The portal opened, and out stepped Pinkie, her hooves stepping onto a land most strange and uncertain. As her tail cleared the portal, the flash of yellows, blues and pinks vanished, leaving her in this world…wherever it was.
What she faced was the very lands out of her nightmares. The ground was scorched, ruined and almost volcanic in its bleakness. For what seemed in miles in any direction, the only signs of life were the occasional weed that poked out from the blasted earth or some insect that scuttled across her path in a search for sustenance. The sky itself was an angry magenta and orange, colors that would have reminded the pony of her friend Scootaloo had menacing black clouds not covered most of the sky. The sun, if it existed here in this plane of existence, was obscured from everyday view, barricaded behind the baleful dirge that was the heavens above.
But worst of all was the sound – or rather, the lack of it. Real life had a sound, a cacophonic fugue of life and vitality, from birds chirping to foals crying to music and chatter and the other tones of the real world. But here, silence reigned supreme, with the only sounds coming from the pony herself: the dull clop of her hoofsteps against the dead earth, the soft exchange of her breath, the squeaks and groans of her packs as they moved along with her gait, the soft rustle of her cloak as it also conformed to her movements.
And so it was on like this for miles. Nothing but the broiled firmament and the charred terrain, with patches of dying weeds, and nothing else, for as far as the eye could see. Minutes of this stretched into hours. At nightfall (she was only able to tell because everything became pitch black), she stopped on the side of the road, ate a quick meal of some food that had been packed in the bag, then settled down on the rough ground for a very uncomfortable sleep. Strangely enough, she wasn’t worried about anything harming or harassing her; the very fact that there was nothing but sky and ground in every direction to the horizon meant that she was quite literally alone.
Hours later, after an uncomfortable sleep, a quick breakfast (magic at least allowed her to create her favorite foods at will) and looking at what she assumed was the morning sky, she continued her journey, step after step after step, with no clear direction or goal and nothing but the company of her own thoughts. It made her think: what was she doing here? This was the job of a hero, like Star Swirl the Bearded or Commander Hurricane. Twilight would have been a better choice. Applejack would have been a better choice. Heck, for all Pinkie was concerned, her clumsy but otherwise dependable next-door neighbor, Derpy, would have been a better choice.
But Pinkie? No, she was no hero. Yes, she saved Luna and stopped Discord. She rescued Ponyville from a dragon and single-hoofedly from the parasprites. But those were just things that needed to be done, no epic and grand adventures that necessitated a hero. Heroes were brave and fearless, not alone and somewhat afraid in an unknown world. A Duchess? Yes. One of the Knights Elemental, sure. But a hero? Never. Heroes didn’t worry about their friends and their loved ones back at home when there was a job to be done.
They don’t worry about their younger sisters being on the edge of death when there are draconequi to be defeated.
She wanted to stop and cry, to turn around and find the weak spot in the fourth wall that would let her open a gypsy gate to take her home. But she didn’t. Everyone was depending on her to find the Elements or else they’d be in even bigger danger. And how could she face Blin…Octavia knowing that she turned tail and ran? Or worse, to have to tell her Ma, Pa and Inky that she let Blinky die because she didn’t even try. She couldn’t face Dashie or the rest of them, couldn’t tell Celestia and Luna that she was worthy of the honors they gave her, most of all their friendship.
Pinkie was no hero and never could be one, she decided. But Lady Pinkamena Diane Pie, Duchess Vanner and Knight Elemental of Laughter, just got drafted to fit the bill. And on that spot, with nothing to witness but her own self, she made herself a Pinkie Promise to never give up until she found the Elements and returned home safely.
With that, the self-designated hero picked up her pace to a trot. There was a long road ahead, and she didn’t have time to dally. Well, not much, anyway.
It was two days later when she saw the first signs of life.
The long, unyielding road finally gave way to tufts of yellowed, dying grass, which almost suddenly became a field of vibrant green. The sky also began to normalize, as ochres and umbers gave way to celeste and sky blue, clouds changing from dark overhead monoliths to the playful, wispy clouds she was used to. For the first time in days, a weight had lifted from her heart and she found herself merrily cantering down the path, which soon led to bouncing as the dirt road became cobblestones.
Hours later, a castle began to stretch over the horizon. Well, not exactly: to call it a castle would be a stretch; rather, to call it the ruins of a castle would be far more accurate. The ruined bastion seemed to be made of a soft pink marble, the silver and white threads within enhancing the beauty rather than detracting. Tattered flags fluttered from its shattered parapets, and as Pinkie approached the remnants of what had once been vibrant and dazzling stained-glass windows sat in sorry maws. Like a frosting sculpture left on a rotting cake the castle sat, its ruined beauty and lush greenery seemingly the final bit of splendor in a darkened dying land.
By about noontime she stood before the castle. While not as large as the Canterlot palace complex, it was larger than the main palace itself. A moat encircled the grounds, and seemed well-tended; the drawbridge from the outer walls was down, and no indicator that it had been used in quite some time. Pinkie walked across, seeing the great gate’s winch completely ruined and wondering how many years, possibly centuries, it had been since this grand portal had been used as it was designed.
As Pinkie walked into the castle grounds proper, she noticed that the grassy knolls within the courtyard were covered in a series of even rows of slabs, most likely taken from the castle detritus. But they were arranged in a way that was common sense to anypony who saw them, and so Pinkie made a note to stay clear of the graves. But aside from those resting in eternal slumber, it didn’t seem that the castle had any inhabitants, and that it was lifeless and empty.
“Hello? Is anypony here?” she called out, her voice echoing in the emptiness of the castle grounds. The reverberations just continued into silent infinity, with no answer and no indicator there would be one. Pinkie called out once more, hoping that the second, then the third time would be the charm, but with still no answer. Finally, dejected, she readied to leave the castle grounds, at least to look around a little more for signs of life before she moved on. Chances were none of the Elements were here – she hadn’t performed the recognition spell Celestia had taught her – and this was just a needless detour from a gypsy performing her first reality jump.
“Wait! Don’t go!” A voice called from above, and Pinkie looked up to see a shining figure in white, standing at the top. The speaker was clearly a pony and from this high up all she could tell was that the coat color was similar. “Another survivor! You are most welcome in the castle, most welcome indeed! I’ll be down shortly!” The sounds of a pony at full gallop rang through the castle, its sounds emitting from the broken windows as if the citadel were nothing more than a stone bell. As the clatter of hooves seemed to reach the ground, the door was opened, though no one was there to greet her; instead, the voice called out, “Please, come in and make yourself at home here in the castle, though as you can expect, there’s not much left of anything.”
Pinkie walked in and despite the wreckage in the main foyer, it had been turned into a makeshift kitchen and living room. A ramshackle table sat to one corner, decrepit as the building but at the same time worn in a well-loved way. The kitchen was just as cobbled together: an outdoor-style cooking fire lay within easy reach of a set of somewhat modern shelves and cupboards. To the far right was a well-stocked pantry, far more complete than anything Pinkie or Bon-Bon had at Sugarcube Corner and possibly some restaurants as well. Other, much welcome signs of life were present as well: songbirds sat in the rafters of the foyer, a dazzling array of colors and species, all gathering around this hearth as if instinctively knowing it was the safest place there was.
“The tea should be ready shortly; I could have used my magic to speed things up, but things done the natural way are so much better, don’t you agree? And I made some scones this morning; they should work. I also have some croissants with some fresh butter and boysenberry jam, if you prefer.”
“That sounds great! Thanks!” Pinkie chirped, appreciating the offer. But then she looked at the form focused so intently on preparing tea for them. At first glance, the pony didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary: from what Pinkie could tell, her coat was a slightly deeper shade of pink than her own, leaning more towards magenta. However, from what she could see of the tail, it was a very soft, delicate tea-rose pink, the color of cotton candy. The pony wore a simple hood and cloak like the pink party gypsy pony did; however, the other was a beautiful white with gold brocade, as if befitting a station. But it was the magic that made Pinkie surprised most of all: the pony was enveloped a great aura of brilliant, beautiful light, as holy and pure as Celestia herself. The light cascaded everywhere with a sense of warmth, and Pinkie understood why the birds felt so safe here: it was as if the light itself declared the castle neutral grounds for predator and prey, and as she’d said, all were welcome.
“It’s a peppermint tea, I do hope you like,” the pony said as she set the tray down on the table. “But I do have other ones, if you’d prefer.”
“Naaah, that’s okay,” Pinkie said, plopping at the table. “Um, nice…place you got here,” she said, searching for a way to start the conversation.
“It was in better condition once, so beautiful and grand…but now it fits me and my failures. Some holy maiden I turned out to be.”
“Holy maiden?” Realization swam into Pinkie’s mind. She’s the Hierophant from Pumpkin’s story! I’m on Pumpkin’s world! “So…why are you here all alone?”
“It’s my punishment. All the ponies that depended on my to protect them, to protect our world, gone. My best friend, turned into a monster, and nothing I could do to stop it. With the power I received from the gypsy crystal, I was still unable to find a way to reverse this end of the world – you’ve seen it out there, the dying.” She sighed, coming to a sudden halt. “Oh, but where are my manners? I haven’t even introduced myself, though you probably already know of me as the Hierophant.” Reaching up, she removed her hood. “But my name…is Pinkie Pie.”
Pinkie found herself staring into a near copy of herself. Yes, there were some differences: the Hierophant’s – other Pinkie’s? – coat was darker, as she noted earlier. The mane was that shade of tea-rose pink, and the manestyle was closer to some she’d seen in fashion magazines than her own naturally frizzy curls. The eyes were also a slightly darker shade of blue, and although obscured by the white cloak, what little of the cutie mark that Pinkie could see indicated that it was very similar to her own.
“Oh, and who might you be?” The other Pinkie – the Hierophant – asked.
Well, in for a bit, in for two, Pinkie mused. As she reached up for hers, a line that she’d read from one of Twilight’s books suddenly came to mind: In some realms, names are power; to relinquish your name is to relinquish your life. So as she removed her cloak, she said, “I’m….uh, called Surprise. Really.”
The Hierophant looked at the new arrival. “Wow, I guess it really is true what some ponies say.”
“That eventually you run into somepony that looks the same as you do.” She giggled softly, a musical sound that the birds seemed to use as the start of a new song. “We could practically be sisters! But, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Surprise. Where do you come from? I thought there was no one left…after the war between myself and the Queen.”
Pinkie fought back the unintended stab at the mention of sisters and forced herself to focus on the question. “I’m…from a ways away from here.”
“It seems as though you came from the eastern road, so…you must be one of Kimono’s relatives.” The Hierophant suddenly turned away, unable to face Pinkie. “I’m…sorry. Kimono was the smartest of us all, and so very loyal to me. She didn’t deserve what happened to her. None of them did!” A hoof came down hard on table, sending things flying. “I failed you all, everypony…” she sobbed, collapsing into a tear-driven mess. Even her aura seemed to dim slightly and the birds stopped chirping.
Pinkie decided to do what Pinkie did best. Getting up from the chair, she went over and hugged the other Pinkie for all she was worth. A part of her felt as if she was embracing herself, and perhaps to a certain point, it was true. The two stayed there, one Pinkie crying into the other for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, with red eyes, the Hierophant looked up at her visitor. “Thank you…I thought I’d cried every tear I could for those I loved and lost. I thought I was going to become a madmare from not being able to shed any more tears.” She leaned against Pinkie, relaxing in the comfort of having somepony there.
They stayed that way for who knew how long, but it was something that one Pinkie needed and the only thing that one Pinkie could do.
Their conversation continued into the long hours, long after the tea had gone cold and the last scone had disappeared. It had been clear that the Hierophant needed to get a lot of stuff off her mind…correction, Pinkie Pie had to grieve for ponies she loved and lost, and “Surprise” was more than willing to listen. As the pink holy pony continued to talk, Pinkie wondered for a brief second what she would have done if their situations were reversed, and immediately shut down that line of thought; her sister was a reality away in a hospital bed, and the person who put her there wasn’t even truly at fault. It was more uncomfortable to think about it than she’d thought.
“…and there she was, the Queen of Magic. Though I hadn’t seen it at the time, she’d rent us apart, tore our circle of friends asunder. Waterfire, Star Song and Minty backed her while Sparkleworks and my twin sister Peachy Pie backed me. We had both absorbed enough magic from the gypsy crystal that we were equally as magically potent as the other, the first ponies in hundreds of generations to become gypsies again. It was natural that others joined us, and that it slowly set the stage.”
“I see…” Pinkie said, both interested and horrified in the story she was hearing; it was like one of Shakespur’s stories come to life, stories in the vein of Prospuro, Mackintoshbeth, and Roanmeo…but so very, very true. Their sage, Kimono, had sent out teams of ponies in all directions, and the seven friends had traveled across the world, finally finding a lost temple in the center of the distant Everfree Jungle. Entering the temple (there had been bones of other animals everywhere, as if the temple was designed to keep out anything but ponies), the group had walked through it forever until they entered a chamber, ancient…and magical. Filled with water and with beams of light emanating from glowing rocks in the ceiling, there was a huge crystal, radiating like a star that had settled upon the land. Seeing that it was too heavy for one, the Queen had asked Pinkie Pie to help, and as both touched the crystal they were rocketed back, blasted away by the power. Both had fallen into the water below, much to the fright of their friends, but as both recovered – safely; the water had been deep enough as if that had been an expected result – the crystal was a smoking, charred, cracked wreck…but both ponies had begun to glow, fully imbued with the legacy of the Queen of Magic of ages before. As they left, one of the two glowing ponies had wished they were all back in their home town, and with a shock, a second later, they were.
(There was also the fact that this Pinkie had only one sister, a twin named Peachy Pie. She hadn’t grown up with two younger ones as Pinkie had (in fact, Peachy was the older twin, as the Hierophant had said) and the only relative Pinkie had by the name was a second-or-third cousin who had just happened to live in Ponyville…and she was a young filly, slightly younger than Applebloom and her friends.)
“Got a question: why don’t you say the Queen’s name? Weren’t you two close?”
“Very. She was just as much a sister to me as Peachy, in a sense. But I promised myself if there were any other survivors, the very name could cause them pain – so I just don’t use it.” The Hierophant looked down at the floor for a second, “Besides, when the end came, she tried to kill me herself, casting a Mortem Icantatores – a death spell – at me. It didn’t work, maybe because I was too powerful, or maybe because she planned a different punishment for me. I’d like to think that it was because at the last moment, she couldn’t bear to kill another pony that she loved so dear. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Things changed quickly once we got back. She and I started to look for ways to save our civilization and branched off on two very different paths. The Queen looked into the history of our world, searching for some vital clue in the past; even the myths of the dark divinity Faust, who was said to have exiled us here, and the historical Queen of Magic, who sacrificed herself to protect our tribe from Faust’s murderous armies. She was the one who found there were other worlds than ours, and eventually she sequestered herself, working on the magic that would remove us from here, as well as delving into ancient history of the world and the wrongs done to us.
“As for myself, I did what I could. I used my magic to cure the lame, make the blind see, and work to heal our world. I’ve never been much of a historian; would you believe that me, nothing more than a baker and mare who wanted to throw parties, had become more than she ever bargained for?”
“I…think I understand.” Had either Twi or Luna been present, either one would have pointed out the very palpable irony; probably both, as they shared the same mindset.
“Maybe I’m not the only one who understands,” she said cryptically, before continuing. “I had to use my powers for everyone, as far as I was concerned. The magic had been a blessing from the past, and I couldn’t keep it all to myself; I had to use it for the betterment of all ponykind. Eventually, ponies began to see me as a holy maiden and insisted that I live in the Castle of Dreams. It was one of my earliest followers, a pony named Sweetberry, who found a name for me in an ancient tome; and with her choice, from that point I had ceased to become Pinkie Pie and had become the Hierophant.
“What I didn’t know was that at the site of the old temple, my closest friend was slowly becoming my nemesis. She had returned to the temple to see what other magic lay there, and our three friends joined her. Eventually others had as well, and many there began to see her as a fighter willing to return our tribe to its once-great glory. Eventually, they declared her to be a new Queen of Magic, a celestial maiden who would face dark Faust to protect us all…but she would win.”
The Hierophant paused, looking out the window, the day heading towards the end, and the brilliant speckled night starting to show through the sunset. “My, how the time has flown. Maybe this is something to continue tomorrow, once we are rested…and my throat isn’t as parched,” she said, looking at the tea kettle and water jugs, long since emptied. This had been the longest in forever since she spoke, so naturally being out of practice was expected. “I’ll make dinner and then we can retire for the night. But first, I must attend to my friends; while the predators probably sought out something, somepony must care for those not as strong.”
Pinkie smiled. “Don’t worry ‘bout dinner. I’ll take care of that, okay?”
The Hierophant gave a bright grin in return, and to Pinkie it felt like looking at a mirror. “Thank you, Surprise, I’m grateful. The fresh ingredients are in the icebox, while the spices and other items are in the cupboards. I’ll be back soon.” With that, the holy maiden practically waltzed from the room while Pinkie headed over to the kitchen to see what she could do. It was significantly different from her kitchen in terms of tools and utensils, but the layout and the way things were, not surprisingly, exactly the way Pinkie had set things up in the residential kitchen back in Sugarcube Corner.
With that, a gypsy pony named Pinkie Pie began to make dinner for herself and the resident, a holy maiden named Pinkie Pie.
She woke with a start, surprised that she did so. Tonight had been the first night in a while that she’d had a decent night’s sleep, and part of it wondered if it was because she was no longer in her world, where portents and dreams haunted her…or if those dreams were now darkly, manifestly real. Stretching, she got out of the bed, glad and somewhat perplexed that the guest rooms in this wing of the castle had been maintained…or that they had somehow survived the assault to begin with.
As she stood, she felt something. At first, she thought it was heartburn from the burdock-and-carrot curry she made; it was a tad too spicy for her counterpart, but maybe that was due to their slightly different upbringings. After a while, it became apparent to her: she was feeling her own magic…sorta. Maybe?
Maybe I’m feeling her magic, Pinkie mused. Now that she was conscious of her own skills, she could sense when she was using magic intentionally; this felt like an intentional use and she hadn’t really done anything other than wake up. Remembering a spell she’d seen Twilight use once, she formed a small globe of light floating before her. With that, she got up, leaving the room and following the “scent” of the magic.
She didn’t have to get very far. As she ascended to the top of the northwest parapet, she found a glowing beauty staring at the stars. There, the Hierophant sat, sleepless and still, watching the stars as if she hoped they would give her a sign of some kind…of what sort of answer she expected, however, Pinkie didn’t know. From this angle, it seemed as though the other pony was filled with sorrow and shame, almost as if she used her great aura as a security blanket. Pinkie also got the distinction that whatever was going on was a very private moment.
She retuned back downstairs and headed for bed. Tomorrow the Hierophant would explain if she felt the need to, and tell her the rest of the story. From there, Pinkie could decide her next step. As she settled into the sheets, the pink gypsy felt that her reason to be here was coming to a conclusion, but how she knew that was anypony’s guess – and hardly a concern for her a second later, as she slipped into the land of dreams.
The next morning it was green tea and elderberry tarts for breakfast. The green tea (which looked more yellow than green, to be told) was something not familiar to her, and Pinkie found it a bit tart; when she took the Hierophant’s suggestion to add honey, it made the flavor that much better. Stirring in yet more honey, Pinkie thanked her host for breakfast and asked her to continue.
“It was Kimono who had found our legacy: in archives at the temple, she found the scrolls that had explained everything…including the fact that Peachy, the Queen and I were of one line, descended so long ago from the Bright Eyes. The Queen, for reasons I’ll never know, forbade Kimono to tell me and my followers about that; according to Kimono, that was the moment when she realized that the pony she followed had become a different one, a tyrant and a monster – I didn’t believe her when Kimono told me that, but I had much to learn later. She fled the Queen’s temple and ran to the castle, asking – begging – for asylum. Not long after, the Queen’s followers arrived, demanding that we return Kimono to them, or there would be consequences.
“For me and my followers, this was a shock. The Queen’s followers were aggressive, angry, filled with indignation and rage – things that were very unponylike and more like some of the wild animals than ponies. I was occupied researching ways to create an aqueduct to irrigate some of the nearby farms, so I was too busy to see to the matter instantly. I asked Peachy to look into it, and with a group of some of her trusted ponies – her lieutenants, she called them; that should have been a warning but I was too blind by my own work to see that – they made the journey to the temple, in hopes that this would straighten out and we would have an answer.
“A week later, we did…and I will hate myself forever for it. On a deceptively bright and sunny day, a battered and injured delegation returned from the castle. They looked like they’d been through fate and fire, and though I didn’t know it, they had. With them, they carried a bier, upon which a bloodstained cloak was laid over a body. It was my sister….” The Hierophant choked, pausing for a moment to compose herself from the old pain. “Her delegation had wanted to negotiate peace, but to let the queen know that Kimono felt too afraid to return and that she would stay with us. Wisteria, who had been lamed in the attack, told me that the Queen had become so enraged in what she called my sister’s audacity, that she had killed Peachy…and that she had been shocked and grieved by what she did. But after that shock, she ordered Peachy’s delegation killed before they could inform me. Out of a delegation of twelve, only five returned…and only four lived.
“Regrettably, my followers readied for war. Kimono retrieved all the books she could from the town library and set the nearby lands for war. She especially felt guilty, she told me later; had she not sent us out to retrieve that crystal, my sister and her followers would not have died…or the thousands of others that did later, in the war…a war my side lost.
“Do you remember when I told you that the strength that the Queen and I was the same, in equal doses? I found out during that war, it wasn’t, not really. While we had the same power levels and ability, I had turned mine towards the healing arts and wellness of the world. The Queen, however, had plans of conquest and domination, to revenge our tribe against Faust and her world. That rage and anger, I found, made us target practice for the arts of war she planned to wage. My followers did what they could, but they were cut down, butchered. The Queen and her generals, ponies I once considered my closest friends, used their magic – she had restored the gypsy magic to her generals – to bring horrible and destructive magics and weapons that nopony could believe existed. And yet, there they were, being used against us.”
“I’m sorry…but I don’t understand.” Yes I do, Pinkie thought with a screaming clarity, but she couldn’t admit it.
“Allow me. This is one of the few weapons my followers recovered from the Queen’s soldiers, and I keep it with me in case I ever need it – and I hope I never do.” She went to one of the cupboards against the wall, pulling out a silver, somewhat ornate flashlight. Holding it in her hoofspace, she clicked a small button on the handle and instantly a spike of orange radiance leapt into being as a humming sound emanated. As the Hierophant moved the blade, it hummed and warbled, and it dawned on Pinkie that this was a sword, similar to that which guardsponies carried, but made of energy.
Without warning, the Hierophant plunged the blade into the nearest wall, and the blade sank in easily. A few seconds later, the stone began to turn red and the air warped from the heat. She pulled it free, and the orange blade continued to flicker like light, unharmed. The Hierophant pressed the button on the blade again, and the orange length retracted into the handle once more. “This is a weapon from beyond our world. Who uses such as this, I don’t know and don’t care to know. But her followers had these and others and cut us to pieces.”
“When it was all over, she made an ultimatum: those who weren’t involved in the war would follow her army into Faust’s world to take what was theirs; they would be lesser subjects, but they would be at least accorded to them the rights that belonged to every gypsy. Those that didn’t, especially my followers, would be left to die here on this world…assuming they would be left alive to die here. One by one, despite my screams to stop, to surrender, to give their lives over to the Queen so that they would be spared, they wouldn’t abandon me, and they were all killed: Cherry Blossoms, Spring Parade, Piccolo, so many others. Sparkleworks, thankfully had been killed earlier in battle, so she would be spared seeing this atrocity; but before my very eyes, Kimono the Betrayer, as the Queen’s followers called her, was killed in a ruthlessly brutal fashion – she was tortured! – just for the Queen to prove that no one escapes her wrath.
As for me, as I mentioned before, the Queen…just couldn’t do it when it came to me. So I was left here to die, alone in this world, or so I thought. Then you came.”
“You’re not alone,” Pinkie began. She chose her words carefully, wishing she had the skill at words as Celestia had. “Your followers loved you and would never abandon you. Even here in their graves, they proved their belief in your dream, wishing to be free ponies with you than…the alternative. They knew what they faced, and they did it for you, to the very end. You should be proud: you gave them a life and they treasured it as they should, a gift to be remembered.”
The Hierophant grew still and quiet. “I never thought of that before.” Her eyes watered, and she said with a smile that said volumes, “Thank you, Pinkie. I’ll always treasure those words.”
“You’re welcome, P…what did you just call me?” Pinkie was surprised at the revelation.
“You’re asking how I know who you are?” she said with a chuckle, wiping her eyes. “I felt you, from the moment you came into this world – all gypies, so I’m told, can feel their own magic; and when I suddenly felt my magic coming up from the eastern road. I knew it wasn’t me, so when I saw a figure walking up the road, I grew suspicious. When I saw your face, I knew, but I couldn’t say, because I had to know more. And despite what I said earlier, I knew just about every pony in this world, and Kimono had no relatives.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me you knew?”
“Because I had to be sure, but that didn’t last long. You’re kind and caring, and I get the feeling you’re acting a bit more restrained than normal,” she said. When Pinkie nodded, she giggled. “You had a very different upbringing than I did, I suspect. So, are you really who I think you are?”
Pinkie stepped away from the table, putting her forearms out in a clearing gesture. “Hold on, let me use that line Rarity made me memorize in case I ever needed it.” Assuming a very august and noble stance, she said in formal tones, “Know that I am Pinkamena Diane Pie, Duchess Vanner and Knight Elemental of Laughter, sworn knight of my sovereign, Princess Celestia of Equestria.” She sighed. “Y’know, even Twilight thinks that’s a bit overblown, and Twi’s a stickler for formality.”
It was now the Hierophant’s turn to be surprised. “You serve Celestia?”
Pinkie nodded. “Yes, and she would be horrified to hear what happened to your world. She would have offered every bit of aid. Luna herself – Celestia’s younger sister – would have overseen aid efforts personally.”
The Hierophant looked as though she’d been sucker punched. “The legends mention Faust’s daughter, but said Celestia was a vain and silly foal, not fit to be her mother’s successor.” There was scant mention of a younger sister in the legends, the holy pony added.
Pinkie shook her head. “Celestia’s one of the kindest ponies I know, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend! Even before I knew her, she was our beloved princess, always taking care of the land she ruled so lovingly.”
“I don’t doubt you; you wouldn’t be the way you were if it were otherwise. But I’m surprised to her that she rules? Wouldn’t it be her mother?”
Pinkie then went on, quickly explaining things from her side, leaving nothing out: from Faust’s departure of the world, to Celestia’s raising of her baby sister; the rise of Discord and his defeat at Celestia and Luna’s hooves, thanks to the harnessed magic of the Elements; Luna’s despair, which became its own being and possessed the night alicorn, turning her against her sister and resulted in the banishment of both Nightmare Moon and Luna; the thousand years since and Nightmare Moon’s return, followed by six ponies wielding the Elements, destroying Nightmare Moon and rescuing Luna, becoming Celestia’s sworn knights in the process; the return of Discord and his last-moment defeat; the six becoming heroes and legends, earning entitlements most of them couldn’t care less about; and finally the current problems and Pinkie’s discovery.
“So our tribe is invading your world, they’ve taken your most effective protection and you alone had the power to try to recover them. The prophecy came true, then.” The Hierophant raced up the stairs, telling Pinkie to wait by the table. Ten minutes later, she returned, carrying an ancient scroll. “Kimono told me about this scroll; that it was different from the others and while it hadn't been destroyed, it had been neglected, a bit of forbidden knowledge that couldn’t be removed from the world but merely allowed to exist and nothing else.” It told the story of a beautiful gypsy named Strawberry Surprise, who went against everything she knew to save the world, and that when she died, she left everything to her child.
“Child?” Pinkie asked. Nothing in Celestia’s story mentioned that.
“When she spoke with Faust, she spoke as a mare in mourning, having lost her true love. But Secret Star had left her something, a gift more precious than the world: he left her with foal, a child of theirs to raise.” At those words, both ponies blushed; that sort of thing usually happened in marriages, and nothing in their respective chronicles said anything about that. “Strawberry Surprise’s daughter, Morning Glory, inherited the power, and carried it down the line.” The Hierophant looked at Pinkie. “This is from your world, somehow brought over and mixed up in our records. You are the eventual child of Strawberry Surprise, many descendants removed, meant to oppose the Queen’s legacy. A white gypsy, like me, destined to counter the dark, except it could be said I turned against my family line. You, however, are meant to be the counterbalance.”
“So, um, no pressure then or anything, huh?” Pinkie said awkwardly.
The Hierophant rose from her chair once more, but now she did so with a purpose and strength that Pinkie had not seen in the short time she had been here. “So, you cannot stay here, Pinkie. You must go and do your duty of duties: you must stop the Queen. This is more important than your duty to your princess. Find your Elements and defeat the Queen’s legacy for once and for all. This you must do.”
“But I’m not sure if I can,” Pinkie admitted.
“You can – you made it here, despite it being supposedly impossible. You brought me joy and hope, when all I did before was count the days until I died or my world finally died first. You must not let your Blinky go the way of my Peachy. Please, if for nothing else, do it for your sister and the memory of mine. Go now, for every precious second that passes the Queen’s hold becomes that much tighter on your world.”
Pinkie nodded, and something went off in her head: it was time to go, the reason she was here was now complete. In the large space of the room, she created her gypsy gate, ready for the next destination. But before she did, she turned back to the Hierophant. “Come with me. You don’t have to be alone, not anymore.”
But the Hierophant shook her head. “I can’t, and you know it. This is my fate, not yours. Besides, what would happen if two Pinkies, both with the same powers, went through a singular gate? I’d hate to see the results.”
Pinkie looked downcast, but only for a moment. “I’m coming back for you someday, so don’t get too comfy!” she promised, as she began to go through the gate.
“Just one thing, please!” the Hierophant shouted as her counterpart began to disappear. “When you see the Queen and defeat her…tell…tell Rainbow Dash that I forgive her!”
Rainbow Dash? But there was no time to ask as Pinkie fully departed through the event horizon. Seconds later several rusty and bent sheets of metal came back through with a noisy clatter as the gate dissipated.
Pinkie Pie, the Hierophant of her world, looked at the metal left behind by her counterpart. She knew about the theories of reality travel, the necessity for “equivalent exchange” and the like. But as she stared at the corroded and oxidized plates, she wondered: where was that pony’s destiny leading her?
In the burnt crater that had once been the ruins of Stalliongrad, a castle of crystal was being assembled. Sheer, spiky and beautiful, it was meant to amplify its owner’s power and bring this world – Faust’s world – to its knees. In the part that had been built, a black-cloaked pony passed by dozens of vassal ponies, as well as the Afflicted. Seeing the Afflicted was horrifically true as he had been warned, but fortunately their curse was only applicable to the lesser of this world. In any case, it mattered little; he was a pony on a mission, with no time to spare a thought on the fate of the cursed.
Within a minute he reached the throne room of the castle. The second thing to be built – to speak of the first was to court death – it was tailor made as a ruling platform for their regent, the reborn Queen of Magic. As he reached the doors, he said, “I have an urgent message for the queen, and it must be delivered immediately.”
“The queen is in repose at the moment. You may either wait, or leave it here with us,” the guard assured him.
“Or you may give it to me, darling,” a voice cooed, and immediately all ponies present went to their knees in deference. A cyan earth pony with a mane colored like a rainbow walked up to them. “Ah, Comet Tail, my loyal Hunter, you are most welcome. You said you have a message for me?”
Seeing her, the guard on duty bellowed out, “All within my voice, you shall now bow in submission of our lady savior, the sovereign of power, Rainbow Dash, our Queen of Magic!” The guard used magic to amplify his voice, and so for several feet around, all gypsies bowed in reverence of their queen; the Afflicted, under the thrall of that magic, fell to the ground, writhing in the pain of their curse.
Comet Tail, known to his siblings as Hunter Four, was beckoned to face his queen and so stood as bidden. “I have news from both General Misty and my sister, Hunter Zero.”
“My, this should prove interesting,” the queen said, with a smile. “Please, do go on.”
“Misty reports that the attacks have succeeded as planned, and that the exceptionally strong strike on the town of Dodge Junction was felt all the way in the enemy castle. Additional attacks have succeeded in making our presence known to the neighboring nations, and while they are gearing up for war against us, a few strikes from our great host would make it clear they have no chance of winning.” A thought came to Comet Tail and he ventured a question, hoping it would not be his last. “My queen, I have a question, if I may.”
“Of course, my Hunter. Please inquire away.”
“Our focal attack is here, in Stalliongrad, in the country they call Caballus. However, we are going after the Equestriani capital of Canterlot. Aside from denying the other nations their metalworks and setting your throne a suitable distance from the filth of the lesser, why have we not settled on the northwestern continent, perhaps even in the southwestern continent and waged our way north?”
“A good question, my Hunter, one that deserves an answer,” she said. Moving one of her forehooves in the air, she conjured up a magical globe of the world. “Here we are, in the northeastern continent. A distance away, and to truly deny them any chance of victory, we would have to smash the lands of the southeastern continent, the great eastern continent and the grand island of Canistralia. That I understand.”
“But then…?” he asked.
“Hope, my dear pony.” The answer was simple and succinct, as if the fate of the world depended on it. “Caballus is the traditional homeland of the tribes, where we all come from. It represents a sort of succor and comfort to the ponies, even as Equestriani residents have no interest in residing in this land. But if you smash it—” she said as she punched her forehoof through the globe, breaking it into countless slivers of magical light, “—it discomforts them, making them think, ‘If Caballus fell, will Equestria be next?’ And I assure you, Canterlot will come next. Celestia has no idea how much her days are numbered.”
“And that is the second thing: the classified portion of the report, which comes from Hunter Zero.”
“I see. Everyone, leave us now. We would have privacy here.”
“My lady,” a guard spoke. “This is the outer vestibule. Surely wouldn’t the throne room be more secure?”
His reward was for the Queen to throw a blast of lightning at him, searing his coat and leaving him in wincing pain. “I don’t recall this being up for discussion. When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed.” No further discussion was had and everyone ran from the vestibule, including one very injured pony who made for the castle infirmary.
“But he is correct, my queen,” Comet Tail said, opening the door for his regent.
“True, but a word of advice, my Hunter: never let them wheedle you; you lead them. The guard relished a chance to please me without merit, and I’ve been watching him for quite some time. Ponies who are impertinent but loyal I will suffer; sycophants I will not.” She led them to a small table in the corner, where they could sit. “Now, please, the report.”
“The first is that your portents were true, and that Celestia rules as princess with her sister Luna as heir. Of Faust, there is no sign save for a great statue in the center of town.”
“Interesting. So Faust has died and her idiot daughter rules, just as I suspected.” Queen Rainbow Dash had read the ancient scrolls; none were too flattering of the older daughter and there was little, if anything, about a second. “And cannot even call herself queen, either. This should be like taking candy from a foal.”
“Not so much, your majesty,” he pointed out. “Our report indicates that Celestia keeps the coronet open in honor of her mother. Additionally, Celestia may be more powerful than the reports say: documentation in this world says that she defeated a chaos divinity, and that when her sister was consumed by a demon, she defeated that. There are also reports of Celestia’s knights defeating Nightmare Moon a second time and saving Luna, as well as defeating the chaos divinity Discord once more, but at this time we believe that to be nothing more than propaganda.”
“I see. And of the jewels?”
“The so-called Elements of Harmony? Myself and Hunter Nine disbursed them throughout the cosmos as your majesty desired. We also left evidence from your mane, as requested, so that Faust would know.”
“Unfortunately, she won’t; if she is gone, her idiot daughter won’t recognize the mane colors as belonging to Queen Bright Eyes, and thus me as her true descendant. But it is still good that you dispersed them; from their position in the vault it was indicated that they were of highly important value to the legitimacy of the Equestriani throne. At least, our mole in their government says so. Speaking of which, what more does he say?”
“Oh, him. Forgive my impertinence, but why him? He’s a useless fool, and his demands…they’re baser than even what a lesser would crave. Frankly, I don’t believe a word he says and I feel he’s trying to play both sides.”
“All fools have their uses, darling. He asks for little and can potentially give us much, so his request is a reward I can easily depart with. And should he be playing both sides for profit, we will teach him that there are just as many other potential allies to be dealt with instead…and he can make a deal with death.”
“There is one last thing: Hunter Zero had one of ours perform an apparently successful assassination one on of Celestia’s personal knights, thus proving a lie to their own magical prowess. But in the case, Hunter One was captured, and she thought you would use a Mortem to resolve loose ends.”
Rainbow Dash shook her head. “I’ve used no Mortem spell as of late.” There was a quizzical look on the cyan pony’s face, but the Hunter chose not to pry further.
“Two days ago, Hunter Zero felt several failed attempts at trying to create a gypsy gate. She believes that Hunter One may still be alive and unable to escape. With your permission, she would like to mount a rescue operation.”
The answer was quick. “Granted. I always value success and hate to waste such a trusted resource as my Hunters. Furthermore, I would never let any of my ponies suffer the indignity of spending any time being treated poorly by lessers. Mount the rescue immediately and have Hunter One sent here. She deserves a reward for striking such a blow against Celestia.”
Comet Tail rose from his seat. “With your permission, then, I shall be off after a short period of refreshment.”
“Do so, my loyal Hunter. You have earned it.” With that, she waved him off, and with a bow, he left the room immediately. Left in the throne room, the Queen looked out a window, feeling strange, as if she felt something she’d not felt in a long time. She immediately laughed, there was no way her once friend and now nemesis, the Hierophant, could be up to something to stop all this. After all, she was alone on a dead world and there was nothing to stop the Queen’s plans from conquering all.
You have failed, my dearest friend and vilest enemy, Queen Rainbow Dash thought to herself as she looked out the window, as if trying to send the thoughts to another world. You are lost, oh Hierophant, a piece removed from the chessboard. There is no way for you to strike a blow, my dearest Pinkie. Even if there were more than one of you, you can’t win. With that, she went back to her private apartments to put on her armor. There was a meeting with the former residents of Stalliongrad…well, the ones that had survived, at any rate, and she would give them the same demands: surrender or suffer the consequences.
This world would be in her hoof soon enough, bit by bit. It was just a matter of time….