A heavy silence filled the foyer of the Pie family homestead.
“Thou art striking the nail upon the head, art thee not, Miss Twilight Sparkle?” asked Igneous Rock in a low voice. “Because, I doth recollect a connection between the Queen of Equestria and the Maker of the World being implied in the stone-graven compendiums of my forefathers.”
“There can’t be a connection!” Twilight repeated emphatically, her mane and tail seeming to curl and unravel on their own in her manic state. “The Queens are too good and pure to be connected to somebody so horrible! They just can’t be…!”
“Hey, Purple-Smart,” Rainbow Dash interjected, one eyebrow retreating into her forelock as the other wrinkled her eye. “Did we ever know anything about the Queens’ dad? I mean, that’s a bit of an empty void right there, isn’t it?”
“But not Discord!” Twilight shouted in denial. “Anypony but Discord! I’d even accept Fylfot of the Orden des Tetraskelion as their father over Discord! Or even Perun the traitorous Axex! Because at least they’re not horrors from beyond our three-dimensional frame of mind!”
”Sugar-cube…” cooed Applejack, putting a hoof under Twilight’s muzzle, pulling the lavender Unicorn’s gaze from an indeterminate spot below the floor, to meet her eye to eye. “Ya really need ta take a lie down. Yer gettin’ yerself all worked up. You’ve bin puttin’ yer mind inta way too many books today.”
Despite Twilight’s feeble attempts at protests, Applejack managed to hoist the Unicorn onto her back, the tooth-shaped scars on her back rough against Twilight’s belly. Feeling the steady breath and heartbeat beneath her touched something inside Twilight Sparkle, and she felt a peace burbling up through her from that point of contact. Matching her breath to Applejack’s, Twilight felt the knot of existential terror loosening inside her, being replaced with an all-consuming urge to cry.
Twilight’s mind slowed down to a crawl, her eyes closed, and the palomino below her seemed to take an eternity to reach her guest bedroom. The terror ebbed, but the shock of the revelation of the Queens’ paternity still remained. How could that be possible…? And why hadn’t Queen Celestia told her…?
Despite the invasive feelings of misery, Twilight felt her body sliding down onto a soft plush surface. They had reached her bedroom.
“Now, Ah’m gonna stick by ya till ya gotcher head back on straight, Twilight,” came Applejack’s voice. “Ah’m gonna make certain thatcha don’t get inta any books fer the time bein’, ‘cause there’s a price ta pay fer wantin’ ta know too much.”
Twilight had nothing to say. What else could she say? It’s not like Applejack was wrong. After all, it was the lavender Unicorn’s thirst for knowledge that had led to her discovering the unbelievable.
Her thoughts and emotions racing faster than light, Twilight Sparkle laid there with closed eyes, and cried.
“Y’know, it does kinda make sense,” the cerulean Pegasus mused aloud. “I mean, who’s ever heard of a pony with wings and a horn? It’s like some crazy mutant thing outta comics and fanmags.”
“Don’t go sayin’ that too loudly around the wrong ponies, Rainbow,” Applejack warned with a sharp tone.
“What? It’s the truth.”
“The truth can be a hard pill ta swallow fer some ponies. Just look at Twilight.”
“Yeah,” Pinkie Pie interjected. “I mean, the doozy’s passed, so what Twilight found out has to have been it. And hoo boy was that a doozy to end all doozies!”
“It really was, but…” Cerise eyes narrowed. “Nothing gets to you, does it, AJ?”
Applejack avoided Rainbow Dash’s gaze. “You’d be surprised.”
“I dunno, you seem to be taking this in stride pretty good.”
“Somepony here has ta be strong,” Applejack said darkly, pulling her Stetson down over her eyes.
“But what happens when you can’t be strong anymore?” Fluttershy interjected. “Won’t you need to let somepony else be strong for you?”
Applejack opened her mouth to say something, but froze. She tried to say something again, but failed.
“I can be strong for everypony,” the pale-gold Pegasus continued in an odd tone. “I’ve been strong for Fluttershy for so long, you know…!”
“No!” Fluttershy snapped, her head whipping to the side to face somepony that nopony else could see. “I know what sort of strength you think is strength, but you’re just a bully!”
“Me? A bully?” the other Fluttershy hissed menacingly, her eyes and horns flashing. “I was the one who protected you from Dumbbell and his cronies when Rainbow Dash was away! I was the one who stood up to Warm Front and Posey when they scared Zephyr off! I was the one who stood up to that nurse at Ponyville General so that your friend Twilight could get a good hospital bed! I’m not a bully! You need me.”
“I don’t think I like this new Fluttershy,” Pinkie Pie whimpered, her mane and tail sagging slightly.
“Oh, I don’t know, I really like this ‘New Fluttershy’,” said the other Fluttershy. “And believe me, you guys are gonna be seeing ‘this new Fluttershy’ a lot more from now on! In this New Age Of Discord, everypony’s going to need a more assertive Fluttershy!”
Rainbow Dash looked pained at the changes in her ex-fiancée. “How did I never know that you were there…? I thought I knew Fluttershy better than anypony…”
“Oh you did, Rainbow Dash, apart from me, of course,” the New Fluttershy said. “But I’m not Fluttershy, I’m her guardian when nopony else will be there for her. When even you fail to stand up.”
Fluttershy’s jaw worked, teeth clenching together.
“You… won’t… talk to my Rainbow… like that!”
“Ohh, so now you’re defending her? What about that one time she pranked you by tricking you into thinking you were being chased by a creature of the Everfree when it was really her wearing a bunch of twigs and branches? What sort of friend or lover does that? I thought she knew how sensitive you were.”
“Wait, that really bothered you?” Rainbow Dash wondered, suddenly taken aback.
“Dashie wasn’t trying to hurt me, even if her taste in pranks can be a bit… overwhelming.”
“But it still hurt. You were alone in the dark, at the edge of the Everfree, and then…!”
“Shut up!” Fluttershy put her hooves to either side of her head, clenching her eyes shut. Her ears fell flat behind her horns, which were at least a quarter-hoof longer each. “Shut up shut up shut up! Dashie’s not perfect, but neither are you! And you may be part of me, but Dashie is mine! And I won’t let you talk down about her!”
The New Fluttershy sighed, “Well then… if that’s how it is… then you’re not gonna be hearing from me for a while. When you need me again, I’ll be there. But don’t ask for me, because I won’t be listening!”
As the last words left her mouth, Fluttershy’s body seized up and she fell to the floor, her mane draping over herself and Rainbow Dash as the cerulean mare swept over to catch her. She brushed aside the pale-rose mane to meet Fluttershy’s eyes.
“I had no idea that prank had hurt you like that,” Rainbow Dash said in a soft tone rarely heard out of her. “I mean, I do love myself a good prank, and I won’t lie because I do like getting under other ponies’ skins − ” (“Big surprise there,” remarked Applejack.) “ − but boy, if I’d had known that I wouldn’t of done that.”
“It wasn’t that important, Dashie, you were just―”
“Now don’t be goin’ on about how ‘you were just havin’ fun’, Fluttershy,” Applejack cut in. “Rainbow shoulda known better than ta pullin’ sumthin’ like that on ya, knowin’ ya fer so long an’ all that.”
“Umm, I’m kinda coming to terms with that on my own, thanks a bunch, AJ?” Rainbow Dash said with a prismatic eyebrow cocked.
Pinkie giggled, “I thought Dashie was the one who was the brutally honest one, Jackie.”
“Just ‘cause Rainbow’s the one with the Element a’ Honesty don’ mean that the rest of us are a buncha liars. And believe me, Ah ain’t gunna mince words when Ah see somepony who needs ta be called out.”
“So our Elements of Harmony are basically interchangeable, you’re saying,” Rainbow Dash quipped.
“Ah don’ think so, Ah’m sure we’d need ta ask Twilight about that, an’ Ah don’ wanna tax her mind at the moment.”
Fluttershy nodded, before leaning her head down unconsciously, Rainbow Dash beside her feeling the rough texture of the growing horns on the taller mare’s head grip against her mane.
“I think maybe you should go take a rest yourself, Fluttershy. Looks like dealing with that other Fluttershy pulled a number on you.”
Fluttershy made a soft Mhm in her throat, sounding almost exactly like Marble Pie before she trudged off to her guest room.
“Boy oh boy, there seems to be a lot of lackluster energy going on around here, isn’t there?” Pinkie Pie remarked to Applejack and Rainbow Dash.
“We’re in a rock farm, Pinkie Pie, things are bound to be slower than snails,” grumbled Rainbow Dash.
“Ah don’ know if ya noticed this, Rainbow, but this here rock farm also gave the world Pinkie Pie.”
“Touché,” Rainbow Dash said after a moment.
“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m gonna go downstairs and hang out with Ma & Pa and Maud and Marble and Limestone ‘cause my kidneys are trying to switch places and that’s the Pinkie Sense for my family feeling all bluesy and I get the feeling it’s about the queens being Dizzy’s babies!”
And as quick as leaving an afterimage behind in the eyes of the two mares left in the upstairs corridor, Pinkie Pie darted downstairs.
“I’m gonna follow her,” Rainbow said.
“Ah’m stayin’ here by Twilight’s room.”
“You’re, like, way too close to her without being an item. When are you two gonna tie the knot?”
Applejack’s scarred muzzle turned red.
“It ain’t like that! Ah… Ah just wanna make sure Ah’m there when she wakes up!”
Rainbow Dash stared up at Applejack’s impassioned expression for a few seconds, before flapping into the air and gliding down the staircase and angling herself to the sitting-room, alighting on a pillow between the Pies Pinkie and Limestone.
“How fares thy friend Twilight Sparkle?” asked Cloudy Quartz.
“She’s pretty zonked out from what she’d found out about,” Rainbow Dash answered. “That filly’s got way too much curiosity for her own good. This wouldn’t of happened if she didn’t have her head in those books so much.”
“The mind is not limited in the level of knowledge that it can store,” Maud remarked levelly. “The pony brain is, after all, not at all like a rock.”
“Exactly, Maud~” Pinkie said brightly to the mare on her right.
“Uhhh, how exactly is she ‘exactly’ right, Pinkie?” Rainbow asked.
“The mind is a plastic organ, able to adapt to whatever information that it takes in,” Maud explained. “Rocks are old, and hard, and very resistant to change. It take thousands of years for a mountain to erode from wind and water.”
She rested a hoof on Boulder.
“No. Bad Boulder. No supper for you if you keep that up.”
Rainbow looked up to her left at Limestone, “Your little sisters are weird.”
Limestone’s green eye nearly popped out of its socket as it leveled at the cerulean Pegasus beside her. Suddenly, Rainbow Dash realized all too suddenly that her own torso was slimmer than one of Limestone’s own forelegs, which were tightening as the muscles rippled underneath her coat.
“You watch what you say, little mare,” Limestone growled. “I know that you Pegasi have a lot of hollow bones for flying. If you keep this up, I might just use you to find out exactly how many hollow bones a Pegasus has.”
“Awww, don’t be such a grumpy-pants, Limestone, Dashie didn’t mean anything mean by it!” Pinkie said while throwing her forelegs around Rainbow. “So really, saying that she ‘didn’t mean anything mean’ isn’t the most accurate thing to say. Why do we use the word mean like that when somepony couldn’t have meant anything mean at all? Oh well, I still love you lots and lots, Dashie~~!❤❤❤”
And Pinkie planted several smooches on Rainbow’s left cheek.
“Uhhh, Pinkie, weren’t you just kissing Fluttershy the other day?”
“Oh, I love both of you, Dashie~!”
“Yeah, me and Fluttershy and your family too.”
Pinkie’s muzzle scrunched up as though she’d just tasted the most bitter extract from lemons or limes.
“Ewwwwww no, I couldn’t love my Ma & Pa or any of my sisters like that at all, Dashie D:! They’re my family! But you and Flutters are just both so adorable~~~!”
Igneous Rock & Cloudy Quartz shared a glance with each other.
The two of them gazed at Rainbow Dash with uncommonly soft looks.
“We give Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy our blessing, Pinkamena,” Igneous Rock said.
“Many boons be upon you,” Cloudy Quartz added.
“What are you guys talking about?” Rainbow Dash gasped out from Pinkie’s grip, utterly perplexed. “What position are you guys even in to give me and Fluttershy your blessing?”
But Pinkie let out a squeal so high that only Bat Ponies would be able to hear it soon and clenched Rainbow Dash even tighter in her grip.
“I can’t wait to tell Fluttershy the good news!”
Rainbow Dash groaned. What had she gotten herself roped into? It wasn’t just Pinkie and her sisters that were weird, it was the whole stinking Pie family!
With a sigh, Applejack turned her gaze back at the door to Twilight’s guest room. For a rare moment, she gave thanks to the lessons in subtlety and grace and façades and such from her Aunt & Uncle Orange. As much as she’d put on the airs that she’d remained unaffected, the truth was that she was crying inside.
That no-good good-for-nuthin’ Discord, the father a’ th’ Queens? she thought to herself. It just can’ be true! The Queens are just too good to be his kin! It’s just… consarnit, it’s just dang inconceivable! Ah wanna believe ya, Twilight, letcha know that yer way smarter than a silly little farmer like me could ever be, but this is just…!
She rubbed her left foreleg with a sigh.
Ah mean, how much a’ th’ Queens is even pony ta begin with? You know so much about all sortsa magical disguises an’ glamours an’ all that. What in the world sorta drakonakis creatures are they really? An’, what do they really think of us ponies…?
Applejack shook her head furiously, almost dislodging her Stetson.
No. Queen Celestia and Queen Selena ain’t like that, not one bit. What kinda pony am Ah ta think thoughts like that about the pair of ‘em? They built this beautiful land of Equestria fer the lot of us, riskin’ so much against Discord an’ the hordes a’ Tartarus. An’, that means that they didn’ just defy th’ spirit a’ chaos an’ disharmony, but their own father at that. Ah… don’ think Ah could do the same.
At that moment, she heard a shuffling behind her, from Twilight’s guest room door. Turning, she spotted the doorknob shining with a pink dwimmer shimmer, turning, the door swinging inwards as a disheveled and red-eyed Unicorn stepped out.
“Hi, Applejack,” she said with a weak cracking voice.
“Hi, sugar-cube,” Applejack replied.
“I… think I’m ready to get us back on track collecting the Elements again.”
“Umm, excuse me, Mr. & Mrs. Pie,” Rainbow Dash said through Pinkie Pie’s vice-grip, “but what the hay is there reason for you guys to give me and Fluttershy your blessings? You’re not even related to either of us.”
Pinkie’s parents exchanged quizzical looks.
“Pinkamena hast spoken so glowingly of thee every time she has written letters to us,” Igneous Rock said, “and with such color in her speech to boot.”
“Thou, thy Fluttershy, and Pinkamena feel as though you would have a wonderful dynamic, so we have given the three of you our blessing.”
Rainbow’s heart leapt into her throat.
Excuse me, world, she thought, her mind and heart racing, but I just had a breakup with Fluttershy a couple weeks ago for moving too fast and now I’m the one asking you to slow down! I mean, how did I get here with my friend who I didn’t think liked me like that kisses me and now her parents are saying we should MARRY? Me and Pinkie and Fluttershy?
“But I − it’s − just − you guys have only known me for, like, a few days at the most! We didn’t even meet before NightMare Night! How could you two have already decided to give us your blessing for a herd marriage?”
“We admit that it is rather hasty of us,” Igneous Rock nodded. “After all, Mrs. Pie’s parents did not give us their blessing for a whole week.”
Rainbow’s cerise eyes nearly popped out of her head.
“A week? And how long had you known each other before that?”
Cloudy Quartz answered, “We were chosen by the Choosing Stone a week before my mother and father gave their blessing, and betrothed within a fortnight.”
“Two weeks?” Rainbow echoed in disbelief. “You only knew each other two weeks before you got hitched?”
“That is the life we know, Rainbow Dash,” Igneous Rock explained. “The Choosing Stone decreed ‘You shalt love each other’, and lo, it was so.” He and his wife locked eyes with what Rainbow could only assume were passionate expressions for such stiff ponies.
“And, you gave me your blessing after only knowing me for a few days.”
“I knowwwwww, isn’t it exciting~~~~~?” Pinkie squealed shrilly, rubbing her cheek firmly agianst Rainbow’s. “Ma & Pa, thank you soooooo much! 8D”
Limestone cast her eyes past Pinkie and Rainbow Dash to Marble, “There’s no questioning Pinkie’s romantic interests.”
“Mm-mm,” Marble replied with a shake of her head.
“And truly, were it not for thy Sonic Rainboom, Rainbow Dash, it would be possible that our Pinkamena would not have acquired her cutie mark,” Cloudy Quartz said, and Rainbow Dash found herself hanging onto the matriarch’s words. The grayish-opal mare stared at Rainbow over the frames of her half-moon glasses. “Our Pinkamena was a very dull and gray filly growing up, but not enjoying the work about the rock farm as her sisters or any other Pie would.”
Pinkie Pie giggled, “I was literally gray…!”
“Wait a minute,” Rainbow Dash pushed away from Pinkie, no mean feat. “So, you mean you were gray more often than just that time in Pundamilia?”
Igneous Rock blinked at the cerulean Pegasus, “Thou hast borne witness to Pinkamena in a state of grayness? She did let us know that she had been overtaken by grayness while separated from her party of friends, but we were not aware that she had rendezvoused with her friends while still in such condition.”
Pinkie grinned nervously, “I, uhhh, might have left the teensiest little itty-bitty sprinkle of a part of that out.”
Cloudy Quartz produced a photo album from a nearby side table, and scrolled through the first few pages. As Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie drew around the album, Cloudy Quartz came to a particular photograph. Mr. & Mrs. Pie looked barely any younger, but their fillies clearly were. Maud had a surprisingly warm expression, and she stood almost on level with her parents. Marble’s forelock only barely covered one eye, and she already showed a degree of lankiness that grew ahead of her Earth Pony hardiness. Limestone’s mane hung flatter and less spiny, her expression less fierce, though she remained as stocky as ever. But the greatest change of all was Pinkie Pie.
She looked nothing like the round pink Earth Pony looking down at the album. Half the size of her twin, dull-gray in coat, ashen-white in mane that fell almost completely over her face, and with pitch-black spirals in pale-white eyes in place of irises or pupils. Marble beside her seemed downright bubbly and extroverted by comparison. Her tail curled around her haunches as she sat, as though she attempted to withdraw into herself and be unseen from the world. A more miserable expression on a filly could not be imagined.
“She spoke not a single word her entire fillyhood,” Igneous Rock said with a nostalgic gaze at the page. “For the whole time we thought her to be mute. That is, till the day she had earned her cutie mark. And then, that was when the rosy hue of her coat returned. And all the words that had remained unspoken for nearly a douzaide came spilling forth.”
“‘Returned’? She was pink before?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“The day we brought her in, Pinkamena was as pink as her namesake,” Cloudy Quartz explained. “Once she would have been old enough to speak, however, her coat dulled to what thou can see here.” She almost smiled. “Suffice it to say that we… quite did not expect her to speak at all. Now we cannot go by without it.”
“It was quite astonishing to hear that bright and cheery voice,” added Maud. “I had almost forgotten how vibrant Pinkie was as a newborn, so for a moment myself, Limestone, and Marble thought that she was a stranger filly who had wandered into our sitting-room and set up a party.”
“Mhm,” agreed Marble.
“But when we realized who the filly was,” Maud continued, “you cannot imagine just how overjoyed we were. Limestone, Marble, and I did not detest Pinkie for her foalhood muteness, but it still brought unfathomable delight when she was able to speak her feelings so plainly.”
Limestone nodded quickly.
Trotting hoofsteps came from the stairs just beyond the sitting-room, one set lighter than the other. Twilight Sparkle entered, levitating a dozing Rarity in her dwimmer shimmer, followed by Applejack. The lavender Unicorn had dark circles under her eyes, which looked slightly bloodshot. Paired with her growing stubble, she gave all the appearance of a vagabond.
“Sorry for my episode back there, everypony,” she said in a delicate tone of voice. “It was… quite a shock, to put it mildly.”
Rainbow waved a hoof airily, “I dunno, there’s like literally no other Alicorns in the world, so it makes sense that the Queens would be mutant draconequuses like Discord.”
“You’re forgetting the Alicorns of Love, Rainbow,” Twilight responded sharply.
“They don’t count, since the Queens made the first Alicorn of Love.”
“I guess, but still, who could have possibly called that regarding the Queens? And I’m not here to talk about the Queens, I’m here to get us back on track to track down the Elements of Harmony again.”
“Oh wow, really?” Pinkie Pie said brightly, looking up at… something above the ceiling. “How many chapters has it been since we found Dashie’s Element?”
“Ummmm, it’s only been two or three days, Pinkie?” Rainbow Dash said uncertainly. “And what do you mean by ‘chapters’?”
“Well, not all of them were about us, there was that one that dealt with the Cutie Mark Crusaders back in Ponyville and having to deal with a three-headed doggie that Dizzy dropped off there.”
“What?” Applejack shouted. “What three-headed dog? The only three-headed dog Ah cin think of is…!”
“Cerberus?!” Twilight gasped. “But if he’s there, then that means that Tartarus is unguarded!”
The air left the room. If the guardian of Tartarus had been vacated, likely forcefully by Discord’s actions, then it was only a matter of time before the hordes within ate away at the other defenses keeping them locked down, and so spilled out upon Equestria.
“Oh no…!” Twilight began to hyperventilate. “Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no! This is bad! This is very very bad!”
“Ughhhh, my head…”
Rarity had stirred from her position where Twilight had deposited her. The curly-haired dirty-coated Unicorn straggled to an upright position, her nostrils flaring as she shook out her grayed mane.
“What in the world could you possibly be shouting about, Twilight?”
“Cerberus is loose! Tartarus is open! There’s very little keeping any of its interred threats from breaking loose!”
Rarity scoffed, “Tell me why I should care. You stole all my glittering baby diamonds from me, and I―”
Twilight screamed in frustration.
“I have HAD IT!” Her horn glowed pink. “You… Du selbstsüchtiger Hortender! This isn’t you, Rarity! And I can’t stand it! I can’t take it anymore!”
Tears flowing from her eyes, she leapt up to Rarity and pulled her down to her her level, touching her alicorn to the base of Rarity’s. Acting wildly, the matrices in Twilight’s horn aligned for a particular spell. One that she had no reason to assume would have any effect.
After an eternal two seconds of contact, it began at the point of contact between Twilight Sparkle and Rarity. A wave of color spread out along Rarity’s coat, past her eyes and up her mane and tail from the roots, down to her fetlocks and hooves. In no time, it became clear that whatever effect that Discord had effected upon Rarity was being reversed. At least externally.
Twilight blinked. Had she just undone the washing-out that Discord had forced on Rarity?
“R… Rarity?” She raised a hoof to the formerly alabaster Unicorn. “Can you hear me?”
The couturière rubbed her head with an unshorn hoof, eyes clenched closed.
“Twilight, darling, why does my head hurt so much? All I can remember is this terrible nightmare where I refused to share in my blessings no matter how much I collected.”
“Well, the nightmare’s over now, Rarity,” Twilight said.
“Yayyy, Rarity’s back~” Pinkie squealed.
Rarity opened her eyes, taking in Twilight’s appearance.
“Goodness gracious, Twilight, you look positively dreadful! Have you been besieged by nightmares yourself?”
Twilight glanced away from Rarity’s gaze, “You could say that.”
“Well, give me just a moment to collect myself and we can get you all polished up − SWEET CELESTIA WHY AM I SO FILTHY?!!”
Rarity stared with horror at the dirt stains and matted fur all over her coat, flicking her tail to check on her ordinarily highly styled skirt, turning in circles to take in all of the horrible lack of tidiness to her look.
“How in the name of Equestria could I have let this happen to myself? And WHAT HAPPENED TO MY CUTIE MARK?”
With a double-take, Twilight realized that Rarity’s cutie mark had not changed at all. The diamond-shaped symbols on her flanks were still replaced with actual blue diamonds of the exact lozenge-cut of her mark. They seemed to shine a bit brighter than they had before, but why had they not changed back as well?
“What exactly happened here…?”
“You were bewitched by Discord, and apparently given those diamonds in place of your actual cutie mark. I can’t say for certain why the diamonds haven’t disappeared when I cast my anamnesis spell on you. I still can’t believe that it actually worked! I was just… just so mad, and sad, that I thought I’d lost you.”
“Well, I for one am glad to be back,” Rarity smiled at Twilight.
“We all are, Rare, fer sure,” Applejack added.
Rarity looked around, “Where’s Fluttershy?”
“She’s snoozing after having a big argument with the mean Fluttershy,” Pinkie chimed in. “I mean, who can blame her? If I had a mean old split personality like that, I’d be arguing with her all the time! …or would she be a he? Just because he’s in a mare’s body doesn’t mean he’d be a she, right?”
“N-No, Pinkie Pie, no it doesn’t,” Rarity answered, crossing her forelegs. “So, may I inquire as to why everypony is up and about so late? It looks like Queen Celestia’s sun set some hours ago.”
True enough, the window outside was quite dark, only the faintest glow from the drying lava left behind from Maud’s bath.
“I… had a bit of a revelation in delving through the books regarding the Cult of Pi,” Twilight said softly.
“What sort of revelation?”
“I’m sorry, Rarity, but I’d rather not ruin your beauty sleep tonight. It will be our first discussion in the morning, after breakfast. And after that… we delve into Discord’s puzzle again. To find the remaining Elements of Harmony. We’ve waited far too long.”
“Indeed, darling. Now, if it’s not too much trouble, Mr. & Mrs. Pie, I think I’m overdue for a very thorough shower.”
“Go straight ahead, Miss Rarity,” replied Cloudy Quartz, and Rarity left the sitting room for the bathroom.
Applejack twisted about on her guest bed, her mind unable to either find rest or to focus. As relieving as it was to have Rarity back, there still remained the issue of Spike. He had not responded to the same anamnesis spell that Twilight had used to bring Rarity back to her senses, leading Twilight to ponder that Spike’s natural Dragon resistance to magic was hampering her spellwork. At least, that was what Applejack was able to discern from Twilight’s half-formed sobbing.
And there was still the heavy matter of the father of the Queens.
Ah know that they were good ponies − err, well, good sorts, that is, she thought, but sumthin’ still feels outta place here. What made ‘em turn on their kin like they did? Are there any other siblin’s a’ theirs who they managed ta bring over ta th’ good side? An’ if they didn’ turn… did they have to fight ‘em… or worse…?
Applejack’s door creaked open. Her ears swiveled about to catch the sounds of whoever had decided to pay her a bedside visit in the middle of the night. There were hoofsteps, slow and tentative, as though the pony in question were trying not to be heard.
“Applejack?” came Twilight’s voice, hushed and afraid.
The farming Earth Pony turned over onto her left side to face the bedroom door, the silhouette of Twilight Sparkle barely visible in doorframe.
“Twilight?” Applejack asked sleepily.
“I couldn’t sleep, and for some reason, I just felt like I should… be with you, tonight.”
A light feeling swept through Applejack starting from her heart, and because she knew exactly what was the cause of it, she was hesitant to give Twilight admittance. She had already tried to take advantage of Twilight while she was diving into a book earlier in the day. What if she couldn’t resist? Rainbow Dash wasn’t there to stop her from forcing herself on the smaller weaker Unicorn.
She refused to let herself say yes.
“Room fer one more, sugar-cube.”
The bedsprings coiled below as Twilight climbed up onto the bed beside the palomino, who turned over onto her right side so as to avoid the temptation. And for a short while, it worked.
“Applejack? Look at me.”
Her muscles tensed.
“No. Ah can’, Twilight. Not while we’re sharin’ a bed.”
“Applejack, I need you to look at me.”
The words I need you stirred Applejack, and she found herself twisting around from laying on her right side to her left side…
And she saw that Twilight’s face was streaked with tears.
“I can’t take it, AJ,” Twilight murmured, “all this chaos. We lost the Elements of Harmony, the order of Equestria is in crisis, and the Queens are…!”
Applejack found herself moving automatically, raising a hoof to Twilight’s cheek.
“Ah know, sugar-cube, it ain’t sumthin’ that any of us wanted. We didn’ ask fer any a’ this. But we gotta stick t’gether an’ support each other through it. Ah learned that when Ah lost my Ma & Pa. Ah couldn’ just leave Big Mac an’ Granny ta raise Apple Bloom on their own.”
Twilight brought a hoof up to touch Applejack’s own.
“Why did we have to be friends in interesting times?”
“Ah don’ like to think about the sortsa folks who’d find these times ‘interesting’.”
“It’s a saying, purported to come from Koriel of Qín, although there are no records of it in any Qílínese documentation: ‘May you live in interesting times’. It supposes that the ‘interesting times’ in question would be determined by strife and war in lieu of love and peace.”
“That sounds like a downright grim lookout on life.”
“And sadly, it almost feels like we are living in interesting times indeed.”
“Tell me about it.”
“First the return of NightMare Moon and then the Queen Selena and now this. The history books will have a great deal to say about this. If there are history books in the future.”
“Now, don’ say things like that, Twilight. That’s not gonna help us at all out there, sniffin’ out the rest a’ th’ Elements a’ Harmony. Ah’m sure that plenty a’ folks in the history books didn’ think they’d live ta have their acts an’ deeds put down on paper.”
“I suppose. The first Age Of Discord still lacks concrete coverage in historical accounts; it’s even commonly practiced in historical accounts preceding and succeeding the Age Of Discord to not assign it any years and to simply start over with the reign of the Queens.” She closed her eyes. “I’m sure they meant well, but… what are they?”
“They’re our Queens, an’ they wouldn’ta done what they did if they didn’ love every one of us,” Applejack answered softly. “An’ maybe, there’s a good reason that we don’ know exactly what they are.”
Applejack withdrew her hoof from Twilight’s face, and turned over onto her back.
“An’ what does it matter, what they were like then? They’re our Queens now, an’ they’re fixin’ ta save th’ lot of us from all sortsa troubles from the Griffons to the odd rogue Dragon.”
A pair of hooves threw themselves around Applejack’s left foreleg, and she felt her heart skip slightly at the touch. Twilight looked up into Applejack’s green eyes.
“Stay with me, won’t you, Applejack?”
Once more Applejack found herself being piqued by Twilight’s choice of words, and one of her heartstrings plucked at the prospect of reciprocation. But her head ruled over her heart that there was no way a high-class Canterlot Unicorn could be interested in a low-class rube Earth Pony farmer like herself.
“Sure Ah will. As th’ Bearer a’ th’ Element of Loyalty.”
The morning of the dozen-third of Hurricane (which would be the sixtieth day of the month of Bureaucracy in the Cult of Pi’s calendar) came soon after, and though there was sufficient rest from the events of the previous night, the dawn came far too soon. Twilight knew that Rarity needed to learn what she had learned and what she told the rest of her friends, but the prospect of telling her was far from a palatable notion.
But even so, one sometimes needed to bite the arrowhead.
“The father of the Queens?” Rarity shouted shrilly. “But they’re both such lovely creatures and… that… is just so wretched and not even symmetrical!”
“Queen Celestia’s crown serves as a power limiter, we know that much,” Twilight answered, tapping a hoof against the wooden floor in front of her pillow-seat. “We can assume that the rest of her regalia functions in a manner not unlike a glamour, keeping her non-equine features locked away.”
“We don’ exactly need ta worry ‘bout that, though, Ah imagine,” Applejack said. “They’ve bin supportin’ us ponies fer a dog’s age, so they ain’ exactly likely ta be conspirin’ against us with their father.”
“But, supposing that the limiters on this glamour have, well, a limit,” Rarity insisted. “I have dreamed of the coming of the day when I could design dresses for the Queens.”
Rainbow Dash cocked an eyebrow at the alabaster Unicorn.
“Really? I thought we were done associating with the upper crust after that Blueblood character turned out to be a real heel, Rarity.”
“Well, it’s… not about him, you must understand, Rainbow Dash, it’s about… finding a broader clientele, pursuing a greater artistic challenge. And what would be more challenging than to provide Carousel Couture-brand couturial apparel for the Queens of Equestria themselves?” She waved a hoof sheepishly. “Free of charge, of course. I shan’t demand nor accept a single unbit of pay from either of them.”
“But if they’re not really ponies,” Pinkie Pie interjected, “wouldn’t that be even more of a super-duper challenge than if they were like the rest of Equestria? I mean, how many legs or wings or eyes do they have when they’re wearing their true colors? Like, they could totally have wings coming out where their eyes should be and a barrel totally covered in eyeballs or even birdie claws like the Griffons have…!” The rosy Earth Pony shuddered at the last part.
“They’re called ‘talons’, Pinkie,” Twilight answered flatly. “And really, Rarity, I think that there are greater things to be concerned about regarding the Queens than whether you’ll be able to design dresses for them if their pony forms are not indeed their true forms. And besides, it’s not like only the Griffons have talons. The Hippogriffs do as well, and theirs is a friendly nation to Equestria.”
Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash turned to Fluttershy.
“Just gotta warn you, Flutters, before the rest of the Pies come down, that you should… probably not ask too many questions about anything that they say to you.”
The pale-gold Pegasus gave her ex-fiancée a quizzical look.
“Umm… what sort of things will they be saying exactly?”
At that precise moment, as though some higher spirit was answering Fluttershy’s question, there came the sounds of hooves scraping above the ceiling. Although the Pie family homestead was a well-built house to last for generations, it was still an old building that left little secrets when it came to moving about the house.
“Tell me about it, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been woken up when Marble had to go for a middle-of-the-night sip of water!” Pinkie piped up gleefully.
“Beggin’ yer pardon,” Applejack interjected, “but who’re you talkin’ to, Pinkie Pie?”
“Ooooh, somepony very important, Jackie~!” replied Pinkie. “It’s the narrator, or the writer, or whoever’s reading this right now!”
The other five mares found themselves giving Pinkie a slightly wider berth, the sounds of hoofsteps now reaching the stairs.
“Pinkie Pie, are you sure you’ve been feeling alright?” Twilight asked hesitantly.
Pinkie’s eyes creased half-shut in a bright grin that almost literally lit up the room.
“I’m feeling better than better than ever, Twily~!” she said in an all-too-shrill voice.
The lavender Unicorn scratched at her stubbly chin, but before she could open up a further line of inquiry…
“Well, it sounds like Pinkie is feeling particularly perky this morning,” interjected Limestone, her much larger family members following behind her. Marble’s nightcap hung across her shoulders as a makeshift neck-warmer, and Igneous Rock was pulling on the cap that he had hung by the staircase the previous night. As soon as spotting them, Rainbow Dash threw a foreleg over Fluttershy’s shoulder and pointedly avoided looking at Pinkie Pie.
“The best of mornings to all of you,” Igneous Rock said in a tone carrying the faintest of joviality to it. Which, coming from Igneous Rock Pie, was an uncommonly warm tone.
“A very good morning indeed, it seems, for some of the youngest present, Mr. Pie,” answered Cloudy Quartz with a proud look at the pair of Pegasi.
“Umm, what exactly for, Mr. & Mrs. Pie?” Fluttershy asked, at a complete loss.
Igneous Rock looked perplexedly between the cerulean and pale-gold mares.
“Hast thy partner not informed thee? Mrs. Pie & myself have given ye our blessing.”
Fluttershy knitted her eyebrows. “Umm, I don’t… think that Rainbow Dash and I really require your blessing. And besides…”
“Awww, don’t turn this down on Ma & Pa, Shysie~!” Pinkie squealed, throwing her hooves around both Rainbow and Fluttershy. “We’ve got their blessing, all three of us!”
After a moment’s comprehension, the pale-gold Pegasus’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Umm, wait. But, we aren’t a couple − couples − a love-herd―” She brought a hoof to the side of her head, just below one of her horns. Her eyes clenched shut. “My head…! She… wants to come out again! But, I need to know… when did this happen?”
“Mr. Pie & myself have quite observed the ways in which you three behave together, and have found you to be perfectly compatible by the standards of the Choosing Stone.”
“Thy sensitivity and our Pinkamena’s deep-running love balance out against Miss Rainbow Dash’s headstrong personality,” explained Igneous Rock, “while thy groundedness and Rainbow Dash’s determination give Pinkamena a solid foundation for her to return to.”
“And so, after some admittedly swift deliberation, you three have the Pie family’s blessing in marriage.”
Pinkie Pie was beside herself with glee, but the same could not be said of either Rainbow Dash or Fluttershy. The cerulean Pegasus was shrugging her forelegs while apparently hardening one of her primaries with Pegasus magic to dig around inside her left ear. Her pale-gold partner, however, had clenched her eyes shut even more tightly, the spot between her eyebrows creasing, as both hooves clamped onto either side of her head, a strained sound escaping from between her clenched teeth.
“Don’t get too stressed, Flutters,” Rainbow said, flicking her erstwhile ear-picking primary to get rid of something too orange to be a part of the red feather. “I mean, it’s not like we have to get married, right? I mean, the blessing just means we have their permission. It’s not like it’s mandatory or anything.”
“I know, but… me and you, Dashie, we haven’t even gotten back together yet!” Fluttershy whimpered. “No, I don’t want you to do this! I don’t want you to…!”
The shy Pegasus froze ramrod still for several moments, drawing every eye towards her in concern.
And when her eyes opened again, they carried a different light in them.
“Well done, you’ve gone and scared Fluttershy away,” snarled the New Fluttershy. “She wanted so badly to tell all of you that she didn’t want this, but the idea of saying it overwhelmed her! And so it falls down to me to play damage control…!”
“Oh rock-lobster-apples,” swore Limestone. “Did you think about that other Fluttershy, Ma & Pa?”
Cloudy Quartz adjusted her glasses, “Mr. Pie & I would… really rather hope that the presence of both Pinkamena & Rainbow Dash would really rather keep this… odd temper tantrum of Fluttershy’s under control.”
“I am no temper tantrum!” shouted the New Fluttershy, looking ready to lock horns with the Pie matriarch. “I am the only one who Fluttershy can truly depend on! The only one who will never leave her side! I am Fluttershy’s rock!”
“But you look nothing like Boulder,” Maud offered, holding up the pet rock.
“Mm-mm,” said Marble, shaking her head.
The New Fluttershy’s pupils constricted, the horned mare looking ready to blow a gasket.
“You should really learn not to use metaphors around Maud, Newsie Floozie, she takes everything literally~” Pinkie said in a singsong warning.
“I am NOT a floozy!” the New Fluttershy shouted, preparing to wrap her hooves around the rosy mare’s neck. “I’ve made sure all Fluttershy’s life that no pony she can’t trust has ever laid a hoof on her!”
“Well, don’ that explain why yer so highstrung?” Applejack drawled.
“Don’t drag me off-topic!” the New Fluttershy hissed. “Everypony is talking about what they want for Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, but what about what Fluttershy wants? What about what I want as her rock? What if we don’t want any part of this? Why would I want to marry anypony?!”
“That sounds more like you’re just being an overprotective sister to me,” Maud commented.
Limestone nodded, “Maud would know that for sure.”
Marble followed suit, “Mhm.”
The pale-gold mare took to the air.
“None of you know what Fluttershy’s gone through! What she still faces when she sleeps! All of you idiots, moving rocks around the fields like that matters worth a damn! You rocks-for-brains, who wouldn’t know how to help a parentless filly if they fell out of the sky!”
The air in the room became frosty, the Pies looking up at the New Fluttershy with looks ranging from rage to hurt. Fluttershy’s Ponyville friends (which included Pinkie Pie) gave her looks of sheer alarm. In addition to the flagrantly hurtful statements which the New Fluttershy had flung around, it seemed that Fluttershy’s horns had almost doubled in length, beginning to curl backwards behind her ears like a ram’s.
The horned Pegasus’s forehooves flew to the sides of her head, her wings flapping more and more erratically, swaying beneath the light fixture on the ceiling and almost swinging into the mirror sitting between the sitting-room windows.
“No! No, no, no, no, NO!” she shouted, and the softness of her tone indicated that she was regular old Fluttershy again. “I won’t have you say another bad thing about the ones I love!”
“But, you don’t want what they want, don’t you?” replied the New Fluttershy.
“No… Yes… I don’t know!”
“How can you not know? You hate having to deal with obnoxious ponies with no sense of personal space! You should hate Pinkie Pie! You also hated rushing your relationship with Rainbow Dash, so why did you do it?”
“I… I don’t know! Just… don’t make me do this!”
“I don’t want to hurt anypony any more than you do, but if they keep trying to get closer to you…!”
“Not that… this!”
So entranced was everypony by what was unfolding between the two Fluttershys, that they scarcely noticed that the pale-gold Pegasus had landed in front of the mirror, and on the word ‘this’ had thrust her own face at the mirror and locked eyes with her reflection, wearing a look of unbreakable determination as her nose and forehead pressed against the reflective glass.
There was a faint cyan light dancing around the edges of her irises.
Fluttershy was Staring herself.
“Uhhh, Fluttershy? You there?” Rainbow Dash asked with cerise eyes creased in concern. She raised a wing, thinner than her forehoof, and tried to wave it between her eyes. The space was too thin for even Rainbow’s thinnest primaries.
“She’s Staring herself down,” Twilight said softly. (“Yeah, we can all see that, smarty-saddle,” Rainbow Dash growled.) “What could have driven her to think that was a good idea?”
“We’re gunna have ta take her with us when we go find the next Element on th’ list, so up ya git, Flutters,” Applejack said, lowering her head and pushing lightly against the slender Pegasus’s barrel.
She didn’t budge.
Clenching her teeth, the palomino put more of her hardy Earth Pony strength into the act, enough to pull an entire cart stacked full of cider barrels.
Fluttershy still couldn’t be moved.
“What sorta magic is there in this gal?” Applejack said with a heavy inhale of breath.
“Fluttershy did say that her mother was an Earth Pony, so maybe she’s expressing some of the ‘standing firm’ magic of Earth Ponies through her eyes to keep herself locked in place…?” Twilight hypothesized.
“But,” she continued, “what for? What’s going on in there…?”
The mindspace of a pony was a much-studied topic, but not one which Fluttershy herself had given a great deal of thought. Her studies were much more geared towards her special talent of animal-care, so she was not terribly surprised by her mindspace, although she would have been unsurprised for completely different reason if she had studied the mindspace.
Animals and creatures of all sorts from every era of Harmonia and Gaia’s timespan spanned a bright but sunless expanse, dotted with the occasional copse of trees. Shapeless blobs of water hovered in the air which contained sea life in all shapes and sizes, schooling this way and that among the avian beasts. Far above, in place of either Sun or Moon, were the looming impossibly large silhouettes of a Pegasus stallion and an Earth Pony mare, their eyes standing out stark against their unclear forms as they gazed down with no kindness or pity.
But at the moment, Fluttershy stared down another mare in her mindscape, who also stared her down.
A mare almost identical to her.
The other Fluttershy’s coat was darker and more intense in hue, as were her mane and tail. Contrasting to the lithe build that Fluttershy possessed, the other was thicker and burlier, with a stronger jawline. Her wings were broader, with wide thick primaries like shields, and a fan of tail feathers that flared out more strongly than Fluttershy’s own. Her mane was rough and shorter than Fluttershy’s, as was her tail, and both her dark eyes stared deeply into Fluttershy’s own from either side of a deep-yellow stripe down her nose.
And Fluttershy said to her alter in as strong a voice as she could muster, backed by all the love she felt for every pony and animal she loved back in the physical world, “We have a lot to talk about, young lady.”
Fluttershy’s alter sneered with bared teeth, “So the little baby birdie bares her talons. But you’re still too fragile to leave the nest without my help. And if you won’t let me protect you, then we can be here for a very long time.”
“I can be here as long as it takes. My friends are worth that.”
Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer dimmed as she stepped away from the mirror and the mare staring into it, the rectangle of light on the side of Fluttershy’s head fading with her horn’s glow.
“I was unable to figure out what was really going on in her mindscape,” explained the lavender Unicorn. “For some reason, even though I’ve dabbled in study on psychic spells, I can’t seem to get a read on what’s going on in Fluttershy’s mind.”
“Wait a minute, psychic spells?” Rainbow Dash interjected, cocking a prismatic eyebrow. “So you could read our minds and we wouldn’t even know?”
(For some reason, Applejack blushed deeply at the cerulean mare’s statement.)
“Well, for starters, Rainbow Dash, there are stipulations that warn against that at the start of every spellbook for psychics,” Twilight explained. “Telepathy spells have a written-in clause that prevents the caster from casting it on somepony who has not given their explicit consent to the spell.”
“But if the party in question has already given their consent,” Rarity asked, “why would they need to have telepathy cast upon them? Why would they not just speak what is on their mind?”
“Telepathy is not meant for such redundancy. Maybe the pony in question is mute either by birth or by jinx. Maybe they’re incapable of putting their thoughts into words. Granted, there is a different telepathy spell for the purposes of espionage that does not have this consent clause, but it’s obviously not in common circulation. Even I don’t know the particular matrices to align in my alicorn to cast that spell, and I would obviously not ask you girls to be my test subjects on that regard.”
“Ah much appreciate that, Twilight,” Applejack replied shortly, pulling her Stetson down over her red face.
“So, Miss Fluttershy has entered into a staring contest with herself?” asked Igneous Rock.
Pinkie stretched up to match her father’s eye level, “Fluttershy’s Staring down her alter, Pa, and her alter who we called ‘the other Fluttershy’ or ‘the New Fluttershy’ is a real meanie-mean-pants to everypony because she really really really wants to keep Fluttershy safe from anypony who she doesn’t like which is basically everypony, and Fluttershy didn’t like that so she’s Staring her alter down in a whole big landscape full of every animal in the world apart from herself and the planet-sized shapes of her mean old mommy and daddy! Oh and before you ask, an alter is another personality that can be inside a pony’s head with them and occasionally take control of their body, and I’m sure that the reason the other Fluttershy exists is because her parents were super-big-meanie-mean-pants meaner than any other parents in the whole big wide world! So Fluttershy’s in a battle on the landscape of her own mind to let the other Fluttershy know who’s the boss in her own body~!”
Rainbow Dash had clamped her wings over her ears, opening one clenched-shut eye to address the rosy mare, “I don’t think your explanation was long enough or loud enough, Pinkie.”
“Really? ‘Cause I think that I was really pretty thorough about Shysie’s psyche.” She giggled to herself. “Shysie’s psyche, Shysie’s psyche, Shysie’s psyche…!”
“Well, Ah don’ mean ta sound cruel,” Applejack cut in, “but we don’ know how long Fluttershy’s gunna be stuck in this state, do we?” She faced Twilight. “Any sorta ideas on that, sugar-cube?”
Twilight set her eyes on the self-Staring Fluttershy, “I really can’t say. Without Fluttershy’s consent to cast telepathy on her, I don’t have a concrete idea as to what the state of things are in her mindscape. So I’m afraid that we are going to need to seek out the remaining Elements of Harmony without her.”
“Wait right there!” Rainbow looked positively livid. “You’re saying we should just leave Fluttershy behind? We shouldn’t split up the party!”
“These are good ponies, Rainbow,” Twilight said sternly. “I really don’t think that the Pies will let anything happen to Fluttershy or Spike.”
“Oh right.” Rainbow Dash’s ears drooped. “I forgot you were leaving your kid here.”
“Wait a moment, Twilight,” Rarity interjected, raising a hoof. “You used a particular spell to bring me back to my senses. Why not use that same spell on Spike?”
“Dragons have a much higher magical immunity than ponies do. When I was raising Spike, I was never able to use any charms to hasten his recovery from sicknesses; I had to wait it out with him and give him the right nutrients to bolster his immune system.” She laughed bitterly to herself. “I was always his mother and I didn’t know till a few months ago.”
Igneous Rock & Cloudy Quartz approached the lavender Unicorn.
“We will care for them, Twilight Sparkle,” said Igneous Rock, holding his hat to his chest. “Thou hast our solemn oath as humble rock farmers.”
Cloudy Quartz, Limestone, Maud, and Marble all nodded, the latter murmuring Mhm as she did so.
Twilight felt a knot of tension that she hadn’t known was there unravel in her chest. The revelations of the Queens’ father had compounded upon the issues of her issue and her friends all being twisted by Discord, as had the compulsion to delve into the history of the Pies over the search for the Elements. But now, with Fluttershy out of commission and Spike out of his mind, there came up a kind-hearted family to share the burden.
Despite her odd train of thought, Pinkie Pie truly came from a family that raised her well.
“Ooooh, thank you thank you thank you, you guys, I just love you guys sooooo much~!❤❤❤❤❤”
With her squealing declaration of love, Pinkie Pie scooped up her entire family in an impossibly large hug. Her forelegs wrapped around her parents and all three of her sisters, despite the five of them being so much larger than Pinkie herself.
A voice in Twilight’s mind was telling her not to think too hard about this. A voice that had been whispering exactly the same thing in its honey-sweet tone from the very moment she’d met Pinkie Pie and witnessed her often-impossible deeds. Where did it come from, and why did Pinkie have abilities that just didn’t make… sense…?
…it didn’t make sense.
A thought crossed Twilight Sparkle’s mind, as she gazed at the round and rosy Earth Pony embracing the ponies who had taken her in and raised her as one of their own…
Applejack’s voice snapped Twilight out of her woolgathering.
“Oh, sorry, Applejack, I was… just thinking. We… should probably step outside to talk about where to find the… Elements.”
A bolt passed through Twilight’s mind, as though somebody had jammed a steel rod through the top of her head in a botched trepanation and then attached a generator to the rod. Thoughts passed in a flash in what could be described as a ‘brain-blast’, an epiphany.
“Pinkie Pie!” she cried. “I’m going to need to cast the psycho-portal spell on you!”
“Are you sure you want to see my baby sister’s thoughts, Twilight Sparkle?” asked Limestone, her cheeks squished on one side by Marble, on the other side by Igneous Rock. “It’s a pretty crazy place in there; you could end up seeing things ponykind was never meant to behold.”
“I’m sure that I need to look within, Miss Limestone,” Twilight answered. “That’s what Discord said: ‘To find laughter, simply look within’.”
As she had finished her statement, the eyes of Twilight’s four other companions turned their eyes in disbelief upon Pinkie Pie, who let her family back to the floor as she felt around her belly with her forelegs.
“Laughter’s inside me?” she commented. “I don’t feel that different. I have been feeling pretty funny for a while now…!” She stuck out her tongue between white teeth.
Twilight rolled her eyes and aligned the particular neuronal matrices in her alicorn, her dwimmer shimmer glowing a brilliant pink as a rectangle shining the exact hue appeared at the base of Pinkie’s forelock. In the middle of the rectangle, she saw…
It was like a movie playing inside Pinkie’s head, accompanied by peppy party music. Indescribable candy creatures traipsed about beneath cotton-candy clouds as a whole line of identical Pinkie Pies danced and frolicked away.
And amidst all this madness, there was a singular turquoise glow.
Eager to close the psycho-portal as fast as possible, Twilight telekinetically grabbed the Element of Laughter and let the matrices of the psycho-portal fall out of alignment.
The sitting-room felt different somehow, the light in the room bluer. Fluttershy had not moved from her position at the mirror, not having blinked. But the room was emptier than it was before Twilight had put her focus on the psycho-portal; only Applejack seemed to still be standing there, her head turned towards the sitting-room doorway at the moment, though she turned towards Twilight upon sighting her in her peripherals.
“How long were Pinkie and I out?” Twilight asked, rubbing her head.
“‘bout an hour, Twilight,” Applejack answered, before settling her eyes on the golden necklace in Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer, a turquoise balloon-shaped gemstone set in the middle of it. The palomino beamed, “Ya got th’ Element a’ Laughter? Great job!”
“Whoo-hoo!” shouted Pinkie, pronking up to the Element of Laughter which seemed to automagically clamp itself around her neck, the gemstone gleaming warmly at its reunion with its Bearer. The rosy Earth Pony then darted out of the sitting-room, no doubt to inform the rest of their band about the good news.
“That makes it two down, four ta go, sugar-cube,” Applejack said. “How didja figger that one out?”
“Well, I was thinking about just how much joy and laughter is in Pinkie Pie, and… well, just how crazy and nonsensical she is as well. You see…”
Applejack furrowed her eyebrows at Twilight’s continued conversation, then she made her rebuttal. And for a long while, they just talked.
“Don’tcha think that was mighty risky a’ Discord, then, ta hide th’ Element a’ Laughter inside Pinkie?”
“Well, it’s Discord, his MO is not to behave in a sensical fashion.”
“What is this about ‘supposing’, Applejack, darling?”
The palomino Earth Pony and the lavender Unicorn both jumped. They had scarcely noticed Rarity enter the room.
Twilight hesitated, “H-How much did you hear, Rarity?”
“Only that Applejack was supposing something, Twilight, a lady dares not to eavesdrop.”
Both Twilight and Applejack gave silent sighs of relief.
“Although, I couldn’t help but to overhear that the Element of Laughter was indeed literally within Pinkie Pie,” the alabaster mare remarked. “If only that ruffian could have made it that easy for all of the Elements. I guess the worst of us have a degree of a survival instinct, but the sheer simplicity of such a hiding spot boggles the mind.”
Twilight answered, “Well, like I was just saying to Applejack, hiding the Element in plain sight would really be one of the best hiding spots. But yeah, it just doesn’t make sense if Discord wants the Elements to be rendered unable to destroy him.”
“Pinkie seems like she really hit the nail on th’ head, though, didn’ she?” Applejack said with a sideways glance. “Discord’s treatin’ this whole matter like a game.”
Twilight closed her eyes slowly, “Everything seems like a game to him. Life and death and love and birth… he’s begun and ended lives on a whim, just for his own amusement. I… can’t even imagine who was the mother of the Queens. And I don’t imagine she bore them willingly…”
The two Unicorns and the Earth Pony slowly shared foreboding expressions. History had not been privy to where the Queens came from, whether they had been born before or during the Age of Discord, or how their friendships with the other Creators of the Elements had come about. Knowing now who the father of the Queens was was something of a load off of their minds that they didn’t know that they carried, but it came at the price of the weight of knowing that their father was a destructive joker entity.
“Heyyyy, why’s everypony in here wearing so many long faces?” Pinkie Pie rang in, causing the three mares in the sitting-room to jump nearly a hoof’s height into the air. “It’s a nice and sunny day outside, except for the big mega-mountain floating like a balloon in the sky~!”
Twilight exhaled from the sharp intake she’d made at the sound of Pinkie’s interjection.
“Yeah, I guess we could all use a bit of fresh −− wait a second, mountains floating in the air?”
“Well, I really just said a mountain, Twilight, but―”
But Twilight Sparkle was already at a full gallop out the sitting-room door, leonine tail behind her almost completely level with her spine. Equally concerned by Pinkie’s casual revelation, Applejack and Rarity followed suit.
Twilight’s jaw was agape, and to her friends it was plainly clear why. The sky and surrounding areas had been dark and foggy since they’d returned from the High Eyries, and now that weather had blown out the inclemency, the bright Sun of Queen Celestia showed all too clearly what had transpired as the mountain crumbled.
Almost the entirety of the North Equinus Mountains had seemingly vanished as far as they could see to the horizon, replaced by black but still assuredly hot semi-liquid rock… or so it only seemed. For hovering at least a mile over the not-so-distant Everfree, defying all laws of things that should be, was an impossibly large shape of stone and earth. Indescribable structures protruded from it at every angle, like worms protruding from a bad apple. Barely visible was a great dark tower at the very pinnacle of the shape, like a stem, and near the bottom of the floating mountain were a collection of glowing blood-red lines that seemed to spell out IHONDSCDQ, flickering every few moments to FELKAPZAN in a golden glow.
“‘Fell-cap-zan’…” Applejack read out loud slowly. “Any clue what that could mean, anypony?”
“Not a clue,” replied Rainbow Dash. “And how in the name of prancing pansies is − what is this even―?”
Pinkie Pie just giggled, “It’s funny because mountains don’t float~!”
Twilight sighed, “Pinkie, try to remember that this isn’t funny just because of a subversion of expectations. Anything that floats could still fall.” She turned to the cerulean Pegasus. “Rainbow Dash, can you fly up to see how far along the mountain range is affected?”
“Already on it!” Rainbow Dash gave with a quick salute, darting straight upwards and leaving a trail of rainbow light, residue from the magic she used to propel herself so rapidly. In a matter of moments she was a dark speck against the blue sky.
“What in the world do you suppose Discord’s done with those mountains?” Rarity asked with a hoof close to her mouth in shock.
“My best guess?” Twilight said. “A fortress of sorts. As for what that name means… Felkapzan… Felkapzan…”
“It looks like a big misshapen apple with a big ol’ stem,” remarked Applejack, squinting slightly at the distant shape.
Blinking, the lavender Unicorn gasped.
“Of course, it’s metathesis! It’s the Germane word Zankapfel with each syllable placed in reverse!”
“Ooooh, what’s that word mean, Twilight? Can I guess~?” Pinkie asked excitedly.
“We don’t have the time for guessing games, it means Apple of Discord, referring to the legendary fruit that had planted the seeds of disharmony in the hearts of the first three ponies. Granted, in the original legend it wasn’t necessarily an apple, but―”
“It’s all gone, Twilight.”
The sheer drop in Rainbow Dash’s voice gave Twilight greater pause than the statement itself. The cerulean Pegasus was ordinarily so unflappable, so hearing her sound so dour was a reason for hesitation from the lavender Unicorn.
“All of it?” she eventually asked Rainbow. “How far out?”
“As far out as I can see from about a dozen-gross feet up. Which should be about… a four-dozen miles out?”
“Actually, it would be…” Twilight hesitated as she did the math in her head, factoring in the curve of the planet’s sphere along with Rainbow’s alleged distance from the surface… and as she reached the solution, she slowly turned her eyes towards the cerulean mare in disbelief. “About four-dozen kilometers, how did you guess that, Rainbow?”
Rainbow rubbed a hoof against her chest, “When you live low and train high, Purple Smart, you learn how to count out how much ground you cover below you. So, about how long is the North Equinus mountain range, exactly?”
“Close to two-dozen-gross miles, so for all we know, those four-dozen miles could be all that is missing from the mountain range,” Twilight explained, albeit with a follow-up caveat. “Although, considering that this is doubtless Discord’s work, I don’t think we can discount that he ripped up all of the North Equinus mountains. Assuming that that Felkapzan is as dense as it looks, that could account for nearly all the range. If it really is hovering at the height I think it is…”
“So what does this all mean, Twilight?” Applejack asked with a concerned look.
“It means that we need to get back on the ball with finding the Elements. I’ve wasted too much of our time looking for answers that wouldn’t help with that. Get your things together, girls. We leave for the Element of Kindness by day’s end!”
“So, Mr. & Mrs. Pie,” Twilight explained, indicating the mulberry dragon cub sniffing about curiously inside his invisible cube set beside Fluttershy and the mirror, “the surface is permeable by food matter. Spike loves gemstones most of all for food, though he also likes nachos and also daisy sandwiches. I’m… terribly sorry for whatever you have to clean up in here.”
Cloudy Quartz took a long slow breath.
“We will bear with it, Twilight Sparkle. Thy kin are as kin to us Pies.”
(Limestone sniffed loudly besides her parents, but said nothing otherwise.)
Igneous Rock added, “And in all trueness, we are bound to our blessing of Pinkamena’s betrothèds.”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes with ears flopped down, almost completely ignoring Pinkie throwing her forelegs around her.
Twilight placed a cloven hoof to the face of the barrier between herself and Spike.
“I’m sorry, Spike. I wish I could help you, but I don’t trust my magic to work against your dragon hide. Maybe once we’ve gotten more of the Elements, we can try to bring my boy back.”
Assuming that he hasn’t gone back to hating me, she thought morosely to herself.
“So where exactly is the Element of Kindness, Twilight?” asked Rainbow Dash with a degree of impatience.
It took longer than Twilight thought to pull her hoof away.
“B-Based on the riddle that Discord posed to us − With all of the troubles that set one at unease, being kind and loving is not such a breeze. − and based on Fluttershy’s consideration, my best guess is that it’s at the Brisarheim reserve in Germaney, my father’s homeland. There is a catch, though: the Breezies are incredibly delicate creatures, set upon by countless predators. The Breezie Queen of the Brisarheim reserve, Rosedust, is the last known living Queen of her species, and she is fiercely protective of her kind. And that’s before you’ve even reached Brisarheim. It lies within the Edelholz Forest.”
“The what-now?” Applejack asked. “They got their own Everfree over on th’ other end a’ th’ world?”
“Well, not precisely, because… the Edelholz has only one resident, a guardian, although not for Brisarheim.”
“A ‘guardian’?” questioned Rarity. “What sort of guardian? And what does it guard if not the Breezies?”
Twilight looked aimlessly out the window, at the curve of the distant Felkapzan.
“There are stories about the Edelholz. The sort of stories that nopony could believe. But after everything I’ve seen and heard since the Summer Sun Celebration, I’m willing to be more open to these tales.
“The Edelholz has an air that tends to mislead explorers. Either that or the trees within can move quickly and silently to completely change the lay of the land. And the guardian of the Edelholz… based off the stories I’ve heard from Vati, it guards nothing but its own life, feeding off those lost in the woods. So, if you are in the domain of Edelholz, stay strong, and do not follow any singing voices.”
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