“Now tell me,” Daybreak commanded, her artificial voice grim. “Do you remember anything about our encounter with the Contagious?”
“We encountered the Contagious?!” Rarity gasped, her eyes nervously darting around. “Wait a minute, how did we…Where are we? We were just in Old Canterlot!”
“Good,” Daybreak sighed with relief, her voice crackling. “I’ve erased part of your memory—”
“You WHAT?!” Rarity nearly screamed. “What did you do to me?! My friends, my family—no, they’re all still there, I can remember them…I can remember everything…but of course, I don’t know what’s missing from my memory because I can’t remember it!”
“What’s the last thing you remember before coming here, to this forest?” Daybreak asked patiently.
“I remember…I remember that we had just landed in Old Canterlot, and then...” Rarity trailed off. “I can’t remember anything after that.”
“That’s what I erased,” Daybreak told her. “You’ve only lost the past twenty-minutes or so.”
Rarity glanced up at the sky—it was still night. Though they were not in New Canterlot any more, finding themselves instead amidst tall trees, the same star-scarce night sky was overhead. The Moon didn’t look like it had moved at all. Either Daybreak was telling the truth, or it was just roughly the same time of night…on a completely different night. But why would the android do that? What was going on? Rarity hadn’t felt this confused since she’d woken up.
“But why?” Rarity demanded. “You have no right to steal my memories! I command that you undo your spell!”
“You’ll be sorry if I do,” Daybreak cautioned. “You’d be begging me to take the memory away again. Before I took it away, you were a gibbering wreck.”
“I…what?” Rarity raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”
"Exactly,” Daybreak intoned. “It’s better if you don’t know. The Contagious have scared some ponies to death. Others go mad at the sight of them. They’re just not…natural. It’s not a mortal disease they’re afflicted with, nothing that can be cured by any magic we know of. That’s why I had to make you un-see what you’d seen, for your own sanity’s sake.”
“I…well…” Rarity sighed. “Fine then. You saved my life, so I trust you. But where are we? How did we get here? And where’s Surprise?!”
“We’re in a forest outside New Canterlot,” Daybreak explained. “I teleported us here as soon as I could charge up. Surprise is behind you, cooking marshmallows on the campfire.”
“Huh?” Rarity uttered before she could stop herself. She turned to see that the white pegasus was doing just that, holding a stick over a warm, welcoming flame in the center of some rocks and wood.
“Look, Marshy!” Surprise called over once she saw that Rarity was cognizant again. “I’m roasting your relatives!”
“Did you erase Surprise’s memory too?” Rarity inquired as she and the android trotted over to join the white pegasus by the fire. “And what about you? How can you handle what we saw?”
“I’ll answer your second question first,” Daybreak replied. “Though I’d rather not answer either of those inquiries. I can bear to witness the Contagious because I’m not real. I can shut off my emotions whenever I want to, and so I simply nullify anything connected to the memories of the Contagious other than what I can bear to think about. As for Surprise…well, that’s even worse. I didn’t erase her memories because she didn’t react the same way you did. She didn’t react any way anypony who’s ever seen the Contagious has ever reacted. She laughed at them. Laughed. If the Contagious don’t scare her, then I don’t want to know what goes on in that mind, and I’m fairly certain it’s far too messed-up for me to heal, anyway.”
“Somehow I’m not Surprised,” Rarity smiled humorlessly, glancing back over at the white pegasus. “Oh, no. Did I just make a pun? I hate puns! That was so unladylike of me!”
“Unladylike?” Daybreak questioned as the two sat down with Surprise by the fire. “Twilight—the real one—always told me that being ladylike was a big concern for you. Why is that?”
“How one presents themself shows one’s self control,” Rarity replied, sounding as if she was reciting something she’d answered countless times before. “Striving towards a ladylike presentation shows my own self-discipline and self-perfection.”
“Self-perfection?” Daybreak wondered. “How can somepony be perfect? I mean, no offense, but just look at the state of The ULE. Ponies did that, and all of it to themselves. I guess I can’t really talk much, considering I’m just a shadow of a pony, but things are decidedly less than perfect nowadays.”
“I’ve noticed,” Rarity remarked dryly. “And you are right about one thing. Nopony can be truly perfect. It just means we’re being the best we can be, when we try our best to be perfect. It makes us better ponies. Maybe that’s what’s going on in this era; maybe ponies have forgotten that. Or, more likely, they’ve just fallen on hard times.”
“Perhaps a mixture of the two,” Daybreak mused. “Times have indeed been tough ever since Luna’s health began to decline. The war was horrible, not just for this Land, but for the whole world. Things got a little better after it ended, but Celestia disappearing and Luna being incapacitated certainly ensured that they didn’t get better by much.”
“I’ve been dying to know about that war ever since I heard of it. What happened all those centuries ago?” Rarity inquired, trying to hold back a yawn. Wait, was she feeling sleepy? She’d slept enough for countless lifetimes! She shouldn’t ever need to sleep again, should she? Whether she did or didn’t, though, Rarity wasn’t about to waste another second on something that had stolen away so much time from her.
A chilling thought suddenly took root in her mind. What if this happened every time she slept? No, that was absurd! Rarity was instantly ashamed of herself for even considering such a paranoid notion. But then again, it had been thought impossible for her to have been under a sleep spell that even the Royal Sisters couldn’t break, and for a thousand years at that. What if the spell wasn’t done with her? What if she would miss another millennium the instant she fell unconscious?
Best not to risk it until she had more information. But, where could she get it? Even her friends had been baffled by the spell… but they had spent much of their lives researching it, and according to the real Pinkie Pie’s last words, they had uncovered something. Surely she could stay awake until she learned what they had learned, right? After all, how long would it really take to find those Disks?
“Wait a minute!” Rarity gasped with shocked realization. “I never got the Disk-locating spell from Twilight’s imprint! How will I ever find the Disks now?!”
“Don’t worry about that.” Daybreak smiled. “You already know the spell.”
“What?” Rarity uttered, her outraged fear of never finding the Disks warring with her confusion.
“I stole the spell from Mother before I brought Surprise into Mother’s office to rescue you,” Daybreak explained. “I uploaded the spell into your brain when I wiped your memory. You won’t even have to cast any magic; your horn should just guide you to the nearest Disk.”
“Really?” Rarity sighed with relief. “Oh, thank you!”
The white unicorn closed her eyes, concentrating on her horn. Sure enough, there was a gentle tug, almost like a weaker version of the spell that dragged her across Equestria to a rock full of diamonds long ago. That was the day she and each of her friends had gotten their cutie marks, all because of one spectacular act in the sky. And, appropriately, the sky seemed to be where Rarity’s horn was tugging her.
“The spell seems to be telling me to go… up?” she asked.
“Must be in the hooves of a pegasus, then,” Daybreak observed, following Rarity’s line of sight to look at the scant few clouds in the dark sky overhead. “We can go to Cloudsdale first thing in the morning. That’d be the best place to start searching for an airborne pony.”
Rarity silently agreed, trying her best to hold back another yawn. She had to do something to distract her from her aching, exhausted body, or she’d be falling asleep any minute. Sure, it had been a long and excruciating day that had lasted well into the night, but Rarity wasn’t about to waste another moment on sleep if she could help it, not if there was even the slightest chance of oversleeping by a few centuries.
“Why can’t we go to Cloudsdale now?” Rarity asked. “But wait, won’t revealing our location just alert Twilight’s imprint to us?”
“Because you non-robotic ponies need sleep,” Daybreak answered, raising a metal eyebrow. “Aren’t you tired? And you won’t have to worry about Mother for the foreseeable future. She has little influence outside of New Canterlot and the Twilight Townships. We’re back in the Pinkamina Province now, so we should be safe from any Sparkle Technology.”
“Good. But still, I don’t feel tired,” Rarity lied. Then, realizing one of her earlier questions had never been answered, she latched on to the perfect opportunity to distract herself from sleep. “Why don’t you tell me about the war five hundred years ago? I think I may go mad if I don’t learn what happened to make Celestia and Luna fight each other again.”
Daybreak raised her eyebrow again, but after a moment of thought (or computation?) the robotic pony relented.
“In the cruelest sense of irony, the war was always waged with the best of intentions,” Daybreak began. “After the connection was made between Princess Luna’s declining health and star-harvesting, Princess Celestia instantly banned the practice. Everypony thought Luna would get better after that, but the damage seemed to be too deep. The Princess of the Night was dying. But the Princess of the Sun couldn’t bear to lose her sister again, and she definitely couldn’t bear to lose her for eternity.
“Celestia rightly predicted that Luna wouldn’t survive the tides of time to see the night sky fully regenerated, and in her desperation sought to speed up the process. Celestia reasoned that the only way to do this was to increase the amount of land the Royal Sisters ruled under the sky, so that there would be more sky over Equestria from which Luna could draw strength from. The size of Equestria didn’t at all factor in this matter of course, as Luna controlled all of the night sky, not just that over Equestria. But Celestia, in her panic, wouldn’t listen to anypony who disagreed with her mad plot. And since you very well know Equestria doesn’t have the friendliest of neighbors, the only way to increase the nation’s land was to force the other countries to join us.”
“Didn’t Princess Luna object to all of this?” Rarity spoke up. “Surely Celestia would’ve listened to her own sister about a matter concerning herself, especially one so severe as to incite war!”
Rarity just knew that Luna wouldn’t have stood for this. Surely the Royal Sister would have put her hoof down. And, with growing horror, Rarity realized that was exactly what she must have done.
“Actually, Celestia listened to her little sister least of all,” Daybreak answered. “The Solar Princess insisted that she was only doing what was best for Luna. She wouldn’t stop until her sister was well again, even if that meant taking over the entire world.
“So... that is exactly what she did.”
“She WHAT?!” Rarity gasped. A war that spanned the entire world? Rarity could hardly believe what she was hearing. How could the kind and loving ruler that she had grown up under possibly have been driven to bring the entire world into her insane war? Rarity wouldn’t have believed it at all if it hadn’t already happened.
“Not the whole world, mind you,” Daybreak corrected herself. “Just the known world. As far as the Gryphon Kingdoms to the Zebra Empire to the Buffalo Plains to the Draconic Reaches, no Land was free of Celestia’s soldiers. There was slaughter everywhere, all in the name of healing a single pony. Ponies were drafted and forced to fight in a war they didn’t understand. Many protested and rumors of rebellion grew, but after a few generations most of them had become indoctrinated in Celestia’s madness enough to willingly go along with it as they had never known anything else.
“That’s when Luna struck out on her own,” Daybreak continued. “The Princess of the Night would’ve stood up to Celestia sooner, but she had been too weak to so much as move until well into the war. It wasn’t even Equestria anymore that Celestia was spreading, even if she still called it that. The Solar Empire, as the conquered peoples called it, had by that time encompassed the entire known world. But Celestia wasn’t even about to stop there. She had plans to traverse the Unknown Lands, and some secret documents found after her defeat even suggested she planned to go farther than that. There were drawings of improved star-harvesting ships, vessels that could even make it to the Moon on their own or fly farther to worlds unknown.”
Rarity listened with rapt attention, dreading what she knew would inevitably come next.
“As much as it pained her to do so, Luna couldn’t bear to see the world a hateful slave under Celestia’s crazed iron hoof,” the metal pony carried on. “Thus the Princess of the Night sought to unite the individual seeds of rebellion in each of the conquered nations. She promised them freedom if they would only work together to stop Celestia, but Luna made it very clear that she had no intention of actually killing her sister. The Lunar Rebellion, as it soon came to be called, began their own campaign against the so-called Solar Empire. They would have lost early on, as Celestia had already conquered the known world, but the mere thought of her little sister fighting against her again when she wasn’t even corrupted broke Celestia’s heart. The Solar Empress, as the Rebels called her, began purposefully losing battles against Luna. The Rebel forces advanced, and before too long Celestia actually gave herself up in battle. Celestia tried her best to apologize for her actions to the Rebel forces, but nevertheless abdicated her throne to Luna, thinking she was unfit to rule anymore.”
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Rarity interrupted. “Pinkie’s imprint said that after The Solar Empire came The New Lunar Republic, but surely Luna would’ve disbanded Celestia’s territorial expansion after winning, right?”
“Luna tried to do that,” Daybreak explained. “But the expansion had seen ponies forced to move into the conquered Lands. After generations of living there, they neither wanted to leave nor give up allegiance to the Equestrian crown. This caused yet more tension, as the conquered peoples longed to be free though the occupying ponies wanted the system to remain as it was. To try and solve this problem Luna founded The New Lunar Republic, in which every nation would get a fair and equal say in how they were governed. For a while this worked quite well.”
“Let me guess,” Rarity sighed. “It all stopped when something terrible happened.”
“Actually, Equestria’s luck had changed by that point.” Daybreak smiled. “The bureaucracy that allowed the Republic to function simply became too big. There were too many groups that wanted things different from anything anyone else wanted. In trying to please everypony, or every being, Luna ended up pleasing no being at all. Finally Princess Cadance thought to step up into the fray and suggest The United Lands of Equestria, which would combine the monarchical system with giving every conquered nation an equal say in the government. This proved to be the best system since Equestria governed only itself, and has been maintained ever since.”
“But what happened to Celestia?” Rarity questioned.
“The Solar Princess disappeared sometime between the end of The New Lunar Republic and the start of The ULE,” Daybreak finished. “Nopony’s seen her since.”
Rarity took a moment to take all this in, though it was far from easy. To think, even if the Royal Sisters had acted only under the best intentions, that good will had somehow become warped and twisted into something that produced worldwide war. It was still hard to believe that something that horrific of that magnitude had happened at all, but with everything else that had happened to Rarity and what seemed to have happened in the millennium she was indisposed, it was getting easier and easier to accept. That’s what scared her most of all.
“But now, it’s time to rest,” Daybreak intoned. “I can sense both of you ponies have been vastly overtaxed by the day’s events.”
“Oh, not at all,” Rarity yawned, before realizing that she had let the yawn get past her. “I mean, I-… Oh, I’ve slept enough for countless ponies! I don’t need to sleep ever again!”
“Your body seems to disagree,” Daybreak chuckled. “According to the records Twilight allowed Mother and I to be privy to, you weren’t so much asleep as you were in a state of suspended animation. You still need to rest like any normal pony.”
“But… no,” Rarity denied. “I can’t-… oh, I know it’s paranoid of me, but—”
“But you’re afraid you’ll sleep for a thousand years again?”
Rarity and Daybreak turned in surprise at the appropriately named pegasus.
“Yes,” Rarity answered with a sigh. “I couldn’t bear it if had to lose everything I’m even remotely familiar with all over again, especially my friends.”
"Your friends?” Daybreak inquired. “What friends?”
Rarity paused for a moment, puzzled.
“Why, you two, of course,” Rarity stated.
“Us?” Daybreak looked even more puzzled than Rarity did. “But you only just met us.”
“And in that time both of you have saved my life,” Rarity went on. “Though with Surprise I suppose that just makes up for the time she almost got me killed, but she’s stayed with me all this time regardless, so at least she’s loyal. You, on the other hoof, saved my life the instant you met me. What’s more, you’ve already helped me with my first step towards finding the missing Disks.”
“To be perfectly honest,” Daybreak admitted. “I kind of only meant to aid you in an attempt to escape. Of course, I would’ve saved you from Mother even if I couldn’t have escaped with you, but what I really wanted was to get out of that blasted factory. Please, you mustn’t take this the wrong way, but I had been planning for us to part as soon as we arrived at the next major city.”
“Oh…” Rarity muttered, before scolded herself. What had she been thinking? Why had she automatically assumed that Daybreak would go with her on what was purely a personal journey? Of course the android would have her own life to lead, or whatever kind of existence robotic ponies had in place of lives. Just because Rarity had been almost instant friends with Daybreak’s creator did not mean she would be almost instant friends with Twilight’s creation. She sighed. “I understand.”
“I mean no disrespect,” Daybreak assured. “But I have lived a thousand years in that factory, and I long to see the world. To be myself, away from Mother. To be my own pony.”
“Of course!” Rarity said. “You deserve that, probably more than anypony.”
“But we can still be friends,” Daybreak went on. “Who knows? Perhaps our paths will cross again someday. Whether you like it or not, you’ll always be my great-auntie.”
“Thank you,” Rarity responded, smiling.
“That being said, you really should get some sleep,” Daybreak finished. “And how about this? I’ll scan you for any magic that might be what you fear to be the sleeping spell.”
The robotic pony’s horn lit up, casting the familiar warm, orange glow on the white unicorn.
“You’re all clean.” Daybreak smiled. “The only magic currently on your person is your own natural magic. No sleep spells here.”
“Thank you,” Rarity sighed with relief, releasing a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. “Now, I bid you all good night.”
With that, unable to physically stay awake any longer knowing she would be safe if she didn’t, the white unicorn fell asleep.
. . .
“Pssst… Hey, Marshy!”
“Hmm…?” Rarity murmured, sleepily opening one eye. “Surprise? Why do I feel…? Surprise, get off me!”
The white unicorn immediately sat up, throwing the golden-maned pegasus off of where she’d been perched on Rarity’s stomach.
“I guess that’s one way to wake you,” Daybreak chuckled as Rarity scowled. “I’ve sent word to Cloudsdale, and they’re sending a sky carriage to come pick us up. You have an audience with a most honored host.”
“What?” Rarity gasped, jumping to her hooves. “Not another crazy manager of some warped company!”
“Oh, no, this is nothing like Sparkle Technologies,” Daybreak corrected. “Rainbow Industries has always been the most loyal to the crown out of all of your friends’ companies. You really don’t have anything to worry about.”
“Rainbow Dash’s company?” Rarity wondered. “Well, of course! Where else would she have built it? Though I honestly can’t imagine Rainbow as a very industrious pony. What does she produce? Racing gear?”
“Not quite,” Daybreak laughed. “Rainbow Industries is the number one supplier to The ULE’s military as well as the primary architectural firm of all pegasi cities.”
Seeing Rarity’s dumbfounded look, Daybreak added. “Perhaps it’s better if you just see for yourself. The carriage should be here any minute.”
“Wait, how did you even send word to Cloudsdale?” Rarity wondered.
‘The same way I’m sending word to you right now,’ spoke Daybreak’s voice in the white unicorn’s mind without bothering to go through her ears first. The android’s lips hadn’t even moved. Rarity’s eyes went wide when she realized the robot pony was using telepathy, something that had definitely been rare skill in the white unicorn’s day. ‘And unlike teleportation, telepathy is indeed a much more common skill nowadays than it was in your time. There are even unicorns whose whole job is receiving and sending messages from all across The ULE. I’ll teach you the spell, if you like.’
“Yes, that sounds like it would be good to know,” Rarity spoke, still trying to wrap her mind around how such a rare skill had become so common.
‘Done,’ Daybreak thought. ‘I uploaded the spell into your mind, just like the spell with the Disks.’
“Thank you,” Rarity spoke, and then remembered she didn’t have to and searched her mind for the appropriate knowledge. There it was, at the top of her memory, though she didn’t remember having been told anything. Rarity’s horn glowed, and she thought ‘Thank you, Daybreak.’
‘Don’t mention it.’ Daybreak smiled. ‘What are friends for? Wow, friends… I haven’t had a friend since the original Daybreak.’
Rarity wondered for a moment if that’s why Daybreak had been created in the first place. Then, realizing that her horn was still glowing, instantly thought ‘I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to—’
“It’s alright,” Daybreak said abruptly, cutting Rarity off. The android pony’s magical aura faded, and she turned away to look at the sky as a shadow descended on the group. The white unicorn looked up as well to see the sky carriage they had been promised, and her jaw nearly dropped. The thing was huge, and not only was it pulled by a single pegasus, but the entire mobile structure seemed to be made of light!
The carriage gleamed and glowed, walls and beams of thick light all shining brightly as if they were solid matter. The carriage didn’t land so much as it shone on the ground beneath it.
The most striking thing of all, though, was that every single individual part of the carriage was a different color. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, or violet, all colors of the rainbow were present and glared like thick neon material.
“Salutations,” the pegasus pulling the carriage greeted, smiling and tipping his hat. “On behalf of Rainbow Industries, I’m here to provide you three with transportation to our headquarters in Cloudsdale. I trust you all have your hover-horseshoes? Though of course you won’t need them until we actually get to the city.”
“Hover-horseshoes?” Rarity echoed.
“They’re equipped with a lasting spell that allows non-pegasi to walk on clouds,” Daybreak explained, not looking at Rarity as she trotted into the open door of the glowing carriage.
‘Oh, no,’ Rarity thought to herself. ‘The only sane friend I have in this time, and I’ve managed to anger her. Nice going, Rarity. And she’ll probably be gone before I have time to make amends!’
The white unicorn started for a second, then settled down when she checked that her horn wasn’t active. Daybreak wouldn’t have heard those last thoughts unless she also had a mind-reading spell. Which, Rarity surmised, wasn’t altogether out of the question with all the spells the android pony knew already.
The white unicorn trotted after Daybreak, settling in a seat in the carriage, followed by Surprise. The white pegasus was looking around with much delight, the glowing lights of the carriage reflected in her wide eyes. Rarity, though, was a little preoccupied trying to think of how to apologize to Daybreak before they parted ways to properly pay attention to the splendor of the vehicle.
Seeing this, Surprise looked at Rarity with what might have been concern if her eyes weren’t crossed at the time.
‘Don’t worry,’ Surprise’s voice forced its way into the white unicorn’s mind. ‘Imprints get like that sometimes when they’re reminded they aren’t real. Trust me, I know.’
. . .