Part 3: Paradox
"Ultimate horror often paralyses memory in a merciful way."
– H.P. Lovecraft,
Fluttershy was sleeping without dreams, it was a pleasantly blank state, thick as fog and warm like a blanket. but her consciousness was forced to introduce into this restful dimension with a knock. Her stream of consciousness was swirling around the memory of the sound, trying to make sense of it. There was another knock, then two. Then three and five knocks, each louder than the last. Twilight's image floated around in Fluttershys mind, summoned by some arcane chain of association. At the sequence of five knocks, she finally woke up, at least enough to mutter "come in, the door is not locked". Twilight kicked the door open. Had Fluttershy been awake enough to notice, she would have seen the traces of insomnia burning in Twilight's eyes.
"The map!", Twilight shouted towards Fluttershy's bedroom, "where is the map?"
.Fluttershy was still somewhat lost in a half-wake state.
"what map?" she asked. Twilight took a few quick breath to try and calm herself down.
"Remember the strange plants?" she replied, "You told me a while ago you marked their position on a map, where is the map?"
"In the upper left cupboard", fluttershy said, "I put it there so that Angel wouldn't nibble on it." Twilight ran into the kitchen and soon there where pans and plates falling down onto the floor with a piercing clatter that forced Fluttershy awake. She found the map, next to a box containing the weird leaves. Fluttershy had clearly tried to press them in order to preserve them, but for some reason they had simply refused to dry up. The only thing that was really different from last time she saw them was that some of the symbols seemed to have changed.
Fluttershy where finally making her way into the kitchen and Twilight spread the map across the table. Sure enough, the location of each plant had been marked by elegant graphite circles. Twilight grabbed a pencil and she proceeded to draw faint lines between the points on the map. At first, she connected the closest points to each other, but found nothing but a random shape. She tried a few different approaches, but accomplished nothing other than creating the ghost of a spider web all over the map.She then blinked for a moment and something flashed past her minds eye. She was close to something but couldn't quite figure out what. The constant mystery where making her rather absentminded. She took one of the cups next to her and sipped from it, but then immediately spat it out.
"you might not want to drink that, those have been sitting there for a week", Fluttershy explained from the side, "I'm sorry my house is a mess, I've just had a lot on my mind, have you found anything?".
Twilight responded with nothing but a grunt and closed her eyes, trying to regain her concentration. She could picture the map in her mind, and she placed the sites of the plants as little glowing dots on her mental map. She created a mental process to dig trough her memory banks for recognizeable patterns, and one thing seemed to reoccur among the possibilities: The strange symbols of Demonspeak. It was something about the angles of the sites in relation to each other that matched that particular style of writing. She only knew a handful of the symbols, but she went trough each and every one as well as she could remember. Eventually she settled on a symbol her mind insisted on drawing in red frosting. Curiously enough, the points on the maps matched up with the angles of the upper right "arm" of the symbol she had seen in the bakery. If one where to complete the symbol, the center of it would fall right in the middle of Sugarcube Corner.
"I knew it!, Twilight said, "Fluttershy, we're going to Sugarcube Corner to get to the bottom of this."
"I suppose there's a very good reason we can't do that tomorrow?" Fluttershy said.
"Yes there is, by morning I'll probably have collapse from exhaustion, we better hurry up while I'm still just overtired!", Twilight said, as her left eye twitched slightly.
"I... guess that's a fair point..."
There are one hundred and sixty four windows in Ponyville, and at four o'clock in the morning, only
two windows had a light behind it, one of which belonged to Sugarcube Corner. Inside mr. and mrs. Cake where going trough the motions. Mrs. Cake where manning the counter, singing softly to herself:
"See the Fairy Princess curtsying, gracefully, beautifully Swaying to the tune...
Meanwhile, mr. Cake where inside the bakery, and he was putting pieces of raw, un-risen dough into the oven, and when he took them out, each where perfectly shaped pieces of bread, each with a symbol on it, carved in straight lines as with a knife. The little bell above the window rang as the two ponies stormed into the bakery. Mrs. Cake welcomed them with a pleasant smile.
"Welcome dearies", she said, "can I get you anything?"
Her smile remained unchanged as Twilight met her eyes with a narrow leer.
"It is the middle of the night" Twilight said, why are you still open?"
"It is?", mrs. Cake said, "Oh, we're just trying to expand our opening hours! Now can I get you a nice Cherry Cake?
"NO! Twilight said, unexpectedly loud, "You can't, because you're not real!"
"What?" Fluttershy said from behind Twilight.
"What?", mrs. Cake echoed from behind the counter, "of course I am, dearie, just look at me."
Twilight lowered her gaze, "I don't belive you", she said, in a slow, deliberate voice, "I. Don't, Believe. You. I-don't-belive-you-I-don't-believe-you...." Twilight had turned the statement int oa chant.
"Please stop", mrs. Cup said, "young lady, you stop this nonsense RIGHT NOW!"
"Twilight...", fluttershy whispered meekly, but trailed off.
Twilight was still chanting, "I-don't-believe-you, I-don't believe-you. You-are-not-real..."
Mrs. Cake face cracked, each crack bright like it was written in the air by the trail of light from a glow-stick. The shattered lines of light kept spreading across the room, like a faint spider-web. There was a second of hesitation before all the lines connected and then...
Mrs. Cake was gone. Mr. Cake too, gone. The lights had disappeared as well, and with them the image of a charming and pristine town bakery. The two ponies where left standing in a ruin. The house itself was essentially intact, but all the furniture where ruined. ingredients had been thrown on the floor and left to rot. Splashes of sugar and cream where staining the walls, the windows where broken and everything was covered in writing, symbols that didn't seem to match the writing of any language. Fluttershy backed closer to Twilight, and Twilight noticed herself taking a few usnure step back as well. The house was quiet except for a small sobbing sound coming from upstairs and the two ponies went up to investigate. The staircase creaked as they walked on it. The sobbing continued, it was a dry kind of sob, like somebody crying long after they had run out of tears. They made their way to the end of the corridor, across broken paintings and the endless row of mad symbols.
The room at the end was completely empty, save for a circle on the floor drawn in red frosting. In the middle of the circle, they found Pinkie Pie was sitting on the floor in a rough approximation of the fetal position, holding something with her front hoofs. She looked half wasted away, her eyes where sunken in and dark and her hair was hanging down in messy elongated curl rather than her normal cheerful wave. Pinkie Pie made a last few pathetic squeaks and sobs before she noticed the two ponies from across the room. She looked at them, with eyes red like after an allergic reaction. She whispered something, but her throat was almost too dry to carry the words.
"I... I was just trying to make chocolate rain", she whispered.
And with that she dropped the item she had been clutching in her hooves. Twilight analyzed the object, she wasn't entierly sure, but it appeared to be a shard from one of Discords horn. At least that's the only thing she could think of that had the potential to cause all of this. Pinkie laid down on the floor as the two ponies went up to her. She looked around for Twilight and then met her gaze with bloodshot eyes.
"I... saw it", she whispered to Twilight.
"Saw what?", Twilight asked.
Pinkie pulled her closer. Close enough that Twilight could smell Pinkies breath. It smelled of.... birthday cake and tears, actually.
"The THING", Pinkie Pie said, "The thing that lurks behind the atoms, the thing that lives in the space beyond this universe and in the patterns of cracks in broken concrete. I've heard the wind whisper its name, they call it The Dancing Madness.", she forced one last broken tear down her warm, swollen cheeks,"Twilight? Please, make it go away."
Twilight gave her poor friend a hug and didn't let go of the embrace.
"Hush", Twilight whispered, "I'm here now and nothing can hurt you, just relax."
Fluttershy joined in the embrace and for a solid hour the three friends just sat on the floor of the ruined building, arms around each other until finally, Pinkie Pie calmed down and drifted into a deep, calm sleep. Twilight kept her embrace for a few minutes more until she felt safe enough to let go of Pinkie Pie. She picked the shard up from the floor and turned to Fluttershy.
"I'm going to dispose of this, could you keep an eye on Pinkie? Please don't leave her unattended."
Fluttershy nodded and Twilight went out the door.
Back home, Twilight was setting up her lab. This was all equipment she had hope she never had to use. Most of these arcane tools she wasn't even supposed to own, but her desire to be prepared for every possibility had overridden her sense of lawfulness.
First, she put the splinter in a complicated device with an arrangement of mirrors and gemstones. She lit a thin green
candle underneath the contraption. The light reflected off the mirrors and gemstones and hit the shard. The resulting energy forced the wheels on the side of the device to spin. A small mechanical counter calculated the speed of the rotation with a complex arrangement of clockwork gears spiced up with magic. It displayed the rotation in elegant letters carved out of iridescent nacre, set towards a background of ebony.
"five revolutions a minute..." Twilight read, " eight... 13 revolutions per minute.... 144... 233... 4181 revolutions per minute... oh dear!". A stray gear got forcefully pushed out of the counter and the entire device started to crumble. Twilight quickly removed the shard.
"Well, at least I know exactly how dangerous you are..." Twilight said to it, "my only concern is that this might not even be the tip of the iceberg, rather the size of the snowflakes on that tip..." Twilight was thinking. This where both good news and bad news. The good news where that they had managed to stop a great disaster while it was still only a minor one. The bad news was that if there where still loads of magic potential left in the shard, then the force that almost drained Pinkie Pie and made a ruin out of Sugarcube corner had barely been a fraction of the shards magical potential. Most of it was still in there...
Her thoughts got interrupted by a bug that had found its way to the flame of the candle and was circling around it.
"Shoo!", Twilight said to it, "this isn't a place for mosquitoes.... Damnit, I'm starting to sound like Fluttershy", she was swatting towards the fly with her hoof, "get out of here!".
One swat came too close and the mosquito fell down to the ground.
"Oh dear...", Twilight said to herself, "I didn't mean to do that!"
She then heard a buzzing noise behind her. Turning around, she saw an entire swarm of mosquitoes filling up the room. The sound of the swarm was changing and modulating, almost like speech.
"Freeeeeeee....", the swarm said, "It told us your body was free..."
Twilights eyes narrowed as she stood against the swarm.
"I told you before", she said, "you can't fool me with your tricks, I don't believe you!"
"Awwww", the swarm said, though it sounded more like a hiss, "you are no fun...". The swarm dissapeared.
Twilight was far from done, she created a magical force-field around the shard, and inside she made the temperature hotter than the sun. Next, she put the splinter in a bowl and carefully opened a bottle of something bright blue. When the cork was released, a tiny puff of evaporation escaped the flask and made the air freeze around it. The oxygen fell down in flakes like snow. One drop on the splinter and the material started to show sign of breaking. She then placed the bowl in a box that resembled a hollow slab of concrete. Twilight carefully closed the lid and she then began to wish every atom of the shard out of existence. It is not quite possible to describe how it sounds like when the molecules of a potent magical item gets forcefully ripped apart and disintegrated, but if you can imagine a small cherry screaming, then you've at least gotten the gist of it.
Twilight put on a breathing mask, a pair of goggles with smoked glass lenses and a pair of thick rubber gloves. She took the bowl out, and nothing remained inside it but a fine gray powder. She put the powder inside a small glass bottle, which she filled up with acid and sealed with a thick glob of red wax. She then put the bottle into a small metal box, cushioned on the inside with downs. She put a lock on the box and, using her magic, she melted the key. She thought about this for a bit and then put a few drops of the hot metal inside the lock, sealing it completely. She then placed the metal box in a cardboard box she kept in the basement. It was marked with "things to throw in an active volcano next time I visit one", and the box was surprisingly well-filled at this point....
When this was done she called for Spike.
This command quickly summoned an extremely overtired baby dragon.
"That was fast", Twilight remarked.
"Yeah", said Spike "I was up readi... I mean, I'm just a light sleeper... Anyway, do you need help with anything?".
"I want you to breate fire all over my lab equipment, especially the bowl.", Twilight said. Spike looked puzzled.
"Why?", he asked, "If any weird magic stuff have escaped, that won't help, and you know it!"
"It helps me feel better about it", Twilight said, "Now would you, please? I gotta go."
"Fine, leave me with clean-up duty!"
When Twilight returned to Sugarcube corner, she found not only Fluttershy, but also mr. and mrs. Cake, the real ones. All three where sitting around a guest bed occupied by Pinkie Pie. She still looked rather harrowed, but at least she seemed to be sleeping well.
"They where hiding in the basement", Fluttershy explained, "They came out because they heard us and thought things have calmed down. Ive tried to explain what happened, but honestly I'm not even sure myself..."
"The important thing", Twilight said, "is that it is all over, at least for now.
36 hour later, Pinkie Pie woke up after a sound sleep, all watched over by Twilight, Fluttershy and mr and mrs Cake. Had they not been present before, they would never have guessed what Pinkie Pie's had gone trough.
"oops, did I fall asleep?", Pinkie Pie said as she awoke, "Wow, what happened to this place?", she added after having a good look around the room with the torn frosting-stained wallpaper, "must have been some party..."
"You could say that", Fluttershy said softly, "but I'll tell you about it later, right now you need to take it easy and get some rest."
"Rest?", Pinkie Pie said, "We got to clean this up", she said, "this is no place to make cakes!".
Later Twilight heard from the doctor she had talked to previously, and Zecora seemed to be much better. They wanted to hold her for a while more just to be sure, espescially seeing as she had almost tricked them once before. But after some pressure from Twilight, which included but where not limited to a veiled threat of bringing Princess Celestia into the discussion, they where convinced to release Zecora within just a couple of days.
Despite the state of decay the bakery was in, Mr and Mrs Cake offered to bake muffins in gratitude for the two ponies, but they declined.
"There's no need to do that", Fluttershy said, "We where just lucky to find all the clues, and it was Twilight who pieced it all together."
"Yeah, lucky..." Twilight added in a slightly melacholy tone.
Each pony went home to their respective place, Fluttershy offered a chouch for Pinkie Pie while the bakery was being rebuilt. Truth is, she was still a bit worried about her friend, who seemed to just have forgotten about the whole thing and she wanted to keep a closer eye on her. Twilight went home alone and locked herself in the library. It had been a though week, and books where scattered all over the place.
"I can't think with the library looking like this!", she said to herself and went to work re-organizing the shelves. Afterwards, she sat down to compose a letter .
, "Dear princess Celestia", it read, "I wish I had a friendship lesson for you, I really do, but this week I have only learned about things I want to forget. I learned there are things beyond the comprehension of any pony, things for whom our mortal lives are nothing but a brief flash in a vast and timeless darkness...", she went on to recount the events to Celestia and she ended with, ,"...on a brighter note, this weekend, Applejack will premier the years first batch of her special scumble. If a couple o' mugs of that doesn't make me as happy and forgetful as Pinkie Pie, nothing will."