"We are all born mad. Some remain so." -Estragon, Waiting for Godot
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“You tell her.”
“I’m not your slave, Magic. You have no business here.”
“I do have business here, ‘cause it’s my dream!”
Twilight shifted as she recognized the voices of Verba and Guilt. She was lying on a hard dirt surface; the road leading into Ponyville. Or, at least, her replica of it. “Ugh... stop arguing,” she moaned. She climbed to her hooves, though she had to lean on one of Guilt’s strong limbs to do so. He was no Big Macintosh in terms of bulk, but he was still just as powerful.
When her eyes finally adjusted, she saw both of them standing in her illusion of Ponyville. She blinked. “Wait... how are you both here at the same time?”
“You tell me,” Verba shrugged, glancing at Guilt. The two of them were a fair distance apart, and they occasionally shot each other angry glances, but they shared the same worried look when they turned their attention back to Twilight.
Guilt raised his hoof. “If I may.” He paused, then continued. “Both myself and... this character to my left tried to help you at the same time when Indicina attempted to take control of your mind and rip apart your memories. It appears our Dreamscapes have merged in the process.”
“Dreamscape?” Twilight asked. “Isn’t that where we fought the Daymare?”
“Yes and no,” Guilt said. “A Dreamscape is an unstable dimension created in a realm called the Dissonance. One is created every time somepony falls asleep, but they usually collapse within a few minutes. You appear to have structured your dreams in a way that they will not fall apart immediately, akin to how the Daymare and I were able to create the massive Dreamscape we used to test ponies’ strength of mind.”
“Test them?” Twilight asked.
“I will get to that, but first, wouldn’t you like to know who nearly killed you remotely three times over? And how?” Guilt inquired.
Twilight shivered. “Yes, of course. Her name is Indicina, right?”
“Yes. She was able to break into your mind many times and steal not only information, but also memories,” Guilt explained. “She was smart enough to steal memories that you wouldn’t readily realize were gone; memories related to your childhood, most of which would have been lost anyway as the years passed. That is why you couldn’t remember Princess Cadance, or that your brother had gotten married recently.”
“And that’s why you had Aurora ask me those questions,” Twilight assumed. Her brow furrowed. “Didn’t you know that she might attack me? Do you have any idea, any idea at all how painful that was to go through?”
Guilt shifted uncomfortably. “Yes, I did predict Indicina would attack you, but I had to be sure in my diagnosis. You see, your memories--due to your being the Element of Magic--have enormous power. The Dimple you came across back when you were journeying to Ponyville was created by a rupture in Indicina’s mind leech, spilling positive energy all over the place.”
“Which I created, thank you very much. I noticed where the memories were going and got the biggest mind-chainsaw I could find,” Verba stated proudly.
“It would have been more impressive if you had actually preserved Twilight’s memories, but I digress,” Guilt continued, throwing an irritated glance at Verba.
“How did I not notice this?” Twilight asked.
“You were probably asleep,” Guilt suggested. “Either way, ponies don’t realize they’ve forgotten something until they have a use for the information. Indicina was able to pick and choose which memories she stole. What’s more troubling is why she’d need so much positive energy in the first place,” Guilt said, rubbing his chin.
“Wait, so she only stole positive memories?” Twilight asked.
Guilt nodded. “Yes. If you think hard, you will be able to remember your childhood, but your outlook on it will be much bleaker than it ought to be. I know you will search for the memories, but I would strongly discourage them being your first impression of your past. Your brother, your parents, and your foalsitter will all have positive memories to shower on you, and once they do, your memory will repair itself automatically.”
“But isn’t there any way to get the original memories back?” Twilight asked.
“Not that I know of, though if we capture Indicina, I will do my best to force the information out of her,” Guilt promised.
Twilight nodded, though she was a little angry. I can’t believe he experimented on me like I was some kind of lab rat... I, at least, should have known what I was about to go through if Indicina attacked. Then again, I guess she would have caught on if Guilt outright told me. “Who is Indicina, anyway?”
“‘Indicina’ is only her alias. Her original name was Bleach, but she changed her name soon after the Elements were created,” Guilt explained.
“Is she an Element?” Twilight asked.
“As far as I know, she was a slave for my father, King Discidium,” Guilt said. “Most referred to him as Discord, though his literal name meaning was always ‘separation.’ I believe his work on the Fountain of Harmony led to his infamy and resulting nickname.”
Now it was Verba’s turn to ask a question. “Wait, he created the fountain?”
Guilt nodded. “I do not know the specifics, but I do remember that he had an extremely large part in the creation of the fountain. Indicina was his personal servant.”
“What did she do?” Twilight asked.
Both Guilt and Verba shifted uneasily.
“I’ve talked quite enough; you tell her,” Guilt said.
“Nuh-uh,” Verba said. He shook his head, and a few runes detached from his neck and clattered onto the dirt. “No way.”
“I won the bet. You tell her,” Guilt ordered, glaring at Verba.
Verba moaned. “Seriously, Guilt? Is it really all that important? I mean, I know you wanna, y’know, make me miserable and all, but does it have to be in front of Twilight?”
One of Guilt’s eyes twitched. “Consider our grudge put on a temporary... hiatus. Yes. Right now I am simply working for the sake of the only family I have left in Equestria. But Twilight needs to know the full story. So tell it to her.”
“Oh. Sweet. Alright then,” he said. He took a deep breath, then said, “Twilight... You know the practice where mares... sell themselves? Y’know, out on the streets?”
Twilight swallowed. I don’t like where this is going. “Yeah...?”
Verba scratched the back of his neck, and a couple more runes splintered into dust. “Well, y’see... Indicina was bought... just to do that. By my dad. Uh... yeah. It was kind of common to do that back then. To be a... a slave.”
Twilight stuck out her tongue and made a face. “Ewww...”
“Tell her the rest,” Guilt said.
Verba stomped his hooves on the ground, agitated. “Seriously, dude...?” He looked like he urgently needed to visit the bathroom.
“Guilt, stop it. If it gets worse than it already has, I don’t even want to know,” Twilight said.
“Thank you,” Verba said earnestly.
Guilt smoothed back his mane, glancing at Verba. “You still owe me, but I suppose I’ll let it slide. For now, let’s continue. Do you have any other questions, Twilight?”
“How did Indicina get from being a, well, slave, to being so dangerous and evil?” Twilight asked.
Verba and Guilt glanced at each other.
“Well, don’t ask me,” Verba said. “I mean, I just found out she existed just a day or two ago.”
“I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, either,” Guilt admitted. “I rarely talked with her and I assumed she had died after a few hundred years passed, and after a while, she simply faded into memory. I do know she frequently spoke with Obsidian, but other than that... I simply do not know. How she has survived to this day, and how she is powerful enough to cause hiccups in both Harmony and Discord’s plans, is completely beyond my knowledge at the moment.”
“Well... what does she plan to do?” Twilight asked.
“She seems to be interested in the same research Deception is,” Guilt said. “As of now, she was probably experimenting with your memory, though memory itself is only one piece of the puzzle.”
“What are the other parts?” Twilight asked.
“There are three things that make us who we are as ponies, qualities that make us all unique. One is our aura, or life force. The next, our memory. The third is our personality. Deception, I believe, is trying to unlock the power of aura first, then memory, then personality,” Guilt explained. “It is reasonable to assume she’s figured out aura by now, given how radically she changed when the Time of Endless Dawn began.”
Twilight nodded. “So she’s working on memory?”
“She was when I betrayed them, yes,” Guilt said.
Verba was slowly drifting past Guilt as if he were floating on the surface of a salty lake, and he folded his forelegs. “So... why? Why try to find all this out?”
“Aura, memory, and personality are all sources of raw energy. Gaining control of them would allow ponies to be disintegrated, essentially, and turned into raw power, leaving only a body behind. The power of an aura is usually a set amount based on a pony’s current status of health. Memory energy increases as a pony ages. The power of personality, however, is near-limitless, as long as the ponies being consumed have strong minds,” Guilt explained.
“I don’t think you answered my question,” Verba said. “Why find all this out in the first place?”
“Wait, no, I think I’m starting to understand,” Twilight began. “So what you’re saying, essentially, is that Deception’s plan is to create a superweapon that consumes ordinary ponies to function?”
“Well, more or less,” Guilt said.
“...I guess that’s no worse than what Arrogance and the rest of your siblings have done. At least this time we’ll have the edge of being awake when she tries to commit mass-murder,” Twilight stated bitterly.
“Well... I’m sorry to say this, Twilight, but it gets worse,” Guilt began, his ears folding against the back of his head as he turned away from her gaze.
“I’ve been hearing that a lot, lately,” she grumbled.
Thunder boomed through the realm. Some of Verba’s runes formed an umbrella to hang above him. “I’d start wrapping it up, Guilt. Dream’s ending.”
Guilt nodded, then turned to Twilight. “Our Dreamscape project lasted long enough to convince Deception that ordinary ponies won’t be able to power her designs. In order to fuel a superweapon, you would need a super-pony, you see. A pony not only with a strong aura, but with a strong, dominating personality, and a past stretching back thousands upon thousands of years.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “She wants... us?”
Guilt shook his head. “No... Your friends are of no use to her. There is only one superpony in Equestria besides Vengeance, Twilight.”
Twilight felt woozy, but not only due to her fear. The dream was ending. She caught Guilt’s last words, though, as she faded back into existence:
“Deception doesn’t want the Elements of Harmony to power her weapon... she only wants you.”
Twilight opened her eyes. She wasn’t groggy, or in pain--just well-rested. She was in somepony’s bedroom, with the now-eternal sunset poking in through the window curtains. The room was small, but cozy, with carpeting, dressers, and two doorways, one leading to a bathroom and the other into the main part of the abode. Aurora was lying on a couch, flipping through a magazine.
Twilight sat up. “Aurora?”
She looked up from her magazine, smiling. “Oh, thank goodness; you’re finally awake.”
“How long has it been?” Twilight asked.
“A few hours. I was afraid your mind was damaged during the attack, and that you wouldn’t wake up ever again. How do you feel?” Aurora inquired.
“Like I need to move,” Twilight muttered. She slid out of bed and shook out her limbs. “That was really, really scary... but I’m glad we’re both all right. Where am I?”
“This is your Fillydelphian apartment. Your brother had me take you here, rather than back to the hospital,” Aurora explained. She looked away. “He was supposed to meet you when I was done talking with you. I’m sorry for putting you through that. It’s the last time I’m going to trust Guilt.”
“He explained everything to me. Knowing all that he did, I guess it was right to test me, but...” Twilight trailed off.
“What happened?” Aurora asked.
Twilight explained the horrendous series of attacks on her consciousness made by Indicina, and went on to tell her what she had learned from Guilt.
“So... Indicina is now the third party in this war, and we don’t know anything about her,” Aurora muttered. “I wish I was still an alicorn. I might have been able to help you then, Twilight.”
Twilight pulled Aurora into a hug. “Don’t worry. What matters is that I’m okay now.”
“It does matter, though,” Aurora said, gently pushing Twilight’s hug away. “I mean... I can’t do magic anymore. I forgot all the Ancient I knew; it’s not meant to be known by pegasi. And on top of that, I-” she cut herself off.
“You what?” Twilight asked.
“...Nothing. I’m just being too hard on myself,” Aurora said, smiling slightly. “Now, don’t you want to meet your brother?”
“I still can’t believe I forgot so much about him,” Twilight sighed, “but I guess I’m going to have to start remembering. Where do I meet him?”
“He’s in the living room, worried sick about you. Even if you don’t remember him, he remembers more than enough about you. While you freshen up, I’ll go let him know you’re okay, but then I have to leave and make sure Applejack is prepared for the meeting today,” Celestia said.
“Why?” Twilight asked.
“Drammatica has requested she make an appearance there, as well. I don’t know why yet, but I’m going to ask Luna as soon as I can,” Aurora said. She looked at Twilight from head to hoof. “I guess this is goodbye, at least for now.”
“Don’t worry, Aurora. I’m not going anywhere. If I could survive all that, then I can survive a meeting with my big brother,” Twilight said. I still can’t believe how much she sounds like Dash...
Aurora bit her lip. “Yeah, I know, but...” she trailed off before suddenly pulling Twilight into a tight hug, squeezing her like a teddy bear. “Stay safe.” She rushed out of the room before Twilight could respond.
As she took a shower, Twilight felt a burst of nervousness. It’s like I’m meeting him for the first time. I remember the bad things, like Guilt said--that time where he accidentally broke my science project, and that other time where he buried me in sand at the beach and forgot to dig me out. But I know he isn’t mean... at least, I think I know he isn’t mean, she thought, drying off her mane. After she had combed her mane and brushed her teeth, she took her first tentative steps into the living room.
Shining Armor was anxiously running a hoof through his bright blue mane when she entered. Aurora was right, he did look worried sick. He was pacing back and forth agitatedly, that is, until he saw Twilight. His eyes lit up upon seeing her tentatively step into the room, and he rushed toward her, capturing her in his embrace. “Twiley!” he exclaimed, wrapping a powerful limb around her.
Twilight abruptly found her face full of his pearly white pelt, but memories hidden deep within her heart told her that this was right. Her eyes began to glisten as her deepest memories, the ones Indicina was unable to touch, came rising to the surface. “Sh-... Shining Armor,” she mumbled, hugging him back. Her throat was tight with nostalgia.
“It’s been so long since I saw you!” he stated. He tried to keep his voice steady, but Twilight noticed that his speech, too, was choked with tears. “How are you, little sister?”
Twilight smiled, nodding, and that was enough. They shared their hug for a little longer before finally pulling away, yet they kept staring at each other, trying to take their lost sibling’s appearance in, as if they could at any moment be separated again, this time forever.
Twilight felt tears flowing from her eyes, and she wiped them off, laughing with a happiness she hadn’t felt in years. When she searched for the memories that made her feel such powerful emotions, though, they were completely absent. But I know he’s my brother... that’s enough.
“Tell me all about your adventure,” he said, laughing despite the tears welling up in his eyes. “I want to know everything.”
So Twilight told him. She explained the Void, and how she met Obsidian and Verba. She went on to tell about waking up in Ponyville and finding the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and elaborated on how their fight with Trixie led to them discovering the Elements of Discord.
She remarked with sorrow on how Applebloom’s sickness eventually claimed her life, and how Lorey took advantage of her death to trap them in the ruins of Canterlot. She told him how Pinkie realized her Potential, and how Luna saved them from certain death at the hooves of the Daymare.
She took a breath, then told him about how Dash’s Potential saved Fillydelphia from a brutal barrage, and she told him about how she met Olly, who proved critical to Dash’s successful realization.
She explained their journey to Canterlot, and how Saphira joined their group with an escaped Scootaloo, and went on to tell about how they fought and defeated Lyvia and Envy in Canterlot. She described the battle in the Dreamscape, and how they won by the skin of their teeth against the Daymare, saving Equestria. Then, she concluded her first journey by explaining the tragedy involving Lorey and his daughter, Saphira.
After a brief pause for breakfast, since Twilight hadn’t eaten yet that day, she began to tell about how Discord gave them their unofficial new ‘mission,’ and went on to describe how Guilt removed their magic and flight capabilities. She told him about how they met Centime, though her voice was choked with pain upon her mentioning him.
She explained how Hate managed to defeat them in battle several times on their journey, and elaborated on how Discord manipulated their path to go up Mount Nevercrest to find Vengeance, and how she was freed by Scootaloo after Centime was killed. She almost had to stop at that point; her emotions were overpowering, and speaking with her forgotten brother was too surreal for her feelings to remain stable.
Nevertheless, she continued, telling Shining Armor how the final battle with Guilt and Hate ended with no clear winner, with Dash’s wings destroyed, Fluttershy comatose, and her own horn disintegrated. She paused, clearing her throat, then finished by telling him about how Guilt joined the side of Harmony, how Celestia turned into Aurora, and how Indicina stole her memory.
“Wow... I guess I should take back wanting to know everything. That’s a lot to take in,” Armor breathed.
“I’m sure there are some things I left out, but that covers the most major points,” Twilight said. “So... what about you? What have you been up to these past few years?”
“Well, Aurora told you how I married your old foalsitter, right?” Armor asked.
“Uh-huh,” Twilight affirmed. “How is she? And what’s she like?”
A grin crept onto Armor’s face. “Well, I could tell you all about her... but how about we go meet her, instead?”
“I think I got into the Royal Guard Academy when you were in fourth grade or so,” Armor told Twilight as they walked down the gleaming streets of Manehattan. When she asked why he had chosen pegasi so inexperienced, he explained that they’re both long-time friends of his who had joined the Academy around the same him he did. He went on for a while about how murderous the boot camp was, and told of the many friends he had made there, and how he had to give them up on his journey up through the ranks.
Twilight wasn’t really paying attention for the most part, though, preferring to look at the glorious Manehattan architecture. Art seemed to have flourished in this city over the past few years, with massive murals lining tall skyscrapers, and statues being almost as common as streetlamps. To Twilight’s left, a budding painter slowly slid her brush back and forth on an easel she had mounted on the sidewalk while fascinated citizens looked on.
Armor noticed his sister’s awe and said, “Pretty amazing, isn’t it?”
“Yeah...” Twilight breathed. “I’ve never thought this urban an area could look so good.”
“Well, the gold has to go somewhere,” Armor said casually.
“What gold?” Twilight asked.
Armor raised a hoof to his lips. “Shh.” He pulled Twilight close and whispered in her ear. “One of our best alchemists just learned a revolutionary new form of transmutation. He figured out how to turn lead into gold, and iron into silver. Manehattan is the richest city in Equestria.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “Really?”
Armor nodded. “Be sure to keep it secret, though. Luna and I are the only ones who know about it.”
Twilight nodded. “Okay,” she whispered back.
Armor paused for a few moments, then burst out laughing. “Twilight, you just fell for that?”
“Huh?” Twilight asked.
“Aww, Twiley, turning lead into gold is one of the oldest myths in Equestria,” Armor grinned, tussling Twilight’s hair. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
Twilight pursed her lips. “I guess that’s what I get for trusting my older brother,” she said, though underneath her simple disapproval, there was a deeper concern.
“Something wrong?” Armor asked.
“No, don’t worry. You’re right; I really can’t believe I fell for that,” Twilight managed, forcing a small smile. “Come on, aren’t we supposed to be going to The Sunlit Dew to meet Ms. Everything?”
Armor wasn’t convinced. “This is about Deception, isn’t it?” he assumed.
Twilight sighed. “That’s besides the point, Armor. Forget I ever mentioned it. I have too much to worry about already without you throwing Deception into the mix.”
He paused. “Well... if by ‘gullible,’ you mean ‘trusting,’ then yes,” Armor said, picking up stride again and rounding a corner while Twilight followed behind him. They were about two blocks away from the Sunlit Dew now, and she covered her eyes; they were walking into the sun. Armor continued: “I know Deception’s crafty. I’ve heard a lot about her, from your friends and from the Royal Sisters. But if you let her get inside your head, then she wins, period. Be confident that you’ll make the right choice when the time is right, and if your goals are steadfast, then there’s nothing she can do to stop you.”
“‘Don’t let her get inside your head,’” Twilight echoed quietly. I guess he’s right... I have enough ponies in my head as it is.
Armor studied her for a moment. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
Twilight exhaled sharply. “I’d really like to take your word for it, but I can’t, knowing what I know. You just don’t know what I’ve been through. Deception is the most dangerous pony in Equestria; how am I supposed to just believe everything’ll be alright?”
“Twilight, I do know what you’re going through. I was there when the attacks happened, you know. I organized the evacuation of Manehattan to Fillydelphia, I taught Luna the barrier spell, heck, I was even a prisoner in the Dreamscape for two years,” Armor argued.
Twilight gaped. “You were in the Dreamscape?”
“You think there’s any other way I wouldn’t have contacted you when you first arrived in Fillydelphia after Luna saved all your flanks?” Armor replied. “Cadance and I both were stuck in there for the majority of the Daymare’s rule. It was actually the first time we had met since she was your foalsitter, in essentially the waiting room into that little... experiment.” He scowled. “They wiped our memory before you broke in and defeated the Daymare, so I can’t tell you much about it. But Twilight, I’m not stupid, and I’m not just trying to make you feel better. I know what I’m talking about, so don’t just dismiss everything I say.”
Twilight’s ears folded back against her head, and she nodded, swallowing. “Okay. Sorry for not trusting you. It’s just that... with my horn gone, and all, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stand up to any of the Elements of Discord, let alone Deception.”
“I can relate to that, too,” Armor said. He stopped on the sidewalk, and knelt so that Twilight could see the top of his horn. “See that?”
Twilight squinted, and indeed, there was a small spot a couple centimeters in diameter that was whiter than the rest of Armor’s horn.
“Touch it,” Armor prompted.
Twilight reached up and felt the surface of the white spot. It was smooth and cool. “...Porcelain?”
He nodded, and stood back up. “That was an accident during the attacks. A stone flew off one of the buildings and chipped my horn. I couldn’t use magic for weeks until it was repaired, and even today, if I try anything too difficult, I get a massive headache.”
“...Oh,” Twilight said.
“And before you even bring it up, yes, I do have a leadership position, but not the one you remember,” Armor began, not waiting for Twilight to continue. “The mayor of Manehattan was killed in the Daymare’s rampage, and I was asked to take his place. That’s why the city is so beautiful, because I used some of the funds the mayor had been hoarding and put it into refining the city and promoting education. I have three meetings today and two tomorrow, and in-between that I have to put in shopping, spending time with Cadance-”
“All right, all right, I get it,” Twilight laughed. “I understand that you understand, okay? I promise that I won’t be so cynical in the future. Now can we please go see Cadance?”
Armor flexed slightly before continuing ahead of Twilight. “To be perfectly honest,” he told her, “that was more for me than for you.” He stopped suddenly in front of a small shop and said, “Well, here we are. Ready to meet the most wonderful mare in the world?”
“I sure hope she’s modest,” Twilight joked, nudging her brother. She took a breath, then pushed open the doors to the café.
It was much busier than it had been the day before, with morning clientele lining up to be served caffeinated drinks and a light breakfast. Latte was there, bustling back and forth wearing an apron, but Aurora wasn’t. In her place was a different barista, a young adult stallion who was patiently counting out change and relaying orders to his boss. Near the windows in front of the store sat Princess Cadance.
She was paging through a book, sipping a steaming mug of tea through a straw. When she saw Armor and Twilight, though, she hastily fiddled with her hair a bit, shoved her book into her saddlebags, and rushed up to them.
“Shining Armor!” she exclaimed, pulling him into a quick hug. She brushed back his mane and saw a couple lines of stress and worry stretching across his face. “Oh, you look awful. Were you up all night?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Armor said truthfully, shrugging. “I’ll make it up with a nap later today in-between meetings.”
She shook him slightly. “You’re going to work yourself into the ground. I swear, one day I’m going to find your face sticking out of my flower garden.”
He laughed. “Since you see my face everywhere anyway, that won’t be too big of a change, will it?”
She pushed him away playfully. “Go. Do work.” Though quietly, she added, “Did you get the medicine?”
He shook his head. “I’m going to get it right now,” he replied softly. Turning to Twilight, he said, “Have a good time, you two. Luna will be coming to pick you up, Twilight, about two hours before the meeting to help you prepare. Are you okay flying home tonight, Cadance?”
She nodded and shooed him away. He had just opened the exit when Entour and Raj landed to whisk him away to his duties. Twilight, meanwhile, was wondering, What medicine? Maybe for Armor’s migraines? Or is it something else?
“You know,” Cadance began as she escorted Twilight back to her seat, “I’ve always had a problem with him being stuck in that political rat race.”
“Why?” Twilight asked.
“Because even if you win, you’re still a rat,” she said, smiling slightly. “Somepony said that once, but I forget who. Anyway, Twilight, how have you been? It’s been so long since we last talked. What’ve you been up to?” She sat down and looked up at Twilight expectantly.
Twilight paused, unsure how to respond. She sat down and instead examined her former foalsitter. There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary about her; she was a light pink alicorn with a slightly more reddish mane that was highlighted purple and yellow, and her body type was that of a typical pony’s. Twilight had a nagging feeling, though, that something was different about Cadance now that many years had passed. She took a note of that and dismissed the thought for the time being. “I... I just told the entire story to Armor earlier this morning, so he’s probably the better pony to ask. It’s a really, really long story.”
“Oh. Okay,” Cadance said. She studied Twilight for a bit, before saying, “Well... let’s just get this out of the way. Do you remember... anything... about me?”
“Nothing that I don’t want to forget anyway,” Twilight mumbled. She realized what she had said and blurted, “Oh, I didn’t mean it like-”
“It’s okay, Twilight; Armor’s already explained what happened. But... I guess I want to hear it from your perspective, too,” Cadance said, looking at Twilight hopefully. “Just to make sure, I guess.”
Twilight sighed. “Cadance, you have no idea how much I want to remember what my life was like back when you were my best friend. I didn’t even know I had friends until I moved to Ponyville; everything was wiped before that. I barely know you, now, and what I do know of you is the junk memories that Indicina left behind. I’m really, really sorry.”
“Don’t be. It wasn’t under your control,” Cadance said. She thought for a moment, then said, “I guess we just have to become friends again. It shouldn’t be any harder now that we’re a little older, right?” she asked with a small smile.
Twilight nodded. After an awkward pause, she asked, “Well... any ideas on how to start?”
“Oh! I just remembered; I got us reservations to the Seamless Shine in about a half hour. It’s mainly a spa, but they hold fashion shows, as well. I was thinking that maybe we could go and... relax?” Cadance guessed. “I mean, after all you’ve been through.”
“Sure,” Twilight said, getting up. “That sounds wonderful. What do they offer?”
Cadance’s cheek turned a slightly redder shade of pink. “I was kind of hoping you would know.”
Twilight laughed. “I’m sure they’ll let us know once we get there. Now are we going or not?”
“Lets,” Cadance said, standing up.
“You know, I think I know why we were best friends way back when,” Twilight said as she pushed open the exit.
“Why?” Cadance asked.
“Because you’re just as awkward as I am!” Twilight laughed, grinning.
Twilight noticed that the streets were significantly more crowded than usual, and Cadance pointed out that it was about lunchtime. They exited the café, and Twilight was following Cadance along the sunlit streets when she spotted something peculiar, a pamphlet lying on the ground that had her name on it.
“What’s this?” she asked, picking it up.
“Oh, it’s nothing, just some crazy propaganda Drammatica thought up. I wouldn’t bother reading it,” Cadance said, though there was a nervous edge to her tone.
“Well, maybe I can prove some of it wrong,” Twilight argued. “At the very least, I’d like to know what she’s saying about my friends and I.”
“I’m not sure if you do,” Cadance warned. “Drammatica’s slander is the worst I’ve seen in my entire life. If you really want to read it, then you can, but you won’t like it.”
Twilight picked up the pamphlet and set it on a nearby park bench. Its title was Dialogue, and its color scheme was mostly white and blue. She flipped open to the first page.
Recently, there was an attack on Fillydelphia’s General Hospital, an infiltration by the Element of Discord known as Guilt, or the third most powerful of their order. Shortly after appearing, Guilt was arrested, and he put up no resistance, because he had already achieved what he desired: a meeting with Twilight Sparkle, the Element of Magic, who was resting due to allegedly critical medical conditions. So far Sparkle has been unavailable to comment, and any requests at an interview have been blocked by none other than Princess Luna herself.
Twilight gaped. “That’s... That breaks every rule in Tiny Tot’s Guide to Journalism! They cited only one source, they were biased in their presentation, and they--they--!” She shook her head violently, speechless.
“Well... you expected Drammatica to be truthful?” Cadance asked softly, taking the pamphlet from Twilight and throwing it in a nearby trash can.
“I expected her, at least, to play fair,” Twilight grumbled. “‘Mental instability.’ ‘Hiding the truth.’ ‘Obviously planning something.’ Please! What in Equestria does Drammatica have against me and my friends?!”
Cadance noticed some nearby ponies throwing odd glances at her and Twilight. She said quietly, almost a whisper, “Twilight, please, you shouldn’t shout things like that in public.”
“Why not? Because I’m afraid Drammatica and her gang of thugs will come and beat me up? I can take care of myself!” Twilight shouted. “She has no right to go around saying these awful things about me!”
“Well, what if they’re true?” a nearby stallion asked. He stepped in front of Twilight. “I mean, it’s not like you’ve been all that forthcoming about the issue.”
“Yeah!” a mare seconded. “What did happen on that whole quest of yours? And what have you been saying to Guilt?”
Twilight froze under their glares. Some more ponies heard the conversation and started crowding around Twilight and Cadance, forming a mob of about twenty or thirty strong.
Cadance, knowing that Twilight was frightened, stepped in front of her and said, “We don’t want any trouble. We’re just passing through.”
Ordinarily these would have been weak words to say to a mob of angry-looking ponies, but Twilight felt a significant power pulse from Cadance as she spoke. Some of the ponies backed down and continued on their way, but not enough, and the mob was still growing.
Some calls started to echo through the crowd. “Where’s Celestia?” “What are you planning?!” “Give us some answers!” “Do you think we’re stupid?” “She’s just a fake!” “Some Element of Magic!” “Save your own hide; we don’t need you!”
Twilight trembled with rage, though she tried desperately not to show it. The angry cries didn’t stop after a moment or two, though, and eventually Twilight brushed past Cadance and asked the crowd, “What do you want me to say?”
Two words vibrated through the mob. “The truth!”
That’s not what I meant! Twilight screamed to herself. “What kind of truth? Drammatica’s truth? Or what actually happened?”
“Okay, tell us this!” an older mare yelled. “What happened with you and Guilt?”
“Guilt invaded the hospital and tried to strike a bargain with me to fix Rainbow Dash’s wings,” Twilight said simply, trying to retain her composure. “Nothing more.”
“So you admit to conspiring with him!” a voice near the back yelled. Angry cries of “Traitor!” rang clear.
“The Elements of Discord murdered my family, and you’re trying to work with them?!” an enraged stallion asked.
That’s not what I MEANT! Twilight screeched, gritting her teeth. If I had magic right now, she growled silently to herself, they’d all be begging for mercy. She was about to say more, but Cadance stopped her.
“Twilight, you need to stop giving them reasons to hate you,” she said. “I can lead us both out of this if you just stay silent. I’ve been through this kind of thing before with Armor. So do you trust me?”
Twilight nodded, though the angry words of the onlookers stung like angry wasps. Cadance started to walk calmly through the crowd with Twilight at her side. Nopony touched them; the power that radiated from Cadance seemed to be keeping them at bay. The angry crowd followed them for a while, but when they entered the spa, it quickly dispersed.
Twilight looked on from inside the spa as Cadance verified their appointment. What did I do to deserve this?
They both opted to get a back massage and a mud wrap. The two spa ponies looked familiar to Twilight, and when she asked if they were refugees, they said they had fled Ponyville to Fillydelphia before finally settling in Manehattan. They weren’t very talkative, which Twilight found odd for their occupation, but when she saw that one of them had a glass eye, she didn’t press what had happened back in Ponyville. They did say, though, that their names were Aloe and Lotus, and Twilight recognized them as ponies that Rarity used to visit weekly for her beauty treatments. It’s a small world, she remarked.
Cadance had pre-paid for the reservation, so when they entered, they were whisked away to two raised platforms and told to lie still for a few minutes. Twilight turned her head to the side and made herself as comfortable as possible, chatting with Cadance as Lotus artfully and skillfully began to erase the tension in her muscles.
“What was that?” Twilight asked, having recovered her wits. “That was actually kind of scary.”
“That’s what you get for speaking your honest opinion in mob rule,” Cadance grumbled. “You’re lucky it happened here instead of in Fillydelphia or worse, Las Pegasus, where most Stalliongrad refugees now live in poverty. Drammatica has nearly complete control there, even though she herself lives in Fillydelphia. Which reminds me, how in Equestria are you going to convince Drammatica to let Guilt work on Dash’s wings?”
Twilight didn’t answer right away; Lotus was smoothing out a particularly tense spot on her shoulder, and it felt amazing. “Well... I think if I can make her understand the situation, and if she’s reasonable, she’ll see why giving Guilt parole is necessary.”
Cadance blew some hair out of her face. “Twilight, Drammatica is anything but reasonable. You saw that just from reading her pamphlet. She thinks that the Elements are a cancer to society; she actually said that in a political rally just two weeks ago. She’s criticized Armor just because he’s related to you, and what’s worse is that she’s actually convincing ponies to join her side.”
“Oh, it can’t be that bad, can it?” Twilight asked nervously. “I mean... it can’t be, y’know, catastrophic. Can it?”
“Well... I’m fairly certain that, at this point, if Drammatica asked the citizens of Las Pegasus to burn their city to the ground, they probably would. If she told everypony in Equestria to join forces with the Elements of Discord, one out of every three ponies would start migrating to the Lock,” Cadance explained as Aloe worked on her lower back.
“Wow. I can see why Luna has been so stressed lately. She’s losing the respect of her subjects,” Twilight remarked.
Cadance nodded. “It’s going to be big news if you manage to strike up an agreement with her. Most ponies aren’t radical enough to call for your and Luna’s death, but I can feel the angry glares burning into my neck whenever I’m seen with Armor. He pretends not to notice, but I know they hurt him. Drammatica is tearing Equestria into two halves, and she knows it, but she’s too blind to see the consequences.” She sighed. “I’m not worried about Drammatica taking over Equestria and starting a new world order. As far as I’m concerned, she’s just an angry filly who didn’t get her turn on the swingset and is kicking sand in her parents’ eyes because of it. But if you can’t turn this around, Vengeance is going to walk into Fillydelphia and either enslave or murder everypony she sees.”
Twilight swallowed, and the conversation momentarily ended. Lotus and Aloe moved them to a different room, and as they were walking, Twilight remarked at how loose she felt. I feel like cooked spaghetti, she giggled to herself, testing out her limbs. I really needed this.
“So what did you do after you escaped the Dreamscape?” she asked Cadance, eager to change the subject.
“What do you think, Twilight? I went off to marry Armor. He was the first thing I saw when I got out of the half-alive state the Elements of Discord put me in, and, well, it went from there.” She paused for a moment before rolling her eyes and blushing. “Sorry for the mental image.”
They were led to another set of tables, but they were told to lay on their backs this time around as they were wrapped in towels laden with a brown, pasty mud, though they were positioned so that they could still hold a conversation.
The towels were very warm and heavy, and Twilight began to feel drowsy under their weight. To prevent herself from dozing off, she said, “Hey, Cadance. If you don’t mind me asking, Armor mentioned something about medicine earlier.”
“Oh, that? It’s nothing, really,” Cadance said quickly. “It’s just some antacids. We were running low.”
Twilight wasn’t convinced. “Cadance... a lot of my friends think it’s okay to hide things from me. It’s not. I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, and I won’t have to if you just tell me the whole truth.”
Cadance sighed, pausing as she tried to formulate a proper response. “Twilight, it wouldn’t be right of me to tell you now. Not when you already have so much to worry about. You’re going to need all your focus when you fight Vengeance, and I don’t want to distract you from it. You have enough to think about as it is; it’d be selfish to tell you before you and your friends make Equestria safe again. I just don’t want to be a burden.”
Twilight pursed her lips. “Well, okay... I understand. But whatever you have... it’s not life-threatening, is it?”
To Twilight’s surprise, Cadance actually laughed. “No, no, nothing like that. Don’t worry, Twilight, I’m going to be with you and Armor for a long time.”
Twilight relaxed. “Okay. Thanks.”
A little while later, she was shaken awake by Cadance. “Wake up, sleepyhead,” she said gently. “It’s time for you to go to the meeting.”
Twilight yawned as Lotus peeled off the wet towels and dried her off. She felt completely refreshed, the tension of the past few weeks having simply melted out of her like warm butter. Her pelt was smooth and rejuvenated. She said goodbye to the beauticians and exited the spa just as a cool breeze wafted through the Manehattan streets. “Thank you, Cadance. That was wonderful.”
She smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. Actually, there’s something I want to show you, before you go.”
“What is it?” Twilight asked.
“An old secret hoofshake that we made up together when you were younger,” Cadance said. “It goes like this: Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake. Clap your hooves and do a little shake!” She demonstrated the moves to Twilight: First a little jog-in-place, a peek-a-boo, and a clap before turning around and shaking her tail.
Twilight smiled, unsure. “That’s...”
Cadance’s face fell. “I know; it’s stupid, isn’t it?”
Twilight laughed. “No, that sounds exactly like something I would do. We would do,” she corrected.
“Okay... then you try,” Cadance prompted.
“Sunshine, sunshine...” Twilight began, prancing a bit in place.
“Ladybugs awake,” Cadance continued, showing Twilight the peek-a-boo.
“Clap your hooves-” Twilight said, tapping Cadance’s hooves.
“-And do a little shake!” Cadance finished.
They burst out laughing, not noticing the chariot landing behind them. It was one of Luna’s, with dark-pelted guards looking at Twilight nervously, not sure whether to interrupt her or not.
“Twi?” Applejack asked from within the chariot. She hopped out, making sure her hat didn’t fall off her head, though she was also wearing a red-and-brown vest similar to the one her cousin Braeburn wore. “What’re ya doin’?”
Twilight grinned, blushing slightly. “Well, just... remembering things.”
“Well, Ah hate ta intrude, but Luna wants us both at the meetin’, and pronto,” Applejack said. “You’ll have plenty a time ta talk later. Right now we gotta go back ta Fillydelphia.”
Twilight nodded, and turned to Cadance. “Well, guess it’s goodbye, at least for now.”
Cadance gave her sister-in-law a tight squeeze. “Getting to know you again was great, Twilight. I can tell it won’t be hard for us to be best friends again. But for now, you have somewhere to be.”
“Okay. I’ll be back soon. My other friends need my help, too,” Twilight said. I haven’t even seen Sweetie Belle yet; I’ve been so preoccupied with my own troubles that I haven’t even begun to think about what my friends might be going through, even now. I promise to see each and every one of them after the meeting. “Have a good day, Cadance.”
And with that, she hopped into the chariot with Applejack, and the two stallions took to wing.
Cadance smiled slightly as she waved them goodbye. She’s really grown up fast, she observed just as Twilight disappeared from view. I just hope that she won’t forget how to be a filly every now and then, if only for a little longer. She’s been through so much hardship, and she’s probably going to go through so much more... I can only hope that, by the end, she still knows how to smile. That’s all she really needs to do.
Applejack didn’t say much on their way to the capital. Twilight leaned on the edge of the chariot as it soared through the air, and before she knew it, it had landed, and they were being escorted into the building that Luna had teleported her and her friends to after Pinkie had realized her Potential.
“Applejack?” Twilight asked her as they guards led them to the conference room. “Are you alright?”
“Well...” she began. “Ta be honest, Ah’m a little nervous. Ah’ve seen Drammatica’s speeches and such, and she ain’t somepony Ah’d wanna mess with, no sir. Ah... Ah think she might’a chose me ta be with ya ‘cause Ah always seem ta screw stuff up.”
“Oh, don’t say that, Applejack. You’ll do fine,” Twilight said.
“Ah really wanna believe that, Twi, but...” She shook her head. “Forget it. S’not important. There ain’t all that much that can go wrong, anyway.”
“That’s the... spirit?” Twilight asked. She looks really downcast. I wish there was some way to cheer her up, but I don’t know what Drammatica’s capable of. For all I know, she could be smarter than me and all my friends put together. She could be smarter than Guilt! And she probably is, to be able to get so many ponies to support her...
“Twi?” Applejack prodded. “We’re here.”
“Huh? Oh, right,” Twilight replied. The guards led them into a drab conference room that was probably at the center of the building--no windows, just bare, gray walls enclosing a hexagonal table. Luna’s royal banner hung from the ceiling at the end of the room opposite the door, but that was the only splash of color present.
Luna was sitting in front of the banner, and sitting next to her was Latte.
“It’s good to see you, Twilight,” Luna said. She was still in her magicless form, although she seemed notably wearier than before. “And you too, Applejack. Please, take a seat.”
“Thank you,” Twilight said, though she was staring at Latte. “Um... if you don’t mind me asking, why are you here, Latte?”
He chuckled. “I’ve been Royal Diplomat for Equestria fer five years, now. S’just that there haven’t been any need fer diplomacy ‘till just recently, so I opened a coffee shop in the meantime. And, y’know... I kinda enjoy the latter more than the former,” he added, smiling slightly.
Twilight nodded. “So when does the meeting start?”
“In about fifteen minutes. I’m very glad you came early. There’s a lot I have to go over with you before the doors open,” Luna said. “It’s very important that you both know how to behave when Drammatica gets here. She’s bringing nearly the entire press corps of Equestria with her, and if they find a way to twist your words around and make you look bad, they most certainly will. It’s mine and Latte’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
She went on to give Twilight and Applejack a lecture about what to say, what not to say, how to sit, how to hide emotion, and so on and so forth. Twilight, for the most part, absorbed all of it, though she could see that Applejack was having trouble keeping all the mannerisms Luna went over straight in her head. Latte pulled her aside for a private session in the last five minutes before the meeting started while Luna flipped through some royal documents.
“One minute to go,” Twilight muttered.
Not even a minute. Just after Twilight finished speaking, a horde of ponies barged in through the conference door, though the guards kept most of them in check. They were all journalists, with pen, ink, and cameras in hoof. They had already begun to snap photos, and Twilight tried hard not to show surprise and remain expressionless as the guards got them under control.
A pathway was cleared, and through it stepped a big, burly dragon. He was about twice as tall as Twilight. His scales were a dark red, and his underbelly and spikes were black and white, respectively. His slitted dragon eyes gleamed with mischief and intelligence, though his steps were clumsy, as if he wasn’t used to walking bipedally. His sharp gaze immediately turned to Twilight, and her blood turned to ice under his stare. “...Greetingsk, Twilight, Element of Magick.” His voice was rather high-pitched, considering his girth. “You musk forgive my akskent. The letter ‘esk’ doesk not ek-... ekist in Dragontongue.”
Twilight deciphered that and replied, “And greetings to you, Malachi. I’ll do my best to understand you if you’re willing to repeat what you say if I ask.”
“Reaskonable enough,” he said. He pushed one of the chairs by the table out of the way, opting to sit on his haunches instead, something he accomplished with much greater ease. He greeted each of the ponies present at the meeting in turn, though his steely gaze seemed to intimidate everypony present, even Luna.
The next pony to enter the room was a bright white earth pony mare. She had a sea-blue mane, and her face was expressionless and impassive. She brushed past the press corps like they were a mere illusion even when they all demanded information out of her at once. Her tail was short-cut, and her mane was braided, though a few strands of it hung stylishly over her eyes.
“I’m happy to skee you again, Drammatica,” Malachi said. “The area is always more... pleaskant... when you’re around.”
“I’m glad you see you here, as well,” Drammatica said simply, though she didn’t make eye contact. Her gaze was focused toward Applejack.
“H-... Hello, Drammatica,” Twilight began anxiously. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, and to my right is my friend-”
“There is no need for introductions,” Drammatica stated. The press corps fell silent. “I know who you are,” she began, her tone icier than a midwinter night. “I know who both of you are.” She raised a hoof and pointed at Applejack. “You killed my daughter.”
[Note]: I do not own anything in this story that already belongs to someone else.
This story takes place BEFORE season two, but AFTER season one.
Please let me know if a link doesn’t work.