Twilight’s return to consciousness was not an easy journey. She was in a good deal of a pain, and it was a familiar kind of pain. The kind of pain one can only get from magical burnout. Her body had recently channeled so much power through it that it had been stressed to the point of nearly falling apart.
Why had she done that?
Oh, that’s right. Pinkie Pie was dying...
Twilight jumped to her feet, her body instantly awake from the fear for a friend that had run through it. “Pinkie Pie!” she exclaimed.
“Whoa nelly! Easy, Twilight, you’re hurt!” a familiar southern twang interrupted her worry, and a hoof landed on her shoulder. It said a lot that she was familiar enough with the owner of the hoof to not immediately try and bisect her on instinct.
“Applejack?” she asked, looking at the farm pony. At that moment she fell to her knees, her body spasming from pain. “Ngk!” she grunted, using her hands to prop herself up.
“See, ah told you!” Applejack admonished. “Lay down before you make it worse!”
Twilight waved off the hoof trying to gently push her down as she panted. “But… but Pinkie Pie… She was…”
Twilight heard those words and felt a knot in her chest unravel. She relaxed… and fell on her face. She groaned.
“Rarity says you burned out your body channeling as much magic as you did,” Applejack explained, carefully turning her over. “If you haven’t destroyed your ability to use magic, she says you’ll be fine with a couple days of rest.”
Twilight breathed a little heavily as she tried to ride out the pain in her body. After a moment, she asked a question. “Pinkie Pie’s okay?”
She saw Applejack nod. “Yep. Pretty well done in and not feelin’ too hot, but she’s certainly in better shape than you.”
Twilight sighed in relief. “Thank the Stars…” she breathed.
Applejack walked towards a campfire, which Twilight noted had a pot suspended over it by some branches. Applejack began stirring the contents, and Twilight belatedly realized something smelled delicious. Her mouth actually started watering.
‘When was the last time I had something to eat other than that nutrient crap Tirek forced on me?’ Twilight wondered.
Applejack noticed the look and grinned. “Ah’ll admit, I’m pressed for ingredients… but if this don’t light yer fire ah’ll eat my hat,”
Twilight flushed at being caught staring and looked away. To distract herself she examined the area. Pinkie Pie, covered in a blanket and apparently napping, was curled up near the fire. Twilight smiled at the gentle rising and falling of her chest. Near her was an empty bedroll with Applejack’s supply pack laying on it.
Rainbow Dash was also napping on her own bedroll, though it was fitful. Applejack saw where she was looking. “RD was born for the sky, and has issues sleeping on something solid like the ground.” Applejack waved a hoof skyward. “She tried to use a cloud, but she just kept falling through them the moment she fell asleep.” She smirked. “We all got a good a chuckle at her swearing at the forest. Apparently the chaotic magic of the Everfree was pranking her.”
Twilight chuckled at the imagery that conjured. She continued her examination, and found Fluttershy sleeping… in the branches of a tree. She blinked. Once again, Applejack explained. “Shy’s a mare that’s right at home in nature. In fact, some folks in town like to joke that she would have been happier being born a tree than a pony.” Applejack shrugged. “I don’t rightly know how a pony can sleep in a tree inside the Everfree myself, but more power to her.”
Twilight shrugged as well after a moment, and continued scanning the area. After a moment she realized a couple of ponies were missing. “Where’s Rarity and Sunset?” she asked.
Applejack nodded towards the forest. “Rarity’s scouting ahead to find another place to make camp. It’s usually either her or RD. We can’t stay in one spot too long or we’ll attract predators… or worse.”
Applejack scowled, surprising Twilight. “Hay if ah know,” she huffed
Twilight blinked. “Well, I guess she is a bit of a bitch, but I didn’t think she was that bad. What did she do?”
Applejack’s scowl softened. “...It’s hard to say what’s wrong. She just been… off. Like something about her just ain’t right anymore. What’s worse is that ah seem to be the only one that feels that way.” She worried her lip. “...Do you… think I’m crazy, sugarcube?” she asked.
Twilight blinked again, before she frowned. “Have you ever been in a situation where the only choices you had were bad ones?”
Applejack frowned in confusion. “Er… pardon?”
“You know, an impossible choice. You have to pick one, but they’re all bad choices, paths that equally make your heart wrench at the very idea of doing them. Actions that you would label another as a monster for doing.” Twilight’s eyes went a bit distant. “There’s nothing else. You have to choose between the bad choices.”
“... Ah can’t say I’ve ever had that kind of choice placed on me. Why?”
Twilight stared at her hand, her other hand reaching up to her eyepatch. “... Life is hard. It’s not fair, and more often than not you get the raw end of a deal. I’ve made so many choices, Applejack, that I’m constantly scared that I’ve twisted and warped my soul into something unrecognizable… something horrid. The fact that I’ve become desensitized to it all says I’ve gotten used to a lot of those things.”
Twilight suddenly clenched her fist, her eye sharpening and burning with determination. “You’re scared you’re insane? I’ve been insane. I’ve been physically and mentally tortured for the better part of twenty years, and I know for a fact it’s warped me. But I learned something during that torture.”
She looked Applejack in the eye, and the farm pony felt… something transfer between their eyes. Understanding? Pain? Iron will? She didn’t know. But it made her sit straighter, and made her doubts seem less prominent.
“I realized I was insane, that the pain and agony had made me snap… but nothing was really different.”
“Eh?” Applejack asked in confusion.
Twilight smiled. “I was insane… but my convictions were still the same. The way I viewed the world had been twisted into a sound that tasted like color, but the core of me didn’t operate on sanity or insanity, only conviction, determination, and the will to not be broken.”
She sighed, relaxing. “So what do you think? Are you going to let a doubt about your sanity stop you from doing what you think is right? After all, at the end of the day all we have is our convictions.”
After a moment, Applejack felt her doubts vanish and resolve steel itself. She nodded. “Ah’ll do what I’ve always done. I’ll believe in myself.”