twilight. And yes, I am serious. Just let him prove himself. Help us. Please.”
Abruptly I was back on my hooves and trying to shake an annoying prickling sensation out of my head where my skull met my horn. “I know just how to do it, too. You suggested it yourself! Can Lyra program? I bet she can’t. Get me a computer and I’ll show you why they call me Lyle ‘The Code God’ Hartman.”
Confession time: No, nobody actually called me that. It was just me. Sorry.
I sat proudly, grinning at both mares. Hah! Trying to type with hooves or magic was going to be a pain, but I figured I could at least manage a quick ‘Hello World’ even if I had to type holding a pencil in my mouth to hit the right keys. It would work. …So why was even Bon Bon looking faintly puzzled? I’d glossed over this part of the plan when we discussed it, but…
“Lyra. Lyle. Whatever you’re going to call yourself… You can’t possibly know how to program a computer,” retorted Twilight.
I bristled. This wasn’t the inquisitive mare I’d enjoyed watching on episode after episode. “Look, if you’re not going to—”
“There’s no such thing as a computer! They made it up for the show! Honestly, a thinking machine using lightning and wires embedded on some kind of rock? Horsefeathers,” the lavender mare scoffed.
Horsefeathers was right, if not in the direction Twilight was thinking. I jeered right back. “Oh, now I know that’s ridiculous. How can you have color televisions and not have computers and integrated circuits?!”
“The same way we have everything else! With magic!” Twilight practically shouted, waving her front hooves wide to encompass the entire world.
…Oh. That… actually made a strange sort of sense. I struggled to regain my rhetorical footing. “But… the hydroelectric dam outside Ponyville…”
“The hydrothaumic dam, you mean? The one that generates every kilofizz of magical power Ponyville uses?” Twilight crossed her forelegs confidently, ready to play skeet with the next rhetorical clay pigeon I tossed her.
Well, this was going well. Bon Bon’s earlier calm confidence was evaporating quickly as she trotted over to me. “I thought you said you had proof that couldn’t fail!”
“I did… I thought I did, anyway,” I sighed. That just left one bolt in my quiver: My Little Pony. Here went nothing.
I turned to Twilight Sparkle. “All right, then. Answer me this, Twilight. Does the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic appear anywhere in this so-called My Little Person show you think Lyra is using as the basis for her delusions?”
“No, no such thing,” the unicorn answered without thinking about it. Blushing slightly Twilight hastened to add, “That is, Spike’s never talked about it. So I don’t think there is…”
“Okay, good. Well, the show exists in my world. I watch it, as do a lot of other people. It’s pretty good. It follows the adventures of Twilight Sparkle and her friends as they learn about the magic of friendship. Which I always thought was kind of a silly name, but hey what can you do? Show for little girls,” I commented ruefully.
This would work. It had to work. At least, I couldn’t imagine any way not to be convincing after revealing that I knew all about Twilight and her friends’ most personal moments… “I’ve been watching the show for a while now, so I can probably tell you about some parts of your life that nopony here would have heard about. Let’s see if any of these are ring a bell…”
Fingers would really have been useful as I started listing off facts. Unfortunately, I had to make due without as I said, “One. Back at Froggy Bottom Bog when you were charging that hydra, you asked yourself something: you said, ‘What would a brave pony like Rainbow Dash do?’ Nobody was around to hear you—I doubt your friends would have heard you over the hydra—but yet, I know what you said to yourself. How could I know that unless I’d seen it? For instance, on a television program about six ponies and their adventures in the magical land of Equestria?”
Twilight blinked. Eyes narrowing a bit, the unicorn pursed her lips slightly. She seemed to be trying to recall something. Taking that as a good sign, I continued with my next point. “But that one might be a little easy and it was a while ago, so let’s try this: two. You remember Pinkie Pie’s surprise birthday party? The one where she thought all of you didn’t want to be her friends any more because you wouldn’t come to her latest party for Gummy? When Rainbow Dash went to get her, Pinkie was in her room with several imaginary friends. There was… Let’s see… Mr. Turnip, Rocky, Madame LeFlour, and… oh right. Sir Lints-a-Lot. Rainbow was pretty much forced to drag Pinkie Pie to Applejack’s barn for the actual party. I don’t know if Rainbow ever told you about that. You might have to check with her for the details.”
Once again, the librarian seemed to be considering my words carefully. Bon Bon was glancing back and forth between Twilight and me in puzzled amazement. I smiled at her and turned back to Twilight to go in for the kill. “Three. You’ll like this one. ‘If I can’t find a friendship problem, I’ll make a friendship problem!’ You said that while alone in your room here in the library. Then you took your old Smartie Pants doll out of a chest ended up making half of Ponyville practically tear each other apart over it. Sound familiar? Nopony was in the room with you at the time, so how could I know what you said? I have more, but let’s stick with these for the time being.”
My heart was pounding in my chest. I felt like I had just run a marathon, but I had done it. My knowledge of the series wasn’t encyclopedic by any means, but hopefully I had picked well for examples of my apparent omniscience. The ball was in Twilight’s court now, so I sat back on my haunches and waited. For added effect, I reared up and crossed what should have been my arms. So there, Ms. Sparkle. Over to you.
Twilight opened her mouth. She closed it again. I started to grin. Finally, she nodded. “Those are some… very specific examples you have there. Now, where did I put that book… Aha.”
My brow furrowed as I watched Twilight turn away and grab a book off the shelf. It was thick and seemed relatively new, its firm and unmarked binding in stark contrast to the more aged tomes that surrounded it. She opened it and leafed through a few pages. The book floated up to my eyes. “Here, Lyle. Take a look at this.”
Nervously, I took the book from Twilight and began to read. Oh. I flipped ahead a few chapters and scanned the pages again. There it was. I flipped ahead, further this time. I reached the end of the book and looked up hopefully. “All right, Twilight. For whatever reason, the first two are in here. Where’s the third example, though? Sure, you’ve got… okay, before I ask that, why exactly do you have novelized versions of your own episodes?”
“It was the Princess’ idea, actually. After that business with Discord, she suggested that I make a book from a selection of my reports to her, ‘For the education of the young and the edification of the old.’ Every library in Equestria has a copy now,” Twilight said. Her tone was light and cheerful as she closed the cover on Friendship Reports: The Selected Wit and Wisdom of the Elements of Harmony, Volume One.
With my heart plummeting like a rock, I started grasping at straws. How was this even possible?! I knew from the show that Twilight was an organized, prepared pony, but… “Wait. What about the third example? This only has up through the Grand Galloping Gala. What about the rest? There’s no Lesson Zero, no Sweet and Elite…”
A three-ringed binder joined Friendship Reports, wreathed in Twilight’s glowing magical grasp. The purple unicorn nodded encouragingly when I hesitated to open it. Sighing, I flipped through the pages as Twilight explained, “It’s actually still a work in progress… I keep it here in the library so anypony can read it during the day. It’s like free proofreading!”
I stared at the loathsome words on the page. Unlike the previous book it was obviously just a draft. There were scribbled notes, suggestions on spelling and grammar and the like, but there it was: every episode of the show that I had seen for season two. I had nothing left.
Nevertheless, I tried again. “But… Everything I remember… Delphi Software… My friends… Washington State! America! All that history and everything that I learned in school! How could Lyra just come up with that?”
“From what I’ve read, a lot of delusions are very self-consistent… Ponies can be very creative when they want to be,” Twilight commented.
It’s an awful thing to look down and realize that you’re walking on thin air… more so when someone comes up and tells you that the foundations of your world are figments of your own imagination. I was lucky I was already sitting, since that prevented me from hurting myself as my legs went weak under me. I dropped back down to my forehooves and slid slowly to the floor.
Bon Bon was at my side in an instant. I barely noticed her. “Lyle! Lyle, are you all right?”
“Don’t encourage her, Bon Bon. I think I almost have this. I knew reviewing that last diagnostic psychiatry textbook would help!” Twilight clapped her front hooves together gleefully.
Not only had I failed to convince Twilight of my humanity… now she was getting me to doubt my own sanity. I stared down at my hooves through a blurry veil of tears. As far as I could tell in my numbed state, I was out of options. Even if I coded a program by hand for Twilight on paper, what would she do with it? There wouldn’t be a computer to run the program. What if I gave her every bit of world history I could remember? Like the librarian had said—delusional ponies can be very creative. Was I just deluding myself, after all?
Bon Bon stepped forward, placing herself between Twilight Sparkle and me. I looked up, started by the sharpness in her voice as she cried, “Twilight Sparkle! Stop that.”
“But… I’m trying to help you two, Bon Bon,” Twilight protested.
The earth pony’s blue locks bounced as she shook her head indignantly. “I didn’t want this. You’re torturing this poor… man.”
“…Tell me you don’t actually believe her, now,” Twilight groaned. “I thought you were just humoring her! This is becoming an epidemic! Should I call Nurse Redheart for you two?”
“Twilight, isn’t there some… Isn’t there some spell you haven’t tried that could tell us if there is actually another mind in Lyra’s body? I mean…” Bon Bon’s voice trailed off into inaudibility as she moved closer to Twilight, dragging the purple unicorn across the room. I kept my head between my hooves and concentrated on staying very still. Wave after wave of nausea washed over me as I tried not to contemplate the idea that I might not even exist.
Finally, a warm touch at my shoulder made me pull away from the roiling sea of confusion inside my mind. I glanced up to see Bon Bon’s round, worried face. Hovering to one side like a darker, unhappy shadow was Twilight. I decided right there and then—sorry, Twilight Sparkle, you’re no longer Best Pony. You’ve been replaced. The new Best Pony leaned down and helped me to my hooves. “Come on, Lyle. Twilight’s agreed to try a spell she didn’t think of before.”
“Thanks, Bon Bon,” I murmured. I felt drained, but managed to get my legs under me and rose.
Motioning me over to an open area to one side of the library, Twilight was curt and to the point. “We’re going to try a deep aura scanning spell. Please stand right there and don’t move.”
“Sure.” My voice was a near monotone. I watched dully as the unicorn trotted a small distance away and turned to face me. Ordinarily I would have watched with interest as Twilight’s horn flared and her body crackled in a nimbus of brilliant power, but I found my eyes drifting to the right—to the form of the cream-colored mare who stood watching me with a determined glint in her sapphire eyes.
A strange energy crackled across my skin, making each strand of my mane and fur rise to stand straight out from its follicle. I shivered as unseen forces brushed over me, poking and prodding far deeper into me than a mere touch could have managed. I felt a buzzing headache building in my brain, a bit above my eyes—right under the horn, I guessed. I winced as the migraine began to strengthen, going from an annoying tingle to a throbbing jackhammer. I began to sway—and the spell cut off.
Bon Bon was already rushing forward. Twilight shook her head as though to clear it and stopped, wincing. The lavender mare sighed. “Well, that could have gone better. Ooof.”
“What happened?!” Bon Bon demanded. She felt soft and warm to my touch, yet stood firm as I sagged gratefully against her. My breath came in ragged gasps and my head still throbbed. I could barely hear Twilight’s voice as she answered Bon Bon’s—and though I hadn’t asked it, my—question.
“It’s… egh. It’s Lyra’s—and yes I do mean Lyra’s—magic. Lyle’s not really controlling it, so it’s interacting with my spell and making it hard for me to see the aura properly without risking… complications.” Twilight Sparkle trailed off for a minute and rubbed her forehead with one exhausted hoof. If I looked half as bad as she did right then, I would have been amazed still to be upright.
When Twilight felt herself able to speak again, she continued. “Lyle, you need to train yourself to control Lyra’s magic. If I can finish this spell, I think I might have an answer for you. If I can’t, well…”
“So what should I do?” I asked. My voice rasped a bit in my throat. I was glad of the sturdy support of Bon Bon’s pale-furred side and wondered vaguely how Twilight was remaining upright on her own.
“I think I know,” interjected Bon Bon. “It’s perfect, in fact.”
“Come on, Lyle,” Bon Bon urged. Together, she and I started towards the door. Thankfully I had recovered some of my strength and was moving under my own power… although I was almost certain that had I fallen, Bon Bon would have simply picked me up and continued on. It may have gotten downplayed somewhat in the show, but the strength of the earth ponies truly was amazing.
Before we exited the library, Bon Bon turned back and favored Twilight Sparkle with a smile. “Twilight? Thank you. We’ll be back. Tomorrow afternoon, do you think?”
Twilight groaned. “Make it Monday morning, please. I don’t think I’ll be able to manage before then. Sorry.”
“Monday it is. Thank you.” Bon Bon nodded and tugged me out the door.
I winced a bit at the thought of dropping Lyra back in Equestria the morning before her performance. “Bon Bon… isn’t that cutting it a little fine?”
“I think Lyra can do it… and besides, her body will be getting plenty of practice before then.” Bon Bon smiled hopefully at me.
“Explain, please,” I sighed. “I’m a little frazzled right now from having Twilight tell me I don’t exist and then zapping me with whatever that was.”
Bon Bon pointed to the golden cutie mark on my flank. “Lyra’s body, Lyra’s magic… Her talent is music, Lyle. And you’re going to control it the way she does.”
…Huh. I couldn’t argue with that. There was one big problem, however. “But I don’t know anything about playing the lyre, Bon Bon!”
“Then learn.” Bon Bon’s voice had that faint schoolteacher vibe again. I swallowed.
The two of us walked on in silence for a few moments. Sighing, I agreed, “All right. I’ll try. But Bon Bon, a question…”
“Hmmm?” The blue-maned mare glanced sideways at me.
“Why did you support me back there? Why did you say you believed me? You stood up to Twilight when I had nothing to go on. She absolutely wrecked me in there, but you held your ground. Why..?” I trailed off, unsure of how to phrase all the things I needed to ask.
“Because I promised you that I would. Come on, it’s time for dinner. Let’s go home.” Turning away, Bon Bon trotted down the street.
I thought of my time at the park, when I’d spent the time staring despairingly off into space. ‘There comes a time in a man’s life when he has no one else to turn to—when his problems seem insurmountable and help is nowhere to be found.’ Maybe. But it seemed that for me, today was not that day. With my spirits rising, I followed Bon Bon back to the house.