45w, 5dTwilight is Best Pony
45w, 5dTwilight Sparkle
41w, 5dPinkie Pies Only!
44w, 6dTwilight's Library
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18w, 3hShining Armor and Cadence
30w, 6d501st Party Brigade
20w, 1dStories I've read
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16w, 6dCompleted Story Compendium
12w, 2dThe Petriculture Cycle
10w, 3dthe creation center
9w, 5dVallett's Private Library
10w, 1dFallen Heroes
4w, 17hDark Twilight
The next seven days went by quickly—so quickly, in fact, that Pinkie Pie half-suspected that the Princesses were speeding them up just to get the ordeal over with as soon as possible. Of course, a more likely explanation was that between practicing her mind-jumping with Rarity, assisting Zecora in preparing a sleeping potion for her to use during the presentation, and helping her friends come up with appropriate questions to stall for time, she’d been so goshdarn busy that she hadn’t noticed the time passing. The earth pony did find herself in a bit of a panic mid-week when she woke up to find her mane disconcertingly straight as a result of all the additional stress; it had taken three pineapple upside-down cakes, four snakes-in-a-can pranks, Big Macintosh’s birthday party (celebrated two and a half weeks early), and a heaping helping of good old-fashioned encouragement from her friends to return the wayward manestyle to its usual delightfully poofy tangle.
At least Twilight herself was still being pleasant and polite to them when she wasn’t holed up in her library, finessing her presentation. Celestia had told them not to alienate her during the week, reasoning that the magic of their friendship with her could end up being what tipped the balance in their favor. This wasn’t all that easy, however, since the unicorn refused to leave her “Nightmare Twilight” form. She’d been telling the other residents of Ponyville that it was an accidental side-effect of a spell she’d been studying, and she had gotten mostly compliments in return, as well as a few suggestions that she try to replicate the results on other ponies who wanted their body shape to match the Equestrian standard of female beauty. These had all been declined, as Twilight explained that what she had done was “far too risky” for anypony else to try.
Still, despite the sudden change in the appearance of the local librarian, Pinkie and her friends had managed to keep curiosity about the matter to a minimum—even after Twilight Sparkle secured the use of the town hall with less than a week’s notice for the event. There had been a few murmurs when the Captain of the Royal Guard arrived in town, but Pinkie Pie said that “Uncle Shiny” was simply there for a surprise party for his sister. This, technically speaking, was not a lie, since the earth pony did indeed intend to throw a “Twilight’s Not Crazy Anymore” party, and the mare in question would definitely find it surprising.
That’s not to say that Pinkie was taking victory for granted: she knew that it wouldn’t be easy, and the fact that the Princesses had given her a very fancy-looking piece of paper that authorized her to “utilize all necessary means to neutralize the threat of the Nightmare” (which, when translated from legalese, apparently meant that she wouldn’t get in trouble for anything that happened in Twilight’s head) accentuated the gravity of the situation.
However, as she stood in the large pavilion with the Princesses, Shining Armor, and the other Element-Bearers, all looking quite resplendent in their respective jewelry and uniforms, Pinkie Pie couldn’t shake the feeling that there was still something far more important that needed to be taken care of before commencing with what she’d taken to calling “Operation Breaking Dawn.” She politely excused herself to use the little ponies’ room, not bothering to mention that she’d be making a detour to the small meeting room where Twilight Sparkle was getting ready for her most important lecture ever.
Twilight looked up from the copious notes splayed over a modestly-sized desk as she heard the door knocking. “Come in.”
“Hiya, Twilight!” Pinkie Pie chirped as she bounded into the room. “Ooh... this room looks nice.”
“Uh, yeah, the Mayor said nopony was using it, so I just decided to do my final preparations here instead of the library,” the unicorn replied with mild suspicion. “Is there something you need, Pinkie Pie?”
“Not really. I just wanted to wish you good luck.”
“Good luck? But I thought you didn’t want me to take over.”
“Well, I guess I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be happy if you fail.”
The statuesque unicorn sighed. “I guess that’s the best I can hope for. Nightmare thinks that the fact that Shiny’s here proves it’s all a trap.”
“That isn’t true,” Pinkie said. It may be a trap, but he doesn’t prove anything, she didn’t add. After all, Shining Armor was mostly here for the backup plan of grabbing the Element of Magic and performing a quickie banishment. “If he was going to do anything serious, he would have brought Princess Cadance along so she could power him up.”
“Uh huh,” her friend replied with a weary look in her eyes. “And the fact that you’re wearing the Element of Laughter is completely inconsequential.”
Pinkie was a bit taken aback by the sarcastic response. “Uh... well... I guess you could say he’s here in case things go really, really bad, but you have to remember, the Princesses have had really, really bad experiences with the Nightmare before.” She wasn’t supposed to have mentioned that, but the Princesses had said she could use “all necessary means” to pull this off, and telling Twilight the truth (or at least part of it) certainly seemed to fall into that category.
“I suppose you have a point,” Twilight said as she rubbed her temple.
“Stress getting to you?”
“Yeah, I guess it is. It’s just... this could really change everything. The imaginary friend magic, I mean. I can’t just let the Princesses keep sitting on this.”
There was a brief pause in the conversation before Pinkie Pie spoke up again. “You really do think this is the right thing to do, don’t you?”
“I can’t remember the last time I felt so certain about anything.”
The earth pony smiled. “It’s going to be okay.”
Twilight didn’t seem to know what to make of this. “What do you mean?”
Pinkie shrugged. “I mean that I think it’s all going to turn out okay, that’s all.”
“Why? Is your Pinkie Sense telling you something?”
“No. I’m just optimistic. You want what’s best for Equestria, and so do we, so it has to work out.”
Twilight sighed. “I hope you’re right.”
Twilight Sparkle was on a first name basis with every pony on the committee, but one would be hard-pressed to guess that as she nervously shifted her weight from side to side as they took their seats at the large conference table that had been set up for the occasion. Celestia and Luna in particular had disturbingly neutral expressions on their faces, likely acquired from years of practice dealing with recalcitrant nobles in the Royal Court. But this was nothing compared to Shining Armor, whose attempt to hide his disappointment behind the comforting smile he usually gave to his sister was a complete and utter failure. This was going to be a tough crowd.
Once everyone had been seated, the unicorn used her magic to distribute very professional-looking binders filled with facts, figures, and outlines. “Thank you all for coming here today,” she began. “I realize that recent circumstances have been somewhat strained, and your patience and understanding has not gone unappreciated.
“Throughout history, great advances in science, technology, and medicine have always been preceded by similarly great advances in magic. This is not only due to the great areas of knowledge that are opened by the study of magic, but also because new forms of magic can make formerly complex tasks simpler, thus giving innovators from all walks of life more time to devote to life’s difficulties. I believe that the investigations that Pinkie Pie and I have been conducting have placed us at the cusp of a new wave of discovery in a previously unknown field of magic; however, for various reasons, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have seen fit to stifle these potential innovations.
“During this presentation, I will endeavor to demonstrate two basic points: first, that the administration’s current policies are ultimately detrimental to the wellbeing of all Equestrians, and second, that the current rulers have fallen into patterns of behavior which will make similar errors in judgment more likely in the future. I shall then explain why I believe that a better outcome will be produced if I am allowed to assume most of their duties, responsibilities, and privileges.”
Pinkie Pie nodded absently as Twilight began her sales pitch. Despite the unicorn’s nervousness, there was enough confidence in her voice that it just might have been possible for her to succeed in winning over the other ponies in the room if her proposal wasn’t so hopelessly flawed in the first place. A quick glance through the contents of the binder revealed that her entire argument hinged on the idea that Celestia and Luna were either unwilling or unable to learn from their past mistakes, combined with an implied threat of violence if Twilight didn’t get her way. There was virtually no way this argument could be effective, and thanks to the Nightmare’s influence, she was probably the only one who didn’t realize it.
As Twilight Sparkle began explaining the concept of a mage’s personal time as a limited resource in more detail, Pinkie Pie eyed the mug of hot cocoa that she’d spiked with Zecora’s sleeping potion. The second that the unicorn’s voice started taking on a “droning” quality, she quaffed the entire mug in three gulps, and within five minutes, she had drifted off.
When Pinkie Pie opened her eyes, she was standing in a narrow, slightly curved hallway, lined on both sides with two dozen rows of slate grey filing cabinets that went all the way up to the edge of an arched ceiling of grey stones and lit by floating, luminescent orbs that gave off a soft glow with an almost-imperceivable lavender tint. The corridor was long enough that its curve obscured any view of either end, at least from this particular spot. The earth pony (who, to her mild surprise, was still a pink earth pony, instead of a white pegasus) let out a sigh of relief. Between the ten years that had passed since she’d been here and the influence of the Nightmare, she was worried that she would arrive in Twilight’s mind and find herself unable to recognize her location, but this was quite clearly the part where the vast quantities of information the unicorn had gathered over the years was stored and organized, which she had grandiosely named the “Hall of Knowledge” as a filly.
Assuming that the basic layout hadn’t changed, the various corridors would be arranged in concentric circles, with filing cabinets on one half, and bookshelves on the other. After picking a direction at random (counter-clockwise, to be specific), Pinkie Pie began walking towards the end of one of the hallways. As she did, she noticed that the soft indigo carpeting had been replaced by highly polished white marble, resulting in an audible “clack” every time one of Pinkie’s hooves touched it. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that the pink earth pony was hoping to stay undetected for as long as possible. Fortunately, the Hall itself was empty at the moment, although occasionally Twilight’s pink aura would form around a file box, opening it and extracting a file, which would then float off down the corridor, which Pinkie assumed was the result of her recalling some fact or figure in the “real” world.
At the end of the corridor, there was a nave—or was it an apse? Either way, it was a really big room with an even higher ceiling than the shelving area. At one end was a pair of black marble double doors, carved with geometric designs that Pinkie was 95% certain had some significance for magic, science, or both. At the other end, however, there was normal-sized, unassuming wooden door, with a nearby bulletin board being the closest thing to a decoration it had. The pink earth pony walked over as quietly as she could, which was no easy task, given that the lack of carpeting had given this room in particular a very prominent echo. She quickly skimmed some of the reminders tacked into the corkboard: “Pinkie Pie’s birthday to be celebrated alongside Spike’s this year.... Purchase new encyclopedia for library.... Make no assumptions about Rainbow Dash’s personal life until she tells you.”
They were all interesting little glimpses into her friend’s current priorities, but it was the largest, most prominent notice that caused her the most concern: “Very important: Give friends a chance to accept Nightmare.” Pinkie Pie wasn’t sure if this just meant accepting the Nightmare as a pony, or if Twilight actually wanted them to join her in giving in to it. She hoped it was the former, but she was suddenly fearful that the latter was true instead. The earth pony pushed the idea away as the door opened, allowing a file of information to float inside. She slid a hoof into the door’s path to keep it from closing completely so she could take a peek inside.
There, she saw the same tableau she had just left: Twilight Sparkle was standing in the middle of the room, going over some obscure point of Equestrian history, while the Princesses listened intently and the other committee members attempted to do the same, while she herself was sitting at the end of the table, softly snoring as a result of her ostensible failure to pay attention. All the details were exactly as she remembered save one: the unicorn giving the presentation was not the tall, authoritative-looking pony whom they’d almost grown used to over the past week, but the normal-sized mare that they all knew and loved. Pinkie smiled as she closed the door, for two reasons. First, the Staging Room was exactly where she remembered it being, which meant that the odds were good that she’d still be able to find her way around the rest of Twilight’s mind. Second, and more importantly, she’d just confirmed that deep down, Twilight Sparkle was still the same pony she was before, and as far as Pinkie Pie was concerned, this meant there was still reason to think this situation could be resolved without anypony having to get hurt.
But before that could happen, she had to find the Nightmare, and Pinkie was pretty sure that if the Nightmare was in the Hall of Knowledge, she would have already shown up, if only to do that “mwa-ha-ha” thing that bad guys liked to do all the time. Since Twilight wasn’t going anywhere, that meant it was time to venture outside. She pushed the double doors open as quietly as she could (which wasn’t easy since her creator had always preferred creaky doors—she said that they “imparted gravitas” to any situation) and stepped forward to survey the mindscape.
Having grown up in Canterlot, Twilight Sparkle had chosen to organize her mind using a similar topography. Like the Royal Castle, the Hall of Knowledge was against the side of a mountain, albeit one that was neither as tall nor as steep as its real-life inspiration—more like a very ambitious hill, really. From there, a small city spread outward like a fan. Much like the building Pinkie had just left, it could be separated into two distinct areas, although the boundary between them was much more indistinct. On one side, there was the Imagination District, filled with laboratories, forges, and theatrical stages where all manner of speculation could be carried out, from wild fantasies to highly controlled thought experiments. Pinkie Pie had spent quite a bit of time there as Surprise; as an imaginary friend, it had been more or less her workplace for years.
Still, despite her desire to see what kind of improvements Twilight had made since she’d been there, Pinkie’s attention was on the Residential District, so called because that was where any idea that the unicorn deemed worthy of being “ponified” lived (well, that’s what Pinkie Pie called it—Twilight had always preferred the word “hippomorphization,” because it was very long and using it correctly in a sentence inevitably caused grownups to compliment her on being such a smart filly). The earth pony didn’t want to confront the Nightmare blind, and that was the part of Twilight Sparkle’s mind where she had the best chance to get information.
But first, now that she was definitely out of Twilight’s earshot, it was time to limber up a bit. After all, it had been more than ten years since she’d been in a mindscape, and going up against the Nightmare without making sure that she still had the old Surprise touch would have been downright silly. She decided to test her shapeshifting abilities, since those would probably be useful if things turned ugly. That wasn’t to say that she hadn’t done any shapeshifting since becoming an independent pony, but for the most part she’d limited herself to stretching out various appendages for dramatic effect as she’d done when confronting that minotaur who was bothering Fluttershy (and even then, the only reason she’d done so was because she thought Iron Will might have been another imaginary friend, since the only other one who had ever managed to get the demure pegasus to act like a great big jerky jerk-face was Discord).
Pinkie Pie found a secluded alleyway near the Residential District and began her old warm-up routine: “Flat like a pancake, round like a balloon, pointy like a pincushion, square like a cube.” The fact that “balloon” and “cube” didn’t exactly rhyme had always bothered her a bit, but she didn’t really have the time to dwell on revisions. What was more important was that she’d been able to shift her body into each abstract shape without any problems.
Next, it was time to try something a bit more complex. “Speed round! Pony, griffon, donkey, moose! Pony, griffon, donkey, moose!” she chanted as she transformed from a pink earth pony into pink everything-else-on-the-list in rapid succession. Thus satisfied, there was one more thing to check: Pinkie Pie concentrated, and soon her pink coat had lightened into a bright white, while her mane became a light yellow and her eyes and cutie mark turned a shade of purple that matched the violet streak in Twilight Sparkle’s indigo mane. Pinkie briefly admired her reflection in a nearby window. “This sure brings back some memories... but something’s missing.” A glance back towards the rest of her body made the missing “something” quite obvious. “Of course,” Pinkie Pie giggled as a pair of wings sprouted from her sides. “Silly me.”
She briefly considered taking to the sky, but Pinkie Pie ultimately decided against it, returning to her normal “pink earth pony” shape. After all, she was trying to avoid attracting attention, which was sure to happen if anypony saw Surprise flying all over Twilight’s mind. However, as she entered the Residential District, it seemed that all that caution might have been unnecessary. She’d only just noticed it, but every door she saw was closed and every window shuttered, with nary a pony to be seen. This was completely unlike Pinkie’s own memories, where ideas and imaginary friends mingled freely, always ready to exchange friendly words with each other—kind of like Ponyville, actually. But now, it was all just... empty.
The earth pony walked down a deserted street with increasing trepidation. Once or twice, she thought she heard a window slamming shut, but she wasn’t certain. Are they hiding from me? Or are they just hiding? Fortunately, as Pinkie turned a corner, she finally spotted somepony else: a tired-looking palomino earth pony pulling a cart of apples and wearing a rather distinctive hat. “Applejack?” she called out. “Is that you?”
The bleary-eyed farmer looked up as Pinkie Pie trotted towards her. “Wha?” she said as she made an obvious attempt to stifle a yawn.
“What are you doing here?” Pinkie asked with concern.
“Uhh... Just deliverin’ some apples.... Don’t worry none, I’ll be sure ta help you with your cupcakes later, just like I promised.”
This confused the pink earth pony for a few seconds, but she soon realized what was going on. She asked a question to test her theory: “Would you like some help?”
“Uhh... what? Help? I don’t need no help! I’m gonna prove to you an’ everypony else that I can do this on my own.”
That proved it. The pony in front of her wasn’t Applejack—it was Twilight Sparkle’s memory of Applejack from the time she tried to harvest her entire orchard by herself. As such, she wasn’t necessarily an ideal source of information, but Pinkie Pie wasn’t in any position to be picky at the moment. “So, um, where is everypony?”
Sleepyjack blinked a few times as she processed the question. “They’re mostly all inside their homes, probably. Nightmare don’t like it when we’re out without official business, like deliverin’ apples in my case. Speakin’ of which, what’re you doin’ out here?”
“Uh... actually, I need to talk to the Nightmare. Do you know where she is?”
“Last I saw, she was headin’ towards the edge of town.”
“Near the Dreamfields? What’s she doing there?”
But the memory of an earth pony didn’t answer this question, having fallen asleep standing up. Rather than wake her up, Pinkie Pie left the palomino mare to her light snoring and headed to the outskirts of Twilight’s mental city.
As one might expect from the name, the Dreamfields were the origin point for most of Twilight Sparkle’s dreams, since she’d never really gotten the hang of the “lucid dreaming” concept. Although they were flat and largely featureless at the moment, when the unicorn slept, the Dreamfields played host to some of the most bizarre and mind-boggling sights, sounds and experiences Pinkie had ever seen. The earth pony had more than once noted that the downside to only having lucid dreams meant that you could never allow yourself to be dragged through them by your mind. It sounded like a grand adventure to her, even if most ponies would disagree, preferring the control that came with lucidity.
The earth pony couldn’t really see her quarry anywhere, but the fact that the sky had suddenly become overcast by a blanket of dark purplish-grey clouds convinced her that something not-nice was a little farther out. As not-niceness was exactly what she was looking for at the moment, Pinkie Pie swallowed hard and ventured further out into the Dreamfields. Thunder rumbled ominously as the town receded further into the distance—clearly a warning to the normal residents, as far as Pinkie was concerned. She shivered slightly as the wind picked up. Twilight had never been this detailed when creating the weather inside her mind; it had to be the Nightmare’s doing.
She had almost decided to turn back when she saw it: a midnight blue, vaguely pony-shaped something off in the distance. This had to be it. As quietly as she could, Pinkie Pie crept towards the tall figure, who fortunately enough, had her back turned toward her. This was her chance: she had the element of surprise on her side, which meant that she might be able to put an end to this madness. The earth pony steeled her resolve, and stepped forward—only to be blinded by a flash of light as strands of dark blue magic formed a web-like net around her, completely hampering her movements.
A trap. Somehow, the Nightmare had realized she was coming, and had set a trap for her. Well, that, or she was really paranoid. Pinkie had no intention of staying to find out, but she discovered to her dismay that the magical net shared another property with spiderwebs: it was really, really sticky, and in all likelihood, no amount of shapeshifting could possibly free her from it. Then again, there was no way of knowing if attempting to do so would have done any good, since the flash had caught the attention of the Nightmare, who was now looking down at her with an expression of shock.
As Pinkie looked back into the helmeted face, there was little else she could do but smile weakly. “Umm... hi?”