The school bell chimed to signal the end of the school day, and the fillies and colts could barely wait for the dismissal by Miss Cheerilee to trot off to the schoolhouse door. Many parents or other such guardians waited for them outside, to escort their charges back home in light of the chaos trickling down from Discord’s new domain over the Saddle Valley, heralded by the unearthly conglomeration of clouds engulfing the mountains to the east of Canterlot and Alicorn’s Peak.
Apple Bloom narrowed her eyes out the window as Silver Spoon left ahead of Diamond Tiara and her posse, the two sugar-lump rump fillies barely acknowledging each other.
“Big Mac ain’t here yet,” Apple Bloom said, Silver Spoon’s brother trailing behind after his sister after Diamond Tiara’s band had passed out the door.
“You don’t think something could’ve happened to him, do you?” asked Sweetie Belle worriedly.
“Hey, don’t sweat it, Sweetie Belle,” Scootaloo answered with a smirk, pulling her scooter out from under her desk and unfolding it to its riding mode. “Apple Bloom’s big bro is way too tough to let anything slow him down, even some crazy dragon’s crazy magic! Back under NightMare Moon, he kept Sweet Apple Acres running almost single-hoofedly, remember?”
Peach-colored eyes gave the gamboge Pegasus a withering look.
“Ah like to think Ah gave Big Mac all the help that Ah could, Scootaloo.”
“Eheheh, sorry about that, Apple Bloom,” Scootaloo said nervously, scratching the back of her head. “I was just saying that your big brother was a really swell stallion.”
“He really is, Apple Bloom,” said Miss Cheerilee, hooves crunching along the straw floor. “Sorry to cut in, but it’s my job as teacher to notice any sorts of pending disagreements between my students.”
“It’s fine, Miss Cheerilee,” replied Apple Bloom, waving a nonchalant hoof. “Ah wasn’ too upset about it. Ah still don’ quite know how much Ah did, but Granny Smith says Ah ‘did everything an Apple could expect ta do’, whatever that means.”
“Your Granny Smith has been part of this village for a very long time, Apple Bloom, since its founding grossenturies ago,” Cheerilee explained. “She’s seen a good many generations of Apples, and she must know exactly what an Apple can or can’t do. And based off of your older brother and sister, I feel like you’re gonna be a great Apple, Apple Bloom.”
Apple Bloom smiled at the cerise Earth Pony’s motivational speaking.
“Hey, Apple Bloom!” called a gray Pegasus colt named Rumble from the schoolyard. “Your big brother is here! So are your parents, Sweetie Belle!”
The bright-red Earth Pony stallion would have been hard to miss, as he easily stood poll and withers above everypony else in the herd. He waved a hoof in the air, a piece of straw clenched between his front teeth. The Cutie Mark Crusaders left the schoolhouse, two trotting and Scootaloo riding her scooter.
“Big Mac, how ya been?” asked Apple Bloom, hugging Big Mac’s foreleg. It felt cool and wet, almost sticky.
Feeling confused, Apple Bloom looked up. Big Mac to be covered in a cool dampness, despite the sky being apparently clear over Ponyville and Sweet Apple Acres. And on top of that, he seemed to smell like strawberries…
“Some sorta problems over at the farm, Big Mac?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Eeyup,” answered the stallion.
“Oh my…” Cheerilee approached Big Mac and the trio of fillies. “You smell like strawberries, Big McIntosh. What’s the occasion?”
“There was a… bit of Discord chaos magic down at th’ farm, Miss Cheerilee,” answered Big Mac rubbing a foreleg while averting his eyes, his cheeks going dark.
“Well, I think it suits you,” said Cheerilee with a faint redness in her own cheeks. “I’ve always loved strawberries.”
“W-Whatever makes ya happy, Miss Cheerilee,” the great red Earth Pony said, bringing up a foreleg to cover his face which was getting darker and darker.
“I… think I’ll ask my mom & dad if we can all hang out at their place,” Sweetie Belle said with an awkward smile, cantering off to Hondo Flanks & Pearl Bubbles.
“W-W-Well, it’s been nice s-seein’ ya, Miss Cheerilee,” Big Mac stuttered, leading Apple Bloom and Scootaloo away from the schoolhouse.
“What was that all about, Big Mac?” Apple Bloom asked. “Ya don’ usually speak up quite so much.”
But her big brother remained silent.
Scootaloo’s eyes popped, a devious grin appearing on her muzzle.
“Oooh, I got it, Big Mac…!” she said slyly. “You’ve totally got the hots for Miss Cheerilee, don’t you?”
“Mah big brother an’ Miss Cheerilee?” Apple Bloom commented quizzically. “Would that mean that Ah’d git some sorta pass on mah tests?’
“N-n-n-nope!” stammered Big Mac, stomping his hoof down to reveal a far redder muzzle than anypony could recall seeing on his face.
“Awww, isn’t that sweet…?” sneered Silver Spoon, having apparently trotted away from her family, her glasses glinting in the afternoon sun. “But don’t think that nepotism will save you just ‘cause your big brother’s getting kissy-kissy with Miss Cheerilee!”
“At least Ah don’ pretend that mah brother doesn’ exist!” Apple Bloom countered.
Silver Spoon let out a great and slightly exaggerated gasp, her glasses slipping slightly askew. Her brother Truffle Shuffle and her parents spoke amidst one another a short distance away, mostly unaware of what the well-kept silver-gray filly was doing.
“Apple Bloom!” called Cheerilee’s voice sternly, the cerise Earth Pony mare trotting authoritatively towards the youngest Apple sibling, looking down on her with a look that said that she was less angry than she was disappointed. “That was an uncalled-for remark towards Silver Spoon. I expect that you have an apology for her…?”
Silver Spoon turned from a look bordering on crocodile tears towards Miss Cheerilee, to give a barely disguised leer towards Apple Bloom that practically screamed yeah, apologize!.
Apple Bloom sighed.
“Alright. Ah’m sorry, Silver Spoon.”
Cheerilee smiled, “Very good, Apple Bloom!”
The glasses-wearing filly nodded triumphantly.
“Now you apologize to Apple Bloom, Silver Spoon.”
The filly’s violet eyes widened behind her glasses.
“Wait, what?” she cried shrilly, facing Miss Cheerilee with the expression of a filly who had just learned the night before that Hearth’s Warming was cancelled. “Are you kidding me, Miss Cheerilee?”
“You heard me, young filly,” Cheerilee said firmly, with her harlequin eyes narrowed humorlessly. “I know that you started this exchange, so I expect you to apologize to Apple Bloom in turn.”
Silver Spoon’s mouth began to wrinkle as though she was being forced to swallow a lemon rind. She glanced back and forth between her teacher and her fellow student, before heaving a heavy sigh herself and…
And before Apple Bloom could even fully process that she had received an apology, Silver Spoon bolted. Cheerilee raised an eyebrow as she cast a mildly disappointed look at Silver Spoon and her family.
“Well, I guess that’s the closest to a genuine apology we can expect from her,” she remarked softly so that only Big McIntosh, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo could hear. “I hate taking sides in altercations between my students, but I could see that you would be less unwilling to apologize.”
“Yeah…” Apple Bloom said. “Come to think of it, Ah think Ah went a bit too far with that.”
“Eeyup,” Big Mac nodded shortly.
Sweetie Belle scampered up gleefully.
“Mom & Dad said that it was alright, just as long as our Cutie Mark Crusading doesn’t upset Opal too much!”
“Alright!” Scootaloo said with a triumphant jump into the air off her scooter.
“Say, Scootaloo,” interjected Rumble, as he and his big brother Thunderlane flapped by. He looked more than a little anxious, his eyes darting around and trying to look at anything but the gamboge filly he spoke to, “You don’t think that ｰ I mean, you and me could ｰ if it’s not too much trouble…”
Behind Rumble, Thunderlane shook his head slightly.
Scootaloo blinked, cocking an eyebrow, “What’s the damage, Rumble?”
The gray Pegasus colt flared his nostrils slightly, but continued anyway.
Or at least, tried to.
“Ummm, you know, Scootaloo ｰ I mean, it’s just that ｰ us being in the same class and all―”
“Come on, little bro,” Thunderlane asked with a jovial tone, “Aren’t you gonna spit it out before the evening classes?”
Rumble’s lips slammed shut for a few seconds, before closing his eyes and silently mouthing the word brother to himself. Scootaloo froze for a moment; it was amazing how much a filly’s face seemed to show through Rumble’s features…
The colt’s face went redder and redder as he spoke, trying to keep from looking at Scootaloo directly…
Before bolting off down the tree-lined road back to the main area of Ponyville, leaving a small gust of wind behind him.
“Ehhh, you’ll have to excuse my little bro,” Thunderlane said with an awkward smile. “He’s been feeling a bit… off lately.”
“He’s not sick, is he?” Sweetie Belle asked concernedly.
“He didn’t seem like he had come down with anything in class or in recess…” commented Miss Cheerilee.
Thunderlane shook his head, “Nah, not like that. Just… he’s been flying out past Carousel Couture an awful lot, looking at the dresses in the windows. Like he misses Rarity or something.”
“I miss her, too.”
“Well, Rarity’s yer sister, Sweetie Belle. A’ course yer gunna miss her.”
“So, why did he try talking to me instead of Sweetie Belle?” Scootaloo asked.
To this, nopony had an answer.
“Boys are weird.”
It transpired that Big McIntosh had fallen victim to clouds of blue raspberry cotton-candy clouds that rained strawberry milk, and despite his best efforts to set Sweet Apple Acres to right, still ended up with a thorough soaking. Hondo Flanks & Pearl Bubbles offered to let the farmer use their family’s shower before he returned to Sweet Apple Acres, but he declined, leaving Apple Bloom to her Crusader friends.
“Big Mac, havin’ a thing for Miss Cheerilee?” Apple Bloom repeated bemusedly as the three of them sat over the ever-shrinking list of special talents to crusade for.
“Well, he has been picking you up from school an awful lot lately,” offered Sweetie Belle.
“Yeah, but still, Big McIntosh and Miss Cheerilee?” Scootaloo said, in an attempt at a scoff.
“Ah dunno,” Apple Bloom scratched her chin. “Ah mean, he’s mah brother, an’ Miss Cheerilee’s a real nice lady an’ all, so I reckon that they’d be a fine match, but…”
Sweetie Belle gasped so sharply and loudly that the other two Crusaders momentarily thought that Pinkie Pie had teleported in from wherever it was that she’d gone. She picked up a crayon in her mouth and quickly applied it to an empty space on the list of potential special talents.
“What’s she writing?” Scootaloo asked.
Apple Bloom gave Scootaloo a mildly incredulous look, “Does it really look like Ah can look through Sweetie Belle’s head?”
“It was a figure of speech,” Scootaloo said flatly.
“Done!” squeaked Sweetie Belle, flinging the crayon from her mouth across the floor and framing her newly scrawled addition with her little cloven hooves.
“‘Matchmaking’?” read Apple Bloom.
“What does that mean?” asked Scootaloo. “We don’t got a lot of dictionaries at the or − uhh, back home.”
“It means that you’re matching ponies up in a relationship!” Sweetie Belle explained gleefully. “Like, you never know who’s gonna be the next Mrs. Lyra & Bon Bon, but if we were to get our cutie marks in matchmaking, we’d know for sure how ponies would match up!”
“Great idea, Sweetie Belle!” Apple Bloom beamed. “So, how do ya reckon on gittin’ these marks?”
“We could try to get your brother and Miss Cheerilee together by Hearts-And-Hooves Day!”
“Yeah! And then when we get our matchmaking marks, we can help out other ponies in Ponyville who don’t have special someponies!” Sweetie Belle’s eyes shone gleefully. “And, of course, I could even get my match made with Spikey-Poo…!”
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo met each other’s eyes, before rolling them. Ever since Spike had saved them all from those overgrown spiders, Sweetie Belle had barely been able to put together two sentences without going on about the mulberry dragon cub under Miss Twilight’s care. All around her room, she’d taped up a great many pictures that she’d drawn of Spike in a variety of heroic poses, breathing a greater spout of green fire than he was undoubtedly capable of in real life, wielding spears and swords and shields and other sorts of weapons the likes of which Ponyville only knew from history books…
“Sweetie Belle! Kids!” called up the voice of Sweetie Belle’s mom. “Dinner’s just about ready!”
*…have convened with the rest of the Cosmic Council, including Queen Mi Amore Rubina of the Crystal, King Leo of Aquastria, the Mikado of Neighpon, and Tiamat of the Dragons of Banefold. Pyotr Rokin of Orlalvov has abstained from directly attending, dispatching his right-claw Griffon, Pavlo, instead. No word yet on what the Cosmic Council has agreed to, but…*
“Isn’t it kinda depressing to listen to this stuff when we’re having dinner?” Scootaloo asked, before taking another bite out of the hay-and-oats pizza slice in front of her.
“There ain’t anything wrong about keepin’ up with the ways of the world, is there?” Hondo Flanks said in reply.
“Ah guess not, but don’t we gotta look after our own first?” asked Apple Bloom, pushing her empty plate forward.
“If we know what’s goin’ on out there, we gotta better idea what could be comin’ at us,” said Pearl Bubbles, using her spatula to scoop another slice onto the Earth Pony filly’s plate. “An’ don’cha know that there’s an awful lot that’s gonna be happenin’ out there that’ll hit us back home.”
Sweetie Belle sighed, “I hope that Rarity’s okay out there…”
Hondo Flanks put a hoof on his daughter’s shoulder, “Oh, don’t worry about her none, Sweetie. Yer big sister can handle herself just fine in a brawl, even if she don’t like gettin’ her hooves messy anymore.”
Scootaloo scoffed, “Yeah, like I could ever see Rarity giving a speck of dirt the time of day.”
“Ah never really thought that Rarity woulda ever been one for roughhousin’,” Apple Bloom added.
“Well, it ain’t exactly roughhousin’ that Hondo was talkin’ ‘bout, but…” For some reason, Pearl Bubbles seemed to hesitate, looking as though she wondered if she could continue.
Sensing his wife’s hesitation, Hondo interjected in a slightly raised voice, “I think that’s sumthin’ that Rarity herself might wanna run by Sweetie’s friends if she wants.”
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo looked at each other with perplexed expressions, both of them turning towards Sweetie Belle at the same intuitive moment… but Sweetie Belle did not seem to have any of the same sense of confusion, at least by reading her face. Actually, she was nodding in quiet agreement with her dad, before returning to her meal.
The Earth Pony and Pegasus Crusaders looked to one another with inquisitive glances. There was something afoot about Rarity, and her parents and Sweetie Belle were in on it! Come to think of it, there were no pictures of Rarity around the house from before she’d gotten her cutie mark, most of them taken after Sweetie Belle was born. What was going on behind the scenes with that older white Unicorn…?
*…but fortunately, the Governor of Canterlot was outside of the capital before then. As it was, Governor Gilded Lily has established Fillydelphia as the acting capital of Equestria while Canterlot is unreachable. She says that, quote, ‘I will act as Queen Celestia would in her stead, and do the best to my ability for all of us little ponies’. A quote from the Mayor and Council of Fillydelphia indicates a full support behind…*
“Let’s put on sumthin’ a bit more peaceable, don’cha agree, darlin’?” asked Hondo Flanks. “All this political talk kinda gives me a bit a’ indigestion.”
“Yeah…” Pearl Bubbles agreed with a slightly somber tone. “NightMare Moon, then this ‘Discord’ fella… Just one a’ them woulda been bad enough for one lifetime.”
Her dwimmer shimmer lit up around one of the dials on the radio, a babble of voices shuffling out of the speakers one at a time, interspersed with spurts of static. After a few moments, Pearl Bubbles settled on one particular staton.
The soothing sounds of a cello began to emanate from the radio’s speakers, filling the room with the sounds of an elegant musical recitation. Serenity washed over the five ponies as they finished the meal and Pearl Bubbles gradually stacked the plates and transferred them over to the sink…
When a static-filled scream filled the air as the cello broadcast was interrupted. The three Cutie Mark Crusaders put their hooves to their ears, blocking out the high whine that was hurting their hearing.
After what seemed like half a minute, the static mostly subsided, albeit in sharp bursts that interrupted the following broadcast, which was not music but a voice.
A very familiar voice.
“Ugh, finally!” growled a rather passionate voice. “I should be coming through any moment, and then, they can know what no pony agency wants me to share…!”
“Wait a second, isn’t that…?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“Yeah, that’s the super-crazy pony who thought that Celestia and NightMare Moon were the same!” Scootaloo cried, trying not to snicker.
“You know this pony?” asked Hondo Flanks.
Apple Bloom nodded, “He took over that deejay show under NightMare Moon an’ tried to spin this cockamamie about Queen Celestia an’ NightMare Moon. Looks like instead a’ takin’ over their broadcast buildin’, he managed to hijack their signal this time!”
By the time the Crusaders had finished filling in Sweetie Belle’s parents, Tinfoil Hat seemed to have realized that he was on the air, and affected a degree of personal concern over his obviously passion-filled tone.
“My fellow ponies,” he began, “as so many of you have probably noticed by now, a great deal of disorder and disharmony has befell us. Clouds transmogrified into cotton-candy, raining everything from hot cocoa to raw stomach acid. Home furnishings like couches and bunk-beds tearing off down the streets or sitting on their former owners. Entire streets unmooring themselves from gravity and floating freely over their landlocked villages.
“And why? Why have Queen Celestia and her sister Selena abandoned us in our moment of need? Well, fear not, my fellow ponies, for I, Tinfoil Hat, have reasoned out the reason for Queen Celestia and Selena’s departure for foreign lands so soon after our new mismatched overlord has arrived:
“Well, the answer eluded even more for quite some time, but I feel confident enough now in my hypothesis that I can tell you now, that this Discord is Queen Celestia’s ex-boyfriend!”
Scootaloo could not contain it anymore. Her hooves, which had previously been clamped over her mouth, flew from her muzzle in a noise not unlike that of a whoopee cushion, and the dining room filled with her irreverent laughter.
“I know… shocking, isn’t it?” Tinfoil Hat continued to his audience, apparently unaware of Scootaloo’s wordless derision. He sounded exactly like he cared. “But really, if you think about it, there’s no other apparent answer. Why else would the Queens have decided to flee to Aspicia and hobnob with our neighbors to the East? Why have communications with Canterlot ceased? The answer is obvious: The Queens were never the Queens to begin with.”
“This guy sure sounds like he got a few screws loose, don’t he?” commented Hondo Flanks, waving a hoof beside his head.
“Exactly like Mr. Rich’s wife,” added Pearl Bubbles with an air of sympathy.
The Crusaders nodded at the remarks by Sweetie Belle’s parents.
“…keeping the seat warm for Queen Celestia’s old flame, while he went on vacation to places you and I could not even begin to imagine. After all, the Queen kept a statue of this ‘Discord’ in the Canterlot Sculpture Garden, within eyeline of her throne room. She eagerly awaited his return so that she and her ‘sister’ could take a many-douzaides long vacation.
“Now, you’ll notice my hesitation to refer to Selena as her sister. And I will tell you why. Have you ever noticed how eerily unPegasuslike her wings were, how they look like a Bat Pony’s with a bit of plumage pasted on? Well, that’s because Selena is not the sister of Queen Celestia, but truly Celestia’s daughter by Discord’s Bat Pony half-brother!”
Scootaloo was practically rolling on the floor at this point, banging a hoof in front of her and choking out between laughs, “Please… I can’t breathe…”
“If you don’t believe me, if you prefer to stand by the figures who would tell you that a horn transplant is impossible because ‘the alicorn-neuronal connections differ wildly from pony to pony’ or ‘there is no way to make a severed alicorn function again even if reattached’, then you are deluding yourself! There is too much evidence that backs up my hypothesis, once you’ve gotten past all of the facts that contradict it!
“For you see, the search for the truth is a hard and arduous one. You have to fight and bite and buck and trample your way past all the facts that cloud it, following that gut feeling telling you that what you believe is true! You find those scraps of truth, no matter how small they are, and you never let them go, because those scraps among all the detritus of facts prove that you are right.”
“That sounds like the opposite of truth, in my book.”
The temperature of the room seemed to drop, and from the way that Tinfoil Hat seemed to sputter as well. Scootaloo coughed roughly as her laughs abated, staring at the radio as even the bursts of static seemed to go silent.
“You again?! That DJ mare?” Tinfoil Hat cried, his distant voice indicating that he was facing away from his microphone. “How did you get in here?!”
“You left your door unlocked,” Vın̈yl Scratch said shortly. Her voice sounded different than from her previous shows, even the impromptu show when she and Octavia had to oust Tinfoil Hat from their own broadcasting station. The sass was gone, replaced with a monotone fury that carried forth all the promises of a bad time.
“Are you really a DJ?” accused Tinfoil Hat. “Or are you really an agent of Discord to silence my grasp on the truth…?!”
“No,” hissed Vın̈yl’s voice, growing louder as she apparently approached the microphone, and Tinfoil Hat. “I’m here to shut you down from cutting off mine and Octy’s broadcast…!”
There was an indistinct shout from Tinfoil Hat, and a burst of static, and then silence and a slight degree of feedback.
‘Well, let’s take a listen,” began a third voice, the Octy in question if memory served. Her voice echoed somewhat, as if there was a radio in the room with her tuned to the same station as she was broadcasting from.
‘Well, that’s that settled,’ Octavia continued, her voice settling back from continuous echoing into one. ‘We apologise for the interruption, fair listeners, and we appreciate your patience in returning to our regularly scheduled programme, here on Violas on Vinyl.’
And in moments the cellist had returned to the same musical piece that Tinfoil Hat had cut into with his pirated broadcast. It took far longer for the five ponies in Sweetie Belle’s dining room to settle from the frenetic assertions of Tinfoil Hat than it had from first tuning in to Violas on Vinyl.
Hondo Flanks trotted up to the radio and turned the volume dial down to Off.
“I’m sorry, Pearl, but I just can’t listen t’ the radio after that guy,” he said.
“Why not?” Scootaloo asked. “That was just so funny…!”
“I don’t know, that guy just sounded crazy, Scootaloo,” commented Sweetie Belle.
“If that stallion weren’t pullin’ some big prank on ev’rypony, then he probably is crazy,” Pearl remarked. “And crazy ponies like that need to be kept in a mental ward, for their own good and the good of the ponies around them.”
“Like Diamond Tiara’s mom?” Apple Bloom asked.
Hondo faced the youngest Apple daughter, “That’d be Mr. Rich’s daughter, wouldn’ it? Well, I dunno if his wife Spoiled Milk were exactly the most stable mare even b’fore she an’ Filthy tied the knot. She weren’ exactly the nicest mare, if I can be frank, right, Pearl?”
“”Nuthin’ wrong with the truth, Hondo,” Pearl replied.
“What happened with Mrs. Rich, Mom & Dad?” Sweetie Belle asked.
Hondo answered, “Well, she weren’t like most Ponyville ponies. Even though she grew up without a whole ton a’ bits to her name, she was always a bit less… agreeable than most ponies. Kinda bossy, but not exactly mean-spirited like some a’ the things Sweetie Belle told us about her daughter.”
“And then, when she an’ Filthy Rich became engaged,” Pearl continued, “all that money that he had t’ his name… it kinda went t’ her head. She got even pushier than ever, an’ when ya didn’ do what she wanted ya t’ do… well, ears started ringin’ from how she raised her voice.”
Hondo Flanks’s expression darkened, a slight foreboding crossing his expression that made the Cutie Mark Crusaders feel slightly chilled.
“When Filthy an’ Spoiled Rich had their daughter Dégueulis Dazzle Rich…” He paused. “Well, I’m not much of a stallion fer gossip, but I think that bearin’ a foal an’ givin’ birth… it mighta done sumthin’ to her upstairs. Made Spoiled go a bit screw-loose. Before Dégueulis even graduated from fohlengarten, her mom had ta be admitted ta th’ mental ward in Ponyville General. Filthy an’ his daughter visit all th’ time, but I hear that Spoiled Milk don’ even recognize her husband or daughter no more. Seein’ her mom like that… can’t be good fer little D. Rich.”
Apple Bloom heard a sniffle. Looking in the direction of the sound, she saw that Sweetie Belle was tearing up, a small dribble of mucus running down from a nostril as well.
“Ohh man…” Scootaloo said. “But, if Diamond Tiara really had all that bad stuff happen to her, how come she’s such a bad pony? How come she keeps talking back to Queen Selena and calling us blank flanks?”
“Yeah, that don’ seem like the sorta thing a pony would do if she knew what bad things felt like,” Apple Bloom added.
Pearl shook her head, “Some ponies jus’ don’t act that way, kids. Spoiled Milk may’ve had some pretty ugly thoughts fer a pony, but that don’t mean that Diamond Tiara bein’ separate from them would make her act nicer. We don’t know what’s in Diamond Tiara’s head, though we can prob’bly guess that it’s a lot sadder than first glance.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders traded guilty glances with one another. Ponyville was a small town, so how could this information have escaped them for so long? Did Diamond Tiara really put so much effort into being mean because she didn’t want other ponies to pick on her…?
“But, if her mom being in Ponyville General is why she is the way she is,” Sweetie Belle sobbed, “then why doesn’t she just talk about it? It’s not like anypony here would be mean to her about it except…” Her pale-harlequin eyes widened.
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo cast curious and slightly alarmed eyes at their Unicorn friend.
“What?” Scootaloo asked.
“What is it, Sweetie Belle?” Apple Bloom queried.
“The other foals that Diamond Tiara pals around with,” Sweetie Belle continued. “Golden Parachute and the rest. Toady, Roughshod, Snake-in-the-Grass, Silver Lining… They were never good even before Diamond Tiara pulled them all together.”
“Yeah…” Scootaloo breathed. “They always gave me a rough time for… this.” She flicked her tiny wings. “And to think if they learned that Diamond Tiara’s mom was just… gone, like that. And I get it bad enough for the same thing.”
“Ah know. Not havin’ a mom…”
Scootaloo and Apple Bloom’s eyes widened in sync with one another, snapping their heads towards one another.
“Scootaloo…? Are you sayin’ yer…?” the Earth Pony filly gasped.
“N-No! I didn’t say anything about… anything!” the Pegasus filly snapped in protest.
Sweetie Belle raised a forehoof, “Scootaloo, you’re not very good at lying. Please, don’t lie to us.”
Looking back and forth between her fellow Crusaders, Scootaloo sighed.
“My mom left me at the Ponyville orphanage. I never knew who my dad was. All I know is that my big sister lives somewhere here in Ponyville, and that’s why my mom left me here. I waited all my life for somepony to show up for me, but nopony ever showed up. So… I guess all of Ponyville is my big sister,” she smiled sadly.
Two pairs of legs threw themselves around Scootaloo.
“Ohh Scootaloo, you poor filly…!” Sweetie Belle cried.
“Why didn’tcha tell us…?” Apple Bloom asked. “Sweetie Belle an’ Ah wouldn’ta judged ya.”
“Guys… I didn’t want you to think that… that I…” Scootaloo mumbled, her mouth wobbling.
“Scootaloo…?” said Sweetie Belle.
“That you guys were the only family I ever knew!” Scootaloo blurted out, her eyes slamming shut, tears bursting out like a dam.
Hondo Flanks & Pearl Bubbles glanced to each other, an invisible thought passing between them. They nodded, before crossing around the table to the Crusaders’ group-hug.
“Scootaloo, how’d ya like to call us yer family?” said Pearl Bubbles gently.
The gamboge filly looked up at Sweetie Belle’s parents with disbelief.
“But… I want Rainbow Dash to be my big sister!”
Hondo smiled warmly, “Ya don’t have ta be legally related ta someone to call them yer family. Ain’t Rainbow Dash kinda like sisters ta her fella Bearers (except Fluttershy, I imagine)? Ain’t Apple Bloom like yer sister?”
Scootaloo’s ears fell slightly. “I… suppose… But I still really want to be with Rainbow Dash.”
Pearl Bubbles spread one foreleg out, “Well, we can at least give ya houseroom till Rainbow Dash comes back. We ain’t exactly the best family in all Ponyville, but we’d be happy to have ya, Scootaloo.”
Sandwiched between her friends, Scootaloo let a smile cross her muzzle as Hondo Flanks and Pearl Bubbles put a foreleg each around the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
Scootaloo looked around the room curiously. “This used to be Rarity’s room…?”
It certainly didn’t look it. There were cardboard boxes and old furnishings set in the spaces between the old bed and bureau, along with old picture frames devoid of contents. Certain squares of space on the walls were lighter than the rest of the wallpaper, where these picture frames had doubtlessly hung when the younger Rarity dwelt here.
“Well, it didn’t always look like this,” Hondo admitted. “Ever since Rarity moved into the old vanity room, we used this room as our storage room. But now, I guess we’re gonna be passin’ it on to you. At least, for as long as you live with us.”
“I don’t wanna put you guys out, though,” Scootaloo mumbled. “There’s gonna be an awful lot of paperwork for me, and… well… I still really want to be Rainbow Dash’s sister.”
“But you said it before, didn’t you, Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle said softly, placing a hoof on Scootaloo’s shoulder. “All of Ponyville is your big sister. So you can take your pick of anypony to be your big sister.”
Scootaloo gave a tentative smile to her Unicorn friend. “I guess.”
“So,” Pearl Bubbles addressed the little Pegasus, “do you still have any personal items at the orphanage?”
Scootaloo shook her head, “All I own is the scooter I left by the front door.”
Hondo Flanks tousled Scootaloo’s mane, “Well, Pearl an’ me hope that we can get a fix on that sometime soon.”
Scootaloo smiled up at the big burly Earth Pony.
“Well, since you mentioned paperwork,” Pearl said idly, “what say we all go down to th’ orphanage and get this started?”
Sweetie Belle pronked gaily.
“We’re gonna be sisters for real, Scootaloo!”
Ponyville’s Center Square was less populated than it ordinarily was, and not for poor reason. With the increasingly chaotic activity encroaching on Ponyville from the east and the west, Ponyvillagers who would normally spend the better portions of their days wandering the streets and socializing with their neighbors instead passing straight through to their errands and then straight back home. Ponies clustered closely together and made hushed conversation, trying to ignore the sights of bizarre creatures flocking through the skies or the patches of unnaturally-colored clouds.
Lyra Heartstrings & her wife Bon Bon toted saddle-bags laden with bags of sugar from the grocer’s, accompanied by their petite daughter Toot Sweet. While the aquamarine Unicorn and her light-opal daughter looked rather worrisome, the light-apple-green Earth Pony wore a surprisingly stern expression for such a round-faced and freckled mare.
“Mama, why do you look so grown-up?” Toot Sweet asked her Earth Pony mother.
Bon Bon blinked, several lines smoothing out from her face as she looked down to smile at the apple of her eye.
“Ohh, did I really look so − sorry for worrying you, dearest,” she said as she cupped her daughter’s chin in an arctic-blue hoof matching her eyes.
“Aww, your mama’s just worried that the sugar might entice your aunt Bombe a bit too much,” Lyra said casually, leaning down and kissing her wife’s cheek speckled with blue freckles. Bon Bon blushed with a soft smile.
“But Bombe isn’t my aunt, is she? She’s one of Mama’s cousins, so she can’t be my aunt.”
“Bombe’s seemingly identical to your mama, Tootsie. I don’t see it; I can tell all your aunts apart from each other. Like, even though every one of them has a completely different personality, it’s like I’m the only one who can tell or something…”
“Well, I can tell as well, my heartstrings-tugger,” said Bon Bon slyly, evoking a snicker from her Unicorn wife.
“I’d hope so, or I’d worry for your sanity.”
“Ohh I’m crazy alright,” Bon Bon sighed with half-lidded eyes, before her legs elongated beneath her to allow her to kiss Lyra’s cheek. “I’m crazy for you.”
(Bon Bon’s special talent as a candymare had the magical side-effect of allowing her to affect the malleability of her own body, crossing the spectrum from becoming as stretchy and elastic as taffy, to becoming as hard as a jawbreaker. Although this had applications that could have been used in the career of a Royal Guard, she contented herself by using it either to reach items on high shelves in her BonBonnière or to repay Lyra’s kisses.)
Toot Sweet made a gagging noise at the affection between her mothers, though admittedly they were far worse on happier days. For Toot Sweet, the worst day of all for dealing with her mothers was Hearts-And-Hooves Day, when the goal of the day seemed to make their daughter die of embarrassment from how sickeningly sweet they were towards one another with their flirting and general kissy-kissiness. Seeking to avoid this for the day, Toot Sweet turned towards Lyra, “Mommy, is it alright if I ask Mama to give me one of her fun rides?”
Lyra smirked down at her Unicorn filly, “Sure, it’s alright with me, sport.”
“Mama, can I get a fun ride?”
Bon Bon snickered slightly at the ‘secret’ conversation her wife and daughter had had.
“Alright, if you insist. Majority rules!”
Her brilliant-gamboge dwimmer shimmer lighting up, Lyra levitated Toot Sweet onto her wife’s back, where the little befreckled Unicorn began to tap her hooves eagerly. Grinning, Bon Bon’s eyes began to flash with a magical shimmer alternating between cobalt-blue and light-fuchsia. In a matter of moments, the small round Earth Pony’s physique began to arc upwards as if pulled upwards by an invisible taffy machine. Her saddle-bags settled around her shoulders, her body molding itself in such a way as to keep them supported as she hoisted her daughter up with her taffy-like arching back, undulating upwards and downwards. Toot Sweet let out a high Yay! at her mama’s mare-made roller-coaster.
“That’s a neat trick that your mom has, Tootsie!” called out a familiar voice. Sweetie Belle was passing by with her fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders and her parents.
“Hey there, kiddos!” greeted Lyra, exchanging hoof-bumps with each Crusader in turn.
“Good afternoon, kids. Good afternoon, Hondo, Pearl,” Bon Bon added as well, her voice surprisingly steady given that everything between both pairs of legs had stretched upwards and was presently giving Toot Sweet a taffy roller-coaster ride.
“Good afternoon, Heartstringses,” Hondo said casually. “Today’s gonna be a very special day fer me an’ my family.”
“Oooh, lemme guess, Hondo…!” Lyra said with a not-entirely irrational exuberance. “You two are pregnant!”
Pearl waved a hoof dismissively, “Oh, you’ll be right one of these days if you keep askin’ folks that, Lyra. But yer not entirely wrong, either.”
In front of ponies from outside her clique of Crusaders, Scootaloo tried to keep a façade of cool indifference even as Sweetie Belle threw her forelegs around her and squealed, “My parents are adopting Scootaloo!”
Toot Sweet’s eyes boggled up at on her mama’s undulating coils.
“That’s… Scootaloo doesn’t have any parents?”
“Wow, way to be sensitive,” Scootaloo said flatly.
“Whoa, for real?” Lyra’s brilliant-gamboge eyes popped as she stared at the little Pegasus. “I swear I’ve never seen you around the orphanage.”
“I’m usually scooting around Ponyville and practicing my tricks whenever I’m not at school, so that’s not surprising,” Scootaloo answered.
“And don’t forget Crusadin’ fer yer cutie mark,” interjected Apple Bloom.
“So, you’re going to be Mr. Flanks & Mrs. Bubbles’s adopted daughter, then?” Bon Bon asked, the magical glow fading from her eyes and her body returning to its natural proportions.
“That’s so great, Scootaloo!” Toot Sweet beamed as she hopped down from her mama’s back. “How long were Sweetie Belle’s parents talking about it?”
Hondo & Pearl met each other’s gaze.
“We decided as soon as we found out she didn’t have a home of her own,” Hondo replied.
“Goodness… that is a quick decision,” Bon Bon commented.
“Well, we couldn’t just let ‘er go on without a family, don’tcha know?” Pearl said.
“Of course not,” Lyra shook her head. “I mean, the orphanage is normally pretty quiet, isn’t it? Foals don’t really stay there all that long… have you really been keeping it a secret all this time, kid?”
Scootaloo avoided eye-contact with the aquamarine mare.
“I didn’t want anypony to think that nopony loved me.”
Bon Bon gave Scootaloo a look deep with pity.
“Ohh, you poor little thing… Being an orphan doesn’t mean that nopony loves you. It just means that you’re waiting for the family that loves you to bring you in.” She put a gentle hoof under Scootaloo’s chin and guided her to meet Bon Bon’s eyes. “Adoption is just another way for ponies to become parents, for a child to find a happy home. And Hondo & Pearl chose you, Scootaloo. They chose you.”
A warm trickle down her cheeks. Scootaloo staggered slightly, rubbing at her eyes with a fetlock.
The gamboge filly faced Hondo Flanks and Pearl Bubbles.
“Maybe I will be happy with you guys.”
Pearl put a hoof to her chest.
“Of course you will be. You don’t suppose Rarity’s generosity came from nowhere, don’tcha?”
“So, kiddo,” Lyra said brightly, “I guess you guys are off to put it down in writing?”
Hondo nodded, “We’re off to sign th’ paperwork sayin’ that Scootaloo will be livin’ with us, then file it down at th’ Gazebo ta make it official.”
Scootaloo smiled warily, “I kinda hope that Rainbow Dash is okay with this set-up.”
Bon Bon’s muzzle wrinkled slightly, “That mare spends most of her time napping when she’s not performing her weather duties. I don’t know if she’s ready for the responsibility.“
“Rainbow Dash isn’t that bad,” Scootaloo said sharply. “She told me that she’d sent in some application stuff to the Wonderbolts so that she can go to their academy!”
“Really?” Bon Bon raised a cobalt-and-fuchsia eyebrow. “I hope that she’s ready; they have to have some pretty intensive training to join. And even then, there’s the real chance that she could be shunted into the Wonderbolts Reserves instead of the main active unit.”
“But she’s still trying, and she’s not gonna give up on that dream!” insisted Scootaloo.
“I think we’ve both made our points here!” Lyra interjected nervously. “This is supposed to be a happy day for Scoots here, so…” The aquamarine held a hoof up. “High hoof, Scoots?”
Shaking off her grimace, Scootaloo fluttered up in the air as best she could and put a hoof to Lyra’s.
“If any of you feel like dropping by the BonBonnière, you’ll get a discount on whatever sweets you want to buy,” Bon Bon offered.
“We’ll see about takin’ you up on that, Mrs. Heartstrings,” Pearl Bubbles said with a grateful smile.
Scootaloo glanced up at the sheets of paper levitated in Pearl Bubbles’s dwimmer shimmer.
“So, that’s basically saying that you guys have taken me out of Caring Heart’s Home For Homeless Foals?”
“Yes indeed, Scoots,” Hondo said with a bright air. “The day ain’t exactly young, but ya do got a good n’ proper home t’ come back to. Not that Carin’ Heart’s a bad sort for givin’ homespace to parentless foals, but… ya know.”
Pearl Bubbles looked up to the darkening afternoon sky.
“I sure hope that the Mayor is okay with one more bit of paperwork for her to sign today. I understand that it’s pretty busy for her in light a’ all the complaints about Discord an’ all, but th’ sooner we’ve gotcha livin’ under our roof, Scootaloo, th’ better.”
Scootaloo slowed down on propelling herself on her scooter, turning away from Hondo & Pearl.
“You guys don’t really need to do this. I was getting by just fine at Caring Heart’s orphanage…”
“Well, ‘just fine’ ain’t enough fer a cute little filly like you,” said Pearl.
As soon as the word ‘cute’ left the mare’s mouth, Scootaloo’s muzzle wrinkled up and cerise feathers around her neck and shoulders began to bristle.
“I’m not cute…!” she growled.
“Awww, you don’t have to sweat it, ‘sis’,” Sweetie Belle said cloyingly.
Scootaloo scowled at Sweetie Belle.
“If you weren’t my friend, I’d hate you forever for being so sweet.”
“Well, it is in her name, after all, Scootaloo,” Apple Bloom offered.
“No need ta be so glum, sport,” Hondo said in an appeasing tone. “Sweetie Belle means well, same as her big sister Rarity.”
Scootaloo’s eyes widened.
“Wait… Rarity’s gonna be my big sister?”
“Of course she is, Scootaloo; you didn’t forget who my big sister was, did you?”
“But… she’s like the anti-Rainbow Dash!”
“Wait, so… you don’t like Rarity?” Sweetie Belle asked, looking and sounding hurt.
“What? No, of course I don’t not like her! I just… don’t want her to dress me up like a little doll. I’m too cool for that!”
“Oh believe me, I wish that I could be Rarity’s dress-up doll,” Sweetie Belle said flatly, her ears flicking slightly. “Ever since she opened up her dress shop, Carousel Boutique or whatever, her only dress-up dolls were her marrequins. She makes great dresses, but don’t expect them to be your size or even for you…”
“Seems like she makes a pretty good livin’ fer herself, though,” Apple Bloom commented.
“Still, it wouldn’t hurt for her to make a dress for me, would it?”
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt fer you t’ ask her, Sweetie,” Hondo suggested. “But in th’ meantime, we’re just about t’ Town Hall…”
Ponyville Town Square was, to the surprise of the family and friends, quite well-populated. A decently-sized herd had gathered at the front of the Gazebo, staring up at the mayoral podium. The Mayor stood up there, and seemed to be wrapping up a speech.
“…been rather isolated since the advent of this being that the Queens haved called ‘Discord’. And the very same six of our Ponyvillagers who saved Queen Selena from NightMare Moon have since departed for parts unknown to restore peace to our beloved Equestria.”
A rumbling barrage of ponies clopping their forehooves against the cobblestoned square filled the air. Sweetie Belle and her family and friends passed between Mary Smith-Noir and Stellar Eclipse to come closer towards the Mayor’s speech. As they passed through…
“Daddy, why do I have to be here? I have better things to do than to stand her surrounded by rubes!”
Diamond Tiara stood beside her father Filthy Rich, as opposite in demeanor as they were in color. While the pale-magenta filly held her nose upturned, her eyes solely on her father, and kept a wide berth between herself and any other ponies, the grayish-amber stallion had an aura about him of being somewhat eager to see what this whole situation was all about.
“Well, daughter,” he began in a jovial tone, “I’ve been informed through the grapevine that a pony with the greatest currency of all has set her sights on Ponyville for the next stop on her tour. And as you can imagine, that is something that grabs my attention.”
“‘Currency’, you say?” Diamond Tiara said, suddenly much more interested. She rubbed a hoof under her chin thoughtfully. “Well, that could certainly be beneficial to our family! A true exercise in my special talent instead of just being stuck with a bunch of subpar low-class schoolfoals.”
“That’s really no way to speak of your classmates, Diamond Tiara,” Filthy Rich said crossly. “Now hush, the Mayor’s speech has begun again.”
“…with the privilege you’ve granted me by electing me as your Mayor, I take great pleasure in introducing you to a mare of great personal wealth, the Love-Yourself Pony herself… Silver Lining!”
The double-doors into the Gazebo opened at the Mayor’s signal, and out stepped a most particular mare.
“Whoa, Nelly!” Apple Bloom exclaimed. “That’s a big mare!”
“But, her name’s Silver Lining, the Mayor just said,” commented Sweetie Belle.
Whatever her name was, she was easily one of the largest mares anypony in Ponyville had ever seen, and definitely the largest Unicorn. Her pale-turquoise barrel was larger around than most Ponyvillagers were tall, even though her legs were all disproportionately short. And though she had an abundance of fluff to her coat, it was clear from her large round face and prominent extra chins that her size was not solely due to her coat being particularly thick. Over the podium that Mayor Stables had acquiesced to her, Silver Lining beamed broadly out at the ponies of Ponyville, and in that expression and those brilliant-orange eyes could be seen a boundless kindness and love.
“Oh my gosh, it’s so great to see so many ponies who’ve taken the time to come out here! I’ve never been to Ponyville before, but I can’t wait to get to know―”
“What did Discord do to you?” cried out the voice of Diamond Tiara from the herd. The nearest mares and stallions in the crowd gave her withering looks. Still, there were others who gave the Unicorn at the podium their concerned gazes.
For her part, Silver Lining looked utterly perplexed at the question, her lime-green eyebrows knitting together.
“Nothing… why? Is there something on me? Some purple spots that shouldn’t be there?”
The turquoise mare spun around on her orange hooves, looking herself over. Her cutie mark was of a white star containing a small depiction of Silver Lining’s own face, surrounded by five orange stars. Her Unicorn tail was short and thick, ending in a lime-green broomstick-like skirt. But overall, nothing that seemed out of place on such an extraordinary mare.
“Well, it doesn’t seem like there’s nothing about me that’s different than what it would be on any other day,” she continued with a relieved smile. “But to whoever asked that question, I assume that you don’t know about my condition, so I’ll explain in brief.
“You see, my body cannot burn or metabolize fat properly, so whatever food I eat stays with me a lot longer than it does for most anypony else. And when I was a little − err, well, a not-so-little filly − ” she added with a slight chuckle, “I was not quite the optimistic pony that I am now. I let me judge myself on the fear of the worst thoughts that other ponies could possibly have of me based on my quite substantial girth.
“But then one day, I met a filly about my age who was worse off than I was. She could not use her back legs at all and had to be pushed around in a wheelchair by her family. Her fathers were kind and patient, but she couldn’t help but to fear that they despised being put out or inconvenienced by her. I met her at the Cloudsdale market one day, when she broke down and cried to her fathers that she was just weighing them down. I felt something in me, something that I’d never acted on before, but I felt a drive to reach out to her.
“I talked to her for longer than I’d ever talked with any one pony at once before, but I helped her to realize that she was no burden, that her fathers loved her more than anything, and that she still was capable of many great things. In no time, I felt that she would be alright, and that she and her fathers would be more than alright. Then, I felt a warmth on my flanks, and I saw this!”
She turned her flank towards the audience, providing a look at her cutie mark once more. Upon second glance, it was apparent that the mini-Silver Lining face on her cutie mark was smiling.
“My special talent, that I learned that day, is to help ponies to see what they’re really capable of. I’ve traveled all over Equestria and helped a great many ponies who had no idea what to do with their lives, as I had thought as a filly. And believe me when I say that I’ve never been happier than when I could help ponies in need!”
Silver Lining turned her attention to a spot behind Sweetie Belle’s family. Turning around, they saw that it was Stellar Eclipse, with his hoof up in the air.
“You have a question?” Silver Lining asked.
The chocolate-brown Pegasus nodded, “Whatever happened to that filly who helped you get your cutie mark?”
Silver Lining let out a short giggle.
“Well, you’ve probably heard of her. Her name is Gilded Lily, and she’s currently the Governor of Canterlot!”
Significant murmurs broke out across the herd in front of the Gazebo, astonished at the effect that this admittedly quite bloated Unicorn had had on their modern history.
“But I didn’t come up to this stage to make this about me,” Silver Lining said in a raised voice, calling the attention of the Ponyvillagers again. “I came here to talk to you, Ponyville, about you. Because… I know that things look tough with this new ‘Discord’ fella, all the Chaos-beasts that he’s created that are roaming around the plains and spooking our towns, the bizarre and unthought-of ideas for the precipitation that falls on us.
“But all I gotta say is,” she continued with a deeper sense of optimism in her voice, “haven’t we as Equestrians toughed out problems like this all the time in our history? When the Windigos closed in, Pansy, Clover, and Smart Cookie did what they could to bring forth a new nation! When the Qílín of Misfortune threatened to bring down our system of society by spreading chaos between allies and best friends, everypony did their part to make sure we stood together! And when the Great Devil Lord of Tartarus tried to sap away the very magic from our veins, we did the same! For every one of the beasts that is sealed away in Tartarus, we have all done what we do best to stand tall: we’ve been ourselves, and we’ve loved ourselves!
“So I say to you now, Ponyville, as I say to every pony I’ve met since I got my cutie mark: be yourself, and above all, love yourself. As long as you stay true to yourself, you can do whatever you set your heart and mind to. And as long we love ourselves and each other, there’s nothing anyone can do to keep us down!”
Tears were running down the turquoise mare’s face now, energy and passion filling every fiber of her being, such that she seemed to radiate with light and power. It proved to be infectious, as nearly everypony in the Town Square had begun to cheer themselves, smiles and optimistic cries of joy filling the air. Earth Ponies stomped their hooves, Unicorn dwimmer shimmers of every color lit the square, and Pegasi called forth small gusts that buffeted manes and gladdened the heart.
Only one heart seemed untouched by Silver Lining’s motivational speech.
“Daddy, you said that she was rich,” Diamond Tiara sneered, “but I didn’t hear a single word about her finances.”
Filthy Rich looked puzzled for a brief moment.
“Ohh, of course! I did use the word ‘currency’, didn’t I? Well, when I said that, I didn’t mean that she was particularly well-to-do. What I meant for you to take away, Diamond Tiara, is that kindness and love have more to do with being well-loved yourself than any mountain of bits.”
The tiara-wearing filly looked utterly befuddled, but had little time to react much further as a gray Pegasus colt blurted out to his dark-coated big brother:
“Thunderlane, I don’t feel like a colt! I wanna be a filly and I want to wear dresses and makeup and all that!”
Half the eyes and ears in the herd turned upwards towards the Pegasus brothers in question. Rumble’s round purple eyes were wide and his (her?) mouth was tightly drawn, while Thunderlane eyed his little brother (sister?) with a degree of shock.
“Rumble…? You really…?”
“Being a colt doesn’t feel right, and doing colt things don’t feel like ‘me’! You’re such a great stallion, Thunderlane, but I wanna feel pretty, like a mare! And I… don’t really feel like ‘Rumble’ fits for me, either.”
The foal’s ears drooped and his (her?) eyes slid shut.
“Please, don’t hate me for not wanting to be your little brother anymore.”
A pair of forelegs looped themselves around the little Pegasus, and when
he she looked, Thunderlane regarded her with a soft smile.
“How could I ever hate you for wanting to be yourself, little br − little sis. You can be whatever you want to be, and call yourself whatever you want. Tumble, if you want.”
The little Pegasus blushed pink.
“Well, that feels better, but… we’ll have to see, won’t we?”
“Yeah, that we will.”
Big brother and little sister hugged. A chorus of Awwwws filled the air. Silver Lining beamed proudly at the scene from behind the podium.
“Well, that explains th’ mystery a’ why Rumble − uhh, Tumble was starin’ at Rarity’s dresses in the windows,” Apple Bloom said brightly. “He − err, I mean, she just wanted t’ feel more like a filly!”
“Yeah, but there’s still the unsolved mystery of Rarity’s more rambunctious past,” Scootaloo said with a sly grin.
“I thought we were gonna try to get our cutie marks in matchmaking…” Sweetie Belle mused.
Apple Bloom waved a hoof dismissively, “Let’s worry ‘bout all that later. Fer now, let’s just be glad for Tumble.”
The voice seemed to emanate from every direction and from everything, but most eyes in Town Square found themselves turning upwards. The trio of Flower sisters were the first to scream and bolt for safety, followed by numerous fillies and colts and the wealthier families of Ponyville. For the most part, though, just over two-thirds of the Ponyvillagers in Town Square stayed rooted to the spot, staring upwards in terror.
And he wasn’t alone.
At his side, encased in what looked like an amorphous glass bubble, was the largest dog that anypony had ever seen, though it could hardly count for being associated with the likes of the Apple family’s Winona. Its form was more like a wolf than a dog, its fur long, black, and unkempt, and it had three heads, each with eyes that glowed a baleful blood-red. Around the necks of each head were manes woven of twisting black serpents, each one with glowing red eyes. Down the dog’s back did trail this mane of black snakes in place of shaggy black fur, and its three tails were long and thin, covered in black scales, each ending in the head of a snake. It had six legs, four in a row at the front. It clawed and bit ferociously at its enclosure, but to no avail.
And above Discord floated a countless many other… things. It was impossible to tell what any of them were or if they were related to one another. Each and every one of them swelled and shrunk, grew and lost limbs, became beautiful and then ugly, and changed colors in complete randomosity.
“I mean, isn’t it so nice when a little somebody decides that they don’t feel like the binary gender they were assigned at birth and insist upon one of the myriad of alternatives from what their body tells that they are.”
Discord then turned and faced you.
“I would like to apologize to anyone I have not yet offended. Please be patient and I will get to you shortly.”
Apple Bloom asked, “Who’s he talkin’ to?”
“Oh, just a hundred-billion faceless shadows that stare down from beyond at every move that we make,” said a sly voice in the filly’s ear. Dozens of ponies screamed in alarm, as Discord was suddenly standing in their midst, the bubble containing the vicious and abominable dog much closer now as well. As each head thrashed about, three tongues could be seen in each mouth.
“What shadows?” growled Thunderlane, throwing himself as a shield between Discord and Tumble.
“Nothing that your feeble pony minds could comprehend,” Discord answered, the Chaos-beasts overhead descending slowly towards Ponyville. “There are things that creep outside your realms of comfort, between the waking world and the world of sleep, between this material world and the nothingness of Chaos, that would drive you to insanity just to behold them…”
The draconequus’s face split in a large grin.
“And I can’t wait to get you acquainted~!”
…a quite literal split in his face, as the upper half of Discord’s head rolled off and landed on the cobblestone square below. Ponies shrieked in terror and backpedaled away.
“But let’s not lose our heads here,” Discord said casually as he picked up his head and affixed it back in place backwards. “And let’s not get our heads all twisted about either trying to work things out.”
There was a sound like cracking bones and twisting muscle and skin as something happened with his misplaced head. Nopony who was present that day could say for certain to their dying day if they witnessed the lower part of Discord’s head spin around against the integrity of its own muscles and skeletal constructs to match the orientation of the misplaced upper half before the entire structure continued onwards with his head in its proper place once more, or if something far worse had happened and their own minds was substituting what had transpired with something they could process.
“I mean, let’s be real. I make all of this for you little ponies, everything from the most miniscule iota of a subatomic particle, all the way up to the grandest of planets orbiting this rock you call home, and when I decide to spend this universe’s remaining eons unraveling all those plans and just having fun instead, you decide that enough is too much.”
“And I thought that I was the one who didn’t make sense.”
An otherworldly sound rent the air, as though the planet Harmonia itself had cracked in two like a great egg. The sphere that contained the three-headed dog had split, and the great beast landed with an earth-shaking slam. Now that it was much closer, the ponies of Ponyville could see that the vast bulk of its body, which reached far above Ponyville’s roofs, was marred by countless scars. All three heads set their hate-filled gaze upon Discord, each and every serpent head as well, and a low rumble like an earthquake filled the air.
“Oh do take a walk, Fido. You’ve gotten even friskier than my twitchy little whalobsquid, and who can really blame you? I mean, my little sunshine and moonbeams have left you on guard duty this whole time, keeping a lid on all that good juicy chaos that they decided they were just too good for.”
The three-headed dog lunged at Discord with a feral snarl, three snake-headed tails poised to strike the draconequus’s neck…
A snap of Discord’s claws, and muzzles appeared around each of the beast’s three dog mouths. As it reached Discord, he vanished in a puff of smoke and reconstituted behind the dog. With a snap of his lion’s paw, a collar affixed itself to each of the dog’s three heads, each leading to a singular strap held in Discord’s eagle claw. Another snap, and pet cones appeared around the dog’s three necks, and innumerable smaller ones around each of the snakes’ necks as well.
“There now, isn’t that much better, son?” Discord said in a saccharine tone.
Heads were spinning; this was just too much to take in at once.
“Ummm, Discord, sir…?” asked the Mayor frightfully. “Who is that dog? Is it…?”
“If you’re going to ask if this dog is Cerberus, then you’d probably be right,” said the draconequus casually, leaning against the now-identified dog as if he were a high table. “Of course, I always found that to be a rather pretentious name, but my little sunshine was always a touch dramatic. Something she never really lost, as a matter of fact. And then she had to go and lock away all her other brothers and sisters and assorted calamity-bringers in a big deep hole underground and set this bad boy here to keep them inside, all while keeping me sealed away in stone.”
Discord turned to make eye contact with each frightened pony in turn.
“I mean, is that any way to treat family?”
The word ‘family’ rung out through the herd louder than thunder. The Queens of Equestria were kin to the nameless beasts of Tartarus, and to this draconequus Discord…?
“But, if Cerberus is here,” asked Ditzy Doo uncertainly, “then, does that mean that…?”
“Bingo. I pulled the plug on Tartarus~”
Discord beamed broadly at the mortified Ponyvillagers.
“What can I say except ‘You’re welcome’~?”
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