By Charcoal Quill
“…Sincerely, your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.” With ruthless efficiency, Twilight rolled the letter up and stowed it in her saddlebag, then checked another item off her list. “There! Item twelve complete.”
Spike popped his head into the room. “You want me to send that letter for you, Twilight?”
Twilight shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. We are about to have tea with the Princesses, after all. I’ll deliver the report in person.”
“Okay, then,” Spike said, stepping into the room.
Twilight looked back down at her checklist, then read the next step aloud. "Let's see... 'Item thirteen: pack essential gear (see Sub-Checklist B)'." She paled, looking around frantically. "Oh no... What did I do with Sub-Checklist B!? I don't see it here anywhere!"
"I’ve got it." Spike held up another scroll. "But you don't need to worry about it. I've just finished packing everything on the list."
Twilight beamed. "Great! Thanks, Spike, you’re a lifesaver.” She glanced at her primary checklist again. “By the way, where’s the snapdragon oolong tea? I promised Princess Celestia I’d bring her some more...”
“Kitchen cupboard, third shelf from the top, behind the Old Grey,” Spike recited.
Twilight nodded, then rushed to the kitchen. As she rummaged through the cupboard, she smiled to herself. This is why you're my Number One assistant, Spike... she thought.
“Chariot’s here, Twilight!” Spike called out.
Case in point: helpful as always. “Thanks!” Twilight replied. As she glanced at her list, she permitted herself a small smile. She’d been worried that she’d be behind on her schedule, but here she was, almost done, and not a moment too soon! If there weren’t any more distractions, then Twilight would easily be on time to –
Inwardly, Twilight groaned. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Pinkie Pie – in fact, she was one of Twilight’s closest friends – but now was not the time.
“Pinkie, I’m sorry, but whatever it is will have to wait,” Twilight said. “I need to leave for Canterlot shortly.”
“I know that!” Pinkie replied brightly. “That’s what I’m here to talk to you about.”
Twilight paused before answering. “Alright, but make it quick.”
“Can I come with you?” Pinkie asked. “I’ve been wanting to go to Canterlot for a really really really long time now, and since you’re going too, this is the perfect opportunity!”
Twilight turned to Pinkie, eyebrows raised. “Why do you want to go to Canterlot?” she said. “I mean, you probably aren’t in the mood for just sitting and chatting with the Princesses, so what will you be doing there?”
Pinkie hesitated before responding. “Oh, you know… things...” she replied, looking away. “...stuff.”
Twilight glanced at the clock, then shrugged. “…Whatever,” she grumbled. “So long as you’re already packed…” She turned away. “Spike, are you ready?”
“Yes! Coming, Twilight!” Spike entered the room, carrying a bulging saddlebag. He slung it onto Twilight’s back, then left the library.
Twilight slipped a couple of books off the library shelves, letting them hover near her. “Just a bit of light reading for the trip…” she muttered to herself. She checked off the last box on her list, then turned to the door. “Alright! We’re all ready to go. Let’s hit the road.”
“Great! And when we’re done with that, we’ll go to Canterlot!” Pinkie said cheerfully.
Twilight sighed. It was going to be a long trip.
“Ah, my most faithful student, Twilight Sparkle. It’s been far too long.” Standing at the entrance to the Royal Palace, Princess Celestia gazed warmly at her star pupil. “You look well, all things considered… You’ve never enjoyed travel much, if I recall correctly.”
Twilight smiled wearily. “I’m just glad that I didn’t take the train,” she said, shooting a quick glance at Pinkie. “Anyway, it’s good to see you too, Princess.” She frowned. “Although it hasn’t been too long, has it?”
Celestia chuckled. "I suppose not, but lately, there's usually been..." She hesitated. "...excitement."
Twilight snorted. "Well, that's one way of putting it. Think we can get through the day without parasprites or changelings or who-knows-what-else this time?"
"I certainly hope so," Celestia replied, smiling. She turned to Spike. “I’m glad that you’ve also come along, Spike.”
Spike shrugged. “Hey, it’s good to see you too. Tea parties aren’t my usual gig, but it’s good to get out of the library once in a while.” He paused, sniffed the air, then licked his lips. “Hey, are those quartz scones I smell?”
“Of course,” Celestia said. “I had the cooks bake those for you specifically.”
Spike rubbed his hands together. “Thanks, Princess! You’re the best.”
Celestia chuckled. “You’re quite welcome, Spike.” She glanced to Pinkie. “…And… Pinkie Pie? I wasn’t aware that you were coming, but it’s a welcome surprise.”
Pinkie grinned exuberantly. “Gee, thanks, Celly!”
Twilight’s eye twitched at the nickname. She glanced over to the Princess, but luckily, Celestia didn’t seem to have taken offense.
“Actually, though,” Pinkie continued, “I’m just stopping by for a sec. I’ve got somewhere else that I need to go while I’m in Canterlot.”
Celestia smiled warmly. “Oh? Somepony is in dire need of a surprise party, I presume.”
“Sort of,” Pinkie said. “Well, I gotta go now! Bye!”
Twilight watched, eyebrow raised, as Pinkie dashed away. “Gee, she sure doesn’t waste time, does she?”
“Quite true.” Celestia chuckled. “I think we would do well to follow her example in that regard. After all, the sooner we move along, the more time we’ll have together.” Her eyes lit up. “That reminds me... Luna has been eager to see you again, Twilight.”
“Really?” asked Twilight, smiling. “Let’s not keep her waiting any longer, then.”
Side by side, the two ponies entered the palace. Spike moved to follow them, but paused, looking back. “I wonder what Pinkie’s doing…”
As it turns out, Princess Celestia had been partially correct in her assumption. It was true that Pinkie Pie was there to throw a surprise party.
But not, technically speaking, for somepony.
Pinkie looked around at her handiwork. She’d outdone herself, all things considered. It had been somewhat short-notice, so she’d had to leave her party cannon behind, but she’d managed to throw together a proper soiree. There were balloons, and streamers, and refreshments, and music, and games.
“So, do you like it?” Pinkie asked, addressing the guest of honor.
There was no response. The statue of Discord was still and lifeless, a stony expression pain and horror frozen on his face. The party hat perched precariously on his head did little to lighten the mood.
Pinkie regarded the silent statue. “You’re probably surprised that I’m doing this for you,” she eventually surmised. “You know, after all that you had done to Equestria, and to my friends?”
Pinkie took this as affirmation. “We-ell, I’d been thinking. You remember Rainbow Dash’s old friend Gilda, right?” After a pause, she giggled. “Oh, what am I saying? Of course you wouldn’t!” She shrugged. “Anyway, Gilda was Dashie’s friend when the two of them were younger.”
Pinkie sat down with a sigh. “Well, one day, Gilda decided to visit Dash again,” she said, eyes narrowing. “But while Gilda was really nice to Rainbow, she was a big meanie-pants to everyone else! Even to Fluttershy… Can you believe it?” She shook her head sadly.
“Anyway, I thought that maybe a party would improve her mood. So I threw one! But Dashie sorta set up a lot of pranks, and Gilda ran into every single one. Gilda got really angry and yelled at me, ‘cause she thought it was my fault! Then Dash stopped Gilda, who got even angrier and ran away.”
Discord seemed unmoved by the tale.
Pinkie took a breath before continuing. “Well, anyway, I’d been thinking about that lately, and I thought maybe the reason you were acting like such a meanie-pants too is because you also needed a party! In fact, you probably need one more than anypony else. You did say that being encased in stone is awfully lonely…” She gestured to the party around the two of them. “So I thought I’d cheer you up.”
Discord’s horrified expression remained unchanged.
“Oh, don’t worry!” Pinkie assured him. “This party is one hundred percent prank-free!”
“…So… Now what?” Pinkie glanced over at the refreshments. “Would you like something to drink?”
Discord looked a tad reproachful.
“No, you’re right. Sorry,” Pinkie said. “It’s not like you can drink anything, since you’re stone, now.”
“A game, maybe? Charades? You go first.”
Discord made no move.
Pinkie grimaced. “Oh, right. Stone.”
There was a long, awkward pause.
Pinkie stared at her hooves. “Um…” She cleared her throat. “So, I brought you a friend!” She darted away, only to return a split second later.
Now Pinkie had with her a small stack of rocks. Another party hat sat on the highest stone.
“This is Rocky,” Pinkie said. “I figured you two could keep each other company! After all, you have a lot in common…”
Discord did not seem amused. Neither did Rocky.
“…You know, being…” Pinkie continued awkwardly. “…being stone. I would’ve brought Tom, too, but I didn’t think that he’d fit on the chariot.”
Pinkie looked at her front left ankle, which was conspicuously timepiece-free, and grinned fervently. “Gee, look at the time! I’ll let you two get right to it. I gotta go now, bye!”
And with that, she was gone, leaving only a still, silent party among the sculpture gardens.
Just as Twilight Sparkle exited the palace, Spike in tow, Pinkie approached the pair. “Hi, Twilight! Hi, Spike!”
Twilight looked up. “Oh, hi, Pinkie. You’re finished with… whatever it is you were doing?”
“Yep!” Pinkie replied. “How did your tea with the Princesses go?”
“Oh, it was quite nice,” Twilight said. “Celestia and I were able to catch up on everything from the past couple of months…” She directed a mild glare towards Spike. “…while Spike here challenged Luna to a drinking game.”
Spike shrugged. “Hey, Luna had lots of fun, and it wasn’t like we were drinking alcohol or anything. It was just tea! What was the problem?”
“It was distracting,” Twilight grumbled. “It’s kind of hard to discuss much of anything with the Princess if – and this is just one example, mind you – every time I say the word ‘friend’ or ‘friendship’, the other Princess loudly declares, ‘friendship is magic!’ and takes a drink.”
Pinkie grinned. “That does sound fun! And that was just one example? I’ll have to take a look at that game some time, Spike!”
Twilight winced. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea...”
“Well, I’ve got the list right here,” Spike said, holding out a scroll.
Pinkie deftly grabbed the scroll and unrolled it in one swift motion. Then she began reading. “Gee, these are great! Ooh, look at this one... ‘Take a drink whenever Twilight acts soppy towards Celestia’?” She giggled. “You and Luna must’ve been swigging that tea like nopony’s business!”
Twilight immediately turned crimson, then swiped the list away from Pinkie. “I... I don’t act soppy towards the Princess!” she sputtered. “And Spike, where did you get this, anyway?!”
Spike just shrugged.
“It’s okay, Twilight,” Pinkie said, nudging her playfully. “Everypony thinks it’s cute the way you act around Celestia.”
“Cute?” Twilight growled. After a moment, she sighed. “You know what, forget it. The less that is said about this, ever, the better. Shall we go home now?”
By the time that the three of them returned to Ponyville, the Moon had already risen over the horizon. As the chariot touched down in front of the library, Spike yawned.
“At last,” he said. “Now I can finally go to bed.” He hopped off the chariot and headed for the library door.
As the two mares stepped off, Twilight turned to address the pegasi drawing the chariot. “Thanks again, sirs.”
The chariot-pullers nodded to her, then took off.
“Well, Twilight, thanks for letting me come with you!” Pinkie said. “See you tomorrow!”
“Of course,” replied Twilight. “Good night.”
Pinkie watched Twilight head inside, then turned around and headed towards Sugarcube Corner. As she walked (or rather, bounced, as was her custom), she thought.
Well, that went… okay. It went okay, Pinkie concluded. Not one of the best parties that I’ve hosted, but really, what can I expect? I was the only one there who wasn’t made of stone!
After a moment, she sighed. Logic aside, it didn’t sit well with Pinkie that she couldn’t get inanimate objects to party hard.
At least not without going crazy again…
Pinkie shuddered, and dismissed the thought. Hey, so one party didn’t go too well! So what? I’ve got plenty of friends here in Ponyville that love my parties anyhow. So what if a few dumb ol’ rocks can’t appreciate it?
As she slipped through the back door of Sugarcube Corner, Pinkie smiled. Well, whether or not Discord liked the party, I’m sure he got the message. No hard feelings and all that. And more importantly, now that I’ve gotten that over with, I can get back to the best parties, here with the bestest friends in the whole wide world!
Pinkie entered her room and climbed into bed. As she snuggled under the covers, Gummy climbed onto the bed and curled up on top of the blankets.
As she drifted off to sleep, Pinkie smiled. After the events of today, one less thing was bothering her, which made zero things in total. Now I can just go to sleep and not have to worry about it ever again…
“Au contraire, Pinkie Pie!”
Pinkie sat up with a jolt. “Wha? Who?”
“Oh, you don’t remember? You can’t even guess? I’m hurt, Miss Pie. Deeply and truly hurt.”
That voice sounds so familiar… Pinkie blinked a couple of times. After a moment, she looked around, until her eyes fell on–
“Discord!” Pinkie exclaimed. “What are you doing here?!”
Discord floated over to Pinkie Pie, his amused smirk widening. “Oh, don’t fret, my dear,” he said, patting her on the head. “I’m not free from my stone prison, if that’s what you’re wondering–”
Pinkie blinked. “Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that! I just wanna know why you’re in my dream.”
Discord’s eyes widened. “Oh? You already know that this is a dream… Okay, I can work with this.” He stroked his beard for a moment before continuing. “In that case, Pinkie, let me elucidate. This isn’t your dream, any more than it is anyone else’s. The subliminal mind of every being links to this place, and it is where I now reside. Pinkie Pie, I welcome you to…” He directed a grand, sweeping gesture to their surroundings. “…the Collective Unconscious!”
Pinkie looked around. The pair them were simply floating in an empty void, colored and patterned like old parchment.
“It’s kinda… boring,” she said eventually.
Discord grinned. “I couldn’t agree more. Let’s change things up a bit, shall we?” He snapped his fingers, and suddenly the two of them were sitting in a bar.
Discord turned to the barkeep, an ivory-colored stallion. “Two glasses of your finest chocolate milk, if you would be so kind,” he said.
The pony grunted in acknowledgement and poured them their drinks.
“Thanks,” Discord said, then downed the contents of one of the glasses in a single gulp. He plunked the empty glass on the table. “Keep ‘em coming.”
The bartender snorted, but complied.
Pinkie took the other glass, and sipped at her chocolate milk. “So, Discord. Why am I here, instead of in my normal dreams?” she asked. “You didn’t say yet.” Her eyes lit up. “Oh! Unless it’s a guessing game?”
“No need for that,” Discord said. He slurped down another glass of chocolate milk. “I’m here to talk, of course. Specifically to thank you.”
Pinkie beamed. “You liked my party?”
Discord smiled back. “I loved it! It would have been better, had I not been, you know, turned to stone. …And had it not been your fault, not that I’m holding a grudge against you or anything.” He waved a claw dismissively. “But it’s the thought that counts, and it’s that I appreciate.”
“Really?” Pinkie said.
“Of course!” Discord said. “Why, that party was the high point of the social season, at least as far as I’m concerned. I might not have been able to do...” As he paused, he gulped down another glass. “...well, anything, but it was better than what I usually do.”
Pinkie cocked her head inquisitively. “Oh? and what’s that?”
“Why, watch the grass grow, of course!” Discord chuckled. “Let me tell you, after several months of that, anything’s a relief. And that party? Why, that was... It was just the perfect distraction!” In a flash of light, a party hat appeared on Discord’s head. He put a noisemaker to his lips and blew into it, making a tinny noise, then grinned. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
“Well, I’m happy that you’re happy!” Pinkie said. She took another swallow of her chocolate milk, content in the knowledge that she’d delivered yet another spark of joy to a person in need.
Discord stiffened for a moment, then sighed. “Actually,” he said, slumping slightly, “Perhaps ‘happy’ is a bit of an overstatement.” He swigged down another glass. “Mind if I vent for a little while?”
“No, not at all,” Pinkie replied. After all, even though this wasn’t as exciting as her usual dreams, it was still quite interesting. And she was getting free chocolate milk, too.
“Thanks, Pinkie! I’m glad to have a sympathetic ear.” Discord emptied his glass, and then peered at it. After a moment of thought, he drank the glass itself, too.
The bartender grunted disapprovingly.
“Put it on my tab,” Discord said. “Anyway, where was I?”
“Not quite happy?” Pinkie prompted. “The party, maybe?”
Discord nodded. “Oh, right! Really, Pinkie, your party meant a lot to me. You know, no one’s ever done that for me before.”
Something in his demeanor seemed a little... off. Pinkie looked down at the bar table. There were a lot more empty glasses there than she had first thought.
Discord continued between swallows of chocolate milk. “You know, it can get awfully lonely being me. Not just being stone, either. Even when I’m free and can do whatever I want… It’s just… well…” He paused, blinking slowly. After a moment, his eyes lit up. “Ah! I know. You really enjoy throwing parties, right?”
Pinkie nodded. “Uh-huh,” she said, watching as Discord drained yet another glass.
“I really like causing chaos,” Discord said. “See what I mean? Even though nobody else appreciates what I do, whenever I make a mix up a really great batch of entropy, I just get the warm fuzzies. And I can’t help but laugh! You, if anyone, should appreciate a good laugh.”
Pinkie nodded again, noting that the table was starting to fill with empty glasses at an alarming rate. “Uh, maybe you should stop drinking so much of that–”
“And I work so hard at it, too!” Discord interrupted. “I mean, you know what it was like when I’d just gotten free again, and I was just getting started! You should’ve seen the plans I had for trout...”
“Trout?” Pinkie repeated.
“Yes, trout,” Discord said. “It would’ve blown you away! Metaphorically speaking, of course,” he added quickly, then downed another swig of chocolate milk. “But anyway, the real great thing about chaos is that it never gets old! There’s always room for infinite variety. Pinkie Pie, do you know how many types of chaos there are?”
Pinkie frowned thoughtfully. “No.”
Discord grinned. “Neither do I! Chaos comes in all sorts of flavors, and I haven’t even named half of the ones I do know! Why, a mere six hours after my return, I’d unleashed entropy upon Canterlot, turmoil upon Manehattan, bedlam upon Fillydelphia, pandemonium upon Ferrington, tumult upon Appleoosa, upheaval upon Cloudsdale, and my personal favorite – topsy-turviness – upon Ponyville. And that doesn’t even include the many types of nameless chaos that I’d wreaked upon all of the smaller towns.” He quickly drained another glass.
“Gee, uh...” Pinkie paused, unsure of how to respond. “...that’s a lot of chaos.”
“And all of it unique!” Discord added. “You’d think that everypony would find some chaos that they’d like! But nopony seems to like any of it! I mean, I mean,” he slurred, waving a hand, “Poof! Cotton candy clouds. Poof! Chocolate rain. Poof! Shattered psyches of an entire town. But does anypony enjoy it? No!” Discord’s voice shifted into a near-exact copy of Celestia’s. “‘Oh, Discord’s up and about again, is he? Why don’t you six take the Elements of Harmony and turn him to stone again, will you?’ It never fails. I mean, why? All I’m doing is destroying the status quo!” At that, he slumped over, sobbing into his chocolate milk.
“Uh…” Pinkie blinked. She hadn’t been prepared for this.
As she stared at Discord, Pinkie resolved to cheer him up. Sure, he’s done some really mean things, she thought, but he’s so sad! I have to do something...
Pinkie edged over to Discord and patted him reassuringly. “There, there…” she said. “I liked those things you did! Well, except for the whole ‘shattered psyches’ thing, anyway. But the rest of it was really nice!”
Discord sniffled pitifully. “You… you really mean it?”
“Of course!” Pinkie said. “I mean, chocolate rain! Chocolate. Rain!” She giggled. “C’mon, who can top that? And the soap roads were fun, too.”
After a moment, Discord smiled. “Thank you, Pinkie Pie. That means a lot to me.”
“Aw, you’re welcome!” Pinkie giggled, nudging the draconequus playfully. “I’m glad I could help. It’s no fun to see somepony else not having fun!”
Discord opened his mouth to reply, but apparently thought better of it. After a pause, he straightened up. “Well, leave it to the Element of Laughter to cheer up even ‘meanie-pants’ Discord.” He chuckled. “I know I’ve told you this before, but your Element is easily my favorite. For that matter, you’re my favorite out of you and your friends, too.” He raised another glass to his lips, but this time sipped thoughtfully at it.
Pinkie blinked. “Really?” she asked. “I never would’ve guessed! After all, you were so touchy-feely with Twilight in particular that I kinda assumed… well… you know.” At that, she winked.
Discord grimaced. “Don’t say it like that. You make me sound like some unsavory sort of character.”
A less charitable pony could have replied with any number of retorts, but instead Pinkie said, “Okie Dokie Lokie.”
“Anyway,” Discord continued,” while it’s true that Twilight has a...” he paused. “…certain charm, honestly I much prefer you. You’re filled with so much happiness and joy, and you use it to make others happy, too.” He sighed. “Were I ever to have a daughter – which, by the way, is extremely unlikely – I hope she’d be a lot like you.”
“Heh, thanks, Discord!” Pinkie said, beaming. “That’s so sweet!”
But a small, nagging voice at the back of her mind reminded Pinkie that Discord, of all people, normally wasn’t sweet. The whole thing was strange.
Shut up, Pinkie thought right back. Maybe he’s turning over a new leaf, although I still don’t see what that has to do with behaving better. Maybe leaves like being turned over – Ooh! That gives me a great idea! …Wait, where was I? Oh, right.
Discord glanced around, his expression worried. After a second, Pinkie followed suit, and noticed that the bar and its surroundings were starting to fade away, the parchment pattern of the Collective Unconscious already seeping back.
“Well, I’m glad we’ve had this chat,” Discord said. “But it looks like it’s going to come to a close very soon here. Before I go, however…” He leaned in close to Pinkie and whispered conspiratorially. “I’d like to give you a little gift.”
“Really?” Pinkie asked.
“Oh, but of course!” Discord replied, sounding hurt. “I wouldn’t joke about that! After all, when you threw your party for me, you let me into your heart. It’s the reason why I can even be having this conversation with you in the first place. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t repay you?”
“But–” Pinkie began.
Discord shushed her. “No! Not a word. I insist. Let me do this one thing for you, Pinkie Pie, and then I promise that I’ll be out of your mane forever.”
Pinkie considered it. Well, what could it hurt?
“Okay,” she finally decided.
“Great!” Discord grinned wickedly, and then leaned over and “booped” Pinkie on the nose, resulting in a jolt not unlike a small electrical shock. Pinkie jumped.
Discord laughed, then bowed with a flourish. “Arrivederci, my dear!” he exclaimed, and then disappeared in a flash of light.
Then the bar faded away completely, and Pinkie moved on to a deeper slumber.
Pinkie awoke to the sun in her eyes, streaming in from the window. She stretched, yawning, and rolled out of bed. Pinkie was normally a morning pony – and a late night pony, too, for that matter – but for some reason she had a more difficult time waking up today...
Blearily, Pinkie grabbed the edge of the end table next to her bed, pulled herself up, and stared into the face of a draconequus.
Pinkie jumped back with a startled shriek. So did the draconequus.
Then Pinkie blinked, realizing what she was actually looking at. “Oh, silly me!” she said. “I’d forgotten about the mirror on my end table. That’s just my reflection!”
There was a slight pause.
“…Hold on a sec!” Pinkie exclaimed. “I’m not usually a draconequus.” Carefully, she examined her new form.
It was little wonder that Pinkie Pie hadn’t recognized herself. Technically, she still had the head of a pony – if only barely – and it was still pink, but it had been so warped and twisted that it hardly resembled Pinkie’s face at all. Instead, the face that stared back at here was almost alien – sunken features, snaggle-toothed fang, the antler of a deer next to the horn of a dragon. Even her eyes had changed to become similarly mismatched, although they had more or less retained their previous blue color. Interestingly, only her poofy mane had remained untouched.
The rest of her body, predictably, was a mismatched assembly of parts. Pinkie quickly took stock of them. A serpentine body; light brown, owl-like feathers and a matching set of talons; the paw of a white tiger; two wings, one leathery and one feathery; a dark pink, vaguely equine leg; a reptilian leg, light blue; and a green, crocodilian tail that ended in a poofy pink tuft.
“…Wow,” Pinkie said. “I look really silly!” She giggled, turning this way and that to get a better look at herself in the mirror. “Don’t you think so, Gummy?”
Gummy regarded his owner stoically for a moment, then blinked, one eye lagging behind the other. Apparently he felt that no greater response was needed.
At that moment, Pinkie heard a voice at the bedroom door. “Pinkie Pie?” Mrs. Cake called out. “Are you okay? You don’t normally stay in so late…” At that, the door opened, and she walked in.
“Oh! Good morning, Mrs. Cake!” Pinkie said. “Sorry, I guess metamorphosing kinda makes one sleep in.”
Upon seeing Pinkie, Mrs. Cake leaped back. “AAAAUGH!”
“Sorry!” Pinkie said, advancing slowly. “I didn’t mean to startle you!”
Mrs. Cake stumbled back further. “What are you doing here?! What have you done to Pinkie Pie?!”
“What?” Pinkie replied. “I… I am Pinkie Pie!”
“Oh, Celestia…” Mrs. Cake swore under her breath. She stopped retreating, and then turned to fix Pinkie with a glare. “I don’t know what you’ve done to Pinkie, but if you’ve hurt her…”
Pinkie blinked. “What? No! I’m Pinkie!” she shouted, starting to panic. “Can’t you understand me? …Hey! Ouch!”
Mrs. Cake had started throwing things. “Back! Back, you fiend! You won’t hurt anypony else in my home!”
Pinkie stumbled back, then tripped backwards over her bed. She curled up into a tight ball, blinking away tears. “I’m… I’m sorry!” she cried. “I don’t know what I did, but I’m sorry!” Instinct told her she had to leave, and fast. Pinkie closed her eyes, and wished herself away.
In a flash of light, she was gone.
When Mrs. Cake burst through the library door, Twilight jumped. The unicorn’s latest experiment hit the floor with a small crash.
Twilight glanced down at the pool of liquid and shattered glass, and then looked towards her unexpected visitor. “Mrs. Cake!” she exclaimed. “You startled me. What’s going on?”
“Oh, Twilight,” Mrs. Cake moaned. “It’s simply awful! Something’s happened to Pinkie Pie!”
“What?” Twilight stiffened. “What happened?”
“Well, this morning Pinkie hadn’t woken up my husband and I, so I went to check on her,” Mrs. Cake answered. “When I opened the door to her room, Pinkie wasn’t there – and a draconequus was!”
Twilight’s eyes flashed. “Discord? He’s back?”
“N-no.” Mrs. Cake shook her head. “It wasn’t him – it was someone new.”
“For goodness’ sake, there’s another?” Twilight sighed. “Of course there is… Well, are you absolutely sure that it had done something to Pinkie?”
“Gummy was there. Pinkie Pie wasn’t. Do you think she’d voluntarily leave her pet alone in a situation like that?”
“No, I guess you’re right.” Twilight said. “A new draconequus, and Pinkie missing…” She paled. “…Oh no. Even if we put aside the fact that Pinkie could be in danger, that’s still a new Spirit of Disharmony on the loose, and one of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony is missing in action… or worse.”
“At the risk of stating the obvious, that sounds like a bad thing,” Mrs. Cake observed.
Twilight chuckled humorlessly. “That’s one way of putting it. Without all six bearers of the Elements, we can’t use them. Even if we manage to defeat this new draconequus without the help of the Elements – and I’m not sure we can – it’ll cost us. A lot.”
Mrs. Cake gulped. “…Oh dear.”
Suddenly, the very air rumbled for a moment, then the sound was replaced by heavy splattering. Both Twilight and Mrs. Cake turned to look out the window.
Outside, the sky was dark with pink clouds. Massive, chocolate-colored raindrops, each the size of a pony’s hoof, plummeted down and hit the ground with resounding splashes.
Twilight stared up at the sky with an expression of dread. “Oh no...”
“Gah! Too much!” Pinkie exclaimed. “Dumb clouds!”
A minute or two earlier, Pinkie Pie had teleported away from Sugarcube Corner, reappearing on the outskirts of Ponyville. She had been worrying about how Mrs. Cake had apparently been unable to understand or recognize her, but was sidetracked by the realization that since she was now a draconequus like Discord, she could probably do the same things that he could.
Ooh! Let’s try that out, Pinkie had thought. What could I do…? Ha! As if I didn’t know already. How about chocolate rain? How hard could that be?
As it turned out, it was incredibly easy… too easy, in fact. She hardly had to consider the possibility, and the heavens filled instantly with cotton candy and chocolate milk. Now she was trying to make it stop, with considerably less success.
“Hey!” Pinkie yelled at the sky. “I only wanted one small cloud! Stop right now!”
The uncaring heavens continued to dump its chocolaty bounty on Ponyville and the surrounding landscape.
Pinkie sat there a minute or two, shouting at the clouds, before finally giving up. “Whatever…” she grumbled. Magic is harder than Twilight makes it look, she thought gloomily.
Pinkie Pie glanced at the road she was currently hovering over. One direction led back into Ponyville, the other away from it and into parts unknown.
“Should I go back?” Pinkie mused aloud. “I mean, considering how Mrs. Cake reacted, I might cause some kind of a panic, and nopony wants that! But how else would I get back to normal? I’m sure that Twilight can figure out a way to do that…” She frowned. “Then again, will she understand me?”
Another thought occurred to her. “Besides, do I even want to turn back to normal right away? Think of all the fun I could have first…!”
Pinkie’s eyes glazed over as she thought of what she could do with her newfound power. Fun… There would be a big, big party. Balloons everywhere! And food, and all sorts of festive, colorful decorations, and really wacky things, and… and… Wait a second…
Pinkie looked up. The landscape had changed while she was thinking. Now the ground was covered in a slowly-expanding checkerboard pattern, herds of multicolored balloons floated along, laughing, cookies and cupcakes rose out of the earth to go hurtling into the upper atmosphere...
“Hey! I didn’t mean it all right away!” Pinkie Pie protested. “This is just a teensy bit too much, and…” She paused as she noticed a small clump of trees that had miraculously escaped the chaos. “Hey, those trees look kinda like big umbrellas.”
Pinkie sighed. “…And now they are big umbrellas. That’s it!” She threw her arms upward in aggravation. “I’ve had enough of this. I’m gonna go see Twilight right away, so she can fix all this and turn me back to normal!”
Pinkie nodded to herself. There. That was simple. Now that she knew what to do, she just had to follow through. Of course, there would be problems...
First problem: “Alright, I might scare somepony if they saw me… so I should at least find a disguise.”
After a moment of thought, Pinkie nodded. “Great! I’ve got just the thing!”
A second later, a bale of hay popped into existence right in front of her.
“Heh heh heh,” Pinkie chuckled, worming her way into the hay. “Nopony suspects the hay bale!” Satisfied with her disguise, she made her way down the road back into Ponyville.
Luckily, the majority of the chaos hadn’t yet reached Ponyville itself. The only thing that was out of the ordinary was the thick layer of cotton candy clouds and its chocolate rain.
The citizens of Ponyville, though they felt rather uneasy about the chocolaty deluge, went about their business regardless. Ever since the Nightmare Moon incident, the weirdness that seemed to find its way to Ponyville had caused most of the residents to slowly build up a resistance to the bizarre. Sure, there was the occasional worried glance upwards, and the usual spooked whisperings, but since the chocolate rain wasn’t any immediate danger, they managed to tolerate it.
After all, many reasoned, there’s nothing else that they can do about it. Sure, the chocolate rain is odd, but Twilight Sparkle and her friends will probably work out a way to fix the problem before the end of the day, just like they always do whenever something like this happens. Therefore, no need to panic... at least not yet, right?
Pinkie wound her way through the Ponyville marketplace, stealthily approaching her destination. As she neared Twilight’s library, she kept her goal in mind.
Focus, Pinkie, she told herself. The library’s just ahead. Don’t get distracted by anything in the marketplace. Not sweets, or shiny baubles, or… Wait, is that cabbage?
Forgetting herself for the moment, Pinkie snaked out of her hay bale and inspected the unattended cabbage cart. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. Who actually likes cabbage? she thought. This could be way better!
Suddenly, the cabbages were gone, replaced by warm, freshly-baked pies.
Pinkie blinked. She knew that she shouldn’t be surprised, but she was. Not again, she thought. Oh well! I’m sure that these will sell better than–
“MY CABBAGES!” A green stallion with a grey mane pushed through the crowd, only to stare dumbfounded at his transmogrified wares. He slumped down with a sob. “Oh, Celestia! Who could have done such a...” he paused.
“...Wait a minute!” The cabbage merchant whipped his head towards Pinkie. “YOU!” he snarled, pouring every ounce of hatred he could into that one syllable.
Pinkie backed up quickly, intimidated… but also puzzled. Why isn’t he happy? Nopony likes cabbages!
“Plenty of ponies like cabbages!” the merchant growled.
Pinkie considered his words. She racked her brain for the name of anypony who really enjoyed fresh cabbage, cabbage stew, anything cabbage… and came up with nothing.
The cabbage merchant faltered. “Well...” he said with less conviction, but paused.“...Well,” he continued, “cabbages are an excellent source of Vitamin C!”
More than oranges? Pinkie wondered.
The merchant stared at her for a moment. “…No,” he admitted finally.
Pinkie inspected the merchant, really noticing for the first time the sorry state he was in. The pony was emaciated and unkempt, and the cart beside him looked like it had been inexpertly repaired many times.
Pinkie’s face fell. This is what you have to live with? How sad, she thought. Does anypony truly deserve a life like this?
The cabbage merchant hung his head. “You’re right,” he murmured. “Nopony wants cabbages, and nopony wants a cabbage merchant…”
A white glow appeared at the merchant’s ragged tail, moving slowly along his body. In its wake, it left him grey and colorless, and a subtle change came over his demeanor – as if his heart had been hardened, yet broken at the same time.
“No! Nonononono!” Pinkie stammered, eyes widening. “N-no, I didn’t mean it like that at all! Stop it!”
Her efforts weren’t very effective. Soon, the merchant stood before Pinkie, fully grey and fully dejected.
Suddenly, a beige mare with a reddish-pink mane (Rose, Pinkie instantly recalled) pushed her way through the crowd and stepped towards the merchant. “Leafy? Leafy Green, are you okay?” she asked. “What happened to your cabbages?”
Leafy gave her a cold stare. “Don’t talk to me about cabbages,” he said, and then plodded away.
“Leafy, wait!” Rose called out, but it was too late. He was gone.
Rose turned a glare towards Pinkie Pie. “You...” she hissed. “Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?”
Pinkie chuckled nervously. "N-no, don't worry. I can fix it!" she insisted. "Maybe if I turn his cabbages back to normal... fix his cart..." She glanced at the cart in question.
As Pinkie stared at it, she got a sinking feeling that the cart was a lost cause. She didn’t even know where to start... Halfheartedly, she wished that the ground would swallow her up.
With a resounding crack, the ground opened up beneath the cabbage cart. A column of magma erupted forth, incinerating it.
Pinkie's jaw dropped. "What the...?"
As globs of lava rained down, ponies ran, screaming, but Rose still stood, glaring at Pinkie. “You… you monster,” she finally spat out, and then she ran off after the cabbage merchant.
Pinkie watched her go, a horrible realization dawning on her. Even though Pinkie hadn’t meant to hurt anypony, she had. Everything she touched went horribly wrong. Mrs. Cake, the outskirts of Ponyville, Leafy Green, even his cart... not to mention all the lava, of course. Although Pinkie didn’t want to admit it, she could plainly see one thing.
“…She’s right,” Pinkie said, eyes widening. “I am a monster.”
Eyes starting to tear up, Pinkie sped away from the marketplace and out of Ponyville. She had to leave, to go where nopony would ever find her. She had to go to where all the other monsters lived.
After all, what else can I do? As Pinkie flew on, she hung her head in shame. I can't go see Twilight like this! If I do... Her lip quivered.
Pinkie's eyes narrowed. No. I’m not gonna hurt her, or my other friends, or anypony else, ever again. I'll make sure of that.
Upon reaching the edge of the Everfree Forest, Pinkie Pie took one final look back at her old home. With a sigh, she turned her back to it, then slipped into the darkness of the trees.
As Twilight trotted into the marketplace, her eyes widened. She looked around at the deserted streets, the rapidly-cooling pools of lava, and the gaping fissure in the center of it all. “What happened here?”
Her question was met with oppressive silence.
“Hello?” Twilight called out. “Anypony here?” Uneasily, she glanced around for anypony who could explain the situation, but with little luck. Shopkeepers’ stalls still stood, merchandise out on display and the occasional barrel or crate nearby, but nopony was around to actually do anything with it all. It was as if everypony had simply disappeared.
Twilight shivered, images of ghost towns springing to mind. It wouldn’t have surprised her to see a tumbleweed roll along the empty street. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if it weren’t for the silence... she thought.
...Wait, was that a noise? Cocking an ear, Twilight paused. Yes, there it is again... coming from... over there...
Twilight walked over to a nearby barrel and looked inside. She blinked. “Lily? What are you doing in there?”
Lily looked back up at Twilight from the bottom of the barrel. “It was awful...” she said.
“An absolute disaster!” came Daisy’s voice from the barrel next to Lily’s.
“There was a horrible, horrible monster!”
“A snarling, shrieking beast!”
“She filled the sky with chocolate milk!”
“Snuck into the market and assailed ponies!”
“Fire and lava everywhere!”
Twilight held up a hoof. “Whoa, slow down! You said that a draconequus did… Hold on.” Her brow furrowed. “Why are there only two of you here? What happened to Rose?”
Lily’s eyes widened further. “I... I don’t know...” Cautiously, she poked her head out of the barrel. “Daisy? I-is Rose over there with you?”
“N-no... Oh!” Daisy gasped. “The draconequus must have done something to her!”
Twilight turned and trotted away, her expression troubled. Discord was evil, but he was never this destructive, she thought. If this continues, we might have to take drastic action…
As Pinkie drifted through the forest, she gloomily considered the life that awaited her. There would be no more parties, as she couldn’t get close to anypony without risking accidentally hurting them. As such, she could never see her friends again, either. Although they probably wouldn’t be able to understand her anyway, even if she did…
Pinkie sighed. Looked like a lifetime of moping about, all alone in the Everfree for however long draconequuses… draconquuii… for however long a draconequus lived.
I’ll probably go crazy, Pinkie thought. And not the fun kind of crazy, either.
Dejectedly, she looked about. She was probably deep enough into the forest that nopony would accidentally stumble upon her. Pinkie decided that this was as good a place as any to make a house for herself. Maybe out of gingerbread…? she considered.
Presently, Pinkie noticed something out of place. “Hey,” she said. “There’s already a house here!”
Pinkie’s first instinct was to run away, but instead, she paused. After a moment, she crept forward, examining the house.
On second thought, “hut” was probably a better word for the building in front of her. The hut was made of countless tree branches that had been carefully stripped of leaves and excess twigs, vaguely dome-shaped and held together by dried vines and creepers. The whole thing looked like a large, upside-down bird’s nest. There were no windows, but there was a hollowed-out log for a chimney and a large, thick piece of bark for a door.
Pinkie edged over to the door, opened it just a crack, and looked around. Nopony was home, so she slipped inside.
The one-room interior was mostly bare, but kept clean. Hardly anything of interest – or anything at all, for that matter – was there. Really, all that could be seen was a large, wooden chest, a pile of leaves that served as a makeshift bed, a small pile of books, and a small, worn picture frame that lay beside them.
Pinkie floated further into the house. She grabbed one of the books and examined its cover, which boldly proclaimed itself to be the latest in the Daring Do series.
“Huh.” Pinkie frowned thoughtfully as she examined cover after cover. “These are some of Dashie’s favorites... Wait a minute...”
Pinkie set the books down, her eyes falling on the picture frame. She reached out and picked it up.
Inside was a worn, faded photo of a pegasus filly and a young gryphon. The former was immediately recognizable – nopony else had a mane like that.
Hey! That’s Dashie, when she was younger! Pinkie’s eyes widened. So the gryphon must be–
“Hey, you! What are you doing in my house?!”
Pinkie spun around to face the newcomer. She gasped. “Gilda?!”
By Charcoal Quill
Gilda glared at the pony-turned-draconequus that had entered her home uninvited. “Yeah, so you know who I am. So did the last guy, big whoop. Doesn’t change anything; get out of my house! Now!”
Pinkie stared at Gilda, brow furrowed. Something seemed... off about her. “But–” Pinkie began.
“No! No buts!” Gilda interrupted, holding up a claw palm-outwards. “I don’t care if you’re a friggin’ reality-warping avatar of Chaos, if you don’t leave, you’re in for a world of hurt, so help me – Hold on.” She squinted at Pinkie. “Wait… Pinkie Pie, is that you?”
Pinkie stared, goggle-eyed, back at Gilda – jarred not only by the sudden recognition, but also by a further feeling of oddness. Some small part of Pinkie’s brain was quietly but insistently trying to get her attention. “Y-yes,” she stammered. “You can recognize me?”
“Physically? Only barely,” Gilda said. “But I’d recognize that voice anywhere.”
Pinkie’s eyes widened. “Wait, you can understand me? I’m speaking Equuish?”
Gilda rolled her eyes. “No, you’re not. You’re speaking Antiquated Gryphon.”
“Antiquated Gryphon?” Pinkie repeated, tilting her head slightly.
“Technically, Antiquated Gryphon is linguistically similar to Ancient Gryphon, but is only a century or two older than Modern Gryphon.” Gilda paused for a moment, eyes wide, but then glared at Pinkie. “…Hey! You made me geek out. Not cool.”
“Geek out?” Pinkie echoed, frowning.
Gilda grimaced and looked away. “Did I say that? Must’ve been a slip of the tongue or som–”
At that moment, Pinkie’s brain finally got her attention. It immediately drew her focus to–
“Hold on!” Pinkie interrupted, bending in for a closer look. “Are you wearing reading glasses?”
Gilda quickly swiped them off her face. “No,” she said hastily. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! Twenty-twenty vision, eagle-eyed, that’s me, and what in the world would I be doing with books it the first place? I wasn’t wearing reading glasses, honest.”
“You were!” Pinkie said. “And you’ve been using big words, and sounding really smart, and I know I saw few books here, and... and...” Her eyes widened. “Gilda... are you an...?”
“Finish that sentence with ‘egghead’ and I will slap you silly,” Gilda snapped. After a moment, she sighed. “Well, no use denying it, is there? Fine, you caught me. I’ve been reading a lot lately, and the knowledge just sort of… escapes from time to time.” She paused before continuing, more pointedly, “I’m not usually such a bookworm, but one kinda gets a lot of free time once they’ve lost their only friend. Which brings us back to the first part.” Her eyes flashed dangerously. “Go. Away.”
“No, listen,” Pinkie said hurriedly. “I-I’m sorry about before. With Rainbow Dash, I mean. If I hadn’t –”
“No,” Gilda snarled. “Don’t you dare apologize to me!” As the gryphon looked away, her tone softened slightly. “…It’s just like Dash said. I didn’t need any help making a fool of myself. I realize that now. Even if you hadn’t made me so angry, I was still being a jerk.”
“No, I really really mean it, and… uh…” Pinkie blinked a couple of times. “Wait. Are you apologizing to me?”
Gilda laughed bitterly. “Yeah, I suppose I am. Still doesn’t mean I like you, though. So thrice I say it, and done: Go. AWAY!”
There was a short pause.
Pinkie looked around. “Um. I’m still here,” she said. “Was that supposed to do anything?”
“Well, I didn’t really think it would banish you or anything, but one can hope, right?” Gilda replied, rolling her eyes. “So in that case, this can go one of two ways. Either you can leave right now, via your own feet…” She cracked her knuckles. “Or we can resort to physical violence. Even though I try to avoid it nowadays, I feel I can make an exception just this once. For you.”
Pinkie took a step back, arms held out in front of her. “No, wait!” she said. “Gilda, I need your help! You’re the only one who can understand me, and you’re my only hope!”
“Only hope?” Gilda echoed sarcastically. “For what, pray tell?”
Pinkie took a deep breath before saying, “Well, this morning I woke up and I had suddenly become a draconequus and then Mrs. Cake saw me and she couldn’t understand me and started throwing things at me so I left and then I tried to see Twilight but everything was going wrong and I can’t control my powers so then I ran away so that I’d be alone FOREVER and then I ended up here.” Finished, Pinkie gasped for air.
There was a slight pause.
Eventually, Gilda’s brain caught up with the monologue. “So that’s not some freaky, out-of-season Nightmare Night costume? Great, now the nutcase can alter the very fabric of reality,” she muttered to herself. She sighed. “Dang, does weird stuff always happen around you, Pinkie? No, don’t answer that. But anyway, I still don’t see why I should care.”
“Well…” Pinkie shuffled her feet. “You probably don’t have a reason to care, especially after what happened before, but you’re really smart now and you seem to be a little bit nicer, and… uh…” Her voice trailed off.
“Aaaaaand?” Gilda prompted.
Pinkie stared at the ground. Eventually, she replied, although it was barely audible. “…And I wanna be able to see my friends again without freaking them out or hurting them.”
Gilda stared at Pinkie a long while, her expression inscrutable. Eventually, she let out a sigh of disgust. “Ugh. Fine, I’ll help, if only to get you out of my feathers.”
Pinkie bounced over to Gilda. “Really?! Gee, thanks, G!” She reached out to hug the gryphon.
Gilda backed away and turned a glare towards Pinkie. “Hold on, let’s establish some rules before we get too far. First Rule: Don’t call me G. Ever. Second: No hugs. Don’t touch me at all. Third: I’m not doing this because we’re buddies now. It’s gonna cost you.”
“Oh,” Pinkie said, less enthusiastically than before. “Well, I don’t have much money, but when this is all sorted out I’d be happy to let you have my bits!”
“Uh…” Gilda stared at Pinkie for a moment, beak opening and closing wordlessly. Finally, she found her voice. “Oh, right. Pony money is called ‘bits’. That always throws me off…” She shook her head. “But no, Pinkie, I don’t want your money.”
Pinkie tilted her head quizzically. “So, cupcakes, then? Sure thing!”
Gilda groaned, putting a hand to her forehead. “You’re missing the point, Pinks,” she said wearily. “I don’t want anything from you. Heck, if I never again saw anything that even reminded me of you, it would be too soon. What I do want…” She rose up on her hind legs, so her eyes were level with Pinkie’s. “All I want is for you to put in a good word for me with Dash.”
Pinkie grinned. “Is that all? Okie Dokie Lokie!”
Gilda blinked. “What, you acquiesced–” She cleared her throat. “...I mean, you agreed that quickly?”
“Sure!” Pinkie giggled. “I’m happy to help you out with Dashie! It shouldn’t be too hard.” She winked. “You’ll be friends again before you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!”
“Whatever,” Gilda growled. “Let’s just get this over with.”
One could consider the forces of Order akin to Earth: they appear to be sturdy, stable, and slow-changing… except in the rare, sometimes terrible cases where everything shifts all at once. Similarly, one could liken Chaos to Fire: No matter how small the spark that starts it, give it enough fuel and it will spread to consume all that it can touch. This was easily apparent during the times that Discord held Equestria under his sway. Even though Discord personally oversaw much of the chaos, it often spread on its own, changing in unexpected ways. One particularly notorious case of this was the “chocolate milk of glass” effect – that is, chocolate milk poured into a glass would render the glass drinkable, but the milk explosive.
It is because of this inherent nature of Chaos that the relatively minor display of entropy that Pinkie had accidentally summoned was spreading like… well, like wildfire. Already, the chaotic effects were creeping across Equestria, subverting the natural Order of the land. Only the Everfree Forest seemed to be unaffected by the random entropy, but nowhere else was as fortunate. And thus the chaos expanded...
Princess Celestia had actually been looking forward to a quiet day. When she’d awoken that morning to raise the Sun, it was with a smile – she was content in the knowledge that it was Thursday, and her workload was relatively light on most Thursdays. As she coaxed the Sun out to herald the day, she was already predicting the events of the day: a light breakfast accompanied by a small stack of pleasantly mind-numbing paperwork; a routine (if mostly symbolic) inspection of the new recruits for the Guard; several hours spent in the throne room, where in theory she would listen to petitioners, but due to a general lack of complaints (particularly on Thursdays), in practice she would usually spend the time with just a few visitors and an improving book. Maybe she’d wrap it up early and make a surprise visit to Ponyville.
As she stepped out of her chambers, the Princess did her best to suppress an mischievous grin. She could already picture how flustered her faithful student would be when she suddenly showed up out of the blue.
That’s when the first trout fell from the ceiling.
For a long moment, Celestia stared blankly at the flopping, wriggling thing on the floor in front of her. Then her gaze turned ponderously upwards.
Ever so slowly, another fish oozed out of the stone ceiling. Writhing, it fell, smacking Celestia squarely between the eyes.
Celestia let out a deep sigh. So it was going to be one of those Thursdays, then.
The next several hours were spent in a sort of low-intensity spiritual agony that few can accurately describe. The stack of paperwork that would have normally taken twenty minutes dragged out to over five times longer than expected, mostly due to the fact that the words on the papers kept trying to rearrange themselves. The guard inspection became a disaster when spare suits of armor began chasing the recruits. The “improving book” scenario was scrapped when a long, long, long line of concerned petitioners showed up in the throne room, each bearing a tale of even more entropy and unrest. And throughout all this, no matter where she went, trout kept dropping lethargically out of the ceiling, surrounding Celestia in a slowly-growing pile of flopping, smelly fish.
It was a long ways into the afternoon when Princess Celestia had her hooves full with one particularly infuriating case. Luckily, she’d had over a thousand years to teach her to mask her emotions. “So,” she said, smiling sweetly to the brown stallion in front of her, “It’s just another case of some foreign entity thrown out of their own time and place and ending up in ours? Really, Doctor, this sort of thing is routine for you. Just send him back where he belongs.”
The pony glared back at Celestia. “You know, Princess, I’d really love to. I would. But somepony’s freaking box-on-legs ate my TARDIS!”
Next to the earth pony stood a guilty-looking, reddish-colored unicorn, who wore a tattered, pointy hat labeled “WIZZARD”. He shuffled his feet. “You know, I’m really sorry for that,” he said, “but I really can’t control my Luggage and ohgodspleasedon’tkillme.”
“Princess Celestia?” called out a familiar voice from the end of the hall.
Celestia turned towards the source of the noise with evident relief. “Twilight Sparkle? Finally! Please, come in at once!” Addressing the pair of stallions in front of her, she continued, “I’m sorry, gentlecolts, but this will have to wait for another time. When I am ready, I shall send for you, and please… try to stay out of trouble?”
Grudgingly, the Doctor nodded, then left the room, dragging the nervous unicorn behind him. Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and the rest of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony entered, along with Spike.
“Twilight and friends, thank you all for coming at such short notice,” Celestia said. “I trust you all kn–”
“Oh my goodness!” Fluttershy bounded forward, eyes locked on the heaping piles of fish. “They can’t breathe! Why hasn’t anypony tried to help them?!”
Celestia sighed. “There hasn’t been much need. Some of them have been out of water for hours, and yet they keep... flopping.” She grimaced. “I’m not sure they’re even genuine fish. Resources have been stretched thin as it is, so I’d decided not to bother with them for now...”
“Not to bother?” Fluttershy looked up at Celestia, eyes watery. “They’ve been suffocating for hours! Real or not, they still might be in pain! You have to do something...”
“Beyond flooding the throne room? I’m not sure there’s much I can do,” Celestia said apologetically.
Fluttershy’s lip quivered.
Five minutes later, the assembled ponies stood knee-deep in water, trout swimming serenely around them. “As I was saying,” Celestia continued somewhat wearily, “thank you all for coming at such short notice. I trust you all know why I have called you here.”
“Well, Twilight here’d been pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing,” Applejack said, carefully nudging away a particularly amiable fish. “But Ah reckon this has something to do with all the chaos that’s been going ‘round, right?”
“Discord’s free, isn’t he?” Rainbow continued. “And you want us to buck him back to where he belongs?”
Celestia shook her head. “No, Discord is…” She paused, brow furrowed. “...still encased in stone. This chaos is being caused by something else. Twilight assured me that she knew what. She hasn’t told you already?” She frowned, noting the absence of a certain pony. “And… where is Pinkie Pie?”
Twilight sighed. “I didn’t want to have to explain everything more than once. I’m not sure I could, even if I wanted to.” She paused for a moment and closed her eyes before continuing. “Apparently there’s another draconequus on the loose, even more destructive than Discord had been. And it’s done something to Pinkie.”
The others gasped.
“Oh, the poor thing!” exclaimed Rarity. “Do you mean she’s…?”
“…Dead?” Twilight finished glumly. “I don’t know. She might be.”
Celestia solemnly considered the news. She’d known many ponies, the vast majority of which had, of course, eventually died. But familiarity with death never made dealing with it easier, particularly when the a pony died through violent ends.
I saw Pinkie only yesterday, Celestia thought. She’d seemed so vibrant… so alive… But it’s best not to dwell on that now. There is still so much more at stake.
The Princess regarded the remaining Element Bearers stoically. “These are grave tidings indeed,” she said, “but we do not have the time to grieve at this moment. If Pinkie Pie is truly dead, then that means a great deal of trouble for us all – especially with this new threat.”
“What do you mean?” asked Dash. “We’ll just grab the Elements of Harmony and then the six of us can…” Her voice trailed off. “Oh.”
“Indeed,” said Celestia. “The five of you cannot hope to wield the Elements alone. This new draconequus has taken from us our Laughter, and without it the rest of the Elements are useless to us.”
“So why can’t we just find some new pony to use the Element of Laughter?” Spike asked. “I’m sure there are plenty of funny guys who could… uh…” He sighed. “Great. Now I’m the new Pinkie Pie, aren’t I?”
Twilight shook her head. “No, Spike, I think we proved the last time that it doesn’t work like that. We can’t just throw in a new member like… like…” She glanced downwards. “...a replacement goldfish.”
“True,” Celestia said. “Even if we found the ideal candidate for Laughter, it would mean nothing without the ties that bind. I fear that we do not have the time for that, even if you would all be comfortable with the idea of…” For the slightest instant, her poker face cracked. She stifled a sob before continuing. “…a r-replacement Pinkie.”
Fluttershy looked up at the Princess. “You’re really fond of her too, aren’t you?” she murmured.
For a moment, Celestia let her carefully serene demeanor drop. “Fond of all of you,” she admitted, smiling sadly. “If I’m completely honest, then you six, Spike, and Luna are the closest thing I have to… well...”
Celestia stopped herself. Now was not the time to bring up the matter of friends. She cleared her throat. “...But that’s not important right now. We need to focus on stopping this new draconequus.”
“Y’know, it’s gonna get old having to say ‘new draconequus’ every single time we refer to it,” Dash said. “What should we call him?”
“Her,” corrected Twilight. “At least, that’s what I gathered from the descriptions given to me.”
Rarity sighed. “Why, this is quite the predicament. The problem with Discord is that his name is already so perfect in describing him. Whatever are we supposed to call others of his kind, like Ms. Draconequus here, whenever they show up?” She furrowed her brow. “Strife? Shenanigans?”
“Why not Eris?” suggested Applejack.
Rarity blinked. “Huh?”
“Oh, y’ know,” Applejack said. “After the mythical Unicorn o’ Strife who started the Trotjan war, using the Apple o’ Discord?”
As one, the others stared at her.
“…What?” Applejack asked, glancing around at her friends. “Why are y’all looking at me like that?”
Twilight stared for the slightest bit longer before speaking up. “Well, the name is…” She paused. “...fitting, I guess, but how exactly did you even know about that myth? It’s over two thousand years old! Even I only know about it because of my access to some of the older books in the royal library.”
Applejack stared at her hooves. “…My family takes everything apple-related awfully seriously.”
“Ah.” Satisfied, Twilight nodded. “Eris it is, then. Now that we’ve named our problem, let’s focus on solving it.” She turned to address Celestia. “I trust you have a plan ready, Princess?”
Celestia shook her head. “I do not.”
“What?” Twilight exclaimed. “Are you saying that you have no idea how to deal with Eris?”
Despite herself, Celestia almost smirked. “That’s not what I said,” she clarified. “I don’t have a plan ready. But although Equestria may not have known war in centuries upon centuries, I know somepony who has spent a fair portion of a thousand years mentally reviewing battle strategies.”
And ever since she returned, she’s been undefeatable at Risk, the Princess added silently. She turned her head skyward, and appeared to address the ceiling. “Luna, if you will?”
All at once, the shadows in the room seemed to deepen and expand, the water darkening until the room was nearly filled with inky black. Then the darkness snaked across the floor towards a spot next to Celestia’s throne, finally coalescing into the shape of the Princess of the Moon herself.
Luna blinked blearily a couple of times, and then glared out the window. “FEEBLEMINDED BALL OF HOT GAS,” she grumbled, addressing the cheerily shining sun. “WHY MUST THOU SHINE SO BRIGHTLY THIS AFTERNOON?” She glanced at her sister. “...OH! GOOD …Uh, I mean good day, Celestia.”
“Good afternoon,” Celestia replied, only the slightest glimmer in her eyes betraying her amusement. “Would you like some coffee?” She used her magic to conjure up a steaming mug, which she proffered to her younger sister.
“MANY THANKS,” Luna said, hastily grabbing the mug. She took a swig, and then made a face. “…Ugh. Truly, it is much too early for me to wake… But we must all make sacrifices in such times of need.” After a moment, she looked down. “Celestia, why hast thou converted the throne room into an aquarium?”
“I thought you liked fish,” Celestia replied, eyes twinkling. She leaned over to Twilight. “Isn’t Luna adorable when she first wakes up?” she whispered conspiratorially. “Even nowadays, she still tends to slip back into the Royal Canterlot voice when she’s tired or stressed.”
“I shall pretend that I did not hear that,” Luna said dryly. “I trust that the entropy that now ravages this land is the work of a certain draconequus?”
Twilight stepped forward. “Yes, Luna, but not the one that you’re thinking of. A new, more violent draconequus has emerged, named Eris.”
Luna blinked. “What? Another?” She sighed. “Well, at least we still have –”
“Ix-nay on the Elements-ay,” Rainbow Dash interrupted. “Sorry, Princess, but we need a Plan B.”
After a moment of stunned silence, Luna grinned with false cheer. “Thou art… kidding, art thou not?” she asked hopefully. “‘Tis this all some elaborate jest of Tia’s at my expense?” She glanced around the room. “Pinkamena Diane Pie appears to be absent. Surely she is going to leap out at any moment, shouting ‘surprise’?”
Luna glanced around at everypony. They were all staring at her, eyes filled with grief. “…Oh. Alas, ‘tis a tragedy,” Luna murmured. After a moment of silence, she straightened up. “This changes things considerably. I shall have to formulate a new strategy, post-haste.”
The Moon Princess walked over to the center of the hall, and stamped her hoof, making a splash. A few feet away, circular ripples formed on the water’s surface, then a great, rectangular slab rose from the center. Luna spread a hastily-conjured sheet of parchment across it.
Ah, so she’s going for one of her more dramatic presentations, Celestia thought. I think I’d best sit back and listen quietly until she’s finished…
The five present Element Bearers walked over to the makeshift table and looked down at the parchment, which proved to be a map of Equestria. Luna regarded the ponies purposefully. “Without the Elements of Harmony at our disposal, we have little chance against even one draconequus. And this one has already proved to be more cunning and resourceful than Discord was. By permanently disposing of...” Luna hesitated for a fraction of a second. “...Laughter, Eris has removed the one thing we can use to quickly and easily defeat her without casualties. If we stand any chance of vanquishing Eris, we must raise an army.”
“A-an army?” repeated Fluttershy. “Isn’t that a little too much? Won’t somepony get hurt?”
Luna looked down at Fluttershy sadly. “I suppose it does seem a little drastic,” she admitted. “And, Dear Fluttershy, I am afraid that it is nearly a certainty that ponies will die. But if Eris is allowed to live and run rampant, then many, MANY MORE PONIES SHALL DIE... OR WISH THAT THEY WERE DEAD.”
Fluttershy shrank back. Luna hastily covered her mouth with a hoof. “Oh, not again… Sorry, Dear Fluttershy, I did not mean to shout,” she said, lowering her volume more than strictly necessary.
“N-no, it’s okay,” Fluttershy assured her. “I u-understand.”
Luna nodded. “We thank thee for thine understanding. Shall we move on, then? Excellent.” She turned her gaze towards the map. “As I was saying, my little ponies, if we are to defeat Eris, then we must assemble the largest army we can muster. To this end, I have special assignments in mind for you. It shall take you all far and wide, but you must act quickly.”
“Well, I believe I can handle that,” Dash said. “Speed is my middle name, after all.”
“Figuratively speaking, that is,” Twilight added hurriedly. “Just tell us what we need to do, Luna, and we’ll get going.”
“I am glad for thy help,” Luna said. “To maximize the use of your time, you should split up to contact the various parties we need for assistance. I believe I know how to best divide thee for maximum results.”
The Moon Princess turned to Applejack. “Firstly, Fair Applejack, there are the Ponies of Equestria.” She slowly traced her hoof across the map, pausing in Ponyville, Appleoosa, Fillydelphia, Trottingham, and further… “There are those that have already sworn to protect this land, its Princesses, and its Ponies, but I fear that the Royal Guard shall not be nearly enough.”
Applejack stoically regarded the Princess. “So y’ want me to gather a militia? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“Precisely,” Luna said. “I feel that we can trust thee to not bend or embellish the truth in an effort to recruit or protect more ponies. Our subjects deserve to know exactly what may await them, and to know that I shall not think any less of them if they decline to fight alongside us.”
“Well,” Applejack said, “While of course Ah can’t speak for everypony, Ah have a feeling that Ah’ll be able to find plenty of ponies willing to help.”
“Splendid,” Luna replied, then turned to Fluttershy. “Dear Fluttershy. Although it pains me to ask, I would request thine assistance in recruitment as well.”
Fluttershy paled. “…I’m sorry, P-Princess, but if you’re asking what I think you are…” She hung her head. “Then I have to say no.”
“What? Nay, do not fear for your woodland friends,” Luna said hurriedly. “I would not dream of asking thee for their aid. Rather, I desire that you travel with Spike to seek out and enlist the aid of the dragons.” Here her hoof was drawn to the mountains at the northern edge of the map.
“D-dragons?” repeated Fluttershy.
“Indeed. You have earned a... formidable reputation amongst them.” Luna smiled mischievously. “Between the influence of the two of you, you should find it quite simple to recruit even a few adult dragons.”
After a long moment, Fluttershy nodded. “…Fine. I’ll do my best.”
Spike walked over to Fluttershy. “So I guess I’m with you, then. But in that case, what’s Twilight gonna do?”
“Twilight Sparkle shall search for a certain unicorn that I believe thou art all familiar with,” Luna answered. “Dost thou all remember a pony known as the Great and Powerful Trixie?”
“What? Why do you want Trixie?” Rainbow interrupted. “What makes you think she’ll even decide to help?”
Luna eyed Dash coolly. “If I remember the full report on the Ursa Minor incident correctly, then the Great and Powerful Trixie tried all that she could to stop the Ursa before finally admitting that she couldn’t,” she said. “This shows that she is no coward, and would rather try to save face and boost her own ego than reveal her shortcomings. Dost thou really believe that if the Princesses themselves requested, nay, pleaded for Trixie’s aid, that she would not leap at the chance, no matter how dangerous?”
“Well, when you put it like that…” Dash grumbled.
“Still,” Twilight said, “Rainbow brings up a valid point. Trixie is apparently unable to do much more than –”
“Illusions and parlor tricks, I know,” Luna interrupted. “And minor weather manipulation, good for small, painful electrical shocks at the very most. Even so, we can work our way around such limitations.”
Luna concentrated, and in a flash of energy, a small, teal gem appeared. It in fact looked almost exactly like the clasp that Trixie used for her cape. However, it was etched with shallow, intricate designs, and quietly hummed with power.
“If she agrees to help, then give her this,” Luna said. “It shall increase her power tenfold – if her will is strong, then even more. With this, the Great and Powerful Trixie can easily bolster our ranks with illusory soldiers, so that Eris shall waste time and effort trying to defeat the fakes.” She tapped a spot on the map. “The Great and Powerful Trixie was last seen heading for this city: Manehattan. I urge thee, Twilight Sparkle, to make thy way there quickly.”
“I still have a bad feeling about this,” muttered Rainbow.
Luna sighed. “The Great and Powerful Trixie may be an egotistical charlatan, but I believe she does not bear malice. Likely it would do no harm to have her help. Should I prove to be wrong, however…” Her eyes flashed. “Then I shall see that she is properly reprimanded.”
Dash moved back a step. “Okay. Just sayin’, is all.”
Luna nodded. “Then it is settled. Now as for you…” As the dark alicorn looked to Rarity, she faltered somewhat. “Actually, I do not know who to have thee seek out, for I doubt that dressmaking has given thee much contact with those who can readily do battle. No offense meant,” she added hurriedly.
Rarity laughed. “Oh, Princess. I assure you that the fashion industry isn’t as harmless as you think. I shall bring in some help, just you count on it.”
“And just who or what are y’ planning to bring into this?” Applejack asked.
“Oh, a girl has her contacts,” Rarity answered. “Any successful fashionista knows a pony who knows a pony… At least, she does if she plans to be in the business for any length of time.”
“What’s that s’possed to… Oh, forget it,” Applejack grumbled. “Ah don’t even want to know.”
Luna arched a brow at Rarity, but raised no objection. “As thou sayest. Last, but not least, is Rainbow Dash…” At this, she seemed a tad reluctant.
“Well?” Dash said. “What do you have for me, Princess?”
Apparently, Luna reached a decision. She dragged her hoof over to the northwestern spot on the map. “Over here is the town of Farrington. It lies on the border of the Gryphon territories.” Luna’s eyes glazed over slightly, her mental gaze turning inward. “As a race, the Gryphons are many things. Proud. Possessive. Quick to anger, and slow to trust. But also unfailingly loyal, and unmatched combatants in flight.” She returned to the present, focusing on Dash. “To end this quickly and decisively, we need their aid. However, as I have just said, they are slow to trust – especially since they are a dying race. If you are to attain their help in time, then you must reacquaint yourself with a certain member of their species that you once knew well.”
Rainbow blinked. “Gilda?” she sputtered. “You want me to find her?!”
“As a rule, Gryphons do not take to outsiders as well as they do members of their own species,” Luna said. “The fact that you had, at one time, earned her friendship speaks volumes for how much she cared for you.”
Rainbow blinked, looking suddenly troubled. Celestia mentally filed the image away for later.
Luna contiuned, oblivious to Dash’s discomfort. “Even though Gilda is something of… a maverick amongst them,” she said, “the Gryphons shall have an easier time accepting thy word with her to vouch for it.”
“But Gilda’s –” Dash began.
Luna interrupted her. “I realize that this shall be difficult,” she said, “but I do not ask this of thee lightly, Rainbow Dash. The more help we can find, the more lives we shall save.”
Dash seemed to struggle inwardly for a while. “…Fine,” she finally said. “I’ll do it. Y’know, I probably would’ve said yes anyhow, without you dangling that over my head.”
“And for that, I thank thee,” Luna said. “Gilda was last reported to be in Farrington, but during Discord’s brief return, she disappeared. Find her, and convince her to help you secure the aid of the rest of the Gryphons.” She smiled wearily before continuing. “Whether or not you succeed at your task, I swear that, if we make it through this alive, I shall grant you a boon for your troubles.” She turned to regard everypony in the room (and Spike). “You all will also receive one, of course.”
Luna drew her hoof to the southern edge of the map, almost as an afterthought. “Finally, there are the lands of the Zebras. While under happier circumstances I would have sent…” She paused, lip quivering slightly. “WE SHALL – Um, I shall go personally, in h-her stead.” She frowned thoughtfully. “I should probably track down Cadence and Shining Armor, too... I hate to interrupt the honeymoon, but we may need them.” At that, she fell silent.
“Is that all, Sister?” Celestia asked.
“Good. Then you all know what you must do,” Celestia continued. “I would like to add one more thing, however: keep an eye out for Pinkie Pie. We don’t know for sure what has happened to her, so there is still hope.” She smiled. “Are you ready?”
“Ready as Ah’ll ever be, Ah reckon,” answered Applejack.
“Same here,” said Rainbow Dash.
“Well, I for one am prepared,” Rarity replied.
“We won’t let you down,” Spike said. Fluttershy nodded mutely in agreement.
“In that case, I guess we’re all set,” finished Twilight.
Celestia nodded. “Good. Then may you move swiftly, and the b–”
With a dull thwack, another trout dropped from the ceiling and bounced off Celestia’s snout.
“...best of luck to you all,” Celestia finished tiredly.
Gilda paced in front of Pinkie Pie. “Alright, let’s take it from the top,” she said. “First, you go to Canterlot and throw a party for the statue of Discord, no matter how mentally deficient that sounds.”
“Yep,” said Pinkie, nodding. She wasn’t sure what to say about the ‘mentally deficient’ comment, so she declined to bring it up.
“Then, you go home and go to sleep, during which you have a dream where Discord arrives,” Gilda continued. “He says that because of the party, you ‘let him into your heart’, and then he allegedly gives you a ‘gift’.”
Pinkie nodded again. “Yep.”
“After which, you wake up and discover that not only are you now a draconequus, but are also unable to speak anything other than Antiquated Gryphon.”
“And you were going to go to Twilight for help, but you couldn’t control your powers, and so decided to come here. Where you found me,” Gilda finished dryly.
Pinkie nodded one final time. “Yep-er-oonie.”
“Okay. Just making sure that our studio audience is up to date,” Gilda said sarcastically.
Pinkie nodded sagely. “Well, now that that’s over with–” she began.
“Shut up,” Gilda interrupted.
Pinkie suspected that Gilda was already starting to get annoyed.
“Anyway, where were we?” continued the gryphon. “…Ah. Right… fixing your problem. Shall we, then?”
Pinkie opened her mouth to respond.
“That was rhetorical,” Gilda stressed. “So, I’m gonna make a pretty big deductive leap here and say that Discord is behind all of this.”
It made sense, and Pinkie didn’t want to irritate Gilda any further. She nodded silently.
“Therefore, we can safely assume – actually, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Gilda decided. “First, we can’t do anything before teaching you how to stop your powers from doing anything more.”
Pinkie’s brow furrowed. “But you can’t use magic, silly!” She giggled. “How are you gonna teach me how to use it?”
“Not like we have much choice, do we?” Gilda said. “I’m no unicorn, but I’m sure that a little discipline should do the trick. It’s not like the power goes on and off at random, rather… random thoughts cause things to happen.” She stroked her chin. “Okay, so basically, I need to either teach you how to separate random thoughts from the actions they cause, or how to avoid thinking those thoughts in the first place… how to focus your mind.” She sighed. “Great... Focusing the mind of the lunatic. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me.”
Pinkie started bouncing. “So now what? Ooh, ooh! Are we gonna do some cool Zen monk pony thing? Are there gonna be burning coals?”
The second Pinkie mentioned ‘burning coals’, Gilda leaped into the air, using her wings to keep herself aloft. The ground beneath the both of them suddenly turned into red-hot charcoal.
Pinkie wasn’t as fast as Gilda. “Gah! Ow!” she yelled. She jumped, instinctively wishing the coals away, and sure enough, they disappeared.
Elsewhere, a dark grey unicorn set down his quill and sighed. It looked like his writer’s block wasn’t going anywhere, so it was time for a break.
Feeling oddly restless, the unicorn glanced out the window at the streets of Canterlot. Briefly, he considered going out, but remembered the rampant chaos that was supposed to be going on. He hadn’t actually seen any of it for himself yet, but better safe than sorry…
“Right,” the unicorn told himself, adjusting his glasses. “Better to stay inside and avoid the–”
And that’s when a hundred and fifty pounds of burning coals appeared eighteen inches over his head.
Pinkie looked down at the gaping hole in the earth that had previously been filled with burning coals. “Well, it’s a good thing that’s gone. Somepony could’ve gotten hurt!”
“Yeah. Glad that crisis was averted,” deadpanned Gilda, rolling her eyes as she floated back onto the ground. “But that sort of thing is exactly what I’m talking about. We can’t go searching for a way to turn you back if you’re going to turn everything into pies and pipe bombs wherever we go.” She paused, stiffening, then glanced around anxiously.
After a moment, Gilda sighed in relief. “Okay. That was a lucky break, but I should still be more careful about what I say around you while you’re having these issues.”
“Okie Dokie Lokie!” Pinkie said. “So are we gonna start now?”
“I… I think I’ve got a few ideas we could try out,” Gilda said unenthusiastically. “I believe that I can successfully retool some of my… uh… anger management techniques into something that’ll work. It’s all a matter of mental discipline, after all, I suppose…” Her voice trailed off.
A suspicion started to form in Pinkie’s mind. “…You do know what you’re doing, right Gilda?” she asked, albeit as cheerily as ever.
“Do I know what I’m – Of course I know!” Gilda snapped. “We’ll get this over with in no time, you’ll see!”
Pinkie giggled. “Okay! Training montage time!”
Gilda’s eyes widened. “Can… can you do that?” she asked.
“I dunno. Maybe.” Pinkie shrugged. “Hey! I know!” She grinned. “Let’s try it out! It might even speed things up–”
“No!” Gilda snarled. “We’re supposed to be learning how to stop using your powers, not how to use them more! You’re going to have to go through all of the work just like anyone else would.”
“Aww.” Pinkie sighed. Hard work is so boring, she thought. Well, unless it’s the sort of hard work that one already enjoys doing, like party-planning, but –
“HEY! PINKS!” Gilda yelled, waving a claw back and forth in front of Pinkie’s face. “Stop staring off into space. Let’s get on with it.”
“Okie Dokie Lokie!” Pinkie said. She paused, and then added hopefully, “What about a training song?”
Gilda’s reply was prompt. “Fourth Rule: No singing. EVER.”
Pinkie slumped dejectedly. A grumpy gryphon, no montages and no singing? This might not be so fun after all…
By Charcoal Quill
Applejack hesitantly mounted the stage and looked out at the crowd that had gathered in front of it. The crowd was huge. Heck, even some of the buffalo had shown up… Had there been so many ponies in Appleoosa when she’d last been there? This gathering looked larger, but maybe that was just nervousness talking.
The farmpony looked back at the pair of royal guards that had been assigned to accompany her. One of them nodded reassuringly.
Tentatively, Applejack looked back at the crowd, tapped on the microphone, and then began her speech.
“Friends, Appleoosans, countryponies, lend me your ears,” she began. “Ah come to…” She paused. “Oh, forget it. Listen, Ah’m not gonna muddy the issue with fancy talk or inspirin’ speeches that really don’t mean a thing. Truth of the matter is, there’s another threat to Equestria. Perhaps y’all have seen some of its effects already. It’s not Discord – everypony remember him? – but it’s someone like him, and this time, it could be a lot worse... ‘cause we can’t stop her like we normally would.”
Applejack took a deep breath before continuing. “So we got a plan B. Ah’m not gonna lie. In my opinion, it’s not a very good one. If we all go along with it, many of us will die. Perhaps even all of us. But it’s our only option, and if we don’t go through with it, things could be a lot worse for everypony than just dyin’.” She shuddered. “Take it from me, Ah know from experience. So Ah, for one, will fight. And if y’ wanna come with me, and stand with me and my friends against Eris, then feel free. But if y’ wanna stay home instead…”
She took her hat off of her head and held it in front of her chest. “…Well, Ah for one don’t blame you.” Applejack stood silent for a moment before continuing, a reckless grin on her face. “So, who amongst you is ready to ride off into the sunset one last time?”
The crowd erupted into resounding cheers.
One of the guards stepped forward. “Well done, Miss,” he murmured to Applejack. “First Ponyville, and now Appleoosa. I have a feeling that they’ll follow you to the ends of Equestria itself, if you asked them to.”
Applejack averted her gaze. “Ah just wish it didn’t have to come to that.”
“Well, Pinks, let’s start with the basics,” Gilda said, pacing in front of her new pupil. “We’re going to try some simple meditation. Close your eyes.”
Meditation… Could be fun. Obediently, Pinkie did so.
Gilda’s voice came reassuringly to her. “I want you to picture your happy place. Sounds corny, I know, but it works if you do it correctly.”
“Works to do what?” Pinkie wondered aloud.
“To calm one down and quiet excess emotion,” answered Gilda. “Like anger or disgustingly saccharine peppiness.” There was a short pause. “Forget that last part.”
“Okie Dokie Lokie.”
“Actually… Now that I think about it, your ‘happy place’ wouldn’t exactly be productive after all. We don’t need a party right now. Let’s try… going to your tranquil place.”
Pinkie opened her mouth.
“Calm and quiet, Pinks. It means calm and quiet.”
Pinkie frowned. “I already knew that.”
“Sure you did. Anyway, breathe in, and out. Slow, and deep.”
Pinkie complied, and she could feel herself growing calmer already. It was – to be honest – a little dull.
“Alright. Now picture yourself in a large, green field. Grass as far as the eye can see, gently rolling hills, puffy white clouds in a big blue sky, the whole shebang.”
Pinkie focused, and concentrated on the image. A small part of her, which was growing increasingly louder, proclaimed that it was bored.
“Good. Now just let yourself relax. Empty your mind as you softly gaze at your surroundings, and…” Suddenly, Gilda stopped talking.
“And? And what?” Pinkie asked. Tentatively, she opened her eyes.
She found herself sitting in a big, grassy field. Gently rolling hills stretched out to the horizons, and fluffy cumulus clouds drifted across the sky.
Pinkie blinked, then looked around. Gilda was nowhere to be seen. “Oops.”
After a moment, Pinkie sighed. Suddenly she felt thankful that Twilight had taught her, for some reason she couldn't quite recall, how to navigate via the stars. Then again, now she’d have to wait for night...
...Or, on the other hoof, there’s that signpost over there. What’s it say? Pinkie squinted at it. Ponyville, fifty miles. Well, it’s a start. She frowned thoughtfully. Let’s see, did I turn more east-ish or southeast-ish when I entered the Everfree...?
Spike looked down at the map that he grasped in his claws, and then up at the yawning mouth of the cave. A massive plume of grey-white steam issued from the entrance, which coalesced into dark storm clouds at the mountain’s summit. “This looks like the first place,” he said.
Fluttershy peered at the deepening shadows inside, and then up at the lightning-laden clouds above. Something about them worried her. “Are you s-sure?” she asked. She was maybe a little less scared of full-grown dragons now, having met one face-to-face. But still, there was no denying that an ill-tempered wyrm could make a mouthful of the both of them.
…Of all four of them, actually. Fluttershy glanced back at the stern-looking but stolid royal guards that had accompanied her, and wished that they hadn’t come along. They probably had families waiting for them back home, ponies who would miss them dearly if they were eaten.
“Yeah, this is it,” Spike replied, rolling up the map. “We’d better get going if we want to hit any other places before sundown.”
Fluttershy turned away, staring back towards the direction that she had come. Already, the spreading chaos approached the foothills of the mountains. “It would be best to hurry,” she said hesitantly.
“Alright, then,” Spike said. “Let’s go.”
Fluttershy took a deep breath and took a tiny step towards the cave. The guards moved to follow her. “Please wait here, sirs, if you wouldn’t mind,” she pleaded, looking over her shoulder at them.
“Are you sure, ma’am?” asked one of the guards.
A thunderous snore echoed from the cave.
Fluttershy swallowed. “Yes. Very sure,” she whimpered.
Impassively, the guards complied.
When Fluttershy looked back towards the cave, Spike had already walked through the entrance. Fluttershy hurried to catch up with him.
With the timid pegasus in tow, Spike walked past massive piles of gleaming golden coins and sparkling gemstones, paying no attention to the former and gazing longingly at the latter. Eventually, he and Fluttershy reached the cave’s inhabitant, a veritable mountain of scales and flesh.
Spike swallowed nervously at the sight of the colossal wyrm that lay in front of them, coiled and slumbering. “You wanna do the honors, or shall I?” he asked Fluttershy, glancing back at her.
“Go ahead,” Fluttershy said. She wasn’t eager to wake the sleeping dragon, either.
Spike took a deep breath, and then grinned – somewhat nervously, Fluttershy thought. “Okay,” Spike muttered to himself. “You can do this. Think happy thoughts.” He stepped forward, and then tapped on the dragon’s eyelid. “Hey, bro? Could you wake up for a sec? We need to talk to you.”
For a long moment, nothing happened. Then, the dragon stirred.
The sound of scale on scale rasped loudly in the cavern as the dragon uncoiled and stretched its jet-black body, fully twice as long as any dragon that Fluttershy had seen before. The great wyrm yawned widely, revealing razor-sharp fangs that crackled with electricity, before focusing on Spike with blue-green eyes.
“Thou hast awakened me from my slumber,” the dragon thundered. “State thy business, little wyrmling, before I tire of this and make a meal of thee.”
Fluttershy stared up at the beast in mounting horror. “Oh no,” she whispered to Spike. “We’ve awakened a Storm Dragon!”
“That’s bad, huh?” Spike whispered back.
Fluttershy nodded fervently: Storm Dragons were among the most ancient, most enormous, most dangerous, and above all least friendly of the various types of dragons known to the ponies of Equestria.
At the sound of the pegasus’s voice, the Storm Dragon turned its head to face Fluttershy. “What is this?” it rumbled. “What is a mere pony such as thyself doing…” Its voice trailed off as its pupils shrank to tiny slits. For a long moment, it was deathly still. Then it shrank back. “Sharl’dahk!” it hissed.
Fluttershy blinked. “What?” she said, glancing at Spike.
Spike, however, had a fierce grin on his face. “Gee, when Luna said that you earned a reputation among dragons, she wasn’t kidding!”
“…What?” Fluttershy repeated.
“Sharl’dahk is a title from the Draconic language,” Spike explained quickly. “Roughly translated, it means ‘She Who Must Be Avoided’. You, a...” He paused. “...well, a ‘mere pony’, have single-hoofedly challenged a mighty dragon - and won! Sure, it was just a battle of wills, but...”
Fluttershy’s brow furrowed. “Um... W-when was this?”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “You know, that time when that one dragon tried to take a nap near Ponyville? You yelled at it after it tried to hurt our friends...”
“Oh.” Fluttershy looked away. “Right...”
“Well, the point is that you defeated him, and that’s earned you the title of Sharl’dahk,” Spike continued. “That sort of thing happens only once every few hundred years! But now, by ancient draconic law, any dragons that you call upon must either serve you or forfeit their life.”
Fluttershy frowned. She looked up at the Storm Dragon, who was watching the exchange anxiously. Despite its size, it looked like a small, fuzzy creature in the path of an oncoming train.
Noticing her gaze, the Storm Dragon shrank back further, flattening its massive bulk against the back of the cave. “I-is there anything at all I can do f-for you, Mistress?” it stammered.
Fluttershy’s mouth fell open. This was all too much. The Storm Dragon was had the living daylights scared out of it by her? She had no idea how to react.
Luckily, Spike was quicker to respond. “Well, I know I for one am hungry.” He peered over at a nearby heap of gemstones. “Hey, are those watermelon tourmalines?”
The Storm Dragon hurriedly shoved the pile towards Spike. “Please, take whatever thou wishest,” it urged.
As Spike happily dove into the pile, Fluttershy swallowed nervously. “Actually, sir…” she began. “Sorry to trouble you, but we’re here because we need some help. If you would be so kind as to possibly consider lending a hoof – um, sorry, I meant claw...”
“Whatever thou sayest,” the Storm Dragon said hurriedly. “I shall help thee. Happy to help.” It let out a nervous giggle, which in the dragon’s deep, resonant voice sounded like a peal of thunder.
Fluttershy frowned. This was easy... maybe too easy. “A-are you sure? It’ll be awfully dangerous…”
“No! Please, allow me,” the dragon rumbled.
Fluttershy shrugged. “Okay… We’d better get going, then… if that’s okay with you.”
“Yes, Mistress,” the Storm Dragon said promptly.
“Y’know, Pinks,” Gilda said, “I’ve been thinking.”
“Really?” Pinkie replied.
Gilda glared at her. “No, I’m physically incapable of thinking, and in fact cannot even comprehend any thought or emotion beyond irritation or incoherent rage.”
“Oh. That explains a lo–”
“That was sarcasm. Look, do you want to hear about this or not?”
“Anyway, it occurs to me that we might have to look at this at a different angle,” Gilda said. “Maybe these issues you’re having are tied to some issues you already had.”
Pinkie’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Gilda said, “in pretty much every story I’ve read where a character finds themselves in an unfamiliar body, the problem doesn’t get reversed until some pretty extensive personal growth has gone on. Said growth is usually tied to a personality-related issue that the character was facing immediately before the unexpected transformation.”
Pinkie’s face lit up. “I see! So we’re gonna go through a zany adventure that will make me have that personal growth?”
Gilda shook her head. “No, that’s the stupid way to do it. If your transformation really is tied to a personal problem, then it can just as easily be solved by calmly sitting down, determining the issue, and then solving it. Pinks, you don’t need a zany adventure, you need a therapist.”
Pinkie’s enthusiasm diminished somewhat. “Oh. Okay, then,” she said.
“Of course, I doubt we could find a therapist in the middle of the Everfree, so let’s see what I can do,” Gilda said. “I’m not exactly a trained professional, but I think I know enough to figure you out. So, shall we begin?”
“Okie Dokie Lokie!” Pinkie said. She snapped her fingers, and a large couch appeared with a pop. Pinkie lay down on it.
Gilda produced a clipboard and a pen. “Alright then. Let’s take a look at that brain of yours, shall we?”
Pinkie stood up. “Okay!” Immediately, she shrunk down and walked into her own ear. After a moment, she walked back out and returned to normal size. “It’s all wrinkly and sort of pinkish. Does that help?”
Gilda stared at Pinkie, visibly shaken. “Buh… But you – how is that even…” Her beak opened and closed wordlessly a few times.
Pinkie’s brow furrowed. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Wrong?” Gilda echoed weakly. “No, all you did was coolly and casually break physics itself. I mean, that’s par for the course when it comes to draconequuses... uh, draconequuii... whatever. But that? Ugh.” She shuddered, then tossed the clipboard aside. “You know what? Forget it. I’d probably go bonkers before I could figure you out, anyway.”
Twilight looked ahead at the growing throng of ponies, who gathered a few blocks away at Manehatten’s Central Park. “Well, that’s probably where Trixie is,” she said. “If there’s one thing Trixie knows how to do, it’s capture an audience.”
“Shall we come with you, Miss?” asked one of the guards that was currently with her.
Twilight frowned thoughtfully, but then shook her head. “…No,” she decided. “In the worst case scenario, I don’t think Trixie would be any trouble if it comes to a fight, but if she sees me show up with the pair of you, she may panic and run.”
“As you wish,” said the other guard.
Twilight walked towards the crowd, leaving her traveling companions behind. As she approached the congregation, she could make out the familiar voice of a certain showpony.
“…As the Ursa lumbered towards the Great and Powerful Trixie, smashing carts and houses that got in its way, she trembled fearfully,” the voice was saying. “While on any other day she might have bested even a Major, the, uh… virus that was ailing Trixie prevented her from doing even the slightest bit of harm against the Minor, although it was not for lack of trying.”
Twilight paused. Is she telling the story of…?
“Trixie animated ropes to bind the beast, and summoned thunderclouds to smite it, but to no avail! Trixie’s cold turned her most impressive displays into pitiful shades of their normal splendor, and the beast didn’t even slow. The Ursa lumbered ever closer, growing angrier by the second… and then…”
Twilight pushed her way through the crowd. She could already see the Trixie on the stage, who told her story with even greater gusto than she'd had in her performance in Ponyville.
Trixie looked far better than the last time Twilight had seen her. Her coat gleamed, her mane shone, and her eyes sparkled. The unicorn had replaced her old cap and cape with a voluminous, deep purple cloak and matching hat, both embroidered with silvery, arcane sigils. Even her wagon had been replaced with another that was easily twice as large. Everything about Trixie was even larger-than-life than before, and she obviously enjoyed it.
While Twilight looked on, Trixie continued her tale. “Then the purple unicorn, the one who had previously so vehemently denied being special, appeared. Upon seeing the Ursa, she paled, but gritted her teeth and focused all her might into her horn.” Here, Trixie began to mime the actions of Twilight, and she used her magic to enhance the tale. “Strong but subtle winds blew through the reeds, conjuring beautiful, unearthly music that calmed the angry bear! A massive vessel, filled with milk, floated into the waiting paws of the Ursa and lulled it into a peaceful slumber! And finally, the very beast itself was floated back into the cave from whence it came!”
Twilight’s eyes widened. She’d been expecting Trixie to put a twist on the tale, and to be fair, Trixie had – by, more or less, sticking to the truth.
As the crowd cheered, Trixie paused for a moment, panting as if she had actually been carrying out the acts she had been describing. As the crowd fell silent, she spoke up again. “After easily besting the Ursa Minor, the purple unicorn revealed to Trixie that she was Twilight Sparkle – tutored by the Princess of the Sun herself!”
At that, few members of the audience gasped. Trixie grinned. “Yes, Trixie was rather shocked, too,” she said. “Anyway, the reason that Twilight had hidden her powers from the ponies of her town was because she was fearful of losing her friends.” Trixie chuckled. “Little had Twilight realized that it was the boasting of Trixie – not Trixie’s magic – that had caused such a negative reaction amongst her friends, who still welcomed Twilight with open arms. And with good reason - had it not been for Twilight’s actions, the town would have been destroyed. She had saved the day…”
Trixie’s voice trailed off suddenly. After a moment, Twilight realized that Trixie was staring directly at her. Trixie looked shocked.
“…And now, she graces us with her presence on this day!” Trixie lunged forward and tore Twilight from her spot in the crowd.
Twilight found herself being dragged onto the stage. She stood there, startled and bewildered. “Wuh?” she articulated.
With a flourish, Trixie presented the purple unicorn. “Ponies of Manehattan, I give you… the Wise and Wonderful Twilight Sparkle!” There was a brilliant flash as a volley of fireworks erupted, accompanied by Trixie’s signature fanfare. The crowd cheered and stomped their hooves.
Fifteen minutes later, the show was over, Trixie had greeted her various admirers and given out signatures (as did Twilight, at Trixie’s behest,) and the showpony had tugged her impromptu guest appearance into the wagon. Finally, Twilight found her voice. “…What just happened?” she asked.
“Oh, just a little trick that Trixie learned on the road,” replied Trixie, sounding somewhat self-satisfied. “If one is to succeed in show business, one must learn to give the audience what it wants. And, thanks to you,” she continued, “what Trixie has learned that it wants is not a boring, invincible hero, but somepony who barely succeeds against insane odds… and who occasionally needed to be rescued herself.”
“Is that so?” Twilight replied weakly, still reeling from her sudden experience on stage.
Trixie flashed a brilliant smile. “Of course! It adds dramatic tension to the story, and an audience relates better to a flawed protagonist anyway.” She chuckled. “Ironically, the fiasco in Ponyville sparked Trixie’s career – now whenever Trixie tells the story of her amazing, improbable, and extremely lucky victory over the Ursa Major, she adds the tale of how Twilight Sparkle saved her from the Ursa Minor… allowing, of course, for the fact that Trixie could have probably bested the beast had an ill-timed illness not crippled her abilities.”
“And that works?” Twilight said incredulously.
“The audience simply adores it!” Trixie exclaimed. “As such, Trixie has made all the stories of her easy victories against mighty foes into stories of only barely defeating them – through a mixture of guile, gumption, and luck.” She paused for a moment, idly examining a hoof. “Funny how all the Great and Powerful Trixie had to do to win the hearts of her watchers was to underplay her abilities.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. That was the Trixie she knew. “Even so,” she said, “did you have to drag me into that?”
“Ever since I started telling the tale, you’ve become nearly as popular as I have,” Trixie replied, smirking. “I just had to repay you for the lesson you taught me, and since you showed up at the most dramatically appropriate time, I thought that it would only be fitting.” She laughed somewhat wickedly. “You do have to admit that the crowd loved it.”
Twilight sighed. The audience had loved it, but she wasn’t about to give Trixie the satisfaction of hearing her say it.
“But enough about me,” Trixie decided. “It’s good to see you again, Sparkle. How have things been in that backwater little town of yours? Are the yokels still treating you pleasantly enough?”
With a glare, Twilight opened her mouth.
Before she could say anything, Trixie cut her off. “Wait a minute…” she pondered, tapping her chin thoughtfully, “What are you doing here in Manehattan, anyway? Looking for Trixie, perhaps?” She held up a hoof. “No, of course you are, don’t bother denying it. Trixie may work with magic, but she does not easily believe in coincidences.”
“Actually, you’re right,” Twilight said. “I’ve specifically been sent to find you… by the Princesses themselves.”
Trixie paled. “Whatever it was, I didn’t do it!” she said a bit too hastily.
“Relax, you’re not in trouble,” Twilight said, rolling her eyes. “Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“Oh?” Trixie said, eyes gleaming. “Are the Princesses finally recognizing the Great and Powerful Trixie’s magical might?”
“You could say that,” Twilight said flatly. “You know how all this chaos has been spreading?”
“Trixie found it beneath herself to notice such things,” Trixie sniffed. “Doing so would get in the way of the Show.”
Twilight’s face became serious. “Well, you won’t get the option of ignoring it much longer. Perhaps you didn’t notice, but when I arrived, the chaos was just under a mile from the city limits. It won’t take long for it to cover all of Equestria.”
“And I think you know why,” Trixie replied coolly. “Are you actually going to tell me the reason, or just keep side-stepping around any context?”
“Fine,” Twilight said. “A new draconequus has appeared, and it seems dead-set on plunging Equestria into chaos – just like Discord did. Not only that, but we can’t use the Elem–”
“Another Discord?!” Trixie interrupted, jaw dropping. “What do you want me to do about it? You of all ponies should know that I can hardly stand up to an Ursa Minor, let alone a bucking draconequus!”
“Oh?” Twilight deadpanned, raising an eyebrow. “And here I thought that the Great and Powerful Trixie had been underplaying her abilities the whole time.”
Trixie reeled, stumbling back a step. “You – You know what I mean!” she snapped. “If I, or anypony for that matter, faced this ‘Eris’ in open combat, I’d be a greasy smear in the dust in ten seconds flat!”
“Probably less,” Twilight admitted, “But the Princesses don’t actually want you to fight Eris alone – or at all, for that matter. You’ll simply be the distraction.”
“Th-the distraction?” Trixie stammered.
“Yes,” Twilight said. “All you have to do is summon up some illusions so that Eris is too busy to strike at the real threat.” She rolled her eyes. “Heck, you probably wouldn’t even have to get too close to her.”
Trixie sighed. “Oh. Be as that may, I… that is, the Great and Powerful Trixie – can’t quite muster up that much power.”
“We know,” Twilight said. “That’s why I brought you this.” At that, she tossed Luna’s clasp to Trixie.
The showpony swiftly caught it with her magic and examined it carefully, turning it this way and that while she listened to it quietly hum. After a minute, her eyes slowly widened. “Oh… oh my. You are giving something like this to me? I’m flattered.” Her eyes gleamed. “The things Trixie could do with this…!”
“Luna said that it was a ‘gift’,” explained Twilight, “but one that she will take back – with interest – if you abuse it.”
“…Ah. Of course,” Trixie said, grimacing.
For a minute or two, Trixie’s eyes darted from the clasp to the direction of the city limits and back again. She looked at the former with longing in her eyes, but appeared to regard the latter with trepidation.
Finally, she spoke up again. “Even so, I am still unsure of how to deal with… all of this,” she said hesitantly. She gestured to the pendant, and to Twilight, then slumped down with a sigh. “Trixie m-may... well, I might very well decline your offer...”
This isn’t going well… Alright, one last try, Twilight thought. Time to fight fire with fire.
Twilight sighed theatrically. “I understand,” she said. “After all, I can see that you’re busy here. Yes, you’re much too busy to help to save Equestria from evil. Even when the Princesses themselves not only give you a powerful gift, but plead for your aid!” She shook her head sadly. “What a story it could have been! What a chance to prove your power to the world! But no, I could beg on bent knee, but I can see that you would still refuse.” She headed towards the exit, but paused in the doorway, striking what she hoped was an appropriately dramatic pose. “Goodbye, Great and Powerful Trixie. Even if I live through this, you shall never. See me. Again.”
Trixie immediately looked up, eyes wide. “N-never?”
Instead of answering, Twilight left the wagon. She began to walk away, keeping her head down as she smirked. Three… Two… One…
“Okay!” shouted Trixie, bursting out of her home to pursue Twilight. “I’ll help!” She skidded past Twilight, and then turned to affix her with a mild glare. “You just had to hit below the belt, didn't you, Sparkle? Well, you win. As you ask, I shall lend my horn to your cause... Well, what are you waiting for? Let us move on from this backwater little town–”
“We’re in Manehattan,” Twilight reminded her.
“–and meet our destiny!” Trixie continued, unfazed. “We should tarry no longer, for Trixie shall shape this encounter into a marvelous story to be told for ages to come!”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “I have no doubt.”
Gilda looked her checklist over once more. “Well, it looks like every mental and physical discipline technique that I know has been a bust,” she said grudgingly. “Guess we’ll have to move on to magical theory…”
“Wait!” Pinkie looked up from her breakfast of cotton candy, strawberry-flavored licorice, and licorice-flavored strawberries to stare at Gilda in confusion. “What ‘physical discipline techniques’?”
“What phys – Pinks, we’ve been working through various exercises for almost two weeks now!” Gilda sputtered. “What did you think we were doing this whole time?!”
Now that she thought about it, Pinkie recalled something along those lines. “…Oh. So you mean that thing with the poses was training?”
“Yes,” Gilda said flatly. “The yoga was part of the training.”
“And the karate?” Pinkie asked.
Gilda nodded stiffly, her expression strained. “That too.”
A suspicion started to form in Pinkie’s mind. “What about that part where you made me set fire to part of the forest?”
“Hey, I didn’t know you’d react so poorly to hypnosis!” Gilda said defensively. “Besides, we put out all those fires, didn’t we?”
“Yup!” Pinkie replied.
“Well, if you didn’t realize that was all training, then what did you think it was?” Gilda said.
Pinkie stared at her blankly. “...Fun.”
For a long moment, Gilda stared back. Finally, the gryphon shrugged. “Eh. Fair enough, I suppose,” she said grudgingly.
“So should we try all that stuff again?” Pinkie asked.
“Nah. None of it was really going anywhere, anyway,” Gilda replied. “We probably should have been focusing on magical theory in the first place. Now let’s get on with it.” She grabbed a stick and started drawing a complex, roughly circular pattern in the dirt. “Now, I believe the best option, as far as we are concerned, is probably a dampening rune. I’ve seen a few in a book once.”
Pinkie raised an eyebrow. “Just once? And you remember them?”
Gilda cleared her throat. “Well, okay, I reread that particular book a few times.” She turned her attention back to the rune. “Anyway, this design is quite simple, and it should help repress most of your power – a temporary fix, but hopefully that’s all we’ll need.”
Pinkie stared at the pattern. “Gee, Gilda, your brain must be like a library if you can remember all this stuff so well!” She peered quizzically at the gryphon’s head. “Is there a teeny tiny little Twilight in there, too?”
Gilda glared at the her. “No, and I’d rather it stay that way. Please try to curb your imagination.” She sighed. “As for the memory, it’s just that... well, the past year has given me plenty of time to review my memories. But can we get back to helping you?”
Satisfied, Gilda tapped her now-completed rune. “See this here? Now, I can draw it, but I can’t actually put any magic in it. That’s where you come in. Take a good look, and then form a mental image of it.”
“Okay!” Pinkie closed her eyes and pictured the rune. There it sat in her mind, glowing faintly.
“Got it?” Gilda asked.
Pinkie nodded slowly. “Uh-huh.”
“Good,” Gilda said. “Now see if you can locate the source of your power… Clear your mind, like in the meditation from earlier. Well, except without teleporting away this time.”
Pinkie Pinkie breathed in deeply, dismissing any lingering, distracting thoughts. Now that she was properly focused, she found that she could feel a gentle humming throughout her entire body… A little more observation led to the conclusion that the feeling was strongest in her fingertips… no, hold on… in her chest. The feeling seemed to originate in the heart, flowing into all parts of the body but mostly gathering in the hands.
“Got it,” Pinkie said.
“Excellent. Now move the rune directly to the source of your magic. Picture the flow redirecting itself into the rune, circulating in a counterclockwise motion.”
Pinkie placed the mental rune directly on top of her heart, and then willed the flow of her magic into it. Right as the first sliver of magic touched the rune –
Time slowed to a crawl.
Pinkie fell to the ground, clutching her head. White-hot agony, brighter than a thousand suns, lanced her skull for the slightest instant, leaving a lingering ache so intense that she could not even scream.
Through a painful haze, Pinkie felt her power erupt from her. She heard a series of unpleasant, greasy pops, the sound of ghostly laughter, and a bubbling hiss.
Pinkie could make out Gilda sighing in disgust. “Geez, Pinks, now look what you’ve done!”
A short pause.
“Uh… Pinks, you okay?” Gilda suddenly sounded concerned. A moment later, Pinkie felt herself being propped up on something warm and soft. “C’mon, Pinks, say something…”
Pinkie choked out a sob. “Ow…” she mumbled.
“Shhh, it’s okay…” Gilda murmured. Pinkie became aware of the sensation of her mane being stroked. “I’m sor- ...sor-” The gryphon seemed to gag on the word. She gritted her teeth. “…I-I’m sssorry. I didn’t know… that would happen.”
“M’kay,” Pinkie replied. After a moment, she spoke up again. “Gilda?”
“Can we please stop trying this type of training?”
After a pause, Gilda answered. “Okay.”
“ ‘nk you,” Pinkie mumbled, and then snuggled in closer to Gilda’s downy feathers.
The room was huge, spacious, and very, very, clean. A single skylight provided illumination, and as the gentle sunlight streamed into the room, it fell upon many a work of art – a delicate vase, an exquisite painting, an intricately-sculpted statuette, all spaced just so in order to best please the eye. Every piece was precious, and nearly all of them were unique.
Indeed, the old teak table that dominated the center of the room was one-of-a-kind, and the antique porcelain tea set that rested upon it would have been the pride of many a museum. But in many a pony’s eyes, the most priceless works of art in the room would have been the two unicorn mares seated at the table, sipping daintily from their teacups.
The two were, in a manner of speaking, a matching set. There were, of course, some superficial differences – one’s coat was a glossy ebony, the other a gleaming alabaster; one’s mane a deep topaz, the other’s a rich amethyst – but how they carried themselves with poise and grace; the way their elegantly coiffured manes formed luxurious curls; the surprisingly calculating gleam in their gem-like eyes… One would be hard-pressed to find a pair that complemented each other so perfectly.
For a long while, the only sounds in the room were the clink of antique porcelain and the gentle sloshing of very expensive tea. The two unicorns stared at each other appraisingly, waiting for the other to speak.
The white-coated mare was the first to oblige. “Once again, Sable Lace, I must thank you for your hospitality.”
“Oh, not at all, Rarity,” the other replied, the edge of her mouth quirking upwards. “It’s always a pleasure whenever you visit. We see so little of each other nowadays, don’t we?”
Rarity conceded the point with a gentle nod. “I do miss the conversations we used to have. It’s not that I’m ever at a loss for clever repartee in Ponyville, but…”
“…there are some things that one simply does not discuss with most ponies,” Sable finished.
“Exactly,” Rarity said. “Which, regrettably, brings us to the matter at hoof.”
Sable sighed. “Oh Rarity, my dear, must we bring that up so soon? I’m all for business before pleasure, but it’s been such a long time…”
“I fear we may not have much more time,” Rarity replied. “I promise that when this is all over, we’ll have a chance to talk idly, but this is a matter of utmost importance.”
Sable frowned, but nodded. “Very well.” She paused for a moment, then continued in a carefully measured voice. “How is the situation at your boutique, darling?”
“Quite well, but a rather daunting order has just been placed,” Rarity said. “I may have to hire some help.”
“I see. And what are you in the market for? A seamstress, maybe? Perhaps a quilter? Even a gem hunter…”
“I’m afraid I’m not after any of those things.” Rarity paused. “A cloth-cutter, however…”
“Ah.” Sable’s expression remained decidedly neutral as she sipped at her tea. “So a particular bolt of cloth has been giving you trouble. May I inquire as to the type of fabric?”
Rarity took a deep breath before answering. “Industrial-grade titanium.”
Sable’s eyebrow moved ever so slightly upwards. Coming from her, it was tantamount to spewing a mouthful of tea across the room. “Perhaps I misheard you,” she replied, her tone even more subdued.
Rarity gave her head a slight shake. “I’m afraid not.”
For a long moment, Sable sat speechless. Eventually, she found her voice. “So… you’re after the Mad Hatter.”
“Not exactly.” Rarity smiled apologetically. “It is a Mad Hatter, but not the Mad Hatter.”
Sable’s brow furrowed. “I had no idea there was more than one Hatter.”
“She took us all by surprise,” Rarity said.
“I can imagine,” Sable said. “Well, if the Hatter’s on the catwalk, then you’ll need the best. I shall send some cloth-cutters immediately.” She paused. “Darling, do you think you would look better in Silk or Satin?”
Rarity stared into her teacup. “I’m rather partial to both, but the market value for either of them is far greater than I can afford at the moment…”
Sable idly waved a hoof. “Don’t worry about that. I have a feeling that if this order of yours was completed, it would benefit us all. I shall cover the expenses.”
“I suppose in that case, it wouldn’t hurt to have both Silk and Satin on hand,” Rarity said.
Sable sipped at her tea. “Good thinking.”
“Got any ideas?” Pinkie asked.
Gilda glared down at the little rows of boxes on her checklist. Not a single box lacked a check mark. “No. No, I haven’t come up with anything since five minutes ago, thanks for asking.”
Pinkie frowned. Was that sarcasm? It sounded like sarcasm.
“Y’know what? I’m not even sure this is possible,” Gilda growled, chucking her checklist over her shoulder. “We’ve tried everything I can remember about both mental discipline and magical theory, but nothing’s working!” She sighed. “Heck, I’m not even sure this is really the same thing as pony magic at all.”
“What do you mean by that?” Pinkie asked.
Gilda cleared her throat. “Certain scholars have theorized that the very nature of magic is Order-based, albeit so complex and draconian that it can seem to be the opposite. However, whatever freaky stuff you’re using,” she said, “seems to flaunt every single rule that I can recall! And since my retooled mental discipline strategies have been equally useless, these past few weeks have been a complete waste of time!” She slammed her head repeatedly against a nearby tree. “A useless! Annoying! Waste of time!”
Pinkie blinked. “Sorry,” she asked, “did you... did you already have plans or something?”
The gryphon glared at Pinkie for a long time. Slowly, Gilda’s claws began to ball up into fists, but then she stopped, stared at them, and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath. “The things I do for you, Dash,” Gilda muttered to herself, then opened her eyes again.
“Don’t worry, Gilda!” Pinkie said. “I’m sure we’ll figure this out soon.”
Gilda rolled her eyes. “Oh, you are, huh? Well, that makes me feel so much better.”
“Okay, that is sarcasm,” Pinkie grumbled.
“What’s that?” Gilda raised her head sharply. “Oh, Is the Queen of Saccharine finally starting to get a little crabby?”
Pinkie turned away from Gilda, pouting defiantly. “Well, maybe if you weren’t always such a Grumpy McGrumperson...”
“Hey, you can’t afford to be critical of my attitude! You’re the needy one, not me,” Gilda snapped. “I could walk away from you and your stupid problem if I wanted to!”
“What about Dashie?” Pinkie said.
“What about her?!” Gilda snarled. “I bet I could do a better job reconciling with her without you, you bumbling dweeb!”
“Oh, yeah?” replied Pinkie, temper rising. “Well, you’re so mean, I think you’d do a really, really bad job without me!”
“Is that so?” The gryphon rolled her eyes. “Well, what’re you gonna do, just snap your fingers and make it all better?”
Pinkie’s eyes widened as a realization hit her. “Wait a minute – Snap… fingers?”
Gilda paused. “Yeah, that’s… what I said,” she answered warily. “Why, what’s it to you?”
“That’s what Discord always did when he used his powers,” Pinkie said.
Gilda’s eyes widened too. “…So… that means…” Suddenly, the gryphon became a lot more animated. “That’s it! That’s what we’ve been missing! I’ve been going about this the completely wrong way!” She hugged Pinkie in her excitement. “Pinkie Pie, you’re a genius!”
Pinkie stared down at Gilda, shocked. Urgently, she racked her brain for the answer to whether or not the gryphon’s action constituted a violation of the Second Rule.
“…Um. Heh.” Gilda let go of Pinkie, blushing furiously. “I… I guess I got a bit carried away.”
Pinkie smiled. “That’s okay!” she said. “I do that all the time. So, you think all I have to do to control my powers is snap my fingers?”
“Well, there’s more to it than that,” Gilda said. “I guess in regards to the finger-snapping, you have to think about achieving the desired effect when, and only when – that's the important part – snapping your fingers.”
“Oh,” Pinkie said. “Is that all? Are you sure?”
“Well, it’s a start. But I think that this whole finger business is just the beginning!” Gilda’s eyes gleamed. “Why, if we consider Discord’s way of going about things, then that answers a whole lot a questions!”
Pinkie tilted her head inquisitively. “Like what?”
“For starters, magic thrives on harmony… so naturally, Discord, by his very nature, can’t use it! But he still uses some sort of supernatural power, so that means pony magic – Order-based magic – is only one kind! Discord, and now you, must use some sort of Chaos-based magic… No wonder you reacted so poorly when we tried the dampening rune, it was completely incompatible…”
Pinkie frowned. Somehow, that explanation of the incident with the rune didn’t seem quite right to her...
As Gilda continued, her grin slowly widened. “It takes a disciplined mind and logical thinking to control Order Magic, while if what I’m thinking is correct, Chaos Magic requires force of personality and nonlinear thinking. That’s probably why you’re finding it too easy to use… Additionally, if this theory of Order and Chaos magic holds true, then that opens up so many possibilities! Think about it. For starters, a dragon’s magic is probably Chaotic, if its greed-based growth spurts are anything to go by, and – Um.” The gryphon blushed again. “Another geek-out. Sorry.”
Pinkie beamed. “No, don’t be sorry. It’s super-duper great that you’re such a super-smart smarty-pants! So should we test it out, then?”
Gilda chuckled. “Gee, Pinks, I’m glad you’re eager, but where would we find a dragon at this hour?” She paused. “…Oh! Right! Your chaos magic, my bad. Yeah, we should get started on that right away.”
“Got any ideas?” Pinkie asked.
Gilda’s eyes sparkled. “That I do, Pinks. That I do.”
Rainbow Dash trotted into the Farrington Library. She looked around at the stone walls of the establishment, the long rows of towering bookshelves, and the plush chairs. “Weird,” she observed.
“Can I help you?” asked a voice.
Dash looked up to see a goldenrod pegasus with a sky-blue mane hovering nearby. She wore a pair of wire-framed, half-moon spectacles and a mischievous smile.
“Oh,” Rainbow said, slightly off-guard. “Didn’t see you there. You’re, uh, the librarian here?”
“Yeah, that’s, ‘uh’, me,” the pegasus said, mimicking Dash. “My name’s Breezy Pinions, but I never really liked the name… You can call me Breeze. No doubt you were expecting a unicorn for a librarian?”
“Hadn’t really thought about it,” Dash admitted. “But my friend Twilight runs the Ponyville library, and to be honest, I guess I sorta expected something pretty close.”
“Oh?” Breeze said. “To the library or the librarian?”
“Both.” Rainbow glanced around again. “It’s kinda weird seeing all these books in one place that’s not a giant hollow tree.”
“Yeah, all the ‘giant hollow trees’ around here are purely residential,” Breeze snarked, softly landing in front of Rainbow. “So are you here for a book, or just to discuss botanical architecture?”
“Neither, actually,” Dash replied. “I’m here about a gryphon by the name of Gilda. I was told that she used to come in here a lot?”
Breeze’s eyes widened. “Oh, you’re her, aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re Rainbow Dash?”
“You’ve heard of me?” Rainbow said, pleased.
“Yeah, I certainly have,” Breeze said. “Now you have to come and look for Gilda! Where were you before everything happened?!”
“Hey, I–” Dash began sharply, but she paused. “Wait, whaddaya mean, ‘everything’? Is she in trouble?”
Breeze sighed. “You tell me. She’s disappeared.”
“Right, I know that,” Dash said. “Luna already told me. That’s why I’m trying to find her.”
“Wait, what?” Breeze blinked. “Princess Luna is looking for Gilda?”
“Yeah. Listen, are you going to tell me anything or not?”
Breeze took off her glasses and cleaned them carefully with one wing, her expression unreadable. As she returned them to her face, her eyes narrowed slightly. “…Fine. It’s not like I can argue, what with a Princess backing you up. Even so, know that I’m only doing this for Gilda’s benefit.” She looked Rainbow sharply in the eye. “It is for her benefit, right?”
“I… I guess,” Dash said.
“You ‘guess’?” Breeze echoed. Then she sighed. “Never mind. It’ll simply have to do.” She motioned to one of the chairs. “This could take a while, so feel free to sit down.”
As Rainbow complied, Breeze followed suit. “So,” Dash said, “what can you tell me about Gilda?”
“Well…” Breeze started. “When I first met Gilda, she didn’t say much of anything at all. She just swept into the library one day, read a few books, and then stormed out again. She seemed… angry. And a little sad.”
“Angry, huh?” Dash interrupted. “Yeah, that’s the Gilda I know.”
“That’s the Gilda you knew,” Breeze retorted. “She’s changed.”
Dash rolled her eyes. “Yeah, she did. She was my best friend, and then she became a nasty, friend-hating deserter.”
Breeze glared at Rainbow. “‘Deserter’? You’re supposed to be the Bearer of the Element of Loyalty, from what I hear.” She arched a brow. “Lose any sleep over letting Gilda go?”
“Well… uh…” As Rainbow thought about it, she looked away. “No, I guess not. But she made her choice, not me!”
“True,” Breeze conceded, “but Gilda was tricked into losing her temper, then pretty much forced into a public apology. Do your friends ever do anything like that to you?”
Dash rolled her eyes. “Sort of. They dressed up like superheroes and humiliated me... well, not exactly, but sort of,” she said. “But it was for my own good! I can stand a little humility sometimes, and I thought Gilda could too.”
Breeze looked like she was about to say something, but after a moment, she nodded grudgingly. “Touché. But do you want to hear about this or not?”
“Sorry,” Rainbow said.
Breeze continued. “Anyway, Gilda came in here every day, never said a word, but just read some more and left at closing time. She seemed to be practically boiling over with rage – every time I tried to talk to her, she snapped at me, then went back to reading. After a couple of weeks, however, I could see the anger fade… but not the sadness.
“So, that went on for a long time, until one day, when she decided to speak to me…
“Hey. Librarian lady.”
I look up from my work to see the gryphon staring at me with a scowl. “May I help you?” I asked, my tone carefully neutral. I don’t much like being called “librarian lady”, but the gryphon was the only person to visit in a very long time, and I don’t want to scare her away. Besides, one learns to tolerate such things in my line of work.
“Yeah,” the gryphon replies, glancing around at the shelves. “You got any more books around here?”
I blink, caught somewhat off-guard by the question. “…Any… more books?” I cough delicately before continuing. “Well, are you after anything in particular?”
“No. Just get me a book,” The gryphon says, irritated.
“Hmm…” I flutter out from behind my desk and hover at the top of the nearest bookshelf. “Well, what have you already read?” I ask, letting my gaze travel over the titles of each book.
“All of them,” the gryphon replies flatly.
I drop back down to the ground. “…All of them?” I repeat.
She rolls her eyes. “Yes, all of them. Is that so hard to believe?”
“Well…” I say. “I suppose you have been coming in here a lot, Miss… uh…”
“Gilda,” the gryphon says. “Just Gilda.”
I nod. “….Gilda… but we have thousands of books here! Maybe even hundreds of thousands! How could you possibly have read all of them?”
Gilda chuckles darkly. “I have been coming in here for nearly a year now! I read from opening to closing time, you know. What, are you surprised that I can make proper use of my free time?”
I continue to stare at her, dumbfounded. “But… surely when you say every book…”
“Look, lady,” Gilda says, voice rising, “When I say every book, I mean every single one! Magical theory, information and general works; philosophy and psychology; religion; social sciences; language; science; technology; arts and recreation; literature; and history and geography! I’ve practically memorized entire shelves! I even forced myself to read through every. Single. Awful. ‘Young mare’ romance series!” Here, she leans in close to me, eyes burning. “Don’t even get me started on the one about the changelings! Look, lady, I’ve read and re-read every single piece of paper on those shelves,” she growls, “and all I have left are whatever books that aren’t already out there. Do. You. Have. Any. More. Books?”
I shake my head fervently. “No!” I answer, trying not to squeak.
The gryphon’s face falls. “No? …Not even anything in the return slot, perhaps?”
I give her a cold look. “You’ve been coming in here for ‘almost a year now’. Have you ever seen anypony here besides you or I?”
Gilda frowns for a moment, brow furrowing. “Wasn’t there one pony about a month or two ago who stopped by?”
“He was looking for the local bookstore,” I say flatly. Silently, I curse the name of Page Turner’s Reading Emporium – not for the first time. Apparently, the ponies of Farrington would rather pay for books than worry about returning them. It’s a wonder why the library’s still in business. “Besides him, can you think of anyone else?” I ask.
“No,” Gilda admits. “...But I was busy reading.”
“Yes, it seems you were. Good for you,” I reply coolly. “Yes, those are all the books. What you see is what you get.”
“Are you sure?” she asks.
I sigh in irritation. “Yes. I’m sure. Geez, why do you care so much?”
Gilda stares at her feet. Her reply comes quietly, falteringly. “They… they help me forget. I’ve tried... flying, lifting weights, that sort of thing, b-but it doesn’t keep my mind occupied like books do... When I’m reading, I don’t have to remember what I’ve done.” She sighs. “I care so much about those freaking books because I don’t have anything else to care about.”
“Er…” I look away awkwardly. “No friends, then?” I ask. Admittedly not the best response, I know, but when faced with something like that, it’s hard to think.
Gilda lets out a bitter laugh. “I used to have a friend. Rainbow Dash. Real cool, for a pony.”
I huff at the last remark, but decide to let it slide. “‘Used to?’ What happened to her?” I pale. “She’s not… dead, is she?”
“I doubt it. But I know that I’m dead to her.” Gilda chuckles darkly. “Gee, I’d spent years without seeing her, but one visit later - what a disaster - and now all I can think of is her... and what I’d done to her.”
“What did you do?”
She pauses reluctantly. “...Ah, why the heck not?” she eventually decides. “It all began when I decided to pay Dash a visit...”
Then she tells me about Ponyville. The monologue doesn’t take very long, and soon Gilda falls silent. She slumps down, sighing mournfully.
After a long moment, I try to cheer her up. “Come now,” I say, “that… well, okay, it wasn’t very nice, but you didn’t do anything too bad, right?”
“Too bad?” Gilda rolls her eyes. “I insulted an entire town, verbally abused the friends of my friend, and finally, when offered a choice between keeping either my friendship or my pride... well, I practically spat in my friend’s eye!” She shakes, although whether from sadness or rage I can’t tell. “I’m... I’m the one in the wrong, and it’s too late to fix anything…” She lets out a strangled gasp... It suspiciously like a sob, but I’m not about to call her out on it.
After a moment, I shake my head. “It’s never too late,” I say firmly. “All you have to do is go back to Ponyville and apologize to everypony.”
Gilda sighs. “I don’t give a flying– uh, I mean, I don’t care about anypony but Dash, and we’re both too hard-headed for stuff like apologies. Besides, if I ran into that simpering dweeb Pinkie Pie again, chances are I’d rough her up, and who knows the trouble that would cause…”
The thought of a gryphon’s idea of “roughing someone up” gives me chills, but I press on. “You can still try,” I say.
“You only get so many second chances, you know!” Gilda replies, her tone mockingly cheerful. “I doubt I have more than one left, and let’s face it – I’m mean, nasty, cruel… whatever you want to call it, I’m just not good!” She hangs her head morosely. “Not enough for Dash, anyway…”
I stare at her for a while. Eventually, I speak up. “Want to work on that?”
Gilda looks up. “Huh?”
“You aren’t going to get any nicer if you don’t work on it,” I explain. “So are you going to or not?”
Gilda blinks in surprise. “What? How?”
“You said you’ve read every book here. What’s on that shelf?” I nod my head at the shelf in question.
Gilda barely glances at it. “Self-help books.”
“Third shelf from the top?”
“Anger management. Why do you bring... this...” Gilda’s voice trails off for a moment. “Oh. Never mind.”
“Can you remember the contents of those books?” I ask.
Gilda shrugs. “It probably wouldn’t hurt to re-read them.”
I nod. “That should be a start. Whatever the books can’t help you with, I’ll be happy to.”
Gilda stares blankly at me. “Seriously, are you actually offering to give me lessons in… being nice?”
“Yeah.” I chuckle. “It’s not like anyone ever comes in here anyway. We’ve both got to do something to pass the time, don’t we?”
“…To pass the time. Yeah, why not?” Gilda smiles. “Let’s do this… uh… Hey, what am I supposed to call you, anyway?”
“Call me Breeze,” I say.
The gryphon nods. “…Breeze. Alright. Let’s begin.”
“For the next few months, the two of us worked on, as Gilda put it, ‘making her nice’”, Breeze continued. “Mostly it was anger management, patience, teaching her to swallow her pride, stuff like that.” She shrugged. “Over that time, I’d seen some improvement, but she wasn’t anywhere near ready to return back to Ponyville when…”
“When she disappeared?” Dash said. “And Discord showed up?”
“Yeah,” Breeze replied. She laughed humorlessly. “That’s when the manure hit the fan.”
Rainbow’s eyes narrowed. “What happened to Gilda?” she asked.
Breeze sighed. “Like I said before, your guess is as good as mine. Everything went crazy, including half the residents of Farrington. I didn’t even see her that day, or any any day afterwards, for that matter.” She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “The last time I heard about her was when a couple of city guards showed up and asked some questions. Routine stuff, they claimed, but I think there was more to it than that…”
“City guards, you say?” echoed Rainbow. She got up and approached the door, looking over her shoulder as she continued. “Huh. Well, Breeze, thanks for your time, but gotta go. If Twilight ever visits Farrington, I’ll tell her to stop by here.” She smiled. “I’m sure you two eggheads would get along.”
“Okay,” Breeze said, nodding. “If you ever find out what happened to Gilda, let me know.”
Dash left the library and made her way to the City Guard’s headquarters. On the way, she pondered the librarian’s words.
Gilda’s sorry? She’s actually sorry for what she did? Huh. I’d never have guessed… Then again, Rainbow thought, it sounds like she’s only sorry for what she said to me.
But I don’t think she’d bother to stick around so long for all that “niceness training” in the library if she didn’t really want to improve, Dash argued to herself.
A small, nagging part of her added, She didn’t stick around, though, did she? Not in Ponyville, and not here, either…
Whatever. Either way, now I really want answers from Gilda…
Soon, Dash reached the steps of the Guard headquarters. Once inside, she approached the front desk. The guard stationed there straightened out of his slouch and turned to address her. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“You know anything about a certain gryphon by the name of Gilda?” Dash said.
“Oh, you mean the one that used to come to the city often?” the guard said. “Yeah, I remember her. She used to stop by the library nearly every day. Now that I think about it, she always looked–”
“…A little angry or sad or whatever, I know,” Dash interrupted, holding up a hoof. “I already got that part of the story. I just wanna know why the City Guard was looking for her after we stopped Discord.”
The guard coughed delicately. “Yes, well,” he said. “After things returned to normal… more or less… we found a body.”
Dash paled. “Whose?”
“It was a pony, I can tell you that much,” the guard answered, shifting uncomfortably. “Kind of hard to tell what race, though. Whatever had killed the poor thing had torn her to shreds… and ate a good bit of her, too.”
Dash’s stomach lurched. “And… and you think Gilda did that?” she breathed.
The guard shrugged. “Tell you the truth, we have no idea. I can tell you, though, that half of the abominations that were running around when Discord arrived could’ve done it.” He shuddered. “So many things with claws and teeth… Let me tell you, there were a few other corpses, too. But this body was different. It was the only one that was half-eaten, and the wounds... they’d been inflicted by talons and a beak. Some of those monsters had those, but so did your gryphon friend...” He snorted. “...and they don’t pay us guards to ignore things like that.”
“Did you find Gilda?” Dash said.
“Nah,” the guard replied, shaking his head. “Couldn’t find anypony who actually knew her well enough to guess where she went. Not even the librarian knows where she lived before all this crazy stuff… Hay, for all we know, she’s in the Everfree Forest or something.”
Dash frowned thoughtfully. Do gryphons live in forests? I kinda assumed they’d prefer clouds, she thought, or maybe caves. I guess it’s worth looking into if I can’t find any other leads...
“Well,” the guard continued, “according to the official report, one of those monsters killed that poor pony, but if you think there’s more to it, we can reopen the case... with more paperwork, of course,” he added glumly.
Rainbow shook her head. “Nah. I’ll look into it on my own.”
“In that case, good luck finding her. I hope that your friend didn’t have anything to do with – well, you know.”
“Me too. But if she did kill somepony...” Dash said, a cold glint in her eye, “...then she’s no friend of mine.”
Rainbow left the building and trotted towards the city gate. Once outside the city limits, she stretched her wings.
“Everfree Forest, huh?” Dash said to herself. Sure, it had been only an offhanded comment, but still, it was either follow up on it or head back empty-hooved.
Rainbow’s eyes narrowed. Well, I’m never gonna do that.
She glanced towards the sky. The sun was already setting, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to search a little before it got too dark…
Rainbow nodded. “Okay, then, Everfree it is.” She flew off towards the dark woods.
Pinkie stared at a small pile of stones. She stood there silently for a moment, picturing the task she had in mind. If she concentrated, she could just make out… well, something magic-related, perhaps Gilda would know what to call it. Maybe “aura” would be the right word.
In any case, a faint luminosity filled the air, but brighter glows took recognizable shapes – flowing lines deep beneath the earth; streaks passing through the air; or nearly liquid-like forms that gently sloshed within certain organisms, like water in a vase. Vibrant hues filled the forest with light.
But the chaos magic inside Pinkie Pie was different – a deep, dark blue, like a shadow in a field of wildflowers. It flowed out of her heart and throughout her body, shifting and dancing like fire. It felt anxious, restless, waiting to be released in whatever way Pinkie saw fit…
The draconequus’s eyes locked on the pile of stones.
Pinkie Pie snapped her fingers.
Effortlessly, the stones lifted into the air and circled Gilda in lazy, complicated spirals. After a minute or two, the rocks shot downward, burying themselves in the dirt. A split second later, green shoots burst from the ground, sprouting buds that quickly bloomed into glittering, gemlike flowers.
“Well done, Pinks,” Gilda said. “You’re really getting the hang of this.”
Pinkie giggled. “Thanks, Gilda! But really, it’s pretty easy once you figure out how.”
Ever since Gilda’s “Eureka” moment, Pinkie had gotten better and better at... manipulating her powers. Really, it was just a matter of coaxing the chaos to do what she wanted. Now that the she was actually intentionally using the chaos more often, it was foal’s play to achieve the desired effects… Oddly enough, the chaos magic seemed almost eager to please Pinkie Pie.
But that was silly. The Chaos couldn’t actually think for itself… could it?
Gilda interrupted Pinkie’s thoughts. “Well, I think we’re done here,” the gryphon said.
“That was fun! Ooh, so now what?” Pinkie asked, bouncing excitedly.
Gilda rolled her eyes. “Didn’t you hear me? We’re done. Over. Your training is now complete.”
Pinkie’s eyes widened. “We’re… done? But we haven’t done much at all!”
“I don’t think we need to,” Gilda replied. “Like you said, it’s pretty easy for you now. It’s clear that if you can imagine it, you can do it, so long as you have the power. Since you no longer seem to be having issues with control, really there’s nothing more I can teach you.”
“Oh.” Pinkie frowned thoughtfully. “So… does that mean we’re gonna start looking for a way to turn me back to normal?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Gilda said. “The sooner this is over with, the better.”
Pinkie grinned. “Okie Dokie Lok–”
“Gilda!” a familiar voice shouted.
Both Gilda and Pinkie jumped. The pair of them turned towards the voice. There, they found Rainbow Dash staring at them in shock.
After a moment of silence, Dash narrowed her eyes. “You…” she snarled. “You’re working for her?! Eris?!”
“…Uh-oh,” Pinkie said.
By Charcoal Quill
Time stood still as Rainbow Dash stared at Gilda and the draconequus whose company she was keeping. No... “Keeping company”? More than that! The two are obviously in cahoots.
But how could that be? Sure, Gilda had been mean the last time that Rainbow had seen her, but the pegasus would never in her wildest of dreams have imagined that her old friend was pure evil. Dash couldn’t wrap her head around it.
She didn’t know what to think... but she could feel. And she felt hurt. Betrayed. Angry.
Gilda was the first to make a move. She glanced first at Eris, and then back at Rainbow. “Yeah, hey, Dash,” she said, chuckling somewhat nervously. “I know what this looks like, but honestly –”
“Honestly?!” Dash spat. “Honestly?! Here I’d been hearing that you’ve changed, that you’ve gotten better since last time I saw you. I almost felt sorry for you! But now I find that you’re working with… with her!” She pointed at Eris. “Do you have any idea what Eris has done to Pinkie Pie?”
Eris cocked her head inquisitively.
“Eris?” echoed Gilda, looking back at the draconequus. “Cute. It suits her, I suppose.” She turned back to Rainbow. “But to answer your question, yeah, I know exactly what happened to Pinkie, although I doubt you really do.” She rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Dash, you can be so featherbrained sometimes…”
“And what the hay do you mean by that, exactly?” Dash shot back. A split second later, however, something clicked…
Suddenly, the puzzle pieces fell into place... Gilda shouting in Pinkie’s face, expressing her undying hatred for all things pink party pony. The sudden disappearance of Pinkie, exactly when Eris appeared. The officer describing a different pony’s half-eaten corpse…
Dash’s eyes widened. “Sweet merciful Celestia, you... y-you ate her?! You actually ate Pinkie Pie!”
“What?” Gilda looked taken aback. “Of course not!”
Rainbow leapt forward. “Don’t give me that! Next you’re gonna say that pony in Farrington just ate herself, huh?”
Gilda lowered her eyes, but did not answer. Eris stared at the gryphon, puzzled.
“Well?” Dash demanded.
Gilda finally spoke. “Look, Dash. If you’d only listen–”
“No,” Rainbow interrupted. “You’ve already told me all I need to know! No more talking!”
“Dash…” Gilda pleaded.
“I HATE YOU!” Dash screamed. She couldn’t restrain herself any longer. She shot towards the gryphon with bloodlust in her eyes.
Eris’s eyes widened, then quickly narrowed. She snapped her fingers.
A flash of light, and all was darkness and noise. Rainbow had just enough time to register a white mare, mouth agape, before she crashed into her. The two tumbled off the stage and landed in a painful heap.
“Hey, I like enthusiasm in a mare, but this is a bit, um…” The voice trailed off.
Dash looked down to see the white mare, a unicorn with a wild mane and bright, magenta eyes, glancing around. “Oh no. My glasses!” she exclaimed, untangling herself from Rainbow. She searched the ground frantically.
Rainbow looked up to see that she had been teleported to some sort of nightclub. The room was illuminated by flashing strobelights and various neon fixtures. A massive crowd of ponies filled the dance floor, putting it to good use as they moved in time with the heavy beat of the music.
Said music was being blared from enormous speakers that flanked, atop the stage, a DJ’s booth - with nopony operating it. Dash quickly realized that meant that the DJ must be –
“A-ha! Found ‘em!” Triumphantly, the DJ stood up as she replaced a pair of purple shades.
“Oh, uh… sorry about that,” Dash said, climbing to her hooves.
“Eh, no biggie.” The unicorn shrugged, then peered closely at Rainbow. “Hey, you look familiar. Have we met before?”
Rainbow frowned thoughtfully. “I think so. Did you play at the Royal Wedding?”
The DJ nodded. “Yeah, that was me! Heh, that got pretty crazy, didn’t it?”
“Yeah. Crazy,” Dash echoed, looking away. “Anyway, where am I, exactly? Which city, I mean.”
“Wild night?” the unicorn replied, grinning. She lifted her shades just long enough to wink at Rainbow. “Yeah, I’ve been there before. You’re in Canterlot.” She started to climb back onto the stage. “Mind if I get back to DJing, now?”
Canterlot. That was fortunate, all things considered. If Gilda was working with Eris, then Dash needed to tell the others as soon as possible. “No, go ahead,” she replied, turning towards the nearest exit. “Thanks.”
“No problem!” the DJ called after her, grinning. “If you’re ever in the neighborhood, just feel free to drop in…” She chuckled. “...Again!”
Upon seeing Dash disappear, Gilda whirled around, snarling, to face Pinkie. “PINKS! What did you do to her?!”
Pinkie raidsed her mismatched arms defensively. “Hey, she’s okay! I don’t know where she is, but I just sent her to… uh... somewhere safe,” she finished lamely.
“Well, so long as she’s fine…” Gilda said tiredly. She slumped down. “…So long as she’s fine.” She turned away, muttering to herself. “Dash hates me, huh? Well, glad to get that out in the open. Now I don’t have those nagging hopes anymore...”
Pinkie stared at Gilda. She was clearly hurting. I’ve gotta cheer her up, Pinkie thought, and a party probably wouldn’t help in this case… What would Fluttershy do?
Pinkie edged over to Gilda. “There, there,” she said halfheartedly. She reached out a hand to give Gilda a reassuring pat, but then decided against it. Pinkie took a deep breath, then continued more enthusiastically. “I’m sure Dashie doesn’t really hate you! She’s just, um… confused.”
Gilda snorted. “Really? She seemed rather certain to me.”
“Well… Why should she hate you?” Pinkie said. “You didn’t really eat me! I mean, duh, I’m right here! And it’s not like you’re going to, right?”
“Damn straight,” Gilda promptly replied. “You eat so many cupcakes and other sweet things that you probably taste like the blasted stuff. I’ve never really had much of a sweet tooth, as it were.” She paused. “…Also, it’s been thousands of years since gryphons as a species have actually eaten ponies, anyway… not that it matters now, though.”
Pinkie stared at Gilda, confused. “What do you mean by that?”
“It doesn’t matter what the truth is,” Gilda said. “Dash still thinks I ate somepony.”
“But you didn’t!” Pinkie said. “We just need to get this sorted out. Then Dashie’ll know that you didn’t eat anypony!”
Gilda stared coldly at Pinkie. “Oh? How do you know who or what I have and haven’t eaten?”
Pinkie paled. “Gilda…? What… what are you… Huh?”
“Pinks, don’t you remember what Dash said, about that ‘other pony in Farrington’?” Gilda looked away. “Truth is… Dash may be right. I might’ve eaten her.”
“‘Might’ve’? How can you not know if something like that happened?” Pinkie asked.
Gilda sighed. “Think, Pinks. Remember how crazy things were when Discord was free?”
Pinkie shuddered. “…Oh, yeah.”
“Well, ‘Chaos Capital’ or not, Ponyville got off easy compared to Farrington.” Gilda sighed. “Pull up a... I dunno, a rock or something. This could take a while.”
Meanwhile, back at the palace grounds in Canterlot, Discord’s statue still stood. It is hard to say what, if anything, was going through the mind of the petrified Personification of Disharmony. One could try to talk to him, but one would get little respon–
Why, hello, there! My, my, it’s not very often that I receive visitors. I suppose I should be thankful, shouldn’t I? Well, I am glad for the little distraction… and the chance to hijack the narrative. Don’t worry, I’ll give it back soon, with your precious little Fourth Wall safe and sound.
You are interested in hearing about Farrington, and by extension Gilda, yes? Splendid.
As you no doubt know already, I’d made an effort to let loose chaos upon every city, town, village, thorp, and hamlet in Equestria. Perhaps you recall earlier, when I mentioned how chaos comes in so many different flavors? Take Ponyville, for instance. I’d given them my personal favorite out of all the kinds of chaos I know: topsy-turviness. Now, topsy-turviness is fun. But of course, what self-respecting personification of chaos limits himself to just one type?
So when it came to other cities, I branched out. Take Farrington, for instance. I didn’t give them the ol’ Ponyville chaos, no sir. This batch was entirely a horse of a different color. (I really like that idiom, don’t you? So fitting for this particular world! But I digress.) No, the chaos that Farrington got was... What was it again? Remind me, if you would be so kind.
Ah, yes. Pandemonium.
Well, shortly before I’d run into the gryphon, I was floating along the warped, barely-recognizable streets of Farrington, reveling in the sounds of the city. Every crash, every shriek of terror, every cry of pain, all permeated by a deliciously horrible buzzing! I was surrounded by a most terrible din, and it made me want to sing.
I took a deep breath, opened my mouth, and…
…realized that I couldn’t remember the tune to any particular song. Try as I may, I couldn’t recall more than a few bars of anything. I suppose your memory falters when you’re trapped in stone for a thousand years… A shame, really. Just one more reason to “thank” those responsible. Again. Repeatedly.
Anyway, I considered simply making up a song, but quickly dismissed the idea - too much effort - and decided not to sing at all. It was probably for the best, anyways. They don’t exactly call me “Discord” for nothing, you know.
Presently, I realized that I’d strolled into a relatively calm area of the city. “Oh, we can’t have that,” I told myself, thankful for something to relieve my irritation.
I glanced around for a good place to let loose a little chaos - somewhere that the City Guards would have a more difficult time locating. Upon spying a nearby alley, poorly-lit and half-obscured by a dumpster, I chuckled. “Perfect,” I said as I stepped inside.
Grinning fiercely, I extended a talon. With one quick swipe, I tore a hole in the fabric of reality, creating a door for the Things that waited on the other side.
Something from beyond the rip buzzed. The sound was soon followed by a nightmarish creature of scales and chitin and teeth and tentacles and stingers and even stranger parts.
I watched with glee as, one by one, more beasts poured through, and grinned even wider at the fresh screams of terror. “Now this is entertainment!” I laughed.
Suddenly, a blur burst shot past me and slammed into one of the creatures, which collapsed like a sack of potatoes. Snap. SCREECH. Thud.
My eyes narrowed. “Now, I say –” I began.
Snarling, the blur torpedoed into another one of the monsters. Snap. SCREECH. Thud.
I tried again. “If you’ll excuse me –”
Snap. SCREECH. Thud.
I sighed. “You’re not going to let up, are you?” I grumbled. “Fine.” I snapped my fingers, and with a pop, the monsters - with the portal spawning them - vanished.
Finally, the blur slowed. Finally, I could make out, covered in several different colors of the monsters’ ichor, the tired, panting form of the gryphon that you know as Gilda.
Let us note here that when a draconequus looks at a person, be they pony, zebra, dragon, or what-have-you, then they see much more than simply their appearance, so long as they know what to look for. One glance at you, for instance - how laughably transparent! - and I see all that you are, every dark secret and hidden desire... even the ones that you hide from yourself. Tell me, do you want to know what lies beneath the mask that even you cannot perceive? Shall I reveal to you the face of your true self?
But no. We’re talking about Gilda, aren’t we? Perhaps another time, then.
Anyway, I gazed down at the gryphon and saw every nuance of her character: the seething battle-fury; the simple but nasty mean streak; the doubly long guilt streak that usually followed; the unflinching loyalty; the jealousy and possessiveness that tarnished it; the self-loathing, balanced by the desire to improve; the deeply-buried primal instinct; the pervasive, inescapable hunger known all too well to those who live among their natural prey…
I didn’t just see Gilda. I knew her - I was deeply, intimately aware of every facet of her personality.
It’s much easier to find and exploit the chinks of someone’s armor when you truly know them, don’t you think?
Among many, many other things, I noted that Gilda not only knew Rainbow Dash, but felt a fierce camaraderie towards her. Maybe Rainbow felt the same way, but I couldn’t tell. Either way, I thought, no doubt Rainbow would be simply distraught if she found out something… unfortunate had befallen her gryphon friend…
Or maybe not; after all, I’ve already dealt with Rainbow. I shrugged. Oh, what the heck! Why not have some fun anyway?
“Well done, Gilda, well done indeed,” said I, clapping slowly. “That was quite the display.”
Gilda stared up at me, and I could almost see the question in her eyes: What? How does that thing know my name?
The gryphon straightened up, taking a deep breath. “Well?” she asked. “I take it that you’re the one behind all these uglies?”
“Don’t fret, my dear,” I said. “They can’t really hold together very well in this world. They’re mostly harmless, should you avoid using magic to fight them – that never ends well.”
At that, I heard the short, sharp shriek of a unicorn who had learned that lesson the hard way. Oh, well. Can’t make an omelet, etcetera.
“Really,” I continued airily, “the monsters are just there to keep the guards busy. They’ve been much too complacent ever since they’ve built these nice, thick city walls to repel wandering monsters. So I decided to let my beasties in on this side, to shake things up a bit. Meanwhile, I do the real fun stuff.” I grinned.
“And just what would that be?” Gilda said.
Suddenly, I gasped, feigning horror. “Oh, where are my manners?” I asked, ignoring her question. “My sincerest apologies, Gilda! Allow me to introduce myself.” With a deep bow and a flourish, I continued, “I’m Discord, Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony, and the current ruler of Equestria.” I took Gilda’s claw in my own and shook it firmly. “Greetings.”
“Oh, so you’re running the place, then?” growled Gilda, yanking her hand from my grip. “Well, in that case, my talons would like to make a formal complaint.” She held up an ichor-coated claw for emphasis.
I laughed. “Oh, you’re threatening me? Me? With physical violence?” I said. “That’s simply so… so precious!” I popped over to Gilda and pinched her cheek. “Ooh, aren’t you just a cutie?”
Gilda swung at me, but I teleported out of her reach. “Too slow!” I laughed. “Really, must you resort to violence so soon? I just want to talk…”
“Yeah,” snapped Gilda, “Well you can take your talk and shove it up your –”
“Better,” I interrupted. “At least you’re using words now, instead of your talons.” I floated over and bent down to peer at Gilda. “You know, Gilda, you’re really an odd duck, aren’t you?”
“I’m not a duck. I’m a gryphon,” Gilda said flatly.
Gryphon season, duck season, what does it matter? I thought to myself. But aloud, I said, “Exactly my point, my dear! You, a gryphon, have been living with and interacting so casually with ponies! Even nowadays, your kind and theirs don’t often mix.” I chuckled. “I remember back when I was first ruling this place, gryphons used to eat ponies. And now here you are now, living like one!”
Gilda glared at me. “Hey! I’m nothing like those –”
“‘Lame ponies’?” I interrupted. “It really is funny. Didn’t you once say that you had never seen – How did you phrase it? Ah, yes – ‘a lamer bunch of dweebs’ in all your life than the ponies of Ponyville? And yet now you’re spending most of your time in a pony town, reading pony books, chatting with your simply charming pony friend, that librarian…” I smiled at her. “…How is Breeze doing today, anyway?”
Gilda snarled, “What did you do to her?!”
It’s really too easy, I noted. “Oh, nothing,” I assured her. “I haven’t done anything... well, not yet, anyway. Even so, why should you care? If I recall correctly, the only pony you really care about is Rainbow Dash.”
“But really!” I continued mockingly. “Isn’t that the only reason why you came here in the first place? To to bury your sorrows - sorrows, I may add, that arose when you rejected Dash? But you still haven’t moved on. You still go to that library every day to get coaching from that librarian on being nice, of all things! You’re trying to make things better, but it’s all in vain.”
“Shut. Up,” Gilda repeated, voice rising.
My grin widened. “You really think that Dash would ever accept you after you treated her friends like that? You think that you can really change into someone – no, somepony that she would accept? You’re deluding yourself, Gilda.” I leaned down to face the gryphon, beaming smugly. “I know all about monsters, because I am one. And so are you. It can’t be helped.” I prodded her in the chest. “It’s in your blood.”
“SHUT UP!” Gilda roared, pouncing.
Cackling wildly, I darted to the side. Gilda smashed into wall behind me, but sprang once more to her feet. She spun to face me with fire in her eyes.
One quick lunge, and I had Gilda’s throat in my claw. The gryphon stiffened immediately. “Really, such anger…” I drawled, tracing a lazy spiral on Gilda’s forehead with a claw. “It isn’t healthy to bottle it up like you’ve been doing. Why must you hold it in, denying your animal instincts?” As I began to sap Gilda’s spirit, she went limp in my grasp, color draining from her body. “You’re a monster, Gilda. Don’t deny it. You’re a predator, and these ponies are naught but your prey...”
Once I had drained the last of her, I stepped back to admire my handiwork. To the casual observer, little had changed - her feathers were ruffled, she was covered in ichor, and a low, uninterrupted growl emanated from her throat, but then again, she had been like that before my handiwork. However, the little spark of intellect had been in the gryphon's eyes was snuffed out.
I reached out my mind to inspect Gilda’s –
Flashes of color. Sounds. Shapes. Fight or flight? Food or threat? Stimulus-response.
As I withdrew my mind, my face broke out into a toothy grin. Instinct had completely overridden thought. Perfect.
At that moment, a yellow pony rounded the corner. (The poor thing reminded me a little of Fluttershy, now that I think about it. Odd.) As she stepped into the relative darkness of the alley, she glanced around furtively - but apparently, she hadn’t seen either of us yet.
The mare’s eyes darted to and fro. “H-hello?” she stammered. “Is anypony there? I heard voices, and the monsters… Oh, Celestia, the mon… sters…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes adjusted to the light. Seeing the snarling Gryphon and I, she shrank back with a squeak.
The Gryphon pounced with a bestial roar, swiping its talons at the mare. She would have been cut to ribbons, had she not leaped to the side. The Gryphon screeched in fury and lunged forward once more, but its prey dived out of reach again. The mare then promptly turned tail and fled, shrieking, with the Gryphon snapping at her heels.
I turned from the scene and walked away, chortling. Maybe the mare would live. Maybe she wouldn’t. I left it to chance. After all, why should I care? My work here was done.
I drummed my fingers on a nearby fence, then sighed. “I tire of Farrington,” I said to no one in particular. “I wonder how Celestia's little pets are doing... Well, back to Ponyville.” With the snap of my fingers and a flash of light, I disappeared.
Well, don’t let me waste your time any longer. I tire of you, so unless you have something to keep the birds away, I suggest you move along.
“…Anyway,” Gilda said shakily, “When everything went back to normal, and I could finally think again, I found myself standing over the mangled body of – somepony. I don’t know who. I couldn’t remember what I’d done. But whether or not I’d actually been the one to kill her, I could…” She shuddered. “I could still taste her. Her blood was in my mouth. It tasted… good.” Her voice was quiet. Ashamed.
Pinkie sat there, dumbfounded.
After a pause, Gilda continued. “After that, I could hardly stay in Farrington, could I? I couldn’t go anywhere where there were ponies, now that I’d become a monster… So I fled to the Everfree, to take up a life of self-imposed exile.” She gestured in the general direction of her hut. “I’d have found some cave to hole up in, but all the good ones in this blasted forest are already taken by some pretty nasty beasties, so I built that little nest-house. And I’ve been here ever since, until you came along.”
Pinkie remained silent. Gilda might’ve killed somepony? She actually ate somepony?
B-But she didn’t mean to…
“And now you see why Dash should hate me,” Gilda finished bitterly. “I’m probably a murderer, and I’m certainly a monster.”
Pinkie’s eyes flashed. “You’re not a monster or a murderer, Gilda,” she said.
Gilda laughed harshly. “Oh, you’re a riot, Pinks! So you’re telling me that pony –”
“One of the monsters that Discord summoned – couldn’t it have killed her?” Pinkie asked.
“I’d thought of that,” Gilda said tiredly. “But it’s not likely. Discord said that they were harmless –”
“Unless you use magic on them!” Pinkie interrupted. “Was that pony a unicorn?”
“I… I don’t know!” Gilda wailed. “She was torn to shreds... I can’t even tell you what color her coat was…”
“And do you remember chasing anypony in particular?”
“No, Pinks,” Gilda said, gritting her teeth. “Discord grabbed me, and then everything went foggy until –”
“So you don’t know whether or you killed her or not,” Pinkie said. “There’s room for doubt!”
Gilda snorted derisively. “Well, it’s a good thing this isn’t a court room, ‘cause even I don’t buy it. But even if you’re right, and I didn’t kill the pony, so what? I still ate her.” She shuddered. “I know that for a fact.”
“Did you want to eat her before you talked to Discord?” Pinkie said.
“Well, no–” Gilda began.
“And did you still want to eat her after his hypnotism-stuff wore off?”
Gilda sputtered, “Ye– Well, n–” After a long pause, she sighed. “…Not on an intellectual level. But still–”
“So, you didn’t kill or eat her, silly,” Pinkie interrupted. “Discord did stuff to your head. You weren’t you! The same thing’s happened to me, too!”
“So you’ve killed and eaten ponies before, then?” Gilda said, rolling her eyes.
“Well, no,” Pinkie acknowledged. “What I meant is that I’ve been ‘not me’. So have all my friends! It was awful… We did things that we’d never have done if Discord hadn’t messed with us.”
Gilda raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Like what?”
“Well…” Pinkie said, wincing slightly, “I kept saying that I hated stuff. Applejack lied! Fluttershy even…” She shuddered. “She even dumped a bucket of water on Twilight’s head!”
Gilda stared at Pinkie for a moment, unblinking. Eventually, she began to laugh. It was a weary laugh, but it was genuine.
“What? What’s so funny?” Pinkie said. “Did I miss the joke?”
“Geez, Pinks,” Gilda wheezed out between chuckles, “You guys really don't have a scrap of nastiness between the six of you, do you?”
Pinkie pouted. “Hey…” she muttered.
“No, no. That’s a good thing,” Gilda insisted, still chuckling. “Even if you have the body of a monster, you’ve still got a good heart.” As her laughter died away, she straightened up. “Heh… Thanks, Pinkie. For cheering me up, I mean. I know I haven’t exactly been kind to you since you came to me for help… And before that… Well, I guess I was wrong, and Dash is right. What I’m trying to say is…” She averted her gaze. “I… I suppose you’re pretty cool.”
Pinkie beamed. “Gee, thanks, Gilda!”
Gilda returned the smile. “Call me ‘G’, Pinks. Call me ‘G’. Now, let’s move on with our lives before this gets any sappier...” She fell silent. After a lengthy pause, she turned to face Pinkie, a glint of steely determination in her eyes. “You know what? I’m gonna help you for free, now. Your end of the deal is moot now, anyway…”
“What? No! No it’s not!” Pinkie said. “You can still be friends with Dashie!”
Gilda rolled her eyes. “Not very likely.”
“But –” Pinkie began.
“No, not another word,” interrupted Gilda, holding up a claw. “I can handle it. Thanks to Discord, I might not be able to be friends with Dash again, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll let him rob you of that as well.” Her eyes flashed. “Let’s get you your friends back.”
Rainbow Dash listlessly approached the doors to the Royal Palace's main hall. As she walked, she stared at her hooves, brooding. She wasn't looking forward to having to give her report...
"Ah! There you are, Rainbow."
Dash looked up to see Twilight drawing near. "Oh. Hey," she said gloomily.
“How did your mission go?” Twilight said.
“Not very well,” replied Dash, a slight edge to her voice. “Yours?”
“It went well,” Twilight replied. “I was able to find Trixie and convince her to help easily.”
Trixie stepped out from the shadows. Rainbow jumped. “Geez, where’d you come from?!” she growled.
The showmare rolled her eyes. “Trixie was here the whole time. But obviously, you seem to be unfamiliar with many of her extensive talents,” she said, giving her cape a small swish. “Yes, Sparkle is quite fortunate to have recruited a unicorn of Trixie’s caliber…” She shot an mild glare towards Twilight. “…especially since I’ve decided to stay on, even after that little disaster in Ponyville.”
“Wait, what disaster?” Rainbow said. “You’re not still mad about the whole Ursa thing, are you?”
“Far from it,” Trixie replied. “What Trixie is referring to is the incident with the cabbage merchant.”
Dash’s brow furrowed. “Twilight, what’s she talking about?”
Twilight stared at her hooves. “Yes, well...” she began. “I was a bit ahead of schedule, so I decided to stop by the library in Ponyville for some supplies. Research materials, quills and parchment, that sort of thing.” She shuddered. “On the way there… we ran into Leafy Green.”
“Leafy… Leafy…” Rainbow frowned thoughtfully. “Oh, right... The cabbage pony. I remember crashing into his cart more than once.” She shrugged. “What happened?”
Twilight did not answer. She only stood there, shuddering.
“Well?” Rainbow snapped, taking a step forward. “C’mon, we’re wasting daylight here!”
At once, Trixie interposed herself between the pair, glaring daggers at Dash. “Can’t you see that Sparkle does not want to answer, you simpleton?” she snarled. “Trixie shall answer your questions if you insist on asking, but as Sparkle is uncomfortable with responding, leave her out of it.”
Rainbow blinked, surprised by the intensity of Trixie’s outburst. She bit back a retort, and instead replied, “Okay, then, Trixie. What happened?”
“Eris had gotten to the pony,” Trixie said bluntly. “Quite some time ago, Twilight reckoned.”
“Oh.” Rainbow shuddered, remembering her own incident with Discord. “Okay, that’s…” She paused. “...well, pretty bad. But honestly, how bad could it have been? He sells cabbages, for Celestia’s sake!”
Twilight spoke up haltingly. “We were only affected by Discord for a few hours, and we went from bad to worse fairly quickly in that time.” As she stared at Rainbow, Twilight’s eyes were haunted. “Leafy Green had been like that for almost a month.”
Dash sat there, stunned. A month? And if he’d gotten progressively worse…
“We shall not bore you with the details,” Trixie said. “Long story short, Twilight handled it… perhaps even better than Trixie could have,” she admitted, glancing away. “The cabbage merchant is back to normal, although not without tremendous effort and emotional scarring for everyone involved.” She turned towards the door, opened it, and started to step through. “Now let’s not keep the Princesses waiting any longer…”
Rainbow gulped. “…Emotional scarring?” Concerned, she studied Twilight carefully. “Hey, Twilight. Sorry about just now. If I’d known...”
Twilight shrugged. “Don’t mention it.”
“Are you gonna be okay?” Dash asked.
Twilight smiled weakly. “I’ll be fine,” she said. “Trixie’s just being a little melodramatic. But thanks anyway, Rainbow.” And with that, she followed after Trixie.
As Twilight walked away, Dash’s rage flared up, returning even stronger than before. After a moment, she muttered a curse. Well, there’s one more reason to hate Eris and Gilda…
Dash followed the two unicorns through the door. All of the other ponies had already arrived - the Princesses sat on either end of the table, while her friends, among others, flanked the sides. Twilight and Trixie had already taken their positions at the table.
Dash, seeing an empty spot, rushed over to fill it, but sat there moodily. Her mind was on a darker subject than the meeting in front of her...
Luna turned to regard the three newcomers. “Ah! There they are. Now that we are all assembled, we may begin the war council.” Using her magic, she shuffled the papers in front of her, obviously doing her best to look calm and businesslike. “For those of thee who are unfamiliar with the process, it shall go as follows: I shall call upon each of my Generals in turn – that would be ye, Element Bearers – and thou shalt rise, introduce thy second-in-command, and outline thy contributions to the war effort. I shall instruct thee on how to direct thy troops, and then we shall move on to the next General. Any questions?”
There was a short pause.
“Splendid,” continued Luna. “Then we shall begin at once. Fair Applejack, if you will?”
Applejack nodded. “Of course, Princess.” She stood up, motioning for the stallion beside her to do the same. “Most of you have already met my cousin, Braeburn.”
Braeburn, who had up until that point been gazing around the room in awe, blinked. With a nudge from Applejack, he stood up uneasily.
“Well, howdy!” he began, breaking out into a nervous grin. “Ah’d just like to start off by saying that this is quite a lovely city you’ve–”
“Braeburn,” Applejack muttered. “If this is gonna be anythin’ like your ‘Welcome to Appleoosa’ speech, Ah suggest you hold it right there. We just don’t have the time.”
“Oh. Right. Sorry, cous’.” Braeburn grinned sheepishly, and then cleared his throat. “Alright, straight t’ business. Applejack’s rounded up an army of just over three thousand, with ‘bout the same amount of each type of pony. Most of them ain’t ever been in a real fight, but we’ve got most o’ the Apple clan, and of course my fellow Appleoosans, helpin’ t’ train everypony up.”
“Also, Twilight’s brother, Shining Armor, was kind enough t’ have a couple guards help with the training, but as y’ know, most o’ the guard is tryin’ to keep the chaos in check, Shining included,” Applejack said. “And before y’ ask, Twi, last Ah heard o’ him, he was in Fillydelphia.”
“But besides that, the militia’s all we got in the way o’ pure pony power,” Braeburn said. “So Ah reckon that’s it for us.”
Luna nodded. “Excellent. Firstly, the Pegasi shall scout for us. Set up a relay network across Equestria with them. Hopefully, they shall give us enough warning when Eris finally emerges. As for the other ponies, I trust that you have tutored them in the use of ranged weaponry?”
“We sure did,” Braeburn said. “We’re even using our own special Appleoosan arsenal!”
Rarity cleared her throat. “Excuse me, but if you don’t mind me asking, when you say ‘Appleoosan arsenal’...” She frowned. “...do you mean apple pies?”
“Hey, now,” Braeburn replied a tad reproachfully. “You ‘n’ Ah have both seen an Appleoosan drop a Buffalo at fifty paces with nothin’ but a well-aimed pie! Have a little faith. Besides, it’s not just apple. Nopony has enough apples to arm three thousand ponies...” He shrugged. “We’ve had to make do with cherries, peaches, blackberries, and other kinds o’ fruit. Might not pack quite the same punch as apple pies, but should still do the trick.”
“As thou sayest,” Luna said. “Very well. Have your ground troops split into groups of two hundred fifty or so, and spread them evenly across the land. If at all possible, make sure that each group has several unicorns that can teleport, for the purposes of rapid deployment or retreat. Instruct the troops to, when in combat, throw if and only if they can get a clear shot at the target.” She motioned towards the door. “You may leave now, Braeburn.”
“Thank you kindly, ma’am – uh, Ah mean, uh, Your Majesty,” said Braeburn, tipping his hat to the Princesses before turning around and heading for the door.
Luna turned to the next General. “It is your turn, Dear Fluttershy.”
“Um, o-okay,” Fluttershy said. “I… I guess my second-in-command is Spike.”
The little dragon grinned. “Alright,” he said, standing up. “Well, if you don’t count me, then we’ve got nineteen dragons.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “Nineteen?”
“Seven mountain dragons, five forest wyrms, three rime drakes, two crystal wyverns, one gloom serpent, and one storm dragon,” Fluttershy said quietly.
“It was pretty easy, too, once they recognized Fluttershy as Sharl’dahk,” Spike added.
Rainbow blinked, momentarily distracted from her moody reverie. “Sharl-what?”
“She Who Must Be Avoided,” Luna said. “Even amongst dragons, news travels fast.”
“Yeah, and since the dragons couldn’t avoid Fluttershy, they have to do all they can to help her,” Spike continued, a mischievous gleam in his eye. “And, the best part is, they’re paying her tribute, too!”
Fluttershy hid behind her mane. “I didn’t want to take it, but they insisted,” she murmured. “By this point, I’m just glad when they don’t cower so much.”
“Tribute? Cowering?” Dash snorted. “Next you’ll be telling us that they’ve made you a crown.”
“Um… well…” Fluttershy said.
Twilight’s mouth fell open. “They didn’t… Did they?”
Fluttershy blushed furiously as she slipped a metallic object out of her saddlebags. As she held it up in the light, everypony leaned in for a closer look.
The object in question was an intimidating helmet, forged from a single piece of dark metal. When light fell upon its surface, it gleamed with dull, rainbow streaks. The helm had been molded into the snarling shape of a dragon’s head.
Fluttershy explained, “It’s… It’s not a crown. The dragons called it the Helm of the Sharl’dahk. There’s a magic charm on it, so that they can tell it’s me from a distance. I’m supposed to wear it whenever I want a dragon’s help.”
“No doubt so that they’ll get enough warning to make an escape next time,” Rarity added, smirking. “Well, darling, what does it look like on you?”
Fluttershy’s eyes widened. “I… Uh…”
“Well, what are you waiting for? Put it on!”
"...Okay," Fluttershy said shakily. She slipped the helmet on.
Dash stared at Fluttershy, unimpressed. The terrible, snarling face of the helmet looked almost ridiculous on her, especially with her warm, blue-green eyes through the eye slits. Fluttershy glanced around uncertainly. Then she blinked–
Rainbow Dash yelped in surprise. Gone was the warmth and the kindness – instead, cold, hard, dragon eyes stared back at her. The helmet had somehow changed her – she seemed to stand taller somehow, her body lean and muscular. She shifted her weight, her every move a promise of violence and pain.
She looked like a pony the dragons would fear.
Fluttershy tilted her head slightly, and her voice, cold and hollow, echoed from deep within the helmet. "W-well? How does it look?"
Everypony else just stared at her, wide-eyed and silent.
“Oh.” Fluttershy averted her gaze. "I look silly, don’t I...”
“Silly? Land sakes, Fluttershy,” Applejack breathed, wide-eyed. “You’re downright scary!”
Dash looked away, scowling. “Yeah, okay, maybe it’s a little intimidating.”
“Okay, so the helm acts as a locator, but it also does...” Twilight paused, her expression troubled. “...that. Fluttershy, is it just an illusion, or something more?”
“I d-don’t feel any different,” Fluttershy said uncertainly.
Luna cleared her throat. “I think we are getting a little off-topic,” she said. “I take it, Dear Fluttershy, that the dragons shall follow your every order?”
Fluttershy quickly slipped her helmet off, and the glamer immediately fell away, leaving the pegasus as soft and warm as she’d always been. “Y-yes,” she murmured.
“And they also obey Spike?” Luna asked.
The baby dragon nodded. “Uh-huh. Pretty cool, huh?”
“Splendid,” Luna replied. “In that case, we shall put them on the front lines. Tell them not to hesitate in their use of physical weaponry or their flames.”
“Um, n-not all the dragons breathe fire...” Fluttershy said.
“Well, whatever they do breathe, they are welcome to do so,” Luna said. “You may relay those orders now, Spike.”
“I’m on it!” Spike saluted, then turned and headed for the door.
“Twilight Sparkle,” Luna continued, turning to the purple unicorn. “Thy report, if thou wilt.”
Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but Trixie quickly leaped to her feet. “At Sparkle’s behest,” she said, “the Great and Powerful Trixie has decided to lend her power and skill to the war effort, your Majesties, and graciously accepts the position of Sparkle’s second-in-command.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “What she said.”
“Very well.” Luna glanced down at her papers. “In that case, your role has already been outlined. Use your magic to befuddle our opposition. Illusory soldiers would be particularly valuable.”
Then the Princess of the Moon turned to Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle, it is thy duty to protect Trixie while her attention is otherwise occupied. Additionally, thou shouldst attempt to counteract Eris’s powers in any way possible.”
“I’ll do my best,” Twilight promised.
Trixie’s eyes gleamed excitedly. “Sparkle, just imagine! What a wonderful story this shall make.” She threw an arm around Twilight’s shoulder and moved her other in a grand, sweeping gesture. “The Great and Powerful Trixie Lulamoon and the Wise and Wonderful Twilight Sparkle, joining forces to baffle and disarm an avatar of Chaos! It shall be an epic tale of thrills, heroics, and adventure to be told throughout the ages!”
“…‘Th’ Wise and Wonderful Twilight Sparkle’?” Applejack repeated.
“Trixie Lulamoon?” Rainbow echoed incredulously.
Trixie blushed furiously. “Trixie admits that she may have gotten carried away. Breathe a word of my surname to anypony, and I’ll mail what’s left of you to your relatives.” She turned to Luna. “Well, is there anything else, Princess?” She paused. “No? Then the Great and Powerful Trixie shall take her leave. She must prepare.” With that, she stood up and swept out of the room.
A short moment later, she stepped back into the room. “Oh, I almost forgot – Sparkle, if you need to find me, I’ll be in the hedge maze. When the time is right, drop by.” At that, she disappeared again.
…only to reappear a second later. “I should probably clarify that the invitation extends only to Twilight Sparkle, and only once the battle has started,” Trixie added, glancing around the room. “Nopony else should bother the Great and Powerful Trixie while she is concentrating on–”
“LEAVE US NOW.”
“YesofcoursePrincessLunayourMajesty.” Trixie vanished again, this time for good.
After a long moment, Rarity broke the silence. “Well, I suppose that means it’s my turn now?”
“Indeed it is,” Luna said.
Rarity nodded. “Well, then. In that case, I should like to introduce my associates. Mr. Silk, Mr. Satin, if you will?” She stood aside, and gestured to a pair of stallions that stood unobtrusively at the very edge of the room.
Rainbow studied the two ponies closely. They nearly could have been the same stallion – the same muscular build, the same grey coat and silver-blue mane, the same impeccable suit and stylish shades. The only noticeable difference, in fact, was that one of them was a unicorn, and the other a pegasus.
The pegasus eyed Luna with a roguish grin. “Pleased to meet you, Your Majesties,” he said in a Trottingham accent, nodding first to Celestia and then to Luna. “I’m Mr. Silk, and my compatriot here is Mr. Satin.”
“And what dost thou do?” Luna asked.
“Cloth-cutting and scrap disposal,” answered Mr. Satin immediately, his tone curt and businesslike.
“Well, that’s what they call it in the trade,” Mr. Silk added with a wink.
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And are these euphemisms for violence, then?”
The pair answered in unison. “Of course not.”
“If I may be so bold, Princesses,” interjected Rarity, “Mr. Silk and Mr. Satin would be best suited acting…” She paused. “...independently from the rest of our operation. Just leave them to do what they do best.”
“Which is cloth-cutting,” Celestia said dryly.
“And scrap disposal,” Mr. Satin added helpfully.
Luna sighed. “Of course… Very well, when the battle comes, thou shalt ‘cut and dispose’, as it were.”
“Thank you kindly, your Majesties,” said Mr. Silk. The pair bowed deeply, then discreetly left.
Frowning, Applejack scrutinized Rarity. “And just how do y’ know those two ‘gentlecolts’, Rarity?” she asked.
“They’re in the employ of an old friend of mine,” Rarity said. “To reveal any more would be… imprudent.”
Applejack’s scowl deepened. “Oh. Ah see how it is. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Fine by me.”
“Well, thanks for your understanding, darling,” Rarity replied, idly inspecting a hoof.
Luna sighed irritatedly. “Off-topic. Again. Well, Rainbow Dash, thou art the only one left. How hast thou fared with thy mission?”
Dash’s mood soured further, and her expression changed to match. “Well, Princess,” she said, “it looks like we won’t be getting the help of the gryphons after all. Gilda’s been working with the enemy the whole time.”
There came a stunned silence from around the table.
Twilight was the first to speak. “Rainbow… are you certain that Gilda’s sided with Eris? That seems… well, pretty bad, even for her.”
Rainbow took a deep breath, trying to keep her temper in check. “…Yeah, I’m sure. The two of them were talking, and Eris went out of her way to protect Gilda. Kinda leaves little room for doubt.”
“Oh…” said Luna. “That is… unfortunate. Even if the other gryphons are not on Eris’s side as well, now it shall be nigh-impossible to convince them to join our cause.” She sighed. “No matter, we cannot win them all. To be honest, I was unable to recruit the Zebras, either.”
“It’s a good thing that you’ve prepared contingency plans, Luna,” Celestia added.
“Yes, Sister, I know,” Luna said tiredly. “It was fortunate that thou hadst me prepare them.” She turned to Rainbow. “Rainbow Dash, in lieu of gryphons, I already have gathered a backup strike team of… particularly qualified pegasi. Thou shalt lead them in the aerial combat unit.”
“Aerial combat?” Dash echoed.
“It is a close-combat strike force using hit-and-run tactics,” Luna explained. “The point is to weaken and disorient Eris, and any allies that she brings. Speed and agility are crucial to this.”
“Naturally, we thought of you,” Celestia added, smiling.
“Cool,” Dash replied halfheartedly. “So, when do I meet the team?”
“After this meeting is completed,” Luna said.
“As for Luna and myself,” Celestia continued, “when the time is right, the two of us shall be the ones to land the killing blow.” Her expression hardened. “We would not ask anypony amongst you to take that burden upon one’s self.”
Twilight looked troubled, but nodded. “Of course... Thank you, I suppose.”
Luna turned to address the entire table. “Now that we have heard from all the Generals, on to a more personal note: has anypony come across Pinkamena in your travels?”
Oh, ponyfeathers, Dash thought.
“Ah haven’t,” Applejack admitted.
“Nor I,” added Rarity.
“I’m sorry, but… neither have I,” Fluttershy said.
“Same here,” finished Twilight.
Rainbow remained silent. Luna looked at the pegasus curiously. “And what of thee, Rainbow Dash?”
Dash scowled. “Gilda ate her,” she spat.
The other ponies stared at Rainbow Dash in shock.
“...She what?!” Twilight exclaimed. “Surely you can’t be serious!”
“My ex-friend has eaten one of my closest friends!” Dash snapped. “What, do you think I’d joke about that?! OF COURSE I’M BUCKING SERIOUS!”
After her outburst, the silence was deafening. Rainbow felt everyone's eyes on her. Still fuming, she glared at the others. But as Dash’s eyes fell on Fluttershy, she noticed that her friend’s eyes were brimming with tears and her lip was quivering.
All at once, Rainbow felt ashamed. “Fluttershy, look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled. Don’t cry,” she said. “You know I’m not angry at any of you. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
Fluttershy sniffed. “I know th-that,” she said. “But y-you didn’t make me c-cry. I’m crying b-because of P-P-P-P-P…” Her stammering degenerated into sobs.
"...Right," Dash mumbled. As one, everyone in the room went quiet.
Rainbow trotted over to Fluttershy and drew her in for a hug, patting her gently. As the more timid pegasus continued to weep, Dash felt something wet start to go down her own face, too. Oh, come on, she thought, closing her eyes. Stop crying, Dash! You're supposed to be the strong one. If the others see you like this... if Applejack–
An even louder sob made Rainbow open her eyes. Across the table, Applejack was trying to stifle her own tears – and failing miserably. The others fared no better.
For a long time, the room was silent, save for the weeping of five friends for their fallen companion. Gradually, weeping turned into sniffles, before they too faded into silence.
After a moment, Applejack wiped her nose, then clenched her jaw. “Well. Looks to me like when Gilda and Eris show their ugly mugs again, we won’t waste any time in ending this once and for all,” she declared.
“That’s the spirit,” agreed Twilight. “We can do this. For Pinkie Pie.”
“For Pinkie Pie,” echoed the others.
Rainbow nodded, eyes gleaming fiercely. “For Pinkie.”
As Luna looked away, her expression hardened. “It is a sad day indeed, when we must mourn for the loss of such a dear friend as Pinkamena,” she murmured. “But I fear that we must save our grief for a more prudent time, else our negligence causes us to add to it.” She turned her attention back onto the map on the stone table, her expression fierce. “Rainbow Dash, you say that you have actually seen Gilda and Eris together? Where was this?”
Rainbow hovered over the table and tapped the appropriate location on the map. “Right here, deep in the Everfree.”
Luna nodded. “Ah. In that case, I shall have our scouts monitor the area, in case she makes an appearance.”
“And that’s all fine and dandy,” Applejack said, “but why don’t we go after her, since we know where she is?”
“’Know where she is’?” echoed Luna. “‘Tis not as simple as that, Fair Applejack! Eris has almost certainly moved since Rainbow Dash discovered her, and she can instantly relocate anyway.” The Moon Princess stared down at the map, frowning. “We do not have the time or resources to engage in a wild goose chase. Any confrontation shall have to be initiated by Eris herself.”
“So you’re just gonna wait for Eris to appear and hope you can get there in time to stop whatever she’s planning?” Applejack said.
“Unfortunately, ‘tis all we can do,” Luna answered wearily. “The best we can achieve is to have our scouts keep a lookout for Eris and Gilda… and, as thou put it, get there in time to stop whatever they’re planning.”
“…Um… excuse me…”
Everypony, surprised, turned to face the speaker: Fluttershy. With a squeak, she tried to hide behind her mane. “N-never mind.”
“What is it, darling?” Rarity said.
“Yeah. Go on, Sugarcube,” Applejack encouraged.
Fluttershy peeked out at them. “Well, I just realized something... W-when Discord was free, he immediately spread chaos, and then stopped the Elements of Harmony from doing anything against him.” She pawed at the ground. “Then he spread more chaos and disharmony, which is what he wanted to do all along.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “And when Eris appeared, she spread chaos and neutralized the Elements too,” she said.
“Yes... But now she’s just hiding with Gilda in the Everfree.” Fluttershy’s brow furrowed. “She’s been there for almost a month, letting us build an army… She hasn’t been controlling the chaos, just letting it spread… She has everypony where she wants, but instead of doing what she wants, she’s been doing…”
“…Nothing,” Twilight finished. “Or… as far as we know, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Rainbow said. She frowned. “Just what has she been doing out there? How does it involve Gilda?”
“What is she really after?” Twilight wondered.
“And…” Luna added, “just what is Eris planning?”
Pinkie stood on the edge of the Everfree, staring out at the landscape. “Whoa! What happened?”
“You did, Pinks,” Gilda answered sagely. “Order takes constant work to maintain, but chaos will spread if left unchecked.”
“Well, it looks like it’s spread over everything!” Pinkie said. “I didn’t think it’d be this bad!” She gestured to what had at one point been the rolling hills outside of Ponyville.
A checkerboard-like pattern spread over the ground in various, subtly-shifting hues. Massive chunks of earth floated ominously in the sky. Shapeless apparitions of ghostly flame flitted about, wildflowers blooming wherever they touched. Quivering blobs of translucent goo lurched about aimlessly. Cookies and cupcakes rose out of the ground and drifted into the stratosphere. And, of course, the sky was still darkened by cotton candy clouds.
Gilda stared up at the downpour of chocolate milk. “Hmm,” she said. “Hey, now I’m kinda curious…” She walked out into the rain, then looked skyward and opened her beak, letting the chocolate drizzle down her throat.
Pinkie watched with curiosity. “Hey G, what’re you doing? I thought you didn’t like sweets...”
Gilda lowered her head, wiping her face with an arm. “I don’t,” she said, grimacing. “That was for the sake of an experiment. Pinkie, could you please conjure up an empty glass?”
“Okie Dokie Lokie!” Pinkie didn’t even bother snapping her fingers, but simply held out a hand. A plain drinking glass appeared with a pop, and she handed it to Gilda.
“Thanks.” Gilda held out the glass, letting it fill to the brim, then peered at it distastefully. She shrugged. “For science,” she said, and then raised the beverage to her beak.
The glass drained away, but the chocolate remained.
“Hey, when Discord did that–” Pinkie began.
“The same thing happened, I know,” Gilda finished. “It wasn’t just him. I saw somepony in Farrington try to drink this stuff from a glass, too, before...” She paused. “...well, you know. Anyway, if this stuff acts the exact same way that it did when Discord was around, then I suggest you step out of the way. Now.”
As Pinkie drifted to the side, Gilda took a deep breath. She tossed the milk over her shoulder, then turned to watch it hit the ground. When it did, the chocolate milk exploded in a burst of confetti and streamers. A moment later, it burst again.
“Fascinating,” Gilda said.
“Well, Pinks, with your Chaos, the chocolate milk explodes into harmless party supplies.” Gilda rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “Discord’s chocolate milk, however, exploded into a blast of fire and force.”
Pinkie’s brow furrowed. “So you’re saying that while Discord’s Chaos is bad, mine might be good?” she hazarded, idly brushing away a gaggle of giggling balloons.
Gilda blinked. “No, I was just remarking on my observations. Although come to think of it, that’s quite an intriguing conjecture! If only we could test that hypothesis...” She paused for a moment, and then scowled. “Oh, come on... I did it again. I keep geeking out,” she grumbled.
Pinkie giggled. “Well, you could probably get along with Twilight well, since you’re both so smart!”
“You keep saying that, but I’m not really all that smart, Pinks.” Gilda sighed. “I’m just... well-read. Now, shall we get moving?”
“Sure!” Pinkie said. “What’re we gonna do now?”
Gilda surveyed the chaos. “Well, while all this is not necessarily dangerous, it’s still pretty annoying. Since we don’t know if it’ll go away or not when you return to normal, you’d better try to clean it up now.”
“Okie Dokie Lokie,” Pinkie replied. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, she could see her midnight-blue chaos magic filling the air, flickering eerily like ethereal flames. Pinkie focused on extinguishing the fires, and then snapped her fingers once more.
Pinkie glared at the unchanged chaos. “It’s not working!” she exclaimed. “Dumb chaos…”
“Yeah, I thought that might happen… or rather, not.” Gilda sighed. “But I think I know why. Hey, Pinks. Could you teleport over to the Farrington library, find the copy of... Well, the title starts with ‘Draconyquyse’, spelled ‘Y-Q-U-Y-S-E’ at the end. Anyway, could you bring it back here? Stealthily, of course.”
Pinkie saluted. “Sure thing, G!” In a flash of light, she was gone.
A couple of minutes later, Pinkie reappeared with an old, musty tome under her arm. She held it aloft, and read the title aloud. “‘Draconyquyse: Being A Full, Un-Altered Account of Interviews withe Such a Creature, and the Topickes Touched Uponne Within’.” She tossed it to Gilda. “Sorry I took so long. Somepony had accidentally put it under ‘E’!”
“No problem,” Gilda replied distantly, already absorbed in the book. A tiny pair of reading spectacles was balanced on her beak. Pinkie did her best to stifle a giggle at the sight.
After a few minutes of flipping pages and muttering to herself, Gilda finally spoke up. “Aha!” She tapped the page, then turned so that Pinkie could get a better view. “Pinks, come over here and read this.”
Pinkie looked over Gilda’s shoulder and read aloud, haltingly. “‘Yt has been Theorized that as a Creature with Allegiance to, and Yn Fact personifyinge Chaos, the Draconyquyse ys physically Unable to Undo any Magicke that furthers the Cause of Chaos.’ Gee, early scholar ponies sure couldn’t spell...’” She paused. “...Hey, that can’t be right! When Discord took away my friends’ wings and horns, he was able to give them right back!”
“Well, this book is by no means definitive,” Gilda admitted. “What isn’t pure speculation has come from interviews with Discord himself. When he wasn’t blatantly lying, he often contradicted himself, and that was when he was actually in the mood to talk. More often than not, he simply chose to drive prospective researchers insane.” She pointed at the book. “But that’s beside the point. Keep reading.”
“‘The Draconyquyse, however, canne achieve the Effect of dispellinge Chaos by Absorbing yts own Magicke back into Ytself, storing yt for Later. This Technique canne allowe a Draconyquyse to Holde much more Magickal Energy for Achieving greater Feats than yt Normally could Do.’” Pinkie looked up and snapped her fingers, sending the book back to its rightful place. “So I can absorb the Chaos? And store the energy like a battery?”
“Well put, Pinks,” Gilda said. She paused. “…Actually, while the analogy is sound, we have yet to see if the theory still holds out. Give it a shot.”
Pinkie outstretched her claw and laid it on the ground. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, brow furrowed.
The checkerboard pattern wavered, then burst, the colors flowing together as they sped towards Pinkie’s claw. The blobs melted, mixing with the river of color as they oozed in the same direction. The balloons tried to pull away, gibbering, but were sucked in as well.
Pinkie could feel the chaos flowing up through her arm and into her chest, where it pooled in a veritable well of power. It felt good, but also... strange.
Pinkie paused for a moment, lifting her claw from the ground, and the chaos slowed to a halt. Pinkie opened her eyes and stared at her claw.
“What’s wrong, Pinks?” asked Gilda. “It’s working.”
“I…” Pinkie hesitated. “I feel kinda funny.”
Pinkie shifted slightly. She felt like her entire body hum with chaotic energy… more than ever before. Power which begged to be released, consequences be damned…
Then again, she couldn’t just say that aloud, could she? No need to cause any alarm.
Pinkie looked away. “I dunno… kinda restless, maybe? A bit tingly?” she replied.
Gilda nodded. “Ah, that’s almost certainly the chaos you’ve been absorbing. By the way, it’s possible that the chaos could start to affect your judgement.” She paused. “So, uh... try not to let it.”
“Okay,” Pinkie said, placing her palm back on the ground. She took another deep breath, and the chaos flowed towards her once more
Gilda blinked. “Wait, ‘okay’? Just... ‘okay’?”
“Yeah,” Pinkie said. “Why?”
“No ‘Okie Dokie Lokie’ this time?”
Pinkie’s brow furrowed. “Huh. I guess not…”
“She’s doing what?” asked Twilight.
The royal guard bowed his head slightly. “She’s absorbing the chaos. One of our scouts saw Eris and an unidentified gryphon at the edge of the Everfree, and Eris seemed to be... drawing the chaos back into herself. ‘Like letting water down a tub drain’, according to the scout. As she was instructed to, she sent a relay back to here.”
Celestia began pacing. “This is not good,” she said. “Not good at all…”
“What do you mean?” asked Rainbow. “The chaos is getting cleaned up. That’s good, right?”
“Yes, and no,” Luna said, frowning. “While the land returning to normal is a welcome surprise, it means that Eris is absorbing the energy for later use.”
Applejack’s eyes widened. “What, all that energy? But th’ chaos was covering half of Equestria! What does she need all that for?”
“I can think of something,” muttered Luna.
Celestia raised her head. “Luna! Surely you can’t mean…”
As one, they both looked towards one particular window in the throne room. The other ponies turned to follow their gaze.
Through the window, they could see the Canterlot Sculpture Gardens.
All was silent for a long moment.
“Oh,” Rarity said quietly.
Applejack stepped back, shaking her head. “No, she can’t be planning that! That’d just be too much to handle, for sure…”
“A-are you certain that Eris is after Discord?” Fluttershy said.
“It all makes sense,” Celestia said, resuming pacing. “First Eris prevents the Elements of Harmony from being used, so that nothing can stop her. Then she releases a little chaos and bides her time while it spreads. When there’s enough, she reclaims the power and uses it to…”
“Free DISCORD?!” Pinkie echoed. “G, are you CRAZY?!”
Gilda held up her hands defensively. “Hey, I don’t like it any more than you do. But since he’s the one who did this to you, chances are he’s the only one who can change you back.”
“What about Twilight?” Pinkie said. “She’s really smart, and she knows the Princesses. I bet she could find out how to do it.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Pinks, neither of us are exactly on speaking terms with any of your friends right now,” Gilda said. “If I show my face, I’ll get it bucked in – and you’d probably fare even worse.” She sighed. “Nothing for it. Ever since you mentioned that he was behind it, I’ve known that we’d have to talk to Discord in order to end this.”
Pinkie looked away. Discord was, obviously, bad news… but if there was no other option…
“…Fine,” she said. “If we can’t get back to our friends any other way, then I’ll do it.”
“Thank y– Wait, ‘we’? ‘Our’ friends?” Gilda blinked. “Pinks, I’ve already told you, you don’t have to help me patch it up with Dash. It’s too late for that.”
“No it’s not!” Pinkie insisted.
“That’s for Dash to decide, and it seems like she already has.” Gilda sighed. “I’ve already blown this chance, and even if I get another, I’m still not sure I’ll be ready... Seems like I’ve got even more screw-ups to resolve first.” She glared at Pinkie. “So seriously, drop it.”
Pinkie frowned, fuming. Why is Gilda being so stubborn about this? I made a Pinkie Promise! Nopony breaks a Pinkie Promise! She narrowed her eyes. I’m gonna try to help her with Dashie anyway, whether she likes it or not...
Gilda turned away. “Well, time’s a-wastin’. Just finish up absorbing that chaos, and let’s be on our way.”
“So now we know what they’re gonna do,” Dash said, grinning fiercely. Now that there was going to be action, her mood had improved. “All we have to do is wait for them, and when they show up, BAM!” She swung a hoof enthusiastically, jostling the map. “We hit ‘em.”
“I see that you have already grasped the basic strategy of our plan,” Luna said dryly. “Let us move our troops into position for an ambush. Fair Applejack, send a scout to retrieve Shining Armor immediately; we shall have need of him.” She turned to the window. “Guards have already been posted at the statue. When you see the signal flare, attack. Now, everypony to their positions.”
At once, everypony in the room hurried off to meet their squads. Applejack rushed to the Grand Courtyard, where her recruits were training, Fluttershy made her way to the castle parapets, where the dragons were hiding from her, Twilight moved towards the hedge maze, where Trixie waited, and Rarity wandered off to who knows where, presumably to inform her “associates”.
Only Rainbow Dash stayed put. “Um, Princess?” she asked. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Luna turned to face Dash, brow furrowed. “I do not think so. What is it that…” Her eyes widened. “Oh! Of course, the aerial combat unit.”
Celestia nodded. She turned to one of the hall’s side doors. “It appears we have need of you after all,” she said, raising her voice slightly. “If you will…?”
A moment later, about a half-dozen pegasi through the door. The one at the head of the group, a yellow, fiery-maned mare, nodded personably to Rainbow. “Hey, Dash! Long time, no see.”
Dash stood there, stunned. “Wait… Spitfire? Is that you?”
Spitfire chuckled. “Uh-huh. The whole team’s here.”
At first, Rainbow hadn’t recognized the Wonderbolts out of uniform, but now she began to recognize the others… There was Rapidfire, and there was Fleetfoot… and from further back, Soarin’ waved amiably.
Dash looked back at Celestia and Luna, grinning. “Oh. My. Gosh. I’m actually gonna be leading the Wonderbolts?”
“For as long as you need to,” Celestia replied. “But only as long.”
“Yeah, if you want to keep your place on the team, then you’ll have to earn it like everypony else,” Spitfire said. “But hey, shouldn’t be too hard for you, right? I’m kind of wondering why we haven’t seen you in tryouts yet.”
Rainbow’s grin slowly widened. “Okay… But still! This is so COOL!” She giggled. “I’m gonna be leading the Wonderbolts for a day!”
“Well… not exactly,” Luna said. “Hast thou noticed that they are not in uniform? Thou wilt not be leading the Wonderbolts, but shall be in command of a new team.”
Luna lowered her horn, and as it glowed, the shadow of each pegasus quivered, then slithered onto their owners’ bodies, forming purple-and-black jumpsuits. Rainbow felt a clammy, tingly chill as her own shadow did the same.
“Fillies and Gentlecolts?” Luna said, grinning fiercely. “I would like to present Rainbow Dash, bearer of the Element of Loyalty... and new Captain of the Shadowbolts.”
Dash looked out at the team, eyes gleaming, and then back at herself. “So… awesome!” she whispered.
“Well, Captain Rainbow Dash?” Spitfire asked, smiling amusedly. “We all know what to do. Shall we move out?”
“Um. Uh,” Dash replied. “...I mean, yeah! Sure, let’s get going!” Quickly, she turned to the Princesses and saluted. “We won’t let you down!”
Hurriedly, a pair of royal guards threw open the main hall’s doors. Rainbow turned towards the opening, and her squadron entered formation behind her.
As one, each pegasus slid their goggles over their eyes. “Shadowbolts,” Dash ordered, “Let’s move out!”
By Charcoal Quill
Sergeant Lancer of the Royal Guard paced along a short stretch of path in the Canterlot Sculpture Gardens. His brand-new assignment was to guard one particular statue: in this case, it depicted a draconequus. Though he’d never payed it much attention before, as far as Lancer could remember, the statue was more or less unremarkable - besides the odd addition of a party hat and a small stack of rocks at its base, there was little that set it apart from the other statues in the garden.
Lancer wasn’t sure what made this statue so important, but Princess Luna had ordered him to guard it with his life. And as a Royal Guard, he would do exactly that – firstly, due to his unflinching loyalty to the crown, and secondly, because the Princess of the Moon could be one scary–
But of course, you can’t think about superiors like that, especially when they’re royalty... and even more so when they’re paying your salary. Lancer silently chided himself for his brief lapse of judgement.
That thought was interrupted by a yawn. Idly, Lancer wondered when his shift would be over.
At that moment, a second guard approached. As he drew closer, Lancer recognized him as Corporal Pike.
“Hey, there,” Lancer called out. “Any news?”
“None, Sir,” Pike replied. “Just the same orders as before...” He gestured to a nearby signal flare, really no more than a simple firework. “...‘send up the flare at the first sign of trouble’. However, I’m here to take your place, so you don’t have to worry about it.”
Lancer sighed in relief. “Finally! Gee, if I’d known that being a royal guard was so boring, I’d have tried a different job, like lumberj–”
BANG. A gryphon and a draconequus appeared in a bright flash.
And they were right by the statue. The statue that Lancer was supposed to be guarding with his life.
Part of Lancer said, Finally, some action! Another part said, Oh horseapples, I’m gonna die!
Lancer took a tentative step forward, then cleared his throat. “Stop! S-step away from the statue!” he shouted, albeit a tad uncertainly.
The draconequus turned its terrifying gaze towards the pair of guards. With a wicked grin, it extended a hooked claw towards them.
Lancer gasped. “Oh, horseapp–”
Everything went black.
Gilda walked over and checked the guard’s pulse. “Still alive,” she observed. “Good. For a minute, you scared me there, Pinks.”
Pinkie Pie stared down at the guards uneasily. They were almost certainly two of the Princesses’ best, and she was able to defeat them with but an idle thought… and, of course, with the slightest bit of her extra chaos energy. The guards slumbered peacefully, but with all this power… it would be so easy to do more… and more… and more…
...and there was nothing anypony could do to stop her.
“Hey! Pinks!” Gilda waved a claw in front of Pinkie’s face. “Are you even listening to me?”
Pinkie blinked, and then focused on Gilda. “Huh? …Oh. Sorry! Were you saying something?”
“Well, yes, but...” Gilda peered at Pinkie, frowning. “You okay, Pinkie? You seem a little... off, somehow. Do you...” Her voice trailed off, and she looked away.
“...Do I what?” Pinkie said.
Gilda scratched at the back of her neck. “Well, okay. This may be a bit of an odd question, but do you... well, do you feel like yourself?”
Pinkie snorted. “‘Feel like myself’? Ha! What’s that supposed to... um...” She paused.
The longer Pinkie thought about it...When was the last time she’d blown up a balloon, or tried a new pastry recipe, or told a good joke, or sang a song, or... or even thought of the Cakes, or Gummy, or any her friends besides Rainbow Dash? When was the last time she’d shared the joy of laughter?
She couldn’t remember. Even more disturbingly, some small part of her didn’t even care.
Pinkie’s eyes widened. Her hands – claws – whatever the blasted things were, they started shaking. “I-I-I…” she stammered, panic rising, “…No! I don’t feel like me! G, w-what’s wrong with me?!”
“Whoa!” Gilda stepped back, eyes widening. “Do y–”
“No!” Pinkie shouted. “N-no, something’s not... I-I... Oh no oh no oh no...” As panic overtook her, coherent thought ceased to be possible. She curled up into a ball, clutching at her head. “It’s all gone wrong... gone wrong... Why?! Where d-d-did–”
Gilda slapped Pinkie across the face. The gryphon grabbed her by the shoulders and hauled her into a sitting position.
“Get a hold of yourself, Pinks!” Gilda shouted, staring deeply into Pinkie’s eyes. “Calm down. Look, I know it’s gotta be hard, but you just need to hold on for just a little longer. Can you do that?”
Pinkie shuddered. “…O-okie Dokie Lokie,” she replied.
“Good.” Gilda nodded at the statue of Discord. “Then let’s get this over with.”
Pinkie turned her gaze on Discord. As she looked him in the eye, a shiver ran down her spine.
She swallowed nervously, but stepped forwards. She reached out her senses towards the statue–
Pinkie barely had time to notice the hellishly-glowing rune before it exploded.
Mr. Satin stood upon the Palace roof, dispassionately watching the blossoming explosion. As the smoke cleared, he turned away from his work and towards his compatriot. “Well?”
Mr. Silk regarded the scene through the scope of his custom-made sniper rifle. “Wait a minute… A bit longer… Ah!” He squinted. “Well, it appears that you’ve destroyed a large patch of grass, but not much else.”
Mr. Satin snorted. “Of course not. That rune only destroys living matter, so the scenery would be mostly untouched. You know that. What about the Targets?”
“That’s what I meant. The Primary still lives. She put up some sort of forcefield. Both she and the Secondary are unhurt… So are the guards, for some reason.”
Mr. Satin sighed. “A pity. I was hoping that the blast would at least take out the gryphon.”
“Well…” Mr. Silk leveled his rifle and aimed it. “That’s what this little beauty is for.” A little red dot appeared on the gryphon’s head.
Eris whipped around, her gaze focusing on the dot. “Oh, blast,” Mr. Silk cursed. Quickly, he pulled the trigger.
Mr. Silk was fast, and the bullet was fast, but somehow Eris was faster. She swept her ally out of the way right as the bullet cracked on stone. The gryphon tumbled for a few feet before skidding to a halt, and Eris spared her a quick glance before turning her gaze to where the two ponies stood.
Mr. Silk glanced towards his partner. “Can they see us?” he asked.
“No,” replied Mr. Satin. “Cloaking spell is up.”
The draconequus narrowed her eyes, then snarled.
“…Are you sure?” asked Mr. Silk, an edge of doubt in his voice.
Pinkie glared at the tower. It was laughably easy to see through the crude Order spell. Was it really supposed to hide those two ponies? The ones that just tried to kill her and her minion? The foals.
The draconequus reached for her deep reserve of chaos magic. How simple it would be to destroy the insolent–
Wait! I can’t kill them.
Of course not. There’s more than one way to destroy a pony, and death’s too good for those foals...
Pinkie shook her head, trying to clear it. No! I’m not gonna do anything like that.
Then are you going to let them keep shooting at you?
No, but... Smiling, Pinkie Pie snapped her fingers. ...Let them eat cake.
A moment later, Pinkie watched with grim satisfaction as the pair of hitponies crawled away, covered in mounds of cake and frosting. “Got ‘em,” she said.
“Yes. Yes, you did,” Gilda observed dryly. “But if they’re here in the first place, it means that they’re playing for keeps. When other ponies arrive – and trust me, they will – they won’t be taking prisoners.” She jerked a thumb towards Discord’s statue once more. “So we’d better make it quick.”
Pinkie turned back towards the statue of Discord. She paused nervously, but extended her senses out towards the petrified statue–
“What’s happening to everypony?!”
“Ah guess you just bring out the worst in us, Spike.”
Pinkie blinked. The memory had caught her off-guard. But concentrating once more, she extended her senses out towards the petrif–
“Do you even know what you just stole?”
“No, but if you want it, I want it!”
She extended her senses out towa–
“Oh, boo hoo hoo! Why don’t you just wave your magic little horn and make everything all right? Oh, that’s right, you can’t. You don’t have one.”
She extended her sen –
“Lemme go! I don’t need you guys! leave me alone!”
“FINE! Leave! See if I care! I don’t need you guys either. With friends like you, who needs… enemies…?”
Pinkie glared at the statue in front of her, seething. This… monster hadn’t shown her friends any mercy! Why should she show him any? If there was any justice, she should turn the Canterlot Sculpture Gardens into the Canterlot Gravel Pit…
…But no. If Discord was finely spread over a mile-wide radius, then he couldn’t help Pinkie get back to normal.
Well, here goes nothing, Pinkie thought, and once more extended her senses towards–
“Chocolate milk? I hate chocolate milk!”
–towards the frickin' statue of Discord.
Now that she could focus, Pinkie could easily see the enchantment imprisoning Discord. It was an impressive spell, to be sure – extremely powerful, and incredibly complex. Six cords of shimmering light, each a different color, wound their way around the petrified draconequus, forming an intricate, highly restrictive cage.
It was a strong prison, to be sure, but it had a single flaw – if even a single cord was missing, the whole spell would fall apart. Although most of the cords felt strangely immutable, one did not. The last cord, glowing bright blue, felt… familiar. It felt right. It wasn’t rigid and inflexible like the other cords, but... bubbly and fun and oh so good.
That was the cord that she had to work with. For the spell to fall apart, all Pinkie had to do was simply grab one end of the string… and pull…
A sharp crack erupted from the statue, followed by a malevolent laugh. Chips of stone fell away as Discord opened his mouth, yawning widely.
"Ah, Pinkie Pie!" he gushed. "So nice of you to finally stop by... come over here and let me give you a hug, would you?" He stepped forward...
...or tried to, anyway.
After a moment of futile staining, he looked down. “What.”
Pinkie smiled, but said nothing.
Discord looked back up at Pinkie. “…I’m still stone. I can’t move!”
“Of course not, silly!” Pinkie chirped, oozing false cheeriness. “I only un-stoned your head! Couldn’t have you going about and doing who knows what, could we?” Eyes narrowing, she leaned in close to Discord. “So now we’re going to sit here and talk.” At this, she steepled her fingers and grinned.
Gilda whistled appreciatively. “Geez, Pinks. I dunno what to say. That’s… clever. A bit harsh, but still clever. Now I wish I’d thought of that.”
Discord’s ears pricked up. “Oh? Do I detect the dulcet tones of Gilda the Gryphon?” He craned to see. “Why, yes! Hello again, Gilda. Have you been eating well?”
Gilda glared at Discord. “Mind if I knock some sense into him?” she asked Pinkie.
“You’d better not,” Discord warned her, smiling enigmatically.
“Oh, yeah?” Gilda stepped forward, cracking her knuckles. She drew back a fist–
WHUMPH. Reeling, Gilda slammed into the ground. She lay there, unmoving, in a sticky red puddle.
“Gilda!” Pinkie shouted, rushing to her side. She bent down, examining her fallen friend.
Gilda wouldn't wake up. Her situation looked grim – she was covered in a bright, sticky crimson, and...
...Wait. Where’s the wound? Aside from a nasty bump on the head, Gilda appeared to be unscathed. Her chest was rising and falling – she was unconscious, but alive.
So what is this? Cautiously, Pinkie dipped a finger in the red.
And tasted it.
Pinkie’s eyes widened. Cherry...
“Well, look what we have here!” Discord said. “It’s quite the turnout, isn’t it?”
Pinkie Pie looked up to see the First Division of the Pony Militia standing several hundred yards away. At the front was the Pinkie’s own friend, Applejack , hefting an apple cobbler.
“Attack!” she ordered, and the sky itself was darkened by pies.
Twilight Sparkle stared up at the tower that stood in front of her, a tall, imposing spire of blue marble. It was, to say the least, a grand tower. A proper one. It... well, towered.
Though the tower’s sudden appearance in the hedge maze worried Twilight, this was the place where Trixie had said to meet her. And making a magical tower appear out of nowhere does seem like the sort of thing that Trixie would do if she had the power… and now she does, Twilight thought dryly.
Twilight probed the tower with her mind. Sure enough, it hadn’t always been a tower - in fact, it used to be Trixie’s wagon.
“Well, that confirms it.” Twilight raised a hoof to knock, but the door swung open silently. Shrugging, she trotted through the door and to the nearest staircase.
As Twilight ascended level after level, she ignored the rich, opulent décor that surrounded her. Sure, it looked nice, but it was only a transfiguration spell – impressive, but practically impossible to maintain for more than a day. Even that figure was hopelessly optimistic.
Trixie may be having a great time using the brooch Luna gave her, Twilight thought, but she’s still just one unicorn. If she doesn’t ease up, she’ll exhaust herself at this rate...
As she stepped onto the final floor of the tower, Twilight’s eyes locked onto the sight of a ladder and a trapdoor in the ceiling. She hadn’t seen Trixie yet, so she was probably up there.
Twilight clambered through the trapdoor and onto the roof, where Trixie stood cackling with glee, her horn glowing and sparking. “Yes! Attack, my pony puppets! Fight for the glory of Trixie!”
“And what glory would that be?” Twilight asked.
Trixie jumped. “Gah! ...Oh, it’s just you, Sparkle.” The showpony let out a sigh of relief.
“Sorry I’m late,” Twilight said. “I got held up.”
“No need to apologize, Sparkle,” Trixie replied offhandedly. “But since you’re here, you can start following orders and watch my back.”
Twilight stared at Trixie with concern. The showpony’s legs trembled a little, and her eyes were starting to glaze over. “Are you okay, Trixie?” Twilight said. “You seem a little... tired.”
“It’s just that you’re spending a lot of energy on this tower, and if you’re also controlling your illusions at the same time–” Twilight continued.
“Don't worry yourself over the Great and Powerful Trixie,” Trixie insisted, wobbling slightly. “She has excellent stamina. She could do this for the rest of the day, and probably all night if she wanted to!” She turned away. “Anyway, I don’t have time to rest. There is a battle going on, you know.”
“Well… okay,” Twilight said hesitantly, walking over to stand by Trixie. “Speaking of which, how’s that going, anyway?”
Trixie nodded towards the Sculpture Gardens, sweat beading on her brow. “See for yourself.”
Twilight squinted. As far as she could tell, the dragons and Rainbow Dash’s squad still hadn’t arrived, but Applejack and most of the other ponies were already there.
The ponies flung pies with enthusiasm at their Eris, but though they kept their distance, most of Trixie’s phantoms did not. The illusions stood much closer to the foe, and were throwing themselves at her with grim determination.
Or at least, they were trying to. A shimmering dome of light, several hundred yards across, encased Eris and the statue of Discord, and nothing seemed to be getting past it. Illusory hooves glanced uselessly off its surface, and genuine pies splattered equally harmlessly.
“She’s… she’s not attacking,” Twilight said. “She’s not even lashing out against the illusions, just standing under the dome, focused on Discord... Why?”
“Perhaps she’s saving her strength for releasing Discord?” Trixie suggested. “It looks like she’s already partially finished. She’s probably going keep the barrier up long enough to free her fellow draconequus, and then the two of them will destroy the army…” The showpony shrugged. “That’s what Trixie would do, anyway.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “You... you think she may be freeing Discord anyway? If we can’t break down the barrier in time…” She took a step back. “I have to go help! I need to go warn the Princesses!” She turned away, calling over her shoulder. “Stay here, Trixie! I’m needed out there!”
“What?!” Trixie exclaimed. She caught onto Twilight’s tail with her magic. “But aren’t you supposed to stay here with me? That was the plan!”
“Plans change,” Twilight said dryly. “You can take care of yourself. You’re a clever pony.”
Trixie turned up her nose. “But of course I can handle it...” She sighed. “Fine, whatever. Do what you must. Just don't try anything too foalish; I'd hate to have to tell the tale of how you heroically died.”
“Duly noted,” Twilight said. She yanked her tail out from Trixie’s magic. “Now, if you’ll excuse me...”
“Just a moment longer, Sparkle,” Trixie said. “At least let me lend you a little aid…” She shot a stream of sparks at Twilight.
Twilight felt power seep into her muscles and supercharge her body. She felt like she could run for hours, if she needed to. “Thanks,” she said curtly before disappearing in a bright flash.
Trixie watched Twilight gallop off. “Five minutes,” she muttered. “If you’re not back by then, Sparkle, then I’m taking matters into my own hooves...”
Discord watched pie after pie splatter on the magical barrier. “Why, they seem to be a little bit annoyed with you,” he said mildly.
“Yeah,” Pinkie replied, staring pensively out at the crowd.
“About how long do you think you can keep this shield up?” Discord said.
Pinkie shrugged. “I dunno. A while. I absorbed lots of chaos, so we should have plenty of time.”
“So you’ve stripped the chaos from the land,” Discord said, frowning thoughtfully. “But they’re still attacking you... Was it something you said, perhaps?”
Pinkie blinked. “No. I don’t think so, anyway… Gilda’s the only one who can understand me!” She paused. “Well, besides you, anyway.”
“Ah, yes. Of course,” Discord said distantly. “I suppose that’s what you wanted to talk to me about, isn’t it?”
“Oh. Right! So, about that…” Pinkie paused a moment. “Well, I guess I’m sorta asking…” As she searched for words, her voice trailed off, and only the sound of splattering pies could be heard.
Pinkie turned her to examine her attackers, feeling curiously detached from the situation. At the barrier’s edge, ponies tried to break through… or so it seemed. The slightest squint revealed a pink aura of illusion magic around them.
However, the pie-flinging ponies were all too real. Many of them she recognized, many she could actually name, and many she had even partied with. But now they were trying to attack her...
A little voice inside the Pinkie’s head whispered to her, quiet but insistent. They’re trying to kill you. They aren’t your friends. They’re trying to kill you…
Suddenly, something inside Pinkie snapped. She whirled to face Discord. “What did you DO to me?!” she screamed, inches from his face.
“Is something the matter?” Discord chuckled. “I for one quite enjoy being a draconequus, and I thought you would, too! Or has such power not met your expectations? Don’t you like it?”
“Like it?” repeated Pinkie, voice rising. “LIKE it?!”
Pinkie turned away, shuddering, and did her best to dispel her anger. A minute or two of deep breaths, she faced Discord once more. “…Well, okay, I guess the chaos is kinda fun when you get the hang of it,” she admitted. “But you know that’s not the only thing you’ve done!” She gestured wildly. “I don’t even speak Antiquated Gryphon!”
“Alright, alright,” conceded Discord. “I suppose I owe it you to –” Something crashed against the barrier, louder than before. Discord winced. “Well, it looks like somepony’s already decided to try smashing her way through. Oh, that Rainbow Dash…”
Dazed, Dash shook her head. Sweet merciful mother of Celestia on a stick, that hurt!
“Uh, Captain Dash?” Spitfire said. “If you don’t mind me asking, why the hay did you just do that?”
Rainbow glared at her. “Hey, when it comes to brawls, I’m used to fighting ponies, not walls! Do you have any better idea of getting us through that?”
Spitfire raised an eyebrow. “Well, Dash, not all of us are thick-headed enough that smashing through a wall head-first is a viable option.” She gestured to her wings. “Get enough speed, and these things can safely slice through dragon scale, you know. Wanna try that out, or just lose a few more brain cells?”
Rainbow grinned sheepishly. “Right. Okay.” She launched herself at the dome again, twisting this time to try and cut through the side.
As Dash glanced off the barrier once more, Pinkie winced. “Dashie?” she said. “Oh dear… she might hurt herself…” She snapped her fingers, and the barrage of pies started to bounce off. However, Pinkie could feel her Chaos reserves start to drain a little bit faster...
"I wish you wouldn't call her that," Discord muttered.
Pinkie turned to face him. "Who, Dashie? Why not?"
"No reason," Discord said. "It's not really all that important. There are greater matters at hand right now, after all." He nodded towards the army outside, then rolled his eyes. “It’s a wonder why nopony has brought more advanced instruments of war than pies and muscle. Thank goodness for small favors. But as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…” As Rainbow twanged against the barrier, Discord sighed. “…I suppose I owe it to you to give you a full explanation…” He grinned wickedly. “…Daughter.”
Pinkie’s jaw dropped. My... him... but... Huh?!?
“What? You, my dad?!” she finally sputtered. “No… No, that’s not true! That’s IMPOSSIBLE!”
Discord snorted. “Oh, don’t be so melodramatic. Of course you aren’t my biological daughter! I simply meant... well, this could take a while.” He sighed. “Let us take it from the top, shall we?”
Pinkie nodded, still somewhat stunned.
Discord nodded towards Rocky, who was still sitting next to him. “You remember the day you introduced me to your little friend here, don’t you?”
“Y-yes,” Pinkie said.
Discord smirked. “Of course you do. Even before that day, Pinkie Pie, I knew you were special. Pretty much any Element Bearer has to be, of course,” he mused, “but even among all the Bearers of Laughter I’ve seen, you are a gem! Why, you’re the closest thing I’ve seen to chaos incarnate since, well... me!” He laughed.
“We’re a lot alike, you and I,” Discord said. “We both tend to… think outside the box. We both ever so much enjoy a little something to sweeten up the day. And of course, we both love a good laugh.”
Suddenly, a screech like tortured metal filled the air. Pinkie looked up to see several dragons clawing at the barrier, while others breathed flame. The air inside the bubble started to become uncomfortably warm, and huge talons stretched the dome to its limits.
Pinkie Pie snapped her fingers again. The shield snapped back into shape, throwing several dragons back, and the air cooled.
She’d have to be careful to keep the dome hard enough to repel the dragons, she realized, but soft enough for Dash and the other pegasi. Either way, Pinkie’s reserves begin to deplete faster...
Fluttershy stood, terrible and aloof, upon the castle parapets as the Storm Dragon approached. “Things are not going as expected, Mistress,” it said. “Our foe is proving to be…” It paused. “…adaptable.”
Fluttershy turned her gaze the dragon, stony-faced beneath her helm. “Tell me. What is your name?”
The Storm Dragon’s pupils shrank to tiny slits. “M-my name?”
“Yes, your name,” Fluttershy repeated. She gave the dragon a slight smile. “Don’t worry. It just occured to me that, well, I’d been referring to you as Storm Dragon for this entire time.” She paused, frowning. “Um, y-you do have a name, right? I don’t want to offend you or anything...”
The dragon sighed in relief. “Rumble, M-Mistress. My name is Rumble.”
Fluttershy nodded. “Thank you. So, Rumble, do you believe that this...” She glanced at the barrier. “...adaptability will present a problem?”
“No, of course not!” Rumble said hurriedly.
“Very well,” Fluttershy said, turning back towards the battle. “Continue, if you please.”
Rumble bowed its head. “As you wish, Mistress.” He turned away.
“One more thing, Rumble.”
The dragon froze. Cautiously, it spoke. “...Yes, Mistress?”
“Dragon fire has proven to be ineffective, yes?”
“Y-yes,” Rumble replied.
Fluttershy looked over her shoulder at the dragon. “Then what are you waiting for? You are a Storm Dragon, are you not? Adapt.”
Pinkie turned back towards Discord. “Well… that ‘good laugh’ thing, that’s different!” she said. “I laugh with everypony. You laugh at everypony!”
“And that, Miss Pie, is the fundamental difference between us!” said Discord. “Even as a pony, you were an agent of Chaos, just like me. But unlike me, you wielded it for Good, for Harmony.” He chuckled. “And on the day that you threw me that party, you extended that good to even little old me.”
A whiff of ozone and a strange crackle prompted Pinkie to look up. A bolt of lightning passed through the dome, barely missing her and scorching a nearby patch of earth.
Pinkie groaned. Great. Now the dragons are breathing lightning, too? As a cone of frosty air surged forth from a Rime Drake's maw and hit the barrier, the temperature dropped considerably. And ice... With one more snap of the fingers, the barrier became insulated from electricity. The temperature leveled out once more.
“When you did that, as I said before, you opened up your heart to me,” Discord continued. “That meant that, so long as you let me, I could do whatever I wanted to you... even though I was still trapped in stone! In the thousands of years that I’d been around, nobody had ever done that for me. After such a display of love and tolerance, I couldn’t just sit by and let it go unrewarded, now could I?”
“...And that’s when you entered my dream,” Pinkie said.
Discord smiled. “That I did. As you know, I visited you, and offered my gratitude – and a gift. And that gift was… this!” He nodded to Pinkie’s new form. “And, if I may say so myself, it looks ever so good on you.”
Pinkie frowned. “Um... Thank you...?”
“You’re welcome,” Discord said. “Anyway, since I couldn’t spread my influence across Equestria, I couldn’t just leave this wonderful world without a fully-functioning draconequus. But if I couldn’t be the one, why not you?” He grinned manically. “So I adopted you! I’ve made you the heir to my legacy and my equal in power. Then I messed with the language centers in your brain, just to add a little confusion to the mix... added few precautions, so that attempts to limit your power, like that feeble dampening rune, wouldn’t work... and then I was done, free to sit back and watch the results.”
Pinkie felt a blast of Order magic hit her barrier. She didn’t even bother looking over her shoulder. She just snapped her fingers, and felt her power grow even weaker.
Luna gritted her teeth. “That should have had a greater effect on the barrier then it did…”
“We will stop her, Sister,” Celestia said. “It may just take a little more time.” She turned to the pair of unicorns beside her. “Can any of you find a flaw in Eris’s spell?”
“I’ve got nothing,” Twilight said apologetically.
Shining Armor grimaced. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I might be able to find a flaw, if only I had enough time...”
“Then try,” Celestia said. “In the meantime, Luna and I shall just have to attempt a more direct approach.” She turned back to the dome. “Twilight, could you please go back to the castle and fetch your sister-in-law? I have a feeling we might have need of her.”
Twilight nodded. “Of course, Princess.” She disappeared in another flash.
Discord chuckled. “...And, Pinkie Pie, I’m so proud of you! Already you’ve spread chaos across the entire land, utterly broken one cabbage merchant –which admittedly wasn’t that difficult, but was good practice, nevertheless – and incited the wrath of the entire kingdom of Equestria! I’m honored to call you my daughter.”
“Stop calling me that!” Pinkie snarled, temper flaring. “I’m not your daughter, you… you JERK!”
Discord pouted. “Oh, but Pinkie Pie,” he crooned, “family is all you have left! Look, you’ve already become alienated from your old species.” He nodded to where the ponies were still tossing pies at the barrier. “And all your friends hate you now! See, there’s Rainbow Dash, still trying to slice through your shield. Applejack’s thrown the most pies out of anypony there. These dragons? Attacking on Fluttershy’s orders. Rarity hired those hitponies from earlier.” Discord glanced over Pinkie’s shoulder. “And Twilight there appears to be working with the Princesses to tear down your barrier, so that the flood of violence that you’ve inspired shall wash over you.
“Besides the gryphon over there, all your friends want you dead, Pinkie,” Discord said matter-of-factly. “You’ve become the monster, just like me. They’d seal you in stone too, if they could, but they’ll settle for your head on a platter.”
“But… But only because you did this to me! Why d-did you do this?” Pinkie stammered.
“Tsk, Tsk, Pinkie, haven’t you been listening?” Discord said. “You’re special. You’re the one pony closest to Chaos in all of Equestria… and you’re such a goody-four-hooves!” He rolled his eyes. “If anypony deserved to inherit my legacy, and to see what these ponies are really like, what they really deserve – it’s you.”
Over the sounds of the siege, Pinkie shouted, “What do you mean, ‘what they really deserve’?”
“It’s tragic,” Discord sighed. “Even now, your devotion… your friendship to these ponies blinds you! You might not have noticed, but they are. Trying. To. Kill. You. Do such traitors deserve friendship, and parties, and cake? No,” he hissed. “Your entire life, Pinkie, you’ve thrown parties for them, but when push comes to shove, it means nothing to them! You can’t entertain them anymore, so satisfy who you should have been entertaining – yourself.”
A loud crash, and the barrier began to falter. Pinkie raised both her hands above her head, funneling all the magic she could into holding it up.
It wasn't enough. The barrier wouldn't hold much longer.
Pinkie felt panic welling up inside her. “What can I do?!” she cried. “I don’t wanna hurt my friends!”
“Honestly, come now,” Discord said. “Do you really want or even need friends who are so eager to hurt you? Look at things my way: their tears are all the company you need.”
Against the backdrop of the muted thumps of pies, the larger thumps of Shadowbolts, the constant hum of magic, and the steady roar of dragon’s fire, Pinkie Pie stared deep into Discord’s eyes. The longer she stared...
Maybe... maybe Discord was right. Her friends were, undeniably, trying to kill her. She had the power to make them stop. So why hesitate?
“…NO!” Pinkie roared, tearing her gaze away from Discord’s. “They’re. My. Friends,” she hissed, glaring at him out of the corner of her eye. “Got it? I’m not gonna hurt them just because they can’t… they can’t…”
Pinkie’s eyes widened as inspiration struck. “Of course! They can’t understand me! They don’t know I’m me, so I just gotta tell them that I am me!”
Discord chuckled. “In Antiquated Gryphon? Good luck with that. Do you think Celestia still remembers any words in that language? Or Luna, for that matter? Would you bet your life on that?”
Pinkie could feel the barrier growing thin. It wouldn’t be long...
“Why don’t you tell them?” Pinkie asked.
Discord rolled his eyes. “Come, now. What kind of father would I be if I solved all my daughter’s problems for her? You’re going to have to learn how to stand on your own two feet.”
Pinkie sobbed. “Then what can I do?!” she pleaded.
“Well,” Discord said, “It seems to me you have four options. One, you try to wake Gilda in time, and hope that the army will pause long enough to listen to her. Two, you try to stop them yourself, using just enough force as necessary – although it looks like they’re ready to fight to the death. Three, you embrace your new birthright and take my place as the ruler of Chaos and Disharmony. Or four…” He grinned wickedly. “You free me, so that I may turn you back to normal. Only I, or the Elements of Harmony, have the power to do that–”
“The Elements!” Pinkie interrupted. “I can–”
“No, you can’t,” Discord snapped. “It’s difficult to harness the ‘Power of Friendship’ when your friends are trying to kill you, isn’t it? Since that isn’t a possibility, you’re left with only me.”
Pinkie’s eyes widened. “But I can’t let you go free!” she exclaimed. “Well, I can, but I’m not gonna! You might –”
“Usher in another age of Disharmony?” deadpanned Discord. “Yes, I might. If you do choose the fourth plan – which I wholeheartedly recommend, by the way – then you’d have to stop me. You could rush to explain everything to your friends, and then you could all take the Elements of Harmony and do your little thing, but who knows how much damage I’d do in the meantime? Of course, you still have the other options,” he reminded her. “Go ahead – try to talk to them; destroy me; replace me…” He blinked lazily, glancing at the army outside. “...but whatever you choose, do it quick. It looks like you’ve got about a minute to decide.”
Pinkie turned her attention to her barrier. If the trembling and flickering were any indication, it was close to collapsing.
“One more thing…” Discord added. “If they kill you, then not only will losing an Element Bearer weaken the spell holding me, but your death will also result in enough Disharmony to destroy it completely. I really don’t want to see you die, but if that frees me, then...”He hesitated, looking troubled. “...well, then who am I to complain?” he murmured. “Forty-eight seconds.”
Pinkie closed her eyes and tried to think. What can I do?
Yet another gout of flame poured forth from a dragon’s open maw. After the barrier went down, there would be nothing but empty air between Pinkie Pie and sudden death…
Oh, go on, the chaos stored inside her seemed to say to Pinkie. Give in. Release me! Buck the rules, stop thinking about everything, just do whatever you want with me! Have fun!
Shut up, Pinkie screamed back. I’m trying to think! You’re not helping!
Discord’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “If you need a little more time to decide, I suggest you shrink the barrier. That should drop your energy expenditure enough to give you another couple of minutes or so…”
Pinkie’s eyes flew open. With a snap, the barrier shrunk a few hundred feet in diameter.
As the barrier snapped out of the way, Rainbow plowed into the grass. She skidded to a stop, then spat out a mouthful of dirt.
Dash leapt to her feet, snarling. “Oh, you’re so gonna pay for that…”
The army surged forward.
Pinkie glared at Discord. “Why bother even giving me that advice?” she spat. “It looks like you want me dead anyway...”
“What?!” Discord looked taken aback. “Of course not! Daughter dearest, that was never my intention. To be sure, there are several things I wanted out of all of this: freedom from this stony prison… the spread of chaos… and a long and happy life for you.”
Pinkie blinked. “Huh?”
Discord smiled wistfully. “Pinkie Pie, don’t you understand? I mean every word of paternal affection towards you. There’s nothing that would make me happier than if we ruled Equestria as father and daughter.”
“Then… this gift…” Pinkie began.
“Was intended as such, yes,” Discord said. “I’ve given you true power, and a lifespan that every single one of these troublesome gnats would envy!” He nodded to the army outside. “You have eternity, to use as you please…” He paused. “…that is, if you aren’t killed in the next ninety seconds.”
“What?” Pinkie focused on her barrier, and sure enough, it was almost back to where it was before. If it shrunk any further, then that would give Pinkie no time to spare if she slipped up.
“Please, Pinkie,” Discord said. “Do something…”
Pinkie gritted her teeth. “I… I can’t think!”
Discord looked away. “If you can’t think, my daughter, you’ll die,” he murmured. After a pause, he spoke again, somewhat louder. “And, if you die, I’ll be free. If it’s any consolation, I’ll be sure to avenge you. When I see you fall, my wrath shall overwhelm them.”
Pinkie stared at him.
“I can see it now,” Discord whispered, eyes glazing over. “In my rage, I shall slaughter thousands, and thousands more will drown in a sea of their blood. But they are the lucky ones, because they die quickly. When fiery rage gives way to icy hate, every survivor shall wish that they’d died... but they never will. They’ll have an eternity of torment, for taking away the lifetime that I’d given to the one thing that ever showed me any kindness.”
Pinkie shivered. Shakily, she cleared her throat. “I th-think I know what I’m going to do, now.”
At once, Discord awoke from his reverie. “Oh? And what’s that, daughter dearest?”
Pinkie shuddered once more, then glared at him. “This.”
The cord of blue light snaked upward, slowly wrapping itself around Discord’s neck. On their own, the other cords moved to follow.
“No!” Discord screamed, his voice tinged with unmistakable panic. “N-no! Y-you can’t d-do this to me! I’m y-your–"
“Father?” Pinkie said coolly. “You are no father of mine.”
“P-p-p-please, Pinkie Pie, stop!” Discord wailed, the cords creeping higher. “You don’t know w-what it’s like!”
Pinkie’s expression remained unchanged. “You’re right. But I do know what it’ll be like if you’re ever set free.”
Discord’s eyes widened. “NO! Please, I can change! I’ll be good, I–" The stone crept upwards, and his voice cut out with a strangled gasp.
“What? Did your vocal cords turn to stone?” Pinkie asked.
Discord’s mouth moved wordlessly, screaming in silence.
Pinkie nodded. “Then I’ll be quick. Discord... while you still have working eyes, and working ears, see and hear this. I turn my back on you… as a so-called 'father', as a person… as a friend. I never want to see you again, you venomous snake.”
As cold stone covered the last of Discord’s flesh, Pinkie turned away. Discord and his poisoned words were silenced, but that still left the problem of the army… In a handful of seconds, the barrier would be gone.
C’mon, you can do this, Pinkie told herself, closing her eyes. You’re Pinkie Pie, Party Pony Nonpareil! You can fix this! She gritted her teeth.
Pinkie slumped down. …Oh, it’s no use, she despaired. Things had always seemed so simple before, but ever since her transformation, Pinkie’s world had gotten more and more complicated. And now it was just too much, and at the worst possible time, too…
Pinkie raised her head. Hold on. That’s it! I’m making this too complicated! What would I… No, not I. I haven’t been acting like myself recently. What would Pinkie Pie do?
Wait… Pinkie grinned. Of course! Silly me, why didn’t I think of it sooner?!
Pinkie opened her eyes, grin widening. “Well, Discord, you told me to do something, eh? Okie Dokie Lokie.”
Twilight probed at the barrier, feeling for weak spots. It was wearing thin, but a few seconds could be the difference between victory and Discord’s freedom. “Come on, everypony!” she shouted. “Almost… there!”
“Shadowbolts, give it all you’ve got!” bellowed Rainbow. She sped towards the barrier, twisting to slash her wings at the dome. As one, the others followed suit. Though they glanced off again, the dome wavered.
“HA-HA! EXCELLENT!” Luna cheered. “WE NEED JUST THE SLIGHTEST BIT MORE FORCE!”
Celestia turned to the latest arrival. “Cadence, if you please?”
Cadence nodded, then stepped towards Shining Armor. “It’s time,” she said, leaning her horn towards his. “I shall lend you strength.”
Shining Armor raised his head, and a second dome appeared the entire grounds. “When Eris’s barrier falls, she will now be unable to teleport away,” he said. “Everyone ready yourselves! It’s almost down.”
Twilight gritted her teeth. “Five… four… three…”
“Oh, for Celestia’s sake!”
Twilight spun around to see an exhausted and irritated Trixie standing nearby. “This has been drawn out for far too long, and the Great and Powerful Trixie has grown tired using illusions against an unresponsive foe,” the showmare growled. “It is time to end this already!”
Twilight felt her hair stand on end, and a deep rumble filled the air. She looked up to see a huge thundercloud gather overhead.
A gargantuan bolt of lightning arced down from the cloud, striking Eris’s shield. The dome burst with a resounding crack. A wall of fog billowed forth, stopping barely before the front lines of the army.
Trixie smiled, smugly but exhaustedly. “S-see? Trixie was the one to… disable the barrier,” she slurred wearily. “Obviously she, out of anypony here, is the most tal… en… ted…” With a sigh, she slumped over, falling unconscious before hitting the ground.
“Everyone be quiet,” Celestia hissed. “This fog is too thick to try to fight in… We’ll do more damage to each other than to her.”
“As I said before, the monster is clever and resourceful…” Luna said. “Now we must rely on a much smaller force if we are to avoid friendly fire. A thousand curses!”
“Three guesses who’s gonna be in the smaller force,” Applejack muttered to Rainbow Dash.
“Indeed,” Luna said. “Element Bearers, stay here. The rest of you, fall back. Quietly. And take Trixie with you.”
As silently as they could be, most of the army withdrew. The Element Bearers and the Princesses stood alone on the field...
...save for the dragons. They hovered anxiously nearby, looking embarrassed.
Spike glared at them. “Go on! Shoo!”
Fluttershy, wearing her Helm, stepped out from behind Spike. The closest dragon, Rumble, glanced to the pegasus pleadingly.
“Yes, you may go now,” Fluttershy said. “You’ve all done so well. Thanks again for everything.”
Rumble nodded, clearly relieved. “We thank thee, Sharl’dahk. Should you ever need a dragon’s aid again, just don the Helm once more.” As one, each dragon spread their wings and flew away.
Fluttershy removed her helmet with a sigh of relief. “Finally. I was making them so uncomfortable, the poor things...”
“You should leave too, Spike,” Twilight said. “You’re just a baby dragon, after all, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“But… I…” Spike objected.
Twilight shot him a look.
Spike sighed. “Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t argue with you. Fine…” He turned and walked away.
“Are we ready, then?”
Celestia spun to face Shining Armor. He and Cadence still stood nearby.
Luna stepped towards them. “What are you two waiting for?” she hissed urgently. “Go, now!”
“Somepony needs to maintain the barrier,” Shining insisted.
“You can do that from a distance,” Luna said.
Cadence looked to Celestia pleadingly. “Do you really expect us to let you go in there without help?”
“Yes,” Celestia said firmly. She leaned down and continued in a low murmur. “Help Shining Armor to maintain the barrier for as long as you two can. If we don’t return by then... if Eris overpowers us...” She paused. “...if we fall, then Equestria is lost. Take your husband, take whatever ponies you can, gather your people, and leave. Go as far as you can and don’t look back.”
Shining Armor stared at her. “That’s why you were so supportive of the wedding, isn’t it?” he said quietly. “As a backup plan, in case you and Luna...” His voice trailed off.
“That is one reason,” Celestia admitted. “The love between you two was the greatest one, though.”
“I... But...” Cadence looked up at Celestia, eyes large. “Do you expect us to lead them? All of them, just as well as you have? I’m not sure I can!”
Celestia laid a hoof on her shoulder. “I know you can. Always remember, my little pony, that I love you.” She stepped back. “Now go, Princess Cadence. I hope we’ll meet again, but if we don’t, then the fate of ponykind rests on your shoulders.”
Cadence cast her eyes downward, then nodded slowly. “I won’t let you down.” She turned away. “Come on, Shining. We’d better do as she says.”
“As you wish,” Shining said. He turned a rueful smile towards Twilight. “I guess this is goodbye, at least for now. Love you, Twily.”
Twilight returned the smile. “Love you too, BBBFF.”
As couple galloped away, Luna watched grimly. “Good,” she said. “Now that we’ve set all our affairs in order, shall we march on?” She motioned to the fog that obstinately blanketed the area.
Dash glanced over to Applejack. “I dunno. Shall we?”
Applejack snorted, then adjusted her hat. As one, the pair disappeared into the fog.
Celestia nodded purposefully, then followed them, Luna at her side. Fluttershy crept in after them.
Twilight took a step towards the fog, but paused. “Wait a minute,” she said. “Where’s Rarity?”
“Right here,” whispered a voice that was startlingly close to Twilight’s ear.
Twilight stiffened. “Rarity!” she hissed, glaring daggers at the unicorn who’d somehow crept up on her.
“My apologies,” Rarity said, smirking. “I think I might be enjoying this… this cloak-and-dagger thing a bit too much. I shan’t startle you again.”
“While normally I’d… wait, hold on.” Twilight paused. “Rarity, what were you even doing during the battle?”
Rarity coughed delicately. “Yes, well, we’d better catch up with the others, hmm?” She motioned to the fog. “After you, darling.”
“…Fine.” Twilight trotted into the fog, reminding herself to get some straight answers from her friend after all this madness was over.
Rarity followed her into the haze, still smiling.
The seven ponies walked through the fog, searching for any sign of their foe. “Ah, geez, I can’t see a thing,” Rainbow said. “Fog is just low clouds, right? You’d think being a pegasus would help with that…” She kicked a hoof through the fog, making a hole, but it closed up almost instantly.
“Ah guess not,” observed Applejack.
Dash rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Hey, Fluttershy, can you see anything?”
“N-not yet – Oh!” Fluttershy squeaked, then there came a muted thump.
“Are you okay, darling?” Rarity said.
“Y-yes, I’m fine,” Fluttershy replied. “I just tripped. But thank you for asking, Rarity.” She paused. “Wait a minute... what did I trip over...?” A short moment later, she gasped.
“What is it?” asked Twilight.
“One of th-the g-g-guards,” Fluttershy stammered.
A deep blue light, hazy through the fog, illuminated Luna’s horn.”Is that so? Let me examine him...” The light moved in the direction of Fluttershy’s voice, then lowered itself to the ground.
After a long moment, Luna straightened up. “Sleeping, and peacefully as well,” she said. “The body is unharmed, and his dreams suggest that his mind is also whole.”
Celestia sighed. “A small mercy. Let us continue.”
The ponies walked on for a while in silence.
“This is hopeless,” Applejack eventually muttered. “For all we know, we could be walking ‘round in circles and we’d never find her.”
“Ahem.” Rarity pointed a hoof towards a dark, serpentine shape.
The group froze.
“Has she seen us?” Twilight whispered.
“…I do not think so…” Luna whispered back, frowning. “She has not moved…”
“Um…” Fluttershy took a tiny step forward. “Shouldn’t Eris h-have, um, maybe moved a little?”
“Enough talk!” Dash growled. She streaked towards the shape. “Hey! Take this!” she shouted, then spun and kicked the figure.
THWOCK. Rainbow yelled in pain, then bit back a stream of curses.
“Rainbow! Are you okay?” Twilight called out.
“Argh! Gah, son of a windigo…” Rainbow flew back a foot or two, rubbing her hind legs. “It’s Discord, gals… Figures that I’d buck the solid stone statue.”
Luna took a step towards the statue, glaring up at its face. “No, this is wrong,” she said. “Eris had already unfrozen at least Discord’s head… but why would she seal him back up again?”
“Apparently, it was never her intention to release him,” Celestia said. “But if Eris did not actually come here to free Discord, then why did she do all of this? What’s her real goal?”
Twilight stiffened, eyes wide. “Us.”
A sudden, brilliant flash of light shone from behind the ponies. They spun around to see…
“Surprise!” shouted Pinkie Pie. She knew that they couldn’t understand her, but still, there were rules.
As the fog quickly dissipated, it revealed balloons, and streamers, and refreshments, and music, and games. The crowning jewel was an enormous banner, which read “WELCOME”, admittedly in the runic alphabet of Antiquated Gryphon.
It’s so simple! What would Pinkie Pie do? I’d throw a party, of course! She grinned to herself. I should’ve thought of this a long time ago!
…Well, they’re not attacking me. It’s working already! Patiently, Pinkie studied her friends’ expressions as she waited for a response.
They stood there for a while, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Eventually, Applejack was the first to recover. “…What in tarnation…?” she said, edging back a step.
Rarity flipped her hair, eyeing Pinkie warily. “Well. You certainly know how to get our attention.”
Celestia stepped forward. “Well, what do you want from us, Eris?” she asked coldly. “If it was our lives, then we’d already be dead, so there must be something else you’re after.”
“It's gonna be Discord and the maze all over again, isn't it?” Dash guessed, venom in her words. “You think this is all a game!”
Pinkie shook her head. “No, silly! It’s a party. The only games here are, well, the games!” She grinned. “Ooh! Speaking of which, do you wanna play one?” She gestured hopefully to the closest one. “I’ve got Pin the Tail on the Pony!”
Rainbow blinked, and then looked to Celestia. “Huh? What was that?”
“That… sounded like Gryphon,” the Princess said slowly. “It sounds familiar, but I still couldn’t understand her. Luna? Any guesses?”
Pinkie sighed. She still hadn’t worked out a way to get around that.
“Er… I do not believe it’s Old Gryphon,” Luna answered. “I have no idea what she said.”
Dash turned her head back to Pinkie. “Hey. Wanna repeat that in Equuish?”
“...Can you repeat that in Equuish?” said Fluttershy.
Pinkie smiled in relief, then shook her head emphatically.
“Oh. This could be a problem,” Twilight said.
“Ooh! I know! Charades?” suggested Pinkie. She frowned. “...Oh, wait. No, you still can’t understand me, so how would you even know we were playing charades? Silly me!”
“Argh! Why are we even standing around trying to work this out in the first place?” Rainbow said. “I thought we were supposed to be fighting her!”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Dash, she could kill us all right now if she really wanted to. But if she’s willing to talk instead of fight–”
“Then she’s gonna split us up, then take us out one by one!” Dash interrupted, turning on Twilight. “You of all ponies should know how this works!” She turned back to Pinkie, glaring daggers. “I’m not gonna let Eris do to us what Discord did!”
“I’m sorry…” Celestia said, looking troubled, “...but Twilight is right. I don’t think we have any choice but to cooperate.”
Rainbow growled. “Cooperate? Cooperate?! Maybe you don’t remember, but Pinkie Pie is dead because of her!” She paused, then stiffened. “...Wait a minute. This party... These games...” She tilted her head. “I... I recognize that music... That was one of Pinkie’s favorites.” Her eyes widened as she stared at Pinkie. “You’re... you’re...”
Pinkie nodded eagerly, smiling wide.
“...YOU’RE MOCKING HER!” Dash roared. “And you’re mocking us with her memory!” She snarled, then lunged. Rainbow slammed into Pinkie’s gut, and she crumpled on the cobblestones. Dash landed atop her and drew back a vengeful hoof.
“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight yelled.
“No!” Dash snarled, turning towards Twilight. “I’m ending it now! She has to pay for what she’s done!” She whipped her head back to Pinkie, eyes blazing with fury. “I don’t care if you’re a friggin’ reality-warping avatar of Chaos, I’m still gonna kill you! Nobody touches my Pinkie Pie, do you hear?! Nobody touches–”
Though she didn't mean to, Pinkie opened her mouth. Almost of their own volition, her lips and tongue and vocal cords moved, and she blurted out a single word:
Dash froze, her hoof still drawn back. She opened and closed her mouth several times, until finally she found her voice. "P-Pinkie Pie?" she whispered.
With a smile of relief, Pinkie nodded.
For a long moment, Rainbow stared down at Pinkie. Eventually, she threw her arms around her friend. “…Oh my gosh! Pinkie, it’s really you!” Her eyes started to tear up. “I’m so sorry! I thought you were… I thought that Gilda had…” She choked back a sob.
Pinkie hugged her back, smiling.
After a moment, Pinkie’s other four friends shared a look, then they moved as one. They rushed over to join in the hug, talking all at once.
“Oh my goodness, Pinkie! What happened?”
“It’s so good to see you, Pinkie Pie!”
“How could I not see it until now? I should’ve recognized that mane anywhere!”
The two Princesses stood further back, watching silently. After a moment, Celestia smiled. “Well, this is quite the surprise.”
“Aye, and ‘tis a welcome one at that,” Luna said. “But what puzzles me is how this happened in the first place…”
Pinkie tilted her head towards the statue of Discord.
“Ah. Of course,” Luna said.
Celestia frowned. “Even in my wildest imaginings, I never suspected that Discord had the power to do something of this magnitude,” she said. “This does not bode well.” She stepped forward, her expression curious.” Pinkie Pie, you know how this happened to you, yes? Can you explain?”
“I’d love to!” Pinkie said.
Celestia stared blankly at Pinkie. “…Still Gryphon. In hindsight, that question was poorly thought-out,” the Princess muttered eventually.
Applejack’s brow furrowed. “Wait, so Pinkie can only speak in whatever that Gryphon sub-language is, but the word ‘Dashie’ comes out o’ her mouth just fine? How does that work?”
Twilight frowned thoughtfully. “Well, technically Dashie isn’t a real word, so it wouldn’t have an equivalent in Gryphon,” she said. “Pinkie, try saying some nonsense words.”
Pinkie cleared her throat. “Squadala. Slithy Toves. Uryuom. Fus Ro Dah. Brisingr.”
“‘Squadala. Slithy Toves. Uryuom. Fus Ro Dah. Brisingr,’” Twilight repeated. “Is that what you said, Pinkie?”
Twilight grinned. “That’s great! We’re making progress already.”
“Yes, now we can communicate with Pinkie using random gibberish,” Luna observed. “This is quite the breakthrough.”
“Ah don’t know ‘bout you, but Ah think that don’t matter so much if we can just fix this,” said Applejack. “So what are we gonna do ‘bout it?”
Twilight turned to the Princesses. “Princess Celestia? Princess Luna? Can either of you change Pinkie back to normal?”
“Ah, but does she want to return to the way she was before?” Luna replied.
“What do you mean by that?” Twilight said, frowning.
Luna cast an appraising glance towards Pinkie. “Pinkamena seems to have mastered the use of her chaos, and it would be...” She paused. “...most helpful to have a draconequus on our side. Of course,” she continued, turning to Pinkie, “I just feel that we shouldn’t force you into anything you don’t want. I understand if you want do change back. But do you want to, or not?”
Pinkie nodded enthusiastically. Yes, yes I do, she thought emphatically. I hate this... this... well, not being able to talk to anypony!
Fluttershy’s eyes widened. “Um… did anypony else hear that?”
“…Yes. Yes, I did,” Twilight said quietly. “Pinkie, you’ve had telepathy this whole time?”
What? I did? Pinkie blinked. Wow, another freaky draconequus power? I didn’t know I could do this! Why didn’t I do something like it sooner? She felt a sharp pang of guilt. …Oh, wait, I did. On Leafy Green. I really gotta apologize to him…
Dash facehooved. “Oh my gosh. Really. Had we figured this tele-whatsit stuff out sooner, then we could’ve skipped all this…”
“You’re right... Oh, for the love of...” Twilight’s eye twitched. “Pinkie, do you know what everypony’s been through in the last month? What over thirty days of rampant chaos has done to us? We thought you were dead! I’m halfway through writing the checklist for your funeral preparations!”
Pinkie grimaced. Sorry. Perhaps you could save it for later?
“Later?!” Twilight repeated. “By then the circumstances will have changed completely! It’ll be obsolete!”
“And while that is regrettable, there’s hardly any point in dwelling on what could have been,” Rarity remarked. “As needlessly traumatic as it was, what happened has happened, and we can’t change it without potentially cataclysmic temporal paradoxes.”
After a moment, Twilight sighed. “I guess. What’s important is that now we know we have Pinkie back and in one piece.”
“Even if it is one awful strange-looking piece,” Applejack added.
“Speaking of which…” Twilight said. “You heard Pinkie too, didn’t you, Princesses? She wants to be an earth pony again.” She paused. “Right, Pinkie?”
“Alright,” Twilight continued, turning back towards the Princesses. “Will you do it?”
Celestia sighed. “I’m sorry, Twilight, but Luna and I cannot help. It is beyond our power.”
“Now what are we gonna do?” Dash grumbled.
Rarity turned to Pinkie. “Do you have any ideas, darling?”
Pinkie frowned. Well… Oh! I know exactly what to do, she replied. Discord said that only he or the Elements of Harmony could turn me back to normal. So I guess that means we need to get the Elements! She closed her eyes, held out a hand palm-upwards, and concentrated. One finger-snap later, and the box holding the Elements appeared with a small pop.
Luna sighed. “I’m starting to wonder why we even bother to keep the Elements under lock and key, if it does so little good...”
“It isn’t every day that we must deal with beings with quite this magnitude of power,” Celestia reminded her. “I just hope that your Element still works for you, Pinkie Pie.”
Pinkie looked down at the Element of Laughter. I think it will. She handed the other Elements to her friends, then put Laughter around her neck.
Fluttershy looked down at her Element. “A-are you sure this is a good idea, Pinkie? I mean, after all…” She glanced at Discord, who stood as still as stone nearby.
Pinkie frowned. Come to think of it, that was a possibility, wasn’t it?
Then again, she thought, staring at Luna, I’ll probably be okay. Pinkie nodded to Fluttershy.
Twilight placed her tiara on her head, and then closed her eyes. “Alright, then. Formation, girls...”
The six Bearers moved to their appropriate positions, save for Pinkie, who stood in front of them. Each closed their eyes and called upon their Element...
Applejack lowered her head, brow furrowing. A friend will lend a hoof when you’re in need…
“Over there, Apple Bloom! Don’t miss them!”
“Right behind you, Pinkie Pie!”
The Element of Honesty blazed a brilliant orange.
Fluttershy closed her eyes with a smile. A friend will always be there to lend encouragement…
“…A hop, skip, and jump, a hop skip and jump!”
“Okay, here I go… A hop…”
Bright pink light burst from the depths of the Element of Kindness.
Rarity breathed in deeply. A friend will give from the heart to bring others joy…
“…I mean, where did you find the time to put up all these decorations?”
“Oh, I never leave home without my party cannon!”
A deep violet emanated from the heart of the Element of Generosity.
Rainbow Dash grinned fiercely. A friend will stand by you, no matter what you might’ve done…
“…And Pinkie Pie, I’m really sorry she ruined that awesome party you put on for her.”
“Hey, if you want to hang out with party poopers, that’s your business.”
“I’d rather hang out with you. No hard feelings?”
“No hard feelings.”
The Element of Loyalty glowed a bright, burning crimson.
Inhaling deeply, Twilight closed her eyes. A friend will always teach you something new…
“What’s wrong, Spike? Never thought you’d see me with an umbrella hat on?”
"Not really… No.”
“Pinkie’s tail’s a-twitching! What else can I do?”
The Element of Magic lit up in a corona of magenta light.
As a tear trickled down her cheek, Pinkie Pie beamed. Friends will always be there to cheer you up…
“Oh, how could I have forgotten my own birthday? And you like me so much, you decided to throw me a surprise party! You girls are the best friends ever... How could I have ever doubted you?”
Deep from the depths of the Element of Laughter came a dazzling blue glow.
Cords of color shot out of the heart of each Element, bending and swirling to circle Pinkie. Faster and faster, closer and closer, they spun …
Twilight opened her eyes, and they glowed pure white.
In the blink of an eye, a rainbow erupted out from beneath Pinkie in a pillar headed skywards. As Pinkie's vision filled with color, she braced herself for the pain. But as the magic swirled and danced across her form, bathing her in the energy of pure, concentrated Friendship, it felt... good. Enchantments upon enchantments were stripped away, and she felt whole again, happy and light, like a heavy weight had been lifted from her body and mind.
…Especially her mind. Everything had seemed so difficult, so complex before! So many confusing shades of grey. But now everything fell back into elegant simplicity – Pinkie Pie knew she had friends who loved her. That was truly what was important. Anything else was superfluous.
Forget grey! Pinkie grinned. I’d rather have color any day.
Eventually, the display of light and color faded, leaving a only a pleasant, tingly feeling throughout Pinkie's entire body. Presently, she noticed that she was on the ground once more – standing in the grass... on all four hooves.
Pinkie excitedly inspected her new form – or rather, her old one. “It’s me! I’m back to normal!” Gleefully, she waggled her tail.
Dash rolled her eyes, but smiled. “Well, as normal as you’ll ever be, Pinkie,” she teased playfully.
Pinkie grinned, then bounced over to nuzzle her friend. “I missed you too, Dashie.”
“Well,” Luna said, “It is over. The crisis has been averted…” She snorted. “Not that there was a true crisis to begin with, it seems.”
“But why didn’t you come to us in the first place, Pinkie?” Twilight said. “We could’ve gotten all of this sorted out easily.”
“I tried!” Pinkie said. “But things kept going wrong! Everypony was scared when they saw me, and I couldn’t control my powers, and then I accidentally made Leafy sad, and then…” She swallowed. “...I figured that I’d become too dangerous to be around.” She stared at her hooves. “So I ran away. I didn’t know that the chaos would spread on its own. I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” Fluttershy said, patting her gently. “We all make mistakes.”
"Ourselves included," Rarity added. "I think we all owe you an apology, don't we, Pinkie? A great deal of this is our fault, too. If we hadn't acted so rashly..."
Everypony else chorused in with an apology of their own.
Pinkie smiled gratefully. “Anyway,” she continued, “That’s when I found Gilda! She agreed to help me learn to control my powers and to get me back to normal. That’s why I was talking to Discord – I needed to find out what he did to me and how to undo it.”
“Oh yeah! Gilda was a part of this,” Dash said. She paused, her expression puzzled. “…Hold on, why did she help you, anyways? I thought she hated you more than she did most ponies.”
Pinkie shook her head vigorously. “Gilda’s not a grump anymore, Dashie!” she said. “Well, not a mean grump, anyways, and she didn’t do anything really, really bad, either.”
Rainbow blinked. “So… she didn’t kill that one pony in Farrington after all?”
Pinkie frowned. “Oh yeah! I’d forgotten about that.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Well, we still don’t know if Gilda was the one who actually killed that pony or not, but she did eat some of her...”
Dash gaped. “Uh…”
The other ponies looked a little ill.
“...What?” Pinkie looked around, puzzled. Then she blinked. “...Oh, right! But she only ate a little bit, and it wasn’t Gilda’s fault!” she added hurriedly. “Discord had got to her at the time! She wasn’t herself.”
“...Oh,” Rainbow said faintly.
“Anyway,” Pinkie continued, “she did want me to put in a good word with you when this was all over. But after you found us and yelled at her, she changed her mind. Instead, she helped me for free!”
“She… She did?” Rainbow said.
Pinkie nodded enthusiastically. “Yep! I gotta say, when she isn’t wallowing in angst and self-pity or yelling at everypony, then she can actually be sort of nice. She even kinda said sorry!” She paused. “…Wait, I could have said that better. Should I start over?”
Dash smiled weakly. “No need.”
Pinkie grinned back. “Okie Dokie Lokie!”
Rainbow glanced around, eyes scanning the sculpture gardens with sudden urgency. “Hey, is Gilda somewhere around here?”
“Uh-huh!” Pinkie said, beaming. She motioned with a hoof. “She’s right over – uh, right over…” Her voice trailed off as she looked around.
A moment later, she let out an exasperated sigh. “Gilda was right here a minute ago! Oh, c’mon, where could she be? She wasn’t even conscious, for goodness’ sake!”
“Figures,” Dash grumbled.
“G! G, where’d you go?” Pinkie called out. “Now’s not a good time for Hide-and-Seek!” She bounded over to the nearest statue and peered behind it. “No, she’s not here...”
“Let it go, Pinkie.” Rainbow sighed. “Gilda’s long gone by now…” She paused, then tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Hold on.” She turned towards Luna. “Say, didn’t you say something about a favor for everypony when this was all over? Does that still work?”
“Yes, we did have a deal, didn’t we?” Luna said, sounding mildly surprised. “I must admit, I had forgotten about the boon… but, as thou helped, the offer still stands. What wouldst thou ask of me, Rainbow Dash?”
“Princess…” Dash paused. “If it’s not too much trouble, could you please track down Gilda for me? I’d… I’d like to talk to her.” She pawed at the ground with a hoof. “I guess after all she’s done for Pinkie Pie, I kinda owe it to her to at least hear her out.”
Luna smiled. “I would gladly do this for thee. My resources are at thy disposal.”
Rainbow nodded. “Thanks.”
“Well,” Twilight said, “is that everything?”
“I assume so,” replied Luna. “Unless, of course, Discord can still do...” She paused. “...whatever it was he did to Pinkamena.” She looked to Pinkie worriedly. “Er… Dost thou think him able to do so?”
Pinkie shifted uneasily, glancing at the petrified draconequus. Discord wasn't free from his stone prison, but that hadn't stopped him from starting this mess in the first place, had it? Pinkie and her friends might know this trick, but that didn't mean that he didn't have others that he could use on the unsuspecting...
Then again, Pinkie recalled, Discord said that the only reason that he could affect her was because she'd opened her heart to him. She'd let him do that to her.
Well, that wouldn't ever happen again. Discord could visit her dreams all he wanted, but any more "gifts" would be staunchly refused. And anypony else probably wouldn't fall into that trap in the first place - after all, who else would think to throw a party for a statue?
With an air of finality, Pinkie shook her head. “No. He can’t do this again.”
Twilight nodded. “Good. So we’re done here?”
Pinkie gasped. “What? No! Nonononono! There’s one last thing we gotta take care of first! I know the perfect way to apologize to everypony for this!”
“...And what’s that?” Twilight said.
Pinkie grinned. “Well…”
Braeburn stood anxiously beside the palace gates, staring off towards the Sculpture Gardens. “Ah hope Applejack and the others’ll be all right,” he said.
Somepony that Braeburn didn’t recognize, a firey-maned pegasus in a dark jumpsuit, stood nearby. “Hey, relax,” she said. “I hear they’ve handled worse, and they’ve got two out of three Princesses with them. I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
“Sure,” Braeburn said, unconvinced. “Fine.”
“…Although…” the pegasus added slowly. “I suppose Dash can be kinda reckless.” She shifted uneasily. “I wouldn’t want to see her hurt.”
Braeburn sighed. “That is a mighty fine point you bring up there. My cousin can be the same way.”
“But I’m sure that it’s nothing too bad,” the mare said. “They can handle themselves.”
Braeburn shrugged. “Normally Ah’d agree, but this just ain’t normal. If it were, then why’d they need an army in the first place?”
“…Good point,” the pegasus said uneasily.
“But we can’t do anything about it, so we’d best stop worrying so much,” Braeburn finished gloomily. He paused for a moment, then shot a sidelong glance to the mare. “Ah don’t think we’ve been introduced, have we? Ah’m Braeburn.”
“Spitfire,” she replied, holding out a hoof.
Smiling, Braeburn shook it. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miz’ Spitfire.”
Braeburn heard a disgusted sigh from somewhere behind the two of them, followed by an angry voice. “Oh, for the love of… Get a room, you two! The Great and Powerful Trixie isn’t here to listen to you blather on!”
“Well, Ah never–” Braeburn began.
“Braeburn! Spitfire! Trixie!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, popping into view.
Braeburn stumbled back. “Gah! Pinkie Pie! W-where did you come from?”
“Well, when a mommy pony and a daddy pony love each other very, very much…” Pinkie began. She paused, then cocked her head thoughtfully. “Actually, that’s not important right now! Is the army still somewhere around here?”
“Um… yeah,” Spitfire replied, slightly dazed. “They... they went inside.”
Pinkie grinned. “Great! Well, in that case, go get ‘em! Now we’re all gonna party, Pinkie Pie style!”
“A party? Seriously?” Grinning, Gilda rolled her eyes. “Only you would through a party for the army that was trying to kill you fifteen minutes ago, Pinks.”
From where she sat upon the roof of the Royal Palace, Gilda watched the festivities below, tracking the movement of one particularly pink pony and her rainbow-maned friend. As the pair wound their way through the palace grounds, they were constantly surrounded by the crowds of partying ponies, but nopony was happier than the two of them.
Rainbow Dash was happy without Gilda. Pinkie Pie made sure of that.
Despite herself, Gilda smiled. “You did well, Pinks. You did well.”
She turned away, spreading her wings.
“Gilda, I presume.”
Gilda stiffened, then slowly turned. “Yeah, that’s me…”
With a faint smile, Celestia nodded. “I thought as much. I trust you know who I am.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard of you, but I’ve never seen you before,” Gilda said, casting a wary eye at the Princess. “Thought you’d be taller.”
Celestia chuckled. “I get that more often than you’d think.”
Gilda looked away. For a long while, neither spoke.
Eventually, Celestia broke the silence. “Rainbow Dash wants to see you again.”
Gilda continued to avoid Celestia’s gaze. “Really…”
“Yes.” Celestia cast a sidelong glance at Gilda. “In fact, Luna herself is planning to track you down.”
“Thanks for the heads-up.”
Celestia sighed. “You know, you can’t stay away from her forever.”
Gilda sighed. “Forever’s a long time. The average lifespan of a gryphon is much shorter.” She gazed at the party below. “Dash doesn’t need me. She never needed me. She has Pinks, and…” She paused. “…and other friends, real friends, although their names escape me at the moment.”
“‘Real’ friends?” Celestia raised an eyebrow. “And what are you to Rainbow, then?”
“A complication.” Gilda pointed a claw at a little blue dot below. “See that? That’s Dash, playing... Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Pony, of all things.” She smiled. “She’s not flying, she’s not even going fast, but she’s happy.” As she looked to the horizon, her smile faded. “I’m not gonna go down there and screw that up.”
“Do you really think you will?”
“I don’t know. I just know that I’m still not ready for this.” Gilda paused. “Not in front of so many ponies. Not in front of Dash’s other friends.” Another pause. “I’ve… got some other stuff I need to deal with, first.”
For a long moment, Celestia was silent. Then she spoke, slowly, carefully. “I’m not going to convince you, am I…”
Celestia sighed. “Very well. Then I know what I must do.”
Celestia turned towards her, stony-faced. "I shall..."
Slowly, Gilda began to spread her wings.
"...give you a head start."
Gilda paused. "Wait, what?"
"A sporting chance never hurt anypony, now did it?" Celestia closed her eyes and turned away, the barest hint of a smile on her face. "Luna does not yet know how close you are. I suggest you take full advantage of this fact to add a little distance."
After a moment, Gilda snorted. "Well, you don't have to tell me twice." As she turned to the horizon, her wings snapped open.
"One more thing..." Celestia called out.
Warily, Gilda turned. "Yeah?"
“Rainbow Dash,” Celestia said. “She… she likes Daring Do.”
For a while, Gilda said nothing. Then she smiled. “Awesome.”
As Gilda took to the sky, Celestia turned away. “Good luck, Gilda…” she murmured, spreading her own wings. She looked down at the crowd below, searching for her sister. “…You’ll need it.”