Dinner did not end well. The time spent absorbed with dark thoughts about what she had seen – and what she was desperate to avoid thinking about – made the rest of Twilight’s meal a painful blur. Her morose introspection was interrupted for a moment when one of the nurses announced that dinner was over, but it was a momentary reprieve. Soon after she was finished speaking the staff began dismissing the ponies by table, the orderlies guiding patients towards different lines forming near the doors.
When they reached their table, Twilight quietly stood up and followed Pinkie Pie to one of the groups being led from the cafeteria. “The sun outside is showing, but fires always glowing...” Pinkie Pie sung quietly to herself, putting words to the tune she had been humming earlier. Twilight ignored the vaguely familiar tune. She had more important things on her mind. Lost in her thoughts, Twilight was content to follow her friend’s lead.
It was a terrible mistake. Twilight barely had time to register the medical staff converging on her position before she was physically yanked out of Pinkie’s group and forcefully shoved into another line, the orderlies shouting at her for disobeying the rules. From the stern glares the nurses and orderlies gave her, the mistake had been nothing short of a deliberate attempt at escape. They ignored her attempts to explain that she hadn’t known better, silencing her while they continued to stress all the potential punishments she might receive for disobeying direct commands.
It was only when Nurse Ratchet was summoned to deal with a ‘troublemaker’ that Twilight’s special situation was finally explained. It was a new experience for Twilight, being glad to have the head nurse nearby. While the other groups quickly filed out of the cafeteria, Nurse Ratchet and her shadow, Silas, escorted Twilight along a separate path.
Following along between the other two ponies, Twilight tried her best to forget about the series of disasters that had constituted her dinner experience. Oh Celestia, please don’t let today be a sign of what tomorrow will bring.
Nurse Ratchet glanced back over at her. “I’m sorry about that, Twilight,” Nurse Ratchet offered in apology. Twilight shrugged. The sympathetic frown carried little to suggest it was the genuine article. “Those nurses weren’t aware of your... special condition, and so they thought you were trying to sneak out with the general population. Which, as you saw, is something we have to take very seriously when it does happen. Rules are rules, after all. If it weren’t for rules, we’d just have chaos. And nopony wants that.”
“General population?” Twilight risked the question.
“Yes, the general population. We have classifications for our patients according to their needs. Not all our patients are the same, after all. You’re all very, very special.” Her smile and tone matched the banal and generic statement perfectly. Twilight resisted rolling her eyes as Ratchet continued. “Some patients just require more assistance than others. Normally, you would go with the group the nurses tried to put you with. However, due to your recent treatments and your rough day, it was decided that you were going to be given a personal escort.”
“Doctor Applejack,” Ratchet said, stressing the title despite looking like she had bitten into something sour, “was supposed to be your escort for the evening. Doctor Rose thought it best to ease you back into life here, so we wouldn’t end up punishing you for breaking rules you didn’t even know existed. She was supposed to be the one to start filling you in on how things are done here at Broadhoof, and what is expected of a young adult such as yourself. Unfortunately, due to what had happened earlier, she wasn’t able to be there with you, so–”
“How is Applejack?” interrupted Twilight, stopping to look at the nurse with desperate urgency in her eyes. “Is she okay?”
“She is fine,” Nurse Ratchet said carefully, a hint of her irritation slipping past her mask of eternal cheerfulness. “The soup wasn’t too hot, so she wasn’t burned. My staff stopped Rainbow Dash before she could do more than give Doctor Applejack a few bruises. An Earth pony like her will be just fine by tomorrow.”
Twilight glanced away, her other friend’s name accompanied by a confusing jumble of emotions. “And... Rainbow Dash? What is going to happen to her?”
“Solitary confinement,” Nurse Ratchet stated icily. The jarring transition in tone was enough to make the hairs on the back of Twilight’s neck stand on end. The false smiles were gone. In their place was the expression of cold fury she had seen earlier when Ratchet had pronounced judgement upon the struggling pegasus.
Even though Ratchet’s cold anger was directed at her friend, Twilight still swallowed nervously. “W-What does that mean, exactly?” Her concern and curiosity over her friend’s fate were enough to override her reluctance to engage the smoldering mare.
Ratchet turned to look at her, the granite expression disappearing behind her artificially pleasant persona. “Oh, you don’t need to worry about that, Twilight. That’s just something for bad ponies who break the rules. Good fillies like you don’t need to bother yourself with matters of discipline.” Despite the bubbly tone and broad grin, Ratchet’s eyes still burned with harsh displeasure. That balefire was the real Nurse Ratchet, Twilight realized. The sanguine mask she donned when dealing with the patients was just that: a piece of a costume worn by an actor while playing a role.
The grins and mock familiarity took on a much more sinister edge; the bared teeth of a timberwolf right before it lunged. Twilight averted her gaze. “So, um, you’re saying I need more... ‘assistance’ than other ponies, then?” she asked, trying to direct the conversation elsewhere.
Ratchet favored Twilight with that terrible smile. “Only a little, dear. You’re a bright mare, and you’ve been very well behaved over the years. However, because of your treatment, you just need a little more help than usual. After all, we want to try and get you better. Plus, Doctor Rose wants us to keep an extra eye on you for a while, due to the side-effects you’ve encountered. We don’t want you having any more episodes like in his office.” Although she didn’t say anything, Twilight could almost hear her mentally add ‘or like in the bathroom.'
She continued to talk as she led Twilight up another flight of stairs. “Doctor Rose really is doing so much for the patients here. He is very excited about his new regimen. It could revolutionize the handling of mental disorders.” For the first time since she met her, Twilight recognized honest excitement creeping into Ratchet’s voice. “Imagine it, Twilight. Delusions, hallucinations... all a thing of the past. If Doctor Rose is right, then we are on the cusp of a new age in medical discovery. We could help so many ponies!”
Despite the glowing optimism in Ratchet’s words, Twilight still felt the chill of doubt settle over her. “We? Wait. Are you saying that my treatment is untested?”
“Oh! No no no, of course not, Twilight!” She smiled even wider. “No patient receives untested medical treatment. You don’t have to worry about that!” Beads of sweat formed at her temple as she glanced around nervously. “Now, how about I go over tomorrow’s schedule with you?”
“But you said–”
“Twilight,” Ratchet interrupted, all of her humor and nervousness vanishing as she turned to face Twilight directly. “You must understand that we cannot, legally or morally, use untested methods on patients. It would be criminal negligence, as well as a horrendous abuse of our authority and a breach of trust with our patients.” Twilight opened her mouth, but Ratchet lifted a hoof to halt her. “No, let me finish. I have known you for years, Twilight. You, like many schizophrenic patients, can be prone to paranoid delusions. You are misinterpreting what I said.”
Twilight snorted. No, I’m not. You’ve let something slip that explains so much. You’ve been experimenting with patients! Beneath her thoughts she felt her anger stirring again, her rancor growing with every second. She felt violated. “No! I’m not misinterpreting anything, I’m just trying to clarify what you told me. You claimed that ‘we’ are going to help so many ponies, right after talking about my treatment and Rose’s new treatment! You’re hiding–”
“Twilight!” Ratchet snapped, her eyes flashing with cold intensity. Twilight’s mouth slammed shut as she pulled back in fear of what might happen next. After a moment the nurse exhaled slowly, letting some of the harshness seep out of her voice. “Your treatment is best discussed between you and Doctor Rose. You will meet with him tomorrow. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned his new treatment. I should have known it would cause some confusion. Twilight, you’re a smart filly, but you are sick. Time and time again you, like many patients, have created persecution myths from innocuous statements. Right now you’re already creating theories about how you’re the victim of some horrible medical experiments. I can see it in your eyes. But if you put that big brain of yours to work and think logically about what I’ve said, you’ll realize I’m telling you the truth.”
The nurse turned her back on Twilight and resumed her climb up the stairs. “I’m not going to talk to you any more about your treatment or the doctor’s research. Tomorrow, if it’s still bothering you, then you should bring it up in group therapy, or when you meet with Doctor Rose himself.”
Twilight hesitated a heartbeat before she followed her. “Well, if I was prone to paranoid delusions, then shouldn’t you be trying harder to dissuade me of such thoughts?” she asked gruffly, her anger simmering gently. She wanted to be furious. She had the right to. The nurse had almost admitted having conducted experiments upon her. No wonder Doctor Rose was so eager to protect Twilight. She was his test case, his unwilling guinea pig. Her hooves twitched, eager to lash out at her captors.
“No, it would just be a waste of my time,” Ratchet answered as she pushed open the door to the next floor, guiding Twilight into another green-white hallway.
The frank answer caught Twilight off guard, her anger faltering against the unexpected response. “A... a waste of time? How is that a waste of time?”
“Because I can’t prove it one way or the other. I could spend an hour trying to convince you, but you are going to believe what you want to believe.” She stopped, turning back to the younger mare. “I’ve known you for years, Twilight, and I’ve learned how you think. Some nurses and doctors forget that personal experience is what makes good healers. Especially new ones,” she frowned, momentarily glancing away before she recovered. “Not every pony’s problems can be solved by following the textbook. Those books say I shouldn’t just ignore your delusions, but I’ve seen you go through these periods many, many times before. If I argued with you for the rest of the evening I’d only convince you that I’m hiding something.”
She nodded at Twilight. “You’re smart, Twilight, and what you need is time to think things over on your own. By tomorrow, you’ll have realized that you were just creating mountains out of molehills.”
Twilight found herself unable to respond. Everything Nurse Ratchet said was wrong because it assumed she was sick. She wasn’t sick. Yet the nurse’s words made sense. Even knowing that she was not schizophrenic, Twilight couldn’t deny that Ratchet’s behavior wasn’t that of a pony that had just let loose some terrible secret. She just seemed tired. Resigned, even. Doubt began to eat away at the foundations of Twilight’s anger like introspective termites.
“Now come along. We’re almost at your room. Tomorrow you should feel better. Hopefully you’ll be well enough to spend some time with some of the other patients too. Won’t that be fun?” As quickly as it had arrived, Ratchet’s frank and honest tone was subsumed back into her condescending cheerfulness.
Could I really just have misheard her? Twilight replayed the last few minutes through her mind again as she followed Ratchet. It was easy to understand why she had come to her conclusions, but did that really prove anything? Was the nurse just trying to confuse her? Or was she telling a partial truth?
I do have a habit of creating problems when there aren’t ones, she admitted grudgingly. Memories of a certain doll and a ‘Want It, Need It’ spell brought color to her cheeks. I had thought that being sent back to magic kindergarten was a real possibility then. Might I be doing the same here? Could it all be in my head? She glanced over at Nurse Ratchet. The older mare’s body language didn’t hint at any nervousness. She looked calm, collected, and in control.
There also was no sign of any sweat on Ratchet’s brow.
Twilight blinked and checked again, just to be sure. She had been sweating. I remember her sweating! It was when she was acting guilty and trying to redirect my attention elsewhere. She didn’t wipe it away; I would have noticed that. Twilight took another breath, holding it for a few seconds before slowly released it.
Okay, it’s possible I didn’t see her sweating. It could have been a trick of the light. But she was acting suspicious. Sorta. I mean, maybe I just assumed she was acting that way. I could have misheard her, I guess.
Her headache was coming back.
Twilight sighed, unable to come to a clear decision. I just don’t have enough information to go on. Maybe I wasn’t making it up and maybe she was accidentally letting out a secret. But then, maybe I’m just creating problems out of nothing. She could be half-right. The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m not really crazy.
After all, today has been one of the most stressful days of my entire life. If I am mishearing things, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. I’d expect any pony transported to some twisted world and subjected to warped friends and multiple bouts of unconsciousness to not be operating at their peak.
I probably do just need some sleep. Twilight sighed deeply, letting the last of her anger drain away. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to trust anything they say. There’s only one pony I can trust here, and that’s me. If I’m going to figure out how to return to my life – my real life – I need to make sure I’m not making bad decisions.
The faces of her friends flashed through her mind. A sense of purpose stiffened her spine with steel. Not just for me, but for my friends as well. They don’t deserve this fate. None of us do. I will find my way home.
"Here we are: home sweet home," Nurse Ratchet declared as she unlocked the door to Twilight's room. It swung open with a soft yawn as she returned her keyring to her pocket. The nurse gave Twilight a smile as she gestured inside, her cheery disposition back in full force.
"Thanks," said Twilight dryly as she strode past her escorts.
Her quarters were just as she remembered, looking as if a giant had taken a library and crushed it down between his hooves until it was just big enough for a pony to move around within. Despite the doubts and fears that seemed to taint everything else she had experienced that day, Twilight couldn’t deny that the room did appeal to her on an instinctual level. Like her friends, her residence was a shadowy reflection of reality; her library had been replaced with a bibliophiles’ closet. It was hauntingly familiar and terrifyingly foreign all at once.
Almost hidden beneath the pervasive odor of antiseptic that unified the rest of the hospital was the familiar scent of paper and parchment. Memories of the Golden Oaks Library scrolled through her mind, the piles of books and customary smells bringing to mind just how far from home she really was.
Home. A bittersweet pang of homesickness dug into Twilight’s chest as she finished her slow turn, bringing her back around to face Nurse Ratchet and the ever present orderly.
Ratchet let her eyes pass over the groaning bookshelves, trying to look like she appreciated the impressive collection perched atop their surfaces. “It must feel nice to be back in your own little space. You’ve got a lovely little room here.”
Twilight’s cynicism quickly struck down any fondness she felt for the room. This isn’t a room; it’s a cell, she thought bitterly. It’s a gilded cage crafted to placate me with books and literature. It doesn’t matter how comforting you try and make it, nothing hides the fact that the door locks from the outside.
“Yes, it is,” Twilight lied, her tone flat and emotionless. Part of her wanted to tell the two others off, but she couldn’t see the point. “So, what happens now? Do you two just say goodbye and lock me in?”
The nurse’s smile shrank a little. “No, nothing like that. We still have two hours until lights out, after all. However, since I’m still here with you, I’d like to give you that examination I talked about earlier, to make sure your head is fine.”
Twilight smirked. “If I’m supposed to be a schizophrenic, doesn’t that mean my head isn’t fine by definition?” She took satisfaction in the way the nurse’s eyes narrowed.
“Now, there’s no need to be smart with me,” she said stiffly. “I know its been a long day, and your... questions in the stairwell didn’t help anything, but we still have a job to do. We want to make sure you stay healthy.”
“Fine. Let’s just get this over with.” Sitting down where she was, Twilight watched as Nurse Ratchet trotted over, her horn already glowing with arcane energy. There was a tingle over Twilight’s body as she felt the ghostly touch of the nurse’s magical examination. She’d been to the doctors enough times to recognize a simple medical scan. It wasn’t a substitute for a real examination, but it would give the nurse a good idea of her blood pressure.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a little elevated, she thought sardonically.
Nurse Ratchet gently turned Twilight’s head from side to side. “So, do you still have a headache?”
“Is it as bad as it was during dinner?”
“No, not really.”
“And how about your forehead? Does it still hurt where you hit your head?”
“Not unless I think about it. So thanks for that.”
Disappointingly, the older mare didn’t rise to her bait. “Have you noticed anything else out of the ordinary? Nausea, blurry vision, a sensitivity to light...”
Twilight exhaled irritably. “No. Nothing like that. The only thing I’ve got is a bit of a headache, and, incidentally, all of this isn’t really helping.”
Nurse Ratchet eventually released her magical grip on Twilight’s head. “Well then, it looks like you’re going to be just fine,” she declared happily. “I’ll go tell the nurses they don’t need to do another examination.” Turning back to the door, she started to walk away.
“So, I’m just going to stay here then?” Twilight asked, trying to maintain her dispassionate tone as she eyed the large iron door Silas was holding open. She didn’t like the two ponies by any stretch of the imagination, but she found herself suddenly apprehensive about being left alone again.
The white unicorn turned back to look at Twilight. “Well, yes. I’m going to go to the nurses’ station and make sure they don’t think they need to give you another examination. I’ll have them put a painkiller in with your normal medication, to take care of your headache. In a few minutes they’re going to be coming by to give you your meds. Then they’ll escort you to the bathroom, so you can brush your teeth and tinkle. After that, you’ll have about an hour or so of free time before lights out.”
Twilight mumbled her acknowledgement, her apprehension worsening as the two ponies strode out of the room. The soft clack of the bolt sealing the door almost made her wince. She watched through the door’s narrow window as the pair vanished down the hallway.
She glanced around the room again. Despite the fact that it was filled with books, she couldn’t deny the sudden sense of claustrophobia that wrapped itself around her shoulders like a damp towel. Twilight did a quick mental check of her current situation. I’m alone in a small room, trapped behind a locked door, and unable to use magic. Most of my life is said to be a lie, everyone believes I’m insane, and I’m even starting to doubt my own mental acuity. My friends are just broken shadows of who they were: Applejack works for the ponies who have me locked up, Pinkie Pie is emotionally unstable, I think Fluttershy tried to kill herself, and Rainbow Dash did do her best to kill Applejack! In a few minutes another pony I don’t know is going to come by to feed me pills that do Celestia knows what to me before escorting me to the bathroom like I’m some cross between a criminal and a foal. I’ve passed out twice, broken a mirror with my face, almost broken my nose, hit my head on a tile floor, and accumulated a broad range of other small bruises and aches.
And this is only my first day. Tomorrow, I get to do it all over again!
She took a deep breath and let it out unsteadily, her eyes clenched almost painfully tight as her tears threatened to escape. Twilight couldn’t let herself cry no matter how much she wished she could. She was afraid that if she began, she might never stop.
The jingle of keys and the sound of an unlocking bolt pulled Twilight out of the mire of self-pity and despair she had been wallowing in. Twilight lifted her head from where she had been laying for the past few minutes, her mind rushing to catch up with the present. Her visitor turned out to be another one of the world’s familiar-yet-foreign ponies. It took Twilight a few moments to match a name with the face.
“Bon Bon, right?” she asked hesitantly, wiping her eyes to make sure there were no errant tears.
“That’s me!” the nurse answered, taking a page out of Ratchet’s book on forced cheerfulness. Twilight had faint memories of her being a confectioner back in Ponyville, so she groaned when the other mare added, “And I’m here with a little candy for you.”
My memories have become fuel for the cruel gods of fate to craft bad puns and pathetic ironies. She accepted the cup. The fact that the half-dozen multi-colored capsules inside superficially resembled candy only furthered her growing disappointment with the universe. “So, what do these pills do, exactly.”
The Bon Bon impersonator quickly rattled off the names of each pill and their purpose, from antipsychotics to a mild painkiller for her headache. Twilight carefully memorized each name before asking her second question. “And, hypothetically, what happens if I decide I don’t really feel like taking these?”
“Well in that case, I’d go get the orderlies waiting in the hallway to come in and force you to take your medicine,” she answered sweetly. “Hypothetically, of course.” Twilight gave in to the inevitable and swallowed the pills, washing them down with another small cup of water.
Discretion is the better part of valor, she attempted to console herself. The broad grin on the nurse’s face didn’t help.
After a quick check to make sure Twilight had indeed swallowed the pills, Bon Bon gathered up Twilight’s grooming kit and escorted her to the bathing facilities at the end of the hall. Doors identical to her own stood silently along the walls like an honor guard, each one offering a momentary glimpse into another patient’s room. While each one reflected something of the occupant’s personality, from musical posters to stuffed animals, none of the rooms were filled like her own. A few of the ponies inside met Twilight’s gaze, their unreadable expressions making the hallway seem a little colder than before. Twilight turned her eyes elsewhere.
Her time in the bathroom was as routine as it could be, knowing that there was someone keeping tabs on her. Despite the escort waiting for her just around the corner, Twilight found herself enjoying the shower. Even as brief as it was, the sensation of warm water pouring over her body and washing the grime from her coat made her feel alive and relaxed. As she toweled herself off, she allowed herself a slim smile. She almost felt normal.
It didn’t hurt that the painkiller was evidently a fast acting one. She had grown so used to the dull throb of her headache that only in its absence did she recognize just how much it had actually been hurting.
Of course, her cosmic tormentors were still doing their best to puncture her sense of well being. It was irritating enough having to brush her teeth by hoof, something she hadn’t done since she was a foal. It was only after she set to work before the bathroom’s large mirror when she spotted the bandage Nurse Ratchet had stuck on her earlier that day, her eyes inescapably drawn to a garish smear of color across her forehead.
“I’m a super patient!” a cartoonish foal with a foreleg in a sling and a bandage over one eye declared as she soared through the air. A cape fluttered in the air behind her, marked with a large red medical cross.
Twilight quickly tore it off and tossed it into a wastebasket, ignoring the burst of pain created by its sudden removal. She scowled at her reflection, fighting the urge to grind her teeth as she returned to her brushing.
The walk back to her room was as uneventful as before. Twilight deposited her small grooming bag back into its spot. She mumbled a response when Bon Bon wished her a good night before leaving.
The soft click of the bolt sliding back into place was Twilight’s signal to start her search. “C’mon... c’mon... There has to be something here...” she whispered as she ran her eyes along each row of books, picking out the titles written across their exposed spines. The names of each pill were still there in her mind, and Twilight was eager to get a second opinion as to just what the staff were drugging her with. She smirked, a sense of purpose infusing her body as she methodically worked her way through each shelf looking for some sort of medical reference.
After five minutes, her smirk vanished.
After ten minutes, she was scowling again.
After thirty minutes, she wanted to scream.
“This is a hospital! How can there not be a single medical reference anywhere in this pint-sized library?” shouted Twilight. She glared accusingly at the bookshelves around her. They mocked her with silence. Twilight threw her arms up in defeat. “Gah! This is pointless!”
Twilight closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, letting her breath out through her clenched teeth. She focused on her breathing exercise, defying the desire to continue shouting. Twilight rubbed her forehead irritably. Despite the painkiller, it felt like another headache was brewing. Frustration pretty much summed up the last half-hour of her life.
It makes sense. They don’t want to have their patients arguing with them about treatments or to give the patients fuel that might feed their distrust of the staff, the logical part of her mind stated.
Just because it’s reasonable and logical doesn’t mean it’s any less irritating! she snapped back at herself, her anger coiling around her thoughts like a hungry python.
Twilight continued to breathe deeply. Some of her desire to physically lash out at her surroundings drained away every time she exhaled. Eventually her anger had subsided, leaving her mildly peeved instead of frothing with rage. It was getting easier for her to control her emotions, something she deliberately attributed to the day’s experiences and not at all having to do with the unknown medication she had consumed.
“They are not unknown,” she countered in a petulant voice. “It’s just that I have to take their word on what they actually do.” The idea of taking anything the hospital said at face value was unacceptable. She couldn’t trust any of them. Even if they weren’t deliberately misleading her, they were still aspects of a world where her entire life had been transformed into a psychosis-induced fantasy.
Twilight closed her eyes again, drawing in a few more calming breaths. It was easier to keep a grip on her temper, but that still didn't make the idea of rampant destruction any less attractive. She imagined herself bucking all the books from their shelves as payback for not providing the information she wanted. “No, I’m better than that. A librarian would never deliberately harm a book.”
Slowly she opened her eyes. There. Much better, she decided, wrapping her calm around her like a warm blanket. “This is no time to lose control,” she continued aloud as she slowly walked over to the small desk. Situated opposite her bed, the simple desk was almost buried beneath an assortment of books.
“These are mostly history related,” she mused, tracing her hoof over a few of the books there. The ones she recognized were very well known, if a bit outdated. Sir Stone Hill’s A History of the Equestrian-Speaking Ponies sat atop the pile, open to a page on the feudal structure of the pre-unification pony tribes. The Rise and Fall of the Pferd Reich by W. Shire sat beside it, the maps of the Great War covered by a few sheets of used parchment. There was even a translated copy of the Akhal-Teke Saga teetering on the edge of the desk.
Picking up the Saga before it could topple to the floor, Twilight flipped through a few pages idly. It was a used copy, of course. Every tome she had seen bore the scratches, bent spines, and dog-eared pages of second-hoof – or even third- or fourth-hoof – books. Finishing her examination, she closed the Saga and set it down atop a small stack of books. Her eyes lingered on it as she frowned. “How could there already be a used copy? It was just published recently. The library only received its copy a week ago.”
Something tickled the back of her mind, a soft itch that couldn’t be ignored. The library... In her haste to try and find some sort of reference guide for her medication, Twilight hadn’t paid much attention to the titles she had been scanning. Turning to the nearest shelf, Twilight carefully read the spines of each book. Slowly, realization began to dawn for her. She switched to another shelf at random as the itch grew stronger.
The books were crammed into the available space like a large puzzle, each overfilled shelf reaching up to the ceiling. Despite the chaotic look to having so many books crammed into an assortment of non-matching shelves, they were all clearly organized. Twilight had enough experience with Dewy Decimal’s cataloging system to recognize a crude implementation of it.
Discovering that the books were organized like a library made the itching worse, and every book she identified only deepened her apprehension. She repeated the process a few more times, changing to a different shelf again and again, but each time it only convinced her of what she had dread. She shivered.
Every single book was one she remembered from the Ponyville library.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” she declared, a little louder than she had intended. “Most of these books would be found in any respectable library. Just because my library held them as well doesn’t prove anything.” She took solace in her rational argument, the chill passing quickly. Double checking one of the shelves, she let a smug grin split her face. “Aha! See? They’re even missing some books from the library. Where’s A History of Modern Equestria? Where’s Canterlot’s Last Century in Review?” she asked, pointing her hoof at where the books in question should be resting.
Twilight nodded, feeling much more sure of herself. “I’m letting myself get jumpy. There is nothing insidious about this book collection being very much like the one in the library. In fact, considering how much this world seems like a dark reflection of reality, I really shouldn’t be surprised at all by the twisted similarities.”
The idea that she had somehow been sent to some strange alternate universe appealed to the rational Twilight. It explained so much. “In this universe there’s a crazy Twilight. Okay, I can accept that. But since I’m not crazy, I should be able to find my way back to my world. At the very least, I should be able to prove that I’m not actually insane.”
Without realizing it Twilight had begun pacing across her room, her head lowered slightly as she lost herself in her planning. “Once I’m free, I can go to Canterlot and get an audience with Princess Celestia. Even if this is a mixed-up universe where I wasn’t her student, she’s still the smartest pony I know. I’m sure I can convince her to help me back to my own world.”
“But then, what if this isn’t just a different world?” Twilight couldn’t ignore the argument. If there were flaws in her theories, she needed to know now before she committed herself to a plan of action. “What if this is the same Equestria, and something changed the past? Maybe the key isn’t in going back to my world, but trying to fix whatever curse or spell has warped this one?”
She halted her pacing in front of one of the bookshelves, a sudden suspicion seeping into her thoughts. “Changed the past...” she repeated to herself, her voice just a whisper. Moving closer, she examined the history section of the shelves. It only took a few minutes to confirm her misgivings. “There’s nothing here about modern history,” she said slowly as she resumed her pacing, mulling the words over as she tried to find the deeper meaning in the discovery. Instinct told her it was significant, but nothing else.
“Okay Twilight, think. The how and why of waking up here is utter speculation at this point. You need more data to proceed with your theorizing. There are so many things you don’t know, so you need to focus on just the facts.” She glanced over at the desk, her eyes drawn to a quill and parchment resting next to a few of the books.
In the blink of an eye Twilight had cleared out enough space on the desk for a sheet of fresh parchment and was settling in before it. Pulling the quill free with her hoof she set out carefully writing ‘Known Facts’ across the top of the page. Despite being out of practice, her hoofwriting was still perfectly legible. A grin spread over her face as she set to work, finding her spirits lifted with every stroke of her quill. She found solace in the simple, scholarly act of putting ink to parchment. “Besides, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing write!” She giggled at her own joke. Spike would have groaned, but I still think it’s funny.
Twilight’s grin blossomed into a full smile as she employed her preferred method of thought organization: a checklist.
“Number one: I am not crazy,” she intoned in time with her quill strokes, a slight pause coming between each word. Back in Ponyville she had tried to cut back on how much she had talked to herself. Now she took comfort in the act, the sound of her own voice making her cage seem less oppressive and frightening. It wasn’t much, but given the circumstances, she would take all the help she could get.
“Number two: everypony here thinks I am crazy.” Twilight hesitated after finishing that line. The photograph Doctor Rose had shown her that morning crawled into focus. Droplets of ice water ran down her spine as she pictured the expressions on her family’s faces, the thought of her family believing the world’s lies chilling her to her core.
Twilight narrowed her eyes as she tossed the image away, forcing the morose thoughts from her mind. “No. I’m not going to let myself get distracted again. I need to stop being so fragile; I need to be strong. This isn’t my world. This isn’t reality!” Twilight deliberately underlined ‘everypony’ a few times to emphasize her words, forcing herself to stare at it for a few long moments.
It was painful, imagining her parents thinking she really was a schizophrenic, but she forced herself to endure it. The world would try its best to convince her that everyone she knew and loved thought she was a nutcase, but she couldn’t surrender to depression and despondency. They were all just victims like she was, trapped in a world where reality had been exchanged for fiction.
Twilight knew the truth. She might be the only pony that still did. It was her duty to stay strong. It didn’t matter how long it took or how much it hurt, she would make everything right again. Twilight’s smile had faded away, replaced with a look of fierce determination. Returning her eyes to the parchment, Twilight continued her writing.
Lost to the familiar pleasures of paperwork and organization, it didn’t take long for her to finish her work. Twilight paused to look over her list, taking strength from the sheets of parchment. Here is something that isn’t a product of a broken world, she thought as she held the list in her hooves. The symbolic act of inscribing the few facts she knew onto paper had been a liberating one. As possibly the last pony in Equestria who still remembered how reality was supposed to be, it was reassuring to be able to leave some sort of marker behind.
“Now, time to double check my work,” said Twilight as she straightened out the loose pieces of paper. Beginning from the top she carefully scanned through each line of information, ensuring what she had written down matched her internal checklist. Satisfied that she had everything correct, she shifted her gaze to a separate list on the last sheet of parchment.
Status of Friends
Applejack Doctor (psychiatrist). Still lives at Sweet Apple Acres, still has siblings Big
Mac and Apple Bloom. Possible issues with Ratchet. Definite issues/was
attacked by Rainbow Dash.
Pinkie Pie Patient. Has burn scars along left flank. Slight limp. Straight hair. Is
Fluttershy Possible Patient. Likely the “birdgirl” who attempted suicide.
Rainbow Dash Patient. Attacked Applejack in cafeteria, was sent to solitary confinement.
Twilight let her vision linger on the last two blank spots. Knowing what she did about her friends – even when they were mostly assumptions, as with Fluttershy – was terrible enough. Knowing nothing was even worse. Her imagination seemed to take pleasure in creating dark suggestions of their fates.
“Don’t be absurd. You just haven’t heard anything about them yet, is all,” said Twilight, crushing her morbid thoughts beneath a mental hoof. “It’s just as likely that both of them are perfectly fine and healthy. I shouldn’t dwell on the unknown.” The argument was rational and logical, but she wasn’t surprised when it failed to convince her otherwise. She continued to stare at the two yawning holes in her list.
“Light’s out in five minutes,” a pony said from behind her. The papers went flying as Twilight leapt to her hooves. She was alone. Her eyes darted around the room fearfully as she backed up against the desk.
Movement outside the door’s rectangular window drew her wide eyes. There was an orderly outside peering in at her. He arched an eyebrow as she panted heavily, trying to slow her racing heartbeat. “But... how...?”
Despite being on the other side of a thick steel door he obviously picked up on her meaning. He gestured at the ceiling. Twilight lifted her head, spotting a small circular grille in the center of the ceiling. “It’s an intercom,” he stated flatly. Twilight couldn’t tell if it was irritation or amusement in his voice as it dripped out of the speaker above her.
“Oh. Right,” she said, blushing faintly.
“Lights out in five minutes,” he repeated, his voice tinny and sounding as if he were speaking through a length of pipe. “That means you need to be in bed in five minutes. Understood?” Twilight nodded sheepishly as she bent down to collect her spilled papers. The orderly turned away from her window and walked off to remind other inmates of the deadline.
Her embarrassment at being so frightened by an innocuous intercom had vanished by the time she had carefully hidden her notes within one of the books on her desk. As a temporary solution, it was the best she could do for the moment. I’ll find something better tomorrow, she promised herself as she climbed into her cot. She wasn’t too concerned. With as many books and scrolls as her room held, she was confident she could find a better place to keep her writings secure.
Sliding beneath the clean white sheets, Twilight tried to make herself comfortable. The mattress was lumpy and she only had two thin pillows. She quickly settled for the best she could manage and laid on her back, staring up at the paneled ceiling. Time dragged on. Just as she was about to go check the door there was another flash of movement outside. “Lights out. Goodnight, Twilight,” the dispassionate voice declared before she was plunged into darkness.
Well, near darkness, at any rate. Twilight sat up to stare at the far door, watching as the orderly once again moved out of sight. The lights in the hallway continued to burn with electric life, casting a rectangle of white light into her room. Twilight let her head fall back against the pillow, closing her eyelids firmly. “Please, please have them turn off the lights in the hallway,” she begged the darkness.
The lights outside her room dimmed slightly, still bright enough to make any attempt at sleep difficult.
Twilight sighed. “Figures.”
Rolling over onto her side to face the wall, she did her best to ignore the light through her clenched eyes. Despite her doubts, sleep was not hard to find. Exhaustion hit her like a stampeding buffalo as the day’s events finally caught up with her. Within minutes Twilight was fast asleep.
A beam of warm light crossed Twilight’s eyelids, the bright glare dragging her from her slumber. “I’m starting to really despise electricity,” she complained to the world as she shifted in her cot, trying and failing to find a position where there wasn’t a bright light in her face. Stubbornly clinging to her interrupted sleep, she spent another minute tossing in bed before finally giving up. The brightness was relentless. It was a fight she couldn't win. She reluctantly cracked open her eyes, groaning to emphasize that she was moving against her will. Her assigned room slowly swam into focus. The familiar sight of walls filled with books surrounded her, each tome resting on a wooden shelf built right into the living tree trunk.
Twilight jerked upright in bed, her quilts and blankets falling away as she stared around the large open spaces of the library. The friendly light of an early morning sun embraced her through the window behind her. Outside she could see the colorful buildings of Ponyville as the town began the day, the sight accompanied by the cheerful birdsong of the avians that roosted in the branches of the library.
Twilight continued to gaze around the room through wide and unblinking eyes. Even though she had awoken to the sight a thousand times, she couldn’t keep from staring at every mundane detail as if it were her first time.
She was home.