Editors & Proof: littlerobotbird, Trevor, Mimezinga, Fifth Alicorn, Cardslafter, Super Big Mac
Rarity lay on her stomach in her bed, staring morosely at the velvet pillows she had once loved so much. On the bottom floor, right below her room, she could hear Opalescence meowing and the rattle of food being poured into her bowl. Rarity sighed and put the feline out of her mind, her gaze travelling around her room, looking down when the breeze ruffled the discarded papers next to her bed: Fluttershy’s latest attempts at getting her back into designing dresses.
She simply didn’t have the energy to indulge in such a thing anymore. Her eyes strayed to the window, her horn flashing reluctantly to part the curtains and close it altogether. Then, she saw the bottle of pills on her nightstand.
She was supposed to take one every eight hours or so. Always with a meal.
Drink plenty of water.
Go out, get some fresh air and sunlight.
She could take two when going to sleep so that she wouldn’t dream at all... three... three was a no-no. Her horn glowed softly as the bottle cap twisted off and a couple of pills floated out.
Rarity stared at the bottle and pulled out three more. She put it down, then levitated it once again, pulling out more until a dozen pills were hovering before her.
Better to make sure.
Rarity put them in her mouth and swallowed, dropping the bottle next to the bed as she took a gulp of water to help them down.
Then she lay back down, slowly closing her eyes, her breathing starting to get slower. She barely had the energy to keep her eyes open. But it was okay... she would soon be with her sister. She would soon be able to hold Sweetie Belle close and to hug Twilight and tell her she forgave her.
Rarity smiled, closed her eyes and stopped breathing.
“Sweetie!?” Rarity’s eyes snapped open as she sat up in her bed. Breathing hard, she quickly dove to the side of her bed, throwing up violently onto the floor. She took deep breaths and started calming down, eyeing the bile-covered pills on the floor through teary eyes and replaying the awful decision she had just made.
The sound of frantic hooves outside her door made her turn to face it just when Fluttershy stampeded in.
“Rarity! Are you okay? I heard you scream. Did you have a nightmare?”
“Fluttershy-” Rarity shook her head, spitting a little bile. “I need to speak with Zecora.”
The pegasus blinked, her eyes straying to the mess on the floor. “I... see, maybe we can go see her tomorrow and-”
“No,” Rarity interrupted, slowly standing up and swaying a bit as her faltering strength caught up with her. “It has to be now.”
Fluttershy stared at her friend for a few moments before nodding.
“Miss Silly Belle? Are you awake now? And now? And now?" Puppysmiles poked the unicorn a little more, because real science by real ponies in lab coats had totally proven that poking somepony was going to gain her attention for sure: 10 out of 10 foals strongly advised the method. "And now? And now?”
Sweetie Belle groaned and stared at the earth pony filly in the yellow space-suit that was poking her in the ribs.
I thought those things only existed in Scoots’ comics!
“It wasn’t a nightmare,” she groaned, slowly standing up. “You really did destroy that thing with a rock.”
“Yay!” the filly cheered jumping around Sweetie. “You woke up! You woke up! Will you sing for me now? ‘Cause I really really really love your songs!”
Sweetie shook her head, still mildly disoriented from the dimension hop. “What? Sing?”
“Yush!” Puppysmiles smiled, batting her eyes at Sweetie. “Pleeeeeeaaaase? I love-love-love your singing. It’s super duper awesome and when I am a big pony, I will marry you!”
“Marry me?” Sweetie blinked. “Uh... listen, little... filly...”
“Right, look, I’m a bit tired. How about we find a place to rest and...”
“Nuh-uh! I gotta find mom!” Puppysmiles gasped. “Have you seen my mom? She is really pretty and super cool and all purple with orange mane and pretty and super very important! Like you!”
“I’m... important?” Sweetie shook her head and took a look around. They were still next to the remains of the metal thing that had attacked her. All she could see for miles around was desert flat that, for some reason, gave her a very strong sense of loss... even if she had never been there before. “I- Puppysmiles? Why don’t we stop someplace to rest and I’ll- I’ll sing you a song once we get there! And maybe I can help you find your mom.”
Puppysmile’s eyes widened. “Can you sing now?”
Sweetie lowered her eyelids. “That wasn’t the deal.”
Puppysmile’s eyes watered up up while she put on her best pout and begged Sweetie Belle to bend to Puppy’s will and sing. “Just a little song? Pweeeeze? Puppy pleease?”
Sweetie brought her hoof to her face. To think I was using that same technique a week ago.
“No, but I can sing on the way.”
“Yush!” Puppysmiles giggled, jumping around Sweetie.
“Do you know where we’re going?”
Puppysmiles stopped in mid jump. She landed and frowned. “Mr. Voice!”
Sweetie watched curiously as lights appeared around the rim of Puppysmiles’ helmet. She took a moment to take in the appearance of the filly. Pink coat, pink eyes, blonde mane and a cute little face were all the details she could make out, since her body was encased in a yellow suit that resembled a character’s ‘space-suit’ from that one book Twilight had about ponies flying to the moon. The helmet was round and made out of some kind of glass, allowing for Puppysmiles to be able to look around in all directions without her vision being impaired. The suit itself had some pockets and saddlebags attached to it. The faint vibration of magic emanated from it, both familiar and foreign to Sweetie’s senses.
Ignoring Sweetie’s stare, Puppysmiles concentrated on the arrows and pretty lights as Mr. Voice spoke up inside the helmet. “Scanning maps from available databases,” the artificial voice said. “Suitable S.T.A.B.L.E. facility found on map. Opening communication. No Signal detected. Checking for emergency channel. Emergency beacon detected in corresponding coordinates. Adding quest marker on the compass.” A small blinking pink arrow appeared on Puppy’s helmet. “Follow the pink arrow on the compass until destination is reached.”
“Thanks, Mr. Voice!” Puppysmiles cheered as she ran in circles around Sweetie, earning a curious glance from Sweetie. “Yay! Song time! Sing! Sing!”
Sweetie rolled her eyes, but started walking behind the filly in the space suit, resolving to ask her about this ‘Mr. Voice’ once they reached their destination. “Um... let’s see... What song should I sing?”
“I know! Sing um... ‘Do You Remember Love’!” Puppy exclaimed after a moment’s thought. “I love-love-love that song!”
I have no idea what song she’s talking about. Sweetie thought with a frown, searching her memory for another option. And what did she mean by me being important? What’s going on? Ugh... I need to figure this out!
“I have a better idea,” Sweetie ventured. “How about I sing a song that Pinkie Pie taught me?”
“Eh-que-stri-a Girls, we’re kinda magical~” Sweetie and Puppysmiles sang in chorus. However, while Puppysmiles seemed completely oblivious to everything and interested only in singing and reaching her next destination, Sweetie kept her eyes on the area around them.
What happened? Sweetie wondered as she surveyed the landscape. This... is this even Equestria? What year is this? How could it have ended up like this? No, she decided, this isn’t Equestria. I must have been sent somewhere else. And... where they know who I am, who Pinkie Pie is, and where little fillies want to grow up and marry me. She groaned and looked at the cloudy sky in desperation. I haven’t even seen a ray of sunlight!
“Miss Sweaty Belle, are you tired of singing?” Puppysmiles asked Sweetie, having dropped out of the song after the chorus.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Puppy. I just got distracted... this doesn’t look like the place I came from at all,” Sweetie replied. “It’s... well... horrible.”
“I was in Ponyville once, and it was awesome!” Puppysmiles said ignoring Sweetie’s remarks about the landscape. “There were a lot of fillies and colts playing and a carousel, but wasn’t a real carousel! It didn’t turn around and... they had a library in a tree...” She frowned. “You’re not going to cry now, are you?”
Sweetie blinked in confusion. “No, why would I cry?”
“Because when I tell other ponies about Ponyville, they always start crying,” Puppysmiles said sadly. “And they won’t tell me why!”
“Oh...” Sweetie sighed. “Well, that’s not very helpful.”
“Nope!” Puppysmiles agreed, stopping after a moment. “We’re here! Yay!”
Sweetie looked at the half-collapsed metal door that had sunk into the ground, creating a makeshift ramp. The right side of the rusty metal read: “S.T.A.B.L.E.” The left, collapsed side was so deteriorated that whatever had been written on it was utterly illegible.
“Are you sure this is the place, Puppy?” Sweetie asked dubiously.
“Yush!” Puppysmiles giggled. “Miss Sweeney Belt, are you scared?”
Sweetie raised an eyebrow. “Of course not, I’m a Cutie Mark Crusader!”
“Wow! A Cootie Match Cruspader! That’s like the awesomest thing ever!” Puppysmiles gasped. “Can Puppy be a Cootie Match Cruspader? Pleeease?”
“It’s ‘Cutie Mark Crusader’,” Sweetie corrected.
“Yeah, that thing too! Can I be one?”
“Sure,” Sweetie said, sighing. “Why not?”
“Yay! I’m a Cruspader!” Puppy shouted, jumping around Sweetie Belle, who couldn’t help but smile.
“Right, and the first thing we should do is get inside and find somewhere to rest!”
“Aw…” Puppysmiles pouted. “But the only things in ugly places like that are ugly ponies and bullybots!”
“Well, it can’t be worse than staying out here…” Sweetie said, glancing at the overcast sky. “Don’t the pegasi here ever cleanup? Look at that!”
“Nuh, uh…” Puppy said. “Peggysuseseses don’t hang around anymore…”
“Peg... okay,” Sweetie breathed in, trying to bolster her courage. “This is just one stop. I just need to find the crystal and see if I can help Puppysmiles find her mom. Easy.”
The pair carefully crept through the gap left by the collapsed side of the door and into the S.T.A.B.L.E.
“She comes! She comes to destroy us all! I have seen it!” A voice rose hoarsely, echoing through the metal halls of the S.T.A.B.L.E.. “We must protect the Goddess! We are the chosen!”
Whispers became a buzz as dozens of voices whispered worriedly to each other.
Immediately all the voices quieted down. “THIS DESTROYER YOU SPEAK OF, PROPHET... WHEN SHE ARRIVES, BRING HER HERE.”
“But, your majesty!”
“THE GODDESS HAS SPOKEN, PROPHET!”
“As you wish…”
“Zecora, I need your help,” Rarity said, sitting across from her friend. “Ever since… the accident, I-… I haven’t been myself, but there have been times that… I’ve felt, that somehow, Sweetie was there, watching me.” She looked at Zecora in the eye. “I don’t know why, but… I think she’s alive.”
“The knowledge you seek to gain,” Zecora began after a moment of thought, “is not easy to obtain.” She stood up and walked to pick up several vials and containers.
“Um… h-how difficult is it?” Fluttershy asked. “Is she going to be in danger?”
“Her body shall be fine,” Zecora assured the pair, setting everything up in front of them. “What is feared is laying her soul on the line.”
“What do you mean?” Rarity asked. “Why would I have to fear for it?”
“I do not know what you’re likely to find; it could mend your heart or destroy your mind.” Zecora said, giving Rarity a look of grave seriousness.
“What do you mean, Zecora?” Fluttershy asked.
Rarity sighed. “You’re saying I could find out that Sweetie is dead…”
“That is most minor of what I dread,” Zecora whispered.
“I- I’m not sure this is a good idea, Rarity,” Fluttershy said, looking decidedly uncomfortable with the way things were going. “M-maybe we could write a letter to the Princesses or-”
“No,” Rarity interrupted, her eyes begging. “Please, Fluttershy, Zecora… I need to do this. If Sweetie is truly gone, then I think it will help me find closure.”
“But if she’s not, you might not be able to do anything for her,” Zecora’s voice took a melancholy turn.
Rarity closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “For the last three months, I have felt that there was no reason to continue living. Life feels worthless without my dear Sweetie Belle…” Rarity opened her eyes and looked at her friends, imploring them to understand. “When our parents died, I took it upon myself to take care of her. I fought hoof and tooth to make a decent income so that Sweetie would have an education and a certain quality of life.” Rarity sighed. “She and my career became everything to me. Until Twilight Sparkle came and I gained true friends, I could barely relax. I’m glad to have all of you.” She smiled hesitantly. “Even with you all still here, though, I feel… dead. But when I feel at my worst... when I am about to give up hope forever... I feel her. I feel Sweetie… and just earlier, I heard her call to me.”
Fluttershy looked down at the tabletop quietly, eyes slightly misty. Without further ado, Zecora started heating up some water while she measured powders and chanted incantations over strange-looking ingredients. The two ponies watched her work in silence, neither wanting to either distract her or bring back the taxing conversation.
The cauldron boiled. Powders were dumped and sprinkled and blown into it; bigger ingredients like a feather and a curiously large bone were used to mix the brew, while others were submerged carefully with a slotted spoon, which would come up empty each time.
Finally, Zecora produced a strange cup made of some bone-like material that curved into a tip at the bottom. Its top was rimmed with gold and a few gems. Rarity gasped, both at the simple, yet exquisite look of it, and at the magic she could sense emanating from it.
“The horn of a rhino is a rare gift indeed,” Zecora whispered, carefully filling it with the potion she had prepared. “It must be used only in the direst of need.”
She presented the hollowed horn to Rarity, who took it in her telekinetic grasp. “What will this do?”
“If the link you feel is indeed Sweetie Belle, you’ll find out just where she fell,” Zecora rhymed.
“And… um… if it’s not?” Fluttershy asked.
Zecora remained quiet.
“M-maybe you should wait, Rari-“ Fluttershy stopped as she realized that it was too late, seeing Rarity lower the emptied container. “What now?”
Zecora shook her head, walking up beside Rarity. “Now we can only hope for the best. Lay down your head, it’s time to rest.”
Rarity nodded, taking a couple of steps towards the bed, then stopping. Her eyes went wide for a second before she screamed, twitching violently and would have fallen back had Zecora not caught her.
“What’s happening?!” Fluttershy asked, panicked, hurrying to restrain the thrashing unicorn.
Rarity groaned and suddenly went limp.
Fluttershy looked at her face and whimpered, only able to take a breath after seeing her friend was still alive. “Will she be okay?”
“For that, dear Fluttershy, we can only pray.”
“Well, at least we’ll have some protection from the elements here...” Sweetie Belle mused, looking around. She could see very little, and the deeper they went, the less the meager light from the outside could reach. With a sigh, Sweetie silently cast a light spell, allowing the pair to see better.
They were in a pony-made cavern of some sort. Further down, Sweetie could see a couple more doors that were in better condition than the ones outside. As they approached, she couldn’t help but notice just how thick they were.
“Puppy, what happened?” Sweetie looked from the doors to the small filly beside her. “Why did we have to build things like... this?”
Puppy looked at the doors and tilted her head. “Mom said we built them against the sea... uh... sea... brass?”
“Sea brass?” Sweetie blinked. “What is that?”
“Stripey ponies!” Puppy exclaimed with a big smile.
“Zebras...” Sweetie rolled her eyes in exasperation. “But, why? I may only know Zecora, but she’s a good friend!”
Puppy shrugged, blinking at her. “I dunno... because of- of... the Princecessessess?”
Sweetie shook her head. “Never mind. How deep do you think we should go?”
“All the cool stuff is always inside!” Puppysmiles said, pleased that somepony was finally asking her advice. “And Mr. Voice says to go towards the doors! Let’s go in! Mom is in there!”
Sweetie observed the doors warily. “Are you sure?”
“Mr. Voice says so!”
Sweetie Belle slowly approached them. The machines attached to the door were much more advanced than anything she had seen so far besides Puppy’s suit. The burnt edges at both ends of the doors and and the permeating feeling of death didn’t help at all to put her at ease. She shook her head, trying to shove her dark thoughts into the back of her mind.
“I’m a Cutie Mark Crusader,” she whispered, steeling herself. “I’ve gone into the Everfree by myself, at night, knowing less magic than I do now! What am I afraid of?” Nodding once, Sweetie stepped in behind Puppysmiles. “Okay, let’s go!”
“Yay!” the filly cheered, jumping into the old S.T.A.B.L.E.
Rarity stared in horror at the place where she suddenly found herself standing. It was some sort of cave; the floor was covered with the bones of dead ponies. She could tell by the way they lay on the floor that they had been close together before they perished, perhaps even holding each other, desperately trying to find comfort against their impending doom.
She started hyperventilating, taking in her ghastly surroundings, noticing the deplorable state of the walls, which now she recognized as excavated, and the half-demolished doors at the end of the entrance hall.
“Wh-where am I?” she whispered. “How did I- Zecora...” She grimaced. “Perhaps I should have thought about it a bit before downing the whole thing.”
Her musings were interrupted by the sound of voices. Looking around quickly, she jumped behind the remains of old containers that had been piled to the side. Rarity carefully peeked around them as two figures made their way into the cave.
Her heart lurched as the taller one lit her horn.
“Sweetie Belle...” Rarity whispered in astonishment, stepping out from behind the crates. The filly... no, the young mare could be nopony other than her sister. She would know her Sweetie Belle anywhere... her little sister had grown into such a beautiful unicorn. But... how long has she been away? Is this the future then? Regardless of her thoughts, she couldn’t contain herself. “Sweetie Belle!” Rarity cried, unable to stop the tears from trailing freely down her cheeks.
She galloped up to her sister, ready to throw her hooves around the now-grown filly, but suddenly, she was stumbling through her objective and barely managed to stay on her hooves. Rarity turned sharply, staring wide-eyed at Sweetie and the little filly by her side. She slowly approached her sister. “What... but...” a pained look crossed her face as she stammered. “It’s... it’s not fair...” she whimpered, extending a hoof only to see it pass through Sweetie. “It’s- it’s not fair... I finally found you and–”
Rarity closed her eyes, slumping down onto her haunches, listening quietly as her younger sister gathered up the courage to go past the destroyed gates.
“I’m a Cutie Mark Crusader,” Sweetie said, and Rarity opened her eyes just as her sister took the first step towards the doors. “I’ve gone into the Everfree by myself, at night, knowing less magic than I do now! What am I afraid of?” Sweetie spoke louder, drawing courage from her words. “Okay, let’s go!”
“Can you really not see me?” Rarity whispered, suddenly feeling very, very lonely and small. “Am I even here, Sweetie?”
But Sweetie did not turn and answer. She resolutely stepped into the darkness, followed by the filly in the drab suit with the helmet, leaving Rarity on her own.
Rarity sniffed. Then she put her hoof down hard, feeling a sudden rush of determination she had not felt since the accident. A burning, white-hot sensation that she thought had been all but lost in her pitiful self-loathing. She pushed herself up, and rolled her shoulders back as she looked up, unknowingly imitating Sweetie’s earlier pose.
“Well, I’m not staying here, moping while you face danger!” She trotted up to the gates and pushed a hoof through the metal, leaving no mark and feeling nothing. A grim smile formed in her lips. “I’ll go with you, Sweetie... and I’ll watch over you... even if you cannot see me... at least I know you’re alive.”
With a single nod, she set out after Sweetie Belle.
Once they had gotten past the entrance, the place itself wasn't so bad. The walls, though still damaged and requiring some serious maintenance, were not in such a bad condition after all, all things considered. The floors might’ve been missing a few panels, but, again, they were walkable.
“So... what is the purpose of this place, Puppy?” Sweetie asked.
Puppysmiles scrunched up her face in determination, trying to recall the answer she had once known. “Um... I think mommy called it Staples! She said they have everything at Staples! And I was going to be in one with mommy!”
“A... staple?” Sweetie blinked and shrugged. “Well, this is certainly different than all the other places I've been to...” She stopped and looked at one of the walls which had a big sign that read “S.T.A.B.L.E.,” whatever had been written after it having been lost due to a panel having been removed, revealing the cables behind it. “Staples... S.T.A.B.L.E.S... I get it...” She sighed. “I just wish I knew what happened to Equestria!”
“How can you not know?” a new voice, young and male, asked.
Sweetie Belle stopped short and lowered her head down a bit, her horn glowing brighter as the room lit up with the increased energy of her spell. Wherever there were shadows, she could barely see somepony. “Who are you?”
The ponies that walked into the light were all in various stages of decomposition. Half-melted flesh hung loosely, their faces scarred and cauterized into painful rictus of unholy suffering. And yet, their expressions moved and changed as a normal pony would, showing emotions even with those cloudy, dead eyes.
Sweetie's eyes went wide and she took a step back in horror, her spell flickering.
“Hello, ugly ponies!” Puppysmiles greeted them cheerfully, running up to them and waving a little hoof. “Is it okay if we stay a little while? Miss Sweaty Belts needs to sleep and she promised to sing me another song if we found a nice place! And Mr. Voice says mommy is here, and I really, really want to see and please please please don't be a bully!”
The ugly ponies looked at each other, then back at Puppysmiles before looking up at Sweetie Belle.
Sweetie forced a smile. These ponies reminded her of yet another of Scootaloo’s comics about Zombies.
“We... were sent to guide you into the Sanctuary...” the foremost undead pony said. Her coat remained largely in the form of cream-colored rags that stuck to areas of her body. “The Goddess and her prophet await.”
Puppysmiles beamed at Sweetie. “See! I told you I could find an nice place! Can I get songs now? Can I?”
Sweetie grimaced, then sighed in defeat. “Sure, why not? Tell me, do you all like country music? I know this song that Applejack taught me not too long ago...”
For her part, struggling with the fact that she was unable to communicate or interact in any way with Sweetie Belle, Rarity didn't know what to feel more mortified about... the fact that they were following a bunch of walking, dead and decomposing ponies, the fact that Sweetie was taking this in far too quickly, or the fact that her little sister was about to sing country.
Finally, she settled her mind as she fell into place next to Sweetie and Puppysmiles, doing her best to avoid touching the ghouls. “Applejack, I am going to kill you...”
The Goddess arched an eyebrow as all the ghouls around her turned toward the dark hall that was the entrance to the Sanctuary.
She could hear something she had never expected to hear again. Not like this. Not so... innocent... The Goddess felt a small tear form in the corner of her eye and quickly wiped it away, thankful that everypony's attention was focused on the hall.
“So rock me mamma like a wagon wheel, rock me mamma anyway you feel... hey, mamma rock me...”
The fact that several voices were chorusing the song wasn't lost on her. She even recognized some of them. Who could get a bunch of fanatical, depressed ghouls to suddenly start singing country music? And why did that voice sound so familiar?
When the group came into view, the Goddess felt a pang deep in her chest that resonated through the shared minds of Unity, drawing Her attention. For a moment, there was not one of the myriad minds that were part of her who didn't stop and space out, even for just one second.
“Sweetie Belle...” The Goddess whispered into the sudden silence in the room.
Sweetie, for her part, stared at what was in front of her. “You're an... an alicorn?!”
“WHAT- HOW?! THE GODDESS DEMANDS YOU TELL HER HOW YOU CAME TO BE HERE!”
Sweetie's eyes widened, and the ghostly Rarity next to her tilted her head. That voice sounded familiar.
“TRIXIE!” Sweetie shouted in excitement, galloping up and throwing her forelegs around the alicorn's neck. “Trixie! You're here!” She frowned. “And why are you using the Royal Canterlot Voice?”
“What? Since when are Trixie and Sweetie friends?” Rarity whispered, staring incredulously at the scene in front of her.
“Remove her from the Goddess!” the prophet shouted frantically, his hoarse voice driving the paralyzed ghouls from their stupor. They quickly pulled her away from the blue alicorn in front of her, pushing her back to stand a few feet away, surrounded by suddenly angry ghouls.
The Goddess trembled, her façade broken by the sudden outburst from Sweetie Belle. She was confused and even a little scared. Never had anypony been so... happy... to see her.
“Hello, flying-unicorn lady!” Puppysmiles exclaimed, making the Goddess’ eyes slowly move down to stare at the little filly in the radsuit. She blinked. She had heard stories but...
“YOU ARE... THE GHOST OF THE 52...” the Goddess said, frowning a bit. “THE GODDESS HAS HEARD OF YOU.” Her eyes strayed up to the young mare further down. “AND... SWEETIE BELLE?”
The Goddess suddenly remembered the ghouls and she quickly gathered herself and projected confidence once more. She needed the ghouls, for now. “THE GODDESS KNEW YOU WERE COMING!” she declared with utmost confidence.
“Wow!” Puppysmiles' eyes went wide. “Are you really a prinsuss? Because mommy always said that all flying unicorns were princesses! And if you're a flying unicorn, then you must be a princess! Can I has your auto- your... sig- your name on a piece of paper?” Puppysmiles gushed. “When I grow up, I want to be a princess! Paper!”
Sweetie stared as a piece of paper flew out of nowhere and hovered in front of Puppysmiles, who smiled sweetly at the Trixie-alicorn.
“TH–” Trixie stammered. “THE GODDESS WILL BLESS YOU WITH HER AUTOGRAPH!” she said at length. Her horn flashed and a stylized 'The Goddess Blesses your tiny, undead heart' message was burnt into the piece of paper.
“Yay!” Puppysmiles cheered, trotting up to Sweetie Belle to show her her latest treasure. “Look! I have the name of a princess! Now we can marry!”
“Sure- wait, what?” Sweetie looked down at Puppysmiles and groaned before patting the helmet softly. “We'll have to wait for that, Puppy,” she said, eliciting some chuckles from the gathered ghouls.
“THE GODDESS DEMANDS TO KNOW HOW YOU CAME TO BE HERE!” the alicorn demanded, drawing everypony’s attention back to her.
“We... we'd like a safe place to stay the night,” Sweetie requested after a moment's hesitation. “And... I'd like to talk to you in private,Trixie, if possible.”
The Goddess seemed to hesitate for a few seconds. “I SHALL ALLOW YOU TO STAY THE NIGHT... AND LONGER, PERHAPS. BUT YES, WE MUST TALK, AFTER I DEAL WITH A CERTAIN MARE...”
The Goddess vacated the alicorn’s body, leaving a personality behind. “Follow me,” the alicorn ordered, eliciting a shocked look from Sweetie Belle and a big grin from Puppysmiles.
Puppysmiles frowned, looking around the S.T.A.B.L.E. They had passed several super-interesting-looking doors that could be hiding her mom!
She stole a glance at the pretty princess and Sweaty Belt. They were talking about adult stuff that was boring. Why couldn’t they sing?
Puppysmiles grinned. She remembered that one time mommy had taken her to the STAPLE to take a look inside and they had music all over the place! She had heard the same song in every room!
“Mr. Voice? How do I make it so we can hear music all over?”
“Processing. Speaker system is located inside Overmare’s office. Acquiring S.T.A.B.L.E. blueprint. Overmare office is located in sub-level 5.” A little flashing arrow appeared before her eyes and Puppysmiles nodded happily, turning left and letting the others go on ahead.
“You’re not Trixie, are you?”
The alicorn shook her head. “No, I am not. I am merely a part of the Goddess. You may call me Midnight Shimmer, for as long as I exist.”
“What is the Goddess?” Sweetie Belle asked after a moment. “One moment I’m talking to Trixie and the next I’m talking with you.”
Midnight Shimmer sighed and looked around before casting a small sphere of magic around them. “I am only telling you this because the Goddess was planning on addressing this question if it emerged. We are a gestalt being; there are thousands of us that are part of what the Goddess is. I am allowed a bit of independence because the Goddess is currently preoccupied with one, or should I say two, mares.”
Sweetie’s eyes were wide. “Wow, the magical energies required to do that... it’s... it’s almost unthinkable! How did you do it? Was it Trixie’s idea? I imagine you would need to somehow strip the essence of a pony while adding the innate magic of a unicorn, earth pony and pegasus to it...” She grimaced. “Come to think about... wouldn’t that erase the pony’s personality? Is that why you said you were only here temporarily? Why would you want to absorb everypony into one collective mind? Is it more efficient? But again, what happens to personality and choice? Can Trixie simply override you all?”
“From the Goddess’ memories of you, it is certainly strange to listen to you talk about magical theory like this,” Midnight Shimmer replied, “but yes. The Goddess can simply speak through us whenever she wants to.”
Sweetie nodded. “Midnight Shimmer... what happened to Equestria?”
The alicorn stopped and turned to stare at Sweetie Belle. “You- you don’t remember?”
Sweetie Belle looked away. “Is Trixie listening?”
Midnight Shimmer nodded. “She’s still busy with the Stabl- with another pony, but yes, she’s listening.”
“This is not my world,” Sweetie explained. “I just arrived, so I have no idea of what happened.The last few worlds have not been... this bad.”
Midnight Shimmer had stopped mid-stride. “Other... worlds? You mean there’s another Equestria out there that wasn’t destroyed by Megaspells?”
“Megaspells?” Sweetie asked. Just hearing the word brought chills of discomfort and trepidation through her body.
Midnight Shimmer nodded. “The Megaspells were constructs of powerful magic, capable of affecting huge areas for ill or good. The Zebras developed megaspells that could destroy an entire city with one blast.”
Sweetie’s eyes widened. “That- why would they do that?!”
“War,” Midnight Shimmer shrugged. “It is how ponies, zebras, griffons and dragons destroyed our world.”
Sweetie looked down. “I’ve... never even seen war. And I’ve been to several different worlds. I never thought... it could ever come to this.”
“You have been to more than one world then?” Shimmer asked.
Sweetie nodded. “Several... there’s the one where Trixie and Twilight are a couple, then the one where everypony’s gender is inverted, then there’s the one where Nightmare Moon won... one where all the Elements are immortal...”
“Wait... Trixie and Twilight Sparkle are a couple?” Midnight Shimmer interrupted. She could feel the reaction to that jumping from alicorn to alicorn. Some of them stopping mid-battle to laugh and one of them dying as a result when she snorted and her shield failed while trying to fend off a hellhound.
Trixie took control of Midnight Shimmer’s body again and glared at Sweetie. “THE GODDESS IS NOT PLEASED THAT YOU SHARED THAT.”
Sweetie Belle cringed. “Sorry, Trixie... say... you wouldn’t know what happened to Twilight Sparkle, would you?”
There was a moment of awkward silence.
“THE GODDESS... MIGHT ALSO BE TWILIGHT,” Trixie grudgingly confessed.
Sweetie Belle’s eyes grew large. “But... how? Why? Trixie... what happened to you?”
Midnight Shimmer felt the Goddess struggle. There was something about this Sweetie Belle that was creating too many conflicting feelings. Perhaps it was that she wasn’t even from this world. Or perhaps it was the collective memories of all the ponies that had memories of Sweetie Belle that still inhabited the collective conscience of the Goddess.
Maybe... maybe it was just the fact that this young mare cared, and she knew it was Trixie and apparently knew her pretty well in other worlds.
“THE GODDESS... NEEDS TO SIT DOWN,” the Goddess sighed, motioning with her head to the entrance to her private chambers.
In the silence of his sanctuary, the prophet mumbled as his hooves scraped against the wall, tracing words and fragments of sentences and nonsensical drawings.
Eruth... Eruth, you didn’t do anything... you should have stopped her then and there.
“She came in peace! She came in peace, I heard her. The purity of her song. It was music. It was beautiful. She came to us with beauty. She is what we don’t have. What we haven’t had in centuries!”
She’s here to destroy you. You cannot allow melancholy to stop you.
“Beauty should not destroy. Not destroy. No. She wouldn’t. She sings of happy times. Of love and happiness, and the innocence she carries with her.”
She wants to destroy all that you have worked for.
“She can’t! No, no, she can’t! She is wrong if she thinks she can! But she’s not here for long. No, not for long.”
She wants to take your Goddess away from you. She’s doing it right now, talking to her in secret.
“Speaking to the Goddess is a privilege. Yes, yes, but the Goddess granted it. She didn’t force her, no, no she did not do that. She cannot take the Goddess away! She can’t! No, it won’t happen because the Goddess is happy with us. Sweetie makes her happy.”
She’s evil. She needs to be stopped.
“She sings songs and happiness! She looks with the eyes of a child!”
You know it to be true. I have told you all along this would happen. That she would come.
Eruth shuffled in place, giving a jerky look over his shoulder. “You did, yes, yes you did.”
I foresaw what happened in this world, didn’t I? I saw the stars cry and the melody disrupted. I talked to you. I told you and you didn’t listen.
“Yes, the melody... you told me it was gone. That it would not come back. That it was twisted by ponies and evil and zebras... yes, you said so.”
You started believing after that... when I helped you calm and organize all those others who had lost their way.
“My brothers and sisters,” Eruth hesitated.
You never doubted me when I told you your brothers and sisters would be rewarded.
“No! There was truth in your words! The rewards came! They came! We survived while others fell! We will live forever! The rewards, yes... you promised and they were there.”
You have to stop her, Eruth. You have to take your Goddess away from her, before she brings doom to this world again.
“Doom. No doom. Not more doom. There is p-plenty of doom. No more...” Eruth shook his head. He shivered as he forced himself to stand on his two hind legs and let both his front hooves trace the cracks in the wall. “That isn’t my name. No, no it isn’t.”
Of course it is, Eruth. You are no longer who you used to be. You died in flames and were reborn in toxic sludge. You wandered this place like a prisoner in a maze, without knowledge, without memories, without hope... until I talked to you again. And you listened.
“I listened...” Eruth paused, his body shaking. “I listened and things changed. But I am me. And Eruth is Eruth.”
You are not the same as before, Eruth. How many times will you lie to yourself?
“If Sweetie Belle can sing, then I can be... I can be who I was. Who was I?”
Look at her, Eruth. She is alive. How can she be alive? She is not like you. She is not like the others. She is not like the Goddess. How can she be here?
“I don’t know, no, I don’t, she cannot be here. She shouldn’t!”
Weren’t she and her friends responsible for what happened to this world?
“Yes! The Ministry! They built these mazes! They stuck us in here and left us to die!” Eruth lowered himself to all fours. “But they were not to blame! The zebras started this, yes, they did! They kept attacking! They would not stop because they- because they–”
You know it’s not true, Eruth. They could have stopped it. Should have stopped it. But they didn’t. They let the world be torn to pieces, scarred beyond help. This wasteland rests on her shoulders and those of the Ministry Mares. But they are gone. And they took with them all that was precious to you.
“So much... so much... I can’t remember! But I can feel... so much lost...” His frame shuddered. “How do you know? How can you be right? How do I know I am your prophet and what you say is true?”
Because you believe me, Eruth. You know it’s true.
“Yes... I know... you speak to me and you say truth. Only truth.”
You have to get rid of them.
The ghoul raised his head slowly, still staring at the cracks in the wall, where the shade seemed so dark and so empty. Where he could imagine green eyes shining as their owner spoke. “Sweetie Belle and the ghost yes.... but... The Goddess?”
Yes... her too. She has been corrupted by this Sweetie Belle. She is no longer your Goddess. She hungers to be away from all of you. She hungers for the skies and other worlds.
“N-no! She’s our Goddess! Here to rule over us!”
But she’s not, Eruth. If she were your Goddess, she would not want to leave. She would stay.
“The Goddess wants to be with us! I know it! I will tell her, I will show her the true face of the enemy!”
So be it, Eruth. But mark my words. If the Goddess doesn’t allow you to bring justice to Sweetie Belle, what will you do?
“She won’t! She’s the Goddess! My Goddess!”
She will have betrayed you, Eruth. What will you do?
“The Goddess won’t leave. The Goddess will see–”
What will you do?
“I- I don’t know... I don’t know. No. No, I don’t know...”
When you see that I am right, call upon me.
Puppysmiles trotted down the dark hallway. Mr. Voice had been quiet for the last few minutes, but the blinking arrow indicated exactly where she had to go to reach the place where she could put the pretty music on and make everypony happy!
She gave the metal door at the end of the hallway a hard look. It remained impassive. Attached to the wall on the right was a panel, flickering with green light. Puppysmiles approached it.
“WELCOME TO OVERMARE CLUELESS' OFFICE. IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED TO ACCESS,” a voice emanated from the panel. “PLEASE PROVIDE PASSWORD OR VOICE ID.”
“Pu~ppy~smiles!” Puppysmiles sing-sang, looking at the panel expectantly.
“PASSWORD INCORRECT. VOICE NOT RECOGNIZED,” the voice replied, drawing a frown from Puppysmiles. “ADMINISTRATOR LEVEL PASSWORD OR VOICE ID REQUIRED.”
“Puppysmiles!” Puppysmiles repeated.
“PASSWORD INCORRECT. VOICE NOT RECOGNIZED,” the voice repeated. “ADMINISTRATOR LEVEL PASSWORD OR VOICE ID REQUIRED.”
“PASSWORD INCORRECT. VOICE NOT RECOGNIZED. ADMINISTRATOR LEVEL PASSWORD OR VOICE ID REQUIRED.”
“PASSWORD INCORRECT. VOICE NOT RECOGNIZED. ADMINISTRATOR LEVEL PASSWORD OR VOICE ID REQUIRED.”
“PASSWORD INCORRECT. VOICE NOT RECOGNIZED. ADMINISTRATOR LEVEL PASSWORD OR VOICE ID REQUIRED.”
Puppysmiles frowned. “Stupid!” She bucked the door. “Open up!”
“PASSWORD ACCEPTED. ACCESS GRANTED,” the voice replied.
There was a puff of dust as the ancient door struggled to open, a little bit of smoke flowing from between the spaces as the right side slid open, slowly squeaking and grinding against the floor until it was halfway open, at which point something inside seemed to snap and the whole thing simply collapsed, leaving part of it jutting out of the wall.
Puppysmiles paid no attention to it, however, having already jumped into the room beyond. The office of Overmare Clueless was in pretty good shape, having escaped the ravages of time for the most part. One of the walls was covered in small notes on colored paper, ranging from red to green and blue, all with bold writing reminding the Overmare to do, or not do, something. One of the red ones read: “‘Open up’ is not a Celestia-damned password! Change it! ~O.W.”
A large metallic desk rested in the middle of the room, the stacks of yellowed paper resting on top of it held in place by a statuette of some sort. It looked a little bit like Sweaty Belle now that Puppysmiles thought about it, and so without further ado, she jumped onto the table and threw it into her bag.
“Bootleg Rarity Statuette” appeared briefly in her display before she looked around and noticed the desiccated body of an earth pony holding something against its chest.
“Hullo miss ugly sleepy pony! I can see what's that? 'kaythanks!” Puppysmiles picked up the small frame. She turned it around and stared at the scene. A mare with a light brown coat and bright green mane with alice-blue highlights was smiling a bit absentmindedly at the camera. She was holding a black and yellow book in her hooves, 'Writing for Cretins,” and standing next to an unamused stallion with a darker brown coat and violet and black mane. The book had their picture in roughly the same position under the title, but the author's name was too blurry to read.
Puppysmiles blinked, but threw the picture into her saddlebag as well. The rest of the office didn't contain anything interesting except for a big console with a holographic display of the S.T.A.B.L.E. Puppysmiles grinned and cantered up to the console, looking down at all the pretty buttons.
Now, which would start the music?
Golden Fig had been in charge of catering when the S.T.A.B.L.E. had originally been sealed. When radiation had seeped through and killed everypony he knew and loved, except for a few unlucky fellow ponies who had been transformed into ghouls, he had known despair like none other... but he had found solace by going back to gardening and growing foods that nopony would ever need to eat. Not that they would, or should, anyway, since every single apple or fig tree had been twisted and mutated by the same radiation that had granted him his unwanted immortality.
But the work had helped him endure through the years; the repetition of the task ensuring his mind focused on something other than despair. Eventually, he had grown a garden so beautiful and radioactive that the rest of the community of ghouls would go and spend hours, or even days enjoying it. It had brought considerable happiness to their otherwise drab and morbid unlives, because the only other thing they had were the ramblings of their prophet, and the living goddess amongst them.
Thus, today, now that they had visitors, Golden Fig had taken careful stock of the state of the garden and planned to give a tour of it to Miss Sweetie Belle, who was the best preserved ghoul he had ever seen. She was lucky... and apparently single!
Golden Fig grinned. His garden would win her heart, and she would choose to stay with them and sing them songs while they all worshiped the goddess!
A clanking sound made him frown. “What the–”
“DECONTAMINATION SEQUENCE INITIATED.” The disembodied voice of a computer announced.
Golden Fig's eyes went wide. “Wait... what?”
“SCANNING FOOD SUPPLY.”
Several panels at the top of the considerably large agricultural section opened and blue-green rays swept over the whole of it. “WARNING: HIGH LEVELS OF RADIATION DETECTED. WARNING: PURGING WILL COMMENCE IN 10... 9... 8...”
“What?!” Golden Fig ran out of the area and into the agricultural office. He feverishly clicked at the console but nothing seemed to work: the order had come from a user of higher level.
The countdown reached zero.
From the farthest side of the agricultural chamber, a line of green descended from wall to wall, creating a light curtain that slowly started advancing towards his office. As the green light touched each of his trees, they would burst into flames, then into dust.
“No...” he whispered. “Noooooooooooo!” he then shouted in despair as two hundred years of effort and his dreams for a nice date went up in flames.
Golden Fig shook his head. Who could have done this?! Why?! His eyes, too dry and rotten to produce tears glanced at the screen. “Overmare Clueless?” he whispered. “But... you died.” He closed his eyes. And started laughing.
Puppysmiles shook her head in annoyance, lifting her hoof from the button she had pushed. “Which button plays the music?” she asked again, starting to slam the other buttons down, trying to figure it out.
Outside the S.T.A.B.L.E., a dark figure slowly approached. The manticore had caught the smell of the pony recently... and although there was another, unsettling smell with it, its hunger had demanded it should stalk its prey, follow the scent and hunt the pony down for food.
The manticore looked around, its eyes finally settling on the cave. A low growl rumbled out of its chest, half-pleased, half-annoyed. Annoyed because it would have to search a bit more. Pleased because its prey had nowhere else to go.
A small rumble shook the ground beneath it and the manticore paused, sniffing around, wary of any danger. It tensed as two holes opened to its left and right; strange metallic limbs sliding out and towering over it.
Perhaps it had not been a good idea to follow the pony.
“SURFACE SAMPLE COLLECTOR ACTIVATED,” the voice from the console announced, and a display fizzled into existence over it. A pair of holographic pincers appeared. A screen lit up, showing the exterior of the S.T.A.B.L.E., where a very confused Manticore shifted its eyes nervously from left to right, keeping an eye on the metallic claws that had appeared.
“Kitty!” Puppysmiles grinned. “I always wanted a kitty! I’ll cuddle it and feed it and cuddle it and help it sleep!”
The computer scanned the manticore and spoke up. “ORGANIC LIFE FORM DETECTED. DO YOU WISH TO ACQUIRE?” Two buttons started blinking. One, blinking green said: YES, the other, blinking red, said: NO.
“Mr. Voice? What does ackwire mean?”
“Acquire: to come into possession or ownership; to own.”
“I want to own the kitty!” Puppysmiles shouted in delight, slamming down her hoof on the 'YES' button repeatedly.
“ACQUIRING TARGET. ACQUIRING TARGET,” the computer said while Puppysmiles watched in fascination as the two holographic pincers moved, trying to corral the manticore.
The manticore jumped the moment it heard the strange sound. It had heard Ponies produce sounds like that before; it usually meant a meal. But, somehow, this time it made it feel dread.
The two metal claws that had emerged from the ground suddenly shot towards it. With its innate agility, the manticore jumped to the side, tail lashing out and scratching the side of one of the claws, but they did not stop.
Recognizing that it was in danger of being killed by an obviously much larger predator, the manticore quickly made to escape. It opened its wings and leaned down to make a jump.
“ALERT! SUBJECT CAPABLE OF FLIGHT. ACTIVATING SECONDARY CAPTURE UNITS.”
Just as it was about to make its flight for freedom, the side of the mountain shook as several panels opened, revealing miniature cannons, which immediately shot at the manticore.
The manticore was sent spinning as one of the sticky balls the cannons had fired hit it in the side. It struggled to get up, but more and more of the sticky balls smacked against it, not hurting it, but impeding its movements.
The last thing it heard before everything went dark was a disturbingly cheerful pony voice.
“Yay! I has the kitteh!”
Puppysmiles was all smiles as she watched the kitty being picked up by the metal claws and dropped down a shaft. She was about to see where it went when a screen suddenly came to life, displaying a frowning unicorn filly with a yellow coat, who blinked at Puppysmiles in obvious confusion. “Who the hell are you?!”
Puppy was about to introduce herself when the unicorn filly was shoved aside. There was a scuffle and the screen tilted. She couldn't see what was happening but there were bad words being shouted and suddenly the filly flew past the screen, enveloped in magic. Her place in front of the screen was replaced by a mare in armor.
Sweetie and Shimmer had walked for a few minutes more before they arrived at their destination.
Shimmer's room was very clean compared to the rest of the S.T.A.B.L.E. A large bed had been assembled together from old mattresses and was covered in several relatively intact sheets. Scented candles had been arranged about the room, most of them still unused. There were almost no actual decorations, save for a half-burnt canvas with a painting of a small, indistinct town bathed in sunlight.
Sweetie looked around the austere room before sitting down on a cushion that Shimmer had levitated off the bed and placed next to her guest.
“These are my chambers,” Shimmer said after a moment of staring at Sweetie Belle. “The Goddess is currently engaged in a discussion with... a certain pony. You will have to wait a little bit before talking to her.”
Sweetie nodded, gazing curiously at the alicorn sitting across from her. “So, how is it that sometimes Trixie speaks through you and sometimes it's you that speaks to me?”
Shimmer cocked her head. “The Goddess is all we are. I am but a vessel, granted a bit of autonomy for convenience. I have a personality for the same reason; if the Goddess gets tired of our followers, she needs some sort of... individual to deal with them while she is otherwise occupied. So she assigns a random personality to deal with them. Today it’s me.”
Sweetie Belle nodded, blinking a couple of times. “Um, I wanted to ask you... have you seen a purple crystal around here?”
Shimmer straightened up and frowned. “Why do you seek this crystal?”
“It’s a piece of my Twilight,” Sweetie Belle explained, looking straight at the floor, still ashamed about what had happened so many worlds ago. “I- I accidentally interfered with an important experiment and she was fragmented into several crystals and- I have to bring her back. She'll never be complete unless I do that.”
Shimmer was silent for a moment. “You say you're bringing her together? Has this gone on in different worlds?”
Shimmer blinked and spoke with Trixie's voice. “THE GODDESS WILL KNOW ABOUT OTHER WORLDS!”
Sweetie Belle started violently, clearly not expecting Trixie to suddenly take control. “Um, sure I just... wait...” She looked around, eyes wide. “Where's Puppysmiles?”
“SHE WILL BE FINE!” Trixie said. “TELL US ABOUT OTHER WORLDS.”
“Well,” Sweetie hesitated. “Which one do you want to know?” Her eyes lit up. “Hey, how about the one where you hooked up with Twilight?” Sweetie giggled. “It was weird at first but you made such a cute couple!”
“N-NO!” Trixie stammered. “WE WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE OTHER WORLDS. THE WORLDS WHERE TRIXIE IS NOT DATING TWILIGHT SPARKLE.”
“Aw...” Sweetie pouted. “Wait... if you and Twilight are together right now in there, does that mean that–”
“IT DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING!” Trixie growled. “NOW TELL THE GODDESS ABOUT THE OTHER WORLDS BEFORE THE GODDESS TA–”
There was a hard knock on the metal door of Shimmer's chambers and it opened before anypony could say anything. Outside, standing angrily, were a host of ghouls. The front one, a unicorn, was holding a grinning Puppysmiles upside down in his telekinetic grasp. “I think we found your friend,” he grumbled.
“Hullo, Miss Pretty Pony with no armor!” Puppysmiles said cheerfully. “I remember! Don't say anything about the notebook!” she announced.
“What?” Sweetie blinked. With an exasperated sigh, she grasped Puppysmiles in her own magic and turned around so that the little filly was in between her and Trixie.
“Fangmoon!” Puppy replied happily.
“Wait... Fangmoon? What–“ Sweetie's eyes widened. “Do you mean 'Moon Fang'?”
“THE GODDESS DEMANDS TO KNOW WHAT 'MOON FANG' IS!” Trixie ordered.
“Um...” Sweetie looked at Puppysmiles. “Uh, who told you about that?”
“The pretty pony with armor!” Puppysmiles replied.
“Uh, who's the pretty pony with armor?”
Puppy opened her mouth then tried to cover it with her hooves, which bumped on her helmet. She shook her head. “Nuh-uh! Not telling! Pretty Pony with Armor said that you wouldn't make the walls talk if I said anything!”
Sweetie Belle frowned. “Wait, make the walls talk?”
Puppysmiles nodded happily and Sweetie face-hoofed. “Puppy... I don't know how to tell you this but- I can't make the walls talk.”
Puppy showed Sweetie her tongue. “Not telling! The Pretty Pony with Armor told Puppy you would say that and said that if Puppy said anything you wouldn't turn off the lights!”
“Wait, what?” Sweetie shook her head. She needed to get a grasp on things before this fiasco of a conversation escalated any further. “Now, Puppy, you really need to tell me! It's important!”
“Nuh-huh!” Puppysmiles shook her head repeatedly. “Nuh-huh! If I say it then you won't make the bad pony dance!”
“ENOUGH!” Trixie interrupted. “THE GODDESS IS NOT INTERESTED IN WHAT 'THE PRETTY PONY IN ARMOR' SAID! THE GODDESS DEMANDS TO KNOW EVERYTHING SO SHE CAN GO BACK TO NOT LISTENING CONSTANTLY TO THE ADORATION OF THE SMELLY GHOULS IN THI–” Trixie stopped her rant when Shimmer started sending warnings to her. Slowly, Trixie's eyes left Sweetie and Puppysmiles to center on the group of ghouls staring in shock at her, just outside her door. “OH, HORSEAPPLES.”
“So, what he said was true,” a pained voice said from within the group.
The ghouls parted to reveal the form of the prophet, who stood there, looking in sorrow at Shimmer. “You did plan on leaving us.”
His horn flashed and Shimmer was suddenly back in control of the body.
“I- um... I–”
“Silence!” the prophet ordered, his body shaking with anger. “I was warned about her!” he growled, pointing a hoof at Sweetie Belle, then his hoof swept to point at Shimmer. “I was warned about you! But I didn't listen! I chose to believe in you!” he roared. His horn lit up with a black aura. It grew and grew around him as the startled ghouls surrounding him gasped. “Dominus tenebris! Vagus silentium! Agnosco vestri quod smaragdus oculos, ego ero vobis anima ad offendum destruat nestros!” he shouted, raising his eyes upwards.
Shimmer's horn lit up, slamming the doors closed, while Sweetie Belle jumped back, taking hold of Puppysmiles as she cast a shield spell in front of all of them. The door disintegrated, along with part of the wall, revealing the prophet floating in a cloud of black energy. The ragged robes he had been wearing dissolved, his eyes shining with a disturbing green energy.
Around him, the whole area had been destroyed and all that remained of the ghouls that had been standing outside the room were ashes.
“I have been reborn,” the prophet whispered, glaring at Shimmer. “I am now... Eruth, in servitude of a far greater god than you!” His eyes went to a corner of the room. “This is not your world.”
Ghostly energy rushed from his horn, striking the seemingly empty corner. For a second a familiar silhouette was engulfed by it before fading, but Sweetie didn’t have time to react, having to jump out of the way of a small blast of energy from Eruth.
“Careful, Sweetie,” Shimmer advised. “This... Eruth... is far beyond your ability to handle.”
Several more ghouls approached the room, and Eruth turned to face them. “The goddess has betrayed us! She wishes to leave us to rot after promising us freedom and lives!” he announced. “Brothers! Sisters! We shall not bow to her anymore! I have seen the truth!” His hoof swept the room, indicating all within. “These three are our enemies! They will not let us ascend! We must destroy them!”
His words were emphasized by small flashes of dark power from his horn, which seemed to reflect in the eyes of the other ghouls.
“I don't like him,” Puppysmiles frowned suddenly, reminding Sweetie Belle that she had a filly to protect. Well, another filly besides herself. “He's a bad ugly pony! He hurt the other ugly ponies!”
“We have to escape,” Shimmer said. “We can't face them all at the same time.”
“What about Trixie?” Sweetie asked. “Doesn't she have any ideas?”
“I–” Shimmer whimpered. “I- I can't hear her!” She confessed, eyes wild. “I'm alone! It's like everything went dark! I don't know what to do!”
Sweetie grit her teeth. She pushed her anger into that deep corner of her soul where her doubts and hurt and guilt were trapped. “We need to get out!”
“If I knew how to turn invisible!” Shimmer whimpered. “Trixie knows the spell, but she didn't give it to me!”
“Invisible would be good,” Sweetie muttered, then her eyes widened. “Not invisible...” she stepped back as the ghouls roared in anger, their eyes glistening with green light, all semblance of consciousness and sanity having disappeared.
Not having time to explain, she grabbed Shimmer with one hoof, and Puppysmiles with another as her horn flashed with magic and the world became black.
“What?!” Eruth shouted. “Find them! Destroy them!”
Shimmer felt herself being led away in the darkness, the sounds of the ghouls destroying the S.T.A.B.L.E. and each other, as well as Eruth's growling orders, disorienting her. Eventually she was led from the dark, turning to stare at the inky-black they had left behind.
Puppysmiles giggled. “Yay! You turned off the lights!”
“NO!” Rarity shouted, eyes wild as she struggled to get up, just barely noticing she had been tied down to the bed.
Something smashed against the wall opposite to her and several masks and vials crashed around it.
“LET ME GO!” Rarity screamed, trying break her bindings by force alone.
Zecora was suddenly at her side, shushing her as she pushed Rarity back into the bed, gently but still with enough strength to keep the unicorn from pushing back.
The sight of her zebra friend seemed to snap Rarity back into reality. She slumped back into the soft bed; her body was shaking as she struggled to take a deep breath and let the adrenaline rush fade. “I- I'm back...” she whispered. “I'm sorry, Zecora, I just–”
“No need to apologize,” Zecora soothed, raising a hoof. “I feared you would never rise.”
A clatter made the pair look at the pile of vials and masks, which started rolling aside as Fluttershy slowly stood up. “Oh, my,” she looked around. “I'm so sorry, Zecora, I just got startled and–”
“She's alive...” Rarity interrupted, head resting on a pillow. “All grown up, adventuring and facing things we have never even imagined.”
The zebra and pegasus exchanged glances.
“You mean... Sweetie Belle?”
Rarity nodded, her face full of worry. “I found her in a desolate land. She went into some strange structure which was populated by ponies that–” She looked at her friends with a hint of fear. “They were dead. And yet they walked and talked and acted as if they were alive.”
Fluttershy covered her mouth with a hoof, eyes wide as she whimpered.
Zecora for her part frowned and shook her head slowly. “Most unpleasant must be this land, where the living dead still stand.”
“It gets stranger still,” Rarity assured the pair. “Trixie was somehow turned into an alicorn and... there was talk of a great war...” she trailed off. “Sweetie and a little filly were talking to her when–” She turned fearfully to her friends. “One of them... one of the ghouls. It saw me! Nopony else could see me, but he did! He cast a spell and sent me back here.” She looked pleadingly at Zecora. “Please... let me go back.”
Zecora shook her head. “The brew is too potent I'm afraid; to drink again you must let the first one fade.”
Rarity's eyes watered. “But- but Sweetie, she's in danger!”
Fluttershy placed a comforting hoof on Rarity's shoulder. “She's alive. Please rest. She'll need you.”
Rarity sighed, staring at the roof. “How long?”
“A fortnight at least,” Fluttershy replied for Zecora. “We- we talked about this... when you downed the whole potion... it was too much, Rarity. Y-you could have died.”
“But I can't wait two whole weeks!” Rarity protested, feeling her eyelids become heavy. She yawned. “Please,” she begged weakly. “Please let me see her.”
Zecora shook her head. “What you must do now is rest. Let the potion go; it's for the best.”
Rarity yawned again. “N-no, I must... help...” she let out a long sigh and fell asleep.
Sweetie awoke with a start, confused for a moment, before she remembered that they had found their way deeper into the S.T.A.B.L.E..
“I'm sorry,” Sweetie had gasped out, taking in deep gulps of air in an effort to regain her breath. “I can't- I- I need to rest, I haven't slept at all...”
“It is dangerous...” Shimmer had muttered. “But I also must try to commune with the Goddess. We seem to have lost them for the time being. Let us hide away from them for a short reprieve.”
Shimmer was still meditating in a corner of the room they had hidden. Sweetie Belle watched in silence as Puppysmiles drew on a stack of papers with the crayons they had found amongst other toys; already the wall sported a small yellow sun, where a 'pretty prinsuss Celestia' and a 'pretty prinsuss Luna' and a 'pretty prinsuss Shimmer' flew over a small house, apparently constructed of red brick and blue tiles, where Sweetie and Puppy lived.
For a moment she was bitterly jealous of the little filly.
Here I am, she thought, universes away from home, with no way back and for all appearances never going back. I'm not even in my own body! She slammed her hoof down in frustration. I'm really just a little bit older than Puppysmiles! Well, a couple of years, but I'm still a filly, not an adult! I should be drawing pretty pictures and crusading! Not risking my life!
She could feel tears of frustration building up in her eyes.
What did I do to deserve this? She silently asked of the crayon-drawn Celestia, which was in the process of being made more pretty by the addition of brown crayon. She snorted and closed her eyes. I made a mistake! I didn't want to kill Twilight! I didn't want to be flung into other worlds! I didn't want to see my sister being immortal! Or Nightmare Moon on the throne! Or whatever the hay happened here! She felt her anger rising and gritted her teeth. Why do I have to put up with this? Why can't I just go home? Why– she felt a hoof gently touch her foreleg and she opened her eyes.
Puppysmiles looked up at her. “Are you okay, Sweaty Belt? Look! I made this for you!” the filly said proudly, presenting a paper to her where a bunch of brown smudges mixed with other colors made the vague shapes of ghoulish ponies. They all stood, presumably watching the white, blue and pink smudge that looked a bit like Sweetie Belle on a stage, where she seemed to be... exploding.
“Why am I exploding?” Sweetie sniffled.
“You're not exploding!” Puppysmiles pouted. “You're singing!”
“Ooooh! So that's what that is!” Sweetie chuckled.
“Do you likes it?” Puppy asked, her eyes big and hopeful. “I made it special for you! Because you are a pretty singer and I likes you! And look!” She pointed with a hoof at two other pony-like shapes. “That’s me! And mommy! We’re singing too!”
Sweetie smiled and hugged Puppysmiles. “Yes, I like it very much!”
“Yay!” Puppysmiles cheered. “Do I gets to see the bad pony dance?”
Sweetie laughed a bit, wiping away the remaining tears with the back of her hoof. “Maybe... I still have to figure out how to make the walls talk!”
“You don't have your cutie mark,” Shimmer interrupted, raising from her meditation and frowning. “We- I didn't notice. I wasn't paying attention to that.”
“Rub it in, why don't you?” Sweetie growled.
Shimmer frowned. “Why don't you have your cutie mark?” she asked. “At your age? Unless the world where you come from doesn't have cutie marks?”
“We do!” Sweetie huffed, then looked down. “It's... this is not my real body. I'm really just a filly.”
Shimmer's visage relaxed a bit. “I'm sorry... if- if it's any consolation, all alicorns know what it feels like to be in a body not their own.”
Sweetie was silent for a moment. “Were you able to talk to Trixie?”
Shimmer shook her head. “The moment Eruth became what he is now, my connection was interrupted.” She looked scared. “I don't know what to do!”
Sweetie took a deep breath. “We need to get out of the S.T.A.B.L.E.,” she said. “And we need to somehow stop Eruth. Do you have any spells we could use?”
Shimmer was silent. “I- I have one,” she looked away. “The Goddess... she was planning on using it if you refused to tell her about your world-jumping magic.”
Sweetie's eyes widened, and she felt something inside of her break, just a little. “Oh.” She looked away, her eyes showing the hurt. “I- I keep forgetting. Different worlds have different ponies... even if they look the same.”
“I'm sorry,” Shimmer whispered.
Sweetie nodded. “Why are you telling me?”
“Because,” Shimmer frowned. “It feels wrong. Even if I get punished, I don't want you to get hurt.”
Sweetie Belle smiled and placed a hoof on the alicorn's shoulder. “Thank you. It means alot that you want to help.” Her eyes glinted. “So, which spell is it?”
“Lightning bolt,” Shimmer said after a moment's hesitation. “If you had refused, she would have cast a low-powered one, hoped you survived and made you join us in Unity.”
Sweetie Belle shivered at the thought. “But- what makes you different? It doesn't make sense for you to feel guilty, you’ve only just met me!”
Shimmer nodded, not looking directly at Sweetie. “I don't know... but, you seem untouched by all that has happened. Innocent. You really are just a filly version of our Sweetie Belle. And...” She blushed a bit. “A lot of memories in the Goddess include you and your songs. You made a lot of ponies happy in this world before–” She caught herself. “I-in any case, let me teach you the spell.”
Sweetie Belle nodded, turning to look at Puppysmiles. “Sounds good, think you can hold... on... for... where's Puppysmiles?”
“Are we really going to, you know, attack the goddess, Sweetie Belle and that filly?” Pan asked his companion, pausing for a moment to push his ear back into place.
“Yes, the prophet said that they were evil, and he's been around since, like, ever. I trust him,” Cake replied, cracking his neck loudly. “Dammit! It never goes back in place.”
“Here,” Pan offered, putting down his revolver and forcing his friend's neck back into its proper position. “We told you to stop cracking your neck! One day you'll lose a disk or something. What’ll you do then?”
“Could be worse,” Cake replied. “Did you see what happened to Golden Fig's crops? He spent the last 200 years working on them and now they’re just gone!”
“I heard he's taken up a shotgun and has been shooting everypony he sees,” Pan said. “They say he hasn't stopped laughing since.”
Cake shook his head. “It's not that bad.” He sighed. "I woulda gone nuts if somepony had torched all my hard work too. I'd like to meet the pony or ghoul responsible and give them a piece of my mind.”
Puppysmiles cantered past the arguing ghouls, stopping to wave at them merrily. “Hullo ugly ponies!”
The ghouls stopped for a moment, then waved back at the surprisingly cheerful filly.
“How do I gets to the room with the big chair?”
One of them helpfully pointed to the doorway on the right, earning a big smile from Puppysmiles.
“Okaythanksbye!” she called cheerfully over her shoulder as she went in.
“What a nice little filly,” Cake noted.
“Yeah, but she didn't need to say we were ugly,” Pan muttered.
“Aw, don't take it personally, Pan,” Cake patted his friend's shoulder, producing a series of squelchy noises. “She's just a filly. She doesn't know any better.”
“I know.” Pan sighed. “Anyway, we should keep searching.”
“Right,” Cake nodded, picking up his gun with his mouth. The pair took a few steps onward, but both ghouls slowed down at the same time before stopping altogether, looking at each other with completely perplexed expressions.
The pair turned around and galloped towards where they had last seen the filly, but she was gone.
“Uh... how are we explaining this to the others?” Cake asked after a moment.
Pan cleared his throat. “Um, explain what? I didn't see anypony pass by.”
Cake blinked slowly. “Yeeeah. I didn't see a fil–”
“Anypony,” Pan corrected.
“...anypony,” Cake acknowledged. “I didn't see anypony pass us by. Nope. Not at all.”
“Exactly,” Pan nodded. “Now, let's go find those evil ponies.”
Sweetie Belle carefully peeked her head around the corner. “Looks empty.”
Shimmer shook her head. “I have no idea how that little filly just keeps walking away without us noticing.”
Sweetie winced at the notion. “Maybe... are we just boring?”
When Shimmer raised an eyebrow, Sweetie elaborated. “It's just that I’ve done the same thing back in my own world, when my sis and the others started talking about boring stuff.”
Shimmer shrugged as she cantered past Sweetie. “I think she just doesn't have a sense of self-preservation.”
Sweetie thought back to when she had first met Puppysmiles. “Yeah, that too.”
The pair slowly made their way down the halls. So far they had been able to avoid the roaming ghouls that were looking for them, but it was only a matter of time before they had to confront them.
“What did Eruth do to you?” Sweetie asked. “How could he have cut you off from Trixie?”
Shimmer shrugged. “I'm not completely cut off...” she said. “I can still feel the goddess in the back of my mind, but... she's just like a presence. I cannot hear Unity.” Shimmer shuddered. “I can't imagine what I would do if I wasn’t able to feel her at all... to be completely alone... what a horrible fate.”
“Are you the first one to have this happen?”
Shimmer grimaced. “No. But... Lacunae is a special case.” She stopped walking, looking worried. “What if... what if I cannot return to Unity?” she asked, her voice trembling. “What if I am cut off like this forever? Knowing Unity is there but unable to reach it?”
Really? She’s having a panic attack just now?!
“Listen, we don't know what will happen yet, right?” Sweetie ventured. “I'm sure that if it's Eruth doing this, then, once we stop him, you'll be back in Unity.”
Shimmer took a deep breath. “There’ll be plenty of time for this later!” she declared excitedly, voice tinged with more than a touch of hysteria.
It was then that two ghouls, one carrying a revolver, the other a vulcan minigun strapped to its back, walked out of a room and into the hall. The four ponies stared at each other for a second.
“Can we panic now?” Sweetie asked.
As if snapped out of their reverie by the statement, Shimmer quickly slammed both ghouls against the wall with telekinesis before they could even think of opening fire. “Sweetie! Take the guns!”
Sweetie blinked. Then used her magic to rip the contraptions away from the ghouls. She looked at them curiously as Shimmer threw both ghouls into a room and forced the door closed. “There, they're not bad ponies, I don't want to have to k- SWEETIE! POINT THAT THING THE OTHER WAY!” she shouted in a panic when she saw what Sweetie was doing, forcefully yanking away the gun from Sweetie’s grasp. “Don't ever, EVER, look down the barrel of a gun! Are you crazy!?”
“No 'buts', young lady!” Shimmer growled. “If you had accidentally pressed the trigger, you would have blown your brains out!”
Sweetie looked at the 'guns' in horror. “What the hay are these things doing here then!? Why would ponies be carrying things around hat can kill so easily?”
Shimmer sighed. “There was a war, Sweetie, remember?”
Sweetie frowned and looked down. “It's still stupid.”
“Yes,” Shimmer agreed, “it is, but it happened and there's no point in thinking about that right now. We need to find Puppysmiles.” She raised her hoof when she saw Sweetie was about to put the guns down. “No... keep them.”
“No! These things hurt ponies!”
“They do,” Shimmer nodded. “But ghouls are really difficult to hurt and they will be less likely to attack us if we have them,” she said. “Besides, I didn't get a chance to teach you the spell, so at least take them for effect.”
“So...” Sweetie took a deep breath. “It's just for scaring them, then?”
“Yes,” Shimmer nodded.
Sweetie sighed. “Fine. Let's go.”
“Okay, let me tell you how they work and how to hold them so that you don't kill us, or them, by accident...” Shimmer said as they started walking again.
“I don't like this world,” Sweetie muttered bitterly, feeling ill as she realized that these were not unique.
How many ponies have died in this stupid world ? She felt her eyes watering up, just the very thought of a dead pony chilling her to the bone. When I saw the outside... I never imagined it had really been done by us. What did we turn into here? How come the Princesses didn't stop this? Was... was I also a killer? She looked up at Shimmer, half listening to what the alicorn was saying. I hope not. I hope I tried to help without killing. I hope I was with my friends and family.
Sweetie sighed. I wonder how I died... Rarity, Sweetie thought. I miss you.
Puppysmiles skipped around the S.T.A.B.L.E., looking around as she tried to remember where the exit was. It had been fun, but Mom was waiting and she really needed to go find her. All the stuff that Sweetie and the pretty princess had talked about had made Puppy a bit sad.
She didn't like being sad.
And the best way to not be sad was to be with Mom! So even if it was fun, she needed to go.
“Puppy!” she heard somepony call her.
“Sweetie Belt! Pretty prinsuss!” Puppy called back, waving her hoof merrily. “I'm off to find mommy!”
“Your mommy?” Shimmer asked, slowing down. “But- wasn't your mom around before the war?”
“Yup!” Puppysmiles nodded, hopping around the pair merrily. “And she had to go! But I wanted to see the fireworks so I didn't got to the supersafe place and now my house is all broken and I'm looking for mom so I can tell her it wasn't my fault and everything will be alright!”
“Before... the war?” Sweetie repeated, blinking slowly. “But that was–”
“Yus! It's over so mommy should be waiting for me now!”
Midnight Shimmer shook her head. “But, Puppy, you have to know that that's–”
Puppy blinked when the pretty princess closed her mouth and looked around worriedly.
“What is it?” Sweetie asked.
“Don't you hear them?” Shimmer whispered, pushing both Sweetie and Puppysmiles against the wall. “There's a group of ghouls coming this way.”
Sweetie could hear them now. “What do we do?”
Shimmer grimaced. “If we could send them down one of the other corridors, I could seal the door behind them. We could then make our way to the throne room.”
Sweetie looked at Shimmer in confusion. “Why the throne room?”
Shimmer took a deep breath. “Remember the crystals you had mentioned? The ones that had Twilight's essence in them?”
“Well, we found one there,” Shimmer explained. “Trixie was trying to figure a way to transport it because it won't let any alicorn touch it.”
“Well... that's new,” Sweetie mumbled. “Why not? It's never stopped anypony from doing so before, and since you have the essence of Twilight in you...” her eyes widened. “Twilight... did she become part of the Goddess... willingly?”
Shimmer was silent for a moment, then shook her head.
“Oh...” Sweetie gulped. “I- I really don't like this world's Trixie that much. No offense.”
Shimmer looked down. “I don't think Trixie does either,” she said, then levitated Puppy as the filly tried to walk away.
“Hush, Puppysmiles,” Shimmer said. “There are bad ponies coming this way. We have to think of a way to distract them.”
Sweetie shook her head and peeked around the corner. She could see the ghouls walking past one of the side halls, getting so very close to them. They were carrying several things as weapons, including those horrible guns. She blinked, and a small smile developed into a grin as her eyes widened.
“Wait! I know!”
The lead ghoul halted, raising his hoof and signaling the others to stop. He turned around, looking at the hallway they had just passed.
“I think we lost them!” Sweetie Belle whispered.
“Don't talk too loud!” Shimmer muttered back. “They might backtrack. Let's just go all the way down this hall and see where it takes us. We might be able to escape.”
“Okay, come on, hurry!” Sweetie replied.
“We have them!” the lead ghoul roared. “Follow me!”
Turning around, he galloped into the hallway, followed closely by the dozen or so ghouls he was leading. Once the last ghoul had ran in, the door glowed with arcane magic and slid shut. Shimmer smashed her hoof through the terminal next to it, preventing it from being opened again.
“Voice projection, very smart!” she nodded at Sweetie, who smiled a bit.
“It once helped me distract a werewolf... I figured the ghouls would fall for it too.”
“Yay!” Puppysmiles pranced around Sweetie Belle. “You made the wall talk! You made the wall talk!”
Sweetie blinked. “Um... y-yeah. How did your friend... uh, 'armor lady' know about that?”
But Puppy ignored her, choosing instead to chant: “Dancing Bad Guy! Dancing Bad Guy! Dancing Bad Guy!”
Shimmer exchanged an amused glance with Sweetie. “Seems like some mysteries are going to remain so.”
Sweetie mumbled something.
“What was that?”
“I hate not knowing!” Sweetie groaned, rolling her eyes and raising a hoof. “If we were in a library, I could get the necessary books to sort it out, but in here we don't have any books! Why, I–” She cut herself off, noticing Shimmer's confused expression. “Shimmer, are you okay?”
“Y-yeah,” Shimmer nodded. “I just... you- you sound just like Twilight Sparkle.”
“Oh,” Sweetie waved her hoof. “Of course I do, she was my mentor!”
“I see.” Shimmer took a deep breath. “I guess that's why. The resemblance was just... uncanny.”
“Can we go now?” Puppysmiles asked. “I wanna go find mommy and she's not here. Stoopid Mr. Voice lied again.”
Sweetie and Shimmer nodded, the alicorn taking the lead as they walked towards the throne room.
“Once we get your crystal, we should go,” Shimmer said. “I want to get as far away from Eruth as possible so I can rejoin Unity.”
Sweetie frowned a bit, but nodded. “Are you sure? Don't you want to be your own mare?”
Shimmer simply shook her head no.
Eruth closed his eyes.
They come. Be prepared. Don't let them escape.
“I won't,” Eruth mumbled in reply. “They will die here.”
Good. It's time Sweetie Belle’s travels were cut short.
Eruth shuddered as he felt the presence of his master leave his body. He opened his eyes just as the door to the throne room opened. He smiled, his taunt skin making his smile look more like a grimace. “Just as predicted.”
The three visitors stopped short, but were pushed forward by several ghouls which had been standing guard next to the entrance until they stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by even more armed ghouls.
“Welcome,” Eruth greeted them sinisterly, eyes flashing. “It is my master's wish that your travels end today,” he said, glaring at Sweetie. “And I will fulfill his orders... as for you,” his eyes turned to Shimmer. “You would abandon us at the first opportunity! You promised to take us with you! You promised to be our goddess!”
Shimmer flinched with each accusation. “The Goddess would leave me here but you–”
“Silence!” Eruth roared. “I've had enough of you! I–” He looked down when Puppysmiles poked his leg.
“'Scuse me, mister ugly pony, can you tell me where's the exit?”
In response, Eruth's horn lit up with the strange, black aura. Puppysmiles was picked up and flung violently against the wall on the other side of the room, slamming against it and dropping like a rag doll on the floor.
Sweetie Belle gasped in horror, tears flooding her eyes. She gritted her teeth and whipped around, glaring in anger at the prophet. “How dare you do that to an innocent filly?!”
Something inside her snapped. That same feeling that had made her terrorize Scooteroll, the one she had felt compelled to push into the back of her mind along with her doubts and fears, resurfaced. She wanted Eruth to suffer.
With an angry roar, her horn flashed with mystical energy, flinging several ghouls into the air as she pulled the trigger on the vulcan minigun. The first torrent of bullets shot out so violently that her control faltered and her aim suffered from it; instead of pulverizing or splattering the self-proclaimed prophet, the bullets ricocheted on the floor just before his hooves, making him jump in place from one hoof to the other in fright.
“Yay!” Puppysmiles cheered. “You made the bad guy dance!”
Sweetie's anger dissipated in an instant, and the vulcan minigun clattered to the floor, shooting another volley of bullets that tore the leg off a ghoul.
Sweetie's attention, however, was focused on Puppysmiles. The filly had a crack in her helmet but it slowly disappeared until it was completely gone.
“You're okay!” she gushed, rushing over to hug the little filly, who happily hugged her back.
“Kill them!” Eruth shouted.
Shimmer, however, was already casting a spell. A lightning bolt smashed into the mad ghoul, slamming him hard against the throne and making him spasm uncontrollably, just as the rest of the ghouls started shooting.
The bullets ricocheted off of Sweetie's shield spell, which she had thrown up in a panic.
“Miss Sweetie?” Puppysmiles looked down at the cowering unicorn. “Are you okay?”
“Puppy, get down!” Sweetie ordered. “I don't want you to get hurt!” She cringed when one of the ricocheting bullets hit one of the ghouls right in the eye. “I hate this world!”
A cry made them both look to the side, where Shimmer had collapsed, blood seeping from her flank. “Sweetie, you have to get out of here!” she shouted.
Sweetie began casting as many spells as she could in her panic. A whole group of ghouls collapsed as they tried to step forward, only to find that the floor was suddenly made slippery. Sweetie's attention was torn away from her friends as she levitated another group of the undead ponies and dropped them on top of the ones on the slippery floor.
A couple of ghouls stared at each other in mildly amused confusion as they were suddenly completely pink.
Following Sweetie’s lead, Shimmer started firing random spells, and at one point she completely disappeared from sight, only to reappear in another part of the room, casting another lightning bolt.
Black blasts of magic slammed into Sweetie's shield, the first one making her cry out as her magic was taxed beyond her expectations, the second bursting clean through it, barely missing her by inches. But not Puppysmiles.
The little filly was thrown back, this time taking a pair of ghouls with her; their bodies softening the impact when they crashed on the wall. From the pony pile arrived a muffled voice yelling “Rock!”
In desperation, Sweetie tore the throne from the floor and sent it hurtling towards Eruth. The ghoul laughed as his black aura catching the throne and making it hover over him. His wild eyes turned to glare at Sweetie. “My master will be pleased to see you dead!”
He threw the throne at Sweetie, who tried to counter his push with her own magic. The heavy, stone seat hovered over the slippery ghouls for a second before it started pushing over them and towards Sweetie, who collapsed to the floor, turning her full concentration and strength on the magical contest of strength... which she was slowly losing. She grit her teeth and refused to close her eyes. If this was the end, she would see it through.
Then, she saw Puppysmiles, snarling angrily, a plain rock held in her hooves as she jumped behind Eruth and smashed him in the head with it. The throne started falling on top of the ghouls, but was suddenly stopped mid-air by Sweetie’s magic.
Sweetie threw the throne over Eruth and Puppysmiles, smashing it on the floor behind them, but neither paid attention to it. Puppysmiles brought her rock down again and again on Eruth's head, smashing it in until she was tackled by Sweetie Belle.
Puppysmiles tried to struggle free so she could continue destroying Eruth, “He’s one of Count Tile’s agents! I knew it!” and was about to break free when she heard Sweetie hushing her.
“It's okay, Puppy, the bad guy is g-gone. Calm down... it's over. It's over, Puppy,” Sweetie Belle begged. “Please calm down.”
Puppysmiles dropped the rock and hugged the disgruntled unicorn back. “It's okay, Miss Belt, the bad guy will not bother you no more.”
Sweetie Belle awoke to complete silence. For a moment, she didn't know where she was, but a quick glance revealed that she was in Shimmer's room.
“I see you're awake,” the alicorn commented, emerging from the back of the room.
“I- I am,” Sweetie acknowledged absently. “What happened?”
“You passed out. You hadn't had any rest and were suddenly thrown into a life-or-death battle,” Shimmer smiled. “You did quite well, all things considered.”
Sweetie nodded absently. “Is Puppy still around?”
Shimmer nodded. “For now... the ghouls calmed down after Eruth died,” she elaborated. “He wasn't controlling them per se, but between his actions and the lack of his leadership, it was easy for me to gain control and convince them that they had been fooled.”
Sweetie nodded and slowly slid out of the bed. She paused. “You're still... well, you.”
Shimmer looked down at the floor and nodded almost imperceptibly. “I can feel Unity... but it's as though it has been blocked. I know it's on the other side but... as hard as I try, I cannot move this barrier, and even if I try to punch through, the holes are filled in quite fast.” Shimmer shuddered. “I don't know what to do. But I can't stay here.”
Sweetie was about to reply when a ghoul banged on the door. “Goddess! The ghost of the 52 is leaving!”
“What?!” Sweetie cried out, jumping down and almost falling flat on her face. She was surrounded by a blueish aura of magic as Shimmer levitated her. Sweetie sighed in annoyance. “I hate being like this.”
“Here, allow me to help,” the alicorn said with a smile. She turned to look at the ghoul. “Bring that object I asked you to put in a box for me. We can give it to Sweetie outside.”
Puppysmiles stepped out of the S.T.A.B.L.E. and looked at the desolate land around her, sighing. “That was fun, but I still want my mom... Maybe we should go to that Broccoli town, after all...” The filly in yellow shivered, thinking of all the horrible things that a mom could do with enough broccoli, but she had to be strong and keep trotting, because she was sure that next time she would find her mother.
“Affirmative. Broccoli set on the compass as main quest objective.”
A flashing arrow inside her helmet indicated which way Puppy had to go, but as the little filly turned that way, she heard Sweetie calling for her.
“Puppysmiles!” Sweetie shouted. “Don't leave yet!”
Puppy grinned and waved her hoof at the nice unicorn. “I have to go find my mommy now! But don't worry, I'll tell her how nice you were!”
Sweetie's eyes watered a bit as she was put on the floor right next to Puppy and hugged her for a moment. “You tell her that,” she whispered, “and when I see my sister, and my friends I'll tell them how good and brave you were!”
“Yay!” Puppysmiles shouted, prancing in place. “I gets to meet your sister?”
“One day, Puppy,” Sweetie said, nodding.
“And here is where we all must part ways,” Shimmer added, walking over to them.
“Buh-bye, pretty prinsuss!” Puppysmiles said. “It was nice to meet you too! I'll tell mommy how you gave me your name in a paper and how nice you were even when you were talking really loud!”
Shimmer winced a bit at that, shook it off and motioned for a ghoul to bring a box over. Once it had done so, the ghouls slowly shuffled back into the S.T.A.B.L.E..
At Sweetie's questioning look, Shimmer smiled sheepishly. “I asked them to let the three of us be alone for this.”
Shimmer's magic opened the small box and Sweetie gasped. There, lying on top of a small rag, was one of Twilight’s fragments.
Sweetie carefully levitated it with her magic. “I- thank you, Shimmer!” She hugged the alicorn, Shimmer tensing immediately at the little unicorn's touch before relaxing, apparently surprised when nothing happened.
“Y-you’re welcome,” Shimmer stammered. “But please don't hug me while holding that fragment... last time I touched it, it gave Trixie a migraine. A million heads’ worth of it.”
Some sort of polka-like music reached them as Sweetie levitated the shard. She looked from Puppy to Shimmer and nodded once. She immediately made the magical connection with the shard, feeling it restoring her magic and pulling her away.
The marching band music was suddenly interrupted by static.
“Oh, hey, Puppysmiles!” a familiar voice said.
“Hi, Questioner!” Puppy replied.
“It's Watcher, and–” the voice stopped as the round robot hovered in front of Shimmer. “Oh, crap.”
“Spike?!” Sweetie asked, recognizing the voice.
The little robot whirled in place and its camera concentrated on her. “Sweetie?! But- but how?! You were just with–”
Whatever he was going to say to her was lost in the sudden rush and light. Sweetie had left another world.
Watcher hovered uncertainly in front of the place where Sweetie had just been standing.
“... Black...” he trailed off. The spritebot then slowly turned to face Shimmer. “Um. Hi. There's no chance that this little conversation can be kept between the two of us, is there?”
Shimmer raised an eyebrow. “Currently, I'm unable to communicate with the Goddess.”
“Thank Celestia!” Watcher sighed. “Hey, where’d Puppy go?”
A loud clank followed by a roar seemed to be the answer.
“What is a manticore doing in here?!” A ghoul shouted over the roars and the sounds of tearing metal. “Oh, Luna! It's got my leg!”
Shimmer looked around, then pointed at the distance with her hoof.
“I don't know!” another answered.
“Shoot it! Oh, Goddess it has my other leg!”
“Just kill it! We'll re-attach your stupid legs later! Where's the Goddess?!”
Watcher turned to see Puppysmiles merrily riding her scooter into the sunset. “Oh,” he chuckled sadly. “There she goes again.”
“What are you doing!?” the ghoul's voice reached them once again, followed by a roar and a sickening, squishy sound. “That catnip is two hundred years old! It won't work! See what you've done?! It tore another of my legs off!”
“Well, stop standing right next to it!”
“I can't help it! I can’t exactly move with only one leg left!”
“I...” Shimmer coughed to clear her throat. “I should go. Away. From here. Maybe to Hoofington... or something. Find out how to rejoin Unity.”
“Yes,” Watcher said after a pause. The two looked at each other uncomfortably, then the alicorn shimmered into invisibility and the March of the Parasprites resumed.
“Oh, Goddess! It has my last leg!”
Something stirred her away from sleep.
Sweetie took a deep breath and opened her eyes. She was a filly again, and in her room in Carousel Boutique.
“Another day, another quest...” she muttered. “I could use a daisy sandwich.” She snuggled into the bed again. “But then again, after that world, I think I can stay in bed longer. Much longer.”
Suddenly, the sound that had awoken her came again and she groaned, rolling off the bed and calling down the stairs. “I'll be right there! Hold on!”
Grumbling, she made her way to the front door and yanked it open with magic.
A white stallion unicorn, tall and well groomed smiled at her. “Hello, little filly, I was wondering if–”
“No solicitors,” Sweetie growled and closed the door.
She turned around and was about to leave when the unicorn knocked on the door again. Sweetie took a deep breath and opened the door. “Yes?”
The unicorn frowned. “You are not acting like you did last time!”
Sweetie blinked. “You’re not a sales-pony?”
The unicorn sighed. “No, my name is Prince Blueblood, and–” Sweetie slammed the door.
Blueblood knocked on the door again.
“What?” Sweetie growled.
Blueblood looked at her, nonplussed. “Sweetie Belle, why did you close the door on me?”
“Rarity told me you were a brute when she met you at the Gala,” Sweetie replied, then she narrowed her eyes. “And how do you know my name?”
Blueblood looked gobsmacked. He opened his mouth and closed it several times. “W-wait... you... remember the Gala?”
Sweetie frowned. “What my sis told me.”
Suddenly she was being held in Blueblood’s forelegs. “I’m not alone!”
“Hey! Let go!” Sweetie shouted.
“No! I must keep you at my side! Nothing will separate us, Sweetie Belle! We’ll see this adventure through together! You and I!”
“I need an adult!” Sweetie shouted desperately.
“I am an adult!” Blueblood shouted back.
“W-what’s going on here?!” Rarity asked, galloping into the room after hearing her sister shout and scream. “Sweetie?! Get away from that strange unicorn, right now!”
“It’s Blueblood! Help!” Sweetie pleaded. “He’s hugging me!”
“Let go of my sister!”
“Never! I have found another pony that remembers! This will be the best night ever!”
o.0.o End Chapter 5 o.0.o
Next Chapter: The Best Night Ever