To say that Rainbow Dash was scared of what was about to happen would be an egregious understatement. She was terrified, and was only just able to hold herself together because of who it was standing in front of her, repeatedly telling her that it was all going to be okay. Twilight looked back at her with a look of utmost sympathy and borderline guilt, not quite able to look at her in the eyes. Spike stood not far away, his mouth clamped shut and his claws tightly clasped behind his back, watching the proceeding trepidatiously.
They had already sent the last of their messages to the Equestrian cities maybe ten minutes ago and had spent the last five minutes just trying to prepare themselves for what had to happen next. Twilight had gone over the exact process of the spell numerous times, offering reassurance and comforts wherever possible. Still, her assurances did little to calm the agitated pegasus’ nerves, and Twilight knew that no amount of explanation or assurance would really make what was to come any easier or less painful.
She shifted slightly on her hooves and looked down at the ground, having just finished one such explanation. “Are… are you sure about this?” she asked pensively, her ears slowly drooping.
Rainbow gave a stiff, reluctant nod. “Yeah, I think so… do what you gotta do,” she replied in a trembling voice before screwing her eyes shut.
Twilight slowly nodded, catching her bottom lip with her teeth. She took a deep breath and began her approach. “Okay…” her horn started to glow with purple light, the sound of her aura ringing in the air. Rainbow Dash went rigid on hearing that sound, her eyes trying to close themselves even tighter, to the point that her facial muscles began to give erratic twitches and spasms. Twilight was quick to respond, sitting down on her haunches and putting both of her hooves on Rainbow’s shoulders. “Sit down, please. Try to relax.”
Rainbow wordlessly did as she was instructed, rigidly falling to her haunches and waiting for the coming contact. She let out a heavy breath and gave another nod. “I’m ready…” she choked out, her tone making it evident that she was not, in fact, ready.
Twilight gave her shoulders a reassuring squeeze with her hooves before taking another deep breath of her own. She slowly began to draw closer, angling the tip of her horn down somewhat. “Okay. I’m going to start the spell in three… two…” without finishing her countdown, she pressed the tip of her horn to Rainbow’s forehead, putting her magic to work.
Immediately, a strangled gasp tore itself out of Rainbow’s lungs. Her wings snapped open and her already tense muscles spasmed in a reflexive attempt to get away. Twilights hooves on her shoulders were just enough to help her stay in place while the unicorn searched her mind, although it wasn’t enough to silence her distressed wails.
Twilight closed her eyes as tight as she could and did her best to drown out Rainbow’s steadily worsening whimpers, desperate to find Discord’s spell and get rid of it as fast as possible. The less she had to hear those screams, the better.
In her own mind, she found herself appearing within a visualization of Rainbow’s psyche. It revealed itself to her as an endless void filled with dark blue mist and drifting particles that comprised all the colors of the rainbow. All around her was a complex web of windows that let her peer into the other mare’s memories and thoughts, connected by smooth links made out of colorful glass. Most of the windows were misted over and obscured, a sign that Rainbow’s natural mental defenses were trying to shelter her from the intruder. Of course, Twilight wasn’t here for Rainbow’s memories, but if she wanted to find Discord’s spell, she would need to find the thoughts he had attached it to.
Another one of Rainbow’s agonized sobs echoed throughout the abstract space, making everything shudder and the windows rattle. Twilight grimaced with guilt and picked up her pace, drifting up to one such window and lightly touching it with her hoof. The surface was cold and frigid, the chill sending a spike of dull pain through her foreleg. She jerked it back with a yip of pain before taking a deep breath. She reached out again but didn’t quite touch the surface, instead directing her magic to gently coax the thought to reveal itself. “It’s okay… I’m not going to hurt you.”
Rainbow subconscious resisted her, at first, but she found she was able to make it relax to her efforts after several seconds of trying. The mist cleared away, allowing Twilight to see a memory from when the two of them were just fillies. Her eyes widened as she recalled the event itself.
“Twilight, no magic! We’ve been over this!” Rainbow barked in very mild frustration while trotting over to Twilight. The filly in question currently stood recoiled and braced for what she had been expecting to be an imminent impact from a high-velocity dodgeball. Her horn was lit up with magic that clutched the ball in question mere inches from her face. Twilight cracked open an eye and huffed at Rainbow.
“Well, maybe if you didn’t throw it quite so fast I wouldn’t have to use magic to protect my face,” She shot back with a frown, letting the ball drop from the air. Rainbow was swift to catch it and roll her eyes.
“It’s called dodgeball for a reason, Twilight. You’re supposed to, you know, dodge?” She teased with a small smirk.
“Yes, and we’ve also talked about the fact that I am not as into these sports as you are, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight bluntly stated before sighing slightly. “Frankly, I don’t like this one at all. A bit too… brutish.”
Rainbow slapped a hoof into her face. “Twilight, do you even realize how much aerial finesse this game requires when played in mid-air?”
“We’re not in the air, though,” Twilight pointed out while waving a hoof at their surroundings in the west castle courtyard. “We might mess up the plants or the hedges or something!”
“This isn’t helpful…” Twilight mumbled, reluctantly easing off of the memory of simpler times and drifting away. She floated alongside one of the glass bridges to the next memory attached to it. The window she came to let its mist fade away after a few seconds of gentle prodding, revealing another memory of similar irrelevance. Another scream from Rainbow Dash echoed through the area, and Twilight was only just able to stifle a sob of her own. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…” she began whispering to herself over and over again while drifting to another window.
Every window she reached, while they all filled her with nostalgia and fondness, did not in any way help her find the spell Discord had planted into her mind. But luckily, just when she was beginning to feel overwhelmed by how daunting of a task this was, she finally saw something that stood out from everything else. One window, significantly larger and with a thicker frame, was glowing brightly. Its dark frame was covered in numerous scorch and burn marks, and there were the shattered remnants of a thick chain and lock drifting around it. One of the glass bridges that connected to the window was similarly scorched and distorted, like a fire had been sent running over it many times.
Curious, Twilight drew closer to the window, a feeling of dread welling up in her heart when she heard more cries of emotional agony coming from the other side. But these cries were different from the ones echoing around her… they were younger. Way younger. When she finally reached the window and looked through, she felt her eyes widen and her jaw drop.
She could see two ponies that she had never met, but she instantly knew who they were. They were Rainbow Dash’s biological parents, lying motionless on a street and covered with dust and small pieces of rubble. Through the window, she could see Rainbow’s tiny hooves shaking the mother, while her voice, sounding so young, screamed.
“Mom! Dad! Please don’t leave me like this! Please!”
The emotion attached to the memory was… tangible. Twilight’s heart twisted in her chest, and tears formed in her eyes before she had a chance to try and remind herself that these weren’t her memories. But the more she looked, the more and more she was drawn into it.
In the window, Twilight watched as the little filly Rainbow Dash turned away from her deceased parents, everything around her suddenly blurring together, any and all structure the world had once had being lost in a wave of despair and confusion. She cried out for help, for somepony to save them.
But when somepony did finally come, it was too late. Her parents were gone.
She didn’t believe it.
“No! NO! They’re not! They can’t be! They’re my mom and dad! They can’t go away! They CAN’T!”
Rainbow refused to leave them, clinging to them even as hours dragged on, the memory becoming fuzzy and somewhat incoherent. She had lost track of time, it seemed, shutting out everything but her parents. Sadly, she couldn’t stay with them forever, and her tears would not bring them back. A dark blue aura of magic wrapped itself around her, gingerly lifting her into the air and away from them.
“No! No, put me down! PUT ME DOWN, DANGIT! LET ME GO! MOM! DAD!”
Only when a fire danced across the scorched link and over the frame of the window did Twilight tear her eyes away. The fire swirled over the window screen, with three words echoing in its wake…
“Make her pay…”
Twilight briefly saw Discord’s yellow eyes and crimson pupils staring through her from the memory, followed by an image of Starlight Glimmer, a sadistic and manic grin splitting her face, standing just behind Rainbow’s parents… looking proud of herself.
The color drained from Twilight’s face and her blood began going cold. Even as she followed the trail of the flames and found it’s source, a small sphere of red and purple energy attached to Rainbow’s memory of Starlight, she found herself unable to really process her discovery. She blinked and looked back through the window as the memory began to play itself back.
She let out a tiny whimper when she saw how it happened, and felt exactly how Rainbow had felt in that moment. It was the worst feeling that Twilight had ever been forced to endure. And it was only made worse by one stark, horrible realization...
This was what Rainbow was forced to endure every single time somepony cast a spell on her. Every time she was held in magic, she had to relive this one memory all over again, as fresh as the day it had first been made.
Twilight had known that this was what happened, of course... but now she understood.
And she could not do it anymore.
With a cry of her own, she cut off the flow of her magic, backed out of Rainbow’s mind and swiftly yanked the pegasus into the tightest hug she could, burying her face into her shoulder and joining her in weeping. For almost a minute it stayed like this, Twilight’s distress never decreasing even as Rainbow grounded herself back in the here and now.
“Is… I-is it over?” Rainbow finally managed to ask in a hoarse, trembling voice. “Did you do it? Is the spell gone?”
Twilight didn’t answer her, holding Rainbow even tighter. For a moment there was silence from the pegasus. Then she pulled back, holding Twilight’s shoulders to keep her from clinging onto her so tightly. She blinked when she saw just how miserable Twilight appeared to be and looked into her eyes. When their gazes met, all Twilight could do was desperately try to choke down her own regretful sobbing with Rainbow’s questioning eyes boring into her. Finally, she managed to find her voice, squeaking them out. “N-no… I c-can’t do it...”
Rainbow's brow furrowed and a frown of confusion appeared on her face. “Twilight, what are you talking about? Of course you can. You’re the best mage I know. This should be child's play,” she tried to sound reassuring, but her words found no purchase in Twilight’s grieving mind.
The unicorn wildly shook her head and forced herself past Rainbow forelegs to hug her again, still shaking horribly. “I just c-cant… I can’t keep hurting you like that…” she whispered, not willing to let go. “Not anymore…”
“I saw it, Rainbow… the memory you have to see every time…” Twilight mumbled with her breathing, at last, starting to calm down. When Rainbow didn’t immediately respond, she continued. “I’ve known that using magic on your brought it up, but… I n-never really thought about it… what it was like to lose your family like that… now I know… and I n-never want you to feel like th-that again...”
Rainbow sagged, her eyes drifting closed and a quiet exhale slipping out of her lips. She gently nudged Twilight back so she could look into her eyes, which were turning red and puffy from all of the tears they were discharging. She bit back the urge to kiss Twilight then and there to try and comfort her, instead opting to speak up. “Twi… it’s okay. I can take it. I trust you. You can do this… I need you to do this… besides, it’s not like I haven’t felt that pain before.”
“That doesn’t mean you should have to!” Twilight all but screamed back, any composure she had managed to muster immediately shattered by her outburst. She looked down and screwed her eyes shut, not able to keep another heart-wrenching cry from escaping her.
Spike looked between the two for a few moments, his own ears drooping as well. The only sounds were those of Twilight’s anguished sobs for several seconds before he finally found the courage to break the silence. “Guys… what does this mean?” he asked despondently while tapping his claws together over his chest.
Twilight sniffled, ran a forehoof over her eyes and glanced back at the tiny baby dragon in defeat. “It means we’re stuck… I just…” she looked into Rainbow’s eyes again and shivered. “I can’t go any farther… I’m so, so sorry.”
“Twilight, please…” Rainbow all but begged, firmly squeezing Twilight’s shoulders. “You’re the only one who can help. I need you, here… It’s okay. No matter how much it hurts, no matter how bad it makes me feel, I forgive you.”
Twilight shook her head again. “You can forgive me all you like…” she mumbled before slowly letting herself fall into a much more loose hug with Rainbow. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to forgive myself…”
There were several seconds of silence, nopony in the room willing to speak up. Spike looked back and forth between the two helplessly, running his wrist over his eyes himself to try and dispel his own tears. Rainbow let out a quiet sigh and softly nuzzled into the side of Twilight’s head. “The sad part is… I know what that’s like…”
Abruptly, one of the doors swung open, revealing Starlight Glimmer trotting in with the History of the Crystal Empire book floating in her magic next to her. Everypony turned to look at her as she strolled in, and all were taken aback by the look of sympathy in her eyes. Given her silence, the slowness and tenderness of her movements, and the look in her eyes, it was clear that she had been eavesdropping on them. She set the book down on the circular table, then turned to face Twilight and Rainbow. For a long while, the two parties just stared at each other, trying to figure out what the other was thinking. Eventually, Starlight broke the silence with a heavy sigh. “I know you’re going to tell me no, but… I can do it.”
“What?” Rainbow asked quickly, tightening her hold on Twilight significantly to keep herself grounded.
Starlight flinched from the sharpness of the response but elaborated. “Breaking Discord’s spell. I can do it. I… know more than I probably should about mind spells,” she admitted with a hint of shame in her voice, scuffing the floor with a hoof and looking away. “I know you don’t trust me, Princess Rainbow Dash, and to be honest, there are a lot of problems with me… but I also know that you…” she managed to lift her eyes to meet Rainbow’s gaze, then, an honest fire burning in her own. “You’re a good pony… and if I didn’t try to help you, I’d be falling into the same deadly pit I barely managed to dodge when I was just a filly… And that’s not to mention…” Starlight’s gaze shifted to Twilight, and when she continued, her tone was much more gentle. “I… don’t have the same bias towards you that Twilight does. She won’t willingly cause you any pain because she loves you… but I don’t.”
Rainbow, for a moment, bared her teeth at Starlight before forcing herself to calm down.
“Make her pay!”
“For what, being right?!”
Rainbow sighed and looked over at Twilight, who looked back at her with uncertain eyes. For a moment, the two were quiet, searching each other’s gazes for something to go off of. Then, Rainbow asked her a simple question: “Do you trust her?”
“Do you trust her?” Rainbow repeated more firmly, her grip on Twilight tightening just a little. “Yes or no, do you trust Starlight with this?”
Twilight mouthed like a fish for a moment, not quite able to form a response to this abrupt question. But in the end, she settled for a very simple reply.
With that confirmation given, Rainbow slowly shifted to look at Starlight. “Alright… fine. If Twilight trusts you, then…” she dropped her head in resignation and closed her eyes. “Then that will have to be good enough for me. I trust Twilight not to lead me astray… So do it.”
Starlight blinked in surprise, clearly not expecting her proposal to be accepted. She briefly glanced at Spike, who nodded at her, then at Twilight, who mimicked the drake’s response. Starlight then took a deep breath to calm herself and slowly approached Rainbow, with Twilight shifting out of her way to hold onto the shaking from the side. Soon enough, Starlight was sitting down on her haunches in front of the two, her horn slowly beginning to glow with her own bright blue aura.
Rainbow visibly trembled, her breathing getting heavier and more anxious with every passing moment. Twilight felt her tremors, heard her distress, and gave her a reassuring squeeze. She then leaned over and planted a kiss on Rainbow’s cheek, helping her calm down and brace herself. Once her gasps had calmed down, Twilight looked in Starlight’s direction and gave a subtle nod, urging her to get to work.
Starlight nodded in response and leaned forward. “I promise, I’ll make this as quick and painless as possible…” she whispered before touching her horn to Rainbows forehead.
The reaction was immediate. Rainbow Dash let out a strangled shout and tried to jerk away in a panic, her eyes shooting open and her pupils dilating. Twilight held on tight, keeping her in place and doing everything she could to comfort her. She whispered soothing things into her ear, gently shushed her, stroked her mane with a hoof, nuzzled into her neck and shoulder, among other things. Thankfully, her efforts were just enough to keep Rainbow in place, despite her agonized screaming.
Spike finally grew discontent with standing on one side of the room. Spurred on by the pained screams one of the mares he had grown up with, he stood tall and ran over to Rainbow, throwing his arms around one of her forelegs and hugging it tightly. He began doing his part to help keep her sedated, holding on tight, offering pets where he could, and joining Twilight in whispering to her. “We’ve got you, Dash. Twilight and I have got you. It’s okay, it’s okay,” he muttered to her in a shaking voice. Between his whisperings, he just caught Twilight smiling at him in thanks before another jerk and scream from Rainbow forced the two of them to double their efforts.
The light on Starlight’s horn was gradually growing brighter and brighter, a few errant sparks occasionally flying off to the sides. As the seconds began to turn into minutes, the strain of the spell was becoming more and more apparent. Between Rainbow’s violent reactions dying down to incoherent mumblings and whimpers, and Starlight actively beginning to groan in pain, Twilight felt herself worrying that their efforts might have been for nothing.
Starlight’s face began to twist with strain, and low growls sounded in her throat every so often. Beads of sweat were forming all over her body, matting down her fur, and she was shaking terribly from head to hoof. Then, with a triumphant shout, there was a flash of light and a loud pop.
At the same moment, she yanked her head back and drew the swirling glob of red and purple magic out of Rainbow’s head to float in the air between them. With her horn no longer touching Rainbow, the pegasus crumpled to the floor in a gasping, crying heap, with Twilight and Spike quickly following her down and trying their best to comfort her.
Several seconds passed with everypony just collecting themselves, taking deep breaths and letting the tension of the situation fade away. Twilight eyed the spell from one side, wishing to break it into its bare components so she could destroy it, but for now, Rainbow took priority. Eventually, the pegasus in question managed to lift her eyes to meet Starlight’s, half expecting to feel that fire and rage in her skull at the mere sight of her.
There was nothing, though. No such reaction was set off by the sight of the lilac mare before her and, for the first time since she had met Discord in the Canterlot hedge labyrinth, Rainbow realized that she was experiencing a feeling that she had all but forgotten about.
Peace of mind.
Starlight, still out of breath, lowered the glob of swirling magic until it floated directly in front of Rainbow’s face. She put on a small smirk as she then set it down on the ground, encasing it in a small shield to give a solid presence. “Do you wanna destroy it? Or should I?” she asked plainly, lifting up one of her hooves and giving it a good flex.
Rainbow eyes the sphere of magic with a critical eye. “This is Discord’s spell?” she asked between her pants. She slowly rose back to her haunches, Twilight and Spike following her up.
“Yup. I’m kinda surprised; he used normal magic to do this to you. No fancy chaos energy or anything,” Starlight explained almost casually before letting out a relieved laugh. “To be honest, once I learned that, removing it was a cake walk. It was pretty basic as far as mind magic goes-”
Starlight’s description died in her throat when Rainbow stood up and slammed her hoof into the sphere, a hate-filled shout tearing itself out of her lungs. Everypony jumped back when she stomped it again, and again, and again. She reared up and drove her hoof into it one last time, shattering the solidified spell into little more than stray shards of the barrier and swiftly dissolving wisps of magic. The force of her stomp had put a substantially sized spider web crack in the floor, and her entire foreleg was now throbbing with pain. She remained still for a moment, catching her breath before lifting her hoof to look at it. Rainbow then grimaced when she saw a few pretty nasty scrapes on the surface, and she knew that those were going to bleed later.
Either way, she set that hoof back down, then looked at Starlight with an odd look in her eyes. It was like she was seeing Starlight for the very first time, and without that fire burning in her mind… she kind of was. A small chuckle sounded in her throat, and she shook her head in mild disbelief.
“So… is that it?” Spike piped up, reaching up to Rainbow’s shoulder and giving it a firm squeeze. “Are you okay now?”
Rainbow nodded down at him, then looked at Starlight again with a small smile on her face. She held out her uninjured hoof to Starlight Glimmer as her smile grew. “Welp, now that that spell is gone… I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced, Starlight…” she began before a cocky grin spread on her face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you… The real you.”
Starlight’s eyes widened slightly. Then, with a smile of her own, she tentatively reached out to shake hooves with Rainbow. The moment their hooves met, though, Rainbow grabbed onto her and pulled her into a tight hug, eliciting a startled and confused squeak from the mare. For a moment she just stood there, motionless, until it finally registered in her mind just what was happening. With a relieved laugh, she wrapped her forelegs around Rainbow to return the embrace.
“The pleasure is all mine, Princess."