Cadence. That is the name I have given to the little filly I created. Somehow, despite all the precautions I took, she has managed to develop a mind and conscience of her own, and I fear I will be unable to continue in my line of work for much longer. How could I just wipe the mind of such an adorable little filly? Even if it is my sister we are talking about.
There is little doubt in my mind that Serenity is involved in all this. She has disapproved of my actions since the beginning, but grudgingly followed along out of loyalty to Luna. But now? Now she has made her move, and truth be told, I can't fault her for it. I've been so intent on bringing Luna back that I was willing to toss my morals out the window on a whim and as an eternal ruler, there are few things I can or should sacrifice. But I have already come so far, done so much. Am I really so willing to let it all slip through my hooves so easily?
I... I don't know. For now I shall take Cadence under my wing and keep her safe in this facility. I believe I need some time to think through what I should do.
Time Till Death: Two days, twenty hours, sixteen minutes
"So, will you be my marefriend?" asked Dash, a hopeful expression on her face. After all, Twi hadn't shrugged her off when she wrapped a wing around the unicorn's body and if that wasn't a good sign, nothing was.
"Dash..." began Twilight, but the pegasus could already hear the sadness in her voice and she knew what was coming. Though her mouth kept moving, Dash didn't hear a word as her world came crashing down around her. This wasn't how it was supposed to be! She was the coolest, fastest, awesomest pony ever. She should be able to get any mare she wanted.And truth be told, she had fangirls falling for her left, right and center. So why couldn't she get the one mare she wanted?
"-time to be discussing this. I'm not saying no," she added and Dash's ears immediately perked up at that. "But I'm stressed, you're stressed, everyone's stressed, and stress is known to affect judgment. Can I tell you my answer once we get back? I'd like to look at this objectively."
With a small nod, she rested her head on Twilight's shoulder. "Of course, Twi."
And so the two sat there, staring out at the night expanse and the crystals that shimmered under the moonlight. It began not as a sound, but the ghost of a whisper. It tickled at the back of Dash's mind, like reaching for the memory of a forgotten dream, and no matter how she tried to focus on that itch, she always came up with empty hooves. As the seconds passed, the unease grew until the pegasus could take it no longer, and turned to Twilight, only to stop with her mouth hanging open.
Twilight was... she was... crying...?
Silent tears rolled down her cheeks as the unicorn stared at her hooves. Now that Dash knew where the sound was coming from, it echoed in her mind, beating her again and again over her own stupidity.
"Twi...?" she asked hesitantly.
"I-I-I'm fine." Though Twilight smiled, it was closer to a broken mask than anything else. "I'll be fine. I-I can do this. It is worth this. Everything is worth it. I-I've come t-too far."
"Twi? What's wrong?" Dash wrapped her forelegs around the unicorn's neck, pulling her into a tight hug. For a couple of seconds they stayed like, staring each other in the eye, then Twilight glanced down and burst out sobbing once more.
"I-I can't. I'm sorry, I don't think- I can't do this. Not anymore." With each chocked out word, Dash's coat was saturated a bit further. "Don't hate me. Please don't hate me. Please..."
"Come on egghead, tell me what's wrong," pleaded Dash as she awkwardly brushed Twilight's mane.
Dash wasn't a stranger to consoling ponies, after all, she had been Fluttershy's friend since fillyhood and Flight School had not been the kindest place. Heck, she had even seen Pinkie when she went totally loony on her! There was even the time AJ completely broke down at Granny Smith's funeral. But none of those compared to seeing the purple unicorn break down before her eyes.
Twilight had faced dragons, routed out changelings, saved a town from an avalanche while coming down with the gryphon flu. She saved Equestria more times than Dash had hooves and was the only pony who ever dared to get in a shouting match with Princess Celestia and Luna. Twilight Sparkle was the strongest willed mare Rainbow Dash had ever known. Yet here she was, crying her eyes out like a little filly. It tore at Dash's heart to see Twilight like this, and try as she might, no matter what she said or did, nothing helped at all. All she could do was hold Twilight close and whisper comforting words in her ear.
"What's going on-" All it took was a glared from Dash to shut Spitfire up. Beside her, Gilda looked on curiously and with a hint of anger.
Silently, Spitfire walked on over and laid a comforting hoof on Twilight's shoulder. After a couple minutes, the unicorn finally calmed down enough to breathe properly and she looked up at Dash with a shaky smile. Then her eyes flicked across to Spitfire's hooves and the tears began again.
"Hey, stop glaring me!" Dash's glare remained trained on Spitfire. "I didn't know that'd set her off!"
"Ponies," muttered Gilda as she began walking away. "Come on Spits, let's get going."
There was a moment of tense silence, only punctured by Twilight's continuous sobbing as Spitfire constantly glanced between the gryphon and the ponies. Then, with one final sigh, she gave a parting nod to Dash and followed Gilda, leaving the two alone once more.
"I can't do it," Twilight whispered yet again as though it was some sort of mantra.
Again and again she said it, the words blurring together, and it took all of Dash's will to not break down as well. Since when had Twilight ever said she couldn't do something? Since when did Twilight Sparkle ever give up? And worst of all, there was nothing Dash could do, except hold Twilight until whatever was bothering her finally ended.
Eventually though, she finally calmed down enough and just lay in Dash's arms, hiccupping every so often as her tears finally dried. Though the pegasus' front was entirely soaked through, she didn't mind one single bit as she gently rocked Twilight's while humming a soft tune.
When Twilight next spoke, the moon was already high in the sky. "I-I'm fine now. I think I'll be alright." A tear stained smile, but no less beautiful. "I'm sorry about that. Just kinda... broke down I guess..."
"Twi, what is going on? You've been talking about sacrificing yourself for Equestria, and then you've got the pain medication, and just now you broke down!" Dash's eyes widened as she whispered, "Y-You're dying aren't you?"
"No!" Twilight winced as her voice echoed through the mountains. "No, I am not dying. I've just got a... genetic disease. It will eventually leave me paralyzed and... I'm scared, Dash. I don't-" She looked to be on the verge of tears yet again.
"Hey..." Dash nuzzled the unicorn lightly. "We're not going to leave you. None of us will leave you. We're friends remember? And that would be the single uncoolest thing ever. AJ, Pinkie, Fluttershy, Rarity... None of them will leave you either. We'll always be there for you and we'll always be your friends."
"T-Thanks." For the first time that night, Twilight had a genuine smile on her face. "It's just this mission has brought on so much stress and... well... Looks like I'm paralyzed now."
"W-What!?" Wings flaring wide open, Dash recoiled in shock. "I thought, that is, you made it sound like it wasn't happening now. Not that, that changes anything," she quickly added as Twilight's face fell once more. "You just surprised me was all. But why now? You were healthy befo-"
"I wasn't." Twilight sighed as she looked away. "I've been seeing a doctor for the past couple of months and I had already lost sensation in my hooves and hind legs before coming on this mission. I guess the stress and stuff just made it happen faster."
"Twilight? You are one of the most insane mares I've ever met," chuckled Dash, though there was a bit of bitterness in her voice. "But how could you not tell me about this! We're your friends, we would have helped!"
"I didn't want things to change," whispered the lavender pony. "I wanted us to keep going on adventures, and having fun, and parties, and... I suppose I didn't want to be treated differently. As though I was suddenly fragile, like a porcelain doll."
"Oh Twi, for such a smart pony you sure are stupid sometimes." Once more Dash gave Twilight an affectionate nuzzle. “You’re still Twilight aren't you? I mean sure, we'd probably look out for you more, but you took down a bucking dragon! I don't think anyone can call you fragile for that and if they did, you'd probably send them to the moon."
"I don't send ponies to the moon. Celestia doesn't send ponies to the moon. Nopony sends ponies to the bucking moon!"
"Heh, yeah. You just turn them into potted plants instead."
Twilight opened and closed her mouth multiple times before she finally resorted to slamming her head against the ground.
"Come on Twi, no killing brain cells." The two sat in silence for a while as the moon watched. "So what now? What do we do? We can't just leave you here..."
"Cloud walking spells plus a cloud," replied the unicorn with a shrug. "What else can we do?"
"You're telling me the truth right? You haven't left anything out?"
"Of course not." To Dash's surprise, Twilight leaned over and nuzzled her lightly. "I'm telling the whole truth."
"Al-Alright." Still flushing red, the pegasus stood up. "I have to tell the others about our situation, so..."
"Go. I'll be here waiting." That got a dry chuckle from both of them. "Try not to kill Spitfire."
"Depends on what she ends up saying," replied Dash. "But I'll try."
After a couple seconds of silence, Dash spoke up once more, "Do you- do you want anything? Should I move you closer back to camp or...?"
"I'm fine. I'm paralyzed, not an invalid," replied Twilight with a small smile. "I've still got my magic you know."
"Right! Sorry." Dash exhaled. "I'm just stuffing up aren't I? And I thought I was the one that was meant to be keeping your spirits up."
A soft caress across Dash's check made her head snap to the left in surprise just in time to see Twilight's magic fading. Then it came back in full force and the pegasus closed her eyes, leaning into the touch ever so slightly. How had this happened? How had it gone from comforting Twilight to being comforted herself so quickly and easily?
"Thanks, Twi," whispered Dash as she finally forced herself to step away from the unicorn. "I'm just gonna go talk to Spitfire alright? I'll be back before you know it."
"I know. Go already," chuckled Twilight. "What happened to Rainbow Dash? This insecurity and uncertainty does not suit you at all."
"Hey! Are you insulting me? You're insulting me, aren't you? I'll have you know, this pony is certified one hundred and twenty percent cool." Just to prove her point, the pegasus did a couple quick jabs and kicks at the thin air before striking a pose. For a few seconds they managed to keep their composure, before they both burst out laughing.
Then, with doubt still lingering in her eyes, Rainbow Dash finally pulled away and began her slow trudge back to the others. Every couple seconds she would glance back at Twi just to make sure she was still there, and that she was fine, and that nothing terrible was going to happen the instant she turned away.
Eventually though, Twilight disappeared out of sight and Dash began trotting despite the protests of her sore muscles. With her ears twitching, she began scanning the area for the others, but couldn't see or hear anything. This was stupid! It was a ledge so it's not as though they could be hiding anywhere in particular. She didn't have time to waste looking for them, not when Twilight was on the verge of breaking down.
With a sigh, Dash took the air and began sweeping the area in a grid pattern in an attempt to locate them. Considering one was bright yellow, the extremes she had to go to find them were starting to get on her nerves. Where in the bucking world could they have vanis-
"-part of 'go away' do you not understand?"
Dash came to a sudden halt as she scanned the air for any sign of her companions.
"Considering I'm a 'stupid, uncultured gryphon,' let's go with, all of it," replied Gilda.
"Ha! Well let me put it a way you can understand then, fuck off," growled Spitfire. "I don't want to talk to anypony right now, especially a gryphon I don't even know."
"Even good ol' lovable me? Come on Spitfire, spill. I'm just some random gryphon who has no precon-something-or-rather about you, so I'm as good as they come."
"Yeah! That word... I think." Dash looked around, but still couldn't find the source of their voices. "I mean, you're in love with Dash, it's obvious."
The cyan pegasus blinked in surprise and hovered in midair. After a couple of seconds, she saw a tuft of red from below, hidden beside some leaves. Dropping down into the tree, Dash sat peaked through the foliage and saw the two sitting on the ledge below.
Spitfire was in love with her? Had a crush on her? A part of Dash was giddy that her idol actually had feelings for her, but that part was quickly squashed by her feelings for Twilight. Still, Dash had to admit that Spitfire was hot. Toned, muscular, and looked spectacular with a wet mane, but... The spark wasn't there. Not really.
"I-I am not!"
"Uh, yeah. You are. I swear, Dash is the blindest pony I have ever met, but even she should have noticed." Gilda sighed. "I suggest you just give up on the fantasy. Dash isn't into jocks, she prefers the whole sexy librarian look, and the entire nerds are into sexual fetishes line."
Dash's cheeks burned and it took all her willpower not to run away or find somewhere to hide. Preferably somewhere she would never be found again.
"What?" asked Gilda,"You're not the first one to fall for her."
"Yeah." Gilda ran her claw through her drown feathers. "Look, just as advice from one aerial specialist to another, give up. It sucks, but suck it up."
Ears flat against her skull, Dash winced as that little secret came out. At least Gilda didn't say any more on that matter, both their reputations would have been ruined if those secrets came out.
The gryphon opened her wings, stretching them a couple of times, and just as she was about to take off, Spitfire laid a hoof on her shoulder. "Why are you telling me this?"
There was a pause. "Whatever dweeb, I'm outta here. You can keep your pony drama to yourself." With a shrug, Gilda took off into the air and Dash immediately slipped back into the tree in an attempt to keep herself from view. Below her, Spitfire continued to stare at the previously occupied space, her hoof still hanging in midair. It took almost an entire minute before Spitfire shook off whatever was on her mind and took off back to camp.
Staying absolutely still until their wing beats could no longer heard, a sigh of relief escaped as Dash finally stretched her cramped wings. After a couple more seconds, the pegasus let herself fall out of the tree and with two easy flaps, circled around to the left of the camp and dropped down from above.
"Hey Spitfire!" she called, trying her hardest to act casual and ignore the Wonderbolt's tear stained cheeks. "I've got bad news."
"Great. What is it this time? A wyvern?" she muttered under her breath before speaking louder, "Involving Twilight?"
"Heh, yeah." Dash rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly. "Turns out she's paralyzed."
"What!?" The yellow pegasus was on her hooves in an instant, all sense of self-loathing gone. "How?"
"Some sort of genetic disease thingie," replied Dash with a shrug. "I dunno."
"Genetic disease my flank!" Spitfire shot off into the night with Dash close behind her. "Never heard of a genetic disease that acts that quickly."
All of a sudden, Spitfire tucked her wings in, did a forward flip and hit the ground on all four hooves, skidding to a stop while Dash blasted past unable to stop herself. By the time she managed to slow down and turn around, Spitfire and Twilight were already in the middle of a heated yelling match. Both sides shouted at each other, and though the unicorn could not move, she still managed to seem larger than life.
"What the buck is going on here!" yelled Dash as she forcibly shoved the two apart. "You two have been at each other's throats this entire journey so calm down!"
"No genetic disease acts so fast," spat Spitfire.
"And I told you, it started before we began this journey," growled Twilight.
"A likely story." Spitfire took half a step forward. "Even then, it wouldn't have acted as fast as it has. Nerves don't suddenly die."
"Oh yeah!?" Their faces were inches apart. "And what would you know about medicine Miss Spitfire?"
"Well I know fa-"
"Enough!" Once more Dash was forced to shove them apart. "Does it matter how it happened? The fact is that ithas happened and it's here to stay. We've just to work with it. Alright?"
The seconds slowly ticked by as Spitfire stared at me before she began walking away. "Whatever. I take it we'll be using a cloud walking spell?"
"Correct," replied the unicorn and Dash winced at the use of her Archmage voice.
"Alright. As long as Princess Celestia won't be endangered by this." Before vanishing from sight, she stopped and looked over her shoulder. "You know, if you realized this might have happened, you wouldn't have come on this mission in the first place. Instead you would have found a suitable replacement, but as is, you've just screwed us all over. If the Princess dies as a result of this, I hope you burn in Tartarus."
Dash mouth fell open. Never in all her years as a fan of the Wonderboltshad she seen Spitfire act so venomously. Yes, she did occasionally snap at reporters, but what she just did was downright cruel. Even when she was accused of sleeping with the Wonderbolts’ captain when she first joined, she didn't act like that. But that wasn’t important right then. Whatever her issue was, that could wait.
Dash opened her wings and wrapped one gently around Twilight. "Come on Twi, don't listen to her. She's just stressed out."
The only reason there were no tears in Twilight's eyes was probably because she had used them all up earlier. Instead, she buried her head in the crook of my neck as she mumbled, "But it's true isn't?"
"Of course not! “Dash’s wings flared open for extra emphasis before she wrapped them around Twilight again. "How many unicorns would have the brains to figure out how to remove that anti-magic thingie? How many unicorns could do three long-range teleports per day? Come on Twi, you did the calculations, and while I didn't get it – the details I mean! While I don't get the details, I do get end result. Without you, we wouldn't have even made it half way in time."
"Y-You actually listened?" That got a small chuckle out of Twilight. "I thought you had dozed off halfway through."
"Well I never said I didn't," smirked Dash. "What can I say? Napping takes skills."
"Apparently so." Twilight smiled and leaned into the pegasus' grip. "Thanks Dash. You know, if somepony told me a day ago that you were actually a real softie under all that, I would have laughed at them."
"H-Hey!" For once, Dash thanked Luna that it was night for it hid her blush. "I'm not a softie. One hundred and twenty percent pure coolness in the flesh and I can tell you, coolness is not soft. It is hard. Hard like... er... steel!"
There was a beat of silence before Twilight burst out laughing. "Don't worry, I promise to keep it a secret." She winked playfully. "It'll be our secret."
"Thanks Twi." A sigh escaped as Dash shifted slightly to get comfortable. "But like I was saying, we couldn't have done this without you. We couldn't have gotten this far without you. So no doubting yourself, alright? Princess Celestia is the single most important pony in Equestria and for what it's worth, I think you did the right thing. The loyal thing, and trust me, I know something about loyalty."
Though she rolled her eyes, Twilight had a smile on her face. "Yeah, yeah you do."
"So no more second doubts, you hear?" A light nudge from the pegasus followed by a pair of big, adorable eyes. "No more getting down or crying. You did the right thing and I'll support you all the way."
"Thanks, Dash." Once more that sweet smile. "Thank you."
Everything now lies in ruins. Eight hundred years of hard work rendered useless in one bright flash of magical surge from Cadence. She managed to destroy the container storing the viral vectors and pathogens I had been using to examine alicornian immunology in hopes of finding cures for various diseases. There is little doubt that she has been infected by them and is now sick as a direct result of that. I, myself, am currently being tested, but it seems as though it has not affected me in any manner or form.
Simply put, I fear Cadence is dying.
Worse of all, it seems to a mutated strain with particular lethality to alicorns and absolutely no effect on normal ponies. Even as I write this, I am creating a second alicorn so that I can infect it with the pathogen in an attempt to obtain antibodies from which I can then synthesize the cure. Currently I have used the four dimensional amplification matrix to place Cadence in a slower temporal space in addition to the usual antibody cure developed for ponies in an attempt to slow down the infection, but I fear this is just a delaying tactic.
I pray I can save Cadence in time.