He'd said his goodbyes. He'd gotten his reward.
It was time.
But he'd waited so long before regenerating, and now he was so weak... in so much pain...
January 1st, 2005. On some snowy street in London, England, Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way, the Doctor staggered into his TARDIS and closed the door. He pulled off his coat, listening to the sound of the universe singing him to a final sleep. Maybe the next one will like the coat. It really is a wonderful.... He lost his train of thought, and resolved to do what really mattered – getting the TARDIS off of Earth. Can’t regenerate here... close to too many people. Have to do it alone.
As the music of the universe and the sound of the TARDIS played, the Doctor raised his right hand, where he knew it would begin. First the hand, then the rest of his body – every exposed bit of skin – glowed gold and orange. Filaments of energy reached and twined around him, covering him in the light. It was really happening. There would be no cheats this time, no ways to avoid the regeneration.
And for a few moments the Tenth Doctor could accept this. He could accept the fact that he'd regenerate, a whole new man would soon be in his place, and he'd be gone.... No, he couldn’t. He really didn't want to die... he didn't want to...
“I don't want to go!” said he, as his – his – lungs heaved and his – not the next Doctor's, but his – hearts beat their last. He didn't want someone else picking up where he left off. But there was no stopping it now; he'd delayed as long as he could. Far longer than he should have.
For the regeneration of a Time Lord, a being born with the power of the time vortex, is not always a calm event. Gentle deaths of old Lords cause no great cataclysm, but 500,000 rads in the three-year old body of a Time Lord who has greedily put off his death until the last moment?
As the energy burst from his face and hands in a golden inferno, it nearly destroyed the TARDIS and sent it crashing down to Earth. But that energy did much more. A hole in space and time opened up at that moment; not a huge gap, but big enough for the consciousness of the dying Time Lord to seize its chance and act on its last desire.
And as some big-faced Eleventh Doctor worried that he had become a girl, the Tenth was gone. Gone from London, from England, Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy.
Gone from this universe.
But not gone entirely.
S1E1: Discord and the Doctor – Part 1
It was a gorgeous day outside Canterlot. With no rain scheduled for another week, the midday sun shone down unobstructed by clouds. The grass was fresh and green, the birds were chirping, and all in all it was a perfectly normal summer day – except in the sculpture garden on the city’s outskirts, where something impossible was happening.
There was a golden light in the garden, pouring in through a hole in the fabric of creation. It was, to give a less-than-accurate description, the four-dimensional end of a tunnel filled with fire and rage. The light became a stallion, with a brown coat and a darker mane. The last of the light subsided, and the Doctor opened his eyes, heaved a breath into his lungs, and started shouting.
“What?” Instead of fire there was a massive hedge maze under a cheerful blue sky. No pillars of otherworldly coral surrounded him, only marble sculptures of horses. He spun around to look at where the central console had been, only to see a sculpture of some sort of dragon. Beyond it lay a majestic castle, filled with towers built hundreds of feet in the air, their spires decorated in gold and regal purple. In short, it was not his TARDIS.
“What?” More shocking than the change of location was what had not changed; he still felt mostly like himself. His body seemed different somehow – he decided to get back to that later – but his mind was the same, almost as if he hadn't regenerated at all.
“WHAT?” And he realized something else: not only could he not see the TARDIS, he couldn't feel her either. He cast his mind out and tried to sense her presence, but there was nothing – no more psychic link. “But that's impossible! Unless... no, can't be...”
I'm in another universe and the TARDIS isn't. But how? He tried to put it together: his death, the regeneration, the fire bursting from his face and hands... and then he remembered a sensation of escaping, his mind leaving his body. Maybe I'm in heaven, or something? He'd never believed in an afterlife, or been sure which side he might end up on if it existed, but extraordinary things could happen. It's a big universe, after all... well, multiverse.
Then the Doctor realized what was different about his new body. “I'm a horse!” So no, probably not heaven. He raised his arm up – no, he didn't have an arm anymore – he raised his leg up and gasped at the hoof on the end. Feeling very awkward indeed on four legs, he spun around to see brown hindquarters bearing a brown tail and a pair of matched hourglass tattoos on either side.
“What horse has a tattoo – two tattoos? And how did this happen?” He began thinking with his mouth. “How'd I get here instead of regenerating – wait, the regeneration, of course! Maybe... oh yes, yes it did! If it was powerful enough to destroy the TARDIS, it might have been powerful enough to... to...” He trailed off, partially because there was no one to listen except for a gray horse dozing beneath a distant statue.
More importantly, his brain caught up with his mouth and he realized what had happened: the regeneration had punched a hole between universes. With a rip in the fabric of existence like that, anything could happen. Worlds could boil; universes could collapse. Typical Doctor, endangering everybody. His head sank in shame.
The faint laugh wasn't enough to jolt the Doctor out of his self-loathing, but the small sound of a heartbeat did so a moment later. He looked up at the dragon statue and saw pulses of darkness from where its heart might have been, if it were alive. His curiosity drew him in close enough to spy a fracture, growing in the statue's leg and running swiftly up its body – and close enough to hear the heartbeat grow faster. It is alive. “What are you?” he whispered, before jerking his head back as a white light shone from the multiplying cracks, growing brighter and brighter until the Doctor could see nothing else.
Self-preservation finally overrode curiosity. He stumbled blindly from the statue, not a moment too soon. A second later he heard the explosion, and was pelted with a blizzard of marble shards that knocked him to the ground. He lay wincing in the grass for a few seconds, grateful for his new thick equine skin.
“HAHAHAA! Oh BOY am I glad not to spend another thousand-or-so years with that expression. I almost looked scared there.” The creature landed in front of him and picked him up by the cranium to look at him. He had a golden glint in his eyes and wore a face-splitting smile, but the Doctor couldn't feel so cheerful.
“And I couldn't have asked for a better wake-up call! A sprinkling of time and space mixed with all that shame and conflict – it's much better than coffee or tea. Why would you even like tea anyway?” He pulled a steaming teapot from thin air, took a sniff, and gagged. “Blech! Give me chocolate milk any day.” He threw it at the ground, and it rebounded into the sky like a superball, without spilling a drop.
Before the Doctor could respond – or come close to figuring out any way to respond – the dragon-thing was speaking again. “Anyway, Doc, I don't mean to be rude, but I've got a few important errands to run. Don't worry, I'll be back in a tiff; just look for my card. And once again, thank you for the house call!” He vanished in another white flash, leaving the Doctor unsure whether to be confused or wary.
“Oh dear Celestia, he's back. How can he be back?” He turned to see the gray horse he'd noticed earlier galloping towards him. The controlled fear in her face – he was pretty sure of her gender, despite her boyish voice – confirmed his worst suspicions about the gravity of what had happened. “Come on, we need to tell everypony right away. What did he say to you?” So are horses the dominant species on this planet? What is this planet, anyway?
“Where am I right now?” he asked. “And also, are those wings on your back?” he interjected before she could respond, realizing that there were wings folded underneath her green saddlebags. “You're a pegasus! And just when you think you've run out of mythological creatures! Brilliant!” He cut himself off upon seeing her nonplussed expression. I'm getting off track. Focus, Doctor. “Ah, sorry. Where are we?”
“You're... here. Where else could you be?” Not very helpful, this one. “Did Discord say your name was Doc?”
“Yes, I'm the Doctor. What's your name?”
“Oh, this all makes sense now!” She beamed and her golden eyes briefly rolled into alignment. Did I not notice that she had wall-eyes earlier? In fact he had not, being preoccupied with her wings. In any event, both her smile and her momentary ocular alignment were gone a moment later. “Um, no it doesn't. It doesn't make sense, sorry... why'd I say that?”
She shook her head in irritation, then unfolded her wings and turned to face the castle. “Anyways, I'm Derpy Hooves, and if we don't get going nothing's gonna make sense ever again.” She leapt into the air to fly toward the castle, leaving the Doctor to stagger behind her as quickly as he could manage.
“Derpy, wait! What do you mean about making sense? Who is Discord?”
It was free time for Twilight Sparkle, and she was scrutinizing her book of ancient Equestrian literature, trying to decipher a fragment of Equestria's oldest known poem. Well, that can't be right. She sighed, unconvinced by what she had translated, and let it fall back on her desk. 'A wolf will fly and sing'... what's that supposed to mean?
“Did you miss me, Twilight Sparkle?”
She froze when she heard the voice. That voice. “No,” she whispered. Discord had been sealed back into his statue not even a year before.
“Mais oui, ma petite! C'est moi. Sorry to pop in so suddenly – hope I didn't scare you.” The Draconequus flew in front of her face, forcing her to back up to the middle of the library. “And I'm not surprised to see Celestia still hasn't taught you any manners. Is slack-jawed terror any way to treat an old friend?”
Twilight didn't dare look in his eyes; she remembered from her friends' descriptions that they had been hypnotized that way. Instead she closed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and in a moment all of her friends – the fellow bearers of the Elements of Harmony – were teleported there. Discord smirked.
“–ity, you really don't need to – hey!” said Rainbow Dash. “Twilight! What the hay was – GAH! DISCORD!”
Discord put his hands up, as if he were surrendering. “Well, you have improved in the past year, my little bookworm. I clearly can't hope to compete with a new spell that powerful.” His smirk grew more pronounced as the six ponies grouped in formation.
“You think my magic's impressive now – how about this!” Twilight yelled, and used a second spell to summon each Element of Harmony to its owner. The Elements started to glow as they were activated. “Prepare to–”
Suddenly she couldn't move. She couldn't see, she could barely hear, and she couldn't breathe – and she couldn't cast any magic. What's happening?
“Wish I could have done that last time. Anyway, sorry, Twilight, but it turns out I do turn ponies to stone after all.” she heard, and realized what had happened to her. “But surely the six of you can appreciate how wonderfully karmic it is, to give you a taste of your own rainbow-flavored medicine? Even if it is a bit boring.”
Equestria is doomed, Twilight realized. Trapped as she was, she wouldn't be able to help anypony. “Now I'd love to stay and chat," Discord continued, "but I've got a date with two very naughty princesses. Before I go, though, a word of advice; try not to focus too hard on your tongue – or the fact that even though you don't need to breathe, you'll really really want to!” She heard more laughter, then the sound of him disappearing.
“He's, um... he's Discord,” said Derpy, angling toward a wooden door in the marble wall, and flying just slowly enough for the Doctor to keep up. “I mean, duh! What planet are you from?” She sounded very testy, while not seeming like the kind of person – horse – to get testy easily. Definitely not good.
“Gallifrey.” She gave him a hard look. “No, seriously. I'm not from this planet, and I shouldn't be here, and I shouldn't even look like...” he vaguely gestured around himself with a front hoof, and nearly fell over. “Like – like this, and I have no idea what's going on right now! So, Derpy Hooves, tell me, really tell me, where am I, who's Discord, and what does he do?”
“You're telling me you're an outer-space alien–”
“YES I'M AN OUTER-SPACE ALIEN! Where, who, what?”
“Fine, Doctor alien.” Derpy didn't seem entirely convinced, but at least she was talking. “You're in the land of Equestria. That thing back there – Discord – he's the Spirit of Disharmony. And he does anything he wants to anypony he wants.” They halted in front of the large door.
“What do you mean 'anything'?” the Doctor panted. What I wouldn't give to have just two legs to worry about. Four are exhausting.
“Anything!” Derpy wound up and rammed into the door, but it refused to budge. “It's locked! Come on!” The Doctor found himself wishing for the hundredth time that his sonic screwdriver worked on wood – then remembered that he didn't have a sonic screwdriver. Or any clothes. Focus on modesty later, Doctor.
“Is there any way to stop him?” he asked. Derpy dashed away, flying parallel to the stone wall. The Doctor ignored his nakedness and forged onwards.
“They'll have to use the Elements of Harmony!”
“What are those? And hang on, who's they?”
“They're the only ponies who can wield the Elements, and the Elements are the only that things can beat Discord.” Galloping was more complicated than the Doctor might have guessed, and it took him a moment to realize what had gone wrong with her sentence. She didn't seem to notice.
“So we're finding the wielders?” he asked, ignoring her mistake.
“No – they're all the way in Ponyville. We're going to talk to the princesses.” The distant corner of the castle wall came into view, prompting Derpy to speed up and forcing the Doctor to figure out galloping very quickly.
Princess Celestia heard four knocks at her door and frowned, unable to imagine why somepony would need to speak with her and Luna now. It could not be the guards, nor any normal visitor whom the guards might conceivably allow to visit the princesses' private chambers; they would have announced themselves instead of knocking. Perhaps Twilight... no, she would give very advanced notice. She looked to her sister, but Luna seemed as uncertain as she did. “Who is it?” Celestia finally asked.
The doors exploded inward. The princesses barely had time to duck before they flew over their heads and crashed through the window behind them. Celestia quickly looked back to the charred doorway to see Discord, holding something in his hand.
“Flowers!” Discord announced, waving his bouquet. He paused for a reaction, but Celestia and Luna only stared with jaws agape. “Oh, no need to thank me, it's only a little house-warming gift.”
Luna recovered from her shock first, and yelled, “How did you escape?” She fired blast after magical blast at Discord, colder and blacker than the dark side of the moon. Celestia did not hesitate to add her own magic: a concentrated beam of light hot enough to fuse the surrounding air and explode it. The continuous double attack converged on Discord, and provoked from him an annoyed sigh as his flowers were first frozen, then vaporized.
“Well maybe I'd tell you if you stopped poking me! Goodness, I will never understand mares...” Jagged chains of lunar stone sprung from the floor to wrap around his entire body, only to turn into limp spaghetti upon contact. He pulled out a hand mirror and scrutinized his face, continuing to ignore the assaults striking him. “Always saying one thing and doing another... my beard!” He scowled, yanked a brush from thin air and began pulling it through his goatee. “One year as a statue and it's already a mess! Oh, I am properly annoyed now.”
Celestia tried not to panic. She knew she stood no chance against Discord, but together she and Luna should have been able to slow him down. Can I buy the time to contact Twilight? Is it too late already? “Who set you free, Discord?” she roared, summoning a plume of lava from the floor beneath him. It froze into a spire of rock as soon as Luna's magic struck it, trapping him inside.
He walked through it with a roll of his eyes. “More attacks, Celestia? How insulting. Well, as they say on the playground, I'm rubber....” As Luna and Celestia’s attacks converged upon him, he flipped the hand mirror around to face them. “And you're glue.” The magical blasts reflected from it, and each princess was struck by her sister’s attack.
Every bone in Celestia's body felt like ice. The air froze in her lungs as she was lifted off her hooves and thrown to the edge of the room, her head hanging out through the remains of the shattered window. She felt Luna land beside her, screaming in thermonuclear agony.
“Well, now that you're knackered...” She managed to turn her head up and saw Discord's sadistic grin looming over her. “If you actually want to know the answer, I got a Doctor's visit, and it cured what ailed me. Simple as that. And now?” He chortled. “Now I'm feeling better than ever! Better enough that I can do this.” He reached down and held his hands to their horns. “Oh don't worry, it won't hurt a bit.” Celestia squeezed her eyes shut and braced for the worst – then Discord grabbed on.
Her frozen lungs would not let her scream at the awful pain of her horn twisting and deforming – and then she felt no pain in her horn. In fact, she could not feel her horn at all.
“I told you!” He held the two horns in front of her face, so that Celestia could see them hollowing themselves out and spinning like pieces of pottery in his claw. By the time he set them on the floor they had molded themselves into two clay vases: white for Celestia and black for Luna. “What, did you think I would just rip them from your skulls? After we've known each other for so long, Tia? I'm hurt.
“And look, you've managed to destroy the house-warming present I brought for you.” He sighed and scratched his beard in contemplation. “I try to be nice, and... oh well, I'll improvise.” He reached behind Celestia's back, and she convulsed at the sudden pain of her wings being pulled from her body. “They're not unlike flowers, after all,” he remarked, dropping them in her vase and doing the same to Luna's wings.
Celestia's lungs had unfrozen enough for her to whisper. “You'll... never...” Discord leaned in close and beckoned for her to speak up. “Get... away...”
“Oh, that again. 'I will never get away with this. Evil will be defeated. Etcetera, etcetera',” he droned, flapping his claw in a 'blah-blah-blah' motion. “Newsflash, Princess; your precious faithful student and her rag-tag bunch of friends are a bit indisposed at the moment, so everyone who could have beaten me is gone! Now do enjoy your house-warming gift, because things are about to get very warm.”
“What do you–” A painful fit of coughing stopped Celestia from speaking.
Discord produced a massive pair of rusty shears and cut a patch of blue fur from Luna, ignoring her continued screams. “Oh brava, Tia – this is the worst thing you've done to your sister in a long time.” Leather oven mitts appeared over his claws as he held the fur to his eyes and scrutinized it. “I'd guess this is about... oh, six thousand degrees? You really shouldn't throw spells like that around – you could start a fire.”
He smirked and tossed it out the window. “Well, it's been fun as always, Princesses, but I've got to head back to the Doctor for my five-a-day fix of chaos. Have fun!” He vanished, but his laughter still echoed in the ruined room.
Celestia heard the sound of burning from below, and looked down to see a fire spreading across the roof where Luna's fur had landed. Within a minute, the fire had grown to a hellish inferno, producing foul sooty smoke that clogged her mouth and blinded her eyes – but neither she nor Luna had the strength to move away from the window. All Celestia could do was choke and listen to the screams outside, unable to help her subjects or even herself. She nearly gave up all hope.
But then Discord's words sank in, and Celestia realized that if he was telling the truth, there was one last hope for Equestria. She knew it could be false hope – that Discord could be lying about that stallion's return – but it was all she had left, and she clung to it with all her strength. Doctor... I hope it really is you.
Derpy briefly tore her gaze from the castle wall to glance at the Doctor in astonishment. “You don't even know the princesses – fine, they're Celestia and Luna. And we're going to them because they live right here, in the city of Canterlot.” She gestured with her wing to the city, but in the process swerved and almost crashed into the ground.
“Whoa there!” The Doctor ducked and barely avoided a collision with her. “Are you okay?”
“Stupid wings – I'm fine. We need to keep faster – go keeping – keep going faster!” Derpy snorted in a very horsey, very frustrated fashion. She accelerated, forcing the Doctor to speed up as well.
“Okay, so we go to... Canterlot? Seriously?” He lost his train of thought for a few seconds. “Is there a Marey-Land, or Stalliongrad?... sorry, off-topic... and we tell these princesses that Discord's back, and then what?”
“They can tell Twilight and the rest faster than we can. And when they do, the Elements are gonna beat Discord just like last time.”
That's a good plan, the Doctor thought as he kept up with Derpy. Taking the initiative like that... I like her already. Also, last time? How often does this Discord break free, anyway? And who's Princess Celestia? More importantly, how do I get back to my universe when I'm done here? Is the hole still open? He rounded a corner, his mind still working furiously. Far too many questions and not nearly enough time.
“Finally!” Derpy exclaimed, interrupting his train of thought. “A royal guard!” She made a beeline for a white horse wearing golden armor and sabatons, standing next to a large gate. The Doctor moved to follow her, when suddenly something else caught his eye – or rather, everything else.
He wondered how Derpy could call Canterlot a 'city'. The whole thing looked to be one huge, shining palace, hanging from the sheer face of a mountain in proud defiance of gravity. Towers rose hundreds of feet in the air, their spires decorated in gold and regal purple. Water flowed from the mountain around and through the city, then plummeted a thousand feet to the land below.
And that land seemed to go on forever. The Doctor saw massive forests of almost uniform green, broken by the rivers that ran from the Canterlot waterfalls, continued almost to the horizon, then were halted by a distant range of hills. In a grassy plain between two of the forests sat a somewhat higgledy-piggledy collection of houses: quaint but scenic.
It was beautiful. However, as he realized after a few seconds, it was distracting. While he'd been sightseeing, Derpy had dashed to the guard and started shouting about Discord.
“Okay lady, just calm down,” he heard the guard say. “Start from the beginning.”
“Discord. Back he's – I mean he's back. I saw him come back with my own eyes.”
“Right...” The guard gave her an unconvinced look. “Maybe your eyes were playing tricks on you, ma'am?”
Derpy glared at him. “I can see fine. Why can't you just listen?” The guard rolled his eyes. “Really! Discord! Back!” Derpy yelled.
The Doctor wobbled over to her as quickly as he could. “Sir, I was there. I saw it happen.” Did I make it happen? No... no, there’s more important things to worry about right now. “So no red tape, no skepticism, just get this information to your Princesses now.” He heard a slight crackling sound emanating from the city.
“Okay you two.” The guard sounded short on patience. “I don't know if this is supposed to be some sort of practical joke, but it's not funny.” A lick of orange appeared in the Doctor's peripheral vision. “If Discord had returned, we'd know.” Red light grew from the city's center. “So I don't need you two claiming that he's back when everything's clearly–”
Someone in the city screamed. The guard turned around and gasped at what the Doctor already saw – an inferno in the center of Canterlot, growing at an incredible rate. Black smoke rose to obscure the sky and block the sun, and the Doctor felt the beginnings of a wind at his back as the fire began drawing in oxygen from outside.
“Happy?” the Doctor yelled. “Is that enough proof for you?”
The guard hesitated, then set his jaw. “You two, evacuate from the city area now. I need to go in and help–”
The teapot Discord had bounced several minutes earlier finally landed like a meteorite on the guard's helmet, and knocked him unconscious to the ground. Derpy and the Doctor froze as it rolled a few feet toward them, before wobbling to a halt. A spurt of steam flew out the spout, carrying with it a scrap of paper that landed at the Doctor's hooves. It was a postcard depicting the city in its pristine state. “Visit Beautiful Canterlot!” it read in big letters, just above Discord's grinning face.
“Derpy, you have to go now.”
“Because Discord is coming back right now. For me. And I don't know why. but you're not going to suffer on my account. I dunno... fly to Ponyville and raise an alarm, save as many other horses as you can. Get those Elements of Harmony, if Discord hasn't killed them.”
“But what about you?”
“Derpy, forget about me right now,” he pleaded, looking her straight in the eyes. “Forget about the mad, rude horse who keeps interrupting you and says he's an alien. Just run and find somewhere safe, right now. Anywhere that's nowhere near me.”
Derpy hesitated, but eventually turned away. “Goodbye, Doctor.” The Doctor bowed his head and sighed in relief as she dove down the hill back to Ponyville. Thank you.
“Gahowhohoho... oh, Doc, you lanky Casanova,” came a voice from the postcard. The picture of Discord turned to look at him. “Picking up the girls already? Well don't you worry, I'll let her be for now. She'll have slightly better luck than everyone else you travel with.”
The postcard transformed back into Discord. “Though to be honest, ol' google eyes is messed up enough without my help.” He laughed. “Now, whooooo wants s'mores!” He produced a long pink umbrella from thin air, speared a marshmallow on it, and held it to the burning city. More terrified screams came from the city, joined by the sound of buildings collapsing, and above all the powerful roar of the fire.
“I don't know how you did this, Discord, but I swear–”
Discord shoved the marshmallow into the Doctor's mouth. “It's polite to say 'yes please'.” As he produced another one and placed it on his umbrella, the Doctor tried to continue but could not speak; the marshmallow was supernaturally sticky. He stared hopelessly into the fire, listening to the screams.
“Ahh, nothing like a nice campfire shared with your good pal. Ain't it so, Doc?” Discord tossed the second marshmallow into his own mouth, then lay back on the grass and basked in the red light. The delicate gold inlay of the city's spires melted away. The royal purple disappeared, overwhelmed by the billows of orange and red. Steam rose from the rivers that bubbled out of the city. There was nothing the Doctor could do but watch.
“Well!” Discord bolted upright, startling the Doctor. “That was fun while it lasted.” He snapped his fingers, and a giant cotton candy cloud appeared over the whole city. Out poured a torrent of chocolate rain which extinguished the fire within seconds.
What. The Doctor grabbed the marshmallow in his mouth with both hooves and managed to yank it out. “What did you – why did you – what was the point of that?” he spluttered.
“Oh, I should have heated it up instead?” On cue, a massive bellows appeared in Discord's claws. He aimed it at the cloud and pulled it open, sucking up the cotton candy in a single go. “Shame on you, Doc – suggesting I should let a pony come to harm.”
The Doctor stared at him. “Don't pretend your inferno didn't kill anyone. It's impossible.”
“First of all, I'm Discord. Impossible is what I do.” With an irritated grunt, Discord pointed the bellows at the Doctor and squeezed, enveloping him in a wave of cotton candy.“Second, where do you get off calling it my inferno, hmm? And finally, you really think I'd kill ponies? No no no no, that would take all the fun out of it, don't you see?”
Discord laid a claw on the Doctor's back, pulled him from the candy cloud, and waved expansively to the world around them. “Behold the magical land of Equestria, inhabited by the earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns. Ruled over, until very recently,” he chuckled, “by the pony princesses Celestia and Luna, rulers of day and night. And it's so boring!” His voice became much less conversational, and his nails bit into the Doctor's skin. “All the rules, the statutes, the laws... and you think I'd make it even worse by killing ponies so that they're no fun to play with anymore?”
“Play with? Are you sure you don't mean torture?” The Doctor glared at the mismatched dragon with a ferocity that had forced shadows into retreat, that had repelled countless alien invasions. “Discord, I'm telling you right now–”
This ferocity had no effect on Discord, who merely tossed the Doctor into the air like a conductor's baton, summarily cutting him off. “Oh, Doc, you really can be so grim. But enough talk!” He snatched the Doctor out of the air and swooped toward distant Ponyville, his voice once again nothing short of ebullient. “You wanted to know a bit about me, I believe? We could do a candlelit dinner if you want – maybe a little speed dating! Or maybe... I could show you some of my best work.”
Backstage at the Ponyville Amphitheater was, to put it mildly, packed. The stage had been built for school plays, and was unused to having so much equipment being moved around. Lights were being hoisted, pyrotechnics were being prepared, and amplifiers were being lugged by a team of stallions specially hired for lugging. In all the tumult, no one was paying much attention to the gray-coated earth pony in the corner obsessing over her cello.
Everything about Octavia suggested attention to detail. Her dark-gray mane flowed smoothly from her head, free of tangles and loose ends. Her pink bow tie was immaculately symmetrical. Her instrument... was still not quite in tune. Then again, maybe it was; she could hardly hear herself think over the hubbub, let alone properly tune her cello.
At times like these she envied Vinyl Scratch, a unicorn who was impossible to miss even in this commotion. This was partly thanks to her pure white coat and horn; partly thanks to her mane and tail, colored in two different shades of neon blue; and partly because of her vividly purple pair of goggles, and the reddish eyes beneath them.
But it was mostly because Vinyl – or DJ PON-3 as she called herself on stage – made sure that everypony noticed her at any given hour of any given day, and today was no exception. If anything, the pandemonium behind the curtain was making her more energetic, more in her element. I suppose she's used to loud, confused noise. Octavia smiled, then caught herself before her train of thought could go any further. That's not very nice, is it? What must she think of my music if that's all I think of hers?
“No no no no no, this goes here!” Vinyl called, magically yanking a plug from an amplifier and ramming it into another socket – then immediately jerking it out again and into a third socket. “I meant here. I want everypony to hear this on the radio, I don't wanna commit arson!” The stallion who had plugged it in the first time seemed unimpressed. So naturally, Octavia thought, she'll try even harder.
“This is important!” At times like this, Vinyl couldn't keep her mouth shut if you paid her, something which Octavia had seriously considered doing on several occasions. “There is no way I am letting bad wiring screw up my first concert with Octy!” The stallion was still uninterested, and got to hoisting the last light. Nice try, Vinyl, but it looks like you can't always grab everypony's attention.
This smug feeling lasted about two seconds, before she realized that she'd been staring at Vinyl's antics and had forgotten about tuning her cello. With yet another exasperated sigh – something she seemed to be making a habit of around Vinyl – she got back to work.
“Okay, that's the last of them,” called the head stallion as the last light was screwed into place.
Vinyl made one last look around, dashed over to the plug she'd been working on, and replugged it into the second socket. “Good! Now I want you all to go.” The head stallion gave her a hard look. “C'mon, we don't have all day. Go into the audience, go watch the show! Tell you what – since you were so helpful, you get half-off.” Another hard look. “I'm kidding, duh – you're admitted free. Seriously, I can handle things back here.”
Octavia seriously doubted that, but the hired stallions eventually conceded defeat, walking out the back of the stage. At last it was quiet. She sighed a third time and got back to tuning.
“So how you doing?” Vinyl yelled as she jumped in front of Octavia. Ah yes. 'Vinyl Scratch' and 'quiet' have never been on speaking terms with each other... insofar as one could be on speaking terms with the concept of quietude. “Feeling nervous?”
“Simply getting ready,” Octavia answered, looking away from Vinyl to tune her cello and fervently hoping she sounded unruffled. “I realize that the concept of being prepared for a show is alien to you, but I like my concerts to go smoothly.”
“Unprepared? Me?” Vinyl put on a blatant show of being indignant. “Why, the very idea! I'll have you know I washed my hair for this show!”
“Within the last week, or month?”
“For you, Octy? Yesterday.” Vinyl grinned and, judging by the motion of her head, winked at Octavia. Octavia couldn't see her magenta eyes, but she'd gotten accustomed to Vinyl's exaggerated gestures.
She responded with a quick roll of the eyes and the most deadpan voice she could muster. “Oh, Vinyl, do stop. I fear I may demand that you ravish me with your... incredible standards of hygiene.” Octavia failed to suppressed a giggle.
“Hee hee, that's what I love about you, Tavi.” That grin – doesn't your face ever get tired, Vinyl? “You make the best straight mare.”
“I have to,” Octavia retorted, a smile creeping onto her own lips despite her best efforts. “You're incapable of being the straight mare. In any sense of the word.”
“You've got me right! And I bet you're not worried about tuning your cello anymore!” Vinyl's grin turned mischievous as Octavia realized that she was right: their banter had driven the anxiety from her head. She drew her bow across her cello and realized that it was perfectly in tune.
“I suppose so,” she admitted. “Thank you.” Vinyl's smile grew even wider.
“Listen,” she said, “you're waaaaay too good at this to have any problems on stage. If anything, you should be worried about me! I hardly know where I put that guitar you got me!” Her smile persisted for a moment longer, then turned into a frown of consternation. “Actually, where did I put that guitar?” Octavia rolled her eyes yet again as Vinyl dashed out the back door, though in fact she was a little worried again. You can't have lost it already, can you?
Ten seconds later, Vinyl was back with the electric guitar magically suspended behind her. “Found it! Well, no point waiting – time to start the show!”
“No, wait–” Like that's going to stop her. Vinyl ignored, or didn't hear, Octavia's feeble protest and bounded through the blue curtains.
“Hello, Ponyville!” Vinyl yelled. With her naturally high volume augmented by a microphone, the effect was just about deafening. “Are you ready to ROCK with DJ PON-3?” The crowd roared its approval. “Well, too bad!” she continued. “Because I've brought a cellist!” Now they laughed, and Octavia could imagine her grin as if Vinyl were right in front of her. She groaned. For the love of Celestia... I really do hate her.
“Oh, I know you do.”
Octavia jumped. She didn't recognize that deep voice, but she guessed that the speaker didn't mean her well. And he can read my thoughts... maybe? Maybe it's just a coincidence that he said that right as–
“Right as you were thinking about Vinyl Scratch,” the voice completed. “Oh, it's no coincidence, my little Octavia.” There was a chuckle hidden in those words.
“Who's there?” she called, whipping her head around to see – nopony at all. There were only amplifiers, cables, lights, and the curtain. “Who are you?”
“Eheh-heh-ha-ha-ha... my goodness, you really don't know. Well, if you don't recognize my voice, maybe this will tip you off.” There was a brilliant white flash in front of her, bright enough that she had to cover her eyes. When she looked again, she gasped. Floating in front of her was a creature she'd only seen in storybooks.
He was the ultimate mishmash of creatures. On the left: a griffon's arm, a donkey's leg, a blue pegasus wing and some sort of demon's horn. On the right: a green dragon's leg, manticore's arm, purple bat wing and stag's antler. Completing this asymmetrical picture were a tufted red tail, sleek brown and gray-furred body, and a thin white beard under a dragon's comically grinning face.
It was Discord, the god of chaos and the stuff of nightmares. How can he be back? Octavia looked into the his yellow eyes and saw mirth, and more than a hint of menace – but she turned her head away immediately. She remembered the stories she'd heard: how he hypnotized you to do his bidding by looking through your eyes into your soul.
“Now now, I pride myself on having more creativity than simply forcing others to do what I want,” he replied in a petulantly. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Discord, your humble overlord.” He bowed in mock humility. Octavia didn't dare look at him, but cowered in her corner, clutching her cello close to herself like a weapon or a shield.
“Oh, and this pony here,” he added, “is the Doctor. We're very good friends, he and I, so I call him Doc. Say hello, Doc!” Now Octavia had to look. Avoiding Discord's eyes, she turned her head to see a strange sight. There, presented in his manticore hand, was a tan stallion with a wild brown mane and an hourglass cutie mark – a stallion who, despite what Discord had said, didn't seem to like Discord at all.
And he had only one thing to say to her: “Run.” Octavia didn't move. “Get out of here now!” Still, she didn't move unable to make her legs listen to his pleas. “What are you waiting for?” Finally she cast her cello aside and dashed to the back door.
“Give me a break,” Discord yawned. He snapped his griffon fingers, and when Octavia reached the exit it was locked.
“Open! Up! You! Dumb! Door!” She punctuated each word with a kick to the door, but it refused to budge. She gave up and ran at the curtains, but Discord only grinned and snapped his fingers again. Instead of parting, the curtains stayed as firm as a cliff face and knocked her to the floor. There was no way out.
“Vinyl!” She got back to her hooves and pounded the solid curtain. “Discord came back! Run!” But Vinyl didn't hear her – she was still introducing their performance to the crowd.
“Awww, that's cute. You think she cares enough to listen.” Discord cackled and swooped down to her side. “You actually think that... that Vinyl Scratch cares about you!” This was apparently too much: he fell to the floor laughing, dropping the Doctor in the process and knocking the wind out of him. “Like you think Vinyl cares about anything besides herself! You can't see that she's just using you to get ahead!” He was in tears by this point, and pulled out an oversized handkerchief to dab at his eyes.
“You're lying!” Octavia knew she needed conviction; she'd always heard that Discord preyed on doubts and fears. Never mind Vinyl's jabs at me, or her questionable musical taste. She's a true friend.
“By the way,” Discord remarked, “I'm loving the internal narration you're doing. It is hilarious!” He laughed again. “Vinyl Scratch, a true friend? The one who belittles you, makes fun of you any chance she gets? The only part of you she cares about is your body... not that I can blame her.” He grinned with delight and scratched her under her chin. Octavia recoiled at the touch. “After all, who'd care for a prissy little pony like you?”
I don't believe it. “She cares about me,” Octavia retorted. But there was that little bit of doubt in her mind.
“Maybe I haven't made myself clear. I'm Discord. If I wanted to, I could tear open your mind and force you to my will with a snap of my fingers.” He stuck his face right into hers, his eyes staring directly into her own. “I don't need to lie.” Octavia saw something strange in his eyes – now they were more than just yellow and red, they were every color of the rainbow all at once, and they were incredible, she couldn't look away, and–
She was angry. Very, very angry.
“And you don't need to lie either, Octy.” Discord folded his arms with a smug little smile on his face. “Go out there and tell her how you really feel.” That's absolutely right. I'm going to go tell that useless featherbrained waste of space exactly how I feel!
“Leave her alone, Discord!” yelled the Doctor, who had managed to get back to his hooves. “Just let her go!”
“By all means.” Discord threw his hands up and floated away, still smirking. The Doctor approached her.
“Octavia?” he asked. “Are you okay?”
And who the hell do you think you are, idiot? Can't you see that I'm not okay? Octavia kicked the Doctor right in the face and knocked him to the ground.
“Don't you say another damned word!” she yelled at the stunned stallion.
“What? Octavia?” And all he can do is splutter. Shouldn't have expected anything more from a pony that stupid. Octavia turned her back on him and stomped through the curtains that had been impassable seconds earlier. Time to give Vinyl a piece of my mind.
“What did you do?” she heard the Doctor yell at Discord. “What have you done?”
“Oh, Doc... the fun's just beginning. Eheh-heh-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
Vinyl knew how to work a crowd. They laughed when she wanted them to laugh; they cheered when she wanted them to cheer. Just give a few shout-outs to everypony here, and they'll be yelling like... something that yells. Hopefully this'll give Octy enough time to get ready.
Apparently it did the trick. Just as Vinyl finished thanking the lighting crew for being so brilliant – pun intended – Octavia burst through the curtains. Vinyl beamed and decided to cut to the chase. “And without any further ado, please give a warm welcome to my best friend Octavia!” The crowd cheered again.
“FRIEND?” Octavia bellowed. “You have the GALL to call me your FRIEND?”
What. Only now did Vinyl see that Octavia looked furious. She never looks angry! And all of that fury was directed at Vinyl herself. “Uhhhh... yeah, last time I checked we've been friends for months...” Her slight laugh died away as Octavia advanced upon her, even more enraged by her response. What the hay is going on here?
“Get this straight, you absolute imbecile. You are NOT my friend. You have never BEEN my friend, and you will NEVER BE MY FRIEND!” There was absolute silence in the crowd.
“What are you talking about, Octy?” Vinyl retreated to the edge of the stage as Octavia continued to approach.
“Oh, was I being too subtle, you vapid waste of space? Listen up, Vinyl: I've seen right through you. You never cared about me worth a bit, and from the night we met at that fashion show, you've just used me for your own benefit! And you were gonna throw me away when you were done, weren't you? Well, here's some news for you, DJ – I'M DONE WITH YOU!” she yelled right into Vinyl's face. Then, just as suddenly as she had started to advance, Octavia turned and stamped away. “Maybe you can find someone else to put up with that drek you call music, because I never want to see you again in my life!”
Vinyl was almost in tears. “But–but–but... Octy...” She had seconds before Octavia was off the stage and gone, possibly forever. How could she think that about me? “I... I do care. I really care about you so much...”
Octavia snorted. “What a joke.” She didn't pause. She didn't even turn her head. In a few seconds, she was gone. Gone.
All the color drained from Vinyl, but she was too busy sobbing to notice.
Nopony noticed the draconequus floating above them, or the stallion in his hand. Not yet. The Doctor watched the scene unfolding below with wide eyes and gritted teeth. Discord, on the other hand, couldn't have looked more satisfied.
“Isn't it magnificent?” he asked. “All you need to do is just plant one little seed of chaos, and feed it, and nurture it, and look at the payoff! I've really outdone myself here.” He winked at the Doctor, as if sharing a joke. “She's sending her old friend over the edge! Almost literally,” he added, as Octavia backed Vinyl to the edge of the stage. “Any moment now... there!”
As Octavia marched away, Vinyl broke down sobbing. The color literally drained from her body; her mane, her coat, and even her goggles turned to gray. The crowd gasped at this transformation. Perhaps some of them knew it could mean only one thing
“And that's my cue!” Discord swooped down to the stage and snatched a microphone, once again dropping the Doctor in the process. “HELLO EQUESTRIA! Who's ready for a show?”
Total chaos erupted. The assembled ponies screamed and tried to run, but with another snap of Discord's fingers massive stone walls burst from the ground, trapping every pony inside. “So you all remember me. How sweet,” he said, playing the role of the perfect MC. “So how is everypony doing tonight?” A few pegasi tried to fly over the wall, only to plummet to the ground when their wings disappeared. This lead to more screaming.
“QUIET!” Discord roared. The mouths of the ponies in the crowd disappeared. “Now, here's a few little factoids for all of you. First of all, for all of you and anypony listening on on the radio, I am Discord, god of chaos and spirit of disharmony. Second, Equestria is now my playground. And finally, don't expect to find any help from your precious pony princesses or the Elements of Harmony–”
The Doctor grabbed the microphone's cord in his teeth and pulled hard, snatching it from Discord's hand. “Everyone listening needs to get away from here right now,” he called into the mike. “Find somewhere safe and hide; you are all in terrible danger!”
Discord rolled his eyes and snatched the Doctor from the stage, holding him by the scruff of the neck. “Listen up, mister – you are quickly becoming a nuisance. Now shut up,” he snarled, baring his teeth, “before I decide that carrying you isn't worth the trouble.”
“Discord, I'm warning you, stop this right now.” The Doctor looked Discord square in the eyes. “Or I swear I'll stop it for you.” There was a ferocity in the Time Lord's whole being, the kind that should have warned Discord to take him seriously. That was the idea, anyway.
Discord burst out laughing – not what the Doctor had hoped for, but his expectations hadn't been high. “Oh, Doc, how theatrical you can be,” he said, wiping a nonexistent tear from his eye. “But you have turned into an almighty bore, so this is farewell for now. Exit, stage UP!” He threw the Doctor over his shoulder, high into the air and far away. “Break a leg!” he called merrily after the stallion's quickly shrinking form.
“Anyways, everypony, that would be the Doctor,” he continued, scooping the microphone back from the stage. “He's one of my best friends – and just so you know, he's the reason I could be here today! So if you see a brown-coated stallion with a big brown mess of mane on his head and an hourglass cutie mark, give him a big Ponyville welcome from me. And now...” Discord's face grew by a hundred times, and his fangs by a thousand. His huge yellow eyes loomed over the crowd, and his final command was delivered as a harsh guttural roar: “GO AND SPREAD SOME CHAOS!”
The walls around the amphitheater disappeared, and the mouths of the crowd reappeared, just in time for the horde of terrified ponies to run away screaming. They scattered, running back to their homes, trying to keep themselves and their families safe. Discord laughed uproariously at the idea – it would just make breaking their spirits that much more gratifying. That Doctor was a fool to think they could save themselves. To think he could stop a god of Chaos.
Speaking of whom... “Now where did he get to?” Discord realized he wasn't quite sure how far he'd thrown the Doctor, and he wasn't too sure he wanted Doc getting up to too much trouble. With a groan he jumped into the air and started searching, consoling himself by leaving chocolate rainclouds as he went.
Running. The Doctor dashed through the streets of Ponyville, still hearing Discord's booming voice. Finally something I can do. He looked around for shelter.
After being thrown, he'd decided to cut his losses and just hide. Not temporarily, until the time was right; not out of mercy, to try to spare his enemies. The Doctor was hiding because he could think of nothing else to do, and his foe could do everything. There would be no moment of opportunity worth waiting for.
He was totally unfit for dealing with this threat. Within the past hour he'd managed to die, fall into another universe, turn into a horse, and witness – possibly cause – the resurrection of a malevolent mismatched dragon with seemingly unlimited power, whose sole motivation seemed to be mass terror and destruction. Eat your hearts out, Master. And I've only got the faintest of intuitions of how he can be so powerful. There was one consolation: his new, equine form was more intuitive to control than he might have imagined. At least I can run.
But the Doctor had no sonic screwdriver, no TARDIS, and no trust. Good job, Discord. Telling the citizens of Ponyville just how friendly the two of us are. Telling them that I set you free, very clever. As he galloped, the Doctor saw panicked horses slamming their shutters. He couldn't blame them for their fear, but he wasn't expecting anybody to offer help this time.
So when the Doctor spied a set of unshuttered windows, he decided to help himself and galloped straight through the door. Inside was a smallish living room, a set of stairs to the second floor, and a mint-green unicorn with a picture of a harp on her flank, sitting on a couch.
A mint-green unicorn with a picture of a harp on her flank, sitting on a couch. The Doctor stopped for a moment to process this fact, and to cherish the novelty of that phrase. It's good, appreciating the small things in life.
The unicorn in question didn't seem to have noticed him, and in fact she was not so much sitting as quaking. There was an old-fashioned looking radio on a table near her couch, emitting nothing but static now that Discord's speech was done.
Suddenly, Discord's voice echoed through the house. “Doc, Doc, Doc,” he heard Discord call. The unicorn jumped. “Where are you? Do me a favor and just come back. I've got more important things to do than track down a genocidal hypocrite – oops, should have kept that secret private.” The Doctor heard his chuckle – a deep chuckle, and deeply unsettling. “You want to play hide and go seek? Fine, you win, Olly olly oxen free! Now get back here. I don't have all day.” To emphasize this, the sun fell out of the sky and the moon rose high. Night had fallen in a second.
“But that's impossible!” exclaimed the Doctor, pushing his head out the window to look up at the moon. “It was day just a moment ago!” Then he heard a horrified squeak, and turned around to see the unicorn looking straight at him.
After several seconds, the Doctor decided to break the silence; one of them had to, and she did not seem willing. “Hello there! I'm the Doctor,” he said, putting on his cheeriest smile and getting another terrified squeak for his efforts. He grimaced. “Yes, that Doctor, the one Discord's been yelling about, but we are not. Friends. And I was just wondering if I could... well... hide here for a bit.” Again not a single coherent response.
“Ooh, bad move, Doc.” The Doctor whipped around to face the door as Discord's voice boomed in. “Turns out I can read a Time Lord's mind as easily as a pony's. I can smell your inner fears, your foibles, your anxieties... like how now you're worrying about the poor unicorn behind you. It really pulls at my heartstrings.” He giggled for a few seconds. Giggling is always a bad sign.
“Leave her alone.” The Doctor strode from the house and looked into the night sky, but Discord wasn't there. “I know it's me you want!”
“But of course! I am what I eat. I feed on chaos, Doc, and you are my entree. But a gourmet like me...” The Doctor turned back to the house, just in time to see Discord appear next to the unicorn. “... learns to appreciate the appetizer.” The unicorn's pupils shrank to pinholes, and she began to hyperventilate. Then she screamed:
The Doctor had not noticed, but there was a door at the back of the living room. It burst open, revealing a new pony. Her hair and tail were each arranged in three plaits, which curled into balls at the end. More importantly, though, they were gray. She was gray all over.
“Aww, does widdle Lywa needs me to save hew fwom big mean Discowd?” Now 'Lywa' turned to her with tears in her eyes at her former friend's cruelty. Discord magicked up a second couch and some popcorn at the side of the room, and sat down to enjoy the show.
“Bon Bon? But–but–bu–bu–”
“Buh buh buh buh buh buh – boo hoo,” Bon Bon spat back. “I'm tired of sticking up for you, kiddo. Try dealing with your own problems for once and stop being such a sniveling baby.” She turned tail and walked back out, leaving Lyra to sob.
“Oh Lywa, you don't need friends.” Discord laughed his way through this sentence, delighted by this turn of events. “You certainly don't need any help from the only friend who'd ever dream of sticking up for you, do you? Chin up there...” Lyra continued to sob at the floor, so Discord swooped over to her and grabbed her by the jaw. “I said, chin. Up.” He yanked her face so that it faced his own, and the Doctor saw his eyes turn from yellow into a phenomenal spectrum of colors – red, blue, green, everything in between, and more.
“I'm telling you Discord, once and for all, end this now!” The Doctor stepped in front of Lyra and looked straight into Discord's eyes, expecting to suffer whatever fate would have been hers. Instead, the dragon's eyes reverted to normal, and he groaned in exasperation.
“Ugh! I tell you, it's all nag nag nag with this nag here.” Discord sighed and marched ostentatiously toward the outside door. “Well, have it your way, Doc. If you're so concerned with one little pony, I'll content myself with spreading chaos across the rest of the world. Have fun trying to 'save the day'!” The sun rose right on cue, and Discord left the building – avoiding the door and instead bursting through the ceiling with an almighty crash.
There's no way to know that he's not coming back. “Don't worry, you're safe now,” the Doctor lied. He turned back to Lyra, who held her head in her hooves. “It's okay,” he said, trying to soothe her.
The door in back opened, and the mare from earlier poked her head back in. “Is he gone?” she asked, all traces of mockery and sarcasm vanished. “Oh thank Celestia it worked!” She rushed to Lyra and threw her forelegs around the unicorn's quivering body. “He's gone now, Lyra. He's gone.”
After about half a minute of this, the Doctor felt the need to speak up. “Hello there, miss... Bon Bon, was it?” Bon Bon looked up like she'd just noticed him. “Sorry to interrupt, but weren't you acting like you were trying to break Lyra's spirit? Bon Bon narrowed her eyes, but Lyra spoke before she could.
“Exactly... acting.” She was still sniffling a little, but Lyra suddenly seemed to be doing much better, and even managed a short laugh. “She was acting!”
“Um, you see...” Lyra moved herself to a sitting position on the couch; a curiously humanoid sitting position, with legs hanging toward the floor and keister on the cushion. Her friend didn't seem to find anything wrong with this unnatural pose. “The idea was that when Discord came in to our house, Bon Bon would act like she'd been Discorded already so he'd just leave since his work was done. And it worked!” She smiled, though the tears were still fresh on her face.
“You're gray all over,” the Doctor protested to Bon Bon. She grinned – revealing perfectly white teeth – and wiped her foreleg on the couch's arm. When she had finished, the arm was gray and her leg was cream-colored. “Oh, body paint...” the Doctor breathed. “So your plan was actually to fool a self-described mind-reading god of chaos?”
Bon Bon's grin disappeared. “What, you think you can just come in my house – our house – and criticize Lyra's plan?” She glowered at the Doctor, who went right on the defensive.
“Not at all, I think it was brilliant–”
“What would your plan be, Mr. Smart Guy?”
“Oh, well.” The Doctor tried to disarm his assailant with a grin. “I just sort of make it up as I go along.”
It didn't work. “Well, feel free to go along now. Door's over there.” She pointed at the front door. “Don't let it hit you on the way out.”
“... I'm sorry?” Usually I'd be able to charm her pretty easily. She must be really abrasive, or I'm off my game. Maybe because I'm a horse now.
“Ooh, excuse me, I'm sorry, that was too subtle for you.” The Doctor started as he heard his own voice, perfectly mimicked, coming from her mouth. She returned to a more normal tone and continued, “Leave. You're the one that brought Discord to our house, and you nearly got my friend brainwashed. So get out.”
“Bon Bon...” Lyra poked her friend in the side, distracting her from staring the Doctor down. “He saved me from Discord. He's the reason why Discord left at all.”
“Let him stay. Please.”
After a long few seconds, Bon Bon gave in. “Guhhhhh, fine.” She rolled her eyes and turned away from the Doctor.
“Thank you so much.” The Doctor changed his own voice to the sincerest one he could manage. “And I wasn't joking earlier... your plan was brilliant.” Bon Bon smiled a little, then remembered that she didn't like the Doctor and clamped the corners of her mouth back down. Heheheh... still got it.
“But I still don't understand how it worked!” he continued. “He can read minds! Well, he can read my rather exceptional mind, which certainly means he can read yours.” Bon Bon looked offended. “Oh come on, I'm a Time Lord. A mind like mine goes with the territory – but how did your plan work at all?”
She spoke to him despite her annoyance. She's warming up nicely. “Discord is so arrogant that if he thinks you've been brainwashed, he won't even check your head to be sure. I mean, the last time he showed up he didn't realize that all six Elements of Harmony had broken free of his control.”
“Hangonaminnit, did you say Elements of Harmony?”
“Waitjustasec, did you say Time Lord?”
The Doctor and Lyra spoke simultaneously. Thus began an epic bout of stammering, as each insisted the other go first, until the Doctor finally persuaded her to begin. “You said you're a... Time Lord? What does that mean?”
“Actually, who the hay are you?” interrupted Bon Bon, as the Doctor opened his mouth to talk. “All I've heard is that Discord called you the Doctor – what kind of name is that?” Then she realized she was interrupting and apologized – to Lyra. “Sorry about that.”
The Doctor chose to ignore this. “Being a Time Lord means,” he explained, “that I'm... well, among other things I'm very smart and I've got two hearts. Actually, hold on, did both hearts make it to this body?” He lifted his hoof and pressed it to his chest, feeling around. “Hmm... oh there they are, molto bene! So this body is a sort of duplicate of the old one! Except as a horse, with,” he finished, looking at his rump, “those hourglass tattoos – a bit lacking on subtlety.”
“What do you mean, 'this' body?” Bon Bon muttered.
“But if you're a Time Lord, and you've got an hourglass cutie mark, then can you time travel or something?” asked Lyra. Cutie mark? That's what they call it?
“Yes, if I had my TARDIS. Which I don't. I can't even reach the old girl; she's tucked away in another universe...” The Doctor got distracted, thinking of his home for the past millennium or so. “Sorry, is this going somewhere?”
“Hey! Don't be rude to her!” retorted Bon Bon.
“Don't be rude? Oi, do they have a phrase in this universe that goes anything like 'pot to kettle'?”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“It means that you're no girl to be calling other people rude – and hang on what are you doing, taking notes?”
This last question was directed at Lyra. Immediately after receiving her answer from the Doctor, she'd dashed to a nearby chest of drawers, pulled out a ragged-looking piece of paper and quill, and started scribbling furiously, only pausing once to look at a nearby clock.
The Doctor walked toward her. “Can I take a look at that piece of pape–”
He froze as he heard an impossible sound.
“So that's what your time machine sounds like!” said Lyra, beaming at the door Bon Bon had used. The door from behind which air was rushing and the sound was coming.
The most wonderful sound.
Vworp... Vworp... kdunk.
The Doctor was still for a moment more. Then he dashed to the door, grabbed the doorknob in his teeth, and pulled. For the first time all day, as he looked at what stood behind the door, a joyful smile appeared on his face.
Filling up the hallway in front of him was a big blue box. Bold letters on the top read “POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX”, and a white sign on the door gave directions on how to open it, which the Doctor did not bother to look at. The same old light was on the roof, the same opaque windows on the doors... it was not much to look at, but it was the most beautiful thing the Doctor had ever seen. “Hello, old girl,” he breathed.
“That's your time machine? It's kind of small.” He realized that Bon Bon's snark was just a way of trying to cover up her astonishment, and smiled even more widely. He turned to Lyra.
“Lyra, if I had arms I'd hug you right now. But how did you make that happen?” In answer, she handed him the piece of paper. Or maybe she's hoofing it to me. On it were a few cramped scrawls: 2:02 PM/July 3, 1002/The back hall downstairs/44 Hoofridge Drive/Ponyville/Equestria.
“Spatio-temporal coordinates, that's absolutely brilliant!” Then a concerned expression replaced the smile. “But hang on, I shouldn't have a TARDIS here and this is probably an ontological paradox... oh, WHO CARES!” He pushed the doors right open and ran in laughing. “Hello, you beauty!” He stuck his head back through the doorway and beckoned to the two mares with his hoof. “Come on in!”
They followed him. “You know, it actually says pull to open on the sign...” Bon Bon began, as she and Lyra entered the box. Then the two of them were silent. As one they ran back out and looked at it again. Clearly it still fit inside their back hall – at least the outside did. But the inside...
The Doctor watched them re-enter and try to take it all in: the huge golden hemisphere, about as big as their whole house. The otherworldly green pillar in the center, bursting from the immensely complicated central control panel at its base. The constructions around the edges of the room, sort of like pillars or golden tree roots, or gigantic growths of coral. He noted with pleasure that Bon Bon had nothing to say.
“So?” He leaned with a mad grin against the central console. “Any thoughts? Any first impressions?”
“It's... it's...” Words failed Bon Bon for a few seconds longer.
“It's bigger on the inside!” Lyra exclaimed.
“I KNOW! Isn't it just!” The Doctor turned back and gave the central pillar a little happy nuzzle, then noticed a familiar note tacked on to the console. “Oh look, Lyra! It's your coordinates! 2:02 PM, July 3, 1002... wait, there's something on the back.” He flipped it over, and saw an instruction which he read aloud: “Activate Information Protocol Zero-One-Zero.”
“Yes, subtle, isn't it: Information Protocol Ten.” The Doctor turned back around at the sound of his own voice. There he was as a hologram, slightly translucent and projected to be 'standing' on the floor in front of Lyra and Bon Bon. It was him in every detail except for one – he was wearing a fitted, pinstriped blue suit, which managed to both resemble his old suit and avoid looking ridiculous on a horse. The present Doctor joined his companions, relishing their wonderstruck expressions. “This is the Doctor speaking. Hello, Doctor.”
“Is that a hologram?” asked Lyra.
“Of course it's a hologram, Lyra!” responded the hologram, taking her aback. “Now don't talk anymore, because the past me won't remember enough for me to be able to respond directly to your questions. Now a few things are in order. First of all, Lyra and Bon Bon...” the future Doctor looked down for a moment, and sighed before looking back up. There was a strange coldness in his eyes. “Lyra, thanks again for the TARDIS. And if memory serves, you are still covered in paint, Bon Bon. The closest shower's at the end of the third corridor off of that second alcove right there...” he pointed behind himself and to his left, at the walkway which led deeper into the TARDIS. Then he reconsidered, and pointed behind himself and right. “No, that way. You can't miss it.”
“The closest shower? How big is this place?” Bon Bon muttered, trotting past the tangible Doctor and straight through the hologram. This struck the Doctor as a rather rude thing to do to a hologram.
“And finally, you. Me. I'm sorry to have to say this, but you need to hear it now, because Discord is coming and it's better if you hear it from... well, yourself.” The future Doctor paused to breathe. “Discord isn't lying. You're the reason he was able to return.”
The Doctor slumped his shoulders in resignation. He'd suspected as much, just as he'd suspected the explanation that the future Doctor rattled off. “You emerged in front of his statue because it was a local weak point in time and space; he was able to escape because the power of the Time Vortex further weakened that point, letting him slip the magical bonds tied to that spot. It should have taken two thousand years to break free from that statue... it only took one.” And I'd been feeling so good just a moment ago.
“But this is important: he's more powerful than he was last time, and that's because he's feeding off your inner turmoil. So you need to make peace with yourself, because he's coming for you, and if he can keep feeding on you you'll never beat him.” The Doctor snorted. Of all the beings in all the universes that could land in front of that statue, it had to be the one with enough guilt and angst to power a star system... or resurrect a god. Figures that it should be me.
He caught himself. It wasn't my fault. Certainly not this time, and almost none of the other times either. I couldn't control where I landed in this universe.
But if I'd wasted less time before regenerating, would any of this have happened?
That's not fair. That was not time wasted, and I had no way of knowing this could happen.
He was distracted from his internal argument by the hologram, who seemed to be finishing up. “Anyway, your clothes are on the coat tree by the door, though you'll have to wait a bit before putting them on. And one more thing, Doctor... Trust her.” And with that the future Doctor disappeared, leaving the present Doctor quite confused.
“Trust her? Who's her?” he asked himself.
“Oh my goodness, it is bigger on the inside! How delightfully impossible!” The Doctor and Lyra froze, and turned as one to see Discord's silhouette against the open doors.
“Well, Doc, I knew that if you were left to your own devices you'd come up with something good. But this?” Discord threw his arms out to either side and spun in place. “This takes the cake! An impossible time machine shaped like a police box? What a fantastic combination of laughably absurd...” he grinned darkly. “And the perfect vehicle to spread chaos to every point in pony history. And when I get bored with the timeline of this little world? Who knows, I might just visit the next planet. And the next. And the next!” With each line he stalked a step closer to the control panel. Lyra squeaked and cowered, but the Doctor had a quite different reaction: he leaped to the control panel and grabbed a lever.
“Get out of here right now, Discord.” He flexed his foreleg. “Or I pull this.”
“Oh my!” Discord affected surprise. “Dearie me, whatever does that do? Oh wait – I know already, but why not explain it for the sake of your friend Lyra. Or is she your friend?” Discord swooped in and came face to face with the Doctor. “After all, friends don't imprison friends for all eternity over personal vendettas.”
Lyra's head shot up in alarm, and she looked at the Doctor. “What does he mean, Doctor?”
The Doctor looked down at the floor before telling her. “The TARDIS takes off and lands... inside itself. And then it shuts off forever. Nothing can ever enter or leave it again.” Lyra's eyes widened in horror.
“That's right, Lyra. Take a look at your heroic, compassionate Doctor.” Discord framed the Doctor's face with his fingers. “Compassionate enough to lock you and your friend in here forever, without even so much as offering her a 'sorry, so sorry'. All on the long-shot that it would be enough to stop me. Can you really do that, Doctor?” he asked, turning back to the Doctor and looking him dead in the eye. “Could you do that?”
They looked into each others' eyes for a long time. But the Doctor finally gave in and let go of the lever.
Discord let out an almighty “HA!” He smacked the Doctor away from the controls with his left hand and swooped around to the other side of the console. “You never would, you coward. Now let's spread some chaos!”
“Hi again, Doctor!”
Again, all heads turned to see the newcomer. “Derpy?” the Doctor cried out, as she crossed into the TARDIS with crossed eyes and a far too cheerful smile under the circumstances. “I told you to get away!”
Discord rolled his eyes. “Oh look who showed up – the village idiot, come to help the Doc. Get out of here, silly pony, I've got a lot of chaos to–”
“You aren't going anywhere, Discord.” Derpy's smile was gone, and her eyes were narrow – and, the Doctor noticed, no longer crossed. She marched right up to the console and began purposefully pressing buttons and pushing levers.
She can't possibly know what she's doing. “Derpy, don't–” he gasped.
The Doctor remembered his hologram's message and lay quietly on the ground, still reeling from Discord's blow.
“Hey, that's my toy,” Discord snarled, just as Derpy pulled down hard on one last lever and stepped away from the console. “And it's my turn.” He swiped at her as he had at the Doctor, but this time his hand went right through. “What the heck?”
vworp... Vworp... Vworp...
Inside the central pillar, two interlocking constructions began oscillating up and down, scraping against each other in time with the sound of the TARDIS.
Vworp... Vworp... Vworp...
More significantly, Discord's body was growing fainter, even transparent.
Vworp... Vworp... Vworp...
Finally he realized what was happening. “Oh come on, you can't be leaving without me!” He stamped on the ground in impotent anger, his body and voice becoming fainter by the moment. “You do not get to leave without the god of Cha...” And with that he was gone.
Vworp... Vworp... kdunk.
After a few seconds of stunned silence, the Doctor got to his feet and warily approached Derpy, a stunned expression on both their faces. Suddenly, he stopped being wary and hugged her.
“That was amazing! Hey, look at that!” he exclaimed. “I figured out how to hug!” Derpy hugged him right back, a big grin on both their faces. “But how did you do that?”
Derpy opened her eyes, and they were again crossed. “I don't know.”
“You just made the TARDIS dematerialize without one of its passengers and you don't know HOW?” The Doctor was incredulous, but Derpy simply shook her head.
“It just felt... right,” she tried to explain, frowning in confusion. “Like meeting you did, it felt right... that doesn't make sense, does it. Sorry.” Her face fell.
“Really, don't be.” the Doctor reassured, still smiling.
“Did we just time travel?” Lyra asked, her voice still squeaking after her recent fright. She cleared her throat and continued less squeakily then before. “So where are we now? No, when are we?”
The Doctor disengaged from Derpy and ran around the console to the scanner. “July second, 1002. Same time of day, same place. We've traveled precisely one day into the past, before Discord broke free. We're safe now.” They all relaxed.
“So now we can go and stop Discord from ever having broken free!” Lyra sounded optimistic, but the Doctor shook his head.
“How? If I go near that statue again it might be enough to break him out ahead of schedule. And you're forgetting about the problem of a paradox.”
“Doctor, why would it be a problem to have two docks?” Derpy seemed to have misheard him and sounded quite confused.
“Not a pair of docks,” the Doctor explained. “A paradox. If we somehow stopped Discord's appearance, then there'd be no reason for us to be here at all.” He reached to pull his glasses his pocket, then realized he still wasn't wearing anything. “Rule one of time travel: do not interfere with your own timeline.” He said while standing in the TARDIS sent to him by his future self.
“I was kidding about the dock thing...” Derpy muttered.
Bon Bon burst back in, panting and soaking wet. Gray paint was still streaked along her body, but bizarrely enough the streaks were pointed upward. “The shower... started shooting water... up from the drain... and back into the showerhead.” She looked, to use a term the Doctor had once heard, thoroughly weirded out.
“Sorry, that bathroom must be time-sensitive,” he replied with a small smile. “At least you didn't use the toilet, did you?” She stared at him in utter bewilderment.
“We just time traveled!” Derpy explained beamishly. Bon Bon rolled her eyes and snorted, her bewilderment replaced by something close to contempt as she noticed the pegasus.
“Oh great, it's Derpy Hooves. And this day was going so well already.”
Derpy and the Doctor gave Bon Bon a cool look. “Excuse me?” the Doctor said.
“You know, Derpy Hooves.” Bon Bon considered for a moment. “Actually, I guess you don't, so here's all you need to know: she managed to single-hoofedly destroy Town Hall earlier this year, and she's the dumbest, clumsiest pony in all Equestria. What is she doing... here...” her voice trailed off as the Doctor ambled toward her, smiling in what could have been a friendly way. But the smile didn't get anywhere near his eyes – the eyes of a patient stallion whose patience had just worn out.
“Bon Bon, I'm going to tell you this once, and I'm going to tell you this very nicely.” Bon Bon shrank back as the Doctor leaned over her, using a low, serious tone. “I get that it hasn't been a good day for you. But you are going to be much more personable from now on, particularly because the 'dumbest pony in Equestria' just saved your life. Is that clear?” Bon Bon backed away from him as if he'd started threatening her.
“All right, sorry!” she managed. The Doctor raised an eyebrow, and she took a deep breath to try to calm down. “Sorry,” she repeated with more sincerity. The Doctor's smile stayed frozen on his face.
A few seconds later, she realized what he wanted from her. “I'm sorry!” she called – not to him but to Derpy, who was looking in the opposite direction, still annoyed. “I'm sorry I said you were dumb and clumsy.” The pegasus immediately brightened up and smiled at her.
“Oh, it's okay!” With the apology accepted, the Doctor released Bon Bon from his stare and turned to face the doors. He heard her try to suppress a sigh of relief.
“You'd probably better finish your shower,” he said, back to a conversational tone of voice. “I promise no nasty surprises this time, and I can get dressed while you're doing that.” She trotted hastily back to the bathroom.
“Um, why would you need to put on clothes?” Lyra queried.
“Because I've been naked all day!” Derpy and Lyra both shot him confused, skeptical looks. “Oh right, horses. No nudity taboo.” Derpy snorted and turned her attention to the TARDIS console, treading gingerly around it and occasionally putting her ear to the side.
“Actually, we're not called horses,” Lyra corrected, as the Doctor walked over to the coat tree that his future self had indicated, and pulled his suit down. “We're ponies. You weren't always a pony?”
“I told you, I'm a Time Lord,” he responded, struggling with the sleeves. “The Time Lord, actually, but...” He pushed away old, sad memories. “Let's not get into that, not now.”
“So what does a Time Lord look like?”
“Well, two arms, two legs... kind of like a human, if you have any of those around here. Gah!” The Doctor was by now thoroughly tangled. “How do you ponies work things without fingers?”
“Oh, you had fingers?” Somehow this made Lyra positively joyous. “You lucky pony, I've always wanted to have fingers!” She giggled, though this might have been at his predicament. “Let me help you with that!” Her horn glowed minty green, like the color of her coat and hair, and a similar aura enveloped the Doctor's suit. A few magical yanks and tucks later, every snag was gone. He flexed his legs experimentally and smiled as the perfectly tailored suit moved with him.
“Thank you Lyra!” She smiled with him, happy that he was happy. “Was that magic?”
“You bet! Did they not have magic in your world or something?”
“Naw, we got along with really good tech.” The Doctor adjusted his suit, and noticed several somethings underneath it. “Speaking of which, look at this!” He reached into his pocket and began to pull out a few items. “My sonic screwdriver!” It was a silver metal rod with a little blue light on the end, and not in any way a screwdriver. He pressed a button on its middle and it made the sort of warbling, whistling noise he enjoyed so much. “I love my sonic screwdriver – and the brainy specs!” he exulted, drawing and putting on a pair of thick-rimmed brown glasses. “I don't need them, but they do make me look clever – well, cleverer,” he explained to a bemused but still happy Lyra.
“Moving on... TARDIS key! Never leave home without it,” he said, brandishing an ordinary key in his hoof. “Actually,” he continued, pulling out a few more, “a bunch of TARDIS keys... well, it's always nice to have spares. Psychic paper, always useful...” he revealed and opened up a beaten up black wallet. “And what's this... 'Remember to ask Bon Bon about the Elements of Harmony',” he read. “Another message from myself, eh? Well, come on everybody, let's go ask her.” He trotted deeper into the TARDIS.
“Ummmm, I think you mean everypony,” Derpy said, pulling herself off the metal grating, through which she'd been looking at the TARDIS's innards. She and Lyra followed him in, and they walked through the third corridor.
“You know,” Lyra said, at what seemed to be the halfway point of the long corridor, “for a time-spaceship this place seems almost... alive.”
“The TARDIS is more than just a ship, Lyra.” The Doctor turned and touched his hoof to the wall, like a doctor feeling for a pulse. “She is alive.” He closed his eyes and smiled.
“Of course!” Derpy's declaration surprised both of the other two. A moment later she was surprised too. “Wait, how did I know that?” How could she know that? The Doctor pulled his hoof from the wall and resumed trotting, almost as confused as Derpy herself. This pony knows much more than she ought about the TARDIS... how can she even fly the ship?
For that matter, how am I going to build her? This question troubled him. Or rather, grow her. When all this is said and done, I might be able to take a cutting of this TARDIS's coral and grow her, but that won't do the trick alone... I'll need to do a lot of engineering work, so I'll need a lot of help... but it'll be difficult for them to grasp the concepts involved and oh look we're here.
Lost in thought, the Doctor didn't realize that they'd reached the end of the corridor until he almost hit his nose on the bathroom door. “Bon Bon?” he called, knocking three times on the door. “Are you decent?”
She opened the door, all paint removed. Her coat and hair were fully revealed, the latter of which was a quite conspicuous combination of blue and pink. Her flank displayed a picture of three wrapped sweets – her cutie mark, he supposed. “Absolutely, thank you very much.”
The Doctor cocked his head to the side in puzzlement at her words – or more accurately, at her voice. “Hang on, was your voice different earlier?”
“I'm sure you're imagining things.” No I'm not, and I'm very good with accents. Her voice had sounded generally Earth, North American English before – the sort one might hear around Vancouver. Now she was aping his own Estuary, though rather than imitating his voice precisely she was speaking as a mare.
“Do you mind not copying my accent?”
"Well shucks, would y’all rather have one of them country accents? Or maybe, like, you want me to do, like, a valley-mare impression?” She switched from accent to accent with dizzying speed.
“I need you to tell me about the Elements of Harmony,” he replied, ignoring her changing voice. “Everything I've been hearing from you, Derpy, Discord – it all keeps coming back to these Elements.”
“Well, uh, sure, but like, you could have asked like anypony around. I mean duh – who doesn't know about the Elements.”
“Bon Bon, you're killing me,” Lyra groaned, while magically folding her ears into their holes. Bon Bon sighed and returned to her 'default' voice.
“Fine, the Elements of Harmony. They're six magical artifacts that are the most powerful things in all Equestria when combined – stronger than Discord himself. They were used to imprison Discord when he came back a year ago, and before that they defeated Nightmare Moon and freed Princess Luna.”
“Where are the ponies that can use them?” The Doctor began walking back toward the control room, leaving the other three mares with little choice but to follow.
“I guess... you'd probably want to check the Ponyville Library first. That's where Twilight Sparkle, the Element of Magic, lives.”
“You said they're artifacts, not ponies–” the Doctor began.
“They're also ponies.” Bon Bon sounded rather exasperated, but remembered the Doctor's earlier admonishment and kept her annoyance in check. “Anyway, she lives in the library. A bit of a bookworm, but she's got a lot of magical power.”
“I like her already.” They reached the control room, and the Doctor dashed to the console, manipulating her controls like he'd been doing it all his life. Well, I have – for most of it, anyway. I didn't expect it to be so easy with no fingers, though. “Time to travel to Ponyville Library, July third!”
“Okay... wait, July third? Like, after Discord is freed?” Lyra was extremely confused, and more than a little scared.
“Remember, no time paradoxes if we can avoid it!” the Doctor replied without looking up. “I can't warn the bearer of the Element of Magic – or the Element herself, whatever – ahead of time that Discord is returning. Furthermore!” he continued, before nearly being knocked off his hooves as the TARDIS shook through the Time Vortex. “She'd be more willing to help us once Discord has escaped. And finally,” as the TARDIS reached his destination, “I've landed us at a time when Discord is otherwise occupied with me, so we should be fine.” He bounded out through the doors and into the library. “Oh no.”
“Doctor?” Derpy called. The three mares gathered near the door of the TARDIS.
“Bon Bon, could you describe Twilight Sparkle for me as exactly as possible?” He turned to face them, seeing their anxiety. Perhaps they believed he was in trouble.
“She's a purple unicorn... her hair has a pink stripe in it... both her mane and her tail look like they've been cut with a straight-edge... and she's got a bunch of stars as her cutie mark. What, do you see her?” Bon Bon asked.
“Yes, I'm afraid I do. Come on out.”
As the other three stepped into the library, the Doctor looked back into Twilight's eyes. She was with the other five bearers of the Elements of Harmony, each one wearing their particular Element: Twilight's as a crown, the rest as necklaces in the shape of the bearer's cutie mark. They all looked poised to attack, but for one detail; they and their Elements were frozen in stone. “I'm sorry,” said the Doctor, standing still as a statue himself. “I truly am sorry.”
“Are they dead?” Derpy asked, looking nervously at the six statues.
“That's not how Discord works,” the Doctor replied, examining each one in turn. “Kill a pony, that's it: he can't hurt them anymore. No fun.”
Lyra's eyes widened as she realized the implications. “Then they're still alive, but–”
“–unable to move or speak,” the Doctor finished, returning to Twilight's statue. “But I'd bet you they can all still think.” He pressed his forehead against hers.
“Then they can't help us now.” Bon Bon, seemingly feeling that someone needed to be pragmatic, tried to pull Lyra back into the TARDIS. “And the Elements – the artifacts – got turned to stone too, they can't help us either. We should leave before Discord finds us.”
“No.” Bon Bon stopped pulling. “Like I said, Twilight can still think. So I'm going to talk to her.”
“But how would that help, unless...” Lyra gasped. “You can read minds? I thought only unicorns were supposed to be able to do that!”
“Don't be so sure.” The Doctor smiled briefly, then closed his eyes and concentrated, his forehead still on Twilight's. “Please be quiet unless it's important.”
And with that, he fell into her mind.
Can't breathe. The Doctor found himself in something like a howling void filled with pain and wind. At once he tensed up, seized with an overwhelming feeling of suffocation, like he'd been gagged and bound. His physical body gasped – but this wasn't his pain, it was Twilight's, shared across their psychic link. She didn't need to breathe as a statue, but the years of being a living being, born to respire, told her otherwise. Choking can't breathe help me can't breathe choking help me–
Can't breathe help me choking– in fact there were no words from her mind; just a feeling terror and suffocation.
It's okay, it's okay. I'm here to help you. The Doctor quickly constructed an imaginary space – a sort of metaphor for the communication between two minds. He showed her an infinite grassy field dominated by two towering citadels: his brown, hers purple. A mental image of himself emerged from his 'mind' as represented by the citadel, and stood before her own panicked psyche – her castle that was collapsing in upon itself. Imagine yourself here with me. Meet me in the space between our minds. A picture of a purple unicorn pulled herself from her mind to stand on the green – still gasping in terror. Now breathe with me. In... two... three... his mental image inhaled... out... two... three... and exhaled. And in... two... three... and out... two... three...
Gradually, she joined in pretending to breathe deeply with him. She calmed down, and his body relaxed in sympathy. Her castle stood firm again. Good. Just keep imagining yourself breathing and it won't be so hard. My name's the Doctor, and I need you to help me stop Discord. Is there anything you can tell me about Discord or the Elements of Harmony?
She tried to respond with words, but they were beyond her. Frankly, he was impressed that she could form a detailed self-image at all in the dream space. Don't bother with words. You beat Discord before. Show me what you saw – show me memories. She paused, gathered her memories, then opened the castle gates and released the deluge.
Remember this day, little ponies, for it was your last. The Doctor found himself looking at a large pony – no, an alicorn – no, not just an alicorn – Nightmare Moon, insane goddess of darkness, the corrupted Princess of the Night. From this moment forth, the night shall last forever! Ahahahahahaha! He saw Twilight with all her friends – no, not her friends, not yet – at the Summer Sun Celebration – some cowering, some ready to fight.
It was under E! The scene changed, and all the not-yet-friends were in the library, looking at the book Pinkie Pie had just found. Twilight Sparkle pulled it open and began to read... There are six Elements of Harmony, but only five are known: Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Honesty and Loyalty. The sixth is a complete mystery.
And then the Doctor watched as the six friends, fresh from many trials – manticores calmed, bridges restored, ghosties giggled at – found the Elements in the ancient castle of the royal princesses – but there were only five Elements there, and they were small stone orbs without the power to end the night. When the five are present, a spark will cause the sixth Element to be revealed. As the others left to give her time to concentrate, to try to power the artifacts, Nightmare Moon appeared and took Twilight to another castle – they did battle – Nightmare Moon shattered the Elements – all hope seemed lost.
But Twilight's friends returned to help her, and it all became clear – the legendary spark was the spark of friendship. It ignited – restored the Elements – revealed the sixth – the Element of Magic. Nightmare Moon was struck down – banished – Princess Luna was restored, and the sun rose again.
The Doctor and Twilight paused for a moment, as the former tried to make sense of all he'd seen and the latter prepared another wave of memory. Then the Doctor nodded. Ready.
At once he found himself in a hall filled with stained glass windows detailing the history of Equestria – the six Elements of Harmony were with a white alicorn – Princess Celestia, ruler of day – they stood next to an empty chest where the artifacts should have been – an evil chuckle echoed through the room, one the Doctor recognized all too well. Did you miss me, Celestia? I missed you. Discord flew through the stained glass that filled the room. It's quite lonely being encased in stone, but you wouldn't know that, would you, because I don't turn ponies into stone!
The Doctor found himself somewhat skeptical of that statement.
Stop stalling, Discord! What have you done with the Elements of Harmony? Princess Celestia ignored his jab, pressing to the point. The Doctor found himself liking her quite a bit.
Oh, so boring, Celestia. Really? Fine, I'll tell you, but I'll only tell you my way. To retrieve your missing elements, just make sense of this change of events: Twists and turns are my master plan... Discord disappeared entirely. Then find the elements back where you began.
Then everything disappeared, and the Doctor saw himself and Twilight Sparkle with four of her friends in a collapsing maze – but it was all wrong – the four had been turned and broken by Discord, with only Twilight left as herself – and Rainbow Dash wasn't there at all. Game's over, my little ponies. You didn't find your precious elements. Discord gloated in his victory, producing – bizarrely enough – an inverted pink umbrella. Looks like we might be due for a big old storm of chaos! His laugh echoed and echoed throughout the world.
But hope was not yet lost. Twilight showed the Doctor more memories – herself being turned gray in her despair, only to gain fresh determination when she reread the letters she'd sent to Princess Celestia – reminding her of the times she'd shared with her friends. He watched her show these memories to them – he saw the six reunited, confronting an all-too-confident Discord, who discovered too late that their friendship was stronger than his wiles. I'll tell you what we've learned, Discord. We've learned that friendship isn't always easy. But there's no doubt it's worth fighting for! The reunited Elements of Harmony resealed Discord into his stone statue, and the world was made whole once again.
The flood of memories ended, and the Doctor found himself standing again in the dream space between their minds. Thank you. I know how to beat him now, but I'll need your Element of Harmony. Is that okay? She nodded. Hold on to hope, Twilight Sparkle. He began to let himself fade, to let the psychic link break–
Oh, you can do words now, very good! The Doctor stayed a while longer, wondering what she had to say – vital information about Celestia, Discord, or the Elements? No, he doubted that.
Please... help my friends like... you helped... me, she managed.
I promise. Help is on its way. And with that he pulled away, leaving the dream space far behind, and opened his eyes. It had taken only a few seconds of real time.
“What happened?” Lyra asked, rushing over to him. “Did you talk to her?”
“Yes. Don't ask me any questions just yet,” he replied, cutting off her attempt to do just that. He wondered if Bon Bon would call him rude again, but he had little time and a promise to honor. He proceeded to the statue next to Twilight's – comparing its wings and striped hair with Twilight's memories, he guessed this was Rainbow Dash – and plunged into her mind.
I promise you, Fluttershy, you won't be like this much longer. Just keep breathing. With that the Doctor retreated from the mind of the Element of Kindness, the last of the six statues. He turned back to his companions – no, they couldn't be merely companions anymore. They had to be his friends.
“Now can you tell us what you were doing?” asked Bon Bon.
“It's harder to explain than you might think, but long story short I talked to them and I've found a way to defeat Discord. But I need all your help.” The Doctor pulled his sonic screwdriver from his pocket, clicked it a few times, then trained it on the stone pendant at Fluttershy's neck. After a few seconds of noise, the necklace fell off, transforming as it fell into a stone orb.
“And what are you doing now?”
“Gathering the Elements of Harmony,” he replied without looking at her. Then he thought better of this curt explanation. I'm going to have to make more of an effort than that. He turned and called her and Lyra over to look. “Sonic screwdriver, setting 229.6 – resonates and cracks stone. I did say it was a useful little gadget. Can you two hold these?” he asked, indicating the Elements of Kindness and Loyalty, the latter of which he quickly liberated from Rainbow Dash.
“I suppose so,” Bon Bon grumbled, picking up the two dormant Elements and balancing them on her back. Derpy grabbed Honesty and placed it in her saddlebag, and Lyra levitated Generosity and Laughter. Last of all the Doctor came to the Element of Magic. It separated easily from Twilight's head, but instead of falling to the floor it vanished into thin air.
“Whoa!” Lyra jumped back a bit, almost dropping her two Elements. “Where'd it go?”
“If it's gone, how are we supposed to beat Discord with only five Elements?” asked Bon Bon – not mockingly, but with real worry. He appreciated the fact that she was making an effort.
“Trust me, we won't need it for the plan.”
“The plan? What, the one you're making up as you go along?”
“Oh yes!” The Doctor grinned fiercely. “And I can promise you it's going to be brilliant.” And they all believed him, or at least all got swept up in his fervor. “Now come on, into the TARDIS. We've got a few more things to take care of and I don't want Discord to find us here. And Derpy? You're the designated flier!” Derpy beamed and jumped through the open doorway.
And in... two... three... Twilight ‘took’ a deep breath, ‘walking’ through the green field the Doctor had made for her. It was flat and regular as far as she could 'see', but that was fine. She wasn’t looking for distractions. And out... two... three...
She heard a sound from the real world. “And Derpy? You’re the designated flier!” Somehow she knew what he meant, just as she somehow knew what a TARDIS was. In... two... three... Then she realized what she knew – what she’d seen – and was so startled that she almost lost her focus. The dreamspace shuddered. No – out. Two... three... In... two... three... She could contemplate the few memories of his that she’d glimpsed, but not now: they were just too much. She had to focus on herself now, and keep breathing.
Vworp... vworp... vworp... She knew that sound as well. The TARDIS was leaving, which meant that she’d be alone again for a long time – at least from one perspective. In... two... three...
But she knew better. Her friends were there with her, and though she could neither see nor hear them, she knew they felt the same way. Even as Discord’s spell kept them apart, they were together. And out... two... three...
And even as that same spell kept her from stopping Discord, she was not powerless. She hadn’t failed Equestria; she’d given the Doctor what he needed to save them and the whole world. And she trusted him to do just that.
Why? She stopped ‘walking’, but managed to keep breathing despite her puzzlement. Why do I trust him? She racked her brain – and the little she’d seen of his – and came up with a few reasons: because he’d helped her before asking her for anything. Because he’d promised to help her friends. Because he’d told her he could save the world. And because...
I don’t know, she admitted. But that’s still so much better than nothing. And so she held on to hope, and she breathed.
Vinyl Scratch didn't care about the chaos happening around her as she trudged through Ponyville. Solid-seeming houses folded themselves into paper cranes. Cows did headstands while playing in brass bands. A warm licorice blizzard blazed through the street. The sun in the sky – occasionally the suns – flew through the cycle of day and night, alternating with the moon or moons.
So what? It didn't concern her. It wasn't her business. No need to pry. The candy snow in her hair, the soapy ground beneath her feet, the utter emptiness in her soul – not her problem. That weird scraping noise that was approaching her from behind – not her problem.
Being hauled off the ground from behind, pulled into a flying box, and swooping up into the sky – maybe that was something she should think about. She wasn't sure yet.
“Gotcha!” said the stallion grabbing her. She found herself in a huge room with some sort of weird glowy pillar in the middle. A few mares were in there along with the brown stallion, and they all looked a bit beat up. She didn't recognize anypony, though... hang on, that's Octavia over there. She was sitting in a chair, though not by choice; she'd been gagged and tied to it with a long multicolored scarf.
“At least this one came quietly,” said one of the ponies, massaging her bruised mouth. “Now what do we do, Doctor?”
“We introduce ourselves, of course!” The stallion put himself right in front of her eyes with a giddy grin on his face. “Nice to meet you, Vinyl Scratch! I'm the Doctor.”
Vinyl said nothing. Maybe they'll go away if I don't do anything. A few seconds of awkward silence ensued.
Eventually, the Doctor renewed his sagging grin and pulled Vinyl toward the glowy pillar. “That's Bon Bon over there.” He pointed to the mare who'd been rubbing her mouth, “Can be a bit of a grump, but she has some great redeeming qualities, namely....” He paused to think for a moment, then gave up the attempt and moved on.
“And that's Lyra on the other side. Shy, very imaginative, and a pleasure to know. I'm the Doctor, a bit crazy, a bit rude, more than a bit good with spatio-temporal mechanics. That's Derpy Hooves.” He pointed to a gray pegasus standing next to the pillar's base, “Inexplicably enough, she's kind of like me but minus the rude. And that's Octavia there, but you know her pretty well already – well, knew. Careful, she bites.”
Octavia growled through her improvised gag like a rabid dog.
“Seriously, Doctor, what are we doing?” Bon Bon asked, trying to bring the conversation back to a reasonable footing of sanity.
“Seriously, we're introducing ourselves,” the Doctor said, having none of it. “And we're going to become the best of friends! Like the three amigos, except with another three, so that's six amigos right there!” He guffawed, then turned back to the console, still rattling on inanely. “That's a nice number, six. Sort of a mystical number, sometimes....” He seemed to realize he was rambling, and caught himself. “Sorry. Anyway, Bon Bon, what happens next is that you – or any of you, really – tell me our destination.”
“We tell you?” asked Lyra.
“Well, all I know is that it's a fashion show.” The Doctor paused, apparently amused at Lyra and Bon Bon's befuddlement. “Don't you remember, it was on the radio? Octavia said to Vinyl that 'ever since we met at that fashion show', then something about no respect – and before that, Vinyl said that they'd been friends for a few months. Have there been any big fashion shows recently?” Vinyl followed their conversation with disinterest.
“Oh right!” Lyra exclaimed. “Yeah, there was one a few months back... February 17, 1002, at Saddleson Square Garden in Manehattan.” The Doctor began setting the coordinates, trying to keep a straight face.
“Okay, one trip to Saddleson Square Garden... in... Manehattan...” He gave up and fell into a fit of guffaws for several seconds. “Sorry every... pony... it's just that... eh...” Bon Bon, Lyra, and Derpy were all giving him strange looks. “Nevermind, long story. Fashion show, coming right up!” He slammed down one last lever and they were off.
Octavia noticed that her ensemble was playing a touch too loudly, and motioned for them to quiet down. After all, they'd been hired to play as accompaniment to the Manehattan Fashion Expo, not as the main event.
Not that she thought much of the Expo itself. A bunch of fashionistas and fashionistos trying desperately to one-up each other with gems and gaud. That one pony – the one with the purple mane, from Ponyville – some of her dresses could blind a pony at fifty paces. Sure, she has a few relatively subdued pieces, but the crowd isn't noticing them. Subtle never gets you very far.
Octavia made sure to halt these somewhat resentful thoughts before they could affect her technique. She might have been no more than a background to the expo, but by Celestia she was going to do a good job at it even if nopony noticed. That was her role, after all: to provide a backdrop against which the ponies could display their spectacular dresses. Oh, they're a spectacle, all right. You'd need spectacles after looking at one for too long.
What am I even doing here? she found herself wondering. I've been a virtuosa at the cello for years and here I am doing mood music. Don't I deserve something a bit more prestigious? Shouldn't they be watching me? She noticed a tension in her body, a small stridency in her playing, and forced herself to relax. Okay, so I may not be the main event at Saddleson Square Garden, but I'm still at the Saddleson Square Garden. Things could be worse.
She decided to just make the best of what she had. She'd earn her recognition in time. She'd get noticed. Until then, she resolved to play as well as she could and not let anything distract or disrupt her. Not resentment, not ennui, not even–
Octavia dropped her bow to cover her ears and cringe. What in the hay? She and the rest of her ensemble looked around for the source of the ghastly sound.
“Sorry, everypony! Just making sure the speakers are working!” On the opposite side of the massive chamber, a blue-haired white unicorn waved to the stunned crowd from another raised podium. After a moment, the guests went back to their small talk and order-making, and the unicorn disappeared behind a large turntable. Octavia thought she saw sparks flying out from the turntable's back.
“Oh damn,” Beauty Brass said, sticking a hoof into her face. 'The expo's been double-booked.”
Octavia was skeptical. “You really think they'd hire... whoever the hoof she is at this kind of event?”
“Maybe she's playing... easy listening?” Frederic suggested. Octavia looked over at the DJ's podium and noticed the words DJ PON-3 on the base in the same neon-blue color as her hair, with lightning bolts on either side of the lettering.
“Yes, I'm sure that easy listening is her thing,” she muttered. She turned back to her ensemble and tried to compose herself. “Okay, we've played through worse than this. Remember the Grand Galloping Gala?” They all nodded, remembering the inexplicable appearance of a hyperactive pink mare who had forced them to play the Pony Polka and sang along with some rather odd improvised lyrics. The night had only gotten worse from there. “Whoever this pony is, she can't possibly be worse than that night. Let's just play through it.”
Octavia returned to her cello. Beauty Brass put her lips back upon her sousaphone, and Frederic held his hooves just above the piano keys in preparation. “We'll pick up from measure 33 in three, two, one.” They resumed playing with practiced ease, almost as if they hadn't stopped. In fact, nopony seemed to have noticed that they had stopped for what must have been a whole minute. That's... kind of depressing.
What she didn't notice were two ponies who were paying attention to her: the unicorn DJ, her head peeking out from behind the turntable, and a brown stallion in a corner wearing ridiculously large glasses.
“I hope you're all getting this,” he murmured, seemingly to thin air. “I'm going to all this trouble to synchronize my brainy specs with the ship, and sit in at a... a fashion show.” He grimaced.
“Could you zoom in a little more on Octavia?” Bon Bon asked – ever the personification of gratitude – back in the TARDIS. Lyra and Derpy stood beside her. Vinyl had been led into a chair, where she sat and watched the scanner without complaint: Octavia was no more willingly compliant than before. They watched as the view from the Doctor's special glasses was magnified several times, showing them the past Octavia frowning with barely-suppressed annoyance upon her podium.
“That's better, thanks,” Lyra said. “Anyways, from what I heard, there were some crossed wires at the event, so they accidentally hired both musicians.” The Doctor turned his head to look at past-Vinyl, who was nodding her head in time with Octavia's music. Suddenly, she grinned and ducked back behind a speaker, making noises that suggested the methodical disabling of machinery.
“Oh, Doctor,” Bon Bon interjected, a little smile on her face, “You should probably be turning the volume down again. I think Vinyl's just had an idea.” The Doctor managed to dial the volume down just before–
–a short but huge burst of static blasted from the speaker, interrupting all activity on the floor and on Octavia's podium. Octavia covered her ears and shot a glare at DJ PON-3, who waved back at her. She's not even sorry that she's ruining the show, and that she's ruining my performance with her utter–
Octavia took a long, deep breath. “Let's... let's try that again. Measure 57, I think...” No DJ is going to get me frazzled. “And one, two, three, go.” She drew her bow across the cello–
BIOW BIOW wub wub wub woowoowoowoowoowoo WUB WUB wooooooo
–and was interrupted again. But this time was no brief distraction; this seemed to be the main event. “Hello Manehattan!” DJ PON-3 called to the stunned high-society ponies from behind her turntable, then raised her glasses off her face and looked Octavia directly in the eyes. She winked and gave Octavia a challenging smirk.
Octavia felt a little something inside her snap. Her eye twitched. She mouthed three words: “It. Is. On.”
She turned to her ensemble. “That's it, change of plan. We're not playing the Prelude in C Minor, we're playing the Sabre Prance on my count.” She walked over to their own speakers and turned them up, then looked back at her ensemble. They, in turn, looked at her like she'd grown an extra head.
“She's not actually trying to out-loud the DJ.” Beauty Brass pleaded to Frederic. “Please tell me she's not.”
“Listen Octavia, don't let yourself get worked up over nothing,” Frederic cajoled, yelling to be heard above the dubstep. “Look.” He pointed to a group of large uniformed stallions to the side of the room, who were starting to move toward DJ PON-3. “Security will be here any minute, they'll–”
“Sabre Prance, on my count,” Octavia repeated, as calmly and firmly as she could manage. “We are not letting that vulgarian steal the show. Ready?” She raised her bow, and despite their misgivings her band mates followed her lead. “Three-two-one-go!”
The ensemble blasted their bombastic piece through speakers cranked up to double their previous volumes, playing enough to drown out DJ PON-3. Now the crowd and the security turned to face her ensemble instead.
Octavia looked triumphantly upon the DJ, only to see her turning up her own speakers to drown them out. The security guards turned back to her in confusion, unsure of who exactly was more of a danger to the Expo.
WUB WUB WUB WOOWOOWOOWOOWOOWOO WUB WUB WOOOOOOO
“Louder!” Octavia yelled, cranking up the speaker's volume by another half.
YATATATATATATA TATATATATATATATA YATATA TATA YATATA TATA YATATA TATA YATATA TATA YATATATATATATATATAAAAAA
Now what, DJ? Going to turn it up again? Instead, PON-3 switched her music off. Feeling victorious, Octavia was about to motion to her band to stop as well, when suddenly–
WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB WUWUWUB WUB WUB WUWUWUB WUB WUB WUWUWUB WUB WUB WUWUWUB WUB WUB WUWUWUWUWUWUWUWUWIOWWWWWW
–the DJ's turntable began playing the Sabre Prance precisely in time with her ensemble. Every part from bass to melody to percussion was played by synthesizer. After a stanza of this, she turned off everything but the bass and percussion, stood on the turntable, and picked up an electric guitar with her magic to play the next line.
DIRNIRNA DIRNINIRNA DIRNINIRNA DIRNINIRNA DIRDILIR DIRNA DIRDILIR DIRNA DIRDILIR DIRNA DIRDILIR DIRNA DIRNADIRNADIRNADIRNA DIRRRRRRR
It was unrehearsed and a little rough, but rather well done despite that. After the stanza was finished, she pointed the guitar at Octavia, challenging her. Daring her. Octavia was more than willing to respond.
Back in the TARDIS, Octavia's struggling became less violent, and Vinyl began taking more interest in her surroundings. “It's working!” exclaimed Lyra. “Your plan, it's working!”
“Forget the plan, this is brilliant!” replied the Doctor, eyes fixed on the show. The two musicians had never met, but they played as though they'd known each other their whole lives – and he wasn't the only pony to notice. The crowd stopped cringing at the noise and began to enjoy it, especially as it moved into a slightly quieter section; all thoughts of dress-selling were gone. The security guards milled about in the middle of the crowd, unsure of whether to let the two ponies play or throw them from the hall.
Finally, after a few more minutes of bombast, riffing, and wild improvisation, the two of them finished. Octavia was flushed with success, and she grinned at DJ PON-3, who smiled right back and grabbed a microphone. “Okay Manehattan, give it up for my good friend Octavia!” she yelled.
After some hesitation, the crowd began to applaud politely. Then the applause became louder, and louder, and grew to a thunderous ovation that must have lasted a full thirty seconds. She even heard a few ‘brava!’s. It was more acclaim than Octavia had ever hoped to achieve here, and she and her ensemble bowed deeply in gratitude. When she raised her head, however, she saw a security guard trying to be discreet in her peripheral vision. Oh no.
“Excuse me, miss Octavia.” He beckoned for her to move closer to him. “I'm very sorry, but I have to ask you to leave.”
“Why?” she blurted, all her good feeling evaporating to be replaced by dawning horror. Because I was just goaded into interrupting the biggest fashion show of the year to get into a loudness contest! With a DJ! That's why! Oh Celestia, I'll be lucky if I ever get hired again after this.
“Please, miss.” The security pony shifted his weight from hoof to hoof. “I'd rather not make this more difficult than it needs to be.” Octavia glanced at the crowd to see if they would support her, but they had stopped looking almost as soon as they noticed security.
“Hey!” DJ PON-3 appeared behind them. “You can't do that, she was awesome! If you throw her out, you'll have to throw me out too!”
“That's the idea, Miss... PON-3.” The security pony sighed. “Look, I don't want to do this – I thought you both were great – but the director told me that you need to go, so–”
“Excuse me! I couldn't help but overhear you.” The three of them were joined by a new pony wearing a coquettish smile: it was the fashion designer from Ponyville that Octavia had noticed earlier. “Did you say that these dazzling musicians are going to be thrown out like common gatecrashers?”
“I'm afraid so, miss... um...”
“Miss Rarity, if you please, and don't be so absurd! You thought they were excellent, I thought they're excellent, and everypony here–” she gestured toward the crowd of appreciative ponies, “–seemed to think they were excellent, except for this director of yours.” She sighed. “Well, I suppose there's no accounting for taste, but nevertheless I'd like to have a word with him. Would you be so kind as to escort me?” She batted her eyelashes.
“Well... sure, I, uh, guess,” the flustered guard said, and led Rarity away from the two musicians. Octavia felt no less flustered, and turned to the DJ to try to speak, but got cut off.
“Ha! Knew that would work.” Her devilish grin only annoyed Octavia more.
“Because of your antics, I'm one fashionista away from being thrown out of one of the biggest shows I'll ever play at, and my career is – is probably ruined.” She took a deep breath, doing her utmost to calm down. “In what way did that 'work', Miss PON-3?”
“Hey, I'd say they were at least half your antics. And please, Miss Octavia, call me Vinyl.” Vinyl smiled – or rather, continued to smile. Except to protest to the security guard, she didn't seem to have stopped all night.
A thought occurred to Octavia. “How do you know my name?” she asked. “Nopony told me that there would be a second act here.”
“Oh, I just read the program!” Vinyl produced the little brochure seemingly from thin air and flipped to the back page. “See, there you are! Octavia and ensemble, right at the bottom. In tiny little letters. Very flattering.” She pulled a face. “Let's face it, girl, your 'career' wasn't going to take off if this thing had gone according to plan.”
“You can't know that for sure–”
“Really? Look, Octy–”
“You wouldn't've done what you did if you thought this expo was worth your time, would you?” Vinyl gave her a questioning look. “You'd have just waited for security to take me off.” The DJ seemed to have read her mind: hadn't she been thinking what a waste of time the expo was? How much she wanted to move on to bigger, better things?
Vinyl was absolutely right – and by Celestia, Octavia wasn't going to tell her that. “That's a big step between having... less-than-charitable thoughts for the expo and willfully disrupting it to prove a point!”
Vinyl shrugged. “Eh, you've gotta rock the boat once in a while, you know? Subtle never gets you very far anyway.” Octavia started, hearing her own exact thoughts out loud. Dear goodness, she is reading my mind. “And you have to admit you thought it was fun either way!”
“... yes.” Octavia smiled. “You were good, by the way.”
“You were better!” Vinyl laughed. “So why not show these ponies just how good you are?”
"Hello again!" Rarity returned with a dazzling smile on her face. “I've just managed to persuade that philistine of a director to let you two play a few more songs for all of us!”
Octavia was genuinely surprised – she hadn't thought that Rarity could do it. “Wow... that is to say, um, thank you for arguing on my – our – behalf. That was really generous of you.”
“Oh, generosity is my thing, you know.” She winked. “Now trot-trot, you've got a show to do!” A few seconds later, as Octavia watched her return to her stand, something clicked in the cellist's brain. Her name is Rarity, and generosity is her thing. Her eyes widened as she realized who had saved her career.
“Knew that would work too.” Vinyl's grin had grown, if possible, even wider. “Any suggestions for some more rockin' classical, Octy?” Octavia didn't respond, still dumbstruck. “Hey Tavi, you okay?”
“That was the Element of Generosity,” Octavia whispered.
Vinyl laughed. “I know!” she replied, not a trace of surprise in her voice. “I once DJ'd one of her fashion shows, and let me tell you, she really is one of the most generous ponies I've ever seen.” She wolf-whistled. “Although you're giving her a run for your money in that department. Anyway, song choice?”
Octavia checked her mental library, and came up with an idea. “Have you ever heard of the 'Pranse macabre'?” She smiled when Vinyl shook her head. “Do your best, then.”
“I'll try!” She was about to caper off, but Octavia stopped her.
“One more thing – I couldn't help but notice something about the brochure earlier.” Octavia dropped her voice to a whisper. “You're not on it.”
“Yup!” Vinyl grinned mischievously. “And I bet I'll still get paid for this!”
Octavia's smile was just as mischievous as she watched Vinyl bound back to her turntable. Why, you common gatecrasher.
“And let me tell you, I did get paid – hey, where am I? What happened? Why's Octavia tied up?”
“And my work here is done,” said the Doctor, turning his gaze away from the past Vinyl Scratch to talk to the present one. “Welcome back, Vinyl Scratch! I'm sorry about Octavia, but she was biting with more than just her wit. Lyra, if you could untie her?”
“Hang on, who the hay are you?” he heard Vinyl say through the glasses. “Where are you? And where am I?”
“I'm the Doctor. I introduced myself already, along with Bon Bon and Lyra and Derpy,” he replied. “Do you remember anything? From, say, the last fifteen minutes?”
“No... well, sort of... it's kind of weird, like...” Vinyl took a moment to try to explain. “Like a really bad dream where you just do crazy things and you can't stop yourself. Did Octavia really say–”
The Doctor cut her off. “Yes, she said all those things – but she didn't mean any of them.” He exited the expo and walked across the street to a dark alleyway, where his unassuming blue box had been parked. “And then what happened?”
“Well, that's when it sort of started,” she continued. “The dreamy part, I mean. And I just sort of walked around for a while... and the roads were made of soap, I think? Then somepony grabbed me... that was you, actually, and then I was watching that recording from the Saddleson Square Garden, and that's when I woke up, I guess.” The Doctor pulled a key from his pocket and opened the door, poking his head in to see Octavia shrugging off the last coils of the scarf.
As she got out of the chair and turned to look at the door, her eyes widened in recognition. “You!” she exclaimed. “You were backstage with me and Discord!”
“Discord! Ohhhhhhh...” Comprehension dawned on Vinyl's face. “So that's why you were being so...” Octavia lowered her head, remembering all she'd said and done.
“Sorry,” she murmured. “And sorry for hitting you all.”
“Don't worry about it!” exclaimed Derpy. Bon Bon also accepted the apology, after some consideration.
“By the way, that wasn't a recording.” The Doctor grinned. “That was live video. Come on, have a look around!” The Doctor beckoned the five of them to come outside.
“Haha, live video. Good one.” Vinyl walked out. “Seriously, though, where am... I...” Her brain seemed to shut down as she tried to take it all in.
Firstly, there was the Saddleson Square Garden right across the street, when she'd been in Ponyville minutes earlier. Secondly, she could hear the Pranse Macabre being played inside, as only she and Octavia could play it. Finally, she turned around and saw the blue box she'd just left, but the outside was too small to fit the room she'd been in. Vinyl's and Octavia's jaws dropped.
“That's the TARDIS,” the Doctor explained, as Derpy, Lyra and Bon Bon looked on with smiles. “Short for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. It's a time machine, and yes – its inside is bigger than its outside, might as well get that out of the way now. That over there,” he pointed to the brightly lit arena, “Is in fact Saddleson Square Garden, and you and Octavia are playing there right now, several months before what you would consider the present day. Your first gig together!” He paused to see if they would say anything.
After a few seconds, Vinyl spoke. “I'm still dreaming, aren't I.” She smacked herself several times on the cheeks to check. “Um... wow, not dreaming, okay. Maybe you are?” she asked Octavia, who shook her head.
“Good, isn't it?” The Doctor ambled to their side, lost in contemplation. “All of time and space, yours for the viewing. You can walk on planets of glass, watch the birth of a star... revisit old, happy memories...” A smile lit up his face, if only for a moment. Then he turned back to them. “And I wish I could show you all of that – not least because it'll all be new to me as well – but I can't.”
“What do you mean, you can't?” Octavia asked. "And who are you, really?”
“Like I said, I'm the Doctor, but I'm not from Equestria. I'm a Time Lord, from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, another universe away. And I need your help. Discord's taken over your world, and he's neutralized the Elements of Harmony. It's up to all of us to stop him.” The Doctor paused to let them take it all in. “It's a lot to drop on you at once, I know. And I'm truly sorry, because if I could do this myself I would, but I need help.”
There was silence from the six following this speech.
Eventually... “Just to be sure...you're asking me and Vinyl to confront Discord, the god of chaos, without the Elements of Harmony on our side.”
“We've got the elements themselves, but not their wielders.”
“So we can't use them.” Octavia seemed torn, but she made up her mind. “Doctor, I really wish I could help, but without the Elements on our side attacking Discord is a suicide mission.”
“But...” The Doctor hesitated. How much can I tell them? How can I persuade them to come along with me?
“Um, sorry Doctor, but...” Lyra raised a hoof, “are you sure you need all of us?”
“Yeah!” Oh boy, now Bon Bon's jumping in. “We've just met you, you can't ask Lyra to do this!”
“And me and Octy! You're the one who's a Time Lord from the constellation of whatever with the time machine. What do you need us for?”
“Can I sit this one out?”
“Why don't you just–”
They all stopped talking at Derpy's high-pitched whistle and turned to look at her. “Do you think Discord is just going to go away? That he's gonna just leave us alone? Nopony in all of Equestria can stop him – not Twilight Sparkle, not Celestia, not Luna – nopony but us.”
The Doctor was surprised at the outburst; the other four were dumbfounded to see her so fiery. “The Doctor says he can beat Discord, but he needs our help. So help him!” she bellowed.
After a few seconds of dumbstruck silence, the Doctor spoke up. “We'd better get back in the TARDIS before anyone sees us.” They followed him back into his ship, all of them still quiet. The Doctor nudged Derpy as she entered. “Thank you.”
“And ponies call me dumb.” She sighed and closed her eyes. “At least they listened.”
“Why wouldn't they?” he asked. In response, she reopened and rolled her misaligned eyes at him.
“Because why would anypony listen to dumb old Derpy.” She snorted. “It's not even my real name, just a nickname everypony used to call me.”
“Not a very nice nickname."
“'Derpy Hooves, Derpy Hooves, can't do basic flying moves,'” she chanted. “No, it wasn't.”
The Doctor scratched his head. “So you started calling yourself that because...”
“Then they couldn't – at least, they couldn't insult me with it. And... well, it's not that much worse than my real name.”
“If you must know... Ditzy Doo.”
The Doctor chuckled, and led her to the central console. “You're right, it's not. So, you lot,” he called, addressing the group at large. “What do you say?”
Bon Bon spoke up. “Don't take this the wrong way, Doctor... but why do you want us?”
“Do you trust me?” he asked in response.
“To do what?” She was confused. “What do you mean?”
“Do you trust me to use all my power to keep you and your friends safe, and save your world?”
After a pause: “Yes.”
The Doctor turned to Lyra. “And do you trust me?” She nodded. “And you?” he asked Octavia, who nodded as well.
“If Octavia trusts you, you're all right,” said Vinyl, before the Doctor even asked.
“I trust you.” Derpy was firm in her assent.
“Good,” said the Doctor. “Because I've seen a little of who all of you are. And I trust all of you to do exactly the same. And that's why it has to be us.” He started preparing the TARDIS for flight.
Before they went, he had one last question. “Are you all ready?” They all said yes. “Well, no point waiting around now... we've got a world to save.”
He pulled the lever, and they took off.
Discord and the Doctor – Part 2
“Rule one! Don't wander off, not alone.” The Doctor spun a dial on the central console, rattling off rules at top speed as the TARDIS rattled and vworped off to its next destination. “Make sure you're with at least one other pony at all times. Doesn't matter who.” His five companions nodded in agreement, then clutched at the nearest fixture they could find as the ship received a particularly hard jolt. 'Don't wander off.' Like anyone ever listens to that.
“Rule two! We all need to trust each other, and to earn that trust. So if anyone needs help, give it, and if you need help, ask. Understood?” More agreement from the other five. The Doctor toggled a switch on his side of the console, and called, “Derpy, pull the V-lever over on your side–”
“Done already, Doctor,” she replied, leaning on the console next to the lever. Using her wings for balance, she was able to remain upright despite the ship's chaotic movements. Maybe I could get a pair of wings, they look dead useful. Another jolt interrupted this train of thought by knocking him on his back. The Elements of Harmony nearly fell to the floor, saved only by the wires connecting them to the TARDIS console. On second thought, now's not the time to think about self-modification.
“Rule three, very important rule! Use your head!” He jumped back up and tapped his temple for emphasis. “The best tools any of us have are our minds. Discord's going to try to trick us, but he's not perfect. Use your head and see through the tricks!” The sound of an alarm joined the general clamor, prompting the Doctor and Derpy to dash to the scanner.
“Doctor?” called Lyra, who was wrapped around one of the railings around the console. “Why's that screen flashing red?”
The Doctor smacked the scanner and Gallifreyan text flashed onto it. He took a moment to interpret the text, then yelled back: “The TARDIS is detecting reality fluctuations at our destination!”
“The rules of the universe are in flux where we're going! Electromagnetism, big G, Newton's laws, all out to lunch!”
“Um, laypony's terms?” Vinyl yelled, doing an impressive job of making herself heard over all the clamor.
“It's telling us nothing we didn't already know – we're entering Discord's domain! Brace yourselves!” The Doctor grabbed onto the railing as the TARDIS made its final approach.
Vworp.... Vworp... kdunk.
The Doctor stepped through the TARDIS door and was greeted by absolute chaos. The ground on which he walked was composed of thousands of cymbals; some made sounds softer than a mouse, and others crashed with the force of a sonic boom. Some quacked, and a few smelled like rotten eggs.
“Well, looks like we came to the right place.” Vinyl's nervous laugh died as she looked up to the orange sky, where a swarm of ravenous butterflies devoured a flock of birds.
“.ecalp thgir eht ot emac ew ekil skool ,lleW” She jumped and looked around for the source of this reversed echo, with no success. It seemed to come from all around them. Lyra emitted a little squeak.
“But how do we find Discord?” asked Octavia, closing the door behind her as she left the TARDIS. “He could be anywhere.”
“No.” The Doctor felt the slightest of tremors growing beneath his hooves, and started taking deep breaths. Now is not the time to lose control. “He's coming now.”
The tremors grew and grew, and in a moment the other five noticed them too. Another moment later, they could hardly keep their balance. The cymbals crashed together in complete cacophony, producing more noises and smells than the Doctor could describe. And above all this, there was the growing sound of the earth quaking, and of a familiar laugh. “Ehehehahahahaha...”
Discord burst out of the ground before them, sending cymbals flying over the horizon. He swooped and looped through the air several times, then came to a rest and cackled, “Why, look who's shown up in the percussion section! It's Doc, with the only five ponies suicidal enough to join him. Hello Lyra!” He lunged at Lyra, who squeaked and fell onto her back. Discord halted just short of her face and burst out laughing again. “Oh, it's been so boring without you ponies here to play with.”
As Lyra tried to right herself, the ground changed from cymbals to a huge mirrored floor that stretched as far as the eye could see. The ponies' legs found no traction, and they collapsed immediately, producing clear tones as they struck the floor. The Doctor ignored this distraction and inhaled slowly.
“And what's this?” Discord's attention turned from them to the TARDIS, the only thing still standing upright. “For me? Oh, it's Hearth's Warming come early! But hang on...” He picked up the box and shook it like a child with a Christmas present. “Are those...” His eyes widened, and he pulled it close to his ear to shake it once more. “The Elements? You put the Elements of Harmony in – in the–” He doubled over laughing, unable to finish his sentence. The Doctor exhaled slowly.
“You're sure you can beat him, right?” Bon Bon whispered.
“Yes, we can,” he replied.
“Oh no you can't!” Discord exclaimed as he swooped back in front of them, TARDIS gripped firmly in hand. “Because you are the gift that keeps on giving, Doc!” The Doctor managed to get to his hooves, only to fall again – but not to the ground, for now there was no ground. The six of them tumbled through the sudden infinite blue sky, the wind in their ears wiping out almost all noise. The Doctor couldn't even hear his own slow breathing.
“Freeing me from stone wasn't enough – you had to return the one thing that could stop me on a blue platter!” The only other thing the Doctor could hear was Discord's triumphant voice. “So before I go share your gift of chaos with the rest of the universe, do you have anything else for me?”
“Actually...” The Doctor spread his limbs to steady his descent, and turned his body toward Discord. He was the very picture of calm. “I've got a game for you.”
S2E2: Discord and the Doctor – Part 2
The Doctor whipped his sonic screwdriver out of his coat and pointed it at the TARDIS. The screwdriver's whistle pierced the rush of air, soon joined by another sound.
Vworp... vworp... vworp...
Discord's expression turned from gleeful to furious as he realized what was happening. The TARDIS was growing more and more transparent, leaving his claw was holding nothing but air. He tried to grab it with both hands, but could not stop it from fully dematerializing.
“What have you done?” he yelled at the still-casual Doctor. “I DEMAND THAT YOU GIVE ME BACK MY PRIZE!”
The ground reappeared underneath them – or at least it felt like ground when the Doctor struck it. In fact it was a vast ocean, frozen solid in the middle of a terrible storm. He slid down a wave perhaps a hundred feet tall, and not one of those hundred feet managed to upset his calm.
“I did warn you, Discord.” The Doctor returned his screwdriver to his pocket, a smile forming on his face. “She's been parked inside herself, which means that no one and nothing can ever return her to this universe. Or – just maybe – she's materialized in the center of the moon. Or perhaps a trillion years in the past, before there was an Equestria. Before there was even a you, I'd guess. Want to take bets on which it is?” Discord's rage grew with every possibility the Doctor mentioned, as did the Doctor' grin. This tactic is working even better than I'd hoped.
“Bring the TARDIS back to me, or–”
“Hmm...” The Doctor yawned. “No, sorry, don't think so.”
Discord snarled, but in another moment his face was jovial once more. He chuckled. “Oh, but I think we're forgetting something,” He reclined into the ground – now a huge marsh of stretchy green goo – in front of the Doctor. “You don't have to tell me how to get the TARDIS! All of your secrets are mine, remember?”
“Oh yes, of course! How silly of me!” the Doctor exclaimed, turning back to his companions. “Sorry everyone, but we've clearly lost, because he knows everything about me. Planet of origin, second favorite color, least favorite fruit–”
They were now in an endless pear orchard. “You got it, Doc!” Discord cackled, kicking the trunk of a particularly massive tree located above the Doctor's head. A cascade of pears fell out and buried him up to his neck.
“In fact, I'd bet you something else.” Despite the painful pounding of pears on his back, the Doctor kept up the jovial tone. His true feelings were very different, though; this was the moment of truth, the bet he was making for the sake of the whole planet. If he was wrong here, they really had lost.
“I'd bet you he even knows my name." His companions looked startled, as if they hadn't considered that 'Doctor' wasn't actually a name. However, he was more interested in another's reaction, so he turned around to see Discord's pointer finger raised and mouth hanging open. “Go on then, Discord, tell these people. What's my name?”
In response, Discord did nothing at all. A small gurgling sound may have emerged from his throat, but the Doctor supposed he could be imagining it.
“Ooh, that's disappointing.” The Doctor sighed, pulling a disappointed face he guessed Discord would hate. “And here I thought you could read a Time Lord's mind as easily as a pony's.”
Vinyl began to laugh as loudly as she could. Good of you to catch on like that, Vinyl. “A-pear-antly not, Discord!” She punctuated the pun by magically grabbing a fruit from the Doctor's pile and throwing it into Discord's open mouth. Discord gagged and hacked it out into a tree.
“Don't you – don't you dare laugh at me,” he choked.
“But Discord! I thought Laughter was your favorite Element!” The Doctor joined Vinyl's laughter. “Come on everypony, giggle at the godling!” The other four joined in after some hesitation, forcing the most mocking laughter they could muster and sending Discord into a blind fury.
“That's enough!” At a snap of his fingers, the six ponies' mouths turned into shut zippers, and the trees transformed into pillars of fire and ash. Vinyl immediately pulled her mouth open to continue laughing, and the Doctor following close behind. “I said that's ENOUGH!” he roared, slamming his fist into the ground, which changed into a dark landscape of crags and fog. “If I can't do this the easy way and read your mind, Doc, I'll have to do this the hard way.” Obsidian spikes started growing from the ground, making the Doctor's companions cry out in pain.
The Doctor, however, restrained himself. He danced from hoof to hoof, but his first noise was an incredulous snort. “The hard way? Since when have you ever done anything the hard way?”
The spikes stopped growing, and the Doctor pressed his advantage. “Last year, you came back, stole the Elements, and crippled their bearers – then forced them to play a game you couldn't lose. And this time? You turned the Elements AND their bearers to stone right off the bat, and set Canterlot on fire. Where's the challenge in that, Discord? Where's the fun?”
“If I were you, Doc, I wouldn't be talking back right now!” Discord snapped his fingers, and the scene changed to a burning-hot desert. The Doctor danced on the sand beneath his hooves, but didn't let the pain show on his face.
“Also, have you been counting?”
“Well, it's just that I have, and you've changed the landscape nine times in the last two minutes. No – ten times,” he amended, finding himself on a rickety bridge dangling over a crater filled with bubbling lava. “And each more uninspired than the last. I mean, a rope bridge over a volcano? Really?”
Discord's anger had now moved to the impotent phase; he simply stared at the Doctor and clenched his fist. I should do this more often. It's much more fun than being all ferocious and intimidating. “Face it, Discord, you're in a rut! The world is your oyster and you have no idea what to do with it, because you took away all the fun when you took away the challenge!”
And he was immensely satisfied to see that Discord had nothing to say. “But I did mention a game earlier, didn't I?” asked the Doctor, switching back to casual. “Maybe you'd like to ask about that?”
Discord closed his eyes for a second. When they opened, he was seemingly back to his old, gleefully confident state. “All right then, Doc, we'll do this your way. What kind of game?”
“A real game, with real challenge and real stakes.” The Doctor looked Discord straight in the eyes, and saw the insane anger behind them; it was mostly buried, but not gone. How very useful. “Something like the game you played with the Elements of Harmony. A maze, some sort of trinkets we need to find – and could you get these things off our mouths?” he asked, tugging the slider on the zipper his lips had become. “You would not believe how uncomfortable this is.”
Discord pouted, but removed the zippers from their mouths. Out of the corner of his eye, the Doctor saw Octavia gingerly massage her newly-restored lips. “And do tell, Doc,” Discord requested, affecting the most mocking politeness possible and returning them to a mostly-normal Equestria. The sky was still inverted, and the black sun was moving at an alarming pace, but there was at least dirt beneath their hooves. “What exactly are the stakes of our game?”
“If we win, you restore this world to how it was before you returned, and leave. You leave Equestria for the rest of time.”
“And if you lose? What do I get then?”
“The TARDIS and the Elements of Harmony.”
Both Discord and the Doctor's companions were stunned, but Discord quickly recovered from his shock. “Gotta hand it to ya, Doc, you've got spunk!” He flew high into the air, laughing madly in anticipation of triumph. “Oh, the fun we will have!”
“Are you crazy?” Bon Bon whispered. “You can't wager the Elements of Harmony!”
“We'd better not lose, then,” he replied, watching Discord do victory loops in the sky.
“But what if we win and he doesn't hold up his end of the deal?” The Doctor did not answer her.
Discord returned to the ground and faced the six ponies with narrowed eyes. He clapped his hands together, and several things happened at once. Behind him, a massive hedge maze rose from the earth with an almighty quake. Red lightning struck from the empty sky for dramatic effect. The Doctor felt an awful pain in his barrel and fell to his knees.
“Since you've set the stakes, Doc, I think I'll set the rules. So first of all, no wings, no magic – and no extra hearts,” he added, tapping the Doctor on the head. The Doctor rolled on his side to see that Lyra's and Vinyl's horns were missing, as were Derpy's wings.
“Doctor, are you okay?” Bon Bon asked. Derpy ran to his side, not minding her missing wings, and the two of them lifted him to his hooves. He looked back up at Discord and chuckled, despite his weakness.
“What, you can't beat us....” he paused for breath. “If we can fly or use magic? The big chaos god... not up to the challenge of six tiny ponies?”
“Yeah!” Vinyl ignored her own loss and looked Discord straight in the eye. “What kind of all-powerful god needs unfair advantages? You are all-powerful, right?” she jeered. That's the spirit, the Doctor thought. Everyone has a weakness, if you can just exploit it.
“Discord's a coward, Discord's a coward,” Bon Bon sang.
“Oh all right, fine!” Discord scowled, and in an instant the horns, wings, and heart were returned to their respective owners. “Wings, magic, and hearts are okay. Now, the next rule is very simple. See these?” He raised a palm, and above it appeared six familiar floating statues.
“The Elements!” Lyra cried. Discord jerked a thumb behind himself, and the six statues flew into the sky, landing in the maze a few seconds later.
“If you can find those statues, all six of them, you win and the Elements of Harmony are restored. If I can prevent you from finding any one of them, or if any one of you leaves the maze, I win. Understood?”
“Yes.” It was Derpy who replied this time.
“Then it's time for you to start on the maze...” Discord grinned. “Or rather, for the maze to start on YOU!”
The closest hedges of the maze, some fifty feet away, started growing toward the six ponies at an incredible rate. The Doctor recalled Twilight's memories; Discord meant to divide them as he had divided the Elements last time.
“Grab hold of someone now!” he yelled. He grabbed Derpy and pulled her to the ground. He saw Vinyl jump on Octavia before the hedges closed upon them, leaving him and Derpy cut off from the other four in a narrow, hedged corridor.
“Good luck, everypony! Have fun!” Discord flew into the air and vanished, cackling all the while.
“Derpy, are you okay?” Once she'd nodded, the Doctor got off of her and called to the others. “Is everyone okay?”
“Here!” Vinyl was the first to respond. “Octavia's with me!”
“Lyra? Bon Bon? Where are you?”
“I'm here!” yelled Bon Bon, her voice sounding impossibly distant – she seemed a quarter-mile away at least. “Where'd the rest of you go?”
“The maze must have pushed us apart!” The Doctor concentrated, trying to determine where her voice was coming from. She'd been a few feet away from him before the hedges reached them, but now she could be almost anywhere. “Did you feel any sensation of movement?”
“I haven't moved!” she replied. “But Doctor – Lyra isn't with me! She was right here a moment ago!”
“So this maze can separate us without our noticing... Derpy!” He realized almost too late, and turned back to look at Derpy. In the few seconds he'd taken his eyes off of her, she'd been moved about a third of a mile away, almost out of sight. She was just as surprised as he was, as she'd been examining the hedge itself, not looking at him. “Everypony, new rule! Don't take your eyes off of each other, or you'll disappear. Does everyone hear?”
“Loud and clear!” Vinyl replied, as Derpy dashed back to the Doctor's side.
“Yes, Doctor. And Vinyl, would you kindly let me up?” The Doctor heard Vinyl apologize in a tone that was less than contrite. He didn't hear Bon Bon.
“Bon Bon?” he yelled. "Bon Bon?" No response. “The maze must have moved her again!”
“Oh dear, Doc.” The hedge wall in front of him shifted and manifested itself into Discord's giant, smirking face. “Two companions lost in as many minutes. You do seem to have a talent for that...”
Discord's mouth opened wide and turned white – a terrifyingly bright white, pulling the Daleks and the Cybermen in from around the world – and pulling her in as well. She'd lost her grip on the lever and she was falling into the void. There was nothing he could do but watch and scream. “ROOOOOOOOOOOOSE!”
And suddenly it was the TARDIS, but younger than his own; it was clean and shiny white, and in pain. The Cyber-Leader had damaged it and he couldn't make her fly – but he had to. “I must save Adric!” He was a Time Lord, he could do anything – but he couldn't do that. The freighter collided with prehistoric Earth, with Adric still on board. The Doctor stared numbly at the broken fragments of Adric's gold star.
And then the TARDIS at the beginning, when he was as young and as old as he'd ever been. When he still had a family. But he'd made his choice, for better or for worse, and wouldn't let his granddaughter dissuade him no matter how much she pleaded. “One day, I shall come back... yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no tears, no regrets, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs... and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.” And immediately, having decided, he was filled with regrets, with anxieties, with tears. He could hardly hold them back long enough to say his first goodbye. “Goodbye, Susan. Goodbye, my dear...” Did I make the right choice?
“Help!” The yell jolted him out of his memories, and back to the present. It was Octavia, screaming for dear life. “Doctor! Help us! We can't hold on much longer!”
“Somepony? Anypony?” called a clearly desperate Vinyl, from somewhere close in the maze. Where are they?
“Oh, dear.” Discord's mouth returned to just being a hedge. “They must have found one of the bottomless pits I left in here.” He affected the most exaggerated concern possible. “Clumsy old me...”
“Where are they, Discord? TELL ME!”
“We're right here, Doctor!” yelled Octavia. Discord's mouth opened again, and with it the hedge behind. Through that gap the Doctor saw two pairs of hooves – two white, two gray – poking out from a hole in the ground, quivering with exhaustion.
But as the Doctor moved forward, Discord's mouth closed again. “I'm so sorry for your loss, Doc...” He grinned evilly.
“Doctor?” Derpy said.
“NO!” I won't let you take them! He dove at the hedge. He wouldn't let it happen again. He'd burst through, he'd save them–
“No, Doctor!” Derpy wrapped both forelegs around his body, holding him back from the wall. “It's a trick! There's nopony there!”
He struggled against her like a pony possessed, with all his might. “Let go of me! I won't lose them!”
“Listen to me, Doctor! There's nopony on the other side of that wall!” With great difficulty and a great deal of flapping, she pulled him over the wall. There was neither hole nor pony where they landed. “Nopony's... here,” she panted.
He came to his senses, and stopped struggling. “Oh,” he panted, feeling even more tired than Derpy. So that was an illusion too. He forced himself to calm down, then gave her a halfhearted smile. “Thanks for stopping this old fool, then.” Because sometimes I need someone to stop me. His face fell as another of his memories dredged itself up; that of an obnoxious, haughty, brilliant woman who had stopped him when it mattered most–
No. He was doing it again – letting Discord get to him with his past. That was gone now, and he had to focus on the here and now. Let go, you maudlin old fool.
Derpy saw his face falling and smiled at him. “Just promise not to off run like–” She stopped to correct herself. “To run off like that, okay? Rule one?”
He nodded and sighed. “Okay. But we are going to find them, somehow... but how?” She flapped her wings a few times. “I just need to think – we can't even see them in these narrow passageways.” She flapped her wings more insistently. “Maybe if we–”
“Doctor.” Derpy rolled her eyes and jerked her head toward her still-flapping wings.
“Ohhhhhh.” After a few seconds: “Are you sure you can fly with me, then?”
“Let's find out,” she grunted, grabbing him once more and jumping into the air.
“Two hearts! Can you believe it?” Vinyl and Octavia, who had not fallen into a bottomless pit, trudged down the corridor. “Anyway, you said that you saw this Doctor guy backstage, right? What actually happened there? And what about when Discord showed up – why didn't you run away, or something? Well, I guess it wouldn't have helped – but why not warn me?”
“And come to think of it,” she continued, “why'd he even come to our concert anyway? Just so he could be on the radio and tell everypony he was back? Oh, I bet that is why! But how'd he come back in the first place–” Oh crap. She realized that Octavia had opened her mouth four or five times, only for Vinyl to cut her off. “Um, you were gonna say something?”
Octavia spoke through clenched teeth: “Why. Are. You. Talking. So. Much.”
“Uh, something to do, I guess. Oh, and so you can't lose track of me, like the Doctor said.”
“I could just keep looking at you–”
“And this way, you know I haven't been Discorded!” Vinyl finished.
“You'd be gray if you were 'Discorded',” Octavia pointed out. “So that's not really a good reason.”
“Hey, good point! Well, I guess it's because–”
“Vinyl!” Octavia looked just about ready to burst with frustration. “Take the hint.” Ohhhh. Stupid, stupid, stupid me. She shut up.
A few minutes later, she was still shut up, despite how much she hated the silence. It was eerie in the maze, not knowing where she was or where to go. Only their quiet hoof-falls broke the silence – not nearly enough noise to distract Vinyl from the eeriness. She tried imagining all the things she would say, to see if that would help. Can I please talk, please please please – I can tell jokes! The worst ones I know – those are the funniest! So a pony walks into a bar, and the bartender says “Hey, why the long face?” And the pony says... It wasn't helping.
Crack. The two ponies nearly jumped out of their skins at the sound. Then came a weird set of snipping noises, the source of which Vinyl couldn't locate for the life of her. She looked all around in a panic. I take it back! Silence was fine!
“You always do this kind of thing, you know.” Octavia broke the silence again.
“What sort of thing–”
“There! You did it again! You never listen to me, you never give me a chance to talk, you're always so insensitive, and you never say thanks. That concert we were doing? I built it from the ground up, and you never thanked me!” Did she get Discorded while I wasn't looking? Vinyl thought. She looked almost the same last time he got her... But her bowtie was still pink. It was still the real Octavia saying these things.
“And you've never mentioned anything I've done for you! All the hard work, all the money I spent – I bought you a new guitar with my money, Vinyl! My money! Just so you could have a chance of sounding decent on stage – and you never even said tha–ank you! You're a terrible friend!” Vinyl tried to respond, but she was too stunned to speak.
“You know what? Discord was right. You reall–ly have been using me just to get ahe–head. Do you have anything to say to that?” Octavia jerked her head away. Vinyl almost turned away too, but something wasn't right.
“That's really how you feel?” Vinyl asked, her mind racing. There's something wrong with her, besides the meanness. Something's up with her... She couldn't put her hoof on it.
“Absolute–lutely.” With her voice. What's wrong with her voice? Vinyl couldn't remember the last time she'd heard Octavia stutter like that. It's almost like she's... fighting her own words. But all she had was a hunch; she had to be sure. Maybe if I tell her something really really shocking, I can force a real reaction out of her... but what?
After a few seconds of blank staring and furious thinking, she had the perfect idea and didn't like it one bit. Well, she was gonna find out sooner or later, she rationalized. “So I guess now would be a bad time to let you know that you kinda... sorta... don't have an apartment anymore?”
“Mmm?” Octavia didn't move one muscle of her body. She kept the same disdainful expression on her face, and her lips were sealed. So what's with the 'mmm'?
Vinyl circled around Octavia to look her in the eyes. “It was a dark and stormy afternoon... hang on, it was yesterday! Wow, time really flies when you're fighting Discord.” She put a special emphasis on the last three words.
“Mm-mm!” The faintest sounds of affirmation came from behind Octavia's lips. I knew it. Keep fighting, Octy.
“Anyway, dark stormy afternoon, about four o'clock, and you're out at the store doing something, I don't know what. Anyway, Derpy comes with the mail, and doesn't destroy anything, so I really should be thinking already that something's wrong, ha ha...” That was weak, Vinyl. You're better than that. “But whatever, back to the mail, let's see here: bill, bill, spam, bill, eviction notice? So I look inside–”
“You opened my mail?” There was anger in those words, but it sounded forced. Octavia's eyes started moving, no longer narrowed in contempt but wide and panicked.
“Sent to my address! I thought I was getting kicked out! But no, it was for you. Your jerk of a landlord must have found out you were staying at my place before the concert, and didn't have the guts to tell you in person.”
“What do you care, anyway,” Octavia muttered, jerking her head away.
“Tavi, why didn't you tell me you haven't made rent in four months?” Vinyl moved again to look Octavia in the eyes. “I went right inside and looked at how much money you spent on the concert. I checked all the receipts for amps and lights and crew – that was way more than four months of rent. Why didn't you tell me?”
For a moment, Octavia was back. “I didn't want you to–” But then she snarled: “You wouldn't care!”
“And then,” Vinyl continued, not letting Octavia look away, “you get back about six-ish, and you've got that awesome guitar for the concert. And we joke about it, and I rib you and you rib me – you totally rib me any chance you get, don't deny it – and I don't say anything about you getting evicted, because how do you say that? After you're asleep I check the trash for the receipt on that guitar: another half a month, Octy. Another half a month's rent gone, and there you were joking around like it was no big deal. Why didn't you tell me?”
“I – you're still a–”
“Terrible friend, yeah, I know.” Octavia was in spasms, her own mind trying to fight off Discord's control. Vinyl bobbed and weaved around her just to keep eye contact. “You're right, Tavi – I never did say thank you. I forgot... no, not just that, I didn't just forget. I always figured you were... well, rich, being a cellist and playing in Canterlot and Manehattan and everywhere. I never realized how much you were giving up, but that's no excuse. So if you want to stop being my friend, that's fine, but there's something I need to say first.”
Octavia's body tried to jerk away, but Vinyl was too fast. She grabbed her friend in a tight hug and ran her hooves through Octavia's mane. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you and... and what the hell is this?” Her hoof ran into something she could not see on top of Octavia's head. It feels like a... string? No, a wire. Like a wire for a.... She looked skyward to see Discord floating high above them, holding a giant wooden cross over Octavia. Puppet.
Vinyl's magic rose with her anger. Her horn glowed bright blue, as did the invisible wires that had latched onto Octavia. But now they were visible by their outline – an outline that began to vibrate faster and faster, producing an ever-louder tone–
Until Vinyl snarled, and with a final surge of magic the strings shredded into a thousand pieces. Without the extra support of the wires, Octavia collapsed to the ground and pulled Vinyl down on top of her. Octavia gasped for breath, now that she had full control of her mouth again. A mouth that was very close to Vinyl's own.
“Well, at least some of us are having fun.” The two of them looked over to see the Doctor and Derpy wearing huge grins a few feet away.
Octavia's cheeks could have lit a stage – mood lighting, Vinyl supposed. “This isn't what it looks like–” she spluttered.
“Aww, can it be?” Vinyl interjected, making kissy noises with her mouth.
Several long seconds of silence followed; a seeming eternity of straight faces. Then Derpy's failed, and she made the tiniest little snort. Octavia giggled. The Doctor chuckled. Vinyl laughed. Before she knew it they were all laughing at the top of their lungs. Vinyl rolled off of Octavia in her mirth, but it was nothing compared to Octavia's; she pounded the dirt with her hoof in hysterics.
This seemed like odd behavior too, but after a moment Vinyl figured out why. Polite chuckles, restrained giggles, and so on were how Octavia expressed humor. I've never heard her laugh like this before. And I love it.
“No, that's COMPLETELY wrong!” The marionette's cross crashed into the ground next to them, followed closely by a fuming Discord. “You were supposed to tell DJ Wonderwub all those awful truths, and you were supposed to believe them and give up on your friendship! What kind of lousy puppets are you?” Vinyl barely heard him, and doubted Octavia had at all. “Stop laughing and listen to me! And you two! How long have you been here?”
“Long – long enough,” the Doctor gasped, coming to the end of his own hysterics. “And you didn't notice the two of us flying in at all, did you? Weren't you supposed to be all-powerful or something?”
Discord snarled. “Or..." the Doctor continued, "You're finding me a bit less appetizing now, is that it? Not enough chaos to feed on? Getting over my personal demons a bit quick for ya, you great ugly winged horned thing you?”
“Why, you–” Discord began.
“Now hold on, hold on, hold on. I'm sure what you're going to do will be very impressive, but before you do, a bit of a progress update. Derpy?” The Doctor turned to Derpy, who'd recovered by now too. Vinyl had also calmed down, and even Octavia was in the last phase of her hysterics. “Did we find anything interesting while we were flying over the maze?”
“We found a Rarity and a Pinkie Pie!”
“That's right!” the Doctor exclaimed, returning his gaze to the increasingly frustrated Discord. “The Element of Generosity and a whole lotta Laughter – we're a third of the way there. Don't believe us? Check our minds! And we've found two of our friends, so I'd say we're doing pretty well, wouldn't you?” The Doctor paused, as if a sudden thought had come into his head. “You know what I think? You might even lose the game!” Discord bared his teeth in a snarl. “How does that feel?”
Discord glowered at him and raised his claw. “It feels like it's time for a reversal, Doctor. See ya.” He snapped his fingers and disappeared in a flash. The ground in front of the Doctor shook.
Derpy realized what was happening quicker than the Doctor, and yelled “We'll find you–” Then a new hedge burst from the soil, cutting her voice and the two groups off.
“Doctor!” Octavia pulled herself to her hooves and rushed to the wall. “Are you still there?”
“Probably not.” Vinyl blew at some hair that had fallen over her glasses. “But they'll find us again, like Derpy said.”
“I hope so.” The two ponies sat in silence next to each other, staring at the thick hedge wall. After about a minute of this, she spoke again. “You weren't kidding about my apartment?”
“Wish I was, but no. It's okay,” she continued, hearing what sounded like a sob from Octavia. “It's okay, the ticket sales for the concert were awesome. You'll make rent easy.” Another one of those sounds. “Hey, don't cry.”
“I'm not crying.” What Vinyl had taken for sobs were in fact renewed giggles. “But that was a really funny joke before, when you were on top of me.”
“Oh, who said I was joking?” Vinyl purred, wiggling her eyebrows. “Mrowr.”
“You were joking, right?”
Vinyl heard the alarm in her friend's voice, and hesitated with her response. After a few seconds, she decided to say the safe thing. “Yeah, yeah, fine. I was joking.”
Octavia relaxed. “Okay. You had me going there for a moment.” Yeah, I'm a real kidder.
They started walking away from the dead end. “You know...” Octavia began, a few minutes later. “Oh, nevermind. We've got statues to find.”
“Hey, you can't leave me hanging like that! Come on, what is it?”
“Well, it's a strange thought to have now, but... before I met you, I think I would have hated a joke like the one you made. Especially with everything that's happening right now.”
“Mare, you were dumb back then.” Vinyl chuckled. “Right now's the kind of time when you need a good laugh the most, when you're feeling down. Hey, do you know any jokes?”
Octavia hesitated. “I might, but... they're pretty terrible jokes.”
“Perfect. Could you tell me some, please?”
“All right, I did warn you... so, let's see.” Octavia took a moment to collect herself. “So, a pony walks into a bar – I mean an alcoholic bar, actually, just to clear that up. And the bartender, who's there because it's his shift, I suppose, asks the pony – the other pony, that is... he, the bartender, asks the other pony 'Why the long face? I mean longer than normal, because you're a pony and you already have a naturally long face.'”
She was silent for a few seconds, and then ventured, “And, um, that's the joke. How was it?”
Vinyl had been snorting and chuckling for several seconds already. “Pretty darn good.”
“How was my delivery?”
“It was... eh, it was fine. Got any others?”
Cares forgotten, Vinyl continued to crack up as Octavia continued to mangle jokes beyond all recognition.
SPIDER! Lyra shrieked and shook her back leg as hard as she could to get the little creature off– Nevermind. That was my hair brushing against my skin. I hate it when that happens. She resumed walking down the incline, glad nopony had seen that.
She nearly jumped out of her skin at Discord's laughter, and whipped her head around as fast as she could to find the source. “Where are you?” she whispered, seeing nothing but hedge, dirt, and sky.
She jerked her head around again and saw the tiniest hint of a shadow approaching from the end of the corridor. It was more than enough for her to bolt downhill.
But she wasn't fast enough. She could have sworn the shadow was getting closer...
Boom. Boom. Boom.
The corridor turned to the right and so did she, only to skid to a halt. Dead end. She jumped back out to see if there were any other exits uphill from her. There! It was maybe twenty yards away from her, probably less. But what if the whatever-it-is gets there first? What if there are more like it? What do I do, what do I do?
Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
She squeaked a little and retreated into the dead end, waiting for the worst. Twenty seconds later, when the worst hadn't come, she smacked herself in the face. “You could have made it!” she scolded herself. But now it was too late. The noise was almost to her hidey-hole. She held her breath and kept as still as possible.
It stopped, maybe two yards from her hiding place. She waited a few more seconds before exhaling. “Okay Lyra, you need to see what's around that corner. On your mark, get set... go!” She failed to move.
“Oh come on!” She shrieked again and turned around to see Discord behind her, shouting to the sky in disbelief. “Can you believe it? I mean, look at this!” He pushed her into the main corridor, and she saw what she'd been fleeing: a gigantic multicolored slinky, probably as wide and twice as tall as herself, resting on its base just a few feet away. “It almost got all the way down – I was gonna get the world record!”
“How did you... it wasn't even that steep,” she mumbled. I just ran away from a slinky.
“Skill and practice, my dear. Skill and practice. Look out behind you!” She shrieked again, jumped out of her skin and looked around to see – nothing at all. Discord clutched his sides in his hysterics. “Oh, who needs a slinky when I've got you to play with?”
“Stop it!” Lyra yelled. “I hate doing that!”
“Which is why I love doing this!” He snapped his fingers and a giant bolt of lightning struck not two feet from her hoof. She jerked away, only to jump again when another bolt just missed her tail.
“Let's face it, you're the biggest scaredy-cat on the planet – and believe me, I've checked. So at least one of us has a record.” Lyra felt a ribbon appear around her neck, and looked down to see a gold 'World's #1 Coward' medal hanging from it. “And the best part is, a lot of cowards have some sort of 'hidden courage' just waiting to be revealed – but you!” He poked her nose for emphasis. “You're a coward through and through! More of a yellow-belly than that pegasus from last time with an actual yellow belly!”
Lyra gritted her teeth and narrowed her eyes. That's what brave ponies do, right? “I'm not a coward.” She ripped the medal off her neck and threw it away. I can be brave. I can do this.
“Oh, sure you're not... BOO!” He jumped right in front of her face, and she shrieked – again – and fell over. The medal reappeared around her neck as she hit the ground. “I can't believe I ever wanted to change you!” he laughed. “I mean, the others, sure, but you're perfect the way you are! A useless coward!” He dove into the slinky, which vanished with him.
Lyra pulled the medal off her neck once more. “I'm not a coward!” she yelled, but no one was there to listen. “I'm not!” Maybe a little, she admitted. She began walking again, trying to reassure herself. “You can do this, Lyra. You can be brave.” She felt something on her leg, but tried to ignored it. “Just my hair, like always,” she muttered.
A moment later, she realized it was a real spider this time. Taking great care not to shriek, she shook the tiny thing off. “Okay, just a small one. Small ones are fine.”
She turned another corner and saw a swarm of spiders the size of basketballs crawling toward her. Their eyes glowed red, their mandibles made little chattering noises, and the way their legs moved–
She promptly started running the other way. And shrieked. Again.
“We'll find you–” Derpy began, before the hedge wall burst up between them and Vinyl and Octavia.
The Doctor's smile turned into a snarl, but Derpy was too quick for him. Before he could lunge at the hedge, she grabbed him and hoisted him into the air, letting him take a look at the other side. Vinyl and Octavia had already disappeared.
The two dropped back down to earth. The Doctor yelled in frustration and bucked into the hedge wall.
“We'll find they.” Derpy gave him a smile, then frowned at her mistake. “Them, I mean, we'll find them – oh, you know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” he muttered. “I know.”
“But you keep letting Discord get to you. You know he's trying to mess with you, right?”
“I know, I know, it's just...” He turned around and faced the sky. Derpy looked up too, and for a while they watched the negative clouds race through the air. Finally, he sighed and dropped to the ground. “The thing is, Derpy... how old do you think I am?”
She sat down as well, glad for a rest but uncertain where he was going. “You don't look that old....” Then: “But you are, aren't you. You really are.”
“Picked up on that, then?” In truth, Derpy wasn't quite sure what she had picked up on; she just knew that he had to be older than he appeared. She wondered how she knew. “I'm nine hundred and seven years old, give or take. And I've had a lot of friends over those years, some of the best friends anyone could ask for.”
“But they can't stay with you forever.”
“That's right.” Derpy didn't need to wonder any more; she could see the nine hundred years' worth of fatigue on his face. She couldn't imagine mistaking him for a young stallion. “No one lives as long as me anymore – but I think I've managed to accept that. If that were all...” He hesitated, then continued in a rush, like the words were being forced from him. “I hurt them, Derpy. I take friends with me and try to show them all the beauty and wonder the universe has to offer, and I end up hurting them instead. Every time.”
“No, you can't do that every time.”
“I'm an extraordinary man.” He paused, then amended, “Well, I suppose I'm an extraordinary stallion now.” A weak smile played across his face. “But people have died because of me – for me, because of me, either way. Those memories Discord showed before – that's the kind of thing that happens to my friends.” He sighed. “And now it's all gone.”
“How do you mean?”
“When I got here, I... hold on, I never did explain how I got here, did I?” A quizzical expression entered into his features.
“I heard you yelling about 'regeneration energy' in the statue garden, but I kind of thought you were just a crazy pony back then.” Derpy shrugged. “I mean, I still do, but good-crazy.”
“Well, first of all, guilty as charged. Second of all, regeneration is what happens when a Time Lord like me is about to die – I don't die, I change.”
“Everything. My face, my body, my personality. In a way, it saves my life – the Doctor lives – but the Tenth Doctor dies. I was selfish, and I was afraid, and I put it off for as long as possible, the energy built and built in my body, and wham.” He raised a hoof and punched it into the hedge beside him. “This man was blown out of his home universe and into yours.”
“And you helped release Discord.” The Doctor winced. “Sorry, but it's true, isn't it.”
“That's the kind of thing that can happen when you travel between universes. Which shouldn't even be possible anymore, but like I said – extraordinary stallion. There's still a hole in your world, and I'll need to close it before it does any more damage, if we make it through this.”
“We're gonna make it through this, Doctor,” she insisted. “Trust me.”
After a moment, a wan smile entered his face. It was enough for her to relax. “I trust you. Believe me, you've given me enough reason to trust you. I just wish I could understand you.”
“What do you mean?” The Doctor shrugged, and Derpy's mind caught up with him. “Oh, the thing with flying the TARDIS... I don't know, it's just so... I know I've never met you in my life, I've never time-traveled or anything, I'm just dumb old Derpy the mail-klutz. How can I be...” She rubbed her head, feeling a headache coming on.
“Not that, don't worry about that. I want to know why you found me again.”
“I don't know how, Doctor, I just... knew where the TARDIS was somehow, and...” Her headache got worse as she tried to make sense of it all.
“No, not how – forget about how – why.” Finally she understood. “You could have flown anywhere, hidden anywhere, and you decided to come back instead. Why?”
“Hiding doesn't make Discord go away.”
“Most ponies would do it anyway.”
She snorted. “Then most ponies are dumb.”
“Then what about your other friends? Why not go to help them instead?” Derpy looked at the ground in response. “You're kidding,” he said in a tone of honest confusion. “A brilliant pony like you?”
“No, I have friends, just... I guess you wouldn't call them PFFs.” He still looked confused, so she explained: “Pony friends forever.”
“And I am? After just meeting you?”
“No. Yes. Well, maybe, but...” She stopped and tried to get it straight in her head. “Okay, here's the thing. When I meet a new pony, sooner or later every single one asks the same question. It doesn't matter how we meet, or who they are, they always ask: 'What's wrong with your eyes?' And I know they've been waiting to ask the whole time we've been talking, 'cause they're never looking me in the eyes. And you know what? They can't manage it either, after.”
Another mess-up. She cringed, but true to form, he didn't seem to notice. He just kept looking at her, waiting for her to continue. Nevertheless, she paused to make sure she'd get the next sentence right – she wanted to say exactly what she meant. “But then I met you, and you just talked to me like a normal pony, and took me seriously, and looked me in the eyes.”
Derpy watched his face and saw dawning comprehension, and a little confusion too – like he hadn't realized there could be an alternative. She didn't know how to express what that meant to her, but she could try. With a little bubble of a laugh she stood up and offered him a hoof. “And then you told me to run away and forget about you? How?”
He accepted the offer and pulled himself to his hooves. “I didn't want you to get hurt.”
“And I don't want you to let Discord hurt you either. So I guess we're friends already, right?”
Without hesitation: “Definitely.” A real smile brightened his face once more, pushing away the nine hundred years of pain he'd been wearing.
She pulled him into a hug. “You haven't hurt me yet, Doctor. Now hold on tight.”
“Thanks... wait, are you going to carry me again!” His last syllable turned into a yelp as she hoisted him into the red sky.
“Lyra?” Bon Bon was beginning to despair of finding her friend. The rational portion of her brain reminded her of the last thing she'd heard from the Doctor; the maze separated ponies without their noticing. Discord would never let her see Lyra again, except maybe to trick and break her. Therefore, as her rational side concluded, she should give up worrying about Lyra and focus on self-preservation.
Which was why she was ignoring the rational part of her brain. “Lyra! Can you hear me?” Her emotional side took precedence and ordered to find her friend. She'd let that stupid Doctor drag them into this mess, and as Celestia was her witness she would get Lyra out of it or never forgive herself. “Lyra, yell as loud as you can!”
Still nothing. “Lyra! Where are you!”
After minutes of yelling through the maze, she was finally rewarded. “Bon Bon!”
“Lyra! Keep yelling!” The voice she'd heard was faint, and Bon Bon couldn't figure out where it was coming from. It's a trick, she thought. Shut up, she thought. She skidded to a stop and closed her eyes.
“Bon Bon! Here!” Concentrate... “I'm here!” Bingo! She turned to the voice's source and opened her eyes to find the thick hedge in her way, filled with thorns, spikes, and cartoonish bombs. It extended as far as she could see in both directions, with no gaps or passageways cutting through it.
Only one way left to go, then. Bon Bon wound up and jumped as high as she could, just managing to get her forelegs on top of the hedge. She dug her back legs in and struggled up to the top. “Lyra! I'm coming!” she yelled as loudly as she could, given how winded she was. She gathered her weight beneath her haunches – quavering a bit as the hedge swayed below her – and leaped to the next hedgerow.
“Bon Bon! Help me!” She's closer! Bon Bon sped up, jumping over the next corridor and the next. From hedgerow to hedgerow she went, trying to ignore the thorns poking into her hooves.
Then, mid-leap, she saw two massive claws grab the hedge in front of her and pull it far out of reach. You knew this was going to happen. She braced herself for a crash landing, but instead found no ground beneath her, only an endless chasm that seemed to go down forever, getting darker and darker and darker... until she landed smack on her face in a bed of gravel.
“Aaaaaand she sticks the landing! YEAH!” Bon Bon groaned and lifted her head from the ground to see Discord in front of her, holding a giant scorecard with a bold '10'. One of his claws had a sock puppet of Lyra on it. “Good job, Bon Bon! You found me!” it said with Lyra's voice.
And you really, really knew this would happen. Bon Bon struggled to her hooves and began to look for a way out, but the gravel bed was completely surrounded by more hedges. Well, if it worked once.... She tried to jump to the top of the hedge, but she was too tired and the ground didn't offer enough traction. Down she fell, the air knocked from her lungs once more.
“Awww, leaving so soon? And here I just wanted to congratulate you!” She stared resolutely at the hedge wall. “Oh come on, you've gotta admit that was pretty amazing back in Ponyville. You actually managed to fool me with some cheap acting and body paint! So bravissimo! Molto bene!” She turned around, startled to hear the Doctor's voice – and then even more startled when she didn't see the Doctor.
“Well, like, uh, how do I, like, look?” 'Bon-Bon' simpered. “Ah mean, ah went to all the trouble ta change mah form – it'd be a rahght shame if ya didn't appreciate tha hard work, sugarcube.” It was the worst impression the real Bon Bon had ever heard.
“What are you doing?”
“Only what we always do,” 'she' said, returning to Bon Bon's normal voice. “Impersonations are our forte, aren't they? Our special talent? Well, at least that's what we like to tell ourselves.”
“And what's that supposed to mean?” Bon Bon turned away. I'm not listening to this.
“Don't kid yourself, sugarcube.” Some of Discord's voice began creeping in to 'Bon Bon's'. “We both know how well that strategy's been working for you these past few years. Don't you get tired, keeping up the facade? Don't you wish you could stop? I can help.”
“Fine, I'll spell it out for you: Y-O-U. You're the facade, the pony who's lied so much to everypony including herself that when you strip it all down...” A seam appeared in 'Bon Bon's' face, growing wider and wider until it split her whole body down the middle. The two halves fell away like a shredded balloon. “There's nothing there.”
Bon Bon looked around frantically for the now-disembodied voice. “You're nothing! Nothing but a bitter little pile of lies! No wonder nopony can even stand you!”
“Shut up!” she screeched, clamping a hoof over each ear.
“If you want my advice... you should try being a bit sweeter. Or haven't you noticed where you're standing?” Bon Bon looked down at the gravel – but how had she not realized that it wasn't gravel? She was standing on millions of pieces of individually wrapped candy. The same kind of candy as her cutie mark.
“Stop! Please stop!”
“Give in, Bon Bon. Do what you were always meant to do, and smile!” Bon Bon sank to the ground in despair. “No no no, I said SMILE!”
Bon Bon felt her lips move. No. No no no no no! She couldn't stop it, and even as she started crying, the corners of her mouth slowly pulled upward. But she wasn't sad anymore. She was happy! So so happy that she felt like laughing! “Heeheehee! Hahahahaha! Woooooohooohahahahaha!” The tears were still on her cheeks, and Lyra was still in danger, but the important thing was how cheerful she was! She just felt like sharing that with everypony she could find! Not that she'd be able to find anypony, but who cared!
“Sounds like a plan! Get to work, kiddo!” Discord knocked down the walls holding her in, and Bon Bon skipped away. “And don't you EVER make a fool out of me.”
“You're too skinny to be this heavy,” Derpy grunted, clutching the Doctor with slightly shaky legs.
“Time Lord physiology, can't be helped.” Being carried made him a bit winded as well, though not as badly as Derpy. Thankfully, neither of them were sweating much; he felt precarious enough without the threat of a slippery grip.
“It has its advantages. Can you see that pony in the distance?”
“I can, and I think it's Bon Bon...” He trailed off as he was carried closer, and realized what he was looking at. All he could manage for the moment was a small, “Oh no.”
“Let me down here.” She sighed in relief, and dropped him fifteen feet above the dirt. “Not that faaaaaaaast–” His yell was cut off as he crashed into the ground, just managing to stay on all four hooves. Blimey, talk about literal minded. “Just stay close to me,” he cautioned as she landed beside him, and they began to walk.
After half a minute or so of walking, Derpy finally gasped in recognition. “Oh, there she is! Bon Bon!” she yelled.
Bon Bon, who had just entered Derpy's range of vision, turned around and waved cheerfully. “Hi there Derpy! Hi there Doctor!” Too cheerfully. She started trotting toward them.
“Bon Bon?” Derpy and the Doctor broke into a canter. “Bon Bon, are you all... right?” Derpy's sentence died on her lips as they got close enough for her to see Bon Bon properly as well.
“You bet! And we've found each other, so everything's going to be A-OK from now on!” There wasn't a bit of color left in her. From head to hoof she was completely grayed out, giving her a drab look that was utterly wrong compared with how she was acting.
They reached each other, and Bon Bon sat down on her haunches, still maintaining that sugary disposition. “Bon Bon, you're not acting again, are you?” the Doctor asked, only half-hopeful.
Bon Bon tilted her head to the side in puzzlement. “Acting? How could I be acting? I'm not an actress! Look!” She tapped at her cutie mark in explanation – three wrapped pieces of candy. No paint was coming off at her tapping, vanquishing the Doctor's faint hope. “Is that the kind of cutie mark an actress would have?”
“Bon Bon, you've been Discorded,” Derpy pointed out. “Think about it – he completely reversed your personality. Doesn't that bother you?”
Bon Bon hooted. “Reversed? Are you kidding, you silly pony? I was broken and he fixed me! I used to be such a meany-mean meany-pants! I used to be soooooo stubborn! But isn't this so much better? Aren't you happy now?”
“Fine! Fine.” And I thought she was annoying before. The Doctor started to walk past her. “Sure, we're happy we found you. Now we just need to find Lyra, Vinyl and Octavia.”
Bon Bon put a leg out in front of him, stopping him from proceeding. “Oh, don't worry about them.” Her smile remained utterly happy and gleeful and – now that he looked at it – not really a smile at all. It was as if hooks were pulling back the corners of her mouth. “Discord's probably crushed their spirits or something, and we'll never find them in this maze anyway, so why bother?”
“Because they're your friends. Lyra's your friend!” Derpy pleaded.
“That's right! So what?”
“She could be in trouble right now, and you don't care!”
“Discord gave me the serenity to accept what I can't change!” Bon Bon retorted. “And we're never gonna find Lyra or anypony – or anypony else! The whole world's doomed to chaos a–and destruction! So why worry–worry about it?”
The Doctor turned on her and looked her right in the eyes. “Because deep down inside your head, the real Bon Bon's clawing her way out. Can't you hear her? And if I know her at all, she's not going to let you stop her.”
“Can't you see, Doctor? I am the real Bon Bon, Bon BonBonBon!” Her smile remained unchanged, but there was something crumbling behind her eyes. She raised her front hooves and spun around in apparent glee. “No lies, no worries! I d–don't have to lie an–anymore! A–and I feel f–fi... I–I–I–I–I...” She fell to all fours, and now her smile didn't seem as grotesque. Come back, Bon Bon. Come back, you rude, stubborn, deceptive, brilliant mare. She tumbled to the ground and began to laugh hysterically, rolling around in the dirt. “Ahahahaha! Hahahahaha! Haha... huhhh. Ahahahah... ahuhuhuhuhuhuh...”
The laughter was gone, and she was sobbing in the dirt. “Ahuhuhuhuh...” As Derpy and the Doctor watched, the color returned to her, starting at the eyes and radiating through her whole body. “Ahuhuhuhuhuh...” The Doctor bent down to comfort her, but she planted her hooves on his chest and pushed him away. “Don't TOUCH me!” she bawled.
He and Derpy knew what she really meant, and both bent down beside her. “I knew you'd come back,” he said. This time, she didn't resist. “The real you.”
“That was the real me.”
“What are you talking about? Of course it wasn't,” Derpy insisted.
“It's as close as you've ever seen,” Bon Bon snapped, her tears now reduced to sobs.
“What do you mean?” the Doctor asked, ignoring the barb for her sake.
She reached down and tapped her cutie mark, just as she'd done before. “You know what a cutie mark is, right?” Bon Bon sniffed. After a second, Derpy's eyes widened in realization; the Doctor was not so fortunate.
“Not really, but just from context...” The Doctor thought for a moment. Lyra thought my hourglass cutie mark meant I could time travel. Vinyl and Octavia are musicians with musical cutie marks. “I guess it's got something to do with your talents.”
“You think it's just 'something to do with' – no, your cutie mark tells you how you're supposed to live your life. It's what you're best at, your innate talent. How you become happy with your life. But if you won't live up to your talent.... Don't you get it?”
And finally, the Doctor did. “You don't make sweets for a living, do you?”
“My mom taught me how to bake when I was a kid, and I was so sure that it was my special talent – and then I was right, it was. Making sweets.” She laughed – bitterly, not gleefully, to the Doctor's relief. “You get your cutie mark when you're a kid and it's there for the rest of your life, and that was fine. I really did like it for a while – I still do, a bit. But then I found something I liked even more.”
“Right. And it made me feel so much happier, and I thought, how could I ever go back to baking? So I practiced acting, and impersonations. And by Celestia I'm very good at it, even if it isn't my 'special talent'.” She pulled herself to her hooves and dusted herself off, a wry smile now on her face. “I've been impersonating a sane pony for years, and almost nopony's ever noticed.”
“What about Lyra?”
“I said almost.” She finished wiping the tears off her face, and strode past them. “You've probably figured this out by now, but she's really smart.”
“Pulling a TARDIS out of thin air? Yeah, I suppose I'd agree with you.”
“She was my roommate in college, and it didn't take four hours after she met me before she figured it out.” She switched into Lyra's voice – “You've got the wrong cutie mark! It doesn't match up!” – then laughed in her own. “And most ponies never notice.”
“Maybe she could figure out mine too,” Derpy cut in.
“Bet you don't know what it means.”
“Well, it's... I don't really know, actually. Is it...” Bon Bon stopped in her tracks and frowned in puzzlement. “It's not your bubbly personality, is it?”
“Because you're so sweet, right?” Bon Bon conceded the point with a chuckle. “No, actually.”
“Bubble wrap?" the Doctor suggested. Bon Bon gave him a weird look. "Vinyl said she delivers mail, right? Bubble wrap... packages... you know?”
Derpy frowned. “You did hear the rest of Vinyl what was saying, right? How I can hardly day a go without breaking something? I'm not that good a mailpony.”
“All right, I give up.” Bon Bon shrugged. “What does it mean?”
“I don't know.”
The Doctor had once seen a genetically scrambled scientist open his mouth horribly wide to devour life energy. Bon Bon's jaw didn't drop quite that much, but it was a close thing. “You don't know?” she stammered. “How can you not know what your cutie mark means?”
“How can you know what your cutie mark means and do something completely different?” Bon Bon shrugged again, as if to say 'good point'. “But it's true, I have no idea. I've tried a lot of odd jobs, and nothing ever matches up with it.”
“And nopony ever noticed.”
The Doctor noted that Bon Bon wasn't asking, but Derpy ignored the implied olive branch. “Well, maybe if you weren't so focused on my eyes.”
“If I wasn't? I try to be nice and–” Bon Bon cut herself off. “You're right. I've probably made more cracks about the stupid mailmare than anypony else.” She took a deep breath, then said, “I'm sorry.”
Derpy's eyes widened. “Wow... really?”
“No, this is a spiteful ploy on my part to twist the knife deeper – yes, really, I'm sorry! I said some mean things and I'm sorry about it, okay?” Derpy still looked a bit surprised. “What, nopony's ever apologized to you before about that?”
“Wow. That is dumb.”
“Uh, girls?” The Doctor reasserted himself by stepping ahead of the other two. “Sorry to break up the heartfelt conversation, but I think I hear Lyra yelling.”
Instantly all of Bon Bon's attention was on him. “Is she hurt?”
“I don't think–”
“Is she hurt?” Bon Bon bolted ahead, forcing the Doctor and Derpy to speed up as well. Derpy jumped into the air to keep pace.
“She doesn't sound hurt, she sounds...” The Doctor screwed up his face in concentration. “Angry?”
“Why would she be angry?” Derpy asked. “That doesn't sound anything like her – oh.” Realization dawned, and the three of them sped up further.
They turned a corner and skidded to a stop. At the other end of the corridor was a veritable tide of spiders, each one as big as the Doctor's head, making horrible squeaking noises and surging toward them. Bon Bon snarled and planted her feet, ready to defend them. “You two, get behind me, now!” she yelled.
Derpy did as she was told, but the Doctor hesitated. “Bon Bon, something's wrong!”
“Yes, there's a swarm of spiders about to attack us! I'm glad you noticed!”
“Listen to them! They're not attacking us, they're scared!” It was difficult to see, but the spiders were definitely looking past them, not at them.
“What?” Bon Bon looked back at the swarm, and shrieked – the spiders were almost on top of them. She raised her hooves to attack, but suddenly the tide parted. The spiders went around the group, keeping as close to the walls as possible. In a few seconds, they had passed, and their shrieking faded into the distance. Bon Bon took a few shallow breaths, her eyes wide open. “Scared,” she whispered. “Right.”
“Scared of... what of?” Derpy panted.
“AAIIIIIIIIIEEEEE!” Another thing came zipping down the corridor at them: Discord, sounding absolutely terrified with a big smile on his face. He grabbed the Doctor and shook him up and down in apparent panic. “She's crazy I tells ya, crazy! Run for it!” He dropped the Doctor and kept following the spiders, his scream mixing with stifled laughter.
After a few bemused moments, the three of them bolted in the direction of Lyra's screams. None of them spoke, but the Doctor was sure they all knew what they were going to find. And it wasn't long before they did.
“That's right, run! You... spidery coward!” They turned into a clearing, just as a spider limped past them with two of its legs crushed. In front of them, wearing a satisfied grin and looking as gray as they'd feared, was Lyra.
“Oh, the cavalry finally shows up. Some help you were!” Lyra spat on the ground and pointed at a giant lyre standing in the corner of the clearing, holding the shreds of a thick spiderweb. “While you buncha jerks were doing... whatever it is you jerks do, I was here getting covered in spiders!”
“Oh dear Celestia, Lyra – are you okay?” Bon Bon rushed to Lyra's side. In response, Lyra smacked her in the nose. “Lyra!”
“Better than you're gonna be, pal.” She smirked and kicked Bon Bon in the side, sending her to the ground in pain.
“Hey! Don't treat my friend that way!” Derpy dove out of the air and tackled Lyra. Down they went into the dirt, kicking and screaming.
“Derpy, stop it right now!” pleaded Bon Bon. “She's not herself!”
Lyra bit Derpy's wing; she howled and flung Lyra to the side. “Myself?” Lyra laughed, and lunged right back at Derpy, punching her savagely in the eye. “Oh, I'm way better than that wimp!” She raised her hoof to strike again, but the Doctor was behind her; he grabbed her forelegs and pulled her back, holding on as tight as he could against her struggles. “Let go of me!” she snarled. “I wanna beat up Derpy some more!”
“You think this is better?” he asked. “Discord turned you into a sadistic monster and you think that's better?”
“Better than a coward!” Abruptly she bent down and flipped him over onto his back. He managed to exhale just before impact, not wanting the wind knocked out of him for the third time that day. “Which is all I was!” She threw her hoof at him, but he rolled to the side and it went into the dirt.
“That's a lie!” He was on his hooves again, ready for her next attack. “You were brilliant! You called the TARDIS out of thin air! And now you're–” She lunged at him, but he dodged to the side just in time. “Just a crude thug!”
“Well – well at least I'm not scared!” Lyra charged at him horn-first, when suddenly Derpy appeared behind her, grabbed her hind legs, and jumped. In a moment Lyra was upside-down in the air, hanging a foot above the ground.
“Yes – you – are,” Derpy grunted.
“Get off of me!” Lyra yelled. She struggled to reach up and hit Derpy, but didn't have the strength to lift herself.
“You're scared, I'm scared, Bon Bon's certainly scared and the Doctor's scared. Is beating up me going to help?”
“YES!” Lyra yelled, and with an almighty twist she wrenched her hooves from Derpy's grasp. This was a bad idea; she didn't quite get her front legs under herself in time, landed on her forehead, and collapsed to the ground in a daze.
“Lyra!” Bon Bon was beside her instantly. “Are you okay?” Lyra tried to get up, but Derpy landed on her back, immobilizing her.
“Lemme up... wanna hitya summore...” Lyra mumbled into the dirt.
“Doctor, is she okay?” The Doctor ran over to Lyra's side and felt her head for injuries. “She's my best friend in the whole world – please tell me she's okay!”
Lyra looked up at the word 'friend', and mumbled something that sounded like “krch”.
“What?” asked Bon Bon.
“Crutch. Friends're equals... didn't like you, just needed you. Don't needa crutch, I'm stronger now.” She tried and failed to get her legs underneath herself.
“You needed me?” Bon Bon smiled. “Well, I need you too. The real you.”
“The useless me. The scared me.”
“The sympathetic you. The you who's willing to let it go when I'm in a bad mood. Who's always coming up with crazy new ideas. Who listens to me even when I'm being a huge...” Bon Bon snorted. “Well, it starts with a 'b'.”
“You're always a huge b.”
“The queen b, and everyone knows you can only have one of those.” Her expression softened once more. “But being your friend is like a daily lesson in being... me. Not a jerk, not crazy, just normal, and I don't know what I'd do without that. Please come back, Lyra...” And she pushed Derpy off, pulled Lyra up, and hugged her.
For a moment Lyra struggled. Then the color started at her back, returning her body to the mint-green it had been before.
Lyra exhaled suddenly, and heaved a few quick breaths, her eyes wide and her body tense. “I'm still scared,” she whispered.
“That's what we're here for.” Bon Bon's smile was more earnest than the Doctor had yet seen it.
“But you're all scared too...”
The Doctor recalled something he'd said a long time ago. “'Courage isn't just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.'”
Lyra let go of Bon Bon, and only then noticed the various cuts and bruises on the other ponies. “I did that? Ohnonononono I am so sorry!”
“Don't mention it,” the Doctor interrupted, patting her on the back, then pulling her to her hooves. “Hell of a throwing leg you've got there. Now come on, everyone, let's get moving before–”
“That.” The Doctor gritted his teeth as Discord appeared in a blinding flash in front of them, wearing a beret and circular black glasses.
“What in my name is wrong with you ponies?” he yelled, speaking into a comical conical megaphone labeled 'DISCORD' for extra volume. “I mean, it was going great, with the wonderful choreography on the fight scene, and the emotional torque, and then it was like you all forgot your motivations! Okay, recap time:” He pointed at each pony in turn. “You're the manic-depressive with a hero complex; you're the mailmare who can't get anything right; you're the former coward who's decided to get serious, and you're the–” He abruptly stopped upon reaching Bon Bon, took off his glasses, rubbed them on his beret, put them back on, and continued not talking for several seconds. His mouth widened in shock. “You're the wrong color.”
“You noticed!” Bon Bon put on an incredibly thin smile.
“But – you couldn't have – I – arrrrgh!” Discord screamed into his megaphone, creating a deafening wave of sound.
“Run!” the Doctor yelled. The four of them ran out of the clearing and away from Discord. Make Discord angry: check. I hope I didn't overdo it...
Then Discord started laughing. The four of them didn't stop running, but they slowed down. “Ignore him,” Bon Bon insisted, taking the lead while the Doctor, Lyra, and Derpy followed behind. It took a few seconds for the Doctor to realize that the laughter wasn't getting closer: Discord wasn't following them.
“GOTCHA!” He continued laughing for a few seconds, before stopping as abruptly as he'd begun. His tone became serious. “You know what's funny, don't you? The way you're running away from me! Like I'm the most dangerous thing in this maze...” A dry chuckle reverberated through the air. “Believe me, I'm flattered. But if you're so interested in self-preservation, then I have a suggestion: Duck.”
Without thinking, the Doctor pulled Lyra and Bon Bon to the charred dirt, barely dodging the incoming death ray. He heard Derpy gasp behind him. A gasp of shock, not pain. It's okay. The Dalek missed her.
The Dalek. Realization hit him like a punch in the face. No. They can't be here. He pulled his head up to look down the corridor in front of them – but there was no corridor now, just devastation and the accursed tin cans in every direction as far as the eye could see. Their cries of “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!” filled the air.
“STAY DOWN!” he yelled. He desperately looked for cover in the blighted orange landscape, but there was nothing remotely close enough. They were surrounded. So this is how it ends.
“Nice try, Discord!” The Doctor peeked behind himself to see Derpy standing up, calling to the sky. Is she insane?
“Derpy, get down!”
“Doctor, that green light thingy from before went right through me. It's an illusion. Look!” She flew away and landed in front of a nearby Dalek, who did not notice her. In fact, it rolled straight through her body, still screaming bloody murder and firing laser after laser out of its gunstick.
“Oh.” Of course it's an illusion. Why would there be any Daleks here?
Bon Bon conked him affectionately on the head. “So much for 'rather exceptional mind', you big dumbo.” She pulled him and Lyra to their hooves.
“But why would Discord show us those... whatever-they-ares, if he's not trying to hurt us?”
“Good question, Lyra! I thought you could all use a little history lesson, so I've taken us somewhere I'm sure our alien friend recognizes...” The four of them looked for Discord, but could see nothing of him. “Doesn't it all look familiar, Doc? The twin suns, the burnt orange soil, the Dalek ships flying in the sky? The Untempered Schism, raging with the power of the Time Vortex? Ring any bells in that head of yours?”
The Doctor's jaw sagged, and he staggered a few steps back. He knew where they were.
“Fillies and not-so-gentle colt, welcome to Gallifrey. Home to Doc and all the other Time Lords, and the epicenter of a war more horrifying than the rest of you can even imagine. Well, I say it's home to all the other Time Lords, but we both know what the problem is with that....” A huge rumbling caught their attention, and they turned as one to look at where the soil was being forced up. “You destroyed them!”
A dirty gray headstone burst from the Gallifreyan landscape and rose over the four.
The Time Lords
It did not stop. More and more names rose from the charred earth, each one glowing like fire. “Did you tell them that you'd save Equestria, Doc? After the thousand civilizations that have fallen dead before you, including your own? After whole planets were reduced to ash and dust and nothing – because you decided, in your infinite wisdom, that their time was up? You exterminated your own people, your own parents and children! Your own planet! So thoroughly that no one mourns the Time Lords – because there is no one left who will mourn!” Behind the headstone, the Doctor saw the TARDIS flying over Gallifrey, high in the sky and burning bright white with a power that could not be contained–
The world exploded. It imploded, it fell apart, it burned away, it crumbled into nothing. In an instant, everything – Daleks, Gallifrey, and the headstone – was wiped out, and they were left in a howling blank void. The Time War was over in a single moment.
“You ponies still think I'm the worst thing here? Well, the Time Lords discovered your good friend's plan. They tried to escape.”
And now there they were, on Christmas Day, in a room sprinkled with the trappings of the holiday, swept aside to make room for the Immortality Gate – and they were all there. Rassilon, standing in front of the Immortality Gate, flanked by an entourage of Time Lords. The Master, angry and betrayed and hungry for revenge.
“But no, we couldn't have any of that, could we, Doc?”
And there he was, as he had been – humanoid, and scarred, and terrified. Ending the Time War once and for all. He shot the White Point Star, the link keeping the Master connected with the Time Lords, and they fell through the gate. “The link is broken! Back into the Time War, Rassilon – back into hell!” He watched the Master, Rassilon, and all his kin disappear into the emptiness.
“The Time Lord... victorious. Aren't you proud, my friend, to have so outdone me in every way?” And then they were back to the blasted landscape of Gallifrey, but now they were all alone. There were no Daleks, just the four of them in the endless wasteland. “When ponies pass down the stories of how I covered a planet in fear and chaos... oh, if only they knew. If only they'd heard the legends of the nameless monster, who rips worlds apart because he can!”
“No... all I ever did was try to help...” The Doctor couldn't even convince himself. When have I ever done any good for anyone?
“You want to help? Leave. Step into your magic box and run a trillion miles away, where you can't hurt anypony anymore.” Almost against his will, the Doctor found himself pulling his screwdriver from his pocket. He began changing the setting, finding the one that would return the TARDIS...
Bon Bon's hoof came out of nowhere and knocked his screwdriver from his grasp. “Don't you dare let him lie to you too,” she ordered, sticking her face right into his. “He's only trying to hurt you.”
“But it's no lie – I did it. I killed my own people. I killed the Daleks, I've killed my friends, I've killed and killed and killed... and I'm gonna kill you too, soon enough. It's all I can do.”
She slapped him hard across the face. “Snap out of it!” she yelled. “This is just what he wants!” It didn't help. He sank to the ground in despair, sobs beginning to force their way up his throat.
Then Lyra was there beside him. “Why'd you do it?” she asked.
“Because they were in his way!” cackled Discord.
“When I want your opinion, Discord, I'll ask for it!” she yelled. Everyone shut up and looked at her. “Why'd you do it?” she repeated.
“Because they would have... because I didn't... I gave them a chance. Every time, I gave them a chance, and they never took it – and I destroyed them. The Daleks, the Time Lords... he's right, my planet burned. I burned it out of existence, because the Time Lords were planning something worse and that was the only way to stop them.”
“It was the Time War, the last great Time War, and it had been going on for too long. We used to be... well, I don't know what we were, but by the end we were worse than the Daleks. We – they – were going to win at the ultimate cost. Everything would have been destroyed: my world, this world, all the worlds in creation. That's why I had to end it, so that nobody won. Daleks, Time Lords, and me... we all lost.”
He looked up at them and saw horror in their faces. He expected that. No doubt, so did Discord. Well, at this point he didn't care if Discord was getting what he wanted. “So that's what I am. The worst thing in this maze. On this planet. I should never have come here, and I certainly should never have brought you. I'm sorry.” He wondered when they would turn and run away. It always happened, when they saw too much of him – when it wasn't fun anymore. And why not? What have I ever done for them except cause them pain? He decided to save them the trouble and trudged away.
But he heard quick hoof-falls behind him, and suddenly Lyra was on his right. “I don't think you're the worst thing in this maze.”
“Really? How many races have you killed recently?”
“No, but listen. If you're so mean, what are you doing here?”
“Putting you in danger.”
“But you saved me from Discord. No, you listen to me now–” she pushed through his attempted response. “Then you saved Octavia and Vinyl, and you hadn't even ever met them. And then you helped save me again. And now here you are and you're trying to save everypony. So maybe you're not so bad after all,” she finished with a smile. “I think you can stay.”
“You know who you remind me of? Bon Bon.”
“Lyra – what?” So much for guilt – it was replaced by a sense of confusion. “Seriously?”
“Seriously!” She giggled. “You two are so hard on yourselves.”
“Like, imagine some sort of generator powered by...” she waved her hooves around, before settling on, “guilt energy.” Lyra looked him straight in the eye. “You two could power Canterlot. And a half.”
“What.” The Doctor quickly shoved aside the part of his brain trying – and succeeding – to figure out how such a machine would work, and determining the units of guilt energy. Angstroms, I suppose... no, focus. “Lyra, I can't forget what I've done.”
“So remember it. Just try to remember the good stuff too.” He hesitated in his response, so she followed up with a quick, “For me, okay?” Still he said nothing.
“Like when you saved the universe, twice,” said Derpy. “Isn't that what you said? And hang on–” this time he was about to respond, but she cut him off: “Those Dalek things looked pretty bad. If you beat them, isn't that good?”
“Yes... yes, I suppose it is...” The Doctor suddenly felt a bit silly. Actually, I have saved the universe a few times... and am I really going to feel bad about the Daleks?
“And you helped me out a few minutes ago...” Bon Bon interrupted. “I mean, that was mostly me, to be honest, but you did help, so... thank you.”
“Yes, that's right!” You know what? I did help her.
“You saved me and Octavia!”
“Yes, Vinyl, but Lyra mentioned that already," he replied.
“Well, excuse us if we haven't been here – it seemed like a nice thing to say.”
The penny dropped a second later, and he whipped his head around to see the two of them beaming at him. “Vinyl! Octavia!”
“The two and only!” Vinyl exclaimed. “Looks like we found you instead!”
“Impossible!” Discord appeared in a flash beside them, his claw clenched into a fist. “The maze should have kept you separate from him!”
“If there were a maze, I imagine it might have done so.”
“What do you mean, if there was a maze–” Discord stopped, and took a look around at the very un-maze-like surroundings. His jaw dropped to the ground.
“If there were a maze,” Octavia continued, “except that you seem to have demolished it, probably to prove some sort of point. Oh, and we found another statue, Doctor – Vinyl says her name is Fluttershy. You can see her over there.” She pointed behind herself, and the Doctor was just able to see the back of Fluttershy's statue.
“What – but I – AAAAAAARGH!” Discord roared. “You ponies are impossible!”
“Exactly!” Vinyl grinned.
“FINE!” Discord snapped his fingers, and the orange soil returned to being brown. The walls rose back up around the six of them, but did not separate them. “I've got better things I can do with my time anyway! Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a very important errand to run!... AND 'WAS' IS ALSO CORRECT!” With that, he dove into one of the hedges and vanished.
“That's right! You'd better run!” Vinyl yelled. “Woo!” She raised her hoof in front of Bon Bon who, after some hesitation, bumped it with her own.
“Thank you,” the Doctor said to Lyra. “That was brave of you.”
“Standing up to Discord the way you did.”
“That wasn't being brave, was it? Wait a second, was it?”
“You were frightened, and you did what you had to do anyway. That's bravery.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh my goodness! I was brave just then! I totally was!”
“You're bleeding!” The two of them turned to see Octavia looking at Bon Bon, who had a fair amount of blood running down her right rear leg. The Doctor realized he was bleeding too, after fighting with Lyra and diving into the dirt on 'Gallifrey', but Bon Bon's wound was bigger.
“Miss Bon Bon, that could get infected if you're not careful. Here–” Octavia undid her bowtie, and tried to wrap it around Bon Bon's wound, but Bon Bon jerked her leg away.
“Seriously, lady, don't touch me–”
“Come on, BB,” said Lyra.
“Oh... fine. Thanks, Octavia,” Bon Bon grumbled, offering up her leg.
“Wait–” Derpy began, but Octavia had already tied her bowtie around the wound as a makeshift dressing. They looked at her, and in response she used her wing to reach into a saddlebag and pull out a real bandage. Octavia sighed and smacked her own forehead.
“Well, is anyone else significantly hurt?” she asked. When the assembly shook their heads, she continued. “Then Vinyl and I think we have a lead on where to go next.”
“Really? Where?” asked the Doctor.
“Well, there were a couple of other statues I saw besides Fluttershy, but we didn't think we'd have time to get 'em before getting back to you,” said Vinyl. “So I cast a Finders Keepers spell on 'em... hang on...” She concentrated, her horn glowed blue, and the Doctor heard faint tones pulse from the distance. Listening closely, he heard three sources of the sounds, the closest of which was to his right.
“This way!” he called, and started trotting in that direction.
“And you said I should just learn to organize my stuff,” Vinyl said to Octavia as the others followed the Doctor. “Imagine if I'd listened to you instead of learning this cool spell! Your neat-freakiness nearly doomed the world!”
“Yes, yes, I'm wrong and you're right,” Octavia sighed, and the two of them trotted after the group.
Five minutes later, the nearest statue turned out to be Rainbow Dash, Element of Loyalty. After a series of hoof-bumps all around, the group set off for the penultimate statue. However, after encountering several trials on the way, they decided to just send Derpy to airlift Octavia to the statue and back. With the Doctor acting as Derpy's spotter to make sure she didn't disappear in the maze, she dipped into the clearing, to let Octavia tap Applejack's statue. Only one more to go.
Ironically, their success troubled the Doctor. Discord should be putting up more of a fight than this. He can't have given up, can he? And what was that errand? He kept his concerns to himself, however, and before too long they were nearing the final statue: Twilight Sparkle, the Element of Magic, or Friendship, or both. He was a little unclear on the point.
“Found her found her found her!” Vinyl pointed down a wide corridor to her right. The Doctor galloped to her side and saw Twilight Sparkle's statue at the other end, gently pulsing blue with Vinyl's magic. “That's the last one! We win! In your face, Discord!”
“Unless it's a trap,” Derpy reminded her.
“Oh, what are the chances of that?” Vinyl tried to run down the corridor, but Bon Bon blocked her way. “Hey, what's the big idea?”
“The big idea is that you're running off alone into the most obvious trap ever devised.” Bon Bon pointed to the hedge walls, which were covered in wooden arrows pointing toward Twilight's statue. On them were printed such things as 'Twilight Sparkle', 'Element of Magic thattaway', and 'these signs are only here for your convenience, and are not remotely suspicious'.
“Well, what else are we gonna do, go the other way?” Vinyl asked. “What if it's not a trap?”
“I think Vinyl's right,” Octavia interjected. “We can't pass up the chance when we're so close.”
“But if it is a trap?"
“Then we'll meet it together.” The Doctor moved to the head of the group. “We're not getting separated now. Ready?”
There was a chorus of “Ready”. The six took a step into the corridor together.
Something massive, soft, and cold landed on the Doctor and covered him entirely. He was forced to the ground, unable to see, hear, move, or breathe. He could still taste, though, and whatever was surrounding him tasted good, like chocolate ice cream. Exactly like chocolate ice cream, he realized. I'm being smothered to death by a gigantic ice cream cake. Definitely a low point in my career.
Something grabbed his feet – his hooves, rather – and he felt himself being pulled backward out of the cake. As his ears popped out, he heard Vinyl yelling, “–in an ice cream cake? Even for you, Discord, that's cold.” Octavia groaned.
Discord's voice echoed around them. “Well, aren't you going to read it?”
Derpy finished pulling the Doctor out of the cake, then flew up above it to read out loud. “Thank you.” She sounded as uneasy as the Doctor felt.
“Exactly!” Discord's eyes and mouth appeared on the cake's front, leering at the group. “I'd like to thank each of you for giving me such a valuable lesson. Because of you, I've learned that you can't always get everything you want.”
“You'd better believe it!” Vinyl yelled.
“Indeed I do, my dear hornèd pony. You see, my problem is that I've been trying to multitask this whole game!” Discord cackled at their confusion. “Oh, you didn't think I've spent all this time messing with the six of you, did you? I've been having fun all over the world! And take a look at the ponies I've met!” The cake around Discord's 'face' started bulging, warping itself into a swirl of faces; some crying, some too depressed to cry, some angry and snarling, some blowing raspberries, and one with a laugh as mad as the Doctor had ever seen. All were silent.
“I've been trying to win our little duel, Doc, and not take it seriously at the same time. But,” Discord sighed, “All good things must come to an end sometime. So I've decided that the laissez-faire act can slide for a while.” The cake bulged further, and the Doctor saw noses, then faces, then front hooves crawling out of the cake. The six backed away. “The self-imposed challenge is over, Doc! You are not getting to that statue!”
“Run!” yelled the Doctor, but he didn't need to. All six of them were running around the cake, which started spitting out ice cream golems at a frightening rate. Now they made sound; the Doctor heard their snarls, and the sobs, and one familiar laugh, joined by Discord's own.
“Go get em, kids! Allez-y!” The Doctor heard a snap of fingers as he ran down the short narrow corridor, which suddenly stopped being either short or narrow. The walls stretched forward into the distance, then pulled away to reveal giant steaming pits of flowing lava on either side. The proximity alone was enough to make him sweat. Even worse, more ice cream golems started climbing from the pits: ponies, griffins, cows, even a few medium sized dragons.
Lyra, who had advanced to the front, screamed as a massive caramel claw reached up from the pit and grabbed her back hoof. Derpy heard the scream, jumped off the narrow width of ground, lunged at the griffin holding Lyra, and chopped its claws off with her wing. It screeched and fell into the lava, flattening a unicorn beneath it.
A giant chocolate moose jumped up at Bon Bon, but Vinyl held it in midair with her magic. The Doctor instinctively turned around, reared up on his front legs, and bucked it straight in the chest, splattering chocolate all over himself.
The ground cracked just in front of Bon Bon, who'd gotten to the front of the pack. The strip of land fell a few feet and continued to sink into the lava. Without hesitation, Bon Bon kneeled and yelled, “Jump off my back!” Vinyl and Octavia were the first ones behind her, and she launched them to the higher ground. Then came Lyra, then the Doctor bringing up the rear; she boosted him up just as the lower section jolted down another few feet, right to the level of the lava.
The Doctor just managed to scrabble onto the ledge, then looked down to see Bon Bon standing still below him, her hooves mere inches from the surging lava. “Bon Bon!” he shrieked, and tried to reach down to her, but she was too far away.
“Don't worry about me!” she yelled. “Just keep–”
Derpy swooped down behind her and pulled her up, just as the lava covered the last patch of dirt below. “That was so dumb!” she yelled, dropping Bon Bon on an angry vanilla sheep in front of them. “What were you thinking?”
“Mostly 'gosh, I hope the team pegasus realizes that us earth dwellers are all about to die!'” Bon Bon stomped on the paw of a cookie dough dog, leaving it to howl and fall back into the pit. “Right now, though, I guess it's mostly 'thank you'.”
Derpy landed in front of Vinyl and Lyra, each of whom were blasting the ice cream hordes with magic as they came into view, and smiled. “It's what friends do.”
“Um, amigos?” said Vinyl, pointing behind them off the edge of the cliff. “We need to keep running some more now.” The others looked where she was pointing and saw something airborne, massive, and light green.
“That's an ice cream dragon,” Octavia uttered, apparently having difficulty with the concept.
“A pistachio dragon,” Vinyl clarified, already turning tail and running. “The worst flavor of dragon possible!”
And there's another thing you don't hear every day, thought the Doctor, bolting after Vinyl and the others. He heard a huge roar as the dragon accelerated toward them, melting the smaller golems behind them in a surge of green fire – but the flame missed them, and the dragon flew upward and started circling around. A big creature like that, it could take – the Doctor glanced up at the dragon and made a few estimations – a minute to turn? A minute might be enough time.
Then came a second roar, deeper than the first. The Doctor looked down from the pistachio dragon to see an even larger fudge dragon, covered in rainbow sprinkles, rising from the maze in front of them.
The six skidded to a halt, maybe a quarter mile away from the end of the passage. “Doctor, what do we do now?” asked Octavia.
The Doctor took a moment to decide, then turned to Derpy. “Derpy, you need to leave us behind.”
“What are you–”
“You've got wings, you're faster than any of us. You're the only one who can get to Twilight's statue and end the game.”
“But I'll be leaving behind you, and I don't even–”
“Derpy!” Octavia yelled. “Can you get to the statue?”
Derpy looked at each dragon and gulped, but said, “Yes.”
“Then go! We'll be fine!”
Derpy took one last deep breath, then took off to the right, and started circling around the fudge dragon. “Okay, everyone!” yelled the Doctor. “I'll keep my eyes on Derpy. I don't want her disappearing in the maze. Vinyl, Lyra, can either of you block that dragon's fire?”
“I once put a spell on my glasses that stops sparks from getting in my eyes – it's really useful when I'm messing with amps and stuff and they're plugged in.”
“And you couldn't just unplug them first... why?” asked Bon Bon.
“Bon Bon,” the Doctor admonished, still keeping his eyes on Derpy. “Vinyl, that's just what we need. Can you make it stronger, and cover all of us?”
“Um... maybe?” He heard Vinyl grunt as she tried to use her magic, and for a split second there was a faint blue shield around them – then it disappeared. “Maybe not.”
“Wait!” yelled Lyra. The Doctor's concentration was almost interrupted when she thrust her hoof into his pocket and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. “I'll boost the power with this!”
“Lyra, the screwdriver only works on technology!” He noticed the fudge dragon out of the corner of his eye. Its mouth was open, and flames licked the back of its throat.
“Prove it!” Lyra pressed the tip of the screwdriver to Vinyl's horn and turned it on – and just in time. As the dragon's fire reached them, Vinyl gasped, and suddenly there was a bright shield around them, much more robust than before. The flames enveloped it, raising the temperature within, and for a moment the Doctor couldn't breathe the superheated air.
Then the dragon passed them. Lyra turned the screwdriver off with a triumphant “It does work!” But Vinyl swayed and collapsed on the ground. “Oh no – Vinyl! Are you okay?”
“Okay?” Vinyl heaved a breath in, and coughed as the hot air hit her lungs. “That... was... awesome. Kinda scary, but... awesome. How'd you do that?”
“You accelerated her magic!”, the Doctor exclaimed. “The same spell, but a hundred times stronger!”
“And one hundred times more tiring,” Octavia added. She and Bon Bon pulled Vinyl to her hooves and grabbed her to prevent her from falling again. “All that power comes from somewhere.”
“Yeah, I don't think I can pull that off again,” Vinyl panted. “Which is kind of a shame.” A huge roar filled the air, and she looked up at the sky behind her. The others followed her gaze and saw that the first dragon had finally turned around, and was ready for a second attack.
“Then it's my turn.” Lyra lifted the screwdriver to her own horn, but Bon Bon grabbed her leg.
“Lyra, you don't have the strength,” she protested. “It nearly knocked out Vinyl, I don't think you can handle it.”
“Derpy!" the Doctor exclaimed. "I lost sight of her – just now, in the fire – can anyone see her?” He looked all around, but there wasn't a patch of gray or gold in the sky.
The roaring sound of dragon fire reached them, and Lyra shrieked in fright. Just as the flames hit them, she turned on the screwdriver and her magic. A mint-green shield surrounded them, but it wasn't as strong as Vinyl's blue one – the fire was more visible, and thin tendrils were forcing their way through. Lyra was already shaking from the effort as their small pocket of air heated up once more.
“Hold on, Lyra!” the Doctor pleaded, supporting her body with his own.
Lyra was panting, her eyes were squeezed shut, and she looked ready to collapse. “I – I can't – keep it–” Her horn sparked, and the green aura around it evaporated as Lyra fell insensate to the ground. The magic field surrounding them evaporated. The Doctor braced himself for painful death.
A few seconds later, he realized it wasn't coming. He opened his eyes to see no flame, only the pistachio dragon frozen in mid-flight. It crossed its arms and spoke with a familiar, annoyed voice. “Oh, I knew I should have enforced 'no wings, no magic, no extra hearts'!”
“What in the–” Octavia began. Then she stopped talking, and started smiling.
“Hey guys!” Derpy dashed toward them from the other end of the corridor. “I found it! Found it found it – oof!” Her exultations were cut short when she crashed into the Doctor, knocking him into the rest of the group.
“Yes. She did.” The pistachio dragon snapped its clawed fingers, and its ice cream skin exploded, revealing Discord. Covered as he was in ponies, the Doctor couldn't really see his face, but he imagined Discord's teeth were gritted.
“I mean, letting you keep both hearts was bad enough, but letting her skip ahead like that?” This voice came from the other direction, where the chocolate dragon had been – but now it was another Discord, sounding just as irritated as the first. He slapped his claw over his eyes. “I can't believe I let you talk me into it, Doc – hey, are you even listening?” He wasn't. As soon as he'd gotten up from Derpy's flying tackle, the Doctor had begun running down the corridor. He wanted to see Twilight's statue himself.
Even as he ran, the restoration was beginning. The sky was changing color, from ghastly orange back to clear blue. The ice cream melted under the light of the sun that was yellow once again. The walls slid back in and covered up the lava pits, and the corridor returned to its original length, so that he was to the end before he knew it. There was Twilight Sparkle, looking as defiant as ever. He pressed his head against hers and sent her a message: We beat Discord.
I heard. But it's not over.
Really? The Doctor struggled to contain his sarcasm.
Discord admitted defeat. I don't think he would do that – unless it's a trick.
“Twilight, you wound me. I have offers, but tricks? The very idea.” These words broke the Doctor's concentration, and he shot a glare at Discord, floating above him. “Oh, I'm sorry, was that a private conversation?” he asked, in a surprisingly apologetic tone. “You'll have to forgive me, but it seemed like it must have been so interesting. After all, you ditched your companions back there to hurry up and have it.”
Oh. Right. The Doctor looked back at his friends to see them stumbling his way, with Vinyl and the semi-conscious Lyra being supported by the other three. “Are you all okay?”
“And right into the old routine, I see. The token concern for the victims of the tragedy you've narrowly managed to avert, oh mighty hero.” Discord gave a theatrical bow, and with yet another snap of his fingers, the hedge walls began sinking into the ground. “And now that I have been defeated, and will never trouble this planet again – pinky promise – you've just got one more step left.”
“What are you yammering about?” yelled Bon Bon.
“Oh, dear sweet Bon Bon, I thought he would have told you! No?” Discord frowned at the Doctor, and continued with a disappointed voice. “Well, ladies, it's been fun, but the truth is that it's time for him to leave.”
“Don't you dare touch him–”
“Don't misunderstand. He'll do it of his own free will. Because that's what you do, Doc. You save the day, and keep running along, seeing the universe... well, not this universe.” Discord snapped his fingers, and in front of the Doctor appeared a vision of Earth, gently turning in the sky. “You'd like to go back to that one, wouldn't you? Can't imagine why – it doesn't have me, for instance – but–”
“But it's impossible.” The Doctor turned away from the vision. “I can't go back.”
“Excuse me? Which pony told Derpy that there was still a hole in the universe back in Canterlot?” Discord pointed at the Doctor. “It was your way in, and it will be your way out.”
“Doc, friend o' mine, what was the last thing you said before you left your universe?” The vision of Earth disappeared, replaced instead by... him. He saw his humanoid form standing in the TARDIS, glowing with regeneration energy. There was no sound, but he saw himself mouth the words.
“I don't want to go,” he whispered.
“Then return,” Discord whispered back, softly and intimately so that the others could not hear. “You take your TARDIS and fly up to the tear, I give you a little push, and allons-y. Take back the life you didn't deserve to lose.”
“Don't listen to him–” Derpy yelled.
“Hush.” Discord waved his hand, and her voice dwindled to nothing – so did every other noise, in fact. The only sound was Discord's voice. “If you're hesitant, I can understand that – what with having the wrong body and all. How about I sweeten the deal?” He snapped his fingers.
The Doctor gasped and stumbled to the ground, just managing to plant his hands before his face hit the dirt. He felt weird and wrong... or did he feel right? He rose unsteadily to his feet... my feet. He looked down at his two legs and saw his two trainers at the ends. He raised his hands to his face. Hands! I have hands again! And arms! He tapped his nose – he had a nose, not a snout! I'm human again! Or close enough!
His joy was undercut when he looked back to his companions – he couldn't hear anything, but their shocked expressions were enough. He was so much taller than they were, and so different and alien. You don't belong here. And they can't be your friends anymore. Go back home and see Wilf again – remember Wilf, wonderful old Wilf? Remember Martha and Mickey? Captain Jack? Sarah Jane? All the friends you've made, all the ones you could meet? It's all waiting for you, Doc.
Get out of my head, Discord.
“Aww, what gave me away?” Discord smiled. “Anyway, the offer stands. So what do you say, Doc? It's your choice.”
For a long time, the Doctor said nothing. He just shoved his hands in his pockets and thought. He thought of all he'd lost, coming to this universe... friends, opportunities, everything... and it hurt. It was painful, after all he'd tried to block it out.
And then he thought of Sarah Jane. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it's a world, or a relationship... Everything has its time. And everything ends.
He thought of Donna Noble. Promise me one thing, Doctor... that you'll find somebody.
He thought of all his old friends, and knew what they would say in his place.
Confetti burst from the ground around him. “YES! I'm glad you think so!” Discord whooped for joy. “Now just call the TARDIS and–”
“I said no.”
“What?” Discord froze mid-whoop.
The Doctor brushed the confetti from his hair, then stuck his hands into his pockets for the last time. “Even if I trusted you to keep your word, I died in that old universe. There's a new Doctor there, and if I know the Doctor he'll be almost – but not quite – as brilliant as I am. He'll have his friends, his chances to save the world – his whole universe of possibilities.
“But they're not mine anymore. My possibilities are here. My chances to save the world are here. And as for seeing my friends again? I don't need your help for that.” He turned his back on Discord and ambled toward the five ponies he'd bonded with. “Because my friends are here too. If you think that I'd abandon them now – well, I'm honestly disappointed, because for an all-powerful mind reader, you don't know me very well at all.”
The silence was broken. The Doctor heard his friends cheering him,and jeering at Discord. In a strange reversal, Discord seemed hardly able to make any sound at all.
“No... I pushed all your little Time Lord buttons...” he mumbled.
“And you lost, Discord. No more mind games, no more parlor tricks. Change me back, restore Equestria, and leave.”
“I didn't lose...” Discord seemed to be having a crisis of faith. He was breathing heavily, his back turned to the group. “That's not how this was supposed to work. I'm not supposed to lose...”
“You lost at your own game.” I don't like where this is going, the Doctor thought – loudly, so Discord could hear. “Restore Equestria and leave as you promised. Final warning.”
Discord exhaled, and was still. “But I didn't lose,” he muttered.
“It kinda looks like you did!” jeered Vinyl.
“I NEVER LOSE!” Discord roared unlike anything they'd ever heard before. A jagged black fissure split the orange air, letting green sparks pour out. The grass retreated into the earth and was replaced with a million horns of bone. “I AM THE MOST POWERFUL CREATURE IN HISTORY! I RULED THIS FILTHY LITTLE ROCK FOR A THOUSAND YEARS! I WOULD HAVE RULED FOR ANOTHER BILLION IF NOT FOR THE BETRAYAL OF YOUR STUPID DECEPTIVE PRINCESSES AND THEIR INSUFFERABLE SUBJECTS! I AM DISCORD, YOU MISERABLE PONIES, AND I NEVER, EVER, LOSE!” A light grew in his hands, blindingly bright and very frightening.
“AND AS FOR YOU, DOCTOR!” he raged. “YOU CAN TAKE YOUR NEW BODY, AND ROT IN IT!” At this the Doctor fell down, instantly returned to pony form. He fumbled in his pocket; time was now of the essence. “IT'S THE ONLY VICTORY YOU'LL HAVE! YOU'LL SPEND A THOUSAND YEARS WITH NO SKIN!” Discord was so angry he didn't notice the Doctor pulling his Sonic Screwdriver from his pocket. “THEN TEN THOUSAND WITH NO AIR! AND THEN I WILL PERSONALLY SPEND A MILLION YEARS TURNING YOU ON A SPIT!” He didn't even notice the Doctor activating his Sonic Screwdriver, and he certainly didn't notice the noise that was coming from all around them.
“AND IT ALL... STARTS... now.” Discord had moved beyond mere fury. “Your punishment, for daring to think you could beat me, starts now.” He cocked his arm back and threw the light at the six. It howled with laughter and screaming and misery as it flew, carrying a planet's worth of insanity.
Vworp... vworp... kdunk.
It bounced off.
“Well, yes, of course you were never going to keep your promise.” The dust settled around the six of them, and the pink shield that had appeared to protect them. “Did you think I took you at your word? For even a second? I'll grant that yes, I can be fallible, lonely, rude – even mad, bad and dangerous to know – but I'll tell you this: I am definitely not an idiot.”
The Doctor looked around and saw his friends realizing that they were now shielded, and only just noticing the TARDIS standing behind them, responsible for that very shield. Then he smiled, seeing their surprise at the crystal shards circling around their necks.
“Whereas you have proven yourself to be a bonified, ossified, and soon to be petrified imbecile,” he continued, reveling in the sight of Discord's dumbfounded face. “Didn't you ever learn to count? Didn't you realize that I might have been hiding more than my name from you, or how to bring back the TARDIS? Like my actual plan, or what exactly the Elements of Harmony were doing in my ship? They were connected to the TARDIS, being infused with the power of the Time Vortex, a power that can easily match yours. They were waiting for this moment.”
“For what moment?” Discord struck at them several times, but his attacks were stopped cold by the shield.
“For a new group of bearers to be ready.” The crystal shards converged around his friends' necks, revealing the restored Elements of Harmony.
“Derpy Hooves. The mare you called stupid and simple, Discord – but she was smarter than you thought, wasn't she? Smart enough to look for the truth wherever she went, and smart enough to see through every one of your lies, even when I couldn't. And when she told me what she saw, I believed her, because she is the Element of Honesty.” A cascade of brilliant pearls hung from Derpy's neck, matching her bubbly cutie mark.
“Vinyl Scratch, seemingly incapable of taking anything seriously. But that's not really true at all, is it? It's just that she knows that life is much too important to take seriously. That humor, mockery, and jokes aren't mere diversions; they're medicine for the sick at heart, for when our friends are feeling low. And they're the perfect weapon against people like you, Discord, because for all your jokes and pranks you really can't stand the Element of Laughter.” There was a golden torc around Vinyl's neck, striated in lines of brilliantly blue apatite that grew into two beamed eighth notes hanging on her front.
“Bon Bon. Sometimes rude, sometimes snappish – always stubborn, always determined. Determined that no matter how she feels, no matter what personal hell she's going through, it doesn't matter one bit when the ones she cares about are on the line. She's willing to drop everything and put herself on the line for a friend in need, even a friend she's only just met. To me, that sounds just like the Element of Loyalty.” She wore an agate riviere, each individual stone carved into a blue-and-gold stylized candy wrapper.
“Lyra, one of the most imaginative minds I've ever found. She's got enough imagination to magic the TARDIS out of thin air – and she's got enough empathy to put herself in another pony's shoes. To offer me, someone she'd just met, a place in her home, despite the danger. And to forgive me for all the things I won't forgive myself for. You might call that naivete, Discord; I call it the Element of Kindness.” A miniature golden lyre hung as a pendant from the chain around her neck.
“Octavia. The classy, classical cellist who's worked so hard and still doesn't have everything she wants – but what she does have, she's willing to give up in an instant for her friends. Her money, her time, her effort. And though she may act like it's not important, her friends know better. I know that that she's given her all for those friends, and I know that she deserves to bear the Element of Generosity.” A golden clasp shone round her neck, adorned in the front by a treble clef carved from purple amethyst.
“And here we are at last, the two of us. Discord and the Doctor. The 'Spirit of Disharmony' versus the 'Last of the Time Lords', the 'Oncoming Storm', the 'Lonely God', all those old titles that you must have seen when you were mucking about in my brain. Did you hear the legends they've told about me on a million million worlds? What I've done, what I can do? All utter tripe – because I've always known that alone, I can't do much of anything. Certainly I can't defeat you. But I've been honored with some of the best friends anyone could ask for – friends like Octavia, Vinyl, Bon Bon, Lyra, and Derpy. And together, we can do anything. Together, we can create the spark of friendship, and summon the final Element: Magic.”
There was a flash of light around the Doctor, and the Element of Magic appeared. No longer was it a tiara. Now it was the headdress of the Time Lords, recreated in burnished bronze inlaid with filaments of orange and gold. It covered his shoulders, swept around his neck and behind his head, where it rose impressively in two great half moons. On its front two great hourglass insignias were etched into the bronze.
The six rose into the air, eyes glowing white with power. “I gave you a chance, Discord,” the Doctor said. “Now you'll spend another eternity locked away in stone. Alone.”
Finally, Discord spoke. “This isn't over, Time Lord. You are not alone now, but you will be. You will always be. And then, I promise you, I will come for you and make you pay.” He emphasized this last word with a snap of his fingers.
“And... NOW!” the Doctor yelled, and the six unleashed their combined magical might. The six Elements blazed gold, red, blue, yellow, and every other color imaginable. Twin rainbows leapt from them and flew high into the sky, spun around each other, then joined to come crashing down on Discord.
“YOU'LL PAYYYYYYYY...” The light struck him, snaked around him, froze him back into stone, and left him with nothing but the look of impotent fury on his face.
The light did not stop there. It grew, diverged, formed a huge dome, and blasted outward to cover the whole planet in its brilliance. Every change, every piece of chaos, every bit of magical misery that the demon had caused was reverted.
Finally it was done. The six alighted gently upon the ground, their cuts and bruises healed. Discord's statue sagged and fell to the earth, which was no longer barren dirt but the grassy field it had been. The Doctor looked around to see that once more, it was a beautiful day in Equestria, with not a single cloud in the sky.
“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOHOOOOOOOO!” Vinyl recovered from her shock first, and with a whoop fit to wake the dead she pulled them all into a massive group hug. “THAT WAS AWESOME!” They all joined in, laughing in surprise, in wonder, in pure unadulterated happiness.
All except the Doctor, who was utterly enveloped in the crush – which would have been fine, if it hadn't been literally crushing him. “Um, girls, you'll have to let me go – ack!”
He tried to disengage from the crowd, but they hugged even tighter around him. “Oh no you don't,” said Bon Bon.
“I appreciate the gesture, but,” he wheezed, “but this headdress is – ack – jabbing right into my shoulder.”
“Oh.” They finally disengaged, letting the Doctor free and freeing the other five to examine their own Elements. Vinyl and Octavia seemed to really like theirs, while Lyra and Derpy fidgeted excitedly with their own. Even Bon Bon looked happy, despite her distaste for her own cutie mark.
“Doctor?” He turned at the unsteady call and saw Twilight Sparkle standing on unsteady legs. Considering how long you've been stone, Twilight, I'm surprised you can stand at all. Unsure about her continuing ability to do so, he rushed to her and steadied her with a hoof. They looked at each other properly for the first time.
Finally, she had her assessment. “You looked so... different before, when we were talking. And now you just look like... well, a pony. How can you be so strange and still so normal?”
“You must have some truly strange creatures on this planet, Twilight. I don't think I've ever been called normal before.” Only now did she seem to realize what he was wearing.
“Is that... those are the Elements of Harmony?”
“Yes. Oh, hang on, I believe this one's yours! Sorry I had to borrow it, but I'd say it was for a good cause, wouldn't you? And... well, I guess I'd better give it back now.”
“I don't think you should.”
“You defeated Discord with those Elements,” she explained. “The Elements have never been given up willingly before today, and I don't have any idea what would happen to the bonds sealing him in. I don't think you should give them up, just in case.”
“But you six are the Elements of Harmony. You're the chosen bearers.”
“Oh, posh! I personally think they look much better on you six anyway.” The Doctor recognized the upper-crust voice, and turned around to see Rarity striding toward them. Twilight's eyes widened.
“Rarity! And Applejack!” she exclaimed, looking behind Rarity to see the farm-pony galloping toward them, with two more ponies behind. “Fluttershy! Rainbow Dash!” They embraced even more tightly than the Doctor had with his friends. “... Pinkie Pie?” she asked, realizing who wasn't there and looking around for any signs of pink.
“WoooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” She should have been looking up. Pinkie crashed into the group like a cotton-candy covered aerial bomb, with all the hysterical energy that implied. “WE DID IT! WOOHOO! Ohmygosh I'm gonna need to throw a saved the world party and a new Elements of Harmony party and hang on ohmygosh! I JUST REALIZED! YOU'RE A NEW PONY!” she exclaimed at the Doctor. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS? YOU'RE GONNA GET A SUPER DUPER STOOPER NEVER BEFORE ATTEMPTED TRIPLE PARTY!”
“Don't forget to breathe, Pinkie–”Rainbow Dash warned.
“AND YOU'RE AN ALIEN TOO WHICH MEANS WE'RE GONNA HAVE TO THROW A FIRST ALIEN IN EQUESTRIA PARTY!” The Doctor found himself backing away from her, as if she were a bomb, as she built on her vocal crescendo. She practically hovered with excitement – actually, she's literally hovering, he realized with a start as she rose into the air. “AND OH MY GOSH THERE'S FIVE MORE NEW ELEMENT BEARERS THAT MEANS FIVE MORE PARTIES IN ONE! THAT'S LIKE NINE PARTIES AT THE SAME TIME!” The prospect of nine parties proved too much for her, and she fell back-first upon the grass, catatonic from pre-party excitement.
The Doctor felt a bit dazed himself. “Is this normal for her?” he asked Twilight.
“I guess being cooped up made her a little hyper,” she replied, laughing with her friends. Then: “Princess Celestia.” The laughter stopped. “Doctor, where's the Princess? What did Discord do to her?”
“Don't worry. Whatever he did is gone now.”
“I have to be sure. I'll be right back, everypony–” She scrunched up her face in concentration, and disappeared in a flash of light – only to reappear in the same flash of light, blackened with soot and shaking on her hooves. “Ooh,” she moaned. “That... usually works.”
“What, you can teleport?”
“Not right now, I guess,” she replied, rubbing her head in pain.
“Want a lift, then?” The Doctor opened his TARDIS and beckoned to the group. “Come on, every... ah, pony – we're going to meet the princesses!” His friends jumped right in; the others were more hesitant, perhaps unsure how they could fit in such a small box. “Well come on, it doesn't bite!” They finally entered, Rainbow Dash dragging the still-catatonic Pinkie by the tail.
He was too busy helping Derpy set the destination to look at them, but from the way the sound of their hoofsteps stopped all at once, he had a good idea of their reaction. “So, anything you'd like to say?” he called back. “Any first impressions?”
“What in tarnation...” Applejack murmured.
“This is not scientifically possible!” Twilight blurted.
“Oh, you won't have any fun with an attitude like that! Ready for departure, Derpy?”
“You bet!” she replied, and pulled down hard on the ignition.
And the Doctor laughed. He was in his TARDIS, with his friends. He'd beaten the impossible odds and saved the day. This just feels so... right.
They stumbled around a bit as the TARDIS shook mid-flight, and his friends joined in laughing. No, better than right. This beats plain old right by a mile. This sends right packing. This is just...
Vworp... vworp... kdunk.
“Welcome to Canterlot!” he exclaimed. “The princesses will see you now!”
Twilight hesitated for a moment longer by the door, still trying to take in as much as she could. Then her anxiety overruled her curiosity, and she yanked the door open and ran out, yelling, “Princess Celestia!”
“Twilight,” came the reply – tired but relieved, the voice of one who had just endured a long ordeal. The Doctor followed his group out to see Twilight hugging Princess Celestia tightly, and the rest of them kneeling before their ruler.
“Did he hurt you?” Twilight asked, looking up worriedly at the massive alabaster alicorn. “Either of you?” she added, looking at a dark blue alicorn the Doctor recognized as Princess Luna.
Celestia shook her head. “He decided that trapping me here while my subjects suffered was a better punishment. Did he hurt you?” she returned, with more force to her words.
“Yes, but I'm okay now. Everything's back to normal... well, almost everything,” she corrected, disengaging from the hug to gesture to the Doctor.
“When the Doctor comes to call, Twilight, nothing is ever back to normal.” She faced him directly, no surprise in her eyes – some amusement and much gratitude, but not surprise.
Which generated a great deal of that precise emotion in the Doctor. “Now hang on, I know for a fact I've never been in this universe before. How do you... oh, not this again,” he sighed. “You've met me before, and not vice versa.”
“I remember having much more trouble when you explained our peculiar acquaintance to me... but of course, you're much more experienced in this sort of thing than I was.” She laughed. “It's good to see you again, old friend. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you've done... or should I say, all you're going to do?”
“We thank you,” Luna added. “And with this gratitude comes a reward of your choice. If there is a service which we can grant to you, you have only to name it.”
The Doctor thought long and hard on this, and eventually came to a decision.
“Could someone get this blasted thing off my neck?” he complained, tapping his very uncomfortable headdress. Celestia chuckled, and it disappeared and reappeared next to him in a flash of white.
“That's it?” asked Bon Bon, her eyebrow raised. “You get an offer like that from the Princesses and you choose that?”
“In this case, I think we can grant a few additional requests, Bon Bon,” Celestia replied with a smile.
Bon Bon's jaw nearly dropped, but she controlled herself. “How do you–”
“Do not be surprised, Bon Bon. Nor you, Vinyl Scratch, Octavia, Lyra Heartstrings, and Ditzy Doo... or do you still prefer Derpy Hooves?” Each one started as Luna pronounced her name. “You are companions of the Doctor, and children of time. Your names echo through the history of Equestria.”
“Yeah, about that...” The Doctor ambled nonchalantly toward the Princesses. “I'd rather not have any big parades, or legends, or parties.” He glanced at Pinkie, whose jaw dropped at the very idea of somepony refusing a party. “Sorry, Pinkie, that's not how I work. You can still throw the saved-the-world party... just, I dunno, make it a Twilight-Sparkle-and-the-Elements-of-Harmony-saved-the-world party instead.” Her lower jaw jumped back up into a grin.
“That's not very honest,” Derpy said, giggling a little at the joke.
“Trust me, it's better this way. I make enough of a fuss without looking for attention. After things like this I usually try to stay out of the history books and move on.” He'd been looking disinterestedly up at the ceiling, but now his gaze returned to the Princesses. “Emphasis on usually. You see–”
“Wait! Lemme guess this one!” Lyra piped up, turning to the Princesses. “So he got the TARDIS from himself in the future, right? That means that we need to build... no wait, you called it alive... so, I guess we need to grow the TARDIS, so we can send it back in time, so we can beat Discord, so we can be here in the first place!”
“Ten out of ten for the explanation, Lyra!” The Doctor beamed at her, and she beamed right back. “So, what do you say, your Highnesses?” he asked. “Care to help me grow a TARDIS?”
Celestia looked to Twilight. “Are you ready for a new assignment, my faithful student?” She looked slightly intimidated, but nodded. “Then I charge you with helping the Doctor to create the TARDIS. You can use whatever resources and information you deem necessary.”
After taking a few seconds to close her eyes and process the magnitude of the assignment, Twilight turned to the Doctor. “We can get started right away. All the old time magic is in the Starswirl the Bearded Archive of the castle's library. And I've heard of a magic scientist named Blue Shift, he's apparently been making major advances in the field–”
“Booooring!” Pinkie cut in. “Stop being such a smarty – it's time to plan the party! Oh my goodness, where are we going to hold it? Should it be in Ponyville or Canterlot? Or maybe somewhere in the middle! And we're going to need invitations and balloons and games and food and balloons and balloons and cake!”
“I do not think that a party in Canterlot is... advisable, Pinkie Pie.” While they'd been talking, Luna had walked to the shattered window. Now she beckoned them to join her. Judging by her expression, the Doctor guessed that it was not a pretty sight.
His guess was quickly confirmed, for when he looked out the window he saw Canterlot in ruins. Many of the once posh buildings had been burned and damaged to the verge of collapse, and several were far past that point. Shattered bricks and splintered timbers lay strewn across boulevard after boulevard, and the whole scene was covered in a layer of ash and dust. A few ponies were outside their homes; they wandered in the streets, dazed by the destruction. “It's like the Blitz,” he breathed. “But I thought the Elements should have reverted all of Discord's damage. They did last time, didn't they?”
“Only what he did with his own magic,” Celestia replied. Whereas Luna's voice held barely disguised fury, Celestia was much more somber – though the Doctor surmised that her anger was simply better hidden. “I tried to burn him with my magic, and he redirected my attack upon the city.”
“But why? Why not use his own magic?”
“Spite. Or he was trying to make me feel guilty. Or it was a way to extend his influence after his imprisonment.” She sighed. “He may have had every reason, or no reason at all. But in truth, Doctor, I don't understand him well enough to say. I wish I did.”
Vinyl turned to Octavia with a horrified expression. Octavia already wore one, and without a word the two of them ran from the room. A moment later, Derpy realized what they were thinking. “Octavia's apartment. She lives in Canterlot.”
“Oh my gosh – my whole family lives in Canterlot! Spike was on vacation here! What if they–” Twilight's breath caught.
“Your family is safe, Twilight,” Celestia reassured, laying a hoof on her shoulder. “I may not understand Discord, but I know this much: he would not let them die.”
“How can you be sure?”
The Doctor turned around at the sound of teleportation, and saw a large white unicorn with a small purple dragon on his back. “She can be pretty sure, Twily.”
“Shining Armor! Spike!” Twilight ran to embrace them. “You're okay!”
“Everypony's fine, Twilight,” Spike said. “We checked around the city as soon as you beat Discord – great job on that, by the way!” Twilight grinned awkwardly at the mistaken praise. “Anyway, we've checked through Canterlot, and we're pretty sure nopony's hurt.”
“Pretty sure?” Twilight frowned at the qualifier.
“Uhh... ninety eight and a half percent sure?”
“We should go check. Come on, girls!” The former Elements of Harmony ran dashed of the room, with Shining Armor and Spike close behind, leaving the Doctor and his friends standing in the throne room.
For a moment, the Doctor couldn't put his finger on why this felt odd. And I should really stop using that particular idiom if I don't have fingers. Then he realized how unused he was to other people – ponies, rather – taking the initiative before him. “We should go find Octavia and Vinyl,” he said, and gave the princesses a parting nod. “Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, it's very good to meet you, but we need to run.”
“And it's very good to meet you too, Doctor.” Princess Celestia watched the four of them run into the TARDIS. She closed her eyes and smiled at the sound it made – one she wished she could hear more often.
Luna snorted. “What?” Celestia asked, surprised by her sister's display of mirth.
“Oh, it's just....” She smiled. “He needs to run, does he?”
Celestia laughed. “Some things don't change, sister.”
“It could be dangerous up there!” Vinyl yelled, but Octavia bolted into the burned out building all the same, so Vinyl had to follow. She'd never seen Octavia move so fast; by the time she'd gotten to the third floor she could hear Octavia opening the door of her fourth floor apartment. By the time she'd gotten to the fourth floor, she could hear Octavia's sobs.
When she got into the apartment, she felt a little like sobbing too. The once spotless floor was covered in ash, and had been burned right through in a few places. The exterior wall had collapsed, revealing the ruined Canterlot outside, but Vinyl only had eyes for the ruined Octavia sitting before her. “I, um... sorry.” I gotta have something better to say than that.
“It's fine,” Octavia choked, pushing some of the soot through the holes in her floor as if trying to clean up. “It's fine. I was about to lose the stupid apartment anyway... it's just...” She took a deep breath, trying hard to keep control. “It's not fair... it's not fair!” She kicked a wall in anger. “We beat him! He's not allowed to do this!”
Vinyl felt the same way. Why couldn't Discord have just had his fun and been done? Why'd he have to change something permanent? She walked over to Octavia and grabbed her in a hug, letting her friend take a few shuddering breaths over her shoulder.
“He's lucky to be trapped in stone,” Vinyl muttered. “If I ever met him again, I'd... well, thank goodness for overpacking.” Octavia looked up at her in puzzlement. “Remember how I made fun of you on Friday for bringing all those clothes and stuff, just for a weekend concert? I take it all back, you were right – most of your stuff is in Ponyville now, at my place. It's safe. So... I guess you can stay there too from now on.”
“Vinyl, I don't want to impose–”
“No, Octy. Your house just burned down. You might be the new Element of Generosity, but that doesn't mean you can't be on the receiving end once in a while.” Vinyl tried to lead her from the room, but Octavia still resisted.
“Really nothing! Look, think of it as repayment for everything you've done the last few months. You get a place to live, I get a way to say thank you. Please, Tavi, let me do this for you.”
After a long pause: “Okay.” Octavia let Vinyl take her out of the room. It took all of Vinyl's restraint to keep her face from breaking out in a huge smile.
As they exited the room, Octavia's landlord walked out of the stairwell, looking around at his building. Suddenly, holding back that smile became a lot easier. “Well, it's nothing a little paint job can't cover, I'm sure.” He turned from the wall and noticed them. “Oh, hello Octavia. And... you,” he said, indicating Vinyl with a shrug. “I'm afraid you shouldn't be here, seeing as you've been evicted.”
“Really?” Vinyl yelled. “Discord just came back, the city's burned down, this slum's about to fall apart, and you're bringing that up?”
“Life must go on, miss. And this building's structure is perfectly sound!” He knocked on the wall for emphasis, and accidentally knocked a slat of wood off of it. “That's not structural. But don't think I'm completely insensitive to your difficulties – what say I let you keep your apartment for a month of rent, and that lovely necklace?” He motioned to the Element of Generosity still hanging on her neck. “That should just about cover the rest, I imagine.”
Vinyl planted her front hooves, spun around, and was ready to buck the landlord – but Octavia stopped her with a raised hoof. “Vinyl, don't. I'll give it to him.” Vinyl's jaw dropped, but Octavia winked at her before turning to the landlord, who was holding his hoof out for the necklace. She took a deep breath, reached up to her neck... then reached way back, wound up, and punched the landlord's lights out.
Stunned as she was, Vinyl took a moment to get it. Then she was in hysterics. “You gave it to him!”
“I gave it to him real good!” She laughed and pulled Vinyl over the landlord and down the stairs. “Now come on, let's get out of here.”
“Wow, if I'd known that punching somepony out was such a pick-you-up...”
“Well, when that somepony is my 'jerk of a landlord'–” Octavia realized what Vinyl had just said. “Did you just say punched?”
“Well, you made a pun, and you punched him. Seriously, though...” Vinyl managed to get Octavia to slow down as they reached the second floor. “You're over it this quickly? I mean, your apartment burning down?”
“There's nothing left for me back there but a bed and four months of back rent. I'd rather be in Ponyville with my best friends.”
“Aww, you're so sweet – wait, you don't know anyone else in Ponyville.”
Octavia rolled her eyes and smiled. “Vinyl, we just made four new friends today, remember?”
Vworp... vworp... kdunk.
They halted on the first floor landing and saw the TARDIS materialize at the foot of the stairs. The door opened and the Doctor stepped out, looked up at them, and grinned. “Found you the first time! Wunderbar! This TARDIS is shaping up to be very reliable... a bit over-reliable, actually. I might have to fix that later....”
Lyra burst out of the TARDIS, her face full of worry. “Is your apartment okay?”
“Well... no.” Lyra's face fell, but Octavia smiled. “It's okay, Lyra. I can move in with Vinyl in Ponyville. It'll be like a new beginning.”
The Doctor smiled again. “I can relate. Now come on you two, the Elements of Harmony need to get back to the castle and there's much to be done.” He beckoned the two of them into the TARDIS. Octavia trotted right in, but Vinyl hesitated and cocked an ear. What's that noise... There was some sort of growing clamor outside.
“What is it, Vinyl?” the Doctor asked.
“Can't you hear that?” she asked. “It sounds like... well...”
“THREE CHEERS FOR THE ELEMENTS OF HARMONY!”
“Yeah,” she finished, just before she was drowned out by the sound of all Canterlot cheering.
“Blimey, that was quick!” The Doctor, followed by Vinyl and the other companions, rushed to the window and looked out upon the streets, which were no longer nearly deserted. In the few minutes since Vinyl had been outside, they'd become filled with ponies laughing, dancing, crying, and cheering. “From the Blitz to V-E Day, eh? Good for them!”
Bon Bon harrumphed and turned away from the window. “Don't take the credit, you said. Stay out of the history books, you said. They could be cheering for us.”
“Nah, it's better this way. If I took credit for every little thing I did, I'd never get any sleep at night. Come on then!” The Doctor walked back to the TARDIS.
Bon Bon followed him, whining, “But I wanna be in a history book!”
“Bon Bon, Luna called us by name,” said Lyra. “We're already part of Equestria's secret history and we didn't even know it!” Vinyl closed the door behind her and braced herself next to Octavia on the railing. Derpy and the Doctor took their places on opposite sides of the console.
“Yeah, you're right, but...” Bon Bon gave up and conceded the point with a smile. “Oh, nevermind. You're right.”
“I know!” Lyra was as giddy as any of the celebrants outside. “I love time travel!”
And with that, the Doctor pulled down on the starting lever, and they were off once more.
After some consideration, Pinkie had decided to have the party in Canterlot after all – not in spite of the destruction there, but because of it. As she put it, “Some of the ponies here just lost everything. That's exactly the kind of pony who needs to have a party!” Vinyl had agreed, and the two of them pled their case most strenuously with Celestia and Luna.
From what he'd seen of the two of them, he wasn't surprised that the Princesses had acquiesced. He was surprised that they'd agreed to have it that night, and even more surprised that their group had actually pulled it off.
And yet, somehow, they had. Pinkie Pie and Applejack baked for hours in the castle's sumptuous kitchens, aided by the royal chefs and – with some reluctance – by Bon Bon. Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Derpy organized the city's pegasi, summoned a gale to blow away all the remaining smoke, and created massive rainstorms to wash the debris from the streets. Lyra, Vinyl, and Octavia planned the entertainment together in a separate room of the castle, aided by Pinkie whenever she could spare a minute from the kitchens. The Doctor got shanghaied into helping Twilight and Rarity clean and decorate the castle and surrounding city, a task he imagined would have gone faster if Rarity had spent more time decorating and less time complimenting his suit.
By nightfall the ruined city wasn't a ruined city anymore. It was the biggest party the Doctor had seen in centuries. The castle was filled with ponies rejoicing, dancing, singing, kissing – and the castle was only the centerpiece. The joyous crowd seemed to extend forever.
He wasn't in the party, though. As night fell, he sat in the ruined chambers of the Princesses, tired but happy. He was content to feel the TARDIS hum beside him, and to watch his friends enjoy themselves. Vinyl had managed to cajole Octavia into not only wearing her glasses, but actually DJing – and doing a fair job of it too. Lyra and Bon Bon were chatting together happily. Occasionally he heard a distinct voice penetrate the jumble of happy noise, usually someone yelling praise to the Princesses, or to Twilight Sparkle and the Elements of Harmony. It all made him smile. This is where I belong. In the background, witnessing the greatest things the world has to offer.
“So that's why I didn't find you at the party!” He turned to see Derpy glide through the double doors and land beside him. “What are you doing here up?”
“Just observing. I've never been much for parties, honestly, and I've gathered my nibbles already.” He smiled and lifted a cupcake adorned with edible ball bearings. “D'you know, I always thought humans were the only ones who made these! I am going to like it here.”
“Sure, but there's still a problem.”
“You're still up here!” Before he could react, she jumped up and grabbed him with all four legs, knocking the cupcake from his hoof.
“And the party's down there!”
“Derpyyyyy!” She dove out the window, down the side of the castle, and into the lights of the party, ignoring the Doctor's pleas. “I don't do parties, what am I supposed to do?”
“What the rest of us do! Have fun! Eat a lot! Yell too much!” She let him down, alighted beside him, and grabbed his hoof. “Dance!”
“Derpy, I haven't danced in years, I'll be terrible at it!”
“Don't worry!” she laughed. “I'm worse!”
She was a wonderfully bad dancer, but made up for it in enthusiasm, and it wasn't long before a space had cleared around the two of them to make room for Derpy's flailing limbs. Then Vinyl appeared from the whirling crowd and pulled him into a conga line. He Charlestoned with Lyra, foxtrotted with Octavia, and jitterbugged with Bon Bon. They laughed and danced the night away. And it wasn't long before the Doctor realized, to his delight, that he was wrong about two things.
He really could dance after all.
And this was where he belonged.
Great and Powerful