Kimono gazed out over the nighttime landscaped as it flew by outside the train. It was an entirely new form of transportation for her, and she could only thank her lucky stars that she had managed to get onboard just as one was leaving Canterlot. Luckier still was the fact that Twilight Sparkle, the pony whose semblance she wore and under whose guise she had been staying at the Library these last three days, was a pony of high status and was offered the trip free of charge. Other than her saddlebag and the charm bracelet around her front hoof – an item she could have sworn she had lost long ago – she had nothing to her name.
It was hard to accept that a full thousand years had passed since Discord had returned to the village that fateful day. In her mind, only a few days had gone by, yet in her heart she knew that somewhere in between that time, a whole lifetime had passed. From her hazy memories and the books in the library, she had managed to piece together most of the puzzle: she and her village had been trapped in a millennium time loop, and some time soon before it broke, she had regained some sense of self. How she spent that time, she could not recall, but she was certain that she had been trying to do something important.
All she knew for sure was that Discord had planted a piece of himself within her and her friends. That was a memory she could not shake, of the draconequus lowering his paw upon her head, grinning viciously as he filled her with darkness. She hated having to run from the ponies she wanted to see the most, but she knew that unless the evil that rested within her could be dealt with, she would never be able to face them again. She hoped beyond hope that they would find the message she had left behind. It was little more than hurried scribbling, as was all time had allowed with her unrefined mouth-writing, but hopefully it would give them the clue they needed.
Minty had expected her friends to come running to her, showering her with hugs, asking if she was okay. She had not expected to be met by an explosion of confetti, streamers and balloons. Her jaws hung open as her eyes travelled from the ponies to the decorations, before settling again on the alternate, poofy-haired Pinkie Pie. “Do you like it? We worked really hard to get it done on time.”
“For me…?” breathed Minty.
“That’s right,” said an orange-hued pony that Minty instantly recognized as Applejack, “and for lil’ Rarity here, to celebrate that you both made it back in one piece.”
“Rarity?” parroted Minty. Sure enough, even wearing the face of someone else, there was no mistaking the mane and that pink coat.
She walked up and gave Minty a hug, and said, “I’m so happy to see you again.” One by one, the ponies started coming up to her, giving her hugs and well-wishings. She wasn’t dreaming, right? She wouldn’t blink and find herself back in the desert, would she? Of course she wouldn’t. Despite all the absurdity she had been through, this felt more real than any dream ever could. More real, in fact, than she could ever remember.
All the while as ponies were hugging her, she noticed that Applejack had been staring at her. Their eyes met, and Minty gave her a cheapish grin, which the orange mare returned. “Ah knew this day would come, but it doesn’t make it any easier…”
“Tell me about it,” answered Minty. “At least you don’t have to get used to having your face all rearranged.”
“Touché. Guess we should count ourselves lucky your name isn’t Applejack, or this would get real confusing.”
“No kiddin’,” Braeburn commented next to her. “You shoulda seen her when we found her starving out in the desert. Ah thought for sure you’d found yourself in pickle there, cus’.”
“Heh, yeah, I guess that musta… Breaburn?!” Applejack realized. “Hold on, you’re the one who found her?”
“Yup. Quite the coincidence, ain’t it?”
“Add it to the pile, I guess.”
The other, curly-haired Pinkie Pie was still alternating her gaze between the two. “Aww, you two don’t look anything alike; I mean look at the freckles.”
“Do I really have freckles?” asked Minty.
“Oh well,” Pinkie Pie told herself, “this isn’t the time to cry over spilled prank. Let’s party!”
“Sure,” the green earth pony agreed. “I think I could use a party right about n—” Minty collapsed onto the floor, fatigue from the craziest day of her life with next to no sleep to finally caught up.
It was at times like these that Sweetie Belle was reminded that she was still just a little pony. Even with the guest of honor passed out, Pinkie Pie wouldn’t allow for the party to go to waste, and three hours later, ponies all around were dancing, singing, talking and snacking, music blasting in the background all the while. It was more than enough to overload Sweetie Belle’s mind. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo did not seem to have this problem, and were dancing happily to a duet by Pinkie Pie and one of the pegasi from the other village – some song about meeting new friends every day – which left Sweetie Belle having to cope as best she could. She didn’t want to just leave her friends there while she went to sleep.
But there was no reason she couldn’t go out for a bit of fresh air. She made her way to the entrance… where here eyes met with the grown-up Sweetie Belle. “Hey, Sweetie!” she called in her high-pitched Pinkie-esque voice. “Having a good time?”
“Uh, yeah,” she lied. “I was just going out for some air. Too much dancing, y’know?”
“Good plan. Can I join you?”
“Oh, uh, sure. Why not.” She really just wanted to be alone for a couple of minutes, but at least one pony would be easier to deal with than a hundred.
The two look-alikes stepped into the night-time air, where the filly Sweetie Belle took a deep breath. It was really soothing. “To tell the truth,” the grown-up version spoke up, “I was getting kinda dizzy in there. Too much noise, y’know?”
“Me too!” admitted the younger one. “To be honest, I just wanna go to sleep. I guess I’m not much of a party pony.”
“It’s okay, you’re still young. Though I really recommend you try the teacupcakes before you leave. I need to get the recipe.”
“So… your special talent is cooking?”
“I guess so; I’ve always liked doing it.”
“Do you think maybe my special talent is cooking too?” asked the filly. “I get that your cutie marks works different than ours, but maybe since we look so alike and all, maybe we have similar talents?”
“Can’t hurt to try!” replied the grown-up. “I’d love to teach you how to bake some goodies.”
“My parents say I have a knack. Dad says he likes it crispy, so I—oh hi Twilight!”
Twilight Sparkle came walking out the door and spotted the two. “Hi, Sweetie Belle and… Sweetie Belle?”
“Yup, we’re a couple of Sweetie Belles,” said the grown-up, holding the little one up.
“Are you going for a walk, Twilight?” asked the little Sweetie Belle. “Can I come?”
“Actually, I was called out here by one of the guards,” explained Twilight. “I’ll explain it to you later.”
“Miss Twilight,” came a voice from above. A pegasus wearing dark armor landed gracefully before her. “Kimono has left Canterlot, and is heading towards Ponyville via train.”
“Wait, Kimono?” repeated the grownup Sweetie Belle. “You found Kimono?” Twilight glanced at them both with a look of discomfort, as if to say they weren’t meant to hear this, before addressing the guard.
“Good job. Keep following her and report back to me in the morning,” Twilight instructed. “I really appreciate your help.”
“Just doing my job,” he told her proudly, flapping off the ground and back up in the air.
Twilight turned her attention to the Sweetie Belles. “Yes, we found Kimono; she was actually here in Canterlot all along, but when we tried to approach her, she ran away in as if she’d seen a dragon. That’s why I’ve been keeping quiet about this; I don’t wanna start a commotion without knowing what’s going on.”
“But why would she run away from us?” asked the grown-up Sweetie Belle. “Doesn’t she like us anymore?”
“I don’t think that’s the reason,” said Twilight. “This is Discord’s magic we’re dealing with, remember? Until we find out what’s going on, I don’t think it’s wise to approach her carelessly.”
“But how do we find out without asking her?”
“She spent three days reading in the library; maybe what she read can give us a clue. But for now, let’s say we go back and give Minty a real welcome back.”
The first thing Minty felt when consciousness returned was a weight on her front leg. She looked to the side and saw Pinkie Pie using it as a pillow, breathing softly, eyes closed. She wondered for a moment where she was, and why she was lying in a bed, but then remembered that she had collapsed in front of everyone. How long had she been asleep? She felt completely rested, but it was still dark outside.
She took a moment to observe Pinkie Pie’s sleeping form. In her head, she knew that her form was much slimmer and her face not at all what she used to know, but in her heart, she felt that this was how she was supposed to look. The pink pony stirred, mumbling something about pink, to which Minty giggled. It didn’t really matter where they were, or how they looked, as long as Pinkie Pie would remain Pinkie Pie.
She was contemplating whether or not to give her a shake, when she stirred again, this time opening her eyes. “Uh, wha…?” Their eyes met, and she shone up. “Minty, you’re awake! How long have you been awake? Do you feel any better?”
“I’m feeling great, Pinkie Pie,” assured the minty-green pony. “I woke up just now. Did you stay with me all night?”
“Well I was going to, but I guess I was more tired than I thought,” laughed Pinkie.
“You and me both,” Minty laughed along. But then she remembered something that made her stop laughing. “What about the party? Ooh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to pass out on you like that. I probably ruined the party for everyone.”
“The party hasn’t gone anywhere,” Pinkie Pie told her. “Twilight Sparkle put you under some sort of super sleeping spell; you’ve actually only been asleep for a few hours.”
“Phew, thank goodness! That would explain why it’s still dark out,” reasoned Minty.
“Come on, let’s go downstairs. You gotta try Pinkie Pie’s punch.”
“Hey everypony!” shouted the pink hyper party pony. “Minty’s back!” It didn’t take long for all the ponies to drop what they were doing and immediately turn their attention to Minty and her pink friend. “Are you okay? Are you ready to party?”
“Yes and, uh, yes,” answered Minty.
“Did you like my Power Nap spell?” asked a lavender unicorn, which she guessed was the previously mentioned Twilight Sparkle. “I’ve only ever used it on myself, so I wasn’t sure if it would work if I tried it on somepony else. Did you sleep well?”
“That would be another yes,” she told her. “I’m just glad I didn’t miss the party.”
“Of course not, silly,” said the curly maned Pinkie Pie, who on closer inspection had a very different feel about her than her own Pinkie. “When you’re celebrating a friend’s return from something so terrible that you probably don’t wanna talk about it or even hear it mentioned, you gotta party all night! Isn’t that right, Razzaroo?” She grabbed the pony who just happened to be closest.
“Yes yes yes! This is definitely the greatest tea party I’ve ever been to. You should really try the punch. It packs a tea! Wait…”
“Yes yes, but first,” a white unicorn interrupted, “don’t we have something to give to her, Rainbow Dash darling?”
“Oh yes,” the cerulean earth pony agreed. “Come this way, Minty darling.”
As Minty was led toward the other end of the room, the unicorn took the opportunity to add, “I’m Rarity, by the way. Charmed.”
“And I’m Rainbow Dash,” a cerulean pegasus came up and greeted. “Fastest flyer in all of Equestria, at your service.”
“You mean you don’t make hats and dresses and paint everything in rainbows?”
“The only rainbows I paint are the ones blazing after me when I break the sound barrier. That’s Fluttershy over there, by the way; come and say hi!” The yellow pegasus approached cautiously, giving a soft “hi”.
“Here we are, darling,” the grown-up Rarity announced, gesturing at a wrapped present on a table. “Rainbow Dash and I worked like horses to get it done before you would arrive.”
“For me…?” Minty’s face shone with happiness. “B-but it’s not my birthday. Or even my Special Day.”
“Honey, ah’d say this day is special enough,” Applejack insisted. “Come on, open it up.”
Minty sized up the package, then tried to grab the lid, only to fail by the newfound stiffness of her hoof. Fortunately the lid was easy to slide off by a push, and by doing so, her eyes grew to saucers at what lay inside. Two pairs of blue, glistening, sparkly socks.
“Oh my,” she whispered, trying to pick them up, again remembering that her hooves no longer served that purpose. “These are for me?”
“Absolutely, darling,” said the wingless Rainbow Dash. “Try them on, why don’t you? Rarity, if you would.”
All of a sudden, the socks were enveloped by a white-glowing aura, and were levitated out of the package. Was this unicorn magic? She never realized it could be used so casually. “Now lift your hooves, dear.” One after another she raised her legs to let the magic slid the socks onto her hooves, and Minty has to hold back a sigh of content. These were some of the softest, most comfy socks she had ever worn.
“Do you like them, darling?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“I… I-I’m speechless,” she admitted, her whole face beaming. “They’re so soft! So pretty! I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“These were made from a very rare and special fabric that once graced the bed curtain of Princess Luna herself,” explained the earth pony Rainbow Dash. “I dare say they are the only pairs in Equestria, darling.”
“Oh thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!” erupted Minty, proceeding to hugging Rainbow Dash, and then Rarity. “You’re the best friends a pony could ever ask for! These are so beautiful… I-I don’t think I should be wearing them here. What if they rip?”
“Nonsense, Minty, these were made to shine and to endure,” Rarity told her. “Any less would be a crime against all things fashionable. After all, what good is a piece of clothing that you can’t be worn?” Minty just laughed. Couldn’t argue with that.
“So let’s continue the party already!” the curly-maned Pinkie Pie urged. “The tea won’t drink itself!”
Kimono looked out from the dark hiding place within the alleyway, making sure no one had seen her exit the train. She had noticed a pegasus flying above, and while she didn’t think it was paying any attention to her, it was best not to take any risks. When she could no longer see it from where she stood, she darted across the street and took cover behind another building. From here, she could see the sign that welcomed her to the village. ‘Welcome to Ponyville’.
She remembered the stories her mother used to tell her about her own Ponyville, how there had been an argument among the settlers on what to name the village, and since neither side could come to an agreement, the Mayor had stepped in and decided on the simplest, most unimaginative name she could come up with: Ponyville. Kimono always figured that with such a name, there had to be hundreds of Ponyvilles, but according to the map she had read, this was the only one in all of Equestria prior to the reappearance of her own. It was a quaint little town, not quite so small as where she was from, but small enough so that everypony would know your name; at least that’s what the book said. This was one of the reasons for wanting to be discreet; she wore the face of one of the town’s most famous figures, twice champion over ancient evil. One of which was Discord himself.
Nonetheless, she was counting on the fact that even if someone were to see her, no one would think twice about Twilight entering her own house. She made her way through the cover of darkness, and soon enough, the tree library came into view. It was mere happenstance that this was the home of Twilight Sparkle; what she was after was something that could be found in any library, but had not dared to bring with her outside of Canterlot in case of potential security spells.
Kimono was surprised to find that the door was unlocked, but then remembered that unlike a thousand years ago, these were peaceful times. She opened the door and stepped inside, scanning the empty, dark room, lit up by the meager rays of moonlight seeping in from the window.
She gently pushed the door shut behind her, and started looking through the book covers as best she could. She could barely make out the text, but with some concentration, she soon started to discover the pattern in which the books were organized. Kimono smiled to herself; this Twilight Sparkle was a well-organized pony, and it wasn’t hard finding the category she was looking for. A spot of moonlight conveniently lighting up the spines, her eyes landed on a certain book that read “Equestrian Geography”.
With some struggle, she pulled it out, put in on the floor and flipped it open. She scanned the table of contents, but to her disappointment, the section she wanted didn’t seem to be in this book. She went back to the shelf, when suddenly a creaking sound from above made her jump.
“Hello?” she called. If someone was home, there was no point trying to get away. Maybe they could even help her find the right book. “Anybody there?”
No reply. Kimono gulped; it looked like she had no choice. She gathered her courage and ascended the stairs.
The room on the second floor looked very much alike the room downstairs, with books lined along the walls. There was a desk right by the stairs, on top of which bottles of ink and a few papers were spread around. Kimono knew better than to read other’s personal documents, so instead she directed her curiosity at the loft. She walked up the stairs, keeping an eye out for whatever made the sound… and stopped dead in her track when she spotted something standing on one of the bed poles.
Sensing her presence, its head screwed itself half-circle to face the pony. Kimono breathed out. “Just an owl…”
“You, an owl.”
“You. You’re an—” she caught herself midsentence, and chuckled to herself. Maybe it was the intelligent look in its eyes that made it hard to ignore. “Can… you understand what I’m saying?”
“Hoo.” It was hard to tell with the Hooing, but its eyes had the unmistakable look of comprehension to it, and it made her nervous. “Well, uh… as you can see, I am not Twilight Sparkle. I’m not here to steal anything; I’m just looking for a certain… something.”
At this, the owl jumped off the pole and onto the floor. It looked into her eyes and gave her a questioning “Hoo?”
Kimono smiled, feeling somewhat at ease. “I’m looking for an atlas. Specifically for Ponyville and its surrounding areas.”
The owl took off into the air, and soared down from the loft, and came to a stop at the writing desk. It shoved away a heap of parchment revealing a book underneath, and with its claws, it grabbed the book flew back to the bed, dropping it. Kimono walked closer; the cover read, ‘Southern Kingdom of Canterlot: An Atlas’. She flipped it open, and broke a smile as she spotted the headline in the index. “Thank you, friend,” she said to the owl. “This is just what I was looking for.”
She sat down on the bed and flipped to page 76: ‘The Everfree Forest.’ Every trail, hill, swamp and difficult undergrowth had been marked on this map, and Twilight Sparkle had even marked out some spots on her own. This was just what she needed for where she needed to go. “You don’t think Twilight Sparkle would mind terribly if I borrowed this for a while, do you?”
“My thoughts exactly.” She scanned the map for another minute, memorizing what she could in case she lost the book. She scrutinized all the hills, the bogs, the markings for various caves and cliffs… until all the lines and text were starting to blur together. She shook her head to regain clarity, but as she tried to get up, she found no energy to do so. She realized she hadn’t slept much at all these last three days. She felt rather embarrassed borrowing someone else’s bed, but she figured that if she was going to wait until morning anyway, she might as well do so in a bed. Surely Twilight wouldn’t mind.
And so the party lasted long into the night, with laughter, music, song and dance, and lots and lots of tea. Kenbroth made a point to try each and every flavor, and found that he had greatly missed some of the leaves that Discord hadn’t bothered to include in his little dream world. Contently sipping on an Everfree Lark Berry brand, he watched Applejack lead the ponies to dance to a song about Unicornia, performed by the two Pinkie Pies and earth pony Rainbow Dash. It was wonderful seeing everyone in such high spirits, and even after Twilight came up on stage and announced she had arranged for beds on the second floor, few ponies took up on the offer.
A bit away, Wysteria was sitting on the floor, watching the dance and talking to the baby dragon Spike. Kenbroth thought for a moment, and figured this was as good a time as any to have a talk with her. “Having a good time?” he asked as he approached, catching their attention.
“Delightful,” replied the purple-hued pony softly.
“You bet!” agreed the baby Spike. “Feels like I should’ve been asleep hours ago, but how could I sleep when two Pinkie Pies are trying to out-sing each other? It’s not like Twilight’s here to tell me off; she went to library hours ago.”
“Why yes, I see Luna has already begun raising the sun.” Kenbroth looked out the window, where the first rays of sunlight were starting to appear.
“Oh my,” said Wysteria with a small gasp. “This must be the first time I’ve stayed up all night. I should really try to get some sleep.”
“Aww, but I wanted to hear more about the Dragon Bell flowers,” said Spike.
“Some other time, Spike,” promised Wysteria, getting to her feet. “Well, good ‘night’, then.”
“Before you go, my dear, there was one thing I wanted to discuss with you,” Kenbroth said.
“Of course. What’s on your mind?”
“Just that, well…” he searched for the appropriate words. “I suppose what I wanted to say was… I’m sorry for putting your through all that.”
“Through all what?”
“You know, forcing you to be a Princess, distancing you from your friends,” he reminded. “Acting as if my life depended on it.”
“Oh Spike, you don’t need to apologize,” assured Wysteria. “We all had a great time thanks to you. I mean sure, I might have been against it at first, but it all turned out okay.”
“Well, yes, that’s true, but I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t quite being myself. It would seem my head took the biggest beating from Discord’s shenanigans.”
“B-but you’re still the Spike we all know and love, right?”
“Not to worry, my dear,” said Spike. “I’m thinking that the whole Princess idea was something that Discord planted inside my head. It still hasn’t gone away; even as I’m aware of it now, my instincts are telling me that you are everyone else from the village are Princesses for me to serve.”
“But we’re not Princesses anymore,” said the purple pony. “You’re our friend; you don’t have to serve any of us.”
“Indeed. Let’s put it another way: in my eyes, you will always be Princesses.”
“That’s very sweet of you to say,” she said with a smile. A small yawn escaped her mouth. “Well then, Spikes, I bid you good night.”
“Night!” the baby dragon returned, waving her off. Kenbroth watched her go, feeling just a bit lighter for having that off his chest. The little one turned his head his way. “Not sure if I wanna ask what that was all about.”
“Are you sure? It’s quite a fascinating story.”
“I’d rather hear more about you,” said Spike. “I’ve never heard of Earth Dragons before. Twilight say you live in caves deep underground. Do you hang out with the other dragons?”
“Not for the last thousand years, but yes, it happens occasionally,” told Kenbroth. “Keep in mind, I was in the service of Princesses Celestia and Luna; I haven’t lived in a cave since I was very young.”
“How old are you, exactly?”
“Quite young, I’ll have you know, merely a century or three past a thousand. Of course, that was before I was put in the Time Capsule, so technically I’m two thousand. Most earth dragons live to be hundreds of thousand years old, some even up to a million.”
“So how come you ended up with the Princesses?”
“They found me when I was almost newly hatched, only a few hundred years old. It’s not everyday that ponies come across one of us, and certainly not everyday one of us gets the opportunity to quench our thirst for knowledge from atop of a nation’s hierarchy, so it worked out great for the both of us. Speaking of hierarchy,” Kenbroth cut short, “Princess Luna shall be expecting me shortly, and so I must take my leave.”
“Sure no prob,” said the little dragon. “Let’s talk again sometime. I may be a pony at heart, but it’s always nice talking to a fellow dragon now and again.”
“Best Young Flier Breaks Down Crying, Earns Canterlot Elite Fancy Pants’ Sympathy…” Editor-in-Chief Black Print, owner of the Canterlot Informer news company, read the title of one of the feature articles. He scanned the article with a quick and precise eye forged from the many years of his occupation. Satisfied, he looked up to address his staff. “Good stuff. Gotta feel bad for the poor pegasus – this thing’ll probably ruin her reputation – but this is Canterlot, what can you do. Too bad nopony thought to follow them, otherwise this would’ve made first page.”
“May I bring something up, sir?” asked one of the reporters. He gave him a nod. “It’s just that, can we really be sure the pony on the picture is really Rainbow Dash? I mean it’s hard to see from that angle, but I don’t see any wings. And was her cutie mark really just a plain old rainbow?”
“You saying this could be her twin sister?” replied Black Print skeptically.
“Wasn’t there something about pony lookalikes in that article we featured about that newly discovered village? Couldn’t it be one of them?”
“Sure could, but unless we have proof that any one of them is in Canterlot, I say we roll with what we got.”
“Then perhaps I can be of assistance.” The Editor-in-Chief let out a loud gasp, dropping his magic grasp on the article, as the Princess of the Night revealed herself by the doorway.
“Your Majesty!” he breathed, trying to keep his composure. It had happened before on very special occasions that Princess Celestia had grazed their news office with her royal presence, but never Princess Luna. “How may we be of service?”
“Today, we shall both require each other’s services,” spoke the Princess. “As you no doubt have heard and felt, things transpired yesterday that the people of Equestria need to be aware of. I have personally written down my account of the happenings of yesterday’s events; it is imperative that it appears on today’s front page.” She levitated a piece of parchment to the Editor-in-Chief, who caught it in his own magic. “Please feel free to edit if it feels too archaic.”
“Ancient Threat Awakened: Princess Celestia’s Downfall?” read Black Print. As he kept reading, his eyes widened in shock. “Time Capsule… magical seal… Princess Celestia wounded?! B-but Princess, this is the first we’ve heard of such things. We can’t just print it just like that!”
“Which is why I came to you personally, to give it my own royal stamp of approval.”
“With all due respect, Princess, it’s just so much to take in! If we could just have another day to ascertain all the—”
“I hope you are aware that I have every right to shut this establishment down should you refuse to cooperate,” Luna raised her voice. “Do whatever you must to verify it later, for now I must ask you to simply trust in the words of your Princess.”
It was hard to argue with logic like that. “…as you wish, your majesty.”
“Good. Also, I must ask that you withhold the article regarding Fancy Pants and Rainbow Dash. It would not do to spread false rumors about one of Equestria’s champions.”
Luna grumbled under her breath as she flew back toward Canterlot Castle. Back in her days, nopony would even think about questioning a direct order from their Princess. She knew better than to second-guess her sister’s regime, but the laxness of the monarchic body was one of the many things she had trouble adjusting to.
She made a quick stop at the ballroom, letting her gaze travel over the messy room, where twenty or so ponies had collapsed on the floor after a night full of activity. She wished she could join them in their blissful rest, but there were much that still needed her attention. She had already put Kenbroth to work examining the magic structure of the ancient castle chamber, and was expected to join him soon. It was at times like these that she wished Celestia hadn’t seen it necessary to put up an anti-teleportation spell around the castle. Yet another change she had yet gotten used to.
Before she took off, she made sure to taste some of the left-over buns on one of the tables for an impromptu breakfast. Satisfied, she flew out of the building and soared over the castle complex, landing by the entrance of the castle proper. As she made her way through the castle, she felt fatigue trying to tighten its grasp on her, and found herself appreciating what Celestia had gone through in her thousand years absence. A thousand years with no one as immortal as she… Luna shuddered at the thoughts; it sickened her with guilt.
She reached the crystal chamber, where she found Kenbroth looking intensely at one of the walls. “Making any progress?”
“I’m not sure,” replied the dragon without turning around. “I’ve been monitoring the flow of magic and trying to determine the depth of the seal, but I can’t seem to quite make head or tail out of it.”
“I’m not sure what words would do it justice, but if I were to liken the magic flow to an ocean, I sense plenty of fish swimming about. Whether or not this is a natural occurrence for this type of magic, or if it’s something else entirely, I couldn’t tell you.”
“Then guide my senses, and let me see what you have seen,” ordered Luna, putting her horn against the wall.
“Ah yes, we used to do that all the time,” reminisced Kenbroth. “That’s how we would appraise magical objects; I picked out the details and you interpreted them. Like that time when we paid a visit to the Unicorn Tomb, and we thought we had—I mean, uh, right away, your Majesty.”
Kenbroth put his claws on the wall, and immediately a mini-cosmos of magic opened up to the Princess, the scope of which left her breathless. She had never before encountered any one spell of such magnitude and there was no doubt in her mind that it covered all of Equestria. Guided by the unseen aura of her companion, she sensed that his analogy was a justified one; she was standing in the middle of an ocean of power, swirling around her with its gentle touch. She felt the same sense of satisfaction and euphoria as when the castles had awakened a few nights ago.
The ‘fish’ that Kenbroth was referring to, she realized, was not part of this magic. They were of a different entity altogether, one Luna thought she recognized. As Kenbroth kept guiding her with his thoughts, the ‘fish’ became clustered, forming large schools that, upon touching her mind, almost stung. But then, further ahead, the felt the ocean stop, as though a giant whirlwind had cut through the surface and created a hole to the bottom. Luna dared to peer into the void…
“My stars!” she exclaimed, breaking contact with the wall, heart racing. It simply could not be.
“What about them?” asked the earth dragon.
“The seal! I saw the crack, and the things that lurked beyond. And unless my senses were cheated, then…”
“Then Equestria is running out of time. Come, Spike, we must report this to my sister at once!”
For all the nasty rumors she had heard about the Everfree Forest, bathed in the morning sun it looked far from intimidating. The rays of light penetrating the ceiling of leaves created an idyllic scene, giving these supposedly dangerous parts a cozy atmosphere. Kimono stopped in her track, pulled out the book and flipped it open. She scanned the map, assuring herself that this was the right direction.
She had been lucky enough that nopony, as far as she could tell, had noticed her sneaking out from the Library and run towards the forest, and she had made doubly sure that she had not been followed. It wasn’t that she wanted to avoid people; she just didn’t feel comfortable taking any chances. If the villagers were to realize that she wasn’t Twilight Sparkle, questions would be asked, and the last thing she needed was to draw attention to herself and have her friends come running. Not until she had accomplished what she came for. She hoped it wasn’t already too late.
According to the book, most creatures slept during the day, so she made sure to move at a brisk pace. Following the map, she navigated the trails, scaled the cliffs, crossed the river and braved the under bushes when necessary. As she went, Kimono found the trip truly fascinating; unlike everywhere else in Equestria, this place was wild an unchecked, a land outside the rule of ponies. A place where nature lived by its own rules. There had been no such place back in her time, and she wondered what could possibly have created it.
A few hours into the trip, she was met by a gorge. The sheer high made her step back a few paces; there were no water at the bottom, meaning a fall would result in her untimely end. The only way across seemed to be a rope bridge nearby. Part of her wanted to find another way around, but she knew her goal was just beyond, so she suppressed her anxiety and took the first step onto the bridge. It shook uncomfortably under her hooves. She kept perfect balance as she walked, not allowing herself to look down, but by the time she passed the half-way point, her mind was starting to race. She had never been scared of heights before, but now she found that she was. Really scared. She was starting to hyperventilate, her balance getting shaky.
“Not now, Discord,” she muttered to herself. The taint inside of her was clinging to the fear, amplifying it and distorting her senses. There was only one thing she could do now to avoid plummeting into the abyss: she kicked off as hard as she could, sprinting with all her might towards the other side. It rocked the bridge violently, and as she was about to reach the other side, there was a cracking sound from behind. She leapt, and landed safely on the ground just before the rope bridge came crashing down.
She allowed herself a few moments to calm down, letting the fear, both artificial and real, settle before getting to her feet. She was out of breath, as though se had been running for hours. She had had these attacks before, but never this intense. She started walking, trying to her hardest to shake off the feelings of dread.
But it wasn’t more than maybe ten minutes before a sight met her that made her forget all about the fatigue. A grand castle, made entirely of purple crystal, glistened in the sun before her. The castle of the royal pony sisters, one of the ancient castles of legend reawaken. But what really took her breath away wasn’t the structure itself, but the thing that floated above it. A metallic halo had been attached to one of the towers, held afloat by two large balloons, though in a crooked angle that suggested there used to be a third. From the halo danged metallic objects, and though their colors had faded, she could not mistake their shapes. Polka mints, flowers, berries, a rainbow…
Something stirred deep within her memory. She lifted her hoof to look at the bracelet around her leg, and then back at the halo. She remembered a birthday, her friends coming out of the castle, cheering. One of the ponies – Razzaroo was her name – had come up to her, presenting her with a charm bracelet that they had all made together. She let her gaze wander between the ring over the castle and the one around her leg, the exact likeness of the objects dangling from them both awakening memories of a forgotten life. It filled her with the purest of joy, enough to summon tears to her eyes.
“My dear friends,” she whispered. It all made sense now. This wasn’t the lost bracelet given to her by Discord, filled with empty promises and taken from her by contempt, but a gift from her friends with that signified friendship eternal. She looked up at the giant floating ‘charm bracelet’, the biggest smile on her face. “You made the best welcome sign of all.”
Special thanks to Tess Tesseract for help with editing.