A thirtysomething Brony from Pennsylvania with a library degree.
74w, 4dTwilight is Best Pony
74w, 4dTwilight Sparkle
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Pinkie Pie’s observation may have broken the room’s silence, but the tension was still there. After about twenty more seconds, the lavender unicorn (her friends weren’t quite certain what to call her at the moment) looked down at the floor, closed her eyes, and took several deep breaths. “No, we’re doing this my way,” she whispered to herself before opening her eyes and returning her attention to the others in the room. Her eyes seemed to have returned to normal—well, almost. The brightness had returned, but the calculating stare remained.
“Okay,” she finally said. “I’m sure you guys aren’t happy about the way this has turned out, but I’m going to take the fact that you haven’t done anything stupid like trying to bum-rush me as evidence that we can still work things out reasonably.” Her voice was hard and severe, but it was unmistakably Twilight’s.
Rainbow Dash’s response somehow managed to be even more brusque: “Oh, just shut up and tell us what you want... uh... what are we supposed to call you now?”
“Well, I’m partial to ‘Twilight Sparkle,’ seeing as how it’s my name.”
“But you’re in cahoots with the Nightmare. You can’t pretend you’re the Twilight we know.”
The lavender unicorn rolled her eyes. “I’m not pretending. Look, there’s more important things on the table than what name you should call me, so can we please stick to the stuff that actually matters?”
“As for what I want... well, there’s no easy way to say this, so I might as well be blunt. I think I should rule Equestria.”
“Of course you do,” Luna replied with a sneer. “Power is the only thing the Nightmare cares about.”
“This isn’t just about power,” Twilight replied. “Quite frankly, this whole incident has me convinced that I could do a better job than the two of you.”
“By hoarding knowledge, you’re stifling progress in magical development, and in so doing, preventing the kind of innovation that will raise the standard of living for all ponykind. I, on the other hand, am not afraid to let Equestria’s best minds push the frontiers of magic, nor will I let theoretical worst-case scenarios distract me from the potential good it can do.”
“And you somehow think that being made Princess of Equestria shall afford you the ability to change this?”
“Yes, but it doesn’t need to come to that. I’m not really interested in your titles—I only need your political power to move Equestria into a brighter future. I have no problem with the two of you staying on as semi-retired figureheads. In fact, it will probably make the transition process easier for the population as a whole.”
“Figurehead? Figurehead?!” Luna shouted, her volume approaching that of the Royal Canterlot Voice as her speech patterns reverted to those of the previous millennium. “We cannot believe thou wouldst take the Nightmare so seriously. It is but using thee to achieve its own ends.”
To Luna’s surprise, Twilight didn’t seem to thrown off by this. “You could very well be right, of course, but I’m also using the Nightmare to achieve my goals, so our relationship is quite symbiotic.”
It was at this point that Celestia intervened, raising a hoof before the confrontation between her sister and her Nightmare-drunk student could escalate to a full-scale argument. “Your idea seems... interesting, Twilight,” the Princess said in a tone so conspicuously even-keeled that one suspected that she was doing everything she could to keep from exposing her true feelings, “but now is perhaps not the best time for my sister and I to make a decision of this magnitude. After all, not only are we all feeling rather stressed at the moment, but there are many factors to consider besides the ones you have mentioned. I therefore suggest that you prepare a formal proposal, so that we can address our concerns in a more... systematic method. I further suggest that this be done a week from today, in Ponyville, away from the workings of Canterlot’s rumor mill. Is this acceptable?”
The unicorn thought about this for a second before she responded, “Only if I can keep the Element of Magic with me.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Rainbow Dash shouted. “It’s not like you can use it! Without the other Elements, it’s just a tiara.”
“Yes, and without this tiara, the other Elements are just necklaces.”
“That is acceptable,” the white alicorn abruptly said in another attempt to head off an unneeded argument. “You may return to Ponyville to begin your preparations, Twilight.”
The unicorn’s eyes brightened as the corners of her mouth turned up into a smile. “Really? You’re going to give me a chance to get your job?”
“If your proposal is feasible, yes.”
“Oh, thank you!” Twilight said, practically bouncing over to her teacher and hugging her. “I promise, you won’t be disappointed. This is all going to work out great!” This sudden shift in the unicorn’s mood might have been heartwarming, except for the fact that the proposal in question was borderline treasonous. Before tonight, the other ponies would never have imagined that Twilight Sparkle acting like Twilight Sparkle could ever be so creepy.
“I do have one further request, though.”
“You do?” Twilight asked warily.
Celestia nodded. “It’s about Spike—I’m worried that all the political nuances will do nothing but confuse him if you try to have him assist you during your preparations. Perhaps he could stay at the home of one of your friends for the week.”
“I’ll do it!” Fluttershy shouted, before quickly retreating to her usual meek demeanor. “Um... I mean, if Twilight doesn’t have a problem, that is.”
Twilight seemed a bit confused by the request, but she soon assented. “Yeah... that won’t be a problem. I’ll see you later, girls,” she added cheerfully, before transforming once again into a lavender mist and floating out of an open window in the general direction of Ponyville.
Another silence fell over the remaining ponies. “Your majesty,” Rarity eventually said with a slightly flustered tone in her voice, “you cannot seriously be considering—”
The Princess refused to wait until the end of the sentence to give her response: “Of course not. There is no way that Luna or I would ever willingly surrender our rule to somepony under the Nightmare’s influence. In fact, I’m not even willing to let her take care of a single baby dragon, as you’ve just seen. I have simply bought us some time to form a plan.”
“Pfft,” Rainbow Dash replied with a dismissive wave of her hoof. “That’s easy. We wait until she shows up for her proposal thing, ambush her, grab the Element of Magic, and hit her with a rainbow. Problem solved.”
“I suppose that might work in theory...” Princess Celestia mused.
“Great! Then let’s get cracking!” the pegasus said with a smile.
“...but in practice, it leaves much to be desired.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s true that in an emergency, the Elements can be used by ponies other than their designated Element-bearers, but their effectiveness is severely curtailed if the substitute isn’t a close relative.”
“So... Twilight’s mother, then?” Rarity asked.
“Actually, the process puts a lot of strain on the substitute’s body, so we’d need to restrict ourselves to relatives in peak physical condition.”
The fashionista suddenly looked extremely nauseated. “You can’t possibly be referring to... Shining Armor, can you?”
“I know the thought of potentially hurting one’s own sister is rather unsettling,” Celestia said. “Remember, I had to make the same choice.”
“Actually, I was thinking about how hideous he’d look wearing that tiara, but I suppose your point is much more relevant to the discussion at hoof.”
“Okay, so we team up with Shining Armor,” Rainbow Dash said. “But I’m willing to bet twenty bits that he won’t have a problem doing anything to help his sister.”
“It is true that he would not likely have a problem,” Celestia replied, “but whether he would consider his actions to be ‘helpful’ is a different matter entirely, as the Elements are not nearly as effective when being used by somepony else. When I took control of the Elements of Magic, Loyalty, and Honesty, I attempted to remove the Nightmare from Luna’s mind, but... it didn’t work. That’s why I had to banish her. I... ran out of options.”
“Couldn’t you, um, have just thought of something else, though?” Fluttershy asked timidly.
“I suppose I might have been able to, but there’s a rather big complication.”
“And, um, is it okay if I ask what it was?”
“Of the two of us, Luna is easily the more intelligent.”
Luna seemed to be somewhat embarrassed by this praise. “Sister, please, there is no need to prop me up this way.”
“There’s also no need for you to be so modest, especially since Twilight presents the same problem, only worse.”
“Worse?” Fluttershy asked nervously. “What do you mean?”
Celestia sighed. “Twilight Sparkle... is one of the smartest ponies I have ever met. She’s more intelligent than Star Swirl the Bearded or Clover the Clever; her intellect may even be superior to my sister’s; and she is most definitely smarter than I am. I simply have more knowledge as a result of being alive much longer than her. Up until now, her hero worship has prevented her from realizing this, but I think the Nightmare may have made the truth obvious to her. I’m... I’m worried that she’ll outmaneuver us.”
“That is not an unreasonable worry,” Luna added. “Clearly, either Twilight or the Nightmare has already considered the possibility that we may try something like this, or else she never would have requested to keep the Element of Magic in the first place.”
Celestia nodded. “When I had to deal with my sister’s rebellion, she quickly reduced my options to using brute force to banish her to the moon, and Twilight may have effectively taken away that option with her opening move.”
Applejack, however, had a straightforward solution to this problem. “Well, if the problem is Twilight’s brain, then I’m thinkin’ y’all oughta come up with some way ta undo whatever brainwashin’ magic the Nightmare’s usin’ on her. I’m sure she’ll come to her senses then.”
Princess Celestia looked crestfallen upon hearing this, and opened her mouth as if she were prepared to answer, but Luna interrupted. “Let me tell them, sister. It... might be easier to accept if they hear it from my mouth.”
“Hear what?” Applejack asked.
“It pains me to inform you that undoing the ‘brainwashing magic’ you speak of is impossible, because it doesn’t exist.”
“The Nightmare is like neither Discord nor Chrysalis of the Changelings, in that it does not use any magic to warp its victim’s mind. In order for it to do anything, in fact, it must have the willing cooperation of its host. Thus, it hovers in the back of one’s mind, picking and poking at all your wants and needs until it finds something that can be twisted into a lust for power. In my case, it was the desire for the love and respect of my subjects; in this instance, it appears that it is using Twilight Sparkle’s thirst for knowledge.”
“Couldn’t y’all just ignore it when it was talkin’ all them crazy things, though?”
“At first, yes. But it keeps repeating its lies, over and over, for days, weeks, even months, until one begins to wonder if they might be true. Thus, when the Nightmare makes itself known to the outside world, it is only because it has already convinced its host to adopt its goals. That is why my personality now is not all that different than it was when we first met, and why Twilight Sparkle still insists on being referred to by the name her parents gave her.”
Rarity looked as incredulous at this as everypony else in the room. “Surely the Nightmare’s influence must be enhanced with some manner of mind-altering magic. How else can the suddenness of Twilight’s corruption be explained?”
Luna shook her head again. “Actually, the Nightmare encouraged me to keep my resentment hidden from everypony else. Under its counsel, I devised secret tests for those around me, and it was only when those tests failed that I felt as though I had the ‘right’ to prevent the sun from rising. I presume it used a similar approach on Twilight Sparkle.”
Celestia readily confirmed this. “From my point of view, Luna’s transformation into Nightmare Moon was completely unprovoked, which was probably why it was so disturbing.”
Applejack was quite wary as she asked for a further explanation: “So, what y'all are saying is...”
“At this time, Twilight Sparkle genuinely wishes to rule Equestria so that she can gain access to whatever classified knowledge is being hidden from her, and the Nightmare is preventing her from seriously considering any other options through its continuous advocacy of a power grab. If we could remove the Nightmare from her mind entirely, she would no doubt come to her senses, as my sister did when you restored her, but we’d need the Element of Magic to be working at full strength, which would require Twilight’s cooperation, and our chances of receiving that are... slim.”
Rainbow Dash, meanwhile, was still thinking about more aggressive approaches. “Okay, so there aren’t going to be any easy solutions. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. I mean, you and Princess Luna have gotta be strong enough to knock her out, right? You do that, and then we team up with Shining Armor to banish her until we think of of a better idea. I mean, it’s ugly, but it’ll work, right?”
“That, sadly, is precisely what I was thinking,” Princess Celestia replied, “though it pains me to think that the Nightmare has once again cornered me into using brute force against a pony that I care about. Still, this plan is quite perilous; we may only have one chance to take her by surprise. And if we fail, we’re all in trouble, because when things don’t go the way Twilight Sparkle expects, she still has the tendency to panic and start behaving irrationally.”
“Like the time she thought you were going to send her back to magic kindergarten for being tardy with a friendship report?” asked Rainbow Dash.
“Precisely. The ‘Want It, Need It’ spell was bad enough, but when her current plan fails—and it will—Twilight will actually have a legitimate reason to be afraid of me, which would probably make her dangerous even if the Nightmare hadn’t increased her magical power exponentially.”
The pegasus gritted her teeth. “Ouch.” Once again, the room went quiet.
Throughout all of this, Pinkie Pie had been uncharacteristically silent. When the conversation lulled this time, however, she finally decided to speak up: “No.”
Princess Celestia blinked in surprise. “Excuse me?”
“I just... can’t accept it,” the pink earth pony clarified.
Applejack sighed. “Look, Sugarcube, I know that bein’ Twi’s imaginary friend is prob’ly makin’ all this hard ta swallow, but we gotta face facts—she ain’t on our side right now.”
“Huh? Why wouldn’t I believe that Twilight had joined forces with the Nightmare? It makes perfect sense, and it explains why she’s been so obsessed with where I came from recently. The Nightmare obviously told her that the Princesses were hiding something, and Twilight hates not knowing answers when she’s certain they exist.”
Applejack wasn’t the only pony confused by this. “But... but you said you didn’t accept it,” Rainbow Dash pointed out.
“Yeah, but the ‘it’ in this case is the plan to banish Twilight. I mean, that was what you were just talking about, right?”
“Darling, none of us want to banish the poor dear,” Rarity said, “but that’s really our only option right now.”
“And I say it isn’t!” Pinkie retorted, stamping her hoof against the floor. “You haven’t even been talking about what to do for very long, and you’re just going to give up because your first two ideas don’t seem very good? That’s nuttier than Mrs. Cake’s peanut brittle! Although, now that I think of it, peanuts technically aren’t nuts at all, so that wouldn’t be particularly nutty. Ooh, but almonds are nuts! Let me see, what kind of candy uses lots of almonds?”
“Um, Pinkie Pie?” Fluttershy interjected sheepishly. “I... um... think you’re getting off-topic.”
“Huh? Oh, right. In any case, letting the Nightmare just take over Twilight’s head is stupid, dumb, and maybe even stupidly dumb, and I’m not gonna do it.”
“Pinkie, please be reasonable,” Rarity said in an effort to calm the earth pony down.
It didn’t work. “Reasonable?! I grew up in Twilight’s head! For years, it was my home, my school, my playground, and my lumber yard, all wrapped up in one!”
“Your lumber yard?”
“Trust me, it made sense at the time. The point is, you can’t expect me to just give up Twilight’s mind without a fight.”
Rainbow Dash still seemed skeptical. “Pinkie, we don’t have any way of getting through to Twilight.”
“Hmmm... well, we might not be able to get through to her... but maybe I can get into her!”
“I came from Twilight’s mind, right? So maybe I can go back in!”
“But... what good would that do?”
“Uh, hello? Imaginary friend, remember? You guys might be amazed by what I can do out here, but it’s nothing compared to what I did when I was still Surprise. I bet you I can handle the Nightmare from inside just fine.”
This plan, however, had a rather notable flaw, as Rarity pointed out: “Noble intentions are all well and good, darling, but do you have any idea how to actually get back inside her mind?”
“Uh... not yet, but I’ll figure out a way. I promise—cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” Pinkie said as she pressed a hoof against her left eyeball.
“No offense, sugarcube, but I ain’t sure that makin’ a Pinkie Promise ta figure out a way is gonna be enough,” Applejack said.
“That’s because you haven’t spent the last few months studying Pinkiology.”
“Not sure I’m followin’ ya there.”
The pink earth pony sighed. “Okay, you know how I said Twilight had gotten really hung up on how she actually made me appear? Well, when I realized that my usual tactic of asking if we could pretty please with with sugar and a chocolate-covered cherry on top move on to something else for a while wasn’t working, I decided to do some researching on my own. I figured that if I made some progress in some other part of Pinkiology, Twilight would be interested enough to have a look at it herself.
“So, after several rounds of eeny-meeny-miney-moe, I decided to focus on Pinkie Promises, and after thinking about my past experiences with them, I came up with a theory—or is it a hypothesis? I can never remember the difference, but Twilight says it’s important....”
“Uh, Pinkie, can we get back on track here?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Oh, right. Sorry. Anyway, I got this idea. I’m pretty sure that I don’t use all of my abilities normally, because I want my friends to be happy, and if Discord proved anything, it’s that using imaginary friend powers all willy-nilly doesn’t really make anypony happy but Discord. I mean, I always knew that, but until Discord showed up, I didn’t really know that I knew it—”
“Oops. Sorry. In any case, it’s always seemed like I can do more things when I’m enforcing a Pinkie Promise, so maybe Pinkie Promises are a way that I let myself do more than I’m normally willing to let myself do.”
“Ah,” Luna said. “So, it’s like a limiting spell, then.”
“I guess you could put it that way.”
“A what now?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“When mages are worried about using too much power, they sometimes use spells to block them from using really strong magic right away,” Pinkie explained. “That way, they can’t use dangerous spells without first considering if it’s worth the risk, since they have to remove the limit before casting the spell.”
“So that’s what Pinkie Promises are?” Fluttershy asked.
“You don’t know?”
“Not really. I mean, I’m pretty sure, but I haven’t actually tested it yet, mostly because I don’t really like doing things as... um... systematically as Twilight,” she replied, having finally remembered the word her friend preferred to used to describe her research methods. “I’d rather jump right in and see what works.”
Celestia sighed. “Still, assuming that you are correct, and you can use your abilities to get back inside Twilight’s mind, how can you possibly face the Nightmare alone?”
“I’ll figure that out when I get there,” Pinkie Pie said dismissively. “There’s got to be an opening somewhere in Twilight’s head, because she and the Nightmare don’t seem to agree on everything.”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you notice how Twilight was whispering about doing things her way? She had to have been talking to the Nightmare, which means that they aren’t actually cooperating completely. If they aren’t getting along, maybe I can convince Twilight to just reject it altogether, and if that happens, we won’t even need to use the Elements of Harmony at all!”
“You truly think you can come up with a workable plan in a week’s time?” Celestia asked.
“A week? Why do that when I can come up with one right now?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Pinkie reasoned if her Pinkie Promise idea was going to work at all, there was no reason to think that they’d have to wait for it to take effect. Thus, she would simply do a little investigating, and in no time, she’d know if it worked. All she needed was a volunteer—but her friends all seemed a little reluctant to help, mostly because Pinkie, unlike Twilight, preferred to work almost entirely from her intuition. That’s not to say that any of them claimed that the endeavor wasn’t worth risking a full night of sleep; the problems was that none of them was eager to be the pony to do it, given the risk of losing their personal privacy. Even though Pinkie Pie made a supplemental promise not to tell anypony about what she saw, it was only when Luna agreed to oversee the entire process that Rarity stepped forward to take on the responsibility while the others did their best to get some sleep after the stressful day.
The first attempt was the most straightforward one: Pinkie sat down, and tried to will herself into Rarity’s mind. It was... less than successful. Undeterred, Pinkie tried a variation for her second attempt: this time she put on a determined scowl and squinted while concentrating really, really hard on getting inside Rarity’s head. She even massaged her temples with her hooves for extra psychicness, but after five minutes, Rarity was getting tired of being scrutinized. “Shouldn’t we try something else, dear?”
“Um... like what?”
“Well,” Luna said, jumping into the conversation, “you’ve mentioned that your abilities appear to be intuitive in nature, so perhaps intense mental effort would be counterproductive.”
“Hey, that’s right! Thinking about it won’t help—so I’ll try not thinking about it!”
“Er... that’s not quite what I meant....”
But Pinkie Pie had already pulled a book about outdoor games off of the shelf and started reading. Predictably, one hour later, the earth pony still had no idea what was going on inside Rarity’s head (though she did learn all the rules for bocce).
“Awww... it didn’t work,” Pinkie said when the other two ponies had finally managed to get her attention. “And now I’m starting to get tired.”
“Actually, that might not be a problem,” Luna said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when I spoke of the intuitive nature of your abilities, I was thinking that perhaps the physical realm is not the best place for you to exercise them. Tell me, are you familiar with the concept of lucid dreaming?”
“You mean where you know that you’re dreaming and can control everything? Sure, I do it all the time.”
“Ah, good. You have already learned the skill.”
“I didn’t learn how to do it. When I said I do it all the time, I meant that I literally do it all the time. As in, I’ve never had a dream that wasn’t lucid. I’m guessing it’s an imaginary friend thing.”
“I see... well, in any case, I suggest that you doze off for a bit, and try and project your essence into Rarity when you begin dreaming.”
“Okie dokie lokie!”
Soon after Celestia raised the sun the next morning, the remaining ponies shuffled back to the library, hoping for some sign of progress. However, when they opened the door to the room, what they got was a party cannon full of confetti and streamers and a pink earth pony bouncing off the walls in joyous celebration.
Princess Celestia smiled as she turned to her younger sister. “I take it that your preliminary findings are encouraging?”
“Indeed they are, else Pinkie Pie would not be throwing a ‘We’re-Gonna-Save-Twilight Party.’”
“You’ve got that right!” Pinkie said excitedly. “At first I tried trying really hard but that didn’t work. But then Princess Luna suggested I try to do it while I was dreaming, and then I fell asleep and I decided to go into Rarity’s head and I did and it was really great but I promised not to tell you what happened in there so I can’t tell you that part.”
“There is, however, a slight problem,” Rarity said with a yawn—unlike Pinkie, she hadn’t slept a wink all night.
“And what is that?” Celestia asked.
“Well, you see, every time she entered my mind, I noticed it. Granted, I might not have guessed that it was Pinkie Pie if I didn’t know what she was trying to do, but the fact remains that she was unable to go undetected. Given that Twilight knows almost as much about Pinkie’s abilities as she does, she might figure out what’s going on.”
“I’m already on it!” Pinkie replied. “We’ll just do it during Twilight’s presentation. She’ll be so focused on getting the Princesses’ job, that she won’t have time to worry about me. Plus, she’s probably going to go into so much detail that I’d fall asleep from boredom anyway, so she won’t notice when I zonk out at the table.”
“Uh... the table?” Rainbow Dash asked. “What do you mean?”
“Well, it seems that I’m going to need to be physically close to Twilight for this to work, which means I need an excuse to be in the room. So Luna figures that all of us should be there as part of an advisory committee, or something like that. Then, when I’m asleep, the rest of you can help me out by asking lots and lots of questions so I have as much time as possible to take care of the Nightmare.”
Rainbow Dash stared slack-jawed at her friend. “Are you seriously telling me that we’re going to save Equestria by listening to one of Twilight’s boring lectures?”
“Yup! It’s the last thing she’d ever expect. So? What do you think?”
The others remained silent for a few seconds, before Applejack finally spoke up. “Well, paint me red an’ call me Big Macintosh—I think ya’ll might actually be onto something!” The others agreed; obviously, there were a lot of kinks to work out, but for the first time, it seemed that the whole mess could actually have a happy ending.