Rarity awoke with a jolt, screaming. This only served to elicit the one who had awoken her to jump back in surprise with a gasp of his own. A scruffy-looking older earth pony with a patched and tattered jacket and straw hat, he stumbled over his own hooves and tumbled backwards, landing sprawled on his back.
“Oh!” Rarity gasped. “I’m ever so sorry! I didn’t mean to frighten you. You see, you frightened me, and then…oh, where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself: I am Rarity.”
The white unicorn offered a hoof to help the earth pony up, which he graciously accepted.
“Weren’t no problem, ma’am,” the stranger assured as he got to his hooves, tipping his hat. “But are you alright? What happened to leave you out like a light by The Everfree Forest like that?”
“Oh, uh…” Rarity struggled to come up with an explanation. If she told him the truth, he’d probably think she was crazy, as any knowledge of her predicament could have been forgotten by history after a thousand years. Finding her unconscious by the side of the Forest probably wasn’t helping her in that regard either. “I…I can’t seem to remember.”
“Amnesia, huh?” the earth pony mused. “I heard that the bandits out on the Sands make their victims lose their memory after they rob ‘em dry. That way, they don’t even know they was robbed when they finally come to, if they come to at all. I never heard o’ that happenin’ on this side of the Walls, though.”
“Yes, bandits, that must have been it,” Rarity quickly latched onto the alibi.
“Frankly I’m surprised they let you live at all,” the earth pony shook his head sadly. “A pretty thing like you…well, let’s just say I’ve heard what they do to pretty mares.”
“Well thank you for not doing the same,” Rarity spoke, graciously realizing that this random stranger had had the perfect opportunity to take advantage of her whilst she was unconscious and didn’t appear to have even thought of doing so. “How chivalrous of you.”
“Chivalrous?” the stranger echoed, looking confused. Then, after a moment of looking blank, he suddenly realized what she meant and blushed fiercely. “Oh, uh…don’t mention it. It weren’t nothin’. But if you don’t remember anythin’, then why don’t I give you a lift? The next town ain’t too far away.”
Suddenly Rarity seized up, the reason for her fainting in the first place rushing back as it reared its ugly head all over again. The white unicorn’s gaze shot past the traveler, staring up at the first sight she had seen after exiting The Everfree Forest. Her first glimpse of all that was left of Ponyville.
“What happened?!” she shrieked. Everywhere before her, chunks of the ground were no longer part of the ground. Instead, entire islands complete with buildings floated haphazardly through the air. Inverted buildings floated aimlessly through the wreckage of reality, where pigs flew between clouds.
Pink cotton candy clouds.
Raining chocolate milk.
The scruffy stranger whirled around in shock at the white unicorn’s outburst, his eyes wide with fear. Just as quickly, though, those same eyes scrunched up with confusion before turning back to Rarity with a glow of realization.
“When did Discord get out?!” Rarity shrieked. “Where’s the Elements of—but, but they’re all…No!”
The earth pony laughed.
“What are you giggling about?!” Rarity demanded.
“You really must’ve lost your memory, Miss,” the traveler commented. “I can see why Pinkieville would be a scare for ya, if you don’t remember seein’ anythin’ like it ‘afore.”
“Pinkieville?” Rarity echoed.
“You really don’t remember anythin’ at all, do you?” the earth pony asked curiously. “Even the ones they leave alive out on the Sands can remember everything up to a few days ‘afore they got attacked.”
“No, I don’t remember anything…but my name,” the white unicorn assured, a stern tone rising in her voice. “Now, enlighten me. What in Equestria is going on?!”
The earth pony gave Rarity an even more dubious look this time.
“Are you sure you didn’t forget everything up for the past thousand years?” he asked.
“What!?” Rarity gasped. “How did you—I mean, what are you talking about?”
“Let me explain,” the traveler said, finally catching on to the white unicorn’s rising agitation. If anything, he looked a little frightened by it. “Pinkieville is the way it is ‘cause all the magical radiation messes with reality. At least, that’s what the folks at Pinkie Pie’s Party Supplies and the government say.”
“Pinkie Pie?” Rarity repeated, confused now more than ever. “How do you know the name Pinkie Pie?”
The earth pony gave her another odd look, but then just shrugged it off as yet more of the ‘amnesia.’
“Everypony knows Pinkie Pie,” the traveler told her. “She’s only the most famous maker o’ gimmicks there ever was, and her company’s been makin’ ‘em for her ever since.”
“…and…what’s a ‘gimmick?’” Rarity inquired, feeling a little stupid now and hating the feeling. Getting to the Princesses might be a bit harder than she thought if she didn’t even know her way around a conversation with another common pony!
“Gimmicks is the best product this side o’ New Canterlot!” the traveler announced cheerily. Rarity was about to ask another incredulous question about ‘New Canterlot,’ but bit her tongue and instead opted to file the information away for later. These answers were getting her as many new questions as they were glimpses of what the world was like in this new age. She’d need something like a library to properly learn everything that had happened in the past millennia…a library! Twilight’s library! If it was still there…oh, Rarity hoped so. “In fact, that’s why I’m headin’ to Pinkieville in the first place. I gots to restock on my gimmick inventory for the general store back in Appleoosa. I would just have the supplies flown in like they do for most everywhere else, but nopony ever delivers anything over the Walls unless it’s on government business or one of the companies has a big project goin’ down. So far as I know, Pinkie Pie’s Party Supplies has a plan to expand out onto the Sands someday, but until then I has to haul in new gimmicks every year all on my lonesome.”
“Sounds…delightful,” Rarity decided. “And I would ever so much appreciate a means of transportation into the next town. Even if it does look as dreadful as that.”
The earth pony laughed again for some reason, but nodded his head.
“Certainly, Miss,” he agreed. “Right this way.”
The traveler trotted to a dirt road that Rarity hadn’t seen before, where a large wooden cart waited. Even though it was empty, the shoddy vehicle still looked far too heavy for one pony to have pulled all on his own all this way. The white unicorn wondered how in Equestria he was going to manage it when it was loaded with ‘gimmicks,’ as the stranger called them.
The earth pony climbed the short flight of creaky steps made of makeshift boards nailed to the side of the cart. Rarity followed, careful not to step on any protrusions and worrying that she might get splinters in her hoofacure. Her thousand-year old hoofacure that she’d gotten with Fluttershy back when Pinkieville had still been Ponyville.
Rarity shuddered and swallowed the tears that threatened to rise within her. No, there would be time to mourn later. There would be. Rarity wouldn’t let her friends have died without paying her respects to them, she promised herself that, even if her friends’ deaths had occurred centuries ago.
“Um…excuse me, but how are we going to get to…Pinkieville…if we’re both sitting up here on the cart?” Rarity wondered as she sat next to the stranger on a wooden bench protruding from the rest of the vehicle.
“I gots ol’ Oscar fer that,” the earth pony replied, putting his hoof to his lips and blowing a loud, clear, whistled note. Rarity looked around, wondering who the pony ‘Oscar’ was that this generous traveler was travelling with. And why hadn’t he been mentioned before? The way he was talking, Rarity had thought that the earth pony was travelling alone. “I let him loose to do some grazing whilst I checked to see if you was alright.”
“Why do you talk of this pony as if he was nothing more than a beast of burden?” Rarity asked with a hint of agitation. “Nopony deserves to be treated like a pet!”
“Pony?” the stranger laughed. “Naw, ponies don’t pull stuff. Chimaeras do that. And chimaeras don’t come finer than Oscar! Here he comes now, ain’t he a beaut?
Rarity turned to see where the traveler was pointing and shrieked again, jumping in her seat.
“What in Equestria is THAT?!” Rarity squealed. “It’s hideous!”
“Hideous?” the earth pony actually looked offended. “I’ll have you know I paid good money for Oscar here and he’s been worth every bit!”
The creature both ponies were referring to, apparently Oscar, came bounding over the hill of a grassy meadow just beyond where the white unicorn and the earth pony had been talking. It was a hulking thing, loping towards the cart with massive forelegs and tiny hind legs that hardly touched the ground. In fact, they DIDN’T touch the ground; the hind legs, Rarity realized with horror, weren’t hind legs at all. They were a set of arms and hands, like Spike had had, only these fell from behind and underneath the beast. One absentmindedly scratched the tongue spilling happily out of the creature’s gaping maw.
If anything, it reminded the white unicorn of a squat, scrunched-up Discord without the look of malicious intelligence in its eyes. The forelegs were massive lion paws, as if they had been sown onto Oscar after being taken from a manticore. The hind legs—er, hands—were dark and hairy and looked even more dexterous than Spike’s had been. The head, however, looked akin to a giant dog’s cranium.
Rarity was beginning to wonder if Discord really was behind all this after all. That would explain a lot, like why Ponyville looked like the malevolent wonderland he’d turned it into upon his escape over a millennium ago. It sounded a lot more likely than Ponyville being renamed after Pinkie Pie and turned into a nonsensical ‘gimmick’ factory.
“Hey there, Oscar!” the earth pony piped up lovingly to the abomination. “Ready to go get some o’ that cotton candy I promised?”
Oscar’s eyes lit up and he began to drool, droplets of thick saliva pouring down into puddles on the road before him. Rarity tried very hard not to shudder.
“Alright, then!” the traveler smiled. “Let’s get a move on and show our new friend here what you’re worth!”
The chimaera, as the stranger had called it, about-faced and picked up the rope dangling from the front of the cart in his protruding hind-arms before running along the dirt road on his powerful two legs. Rarity struggled to stay on the bouncing vehicle, but it wasn’t easy, though the earth pony didn’t even look like he minded the bumps.
“Wh-where did th-that thing c-come from?” Rarity tried to ask between bumps. “I’ve never seen something like that in Equestria before!”
“There you go goin’ on about ‘Equestria’ again. ‘Course you hasn’t seen anything like Oscar round these parts,” the stranger agreed. “Oscar here’s a third-generation pulling-class from the Fluttershy Fabrications company. He wasn’t made in the factory out in the zebra territories, mind you. He’s cross-bred with several other cart-pullin’ types, but each original was genetically engineered by the factory. Due to his unique breedin’, there ain’t another specimen like him in all the Lands.”
Fluttershy was responsible for the beast before her?! But Fluttershy had loved animals, not butchered them and then stuck the parts back together randomly! How could this be her legacy? And what did ‘going on about Equestria again’ pertain to? Rarity’s head was starting to hurt. She really had to get to that library, and then she REALLY had to get to the Princesses. Assuming they even still remembered her. But they had to, right?
Rarity was jerked out of her thoughts by a torrent of chocolate milk splashing over her as Oscar ran through a particularly large puddle of the stuff. Little pitter-patters of the sweet liquid began to pepper her mane as the cart passed under the cover of cotton candy clouds zooming by overhead.
“My mane!” the white unicorn complained. “Where am I going to get a proper hairdresser to fix it in this place?!”
“That’s the thing about comin’ to Pinkieville,” the stranger laughed. “You can never expect anything but the unexpected. Don’t try to fight the chaos; that just makes it worse.”
“Please refrain from using the word ‘chaos’ in my presence,” Rarity intoned. “Pinkie Pie was ‘eccentric’ and ‘spontaneous,’ but NOT ‘chaotic.’”
“Suit yourself,” the stranger mused.
As Oscar pulled the cart past the first buildings (all of which were floating and upside-down), Rarity could see for the first time that these structures were indeed far different from anything that had ever been built back when this town was still Ponyville. Immense concrete constructions stained with chocolate milk, buildings that looked to be nothing more than glass and steel framing, and even what appeared to be billboards soared by and twirled in the air. Now that she was up close, the white unicorn could see pegasi flying between the chaotic cacophony of buildings. Other ponies simply…walked on the air?!
“Are those ponies…flying?!” Rarity inquired, pointing to the earth ponies and unicorns who happily strolled through open expanses of air from one inverted building to the next. “They’re not pegasi, and even if they had temporary pegasi magic, they aren’t even walking on any clouds!”
“That’s the magic o’ gimmicks,” the stranger smiled knowingly. “They can do almost anything you can imagine, includin’ walkin’ on air. O’ course, if you want the really amazin’ stuff you have to pay a little extra. I just order the more affordable varieties, though thankfully the ‘go-away-gravity-gummies’ are among the cheaper products. That’s why they let the employees use ‘em, I reckon.”
This was all Pinkie’s doing? A thousand years had evolved a pink party pony’s legacy from crazy antics to spells that messed with reality itself? But how was that even possible? Even if Pinkie had seemed to defy the laws of physics at times, she wasn’t a unicorn or even a pegasus, and had thus possessed no magic to instill whatever gifts she had into anything other ponies could use. Right?
Rarity’s head was beginning to hurt from it all.
Oscar finally came to a skidding stop at the largest inverted building, thankfully in a spot where the cotton candy clouds weren’t currently overhead. This one looked even crazier than the others, seeming like some kind of overblown version of Sugar Cube Corner. The structure was made entirely of what looked like sweets and candies and pastries and goodies of all kinds, windows popping out of the sides of giant cupcakes and scoops of ice cream like it was the most normal thing in the world. Large letters hung upside-down from the top…bottom?...of the bizarre building.
“Pinkie Pie’s Party Supplies,” Rarity read, having to tilt her head to make any sense of the curling pink letters dangling from the sweet structure. “If you don’t smile, you’re better off dead! What? I know even Pinkie wouldn’t say something like that!”
“How do you know?” her companion inquired with a quirk of his eyebrow. “She a friend o’ yours?”
“How could she be?” Rarity replied quickly. Perhaps a bit too quickly. “She died over nine centuries ago.”
The earth pony shrugged and hopped down from the cart into the chocolate-ridden mud of what used to be Ponyville’s clean streets. The white unicorn, not wanting to spend another moment near Oscar if she could help it, quickly followed suit, trotting after the traveler as he strode into the front doors of what might have been the main building’s lobby and might have been its penthouse.
It turned out to be both.
The double doors slid into the wall as soon as Rarity and the traveler walked up to them, all on their own. Rarity was a bit taken aback at first, but then just pegged it as yet another oddity of this odd new age. If her late friend was responsible for something she had previously thought only Discord capable of and willing to pull off, then self-opening doors were among the least of her surprises.
Following the earth pony as she currently had no idea of what else to do, the white unicorn trotted to a large line of desks. The merchant exchanged pleasantries with the pony behind the desk they had arrived at, the two seeming to know each other from previous visits. The earth pony had said he made this trip each year, hadn’t he?
Rarity was looking around whilst the two talked, taking in the oddness of her current surroundings. The inside of a building made entirely of what seemed to be sugary sweets was a lot different than she had expected. There was no indication that she was in anything other than a fancy, luxurious building from the look of this lobby-penthouse. Cushioned chairs were spread out in surprisingly organized sections on the tiled floors between the many front doors and the many desks.
What caught Rarity’s eyes most of all, though, was the enormous portrait of, who else, Pinkie Pie herself hanging above the center of a cluster of golden-colored desks. She was smiling as ever, though her fluffed hair had streaks of gray running through it and barely noticeable wrinkles sagged under the pink pony’s eyes. Aging didn’t seem to have bothered her, though; Pinkie Pie looked as happy as ever.
“And why wouldn’t I, Rarity?”
Rarity gasped, leaping back as the picture had—impossibly—TALKED!
“What the—” the white unicorn tried to say.
“You’re not going to curse, are you, Rarity?” the portrait questioned, a sudden frown on its pastel face of moving oils. “That would be so unladylike, and we all know Rarity is the most ladylike pony there is!”
“You’re—you’re talking?!” Rarity spluttered. “How…?!”
“Magic has advanced a lot in the time you were gone, Rarity…” Pinkie Pie’s portrait said. “A lot has changed, though I guess you already know that, huh?”
Rarity simply continued to stare at the verbal painting, aghast.
“You DO know her!” the earth pony exclaimed, and Rarity realized that everypony in the penthouse lobby had turned their incredulous attention towards her now. “But how? You said it yourself…she’s been dead for over nine centuries!”
“If she’s dead then how is she talking?!” Rarity demanded.
“Sadly, I’m not Pinkie Pie,” the portrait sighed. “I’m just a magical imprint of her personality preserved through advanced—and very expensive—spells. You can thank Twilight for that. I think she has her company set up in New Canterlot…Anyway, who’s this guy? I remember singing the smile song to him the first time he came in here like I do with all my new customers, but I don’t really know him.”
“Oh, uh…” Rarity tried to speak, but found it surprisingly difficult. “This is the chivalrous pony who provided me transport into…Pinkieville.”
“That so?” Portrait Pie intoned. “Then that means he gets free gimmicks for the rest of his life!”
“WHAT?!” the earth pony gasped, looking like he was about to have a heart attack. “T-thank you! I don’t…I don’t know what to s-say!”
“Then don’t say anything!” Pinkie’s portrait smiled. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Rarity and I have some catching up to do. Rarity, if you’ll please allow me to eat you—”
“WHAT?!” Rarity squealed, doing a very good impression of the earth pony.
“Oh, I’m not REALLY eating you, it’s just the way Twilight designed the spell so that I can take you to my personal office,” Portrait Pie explained. “Er…Pinkie’s personal office.”
Rarity stood there, incredulous for a moment, before Pinkie’s painting opened its mouth extra-wide and its tongue slurped out of the frame. Rarity shrieked, trying to back away, but stumbled over her own hooves and was helplessly caught up in the wet tongue. With a sucking noise, the tongue shot back inside the portrait’s mouth and closed, the painting going completely dark.
Rarity was deposited, wet and enraged, on the dusty carpet of a very dark room. Shaking herself, Rarity demanded “Pinkie! Why in Equestria couldn’t we have taken the STAIRS?!”
“I told you, I’m not Pinkie,” the portrait, or a duplicate of it on the wall behind the white unicorn, informed her. “I’m just a shadow of her. I’m not even real.”
Had the portrait sounded…sad…on that last note?
“Lights, please!” the portrait shouted, but not to Rarity. Suddenly the dark room was thrust into luminescence. Rarity looked around, finding herself in what did indeed look to be an office. If an office was the size of Ponyville Town Square and had tapestries of pink cascading from the ceilings advertising various gimmicks from Pinkie Pie’s Party Supplies. Each picture moved, the eyes of another Pinkie Pie watching Rarity as the white unicorn trotted in awe down the grand hall-like room towards an ebony desk. The various Pinkies showed her the marvelous uses of everything from the ‘go-away-gravity-gummies’ she’d already seen in use to something called ‘the portable hole’ and ‘pinkie sense pills.’
Though Rarity couldn’t see it, the giant portrait of Pinkie Pie hanging over where the doors to this office should have been went dark behind her. The space beneath it, where one would expect to find two ornate gateways, was nothing but bricks.
When Rarity finally reached the desk, she gazed at the stacks of paper and miniature models of gimmicks littering the workspace. The white unicorn raised her head when the pink-leather chair whose back was facing her turned to reveal its occupant to be—
“Pinkie Pie?!” Rarity gasped, then burst into a smile before leaping at the pink party pony who was too late to warn her against such a course of action. Instead of wrapping her forelegs around a dear friend, however dearly departed they were supposed to be, Rarity ran smack into the chair and fell to the floor.
“Sorry about that,” Pinkie Pie (?) said, getting up from the chair yet not offering Rarity any assistance. “It’s still me. Pinkie’s imprint. I can materialize as a hologram here in the main office, but only here, and I can’t be touched. I’m like that hologram Twilight left you out in The Everfree Forest, except I’m interactive.”
“So you’re not really here?” Rarity clarified.
“Nope,” the not-Pinkie replied sadly. “Just a magical ghost of sorts. The real Pinkie’s long-gone, like all the rest of your friends.”
“If you’re not here, then how could you move the chair?” the white unicorn inquired, slightly miffed.
“I can move anything that’s a part of this office,” the not-Pinkie explained. “Every inanimate object in here is tuned to my magical frequency.”
“Wait a minute…” Rarity said, realizing something. “You mean YOU’RE in charge of this place?!”
“Sure am,” the not-Pinkie beamed proudly. “Have been ever since the real Pinkie Pie passed on. Same goes for the other companies. They’re all run by magical imprints left by the originals.”
“Other companies?” Rarity echoed. “I heard that nice earth pony mention something about Fluttershy Fabrications, but I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about…”
“Ah, yes,” the not-Pinkie mused with a sad smile. “Fluttershy would probably weep if she learned that all her hard work had led to a warmongering business empire. As I mentioned, we’re just imprints of real ponies. We’re not even alive, not really. The rest of us think that Fluttershy’s imprint misinterpreted her wishes and took her good work in a different direction than she had planned. Then there’s—”
“Stop right there,” Rarity raised a hoof. “First of all, what in Equestria is going on?! I’ve been getting nothing but more questions rather than answers everywhere I look. What has happened to this place? To my home? And why was I asleep through all of it?”
The not-Pinkie smiled warmly, trying to look comforting. It wasn’t working.
“That’s going to take a lot of explaining,” the not-Pinkie mused. “I guess I’ll start with a brief history, and then get to what I really want to talk to you about.
“Let me warn you, though,” the not-Pinkie cautioned. “You may never look at anything the same way ever again. And that’s just the beginning. The really weird and scary stuff starts after that.”
. . .