What a relief.
Images of that bland, brown world she was forced to visit flashed past Pinkie Pie’s eyes as she put the finishing touches on Ta...Twilight’s cake. Clouds that couldn’t be cleared, buildings as dark and imposing as tombstones and the inhabitants made Pinkie want to vomit. They all looked like elongated, shaved rodents, attempting to hide their shame with filthy rags or suits made of darkness. Pinkie didn’t vomit, however, she merely shuddered, holding herself with her forelegs. To think, Twilight had almost left Ponyville to stay there forever! And if she did, it would have been Pinkie’s fault.
That one incident, when she thought Twilight had figured it out again and that she would leave for good. When Spike had told her that Twilight didn’t want to be her friend anymore. If Twilight, and everything she had formed, had said that, then all would have been lost. Hence, she had that little mad tea party with all the rocks, the flowers and the turnip. While she did do that out of genuine misery, it was something of an act. If Twilight saw that, and she did too, she would realise how sad Pinkie would be without her, and stay forever.
Instead, Twilight seemed to take it as her subconscious telling her something, and had returned to the real world. It turned out before that, she was planning a surprise party, a little reward for Pinkie Pie’s friendship. Feeling guilt for letting this happen, Pinkie would periodically visit Twilight, transformed into the human Tara, only to be rejected. Just a figment of her imagination, said Tara. A crazy hallucination, said Tara and the doctors and everyone.
Pinkie had actually thought that going to the asylum was one of the best things that could possibly happen to Twilight. It created more inhabitants for Ponyville and Equestria; Princess Celestia, Snips and Snails, even that mean meanie-pants Gilda. Certainly Equestria couldn’t be destroyed if it can be developed.
Ah, development. A favourite word of Pinkie’s, even if she rarely mentioned it to the other ponies. She was the fun-loving life of the party because of it, and thus she revelled in her world receiving it.
Pinkie was actually one of Tar...Twilight’s first creations, created when she realised her love of creating worlds and their inhabitants. Twilight was very young when she scribbled down Pinkie Pie’s Ferris Wheel Adventure, a story created from things she had seen in her books and out and about. Pictures of ponies had enthralled her with their mixture of majesty and vulnerability, and she was sure that Ferris wheel would have been fun to go on.
Pinkie was the star of that story, but back then she was merely a cipher, hollow and without personality. The other ponies were the same, as dull as the world Twilight was forced to inhabit. Thankfully, Twilight had kept Pinkie in her mind for years afterwards, providing a little bit of sunshine on those dull days studying. Throughout that time, Pinkie grew, gaining thoughts, opinions and a character. As she developed, so too did her world. Away with the blank zombies of the Ferris wheel story, all replaced by the best friends you can think of.
So it was a good thing Pinkie managed to bring back Twilight. And what did she see in that world which could add to Pinkie’s? Something that will not only alter Equestria, but alter the ponies’ memories so it doesn’t seem like a change?
The others didn’t know. Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Applejack and everybody else didn’t know they were part of a woman’s imagination. They all thought they were real, that Equestria was a physical place. Pinkie knew though, the knowledge allowing her to manipulate this world in ways others couldn’t. While the ponies knew she usually played the clown, they sadly didn’t know how grave her position was. They didn’t know how close they came to destruction.
There was a slight disturbance in her gut, but Pinkie chose to smile as she pranced on over to Twilight’s library. Peering through the window, she saw Twilight had woken up, her mind adjusting itself. All the ponies’ memories had begun to warp to fit Twilight’s recovery. They did have that surprise birthday party for Pinkie, and that other, boring world was the hallucination. The ponies adjusted their mindsets with Twilight; they were all Twilight, all Tara.
‘Oh goody!’ cried Pinkie as she entered, ‘Twilight’s awake!’
‘Yeah, Pinkie,’ said Twilight, plopping out of bed, ‘I had the strangest dream too.’
Pinkie stopped bouncing. ‘Really?’
‘Yeah, but...don’t worry about that.’
Of course Twilight wasn’t going to think about being Tara. Pinkie could actually feel her surroundings change in accordance to what Twilight saw. An upcoming Grand Galloping Gala. She didn’t before, but Rarity will remember making dresses for it. All the ponies will remember fighting over tickets.
And ‘Tara’ had been knocked into a coma too! Perfect! That way she’ll be even more immersed in Equestria. Twilight Sparkle will always be there to vanquish evil, impart lessons and aid Princess Celestia. Not to mention Pinkie would no longer see what Tara sees, having to endure that ugly world.
What if they pull the plug though?
That would be even better! Both the ponies of Equestria and the people in that world believed one would go to a better place when one dies, so if there is a benevolent force, surely he’d let Twilight stay with her friends forever? After all she had been through, hadn’t she earned it?
She had earned those adventures. She had earned her new friends.
She had earned a party.
Margaret had come to visit Tara every day ever since the accident. Not merely because she had felt responsible for the whole thing, but because Tara had been like a friend to her. She did like to think of all her patients as old friends, yet Tara had listened to her more than most of them. Perhaps it was because of the ponies she is undoubtedly with? Yes, they helped give her advice on how to live her life. It was almost a shame they needed to be vanquished.
And vanquished they would be, apparently. She was not alone in the room with Tara; head doctor Cawley sat beside the unconscious woman, waiting. His cold eyes behind the wide glasses shifting between Tara and Margaret made the room seem all the smaller.
‘I knew this would happen, Sandson,’ he said, shaking his head.
Margaret shook her head with his. ‘You keep telling me that.’
‘I knew this would happen, and yet I can’t believe it. I’ve been highly doubtful of some of your suggestions, so I should be less shocked about this then I am.’ He lifted himself off his chair, and paced around for a while before seating himself again. ‘I just hope this works.’
A while of waiting later, and in came the man who was supposed to solve all their problems. A rather portly fellow, who resembled Cawley himself in a way. Perhaps it was the glasses, or maybe even the similar comb over, but they could probably pass for brothers. In one hand was a briefcase, thick and dark. With his free hand, he shook that of Cawley, but Margaret chose to just stand there and nod.
‘Hello,’ he said, putting down his briefcase and removing his tweed jacket. ‘My name is Dr. Foster, but you may call me Thomas. Now then.’ He walked towards the peaceful Tara, hands hovering over her bandages. ‘This is our little lady lost in Ponyland.’
Margaret wanted to correct him on the term he used, but forced her mouth shut.
‘You have a lot of people like that at your institution, don’t ya, Cawley? I mean, just last week you told me about a guy who thought he was a chameleon in the Old West.’ With that, he chuckled. ‘But seriously, I have been researching cases like this, and I believe it may well be a little more complex than you might think.’
Cawley placed a finger to his chin. ‘How so?’
‘Most authors will tell you,’ said Thomas, waggling a finger in the air, ‘that their characters are like real people. And it goes without saying that most authors are insane. So, if Tara spoke about her ponies and her pony world as if they were real, than they might as well be.’
‘Are you saying there actually is another world in her head?’ asked Cawley. Margaret wanted to say something, yet her mind told her not to argue with this theory.
Thomas smiled as he opened his briefcase. ‘More or less. I believe it is not just the accident that left her that way; she is in a coma because she is currently living in the pony world. And if I destroy that world, she will return to us, hopefully forever.’
Margaret finally began to move and peered into the briefcase. A selection of drugs and syringes, all with a special label. ‘Discord?’ Looking up to face Thomas, she arched an eyebrow. ‘Is that really a suitable name?’
‘Of course it is!’ replied Thomas, spraying a small bit of saliva onto Margaret’s face. ‘There is, after all, a certain order in madness. Delusions need order to keep their own strange sense of consistency, so the madman will find it easier to believe. Sad as it is, we need to create chaos to break up that order.
‘This drug, when injected into the patient, will find her fantasy world and seek to destroy it. It will do this by not only increasing the central nervous system, but trying to look for certain factors that led to its creation and either nullify or weaken them. There is a chance the world will try to fight back, however, but hopefully, we will overpower that through periodic injections.’ Thomas held up a syringe to punctuate his point, but Margaret seized the arm that held it.
‘I don’t know about this.’
‘Oh, so after all you wrote about how this fairy world ruined a young woman’s prospects, you want her to stay there?’ Thomas smiled, revealing a row of yellow teeth. ‘Perhaps you meant for her to be knocked into the coma. Am I right?’With a chuckle, he rendered Margaret silent again.
‘Excuse me,’ Dr Cawley raised a hand, ‘What did you mean about the mind fighting back?’
Putting down the syringe for a moment, Thomas clasped his hands. ‘If there are several tiny personalities in young Tara’s brain,’ he explained, ‘At least one of them may have some objection to the drug. Heck, it might even have its own little form in her world. But hopefully, it will overpower those silly little creatures and help her realise what they really are.’ He took another look at the sleeping Tara. ‘The world will be at its strongest with her, um, condition, so this will be the perfect way to test this.’
Lifting Tara’s arm, Thomas jabbed her with a syringe, letting Discord into her.
Pinkie Pie knew the reasons behind what was in Equestria. She knew why her friends were the way they were, when specific elements were added and the true history of this world. When something new appeared, she had the explanation, yet did not reveal it. If playing a big game was the best way to make Twilight happy, then so be it.
The chocolate rain, however, she could not explain. Yet her craving of all things sweet overcame her common sense and she indulged in it. That’s the way she was created, after all.
At first she entertained the notion that this was Twilight’s way of thanking her for showing her a better way, but then came Twilight, boasting of a spell that would eliminate it all. That bright blue burst of magic failed to do anything, which did cause Pinkie’s stomach to fall, but she continued playing her part and continued feasting on the liquid chocolate.
Twilight, clever, clever Twilight, then decided to deal with this situation another way. Gathering up all the clouds and the animals and wrapping them all in a neat little package. That unease welling up in Pinkie’s gut swelled and throbbed harder, but the game couldn’t work without her being Twilight’s court jester now, can it? Off she went for more chocolate.
Just as she was pushed away by the long-legged beasties, Spike coughed up another scroll. Princess Celestia. With Twilight and those who complemented her running off to Canterlot, Pinkie ran too, her fear slightly being overpowered by a sense of excitement. Using whatever ability she had to make the trip seem shorter, they arrived at the castle, where Pinkie heard a slight voice.
‘I’ll play along – but only for a while.’
As Twilight burst open the majestic double doors, she, Pinkie and the friends were greeted by a worried Princess Celestia. ‘Follow me.’
Doing as she said, the princess and the six friends walked down a hall lined with stain-glass windows, all depicting a variety of scenes. Pinkie knew this was a new backdrop, and thus looked for explanations. The easiest explanation was that Twilight thought Princess Celestia should have a room like this, and thus unconsciously created it for her.
But who was this ‘Discord’?
A doctor at the asylum? A schoolteacher, perhaps? While attempting to search through Twilight’s memories, Pinkie took another look at Princess Celestia. There was something...not right about her. This wasn’t the Celestia of Tara’s usual dreams, and yet Pinkie could not put her hoof on what was different. All she could do at that moment was attempt to ease the tension through ‘Hey look, we’re famous!’
‘You six showed the full potential of the elements, by harnessing the magic of your friendship to beat a mighty foe.’ Now that seemed more like the Celestia Pinkie knew, the one that gave Twilight every reason to stay in Equestria. Where on that Earth would she be able to do something as powerful as that? The monsters there aren’t defeated by friendship.
And there was the Twilight she knew, objecting to her love of chocolate rain. Always the wise one, that Twilight. One worthy of wielding the Element of Magic.
Oh yes, the Elements of Harmony, one of Tar...Twilight’s greatest inventions. Behind that door they were kept, and once that door was opened, they would be used once more. And not just for this ‘Discord’. They would be used time and time again on a series of great adventures, where courage would be proved, secrets would be revealed...
The elements were gone.
Her mouth hanging open out of genuine concern, Pinkie tried to remind herself that every good story needs conflict and tension, and it’s more than likely Twilight meant for this to happen. Yes, this wasn’t Ferris Wheel Adventure where the main problem was solved in a matter of seconds. The plot has just thickened.
A mocking laugh echoed through the hall.
‘Make sense? What fun is there in making sense?’ That stinging in Pinkie’s gut grew fiercer as she heard those words.
‘Discord! Show yourself!’
In an instant, the dragon-eagle-pony-whatever hybrid on the window came to life, a smug smirk on its painted face. ‘Did you miss me Celestia? I’ve missed you.’
A change had occurred. The ponies’ memories were altered to accommodate it. Yet Pinkie knew not the source. She was a part of Twilight though, so she looked through her memories of her past life, barely listening to what the monster was saying. Was it the coma or something Discord was doing she couldn’t tell, but she could not access any of Tara’s thoughts. She could, however, laugh at Discord’s little dance. Perhaps playing her role would bring back that ability.
‘What have you done with the Elements of Harmony?’
‘Oh, I just borrowed them for a teensy little while,’ replied Discord casually, ‘Oh, I’d forgotten how grim you could be, Celestia. It’s really quite boring.’
Boring. No, nothing in Canterlot or Ponyville or Equestria was boring, not like where Twilight was forced to live in. Pinkie stared at Discord with a grimace unusual for her character.
‘So boring, Celestia, really!’ That pain in Pinkie’s stomach rumbled with every repetition of that word. ‘I’ll tell you my way.’ Thus he told a riddle, something Pinkie didn’t understand. Something about twists and turns. Maybe there were some things Twilight didn’t want her to understand. Clever Twilight did solve the riddle, pointing to the palace labyrinth.
Now that was certainly new.
So quickly the six ponies ran, treading slowly when nearing the gateway of the hedge maze, the flags fluttering proudly and the huge archway giving off an air of strange nobility.
‘We h-have to go in there?’ asked Fluttershy.
‘Nope!’ Rainbow Dash stood front and center, gesturing towards her wings. ‘Dopey Discord forgot about these babies!’ For a minute, Pinkie Pie thought of what would happen if either Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash had her responsibility. Fluttershy would probably collapse, but Rainbow Dash would carry those memories, the knowledge of the changes proudly. That world out there would be too much for poor Fluttershy to handle, but since Dash was a part of Tara that wished for release, she would have no problem.
Dash blasted into the air like a firework, looking about for the Elements, just before her wings vanished away. She fell.
Like Dash’s wings disappeared, so did Fluttershy’s. Then Twilight’s horn and Rarity’s horn. Pinkie stood, rendered speechless. This was supposed to be where Twilight could be who she wanted; why would she weaken herself? She reminded herself of the ‘conflict’ factor, but still scratched her head in frustration.
Then came Discord.
Heralded by another laugh and the archetypical flash of lightning, Discord finally appeared in the flesh. A mixture of different animals and creatures, all topped off with a twisted glare. ‘You’ll get them back in good time,’ he said before disappearing and reappearing next to Applejack. ‘I just want to make sure there’s no cheating. You see, this is the first rule of our game. No flying...’ In a second, he pressed his face next to Twilight’s. ‘And no...’ He rubbed her cheek with his finger. ‘Magic.’
‘Leave her alone!’ Pinkie yelled by instinct.
Discord’s only response to her was to grin at her as if suggesting something.
‘The second rule is every pony has to play, or the game ends,’ he continued, his fingers forming a pyramid, ‘And I win.’ With another chuckle, he vanished.
‘Never fear, girls!’ Of course, Twilight wouldn’t let a creature like Discord get her down. ‘We have each other!’
‘Yeah!’ Rainbow Dash. ‘Like Twilight said, there’s nothing we can’t overcome if we all stick together!’
That rousing speech seemed to destroy Pinkie’s doubts as she entered the maze alongside her friends. They were all Twilight, all Tara; they all had to stick together.
New hedge walls appeared out of nowhere.
Pinkie was on her own.
No matter. They’ll never be apart long. Best to make lemonade.
Through the maze she pranced, knowing that Twilight was still a part of this world, still its saviour. Discord had to be her creation, it had to. She’d defeat it and continue with her fantasy. If Twilight made Pinkie happy-go-lucky, she’d be happy-go-lucky.
Thus she followed the balloon.
A clearing, filled with more of those smiling balloons, as well as a healthy dose of laughter. Not the demented laughter of Discord, a happy laugh, a laugh of joy. While a smidge of nervousness did creep up her spine, she still pranced, still tried to play her part.
She fell in the mud.
The laughter of the clearing grew louder, more vicious, with the balloons all surrounding her. The perfect cue for Discord to make his reappearance. ‘What’s the matter, Pinkie Pie? I thought you appreciated a good laugh.’
‘It’s different...’ Her heart sank. ‘They’re...laughing at me...’
Discord added his own little snigger. ‘Why are you trying to keep Tara here?’
‘I mean, look at this!’ All the faces of the balloons – the most basic of cartoon expressions – transformed into the face of Twilight, the face of Fluttershy, the face of Rarity. ‘You try to keep her as Twilight, yet deep down, she knows you’re childish, you’re merely a remnant of an age that should be forgotten.’
In the reflection of one of the balloons, Pinkie saw her earlier self. One with cold eyes and inflated limbs, handing out popcorn and offering rides on the Ferris wheel. ‘That’s how you should have ended, you know. Just a cute little story some dumb kid made up. You shouldn’t have been dragged into her adulthood. That’s just silly!’
As much as her mouth hurt, Pinkie attempted to answer. ‘I just wanted her to be happy...’
‘Oh, did you now.’ Discord pressed his claws against his face. ‘I remember her thinking being cured of all this and leaving the asylum would be quite the accomplishment, but I guess hospitalising her is a much better solution.’ The balloons’ laughter grew louder, making Pinkie shrink away into the mud. ‘You’re nothing but a figment of her imagination. You can’t help her. What can you do except bounce about giggling, imparting Saturday-morning-cartoon lessons? This may seem odd coming from a guy who looks like I do, but I’m more real than you. I want to help Tara.
‘What if she does leave Ponyville forever, hmm? What if she does go back to that “boring, human world?” Why, she could actually do something for actual, physical people! Not ponies made of cotton candy and wibbly-wobbly dreams! She wanted to become a writer, didn’t she? If I succeed, she could write an autobiography, and actually share her troubles with actual people with actual brains. People who actually think!’
‘I...I am real.’
The laughter of the balloons and Discord reached its crescendo. Every single balloon now had Twilight’s face, then that of the human Tara.
‘You won’t make yourself a bit realer by crying,’ said Discord, stroking Pinkie Pie’s chin.
‘What are you g-going to do with me?’
Clutching his claws, Discord dreamily looked upwards. ‘“Twilight” may be considered a hero here, but how will she be remembered in her actual world? A cipher, like you were long ago? A failed experiment? Because of you, a psychiatrist is losing her job. Because of you, the doctors are wasting money on someone who should have left years ago. Because of you, a certain young lady will never reach her full potential.’
Lifting Pinkie out of the mud, Discord stared her right in the eye. ‘You and I both know you were meant to be a joke. Nothing more, nothing less.’ Pinkie continued to tremor, her once bright coat turning monochrome.
‘Poor Pinkie Pie, I thought laughter made you happy.’