It was the first indication that she had awakened, the dust appearing seemingly from nowhere to flow into her nostrils as she breathed slowly in sleep. She brought a hoof to rub at her muzzle as the rest of her body woke up to complain about the position she was in - laying on her right side, on a hard but padded surface.
As each part of her body reported in to her brain, more and more alarms were included that something other than the large amount of dirt and dust in front of her nose was off from normal by a considerable margin. Aches in her joints, pains in her rump, most of her right flank was numb from laying on something other than a soft, feathered bed that she had been given to use at the library.
When her brain finally realized that two-plus-two did indeed equal four, Twilight Sparkle’s eyes shot open. It took a few more seconds for the blurriness to clear, which only served to confirm her body’s suspicions: She was not in her bed at the library.
She wasn’t even IN the library… much less in Ponyville either…
Soft grass caressed her, a flower waved in the peripheral of her vision, the mid-morning sun peered down through the leaves of trees overhead. It took another few moments before she could move, lifting her head to look around and take stock of her situation. The knurled trees with the way their leaves drooped from the branches in a really spooky manner confirmed her worst fears - she was in the Everfree Forest.
Another part of her body reported in the moment she tried to roll upright and drew her legs under her to stand. The result was her rolling over toward her left as nausea consumed her. She had no food in her stomach so vomiting was thankfully not possible, but the bile that rose in her throat flowed freely onto the once pristine grass.
Finally getting to her feet, wobbly as they were, Twilight tried to get her bearings. Her mouth worked, her brain now gaining steam began to analyze the situation.
Thoughts ran rampant through her mind. How did I get into the Everfree? What happened to me? Why do I feel so sick? She took a careful step forward, then another, spotting a trail not too far off. Making her way toward it, the questions continued to flow. What was I doing? Was anypony else with me? I feel that there were… who? Why can’t I remember?
It was indeed a trail, one familiar to her, although it looked as if it hadn’t been used in quite some time. Looking left and right, she found the direction to Ponyville and took off at a slow trot. Can’t be sure Zecora is home… but Fluttershy lives nearby. Maybe she’ll know what happened.
Twilight had to slow down soon afterward as her stomach began to complain again. Pausing to put a hoof to her stomach, her eyes went wide as she felt something else off. Glancing down at herself, she saw indeed that something was off, something VERY wrong. A noticeable bulge in her belly, further back than her stomach, right where-
Oh Celestia no… I can’t be… PREGNANT?!
She dropped hard to the path, trying to regain control of her breathing. Something was indeed growing inside her, something warm, something that her body told her was her foal. More and more the questions flowed through her mind, in a near panic, repeating over and over again.
Come on, Twilight! Get a hold of yourself. What is the last thing you remember clearly?
She squeezed her eyes shut. She willed her analytical mind to seize control of her runaway thoughts. She couldn’t afford to go off the deep end, not yet, anyway.
Let’s see… the wedding. Finally got that done without a problem after the Changling Invasion. The reception. Heh… I actually got up and sang. Then the train ride back to Ponyville. Started a new research project on Changlings, wanted to know more about them. Couldn’t find anything, so I had Spike send a message to the Princess asking for more books on the subject. Applejack showed up… we started talking… I think… gets so fuzzy at that point… and then…
Had a Changeling got into Ponyville? Not that quickly, Shining Armor’s spell had thrown Queen Chrysalis and her Changelings clear across Equestria. There was another Pony there… with them in the Library. But Twilight couldn’t remember.
Why couldn’t she remember?
She shook her head again and got up, walking again. She had to find her friends, find out what happened. As she got her thoughts under control, she got a … feeling… that Changelings weren’t involved. No, it was something… else. She needed to see Applejack. Her friends. Spike. They could contact the Princess, get help.
Putting her queasiness aside, she began trotting again. Fluttershy: she was the closest. She might have something to alleviate her morning sickness, give her time to think. Time to remember.
Soon, the edge of the forest came into view, and there was the cottage. Twilight smiled. Safety! But that feeling suddenly began to plummet the closer she got. An new feeling came from her stomach as she approached the small bridge over the creek. Something was dreadfully wrong.
No animals were present. The bird houses were empty, unused. The windows were all uncovered, but no light came from inside despite it being just before midday. It looked abandoned.
She trotted up to the door, then peered in a window: The house was vacant. The windowsill was coated with dust. Nopony had lived here for some time.
No. NO! This can’t be right! Where is Fluttershy?!
She stumbled backward onto her rump, struggling to prevent herself from hyperventilating. It was less than a minute before she was up again and bolting toward town. She had to see ponies! Had to know that this was simply a misunderstanding. A mirage, hallucination, anything other than her friends abandoning her.
She was rewarded the moment she passed the first houses. Laughter, ponies milling about, going about their daily lives. This was at least normal, and her panic was quickly reigned in. Small details, however, were hard to avoid. The biggest was that she didn’t recognize most of them.
Granted, her near isolated life even after moving to Ponyville prevented her from knowing many ponies, but even she had gotten to know more than quite a few in Ponyville. But this was ridiculous! She began trotting again, headed for the library. If any place made her feel safe, it was there.
Once again, disappointment greeted her. A unicorn mare she didn’t recognize was standing in front of the open doorway, sweeping the front stoop. That wasn’t the worst part - the sign had been changed:
TWILIGHT SPARKLE MEMORIAL LIBRARY
- Funded by the Royal Pony Sisters with the thanks of a grateful nation.
Averting her eyes, Twilight turned away.
I’m… I’m DEAD? They think I’m dead? But… it wasn’t a week ago we were all together in Canterlot!
She wandered aimlessly, trying to come to grips with the evidence. She couldn’t’ remember how she got from the Library to the Everfree. Obviously more than a few days had passed judging by the size of the bulge between her hind legs. Something had obviously happened between then and now. Something horrible.
She paused in the market, not even bothering to look around now. She was still trying to wrap her mind around the idea that something had happened to her. Something that had caused her friends to up and leave.
A few ponies passing by looked at her, one even slowed to ask if she was all right. That at least hadn’t changed - ponies were still kind.
She shook her head silently in reply and moved on. She got only a few steps before a voice brought her to a halt. A voice that spoke softly, unsure of herself, but definitely addressed toward her:
“Twilight? Is… is that you, sugercube?”
Twilight spun about, her eyes going wide at the sight before her. It resembled Applejack, talked like Applejack… but couldn’t be Applejack.
The orange mare had a brace clamped onto her right foreleg, her signature Stetson was missing, her blonde mane no longer braided but trimmed and draped over her neck. Tired eyes stared in disbelief at Twilight as she limped forward. “… but… you’re…” She whispered, reaching out a hoof toward Twilight as if trying to believe she existed.
“… Applejack?” Twilight managed to find her voice.
The mare in question suddenly threw her hooves around the unicorn. “TWILIGHT! Oh thank Celestia yer real! Yer alive!” The farmer cried into Twilight’s mane.
“…” Unable to say anything, Twilight just hugged her friend back with a heavy sigh. “… yes… I’m alive…”
Finally pulling from the hug, Applejack smiled, tears flowing freely down her face. “… It’s good to see you… I always knew you’d come back! Come on, hun, let’s get you checked out at the hospital, then we’ll get a letter to the Princess. Oh! You’re probably hungry too after all that time, so we can stop by the stall and I'll leave A.B. in charge, who knows-”
Twilight finally had to force her friend to stop talking with a hoof to the nose. “Applejack.” She said sternly, eying her friend carefully. “… I need to know. I need to know what happened…”
The orange Earth Pony looked back in suprise. "You... you don't know?"
“… I… I don’t remember.” She looked down at the cobblestones that made up the town square, her ears drooping sadly. “The last thing I remember is you visiting me at the Library after we got back from Canterlot.”
The only noise for at least a few minutes was the sound of ponies going about their business through the market.
“… I... I understand, sugarcube… it was hard on all of us.” She shook her head. “Ah well, come on. Let’s get you to the clinic and looked over. I’ll… I’ll explain later.” She forced a smile.
“A.J… you’re holding something back.” Twilight fired right back.
“I promise, hun. I just… need to get over the fact you’re still alive.” She shook her head and limped off, forcing the pregnant unicorn to trot to catch up.
The two walked along in silence. It lasted for just over another full minute.
"A.J.! There you are!" Came a familiar voice from the apple stall bearing the logo of the best apple orchard in Equestria. Behind it was a familiar filly who stared with wide eyes at Twilight. "Who... wait... is that?!"
"Yea, it is, Applebloom. She just walked into town. I need you to stay here and tend the stand, I'm taking her to the hospital to get checked out."
"Um... sure thing, Sis..." The young filly continued to stare at the disheveled unicorn as Applejack plucked a Granny Smith from its display, flipping it to be caught by Twilight's telekinetic field.
"Come on, Twilight." The Earth Pony gave a weak smile. "Let's get ya to the clinic before we get any more interruptions...
Twilight sighed and took a bite. She gathered some of her stray thoughts together. “A.J… where’s Fluttershy? I passed by her cottage on the way into town.”
Another pregnant pause - and not because of the foal in Twilight’s stomach.
“Lives on the north side. We’ll be seeing her at the hospital, she works there now.” Came the simple, neutral response.
Twilight could only sigh in frustration. “Ever since I woke up, I’ve been trying to figure out what happened, why I can’t remember anything, why I’m pregnant, why things have changed… how much time has passed?”
“Wait… you’re with foal now?” Applejack suddenly stopped and glanced at Twilight’s belly, an angry scowl coming across her face. “… and you don’t remember who knocked ya up?” She resumed walking, muttering a few choice curses under her breath. Definitely not like Applejack. First the faded accent, and now blatant cursing?
This brought Twilight up to a halt, scowling at her changed friend, tossing the half-eaten apple into a handy wastebasket. “Applejack!” When the Earth Pony looked back; “I am not going another step until you tell me what happened! What happened to me? What happened to your leg? Where are the rest of our friends?”
The scowl on the Earth Pony’s face vanished, a sad, longing look replacing it as she looked at her leg.
“Twilight… you were abducted by the ghost of Nightmare Moon. Me and Dash fought to stop it, to save you…“ She tapped her leg brace on the ground. “But as you can see, we failed.“ She looked back up at her friend who had all but risen from the dead. “You’ve been missing for over a year now."
The unicorn in question suddenly dropped to the street. Her mouth hanging open, unable to form words.
Applejack placed a reassuring hoof on her friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Twilight... we... we tried..." The tears resumed their flow down her face.
"A whole year..." A beat. "Nightmare Moon?!" She looked up aghast.
"We weren't sure, to be honest." She shook her head. "We were at the castle in the Everfree. You were near the alter where we fought her. Then the next thing we know, me an' Dash were racing after a black cloud... I'm sure you remember it..."
It was Twilight's turn to nod.
"Those glowing gold dragon eyes were sure convincin' too..." She shook her head. "Come on, darlin'..." Applejack turned and walked away.
Twilight sighed and hung her head as she followed her friend down the street to the large building bearing the pink cross.
She barely paid attention to the ponies around her as Applejack said something, shouts were given in response, and she was ushered into a side room and laid on a bed. Another shout, and a call for a certain Doctor.
Then, a reply.
"... Oh Sweet Celestia, Twilight!"
It was immediately followed by a butter-colored Pegasus clamping her forehooves around Twilight's neck.
The unicorn could do nothing but cry.
"Hey, Fluttershy..." Twilight murmured quietly into the crying Pegasus's ear. "Good to see ya."
The mare in question pulled from the hug and smiled, tears still flowing as she began to look the Unicorn over. "It's so good to see you too, Twilight. And you don't look the worse for wear." Her soft hooves gently caressed over her belly. "... except for this...?" She glanced at Applejack who simply shook her head.
"I... I don't remember what happened." Twilight sighed and laid back on the bed. "The last thing I remember clearly is returning from Canterlot and my brother's wedding... doing some research at the library... then Applejack came in... " She shook her head. "Everything after that is just confused blurs."
"But... that was..." A soft gasp.
"I know." Another heavy sigh as she turned over, facing away from them, and curled up on the bed, leaving the other two mares and the nurses to look on in concern.
"Flutters, hun, we need to get word to Canterlot. The Princesses will want to know she's back. Especially the Royal Guard."
The purple mare twitched an ear, listening as Fluttershy passed orders to the Nurses who quietly left. When the door closed, she looked back over her shoulder. "The Guard? My brother?"
"And Dash." Applejack nodded sagely.
Twilight sat up. "Okay... I need some explanations. What happened after... after I was taken?"
The farmer pony pulled up a chair and sat, rubbing her sore leg. "I'll tell ya. Just let Flutters do her thing, okay?"
When the unicorn nodded, Applejack began while Fluttershy opened a bag and began to examine Twilight.
"You said you remember me visiting you. From there we went to the castle in the Everfree Forest. You wanted to see if there were any records still there. Me an' Dash decided to go with you - none of us had a real track record with prancin' through the forest alone, after all." She gave a weak smile before continuing. "Well... you were by the altar where we fought Nightmare Moon when this... ghost... emerged from behind it and whisked you off. We caught up with you and the... ghost... or whatever that darned thing was, you were layin' there weak and helpless." Her smile faded. "It was doin' something to yas. We didn't even think about it - we charged, and fought it the best we could. But ya know we ain't good against magic users. We got our tails whupped good and proper. I took the brunt of it, thought I could last longer in a physical fight, but I found out what the far side of several nearby walls looked like."
When she paused and looked down at her leg, Twilight just nodded slowly for her to continue, ignoring the blood pressure cuff the Pegasus doctor put on a foreleg.
"Well... I was still conscious while Dash began taunting it, but was hurt too. I could see her limping and favoring a wing. The .... creature... was whispering to yas. Telling ya lies and such."
"What kind of lies?"
"It was telling ya to give up, that it only wanted what was best for ya, going on how it loved ya and wanted ya to go with it. But I could see it in yer eyes that you didn't want to believe a thing. You were worried for us. Finally fed up, I heard it tell you that if you wouldn't go with it, it would pick one of us, and that as hurt as we were, we wouldn't last as long. Yer eyes got real big at that."
Twilight closed her eyes and thought on this, trying to picture it, seeing if any of her memories came back. None did. "I... I went willingly?"
"Twilight, sugarcube, we told you not to go. That we'd fight, as we were yer friends..." Applejack leaned close to put a hoof on one of hers. ".. we tried... you sacrificed yourself for us..." She looked at the floor. "I'm so sorry, Twilight..."
Fluttershy stopped what she was doing and hugged Twilight.
"... I can believe that, A.J. I know you tried your best... and I believe in my heart that I would willingly give my life to save yours." Twilight's horn glowed, pulling the chair even closer so she could embrace them both in a hug.
It lasted for nearly a full minute before they released. "What happened afterward, Applejack?"
With a heavy sigh, the earth pony in question sat back. "Well, after... you know... Dash pulled me onto her back and limped out of there. I could tell she wanted to go after you, she was crying, but I was hurt pretty bad. I spent the next three months in a room just down from here while the doctors put me back together."
She removed her brace and flexed her leg with a wince. "... I can't buck apples anymore, but the mind's still sharp as a tack. Big Mac's guiding Applebloom along - ya couldn't see it for the stand but she's got 'er Cutie Mark now, by the way - and she's workin' on keeping the farm runnin' so he can focus on bucking while I tend to the books and the stand."
"Not two days and she broke out of the hospital to join both Princesses' and half the Royal Guard led by yer brother in pulling that castle apart to find yas. Once that was done, they started uprooting every tree within a mile. They searched for ya for close to three months, before Princess Celestia started to scale the search back because she had to run the country." She sighed. "Dashie hardly slept a wink during that time. She felt she failed us... let us down."
"How can she think that?" Twilight asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Not sure, hun. She's the Element of Loyalty, after all... and she felt pretty down. So when the Princesses took Spike back to the castle to take care of 'im, she went with 'em."
Fluttershy adjusted Twilight's pillow. "Last letter I got from her said she was made one of Shining Armor's Lieutenants."
"She joined the Guard?"
Both mares nodded as Fluttershy answered; "She gave up her dreams of joining the Wonderbolts. She didn't want to risk letting any of us down again. She wanted to be true to her Element."
Twilight laid back as Fluttershy tucked her in. "Okay... go on." Inwardly, she smiled, enjoying Applejack flowing back into - what she would call 'normal' - accent. Somehow, hearing that familiar voice seemed to make this whole nightmare bearable.
Applejack collected her thoughts. "Well... Pinkie was adamant that you'd turn up. She kept goin' on about this big party that she'd throw when you got back. But ya could see it in 'er eyes. Each day she'd go to the edge of the forest to watch the Guard Ponies flitter about in their search patterns, but when they stopped she just... deflated. Then went back to her party planning. She canceled other parties to work on yers... then..."
She trailed off as Fluttershy sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the tale. "... I found her sitting in her room one day. She had made a stuffed version of you out of balloons and streamers. She had a crazed look in her eyes and told me that she know you'd come back... " The look in the Pegasus mare's eyes showed true sadness. "... when I tried to tell her that you were gone she..." A familiar blush. "... I ran to get the guards that Princess Celestia left in town just in case."
Twilight held the mare close. "What happened to her?"
Fluttershy held her friend close, speaking quietly. "She's here, up in the mental ward. I came to see her every day, and finished my schooling so I could take care of her. I sent my animal friends off... somepony had to take care of Pinkie... with everyone just ... breaking up or leaving or unable to... I guess it had to be me."
"You're a good friend, Fluttershy." Twilight gave a weak smile. "How is she doing?"
"She still is schizophrenic, becomes violent whenever someone mentions the fact that you are gone, but no longer has to be restrained. She refuses to believe that you were gone, and thinks that we all abandoned you. I've been working with her whenever the Psychologist needs someone she can trust to be there."
Twilight nodded and smiled weakly. "And Rarity?"
"She left." Applejack finally found her voice. "The weekly get-together she and Flutters had at the spa was canceled again and again as she helped take care of Pinkie. And as Dash was in Canterlot training, Spike had moved back to the Castle with the Princesses, and I was at weekly appointments with the Docs, she took a big contract from some frau-frau company in Canterlot then opened a second store there, and moved her office to it."
"So that's everyone..."
"'bout does it, Twilight."
"I can't believe it." She looked from one mare to the other. "I know were were close, so what happened? I get kidnapped and you guys just fall apart like that?"
"It hurt us, Twilight." Fluttershy hid half her face behind her mane. "I know Dashie felt that she wasn't a good enough friend that she couldn't protect you when that thing had you in it's clutches."
"I'm sorry, Fluttershy... this has just been a walking nightmare since I woke up. One minute everything's fine, the next... It's like Discord got loose and ran rampant through our lives again!"
Applejack winced - and not because of her leg. "Yeouch, Twilight... had to mention that? Princess had us in counseling for a month after that."
"I know, and it looks like we'll be in it again." She flung off the covers and stood shakily to her feet. "Make sure that message was sent to the Princess, Applejack. There's another friend I have to see."
"Twilight! Who knows what you've been through, you should be in bed!" Fluttershy jumped to her feet, wings flared.
"The nightmare is still plaguing me, Fluttershy, and will until I discover what happened to me, and get my friends back."
Twilight glared at the Pegasus, cutting off any response.
"... take me to Pinkie..."
The two mares sat on either side of the small table, smiling at each other.
The pink earth pony's cotton-candy mane was flat, draped around her head like a shawl, her eyes dilated, a slight grin on her face.
The faded purple unicorn sitting across from her just smiled warmly at her friend, levitating up a cup of tea. "I would never go without visiting you, my dear Pinkie."
"Of course, Twilight. I know you would never abandon us." The response was nearly a whisper.
"They still don't believe I'm here, do they?"
"They think I'm crazy. They've always suspected, but I'm just me. I don't want to believe it, but they must be the crazy ones. They keep telling me that you're gone, but you're right here. With me. Twilight Sparkle would never leave her friends."
"No, I wouldn't Pinkie. I would never abandon my friends." The unicorn smiled again, warmly, lovingly.
Just like Pinkie remembered she would when things were happy. When she would smile for real.
Across the room, Twilight Sparkle stared, a tear leaving her eye. "How...?"
Fluttershy hummed softly and glanced at a nearby clock. "Daily tea party with you. She says you come every day to visit her. At this point, the medication doesn't really work, so we just humor her."
"So the treatment isn't working?"
The butter-colored Pegasus shook her head sadly. "If no breakthrough is made, I'm afraid they'll send her to an Asylum..."
"I think I remember something from my books." Twilight took a deep breath. "But this is Pinkie we're talking about. I'm afraid that the direct approach is best." To Fluttershy's suprise, she started toward the table.
"The Doctor said if I don't stop believing in you they'll commit me." Pinkie was whispering sadly. "But you're my friend! I can't abandon you like they said you abandoned me!"
"That's like asking Rainbow Dash to stop flying."
A weak smile and a weak chuckle. "Yeah, but she doesn't visit anymore. Only Fluttershy visits, and she's always so sad." The smile vanished. "Some Element of Laughter I am. I make all my friends sad."
"You're trying to tell them I'm here, trying to make them happy again. It is who you are, Pinkie. You can't let them take it away."
"No. I can't. I have to keep believing. I can't let you go like the others did, Twilight! You're my best friend."
"I'm glad to hear it, Pinkie."
"That's right. So-" The pink pony jerked in response, glancing up to her friend.
Twilight was no longer faded. No longer held the teacup in her magic, but was indeed sitting there, smiling lovingly at her friend.
"Twilight? You look... different..." She said curiously, leaning closer.
"Well, I have been through a lot, Pinkie. Being declared Dead kind of does that to you." She smiled. "But you never gave up, did you?"
"No! That would be SO wrong!"
Twilight slid a hoof over the table to take one of Pinkie's. The pink pony stared at it in wonder.
"I'm not a figment of your imagination anymore, Pinkie. Your belief has brought me back. Look." She inclined her horn toward the door to the lounge.
Pinkie saw Fluttershy, but the Pegasus wasn't looking at Pinkie - she was looking at Twilight! She could see her! And she was crying, but not tears of sadness, tears of joy!
"She... she can see you!"
"Yes, Pinkie. She can see me. She hugged me earlier. So did Applejack. They're sending a letter to Canterlot to let the Princesses and the others know I'm back."
"But... they were telling me you were gone... that you wouldn't be able to come to my parties, to play with me and Gummy, or taste my cupcakes, and see me fire off my party cannon or..." She began to cry. Why would a happy pony cry?
"But you didn't believe them, did you?"
"... no. They often say I don't make sense, but I know what makes sense, and you leaving us doesn't make sense, I believed and believed and hoped and hoped and hoped, and you came to visit me to tell me that I'm not crazy and that you wouldn't leave us and that you would always visit and come to my parties like you Pinkie Promised after my birthday party fiasco and you can never break a Pinkie Promise because it would ruin your friendship-"
"FOREVER!" Twilight finished before quickly sliding around the table to embrace Pinkie Pie.
Pinkie's mane began to fluff up. Not back to it's normal, bubbly, bouncy self, but it was a start.
"It's good to see you, Pinkie. I don't like the sad mopey you. I never have." She pulled from the hug and smiled at her. "Pinkie... I need help. I need you to Pinkie Promise me something."
Pinkie's sad eyes looked up at her expectantly. "Anything for one of my bestest friends!"
"Our friends have broken up. Things have changed, and I don't want things to change. I want us all to be friends again. I need to know that you, my friend whom I could always count on for a laugh, is still that happy pony who first greeted me when I came to Ponyville. Please don't stop smiling."
Pinkie smiled and eagerly went through the motions. "Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye! I Pinkie Promise!"
"Good. Because I hear you've planned a truly amazing party for my return. And there might be another party in the near future for another pony coming to Ponyville." She looked back at her flank, then back to Pinkie.
"Oooo!" The pink party pony's eyes were wide as she saw friend was expecting. "Baby Shower!" She giggled.
Twilight smiled in turn as she could see her friend's mane swell even more. Still a ways to go, but it was getting there. "I have to go let our other friends know, so you stay here so I can find you when it's time to get ready for the party, can you do that for me, Pinkie?"
"Of course, Twilight! You can count on this party pony!"
Twilight nuzzled her friend. "It's great to be back, Pinkie. And it's good to have you back too. Thank you for believing in me."
The two hugged once more, before Twilight pulled away and walked to Fluttershy, embracing the Pegasus in another hug.
"I think things are going to be okay, now."
"I can hope..." The Unicorn scowled. "There are still a lot of unanswered questions and we have to more friends to find."
"Applejack came while you were talking to Pinkie. The letter got sent, and we already got a reply. Shining Armor isn't sure you're real, so he's sending a Squadron of Guards to verify."
Twilight frowned, then nodded sadly. "Yeah... well... I guess I can't blame him. How will they verify that it is me?"
Fluttershy gave a small, knowing smile. "... Dashie is leading the Squadron."
She could see them landing right outside the building. Framed by the curtain of her hospital room window, Twilight watched the quartet of white Pegasus in the familiar gold armor. They were led by a cyan mare whose helmet colors, according to what she remembered her brother telling her, denoted her a Lieutenant in the Royal Guard.
"I see that." She glanced at back at Fluttershy. "Let's get this over with."
With a nod, she led Twilight out of the room and down the corridor to the nurse's station. The unicorn stopped short, bringing her Pegasus friend to a halt as well.
Sure enough, the quartet of guards emerged from the stairs, the cerise eyes on their leader glaring at Applejack who sat nearby.
"Where is this mare?"
"Good to see you too, Rainbow."
Another glare was the response.
"Come now, you dun think I'd be here still if I didn't know fer sure?"
"Too many false alarms, A.J.. Here I thought you would be the last to fall for something like this, after what that thing did to you!"
Applejack was on her feet quickly, leaning close and glaring. "I'm the one who found her! Or is that what this is about, hmm?" She sneered. "You don't want it to be Twilight, because you want to be the one who finds her, you still need serious closure, even after you manged to haul my rump out of the Everfree that night!"
The cyan mare snarled. "... don't you dare, don't you bucking dare! I saved your life, A.J., and she saved both ours! And I absolutely refuse to let any mare make her sacrifice be in vain!"
Twilight nudged Fluttershy. "Better step in. Tell Rainbow I'd like to see her. Alone."
With that she spun on her heels as Fluttershy stepped forward and cleared her throat before snapping out; "Dashie!" The soft, demure voice cut through the tension in the room like a crack of thunder.
"She wants to see you..."
Twilight didn't listen to the rest, instead went back to her room and slipped into bed, magicking her blanket to hide her pregnant belly and laid her head down. Compared to Pinkie Pie, dealing with this mental trauma was going to take some careful work.
... and I'm still no closer to dealing with my own...
Twilight rolled over, leaving her back to the door as it opened, the clump of armored shoes on the tiled floor approached the beside.
Before Rainbow Dash could start her accusations, Twilight struck first: "It's hard, you know? Not remembering anything, and thus being a perfect target for those who refuse to believe that you are alive. They fire back that not knowing is just more proof that you aren't who you say you are. It's a self-catching trap as there is no one thing you could say that would prove your identity beyond a shadow of a doubt, to the most serious of doubters."
Rainbow Dash remained silent.
"... especially to one whom is the example of loyalty..." Twilight glanced over her shoulder, glaring with one eye at the armored Pegasus. "So I have to search back even further, sorting through the wreckage of my mind that the ghost left to me." She smiles. "And I see a certain mare who called me an egghead - being a closet egghead herself."
"And you're right." The guard lieutenant grunted. "Not remembering can be considered proof. And as for my... reading habits, anyone could know that after I dragged it through half of Ponyville one night."
"Oh, but I recall more, my dear Rainbow Dash." Twilight rolled over to face her. "While my physical body is weak from what was done to me, my mind is highly trained. The benefits of being an 'egghead', you see." She giggled. "I recall you sneaking over to the library to see if I got in the latest in that certain book series starring one 'Daring Do'. I remember a mare who despite being a star athlete couldn't stick a landing through one of my windows without crashing, who became so focused on the competition that she tripped over a stump during the Running on the Leaves and I had to point it out to you." She paused to giggle again when Rainbow's scowl began to crack. "I'm surprised nobody else fell for that trick with the sign, but then again, even after my warnings you remained so focused on beating Applejack not only the entire pack passed you, but even I did it to take fifth place."
The mare looked away.
"Speaking of which, I heard your little spat out there. Tell me, are you so determined to earn my forgiveness for failing to protect me, that you desperately want me to be a fake so you could find me on your own?" She leaned close with a smirk.
Now where is this coming from? I'm not normally like this... but... I must admit, it feels good to remind my friends of who they are this way. It's like I'm slapping them with a Memory spell using words!
Indeed, Rainbow Dash's eyes stared at Twilight, widening slowly as the words sank in.
When still no verbal response came, Twilight went on. "I could go on, but I think I made my point. A year ago something terrible happened to me. I don't remember it, or what happened afterward. Now my friends have broken up, everything's changed, and to add the icing on the cake, I'm Pregnant!"
She whipped off the blanket, causing Dash's jaw to drop.
"I want to know what happened, and you are one of my biggest clues since you were there." She sat up in the bed. "I need the Element of Loyalty by my side again, I need you to believe me. I don't want to force you like we did after Discord got done with you. Took four of us to hold you down, and that was after managing to chase you down..."
The response began with a shrug. "... I was slowed down by a cloud..."
Twilight smirked. "So?"
"Normally you wouldn't have been able to keep up with me."
"Pfft. When you tick off Fluttershy, she can be quite fast." Twilight waved a hoof dismissively before dropping back onto the bed.
"Not when she's pulling a fully laden balloon! Ha! Had I been in my right mind I would've left you all in my dust."
Twilight just smirked. "Oh come on, You had me guiding the balloon."
"You also tied Pinkie and Rarity to me slowing me down even more."
"And Applejack lassoed you."
"Well, she's the only one who could really keep up with me." There was a hint of a smile.
"Sounds like you believe I was there."
Rainbow Dash suddenly fluffed her wings, the smile fading as she looked down at the floor beneath her hooves.
Twilight eyed her friend expectantly.
Eventually, Rainbow looked up. "You... really don't remember?"
"No. The last I remember is Applejack entering the library the day after we got back from my brother's wedding." She wiped her face. "It's like... last week we were all together, having a grand old time, but when I woke up this morning everything is changed." She reached out and tapped the armor. "What happened, Rainbow? Why has my world been turned upside-down?"
A heavy sigh was a response as she sat down beside the bed. "I'm... I'm sorry, Twilight. I just... I'm supposed to be the best, yanno? But I couldn't even keep up with that cheating ghost of our oldest enemy! I couldn't even catch A.J. when she was thrown across the room and through a stone wall, and I'm supposed to be the fastest pony in Equestria!" She stomped a hoof in frustration. "I failed at being the best so I know I'd never make the Wonderbolts." She shook her head again. "So I aimed for something lower, something that would help me fix what's wrong with me." A weak smile was formed. "Your brother was a big help showing me the ropes."
"He practiced all his life to be a Guard, Rainbow. Naturally he'd be a good teacher."
"Yeah, that he was." She fidgeted in her armor. "Still getting used to flying with this on, but I figure, hey, if I can perform awesome moves in full battle plate, think of how fast I'd be without it once my tour is up?" She grinned.
Twilight shot from the bed, pulling Rainbow Dash into a tight hug. "That's the stunt mare I remember!"
It took a moment before the hug was returned. "... It's... it's great to have ya back, Twilight. I'm... I'm sorry..." She pulled from the hug and rubbed her face. "Sorry, something in my eye."
"Those are called tears, Rainbow." Twilight gave a wry smirk. "We're alone, and you know you can trust me with your secrets."
The two enjoyed a laugh.
"We have a lot of catching up to do, Twilight." She plucked her helmet up with her wings, taking a deep breath to settle down. "Guess I better go give your brother the good news." She effortlessly plopped it on her head. "He'll be down with the Princesses and Rarity in the morning."
"Thanks Rainbow." Twilight curled back up on the bed, pulling the covers over herself. "... It's been a long day."
"Get some rest, Twilight." Rainbow Dash smiled from under her helmet. "I failed you once, I'm not going to let you down again."
The lights were out, and Twilight curled up under the blanket. The day had been long, and hard, with shocking revelations and surprise stacked atop surprise.
What was one supposed to do when everything you know has changed?
As she examined the events of the day she realized that she had been acting quite out of character. By now she should be locked up with Pinkie, but here she was, silent, curled up in a hospital bed. And her attitude toward Rainbow... that monologue was definitely not her...
What in Tartarus was going on?
She buried her face in her pillow, forehooves wrapped around her bulging midriff. The Nightmare ghost-spirit-thing-whatever had taken her away from her friends, got her impregnated, and then released her. Why? A plan, no doubt.
Looking toward the door, she decided right then that she had to figure out what it was, and then prevent it. To save her friends, to save her child.
She snuggled under the blankets, closing her eyes to sleep...
... unaware of the faint golden glow to them in the darkness...
The next morning the Princesses had arrived.
Very quickly, the waiting room on the second floor of Ponyville General Hospital was crowded. Royal Guards stood at all the entrances led by Captain Shining Armor and Lieutenant Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy spoke with Nurses, Applejack spoke with Princess Celestia, and in a corner, Rarity spoke with Spike. It was controlled chaos.
"Ahem." Fluttershy stepped away from the Nurses' Station to address everyone. "If I could have your attention... please..."
Everyone looked up at her expectantly.
"As per my initial assessment, Twilight in near perfect health. Stress is her current problem, but that is to be expected after all she has been through. Her foal is also quite healthy... and we are trying to determine breeding - Unicorn, Pegasus, or Earth Pony."
One could hear a pin drop.
"So... it is her?" Spike asked, hope in his voice.
"Yes. It is, Spike." Fluttershy smiled.
"Why now? Why let her go?" Luna asked what was on everypony's mind.
"We don't know. And neither did she." Applejack explained. "She didn't even know a year had passed until I told her."
"Amnesia may be a side-effect of whatever traumatic experience she had." Fluttershy sat before them. "Or it could be the effects of a spell wiping her memory. We're still assessing that." She looked up at Princess Celestia. "With you here, that may be easier."
"To find out what happened to my faithful student, I would be glad to assist in determining what exactly was done to her."
"Thank you, Princess." She glanced at a clock over the Nurses' Station. "She's awake now, but I want her to get something to eat before letting someone see her. She needs to regain her strength, especially for the foal."
"How far along is she?" Rarity asked timidly.
"... near full-term. Ten months."
"Oh dear... " Rarity swallowed.
"An exam was conducted earlier this morning. We've been able to tell that is is quite healthy and there are no complications with the foal so far."
"Captain Armor." Princess Luna addressed Twilight's brother. "Please send a patrol to the edge of the Everfree. See if they could find where she came out of the woods and track back to where she appeared. I want to know as much as possible about what happened."
"... as do I..." He grumbled and turned to relay the orders to a nearby Pegasus guard.
"You are unsure, Sister?" Celestia raised an eyebrow at the frown on her little sister's face.
"Too many coincidences. Too many unanswered questions. It appears too convenient to me that Twilight vanishes for over a year, and just as she is nearing her time to give birth, she is dropped back practically right into our hooves."
"I agree that this is either a plot, or a miracle. However, if possible, I don't want to risk losing her again."
Her gathered friends all voiced their agreement.
In one corner of the room, Rainbow Dash stood. The neutral scowl on her face hid her innermost thoughts, including the memory of what happened over a year ago...
Thirteen Months Ago...
Rainbow Dash, the Weather Pony, stood before the path leading into the Everfree Forest; one that she trod on almost two years ago with a new friend. Standing at her side were Applejack and Twilight Sparkle, wearing saddlebags, all three staring into the dark and creepy forest.
It was only a few moments before Applejack finally spoke up. "Are ya sure about this Twi? I mean, isn't there any other books you can find?"
Twilight sighed and nodded. Ever since her brother's nearly-ruined wedding several days ago, she had been trying to find more information about the Changelings. Who are they? Where did they come from? Were they always like that? These were the questions in her mind, begging to be answered. "I'm sure Applejack. I've looked through 'Magika's Manual of Monsters,' 'Cardignia's Collection of Creatures,' 'Star-swirl the Bearded's Supreme Secrets,' and even 'Dementia's Dictionary of Demons'... remind me to take that last one and get rid of it... no pony should ever read it... I mean... Colthulhu? Gimme a break, but still something about it gave me a nightmare." Twilight shuddered at the last book, it's contents detailing odd and ancient creatures that couldn't possibly still be around, even if they did exist.
Rainbow Dash hovered above the two. "Well, we're wasting daylight the longer we talk here. The sooner we get what you need from the castle ruins, the sooner we can get back. Preferably before dark."
Twilight and Applejack nodded as they stepped off, headed off into the forest. As the sun peeked through the tops of the trees, they soon making it to an all-too familiar cliff. At the top they paused to look around and Twilight swallowed at the close-call she had there. She closed her eyes as her horn glowed, teleporting both her and Applejack to the bottom. Rainbow Dash quickly flew down to rejoin them before once again walking deeper into the forest.
Twilight cleared her throat. "Ahem... thank you again for saving me our first time here. I really appreciate it."
Applejack smiled. "Why it weren't nothin' Twilight."
Another hour passed while traveling through the darkest part of the forest. They soon came across a familiar river. The water was still before an even more familiar purple sea serpent rose out, looking over the ponies with a smile.
"Oh my stars! Why hello there?! If it isn't the friends of the one that helped with my problem all that time ago! Had I known you were coming, I would've made some tea!"
Twilight smiled up at their acquaintance. "It's nice to see you too. You're looking as fabulous as ever, and I see your normal mustache grew back."
The sea serpent nodded. "Oh but of course. I do have the temporary one your friend gave me still in case of an emergency. I do hope she'll come and visit sometime. It's so rare to get visitors this deep into the forest. What brings you all the way out here?"
Twilight smiled. "Well you see, I was hoping that there might still be some books I need at the ancient castle ruins in the forest."
"The ruins of the castle? Oh my, I do hope you don't plan on going there!"
Rainbow Dash flew up before him. "And why not?"
"Well.... for a while now, I've been hearing strange noises coming from it's direction. And some strange lights too. I'm not sure what's going on, but I don't think it's any good. But I suppose you have to go there anyways. Just be sure to be safe and give that white pony friend of yours my regards. Oh! Where are my manners! Please allow me to help you ladies across."
Twilight and Applejack crossed along the serpent's back before giving him a small bow.
"Why thank you very much. And we'll be sure to tell Rarity to come visit you with with some of her latest designs. I'm sure you'll love them.
"You three be safe and visit again soon! Farewell!"
The three exchanged nervous looks. The warning was quite clear. Still, Twilight led the way towards the old castle, soon seeing it in the distance. As they very carefully made their way across the rope bridge, Rainbow Dash swallowed hard at sight of dark clouds surrounding the castle.
Applejack felt uneasy as well. "Twilight? Are ya sure about this? Maybe there's another way?"
Twilight gulped before looking towards her friends. "I'm ... I'm sure. We came all this way, we can't turn back now."
Dash and Applejack nodded, slowly walking into the castle with Twilight, unaware that they were being watched.
Slowly, silently, they made their way to the pedestal where they discovered the Elements of Harmony. Twilight smiled a bit. "This place brings back memories." She shook her head at the uneasy feeling. "Okay, We'll start in the Throne Room."
They quickly climbed to the tower, soon standing before the altar where they defeated Nightmare Moon. "This is as likely a place to start as any. I'll look over here, you girls check the side rooms.
They split up, Twilight walking around the altar to pause, staring at several shell fragments the same color as Princess Luna's coat: The remains of Nightmare Moon.
"... this certainly brings back memories..."
A frightening voice filled Twilight's mind; "It certainly does.... doesn't it Twilight Sparkle?"
Her eyes widened. Twilight thought the voice sounded familiar as she stepped backwards, her horn glowing.
"Who's there? Show yourself?"
"Why Twilight Sparkle. Don't tell me that you do not recognize us? It hasn't been that long since my defeat!"
The shadows and dark fog in the room gathered upon the altar, swirling quickly and taking upon a transparent shape of a dark armored mare, the most distinguishing thing about it were her glowing, almond shaped eyes. The phantom laughed darkly as Twilight took another fear-filled step back.
"Nightmare Moon? But we defeated you!"
"Defeated? Perhaps, but not destroyed, You merely purged me from that pompous princess." It smiled. "And YOU, Twilight Sparkle, I ask to come with me."
"Me? Why would you want me, and why would I ever agree?"
"Because, Twilight Sparkle, your ability with magic is still growing. But even so, you are nearly as powerful as an Alicorn Princess. You could even be as powerful as Starswirl the Bearded was, though it is of no surprise. You are the Element of Magic after all."
"I still don't understand, why me?"
"Why not you? Just think of all the power I could give you! I could show you magic beyond your wildest dreams, knowledge no other pony has considered in over a thousand years!"
"And why offer me this?" The purple mare asked skeptically.
"Because you deserve it! You defeated me! Only one of such as you is worthy of my power!" The shadow creature leaned forward, purring with a strange look. "... my dear... my.... mrrrr Love... Think of all the things I could show you!"
Twilight lowered her horn as it glowed brightly. "... get back! I'm warning you!"
"Do not resist me, my lovely. You have such potential being wasted. I am doing this for you own good!" She took a menacing step forward.
... but she stopped as running hoof steps announced the arrival of Twilight's friends.
"Twilight!" Applejack slid to a halt beside her, dragging her hoof against the ground while Rainbow Dash hovered above the two. Both glared at the specter as the Earth Pony announced; "Ya won't be takin' her without going through us first!"
Rainbow grinned. "And we won't make it easy on you!'
The Nightmare grinned and laughed loudly, her voice booming as it shook the entire castle, sending small stones falling around them. "If that is your wish, but you have no idea what your up against!" She announced in the booming Royal Canterlot Voice.
The phantom charged towards the trio, and they did the same. Twilight's horn sending bolt after bolt of lightning magic towards the cloudy apparition. A tentacle made of cloud swatted the Earth Pony and Pegasus aside before wrapping around Twilight, pulling her up onto the alter where she collapsed, drained of her magic.
"Wha-?" She tried to stand up.
"Hush, my love. You belong to me now, and I will take good care of you!" The phantom hissed in her mind, placing a barrier dome over her, before turning its attention to her friends.
Rainbow Dash zoomed in and started flying quickly around the cloud, starting to form a small rainbow-colored tornado. "How do ya like that?"
"Impressive, but no match for me!" Nightmare spun around in the opposite direction, creating a tornado herself that quickly overtook Dash's, sending her flying backwards against a column. Dash groaned and slid to the floor, her wings twitching and dazed slightly.
At the same time Applejack charged full force as the tornado moved to the side before stopping, grinning at the earth pony.
"You're strong, but your strength won't help you this time!"
"Ah still be able to put a hurtin' on ya!"
Applejack turned to buck a pillar, knocking it down atop of the phantom. The cloudy creature dispersed, letting the stone fall through her before reforming her image. It quickly reached over with shadowy tendrils that wrapped around Applejack's neck, squeezing and lifting the pony eye-level. "My turn..." She gave an angry hiss. The apparition then flung her, sending her skidding along the floor.
Rainbow Dash was back up, zipping back and forth around the creature before skidding in mid-air to deliver a buck right to the chin - it passed straight through. "Wha?!"
"Silly Pegasus." With a flick of mild annoyance, Rainbow was sent right back into the pillar she had been flung against. "To think you could challenge a God?"
Almost immediately, Applejack was right back, taking a shot at the shield, calling out to Twilight, who could only lay there, whimpering in discomfort and possibly a bit of pain.
"Stay away from her! She is MINE!" A flick of her ghostly tail sent Applejack flying towards and through a wall. With a loud crash she was plunged into an adjacent room.
Dash had opened her eyes just in time to see Applejack fly past her. She tried to get up, flying after Applejack, but to her, everything was slowed down.
Another rumble was heard, signalling some more falling stone within. Rainbow Dash managed to stand and looked through the hole. She trembled upon seeing the state of her friend.
Twilight saw all this, and tried to form a spell in her horn, tried to stand up, but whatever spell the Nightmare was using was making her weak, keeping her from thinking clearly. She wanted to get up, wanted to help her friends, but couldn't.
"HOW DARE YOU!" Rainbow Dash shouted.
"Oh, little Pegasus want more? Upset I hurt her mare-friend? You'll be joining her soon enough."
Dash zipped out one window before she crashed through a stained glass window, and out the opposite window, creating a Sonic Rainboom as she passed through the creature. The creature seemed to disperse but quickly reformed before it grabbed Dash by the tail and held her.
"You truly are the fastest pony in Equestria, but apparently not fast enough to save your friend!"
With a loud yell she threw Dash, spinning her head over tail before she impacted the back wall near the hole Applejack's passage had created. Rainbow yelled out at the impact before sliding to the floor, groaning, trying to stand with one of her wings partially extended and unable to fold correctly.
The Nightmare grinned, glaring at Twilight and stepping closer, a shadowy tendril reaching through the bubble and sliding against the pony's cheek.
"Now, Twilight Sparkle..." Her voice returned to the soft coo of a lover. "I do apologize, but your friends present me little choice. I must ask you to come willingly... or I will have to choose one of your friends. I don't want to hurt them, I just want you, my love. But they are unlike you, weaker, less worthy of the gifts I offer. And with those injuries... I am afraid that they would not survive."
Twilight gasped weakly, her eyes opening wide at the threat. She looked towards Rainbow Dash, who slowly, shakily got up onto her hooves.
"Don't do it Twilight! Don't listen to her! It's gotta be a trick!"
Twilight bit her bottom lip as her ears folded back before lowering her head. There was nothing she could do, the bubble sapping her magic, Rainbow and Applejack were badly hurt. There was little choice in the matter. She sighed softly. "I.... I'll go... if it means saving my friends... I'll go with you..."
Dash looked on in shock, tears beginning to well in her eyes. She limped faster toward the bubble as she saw the shadows and mist start to envelop the phantom and Twilight.
Twilight looked back, wiping tears from her own eyes. "I'll find a way home Dash. Take care of our friends for me..."
"No Twilight! We'll find you and bring you back! I promise!"
Rainbow Dash ran forward, trying to fly, trying to close the distance. When her wing moved, she jerked, yelling out at the pain, before running faster. She ran and jumped, but the dome collapsed, and Twilight was whisked away in smoke the color of the midnight sky. There was nothing solid for her to grab onto, and she fell to the ground as the mist dissipated, yelling out curses. She lay there on the floor, crying.
It was several minutes before she shakily rose and made her way into the next room. There she found Applejack, the Earth Pony covered in cuts and bruises, bleeding from the head, a foreleg twisted in an unnatural angle. She winced at this sight as she nuzzled under her friend, slowly lifting the other mare onto her back, carrying her and limping out of the castle slowly.
"Don't worry A.J.... I'll get you some help... and then I'll find Twilight.
She glanced over her shoulder at the castle. "... whatever it takes... I'll find her."
Rainbow Dash came back to the present, feeling a hoof on her shoulder. She turned to see Applejack, no longer beaten bloody, looking at her with a sad expression on her face.
"Ah know that look.... you're rememberin' what happened, aren't ya?"
Rainbow Dash could only nod with a heavy sigh. "A.J..... I'm... I'm sorry... I've been... I've acted like such a..."
Applejack just smiled. "A jerk? Like Gilda?"
Dash could only nod. "Yea... like her... I'm sorry for acting that way..."
Applejack smiled at her friend. "Don't worry about it Dash. We all been through a lot this past year. What matters now is we've got Twilight back, and we're all together again."
Rainbow Dash smiled in return, hearing a quiet voice nearby.
Both looked down the nearby hallway where Fluttershy had emerged from a door, a tray that once held Twilight's breakfast held between her wings.
"She will see you and Spike now."
Dash licked her dry lips. Twilight was found... and she'd be damned if she let her go again.
Fluttershy took the tray that once held breakfast in gentle wings as she stepped out the door and glanced to one side. "She's ready to see you now."
As the familiar voice wafted back the room, Twilight laid back in the hospital bed, eyes closed, wondering what happened with Rarity. Why did she leave Ponyville? Why did she give up?
Perhaps she had given up like everyone else?
It was a possibility.
I will have to correct it. Just like I did all the others.
Yes. Correct it. The voice in the back of her mind was right.
The foal will need aunts to help care for it. Mommy will need stability.
Twilight smiled, a golden twinkle in her eyes. Rarity is the last on her list. It was now time to get answers to those questions.
Just remain calm, control your breathing, and deal with Rarity.
She took a deep breath to settle her heart as the rustle of expensive fabric reached her ears. Twilight opened her eyes - the twinkle was gone - to regard the fashionista who stood in the doorway, staring in disbelief at the pregnant mare on the bed.
"Twilight... I'm told it's really you."
"It is, Rarity." She croaked out. "I'm told everyone thought I was gone, dead, or worse."
"Twilight!" A ball of purple and green scales launched from the folds of Rarity's dress to latch onto the pregnant unicorn and refused to let go.
"Hello, Spike." Twilight hugged the young dragon she had raised she hatched him, and thus quite possibly could be considered her son.
"They spent months looking for you." The white unicorn slowly approached the bed, draped in a saddle dress of silk and lace that perfectly blended with her indigo mane, with a matching cloch hat canted around her horn studded with perfectly shaped jewels that matched her azure eyes. As always, Rarity was perfect, even the smile she had as she watched the two reunited. "Both Princesses. Your brother brought half the Royal Guard, and they used everything to try and find you, darling. They were camped in and around Ponyville for weeks." She dabbed at her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief.
"I know, Rarity."
"Well, I must say you look absolutely dreadful. Whatever that beast did to you, we can easily undo. The Princesses are here waiting to see you and I'm sure they can-"
Twilight cut off her friend with a raised hoof and a glare. "I'm eager to find out, I assure you. It seems that wherever I was imprisoned prevented the Princess from finding me, but that still doesn't explain what happened to my friends. Spike, I know what happened with him." She smiled at him as he blushed, still refusing to let her go. "I'm glad that the Princess took care of you." She glanced up at the white unicorn. "But what I'm worried about right now are my friends."
She sat up in bed, holding Spike almost possessively with one forehoof, another gently rubbing her bulging belly. She counted them off; "Applejack spent time in and out of the hospital, crippled during the fight. Fluttershy was taking care of Pinkie Pie whom had a break with sanity. Rainbow Dash felt bad about her perceived failure to protect me." She eyed the other unicorn. "But what about you? What happened?"
Rarity's mouth worked but no sound emerged.
"Come on, Rarity. You can tell me."
Rarity's lower lip trembled.
She's afraid. Naturally. Give her time.
Twilight eyed her expectantly, but said nothing.
Eventually; "... everything just fell apart after you were taken." Rarity began. "It was... different with you gone. It was like every worst possible thing rolled into one. Jewels just didn't shine properly, I couldn't think of anything to do for my next line, I needed... I needed a change of scenery. To get away. So, I took up one of the offers Fancypants gave me to go to Canterlot. I found I had the time with everything going to Tartarus, so I did." She set her jaw, but the tears came. "I went... and I didn't come back."
The white unicorn took a deep breath, trying to find a way to explain to her friend. "He and his darling wife, Fleur de Leis, gave me a place to stay. Away from Ponyville, I was able to stop thinking about you, and was able to focus on my design work again. Fleur gave me one of her spare rooms to use as a studio and I started there. I managed to secure rights from Princess Celestia to acquire some crystals from that dreadful cave you and Princess Cadence were trapped in, and went to work. Spike lives in the palace again, so he was able to come with me, still my little helper." She gave him a shy smile, forcing him to bring out a normal blush. "Still my little Spikey-Wikey."
"He missed you, you know."
"I know." Twilight hugged him again.
After a moment, Rarity resumed. "After my first commission, I was able to hire workers to reopen the Carousel Boutique and open another store in Canterlot. More dresses, more fancy shows... I dove in with all four hooves together." She frowned. "... and I didn't look back..."
Rarity was also suffering from traumatic stress.
Just like Pinkie Pie.
Twilight nodded thoughtfully. Rarity had been in denial about what had happened. "Working made you forget what happened to me."
Rarity nodded slowly. "Yes. You know that when I work, I really lose myself in it. And surrounded by Canterlot's elite, new orders, new dresses, they came frequently, I just buried myself in my work." She hung her head. "I'm so sorry, Twilight..."
"It's okay, Rarity." Twilight smiled.
Rarity looked up with a pouting face. "... tell me you're real, Twilight... that this isn't some nightmare I'm having that when I wake up I'll realize you're gone... I don't want to lose my friends again..."
Twilight smiled and held out a hoof. The other mare was hesitant to take it, but eventually lifted a forehoof gently to touch it.
Twilight smiled and hooked the leg, pulling Rarity into a tight embrace.
"Oh Twilight!" She sobbed.
"It's okay, Rarity. I forgive you." She nuzzled her friend's neck. "From what I'm told, It's my fault. I should've had more help going into that palace again... And I accept that. Even if I can't remember it..."
"Oh, Darling!" Rarity pulled from the hug and caressed Twilight's cheek. "What did that monster do to you?"
"I don't know... but I hope to find out." She rubbed her pregnant belly. "I need to know why this happened to me."
"Well, I'm sure a mare as smart as you will be a great mother."
"Yeah... perfect. I can already picture myself standing over the changing table with my nose in a book trying to find out how to change a diaper." She snorted.
"Hay! You raised me, didn't you?" Spike spoke up again.
"Yeah... well... I had the Princess to help."
"I say you did a great job!"
Rarity and Twilight exchanged looks, then laughed. "Yeah... I guess you're right, Spike." Twilight hugged him again, giving him a loving nuzzle, and eliciting a groan of embarrassment from him.
"Twi-light! Not in front of Rarity!"
"Sorry, my number one assistant! Apparently I've missed a year plus of hugs and letting you know how much I appreciate you!"
Rarity giggled. "Speaking of which... Twilight, with the girls helping you will be a great mother. And with my talent, even the diapers would be the most fashionable in Equestria!" She nuzzled Twilight again. "I want us all back together now that you're back, so we can all help you with the foal."
Perfect. Just what I wanted.
Twilight stroked her friend's mane. "So do I, Rarity... so do I."
"Oh, just look at me... a Lady isn't supposed to cry like this..." Rarity huffed.
"It's okay, Rarity. With the way she's squeezing me, I don't think she minds." Spike said from where he was wrapped tightly in Twilight's hooves.
The pregnant unicorn had to agree. "It's true. Last night I had Rainbow Dash sobbing on my beside."
Another laugh. "Oh dear, I would have loved to have seen that."
"I promised not to let it out. She's a soldier now and has that stoic demeanor to uphold."
"I understand, darling." She paused. "I'm... still sorry for just... forgetting about you."
"Rarity, everypony thought I was dead. I'm pretty sure that Princess Celestia has commissioned a statue of me for the Royal Garden by now."
"It's true. Due to be unveiled next week." Spike piped up.
Undeterred, Twilight continued. "But I understand. You were hurt, and as you always do, you focus on your work to ignore it."
"Some Element of Generosity I am... so selfish of me..."
"Now don't say that." Twilight stroked one of Rarity's forehooves. "You buried yourself in your element. You wanted to make everyone else happy and look lovely. You gave and you gave, bringing out the beauty in everyone, ignoring your own pain."
Rarity began to cry again. Spike managed to slip from Twilight's grasp to hug the white unicorn.
"Pinkie was the same way." Twilight continued. "When everyone knew I was gone, Pinkie saw you all breaking up, sad and hurt. She wanted you all to smile, and so strongly wanted to believe that I would come back."
"... and we didn't believe her..."
Twilight nodded sadly. "And Fluttershy... her Kindness still flowed. She gave up her animal friends to take care of Pinkie. Rainbow Dash gave up on her dreams to remain loyal to her friends, to protect them. Applejack faced the brutal honesty of her condition and your changed lives."
Rarity looked away.
"Now, perk up. Be the lady I know you to be. I'm back, and we're going to get our friends together and get through this. With you all by my side, we've accomplished so much, and we can do so again. Can you do that for me, Rarity?"
A soft, warm smile appeared like a sunrise. "I promise, Twilight." She fidgeted a moment. "... I wonder how they're paying for Applejack's hospital bills. If Princess Celestia is taking care of them, I'm sure with her handicap they need help with the farm... I should have enough in my Emergency Fund..."
"That's my girl. When you go out there, I want you to hug our friends for me. And send in the Princesses. I have some questions for them too."
The trio embraced again.
"Spike, I need you to take care of Rarity. I want to speak to the Princesses alone."
He looked up at her in surprise.
"Don't worry, Spike. I'm not going anywhere." She gave him a reassuring smile.
As the door closed behind them, Twilight smiled, the golden twinkle returning to her eyes.
Now to deal with the Princesses...
It would be great to curl up right here in bed, fall asleep, and wake up with everything normal. Back in the library, where she would have to wake up Spike, organize her office, organize her lists, check her list of lists, and worry about Rainbow Dash crashing into the library while trying a new aerial stunt.
But that wouldn't happen. It didn't happen last night, and now the Princesses were on their way.
Twilight heard them before they appeared...
Going to have to be careful with them.
That was a no-brainer.
While it would be great to see them again, they might be suspicious of what happened.
Especially Princess Luna...
"It's good to see you again, my faithful student." The soft, motherly voice flowed through the room as Twilight sat up eagerly, a smile on her face.
The large, perfect Alicorn slipped into the room, her fur a soft, pink-tinged white, with a rainbow mane flowing naturally behind her. She was followed by her slightly smaller, and much darker, sister. Rainbow Dash and another Pegasus guard stepped in after them, standing at attention on either side of the door.
But it was the ruler of Equestria that drew all of Twilight's attention. Just looking upon her made many a problem drain away, her entire form emitted calm reassurance. Looking up at those wonderful soft magenta eyes made her want to forget the last 48 hours of this nightmare. That was... until she noticed a sadness to them.
"It's okay, Twilight. I'm just... so glad to see you well."
Twilight slipped from the bed and pressed herself against one of the Alicorn's forelegs, giving a tender nuzzle, receiving a tender nuzzle in turn. "I know, Princess. This last day has just been... Ugh!" She sat and frowned. "One minute I'm home after my brother's wedding, the next... a year has passed and I've been declared dead?" She looked up, from one Princess to the other.
"Applejack told us everything that you told her, Twilight." Celestia replied.
"We searched for months, Twilight, but could find no sign of you." Luna explained softly. "My sister and I tried to trace the spells the entity used, but could not locate them, or you. You had simply... ceased to be."
"How is that possible? I'm here, now, and I can feel this life growing with me."
"That is the mystery." Luna said, unsure.
Twilight nodded. "Another mystery; what was that thing?"
"The Nightmare." Luna said immediately. Quite sure of herself.
Both Twilight and the white Alicorn looked to her in surprise. Even the two guards blinked.
I knew it...
"Sister, are you quite sure?"
"Positive." Luna sat, eying Twilight suspiciously.
Something is wrong...
Twilight stared. Something in Luna's eyes the unicorn didn't like. Something tickled the back of her mind. The confidant feelings keeping her from going into all-out panic since she woke up began to waiver, as they warned her to keep quiet.
"I would be more assured if you could explain you thoughts on this, Sister." Celestia sat as well, watching her sister carefully.
"We were sharing the same body for well over a thousand years." The response came, matter-of-factually. "I know her... I am more than familiar with her thoughts, her presence. I can feel her touch on you, my friend." She eyed Twilight with concern.
Just as I thought. She is suspicious of me...
Twilight slowly nodded in the silence. She finally spoke; "... that would explain why I can't remember... she took my memories of what she did to me."
Celestia nodded slowly. "She obviously knew she would release you back to us. Why, I do not yet know. She didn't want us tracking her to where she hid you."
"... now, I think we should take you and your friends to Canterlot." The Princess glanced at Luna who frowned. "It is most secure there, and the Elements are still stored there. If the Nightmare does reappear, to complete whatever plan she has, it is best to fight on terms of our choosing. Wouldn't you agree, Sister?"
Luna nodded thoughtfully. "... that may be best..." She muttered, almost to herself thoughtfully, as if she didn't completely believe it herself.
"Lieutenant, prepare our carriage to take Twilight back to the castle."
Rainbow Dash saluted smartly before ducking out the door.
"Sister, I must discuss our plans with you." Luna looked up with steeled eyes.
Celestia nodded and excused herself, slipping out the door and dismissing the other guard before following the smaller Alicorn to a vacant part of the hallway.
Something is definitely off... The voice warned.
The back of Twilight's mind had noted each instance that Princess Luna was studying her. While the Night Goddess was always aloof and careful, she was the more analytical of the two Royal Pony Sisters. They had become friends the Nightmare Night before Twilight had been abducted, but this was way off. She was near borderline hostile and untrusting this time.
Must find out more.
Twilight quickly selected a spell and her horn glowed softly. Her hooves made not a sound with the noise-cancelling spell placed on them, allowing her to move silently up to the door and cracked it, peering toward the two. An ear flick, and another spell, and she was able to eavesdrop on them effortlessly.
Celestia was speaking with the stern voice she used on Twilight when teaching her all those years ago. "... I do not understand your concern." She was frowning at her little sister.
"I am aware, but I had the sense of her passing while searching the castle a year ago. It was definitely faded, but there."
"Dark magic of that kind would not have gone unnoticed, Sister, even to me."
"I still don't want to take the risk of bringing Twilight within our defenses."
"Why? That is what I want to know."
"Because I know perhaps the best what Nightmare Moon was capable of. She is a planner, a strategist, thinking many moves ahead. Only your unexpected ploy of using your Student allowed her downfall. But I know her, Sister..." Luna scowled dangerously. "... and I can tell you that she is up to something. She released Twilight, fully knowing that we would snatch her up to protect her."
"That sounds like paranoia to me."
"You said you'd pay closer attention, especially after what Queen Chrysalis pulled."
The white Alicorn glared. "I thought we agreed not to bring that up..."
Luna placed an apologetic hoof on her older sister's shoulder. "Sister... Let me be blunt. I can sense, right now, not only her touch, but her presence, in that room." Luna stared her sister in the eye, inclining her horn toward Twilight's door - the eavesdropping unicorn flinched in reflex.
Celestia's eyes, contrary to the narrow, accusing eyes of the Night Goddess, went wide.
At the same time, a lump quickly formed in Twilight's throat, and a sickness in her womb.
"... you can...?"
"Yes, dear sister... I can sense Nightmare Moon within Twilight Sparkle..."
Twilight swallowed hard.
The voice in the back of her mind cursed.
Twilight Sparkle paced in her room on the verge of panic.
Need to remain calm. This situation can be saved.
The small voice in the back of her mind urged her to control her breathing, analyze the situation, and consider possible responses. Thus, she did. The small voice hasn't steered her wrong yet.
Think, Twilight. Item One: The Princess Luna was suspicious of me, and rightfully so - I had been imprisoned by the Nightmare for over a year. Item Two: It was apparent that the Princess believes me to be possessed by the Nightmare, who wanted me pregnant for some reason. Item Three: Princess Luna has a very nasty history with the Nightmare... who may try to get revenge.
She paused in mid-pacing. It was clear, now that she thought about it; Twilight needed to escape.
That's right. Need to protect the foal.
Must protect the Foal.
The familiar voice purred in the back of her mind again. It was true. She needed to protect her child from the Nightmare, and possibly the Princesses.
Her eyes were tinged with gold as she reached out to a button beside the bed, pressing it. Within a minute, Fluttershy entered the room.
"Fluttershy..." She licked her lips nervously. "We have a problem. Princess Luna thinks that the Nightmare may have done more to me... I think she might try to harm the foal."
"Are you sure?" Fluttershy gasped.
Twilight went on to explain what she overheard, and her fears. The Pegasus doctor listened intently, a worried look slowly forming.
"Are you really sure, Twilight? You did always have a problem with overreacting to things involving the Princess..." She was obviously recalling the incident with Philomena.
"I'm sure, Fluttershy. I need to find out for myself. I need my friends."
She needs convincing. She is my friend. She will help.
Twilight walked forward, putting her hooves on Fluttershy's shoulders. "I need you, Fluttershy. I need your help. I need it to sneak out of here, and to the Library. I think there are some books there I could find some spells in that would help me find out what the Nightmare did to me."
The butter-coated Pegasus frowned. "Dash has this place crawling with guards, even more now that your brother has arrived."
A nod. "Yes, and they're not going to risk letting you out of their sight again."
"Could Rainbow help?"
"... I dunno... we could try and ask her?"
Twilight considered the risks.
There is no real other choice.
Twilight agreed. "Do it."
The Pegasus nodded and quietly slipped out of the room.
Twilight, meanwhile, needed to prepare. She ripped off the hospital gown and looked out the window. Sure enough there were guards patrolling around the hospital. With so many important ponies in one spot it was only natural, Shiny always did take his job seriously.
He might be a problem.
He is also very protective of family, and that includes me.
The door opened, and Dash entered, her helmet tucked under a wing.
"'shy says you need to talk to me?"
Twilight turned from the window and frowned. "Rainbow, I need your help. The Princesses are suspicious of me, but the Nightmare is obviously up to something and I need to find out what it is. So I need to slip out of here. To do that, I need your help."
The blue Pegasus frowned. "You want me to help you escape?"
"Yes." She looked her friend in the eye.
"Twilight, you do realize what you're asking me."
"I do. And I wouldn't ask this unless it was very important. You could accompany me, to say that I was under guard the whole time. But I need to do this, I need to find out what was done to me." She stomped the floor with a forehoof. "You heard Princess Celestia... she wants to take me to Canterlot and lock me away in the hopes that the Nightmare will come to me, but Princess Luna thinks otherwise."
Dash closed her eyes. "If it wasn't anypony else... I'd doubt you." She opened them, a smirk on her face. "... but you're the egghead here. I'll do it."
Five minutes later Rainbow Dash emerged from a bottom floor stairwell and glanced around. Just as she'd timed it, the guards had moved on to check other areas. She waved a hoof, and Fluttershy and Twilight - both in doctor's coats - emerged.
They turned toward the back door - and were immediately stopped by a clearing throat.
"Going somewhere, Lieutenant?"
All three mares slowly turned around to regard a Royal Guard officer with a wry smirk on his face.
"Shiny..." Twilight swallowed hard.
"Twilie..." His eyes darted from Fluttershy and her ashamed face, to Rainbow Dash who swallowed and stood at attention.
The purple unicorn cleared her throat. "I know what this looks like... but we're not going to get any answers with me locked up in Canterlot. I'm going to find out. For myself, for my friends, and for your niece or nephew..."
There was silence as Shining Armor glared at his sister for a few moments.
Twilight swallowed hard again.
Flash to blind him, followed by a triple-teleport. Should be a clear area behind the wall five meters to the back-left... The voice began plotting the spells to be used to escape. However, just as she was ready to begin the sequence of spells, her brother spoke.
"Lieutenant, Whitewing is on the back door. Best ask him to check the west side real quick while you 'cover' for him." He grinned. "That should give you time you need."
All three mares released the breaths they had been holding.
Twilight stepped forward and hugged her brother. "Thank you, B.B.B.F.F."
He hugged back. "I know, Sis. Just... take care of yourself, okay? You owe me, Cadence, and our parents a visit after all this is over."
She gave him a nuzzle before following Fluttershy and Rainbow dash toward the back door.
"No... No... No..." Twilight tossed book after book from the shelves, looking for one in particular. It seems that the new Librarian had re-arranged everything since she took over. With Spike still at the hospital, she had to sort on her own.
Fluttershy flitted from bookshelf to bookshelf, trying to help, but didn't know much about a library's organization and thus wasn't much use. Rainbow Dash may have been faster, but she was watching the door after making up an excuse to kick the Librarian out. She had said something about 'Official Guard Business' and the place was theirs for the moment.
So glad she was brought along...
Twilight agreed, as she sorted through a section, finding the old book on the Elements of Harmony. "Finally!"
Really shouldn't be here, this is taking too long, and it would probably be better to hoof it out of town. The Princesses will learn sooner or later.
Quiet, voice, I need to figure this out... this talking to oneself is really getting out of hand...
Well, I am the one whom was tortured by a ghost for over a year.
"How much longer, Twilight?" Rainbow asked while peering out a window by the front door.
"I don't know... research like this can't be qualified into a specific timeframe." She flipped through the book with her magic. "I don't know what was done to me, much less how to fix it..."
"Um... maybe we should just head back. Grab a few likely books to read back at the hospital where nopony would get suspicious?" Fluttershy hovered before the stressed-out unicorn.
"No, Fluttershy. As much as I appreciate your help in this, I need to know. If not for my sake, then for my foal. If you want, you two can head back."
"No. No way." Rainbow turned from the window a dark scowl on her face. "I left you alone once, I'm not going to do it again."
Loyal and Stubborn. A useful trait in a minion.
Twilight looked up at Rainbow with a frown. Now where in Tarterus did that come from???
Rainbow glanced back out the window and started. "Uh-oh... Looks like Princess Luna figured us out. She's heading up the main street with what looks like all of fourth squadron. E.T.A. is about 30 seconds, Twilight."
Fluttershy watched Twilight rush from bookshelf to bookshelf. "Calm down, Twilight. Panicking won't be good for you or the foal..."
Need to run. Get away before the Princess decides letting the foal live is too dangerous.
But she's my friend!
To her, Twilight Sparkle is no more... dead, remember?
"TWILIGHT SPARKLE! WE KNOW THOU ART IN THERE! COME OUT PEACEFULLY! The Royal Canterlot Voice shook the library gently.
"I'll try and stall her." Fluttershy swallowed hard. "I'm your doctor, and should know best."
"Good luck, 'shy." Rainbow smiled.
Twilight, ground her teeth together. They were her friends, trying to protect her. But the voice kept going on about how she should run. She can't abandon her friends, not after just getting them back together!
They would do it for you, and your unborn. The voice insisted. In fact, they are doing it now. Offering up themselves to protect you, their friend.
Twilight tried to find a retort as she looked out a window. Fluttershy sat outside before the Princess while talking to her as the guards spread out, surrounding the treehouse library.
"Twilight!" Rainbow looked back, worried as her friend hasn't moved in over a minute. "Any ideas, egghead?"
Trust in me, you are a powerful unicorn, and could easily fend off the Princess if it comes to a fight. You have the element of surprise, and the backing of good friends.
Fight Princess Luna? That's insane!
But it might be the only chance to protect the foal.
Protect the Foal... the thought echoed through her head again like the tolling of a bell.
"Twilight? Why are your eyes changing color?" Rainbow fluffed her wings out, a worried look on her face.
Before she could respond, the door opened and Fluttershy walked in, a worried look on her face. "Princess Luna wants to run a simple spell, to check your foal, Twilight..."
The foal... must protect the foal...
Protect the foal...
Twilight shook her head to clear the seemingly random thoughts. She sneered, a dark look coming over her face. "Yeah, right. She wants to take my foal from me."
"Twilight, that's not true. She's worried about you and wants to check something real quick." Fluttershy insisted.
It's a lie. Too obvious, isn't it?
"She's lying. She wants to kill my unborn foal." Twilight glowered.
"Twilight?" Both Pegasus mares blinked in shock.
"I know her game. She thinks I'm 'tainted' or something, and that the foal is the source of the taint. So, she plans on killing my unborn. Well... I'm not going to let her..." Anger built up in her heart.
"Twilight, we would never let her harm the foal. Just let her run the simple spell and we'll be done." Fluttershy insisted.
Protect the Foal.
"Protect the Foal." Twilight muttered softly, then shook her head. "I don't believe her."
"Twilight..." Rainbow looked on, worried.
Time to leave.
Twilight took the book and shoved it into a saddlebag. "I'm not letting her near me or my foal."
"She's not going to just let you walk away." Fluttershy glanced out the window then back at the glowering unicorn.
Then go right through her.
"Then I'm going right through her." Twilight smirked.
Rainbow Dash saw the gold in Twilight's eyes intensify; "Fluttershy! Her eyes!" She backed toward the door.
"What... what is going on!" The butter coated Pegasus backpedaled in surprise.
"Th... that's not Twilight!" Rainbow Dash yelped in panic, reality crashing down around her. She snapped Fluttershy's tail in her mouth, yanking her friend out the door.
Twilight didn't notice, nor care, as she stood in the middle of the library. She had spotted through the half-open door the dark Alicorn who stood between her and her foal, glaring right back.
This is it. Trust me. Relax. This is the only way to protect your friends. Your foal.
A soft golden glow in her eyes stared ahead as the Nightmare's spell took hold. With her magic, she shoved the half-open door off it's hinges and stormed out to confront her adversary.
"Rainbow! What's going on!" Fluttershy whimpered as she was handed off to two guards who pushed her behind them protectively.
"Twilight Sparkle has been possessed by the Nightmare." Luna responded flatly, assuming a fighting stance. As one. the guards flanking her did so as well. Rainbow Dash took her place in the line to Luna's right, conflicted at the thought she now had to fight the friend she just got back.
The unicorn in question just grinned. Shows what they know.
Foalish! They do not know that possession isn't involved! You are doing this to protect your foal.
The thoughts came unbidden: I am doing this on my own. To protect my unborn foal from this ignorance.
You are a good mother.
"I am a good mother."
Protect the foal.
"Protect the Foal." Without thinking she whispered the mental commands in response. Her coat and mane darkened as she embraced the voice. Her pupils narrowed ever so slightly, the violet in her eyes now totally consumed by the gold, as magic began to swirl around her.
The guards pawed the ground nervously as the darkness swirled around the unicorn. Both Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy glanced nervously up at Princess Luna who just stared, confronted once again with the living manifestation of her nightmare.
The transformed unicorn stared right back. Twilight was curled up in the back of her mind, whimpering, wanting all this craziness to end.
It is okay, my love. I will care for you. I will make it better. All you have to do is obey.
Yes. You will kill to protect your foal.
Once again, at least in Twilight's tortured mind, the voice made perfect sense.
It was a perfectly logical conclusion.
Princess Luna was threatening her unborn, and was thus a threat. Sometimes one needed to eliminate those threats with means that one could barely stomach.
Thus, Twilight started by tearing apart a nearby building and forming the pieces into very large and very sharp sticks to try skewering the Night Princess. Things were somewhat in her favor by it being near the middle of the day and the voice in her head telling her what to do, guiding her every spell and movement.
Lightning Spells, even an Earthquake Spell were thrown into the mix as the two dueled in the middle of Ponyville. Guards were evacuating everypony, but Twilight didn't notice. All her attention was focused on her former friend who stood her ground with an angry glare.
"BEGONE FROM THIS WORLD, NIGHTMARE! YOU HAVE NO MORE CLAIM TO IT!"
Twilight sneered. "Your short-sightedness shames you, Princess... The only nightmare is the one whom would take an unborn foal from its mother!" She then dropped a house on the Princess...
The younger Alicorn smashed her way out the front door with a roar of anger, advancing on Twilight with ball lightning striking the unicorn's shield.
"THIS IS FAR FROM OVER BETWEEN US, NIGHTMARE! RELEASE TWILIGHT THIS INSTANCE!"
"It hasn't occurred to you, has it? That I do this willingly?!"
"Twilight! That's Treason!" Rainbow Dash shouted from one side.
"It's self-preservation!" Twilight fired back - along with a lightning bolt pulled from a nearby cloud. She sneered, hitting Luna's shield again and again, storming forward.
You are a good mother.
"... I am a good mother..."
Protect the Foal.
"...Protect the Foal..."
The voice soothed her soul, at the same time guiding her body and her magic to try tearing Princess Luna limb from limb, to protect her friends, protect her foal. It was strangely calming to just give in to the voice, the programming flowing through her mind. The soft chant she breathed didn't go unnoticed, however.
Thrown into a bush by the exchange of magic, Fluttershy poked her head up and blinked. She had heard those words before from Twilight... in the exact same tone. She watched her repeat that mantra again.
Now Fluttershy isn't the most brilliant of Pegasus in Ponyville. She never even completed flight school due to her weak wings, but her mind is quite sharp due to assertiveness training well over a year ago. Thus, she was more than able to finish her doctorate in record time. She was also able to catch on quite easily to what the repeated words meant; "Rainbow! That is Twilight!"
"What the hay you talking about, 'shy?! The bucking Nightmare has possessed her!" The guard lieutenant landed at her side to help her from the bush.
"It is! I've been listening to her mutter. She's repeating some sort of mental programming. I think that she's been brainwashed, and is following her programming to protect her foal!"
"So how do we snap her out of it?"
"Go get Shining Armor! Have him bring the rest of our friends here!" Fluttershy flitted up and headed right toward Twilight.
The Alicorn was tough, that was rather obvious, but her shield was weakening.
Yes! Keep on her! Punish her for threatening your foal!
"Protect the Foal..." Twilight muttered obediently.
"Don't do it!"
Twilight wheeled on Fluttershy who hovered beside her. "And why not?"
"This isn't you, Twilight! She isn't the threat!"
Of course she's a threat! She thinks you're possessed!
"Of course she is, Fluttershy! She thinks I'm being possessed and thus wants to take away my foal!"
"No, she doesn't, Twilight. The Nightmare does. Remember? 'She's planning something'!" The butter-coated Pegasus pleaded.
Then she's relapsed...
"Then she's relapsed..." Twilight turned on Luna again, ignoring the Pegasus in favor of the calming voice.
"You know that isn't true, Twilight." Princess Celestia struck the ground, shielding her weakened sister from Twilight's wrath. "Listen to your friends." She turned to indicate the group of ponies running up to them.
Applejack slid off Shining Armor's back. "We're here for ya, Twi..." She limped forward.
"Yeah, Twilight! You still have to attend my party!" Pinkie trotted on the farmpony's left.
"Indeed, darling... I ran out once, I'm not doing it again!" Rarity had discarded her dress for speed, and advanced steadily on AJ's right, Spike riding on her back with a worried look on his face.
Landing on either side of the now-confused Unicorn, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash voiced their agreement.
"No... no! You're confusing me!"
Protect the Foal. The voice insisted. She has to be born!
"I have... I have to protect my foal!" She glared at them.
"We're not stopping you, Twilight." Applejack stood her ground. "We just want you back."
Twilight looked upon each of her friends in turn. They stared right back, not with expressions of fear or hatred, but of concern.
They've turned on you! They have to be stopped!
Twilight looked at the ground in front of her. She started to retort, but something caught her attention. Waitaminute... Turned on 'me'? You're supposed to be 'me'...
The voice didn't respond.
They were right. She scowled. You are not a part of me... she was right! The Nightmare!
You are a good mother. The voice whispered angrily.
"I am a..." She started to mutter obediently, but set her jaw. "NO!" She shook her head, causing the Princesses and her friends to step back.
You are a good mother.
"I..." She dropped to the ground, clutching her head. "Stop! It!" She hissed.
"You can do it, Twilight!" Fluttershy said from beside her.
"Yeah! Teach that Nightmare who's the boss!" Dash grinned.
Spike silently walked forward and placed a clawed hand on one of her forelegs.
OBEY ME! I'm doing this for your own good! The voice insisted. I love you... We made a child together... The reward you were denied your whole life by Celestia...
"We're right here, Twilight. We're all here, and we're not leaving you." Pinkie Pie's soft voice came from ahead of her.
Protect the Foal!
"Pro-" Twilight cut herself off, struggling to resist.
Memories flowed. She remembered the fight in the old castle ruins, seeing Applejack laying on the floor, broken. Rainbow limping, calling out to her.
She remembered the Nightmare, the promises made. Flashes of disjointed memories shot past, of her imprisonment.
You are a good mother.
"I..." She set her jaw.
Protect the foal.
"P-" Her mouth opened obediently, but she forced it shut. She instead forced her eyes open. All her friends were right here. Beside her. Supporting her. Even her adopted son, Spike...
She looked right at Spike. Then it clicked. She smiled. "Heh... that I can agree with..." Twilight closed her eyes and reached deep into herself. Not toward the Nightmare, not toward the Princesses, but to something else. Something she rarely touched upon, but was definitely there. Her horn began to glow.
Wait... what is going on? You can't have shed a year's worth of brainwashing that quick! The voice sounded worried. You have to fight the Princesses!
In a sealed magical vault many miles away and up a mountainside, inside an enchanted chest, a crown began to glow. Then, in rapid sequence, several ornate necklaces placed around it began to glow as well.
What are you doing? The voice insisted.
She tilted her head and called to them. Her friends began to shift uneasily, feeling the same source inside them being called to.
You wouldn't... You can't!
Twilight smiled. She summoned the magic that connected her to her friends.
This is impossible!
"You are urging me to protect my child..." Twilight whispered. "... my foal. Well, I am. I'm protecting her... from you!"
She reached into herself, and found the Nightmare. As she grasped hold of the taint, more memories flooded her mind, nearly making her lose contact with the spell. The creature was residing in her unborn, waiting to be brought into the world in a new body. The lies, the brainwashing, the rape... it was all there. A year's worth of memories cluttered together, stolen from her. They were still unclear, but that could wait for later. She had more important things to do, so she shut it out and focused on the Nightmare, on pulling her from her foal.
The mist lifted off Twilight's prone form, the changes wrought by the Nightmare's spell being peeled away to form the dark mare shape which suddenly dropped to the ground in their midst.
With the Nightmare away from her child, Twilight closed her eyes and completed her spell. The Elements of Harmony answered and came to her and her friends. The ornate jewelry flashed into existence on them to their shouts of agreement.
Twilight Sparkle stood shakily to her feet, glaring at the Nightmare. "This ends... now..."
The mist rose up. "YOU FORGET, TWILIGHT! YOU GAVE YOURSELF TO ME! MIND, BODY, AND SOUL!" The dark mare took a threatening step forward. YOU FORGET YOUR SACRIFICE?
"... no, I didn't..." Twilight muttered, but stood her ground amid her friends.
"You underestimated us!" Applejack snapped in reply.
"Yeah! You forgot about us!" Pinkie shouted.
"We came right back when we heard about Twilight." Rarity sneered in anger.
"We're her friends." Fluttershy put in with a brave face.
"And we don't abandon our friends!" Rainbow Dash fluffed her wings angrily.
The Nightmare stepped back only to be stopped by a magic shield erected by the Princesses who stood back and out of the way.
"You forgot the lesson we taught you during our first encounter." Twilight stepped through her friends, confronting the creature that raped her body and her mind. "You may have tore me apart... left me a broken mare... but I remembered the lesson: Friendship is Magic..." She smiled at her friends, who smiled back. She then looked back at the Nightmare, her eyes shifting to solid white, glowing, orbs, along with those of all her friends.
Pinkie actually managed to grin and waved; "Bye-Bye..."
The Nightmare only had enough time to scream in frustration before the Elements of Harmony literally drop-kicked her back to the Moon.
It was the first indication that Twilight Sparkle had awakened. But unlike a couple of days ago, it wasn't dirt that caused it, it was simply the musty scent of the pillow her head was laying on.
After remembering what she had last done, she decided that she didn't want to wake up, and thus kept her eyes closed. She had attacked her friend. Not just any friend, but a Princess. The weight in her belly, however, refused to let her go back to sleep and moved, causing a soft whimper to escape from her throat.
"I think she's waking up." Came a familiar voice before her. A hoof was placed one of her own. "Come on, Twahlight. We're here for ya, Sugarcube."
"Mmeh dun wanna..." She whimpered in response. "... hurt ponies..."
"Now, now... there's no need for that." Applejack gently caressed her cheek. "It was that darn-blasted Nightmare who stole you, brainwashed you, and unleashed you back on the world."
At that, she opened her eyes. Applejack was at her bedside, smiling down at her with warm reassurance. She was surrounded by friends and family whom rested on chairs, couches, even a few other beds brought in by the hospital staff. All were glad to have Twilight back.
She blushed. "... I'm sorry..." And buried her face back into the pillow.
Spike's arms went around her neck. "It's okay, Twilight. It wasn't you. The Nightmare forced you to do it."
"I'm still lost." Pinkie piped up from Twilight's other side. "Why did she?"
Twilight hugged Spike back. "I'm... starting to remember. She wanted a new body, and for her, only the best would suffice. But even if she managed to manifest in the world again, the Elements of Harmony would defeat her, so she decided to deal with both problems at once." She explained. "I'm the Element of Magic, a powerful unicorn in my own right, and she figured if she could make me into a perfect mother for her new body, not only would I be taken out of the equation, I would actively defend her if she kept me from realizing what she was." She nuzzled Spike lovingly. "The memories are still foggy, though... but I think the Nightmare was thinking that if I was protecting her, she'd be safe from outright attacks by you."
"It would have worked had I not provoked you by triggering your conditioning early." Princess Luna looked up, seeming no worse for wear considering their fight. "Again, it was the Nightmare who brought this upon us, not you. I do not blame you for what happened between us, my friend." She gave Twilight a reassuring smile.
Twilight nodded. "Thank you, Princess..." She whispered in response.
"But who's the father?" Rainbow Dash just had to ask the million-bit question.
"I... I don't know." Twilight frowned. "One would suspect it would be Nightmare using magic to create the perfect body for herself, but... I wouldn't put it past her to go to the other extreme of abducting a Stallion or even making one." She rubbed her belly nervously. "I was imprisoned for over a year... wherever she hid me... " She squeezed her eyes shut in visible pain, causing a look of concern from Applejack. "I simply don't know, or can't remember."
Twilight didn't want to yet admit that she remembered some of it. She couldn't see who - or what - mounted her, but she could remember that it happened. She could just barely remember being taken against her will, the Nightmare's voice in her mind, controlling her body, causing her to do things that she didn't want to do. Perhaps her subconscious didn't want to remember not because of the brainwashing, but because of the mental trauma.
The big question now was did the Nightmare do the deed herself? Did she have a proxy? Or was there another prisoner, hoof-picked by the Nightmare for special qualities she sought in her new body?
After a few moments of nervous quiet, Rarity cleared her throat; "What of the foal now?"
"Perfectly normal as far as we can tell." Fluttershy answered with a warm smile. "The magic that the Nightmare used to help conceive it was enough to create it, but once she was gone..." She shrugged.
"I'm glad he or she won't have that hanging over their head." Twilight gave a weak smile. "But what then? Where will I go?" She turned her gaze to the Princess of the Sun who gave a warm smile back.
"I can think of a few things..."
And so it was. The mess from the fight took a week to clean up. Twilight didn't get to see any of it, however, consigned to the hospital for observation and how close her time was. For the pregnant unicorn in question it couldn't come soon enough. Celestia's solution was as kind as Twilight had come to expect from her lifelong mentor.
Twilight would live on the farm with Applejack, with Pinkie Pie to help care for the newborn. Rainbow Dash would be transferred to Ponyville with Spike and a small detachment of Royal Guard to watch over them. And of course, Rarity insisted on paying for everything, in addition to her new 'Home Office' located next to the Carousel Boutique. Eventually, Twilight would be able to resume her life once the foal was old enough and Fluttershy had decided that she had sufficiently recovered from her imprisonment. For the moment, however, they were together again and that was all that mattered. That was all that was important as far as Twilight was concerned.
Twilight opened her eyes a month after her return to find Applejack sitting at her bedside. "Mmm?"
"Oh. Sorry, darlin'. Didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't." Twilight yawned. "What are you doing here? I thought you had a farm to run?"
The farmpony just smirked. "That's the good thing that came from all this." She tapped her bad leg on the tile floor. "I can set my own hours."
"Been meaning to ask... I recall that it took both you and your brother to do all the bucking. How can he do it all himself?"
"Friends." Applejack continued to smile. "When I was in the hospital, A.B. stepped up to the plate. Just like I did when I was a youngin' when our parents died." She gave a weak smile at the memory. "She's not yet strong, but she helped where she could. Princess Luna even managed to cover most of my hospital bills." She chuckled. "Something about me being injured 'during combat operations against an enemy of Equestria' or some fancy-schmancy law to that effect."
Twilight chuckled as well.
"We used the extra bits we saved to hire part-time field hands during applebuck season." Applejack finished, reaching out to caress her friend. "Could save that up next season now, with me running the books and Pinkie Pie helping in the kitchen. Big Mac could now focus on the bucking, and Spike and Rainbow will probably be spending most of their time over anyway."
Twilight smiled and nodded. However, she noticed something odd about the look she was getting from the orange mare.
"It's good to have you back, sugarcube."
She placed a hoof on A.J.'s. "It's okay, A.J." She suddenly winced at a strange tightening in her belly.
"I..." She began to pant. "... that's new..." She chuckled weakly and rubbed her belly. "... I think it's time..."
"I'll be right here with ya, Twilight." She turned and called for Fluttershy.
Twilight awoke to remember intense pain and a pounding headache. They were gone, however, now replaced by a warm, gentle sensation pressed against the outside of her belly and pulling gently on her teats.
One eye opened, then another. She was not alone in her hospital room; Applejack had indeed never left, but was asleep on a nearby chair.
Curious as to why the feeling had moved from inside her to outside, she magically lifted the blanket and looked... then she then remembered. The sight that greeted her made all the pain, all the embarrassment, all the feelings of confusion and helplessness over the last month vanish:
A small, amazingly cute, unicorn filly was happily nursing from her mother!
Her coat was dark blue with a soft silver tint to it. Her mane was a lighter silver with a very familiar violet streak through it. When Twilight nosed her gently, the filly looked up with brilliant ice blue eyes and a happy squeak before clinging to her mother and nuzzling in turn.
Twilight's heart melted. "I love you too, my little moon..." She purred and nuzzled her filly.
"... my Moonlight Sparkle..."
"Come on, little one!" Twilight smiled as Moonlight nosed at the front steps to the Apple Farmstead, exploring this new, big, wondrous world around her. Satisfied that the steps were not a threat, she stepped aside the two full-grown mares, only to giggle when she was snatched up in the magenta magic of her mother.
"Place is already set for ya, hun." Applejack limped through the front door, showing her new house guest inside, guiding her to the room she'd be sharing with Pinkie Pie.
"I really appreciate this, Applejack." Twilight smiled, setting her daughter on her back and following.
"Twahlight, ya know me. I'm as honest as the day is long, and I will tell ya honestly, that raising a foal is serious business. Ahm just lucky I had Granny Smith helpin' me an' Big Mac in raising A.B." She smiled and poked her friend with her leg brace. "Heh. An' dun' think me yet. While yer' recoverin' and taking care of tha little one, Pinkie and Spike will be earnin' their keep with the cookin' and cleanin' so I can focus on balancing the books."
Twilight just smiled. "I will then honestly say it's good to hear you talk like you used to." Twilight fired back.
"Heh." Applejack showed the unicorn mare into her room. "So ahm I."
"Hamoah!" Applebloom smiled in greeting, putting the finishing touches on her old crib that she had just reassembled before spitting the screwdriver in her mouth perfectly into it's holster on her tool belt. "All finished, A.J.! I got your bed right there beside it, Twilight, Pinkie's on the far wall, and all the stuff Fluttershy brought over in that trunk there. Diapers, formula, etc." She pointed out the details of the newly remodeled guest room.
"Thanks, Applebloom." She rubbed the filly's head.
"No problem." She grinned. "With Rarity moving back, I wonder if Sweetie Belle will be moving back too. Me an' Scoots sure missed her."
"A distinct possibility, or so Rares' says." Applejack took her turn to ruffle her little sister's mane. "Their parents are always off doing their own thing, it's no wonder that Sweetie was always stayin' over."
"Squeak!" Came from Twilight's back.
"Aww! Isn' she just adorable!" Applebloom looked up at the little filly who leaned over to sniff the new (to her, anyway) pony.
"This is my little moon, Applebloom." Twilight introduced her daughter. "Her name is Moonlight."
"She does look like moonlight."
Twilight nuzzled her daughter who gave a cute squeak again and hugged her mommy's muzzle before giving a cute yawn.
"Time for bed, eh? We'll let ya get settled, sugarcube." Applejack smiled, dropping Twilight's saddlebags by the door before ushering her sister out of the room.
"Yes, it is... " Twilight levitated the sleepy filly from her back and into the crib before tucking her in. "Tomorrow begins the rest of our lives." She smiled.
An hour later, Applejack chuckled to herself as she sauntered back through the upstairs hallway of the house she had lived in nearly all her life.
It was good to have Twilight back. Although it was apparent that things would never be the same - she would never buck apples again, and Twilight would never be the nerdy bookworm that spent most of her nights up late and studying - they were back together.
She opened the door to what used to be the guest room and peeked inside, smiling at the sight. Twilight was curled up on a rug beside the crib. Inside, Moonlight was wide awake again, peering down at her mother, then up at Applejack.
"Heh... best get some sleep, kiddo. We're all gonna need it."
Moonlight smiled and curled up in the blankets, closing her soft eyes to join her mother in peaceful sleep.
The Nightmare was angry.
Not only had she failed in getting Twilight to fool the Princesses into protecting her and her new body, but the stupid unicorn had actually managed to break her mental conditioning!
The blast from those accursed Elements of Harmony hurt!
She limped along through her prison on the Moon. It was castle brought forth from the sands of the lunar surface that once housed the corrupted Princess Luna, better known to the ponies of Equestria as Nightmare Moon. Over a thousand years ago, it had been based on the design of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters that was now in ruins in the Everfree Forest, and decorated with the obvious silver and blacks of the moon queen in question.
As she stormed aimlessly through her new prison, a laugh from a side door caught her attention.
She turned and used a ghost-like tendril to open it. Inside, hidden in shadow, a pony was shackled to a wall, reclining on a plush bed.
"What are you laughing at, Foal?" She demanded of the figure.
"Oh, nothing as usual... my Queen..." A male voice responded, heavy with sarcasm.
She scoffed at him, glaring with hate-filled golden eyes.
"What? I didn't expect to see you again. You know, 'getting a whole new body' and 'getting my revenge on that little princess and her friends' and all that stuff." He chuckled. "And here I thought you intended to leave me here."
"I did. There were... complications..." She hissed in pain.
He could only smile. "Well now... seems that 'my chosen' was too much for you, eh?"
"Silence this insolence!" She hissed and slapped him across the face with a forehoof.
He recoiled, the chain leashing him to the bed clattering as he fell back against it. He wasn't surprised, however. He'd gotten used to this long ago. He merely spat a bit of blood to one side and grinned.
"Oh my... I expected better from you, Queeny. Seems she did manage to break free of the brainwashing?"
That earned him another backhoof.
Once again, he chuckled weakly. "Come now, you should have expected it. You brainwashed her, you forced her on me..." He grinned. "How does the foal look? A pretty filly like you wanted?"
Instead of crying in pain, he merely laughed as the Nightmare proceeded to take out her frustration on him. For her, it was appropriate relief considering her failure, and his always snarky attitude toward her. It did make her feel somewhat better when she punished him, which was quite often. It was hard enough keeping Twilight Sparkle firmly under her mental control, let alone him.
She eventually left to rest, grumbling to herself that this wasn't over.
She would get her body back, and maybe even that upstart Bearer of the Element of Magic!
On the bed, the shadowy figure wiped a busted lip on a forehoof and grinned. He chuckled to himself, knowing that since the Nightmare's plans had failed, she was hurt and angry, and thus now weak. That meant it was time.
He was already well along in making plans to escape back to Equestria. He had to ensure that the Nightmare's plans had indeed failed, and the only sure fire way to do that was to find the mare. He smiled to himself, recalling the few moments of lucidity where they could talk, simply be together without the Nightmare controlling her. He had to admit that he had fallen in love with the poor mare, and part of him did hope that if he could escape and find her and ensure she was freed from the Nightmare's control, they could be together as a family. There was no doubt that her foal was his, after all.
He had but one clue to go on. During one of those brief moments of freedom the mare was able to tell him her name, a name he wanted to hear from her lips again:
... Twilight Sparkle...
The stallion whispered the name to himself, and glared daggers at the door. The Nightmare was going to pay for what was done to her, done to him, and was nearly done to their daughter...
Cue the 'Best of Both Worlds' To Be Continued card...
Roll End Credits...