The Sweetie Chronicles: Fragments

by Wanderer D

A Heart of Change

Edited By: lammy, CMC4TW & Fifth Alicorn/Proof By: Trevor & Super Big Mac

Sweetie blinked and found herself gaping at the giant maw of a dragon of some sort. It snorted stupidly for a moment, before snapping at her with whip-like speed.

“Oh, damn!” Sweetie shouted.

An I Quattro Elementi slide, complete with a toss of her mane, had the creature tearing a chunk of rock off the floor yet again, rather than chewing her in half. She was suddenly aware of others in the room, the sound of laughter, the shouts of worried ponies, a weight around her neck and that she was wearing a pair of extremely heavy saddlebags… but all of that was secondary to the creature in front of her.

After the bite, it used one of its hind legs to try and claw at her, but she had already predicted its next move correctly and cantered smoothly around it, following its flow to get around and behind the creature, and releasing a burst of flame to lick at its other hind leg.

Following the move to completion Sweetie ended in a pose where she held her left foreleg up and showed her figure to her enemy, as if she were challenging it to hit her. Her dueling style could be—and often was— extremely irritating to opponents.

The creature roared, whether startled or in pain she couldn’t really tell. There was no way her spells were going to do much damage to those scales. Her eyes scanned the room, trying to find a way out, and she quickly noticed her two familiar-looking companions. “Scootaloo! What the hay is this thing!?” she shouted, dodging a tail-swipe as the beast rounded on her by ducking under it and spinning as it flew over her.

“The hay if I know!” Scootaloo shouted and rushed forward. “But we gotta get out of here! Quick, I’ll distract it!”

Sweetie kept her eyes on the dragon-like creature. “Okay, but be quick. I can only dodge it so many times!”

“Scootaloo! Sweetie! What are ya doin’!? We should be runnin’ away from it, not towards it!” Apple Bloom shouted from the across the room.

Scootaloo sprung into flight, dashing in a swift spiral around the beast, drawing its gaze. “Why are ya still talking, Sweetie?! Run with Apple Bloom! Now!”

A deep laughter echoed down into the chamber. “How very amusing…”

“Just give me a second!” Sweetie shouted past the strange voice, her horn flashing with accumulating magic. “Scootaloo! Fly towards Apple Bloom in a straight line! I’ll follow you!”

The moment Scootaloo took off, she released her spell, plunging the whole room into a darkness so thick she could almost feel it. Her eyes snapped towards her friends as she started galloping away. “Slow down! You can hover to the floor now! She’s right in front of you!”

“Sweetie! What the hay?! I can’t see a thing!” She stopped her flight forward in an almost elastic manner. With a slow and uncertain descent, Scootaloo eased down to the stony floor. “What did you do? I’ve never seen you cast that one before! What happened back there?”

The draconic creature let out a baleful cry into the darkness and blindly charged. Its reptilian limbs shot out in all directions, kicking up loose rocks and decayed wood. The whole chamber shook with the monster’s advance.

“Quit worryin’ ‘bout the small stuff, Scootaloo, we gotta get outta here! Sweetie, can ya use a light spell or somethin’?” Apple Bloom stumbled through the darkness, heading toward the entrance. “Darn it, there’s so much debris in here.” She extended a forehoof as she stumbled towards a segment of broken stone.

Sweetie ran towards her childhood friends, pausing briefly to envelop Scootaloo in her telekinesis dragging her with a quick, “It’s me!” up to Apple Bloom. “Apple Bloom! We’re here!” She skidded to a halt next to her friends when the monster took flight, trying to catch them and crashed against the ceiling just above them, falling down right above them. “Hold on to me!” she shouted, her horn casting the strongest magical shield she could muster.

The beast crashed down on top of the barrier, making it buckle and flicker, nullifying Sweetie’s darkness spell by requiring all of her attention to maintain the shield through the onslaught.

“Ahh!” Apple Bloom stumbled to the ground in surprise, but righted herself in a moment. “There! Quick, Scootaloo!” She pointed a hoof at the half-caved-in entranceway to the tower and jumped into a canter towards it, when a tremor shook the entire chamber. “Oh, hay! The floor!”

“Apple Bloom!” Scootaloo leaped out towards the earth pony, grabbing her hind legs, just before she slipped into the gaping chasm that suddenly opened beneath them. She pumped her wings, but the weight was too much for her, and she fell with her friend, disappearing into the hole.

Sweetie Belle’s shield finally broke when she took a dive after the other two Crusaders, allowing the remaining mass of their huge enemy to crash where they stood mere moments before.

* * *

She felt the magic swirl around her, deafening her own scream even as it started. The spells’ patterns were made of quick and precise weaves. It was magic she had never seen before. It spread around her and changed with almost hypnotic movement. In only a moment, she felt sick. Her head was spinning just as the magic around her was. Behind the swirling rainbow of colours, she felt something familiar.

Then it all suddenly vanished, and all that remained were those familiar pockets of magic. Apple Bloom. Scootaloo, she identified them, and with that knowledge, she felt the world open up beneath her. Falling? Where am I?

She felt the impact, but there was no pain, just a sense of force. In the following moments, she felt the world around her, gray, still, and silent. She tried to look around, but nothing happened. She tried to blink, but her eyelids refused to move.

Huh? I can’t feel anything? Where’s my body?! Panic filled her mind as she remembered that feeling, that cold collar fastening around her neck. No! she rebuked herself. I can figure this out. I can still sense the magic.

Calming her mind, she let her senses stretch out from her. She felt something, like basking in the light of the sun. It was intense and bright. It took her a moment to figure out the pattern. It’s my magic? No, there’s something different to it. And why’s it so bright? She reached out to touch it, but she couldn’t move the patterns; they remained adamant and firm, like an object just out of reach.

Frantically, she traced its form and realised it was her own body. The unicorn shape, the inner magic pulsing from deep within, and the dull strands of curly hair. But it can’t be. She focused on the heart, the source of all unicorn’s magic. It’s too bright. Who is that? What happened?

* * *

Sweetie groaned and shook her head, looking around the area where they were, then looking up above them. “Well, that wasn’t too smart,” she muttered. Raising her voice, she called out, “Everypony okay? Scootaloo? Apple Bloom? I didn’t get you killed, did I?”

Scootaloo popped out from a pile of debris. “Not quite. Though it was a pretty decent try.” She gave herself a thorough shake, emitting plumes of dust. “How about you, Apple Bloom? You okay?”

“Ya didn’t have ta land on me,” Apple Bloom muttered as she pushed herself off the ground and winced slightly. “Sweetie, why’s yer magic always gotta backfire like that?”

“My magic didn’t backfire,” Sweetie growled. “A damned dragon-wannabe landed on my shield and broke the floor. Besides, we’re alive, right? That counts for something.”

“Ah s’pose, but sometimes Ah wish bein’ alive after yer spells wasn’t yer baseline fer success.” Apple Bloom started slowly walking around the area. “Ah wonder, where’d we fall to? Ah can’t see nothin’ down here.”

“I still have my darkvision spell active, give me a second...” Sweetie stood back, releasing her spell before casting a softly glowing sphere of light, which she levitated to hang over the three of them. “Well, I don’t know exactly where we are, but we are in deep. I can’t even see the hole we fell through.” She turned to look at the other two Crusaders, who were shakily getting to their hooves. “Any ideas?”

“Darkvision, the dark spell, and the fire from earlier...” Scootaloo muttered to herself, and frowned at the unicorn. “Wait a second...” She drifted over to Sweetie Belle. “Since when did you start using spells like that?” Her frown only deepened as she drew closer. “And your voice, even your words... they’re different! Who the hay are you?! And what did you do to Sweetie Belle?!”

“What are ya talkin’ ‘bout, Scootaloo? Sweetie always uses new spells we’ve never seen before. Remember, just yesterday she had me walkin’ on the roof.” The earth pony made her way carefully across the rugged ground, next to the other two. “Ya hit yer head or somethin’?”

Scootaloo scowled at the words. “She didn’t even use any crystals to do any of it. And even the light she uses is wrong. She’s different.”

Sweetie gave Scootaloo a considering look. “I didn’t really expect you to be the one to notice,” she admitted, sounding disinterested. “Spellcasting is usually not too different, so, how does the local Sweetie Belle cast the light spell? Does she have to cast it on a stone or something?” She shed the saddlebags, watching them fall to the floor with a thump. “Is that why these feel like they’re full of rocks?”

Local Sweetie Belle?” The pegasus flew a quick circle around the unicorn. Her eyes caught onto the mark on her flank. “A different cutie mark?! Are you a changeling? Who are you?!” she shouted, bringing her face only inches away from Sweetie Belle’s. “Where’s the real Sweetie Belle? Answer me!”

“Hold on, Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom interrupted and nabbed her friend’s tail with her mouth, pulling her to the rocky floor. She spat out the purple tail and frowned at Scootaloo. “Give her some space. Didn’t ya learn anythin’ from the diamond dogs?”

“Better listen to Apple Bloom, Scoots,” Sweetie said, tilting her head. “Risky business to stare into the unknown... sometimes you can really regret getting an answer. Anyway, I see you two are fine so far, I guess I can probably just get what I need and let you get your Sweetie back as soon as I’m done.”

‘Scoots’? You don’t get to call me ‘Scoots’!” The pegasus jumped forward, with a few quick pumps of her wings and shot straight toward Sweetie Belle.

Sweetie Belle cantered to the side, avoiding Scootaloo’s attempted attack by inches, striking a pose for a second before the pegasus jumped at her again, this attack foiled by a side step and a toss of her mane, ending in her looking down at her opponent.

Scootaloo wasn’t about to give up and quickly righted herself. “You dumb dancer!” She sprung back into the air and began hovering. She flew small circles around Sweetie, glaring at her cautiously. Scootaloo’s body was tensing, preparing to dash in a moment. “You imposter! You won’t get away with this! What did you do with Sweetie Belle?!”

“Stop it! Both of you!” Apple Bloom shouted as she rushed over to the two of them. “Stop fightin’!”

“I’m not fighting,” Sweetie Belle, stated. “I’m merely dodging. If I were fighting there would be a lot of fire, ice and wind going around and a lot less Scoots flying in one piece.”

The pegasus frowned darkly at the words. “If you think you could even touch me, then you’re in for a world of hurt! What did you do with Sweetie!?” Scootaloo suddenly dashed forward, forehooves outstretched.

“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom tried to nab her tail once again, but she wasn’t quick enough.

Sweetie stepped into Scootaloo’s attack spinning almost casually under her outstretched hooves, but unlike the other times, instead of striking a pose, she followed the move, sending her own forehoof under and behind Scootaloo’s shoulder, smacking her lightly on the back of the head.

“Oops,” Sweetie deadpanned. “I touched you.”

With a single wingbeat, Scootaloo pulled a full one-eighty. With a scowl on her face, she bolted down toward Sweetie Belle in earnest. “You think you can just get away with this?!” Landing on the ground and pivoting with her front legs, she bucked with her hind legs.

“You think you have it in you to stop me?” Sweetie asked, casually moving to the side just enough for Scootaloo’s buck to brush past her. She tossed her mane. “You’ll have to try harder, Scoots.”

With a flurry of her wings and the momentum of her own buck, she curved her motion into another charge. This time, she was fully on the ground, and her wings were spread wide, cutting off the narrow passageway. Tears had formed in her eyes. “I said, you don’t get to call me that!”

“But I did.” Sweetie tilted her head, looking at Scootaloo dead in the eyes. “You can stop me, you know. Just make sure you kick hard enough. Well, and be faster. Rainbow Dash would be crying tears of shame if she saw you move all snail-like.”

Scootaloo screamed and pumped her wings so hard, she left a visible streak of purple behind her. As she flew forth, in her rage, she smashed into a wall and kicked off of it like springboard, shooting straight toward Sweetie Belle with deadly speed.

Sweetie relaxed, letting the arrogant look fall from her face as she closed her eyes and stayed put. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

With a rush of wind, she felt Scootaloo’s approach, but it wasn’t outstretched hooves that collided with her. Scootaloo had turned at the last moment and her charge turned into a tumbling tangle of legs and wings, and they crashed into the cave wall, together. Scootaloo crumpled to the side in a fit of sobs.

“I know damn it! Rainbow Dash, she hates me! I failed her! I’m never fast enough, I never will be.”

Sweetie lay on the floor, on her back, her body aching and her breath short. She pushed the emerald necklace she had somehow ended up with from herself and looked up at the ceiling, sighing. “You’re an idiot, Scootaloo. As if Rainbow Dash could ever feel disappointed in you.” She snorted. “Although, speaking for myself, I’m rather cross you chose to tackle me instead of breaking my neck.”

“I couldn’t do it. Even if you’re not her, you’re still Sweetie,” Scootaloo mumbled as she pulled herself off the ground. The pegasus, looked at Sweetie, confusion filling her eyes as much as her tears. “What do you want from me, damn it?”

Sweetie shook her head.

“Girls! Stop it! Why are you two fighting?” Apple Bloom rushed over to their side. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a small kit of medical supplies and began looking over their scrapes and cuts. “Why would you do somethin’ like this?”

“I-I don’t know,” Scootaloo said, slumping down onto the ground. dropping her head into her hooves. “I don’t know... I’m sorry.”

Sweetie didn’t answer, refusing to look their way until, with a sigh, she spoke up. “If you must know, I’m only here temporarily,” she droned, clearly avoiding the question. “I’m here instead of your Sweetie, who will return completely unharmed once I finish my mission, which is to get a fragment of Twilight Sparkle back. You can come with me, or let me do this on my own, it’s up to you.”

“Replaced her? How’s that even possible?” Apple Bloom muttered. “More importantly, where are ya headed?”

Scootaloo, looked up at her, and blinked in confusion.

“A fragment a’Twilight, huh? Ah want ta believe, ya,” Apple Bloom continued, nodding to herself. “Ah really do. Ya don’t seem ta have any reason to lie, and Ah can’t think up any alternatives for what just happened. If ya don’t mind, though, Ah’ll stay a bit skeptical ‘til Ah hear more.”

“Look.” Sweetie sighed. “I have no interest in staying any longer than I need to. I’ve already had enough with other ponies backstabbing me, or trying to manipulate me. The more involved I get, the greater the hurt and now...” She warily looked from Apple Bloom to Scootaloo. “It’s you two. I’d rather get this done quickly... and without anypony getting hurt.”

“Sweetie,” Apple Bloom said sadly, her amber eyes shimmering in empathy. “Of course. We don’t want anypony ta get hurt neither. We’re on yer side. We need ta work together ta get through this mess. Followin’ you and helpin’ you will lead us ta getting Sweetie Belle back, right? And we can’t afford ta let her appear in some place all alone. We’ll be there for her, we have ta be.” Apple Bloom gave Sweetie a solid stare. “And we ain’t useless neither. We got this far already by stickin’ together. We’ll make it through this.”

Scootaloo glanced around them for a moment and sighed, her wings sagged in defeat. “There doesn’t seem to be any way out of here anyways. It would be stupid to go different ways.”

“I guess it’s the Crusaders all over again, although you two are all grown up this time,” Sweetie said, smiling without any real humor. “So, why don’t you tell me where we are and why I arrived straight into the maw of some random, overgrown reptile?”

“Uh, well...” Apple Bloom began. “Ah suppose ya could say we’re on a sort o’ vacation gone wrong. We were just tryin’ ta get to the Crystal Empire, but one thing went wrong after another, and we’ve spent half o’ the week travellin’ through some diamond dog’s caves. We were almost to the empire, when we found out that even if we got to the city, it woulda been impossible ta get in. There was a huge storm ‘round the whole place.” She shot a dubious look at Sweetie Belle. “Ah know it sounds a li’l far-fetched, but bear with me. Anyway, Sweetie- uh, our Sweetie, she said there’s some big spell behind this whole thing. Somethin’ ‘bout a ‘spell within a spell’. We were gonna investigate that further, right after we checked out that tower.”

“But he was waiting for us,” Scootaloo muttered.

“He?” Sweetie wondered aloud.

“Just a voice,” Apple Bloom supplied. “We don’t know who he is, but he tried ta kill us with that dragon. And since we fell through the floor...” She sighed. “We’re stuck in the mountain again.”

“That’s just great,” Scootaloo said, sarcasm heavy in her voice. “It’s always these stupid caves.”

“So,” Sweetie looked at the pair. “Basically, you have no idea whatsoever about what’s happening...other than it shouldn’t?”

“Well, Sweetie, uh...” Apple Bloom looked a little sheepish. “Our Sweetie would have a better idea...but yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”

“Great.” Sweetie Belle looked up into the darkness. “Up there, when I arrived... I think I felt something familiar... might have been my Twilight’s fragment. Maybe that’s the place to start? Unless you think we’d have better luck in the Crystal Kingdom?”

“Well, we saw a crystal, but it belongs to Discord,” Apple Bloom offered. “Sweetie was goin’ after it, but turns out it was a trap. ‘Fore we knew it, the rest of the roof was cavin’ in on us, and that dragon broke in.” She let out an apologetic sigh. “Ah don’t know what happened to the crystal though.”

“Can we even get up there?” Scootaloo asked as she squinted looking for a hole in the ceiling. “It might have sealed up behind us. I could fly up there, but I’d be flying blind. And carrying somepony up there could be dangerous.” She gave Sweetie a measuring glance. “Can you teleport yourself and Bloom up there?”

“Nope!” Sweetie responded. “Teleportation is not a spell I have learned yet.”

“So that means we’re stuck down here...” Scootaloo’s wings tightened to her sides instinctively. “...underground. Again!”

“Maybe there’s a path outta here.” Apple Bloom glanced around at the craggy rocks. “Looks like we’re in a fissure though. Let’s hope it actually leads somewhere though. Otherwise, we might have ta dig our way out.”

Sweetie Belle nodded, but hesitated. “I... see your point, but maybe we should rest a bit. Scootaloo doesn’t seem to be at her best, and we all seem tired as well.”

“I’m fine!” Scootaloo protested, flaring her wings back out in emphasis. “If she can keep going, then so can I!”

“But Ah’d rather we rest, Scootaloo,” Apple Bloom countered. “Not everypony is as tough as you. Ah, fer one, could use a bit o’ time ta figure things out. Besides, ya know the rule, it’s two against one here.”

“But Bloom, this isn’t even our Sweetie! It doesn’t count!”

Sweetie blinked. “Wait, we’re a democracy?” she looked from Apple Bloom to Scootaloo. “You’re joking, right?” She shook her head in disappointment. “What would my older brother think of this? A democracy! Amongst Crusaders. Tsk.”

“Older brother?” Apple Bloom looked a little stunned. “So ya have a completely different family back home? Our Sweetie only has Rarity fer a siblin’.”

“I said it doesn’t count!” Scootaloo interjected. “Besides, we aren’t even crusading anymore, we don’t have to follow those rules.”

“Well,” Sweetie muttered, looking away from both of them, “I have an adoptive older brother,” she said. “My sister… I don’t know if I could face her, right now. But I could sure use my brother.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a lot goin’ through yer mind.” Apple Bloom looked to both her companions. “We all do. Why don’t we just rest fer a while? That dragon sure took a lot outta me, and the earlier hike wasn’t too easy either.”

Scootaloo slumped down to the ground and shot Apple Bloom a small scowl. “You weren’t the one that had to carry the both of you.”

“And you weren’t the one without wings or magic, danglin’ on the end of a rope fer dear life!” Apple Bloom laughed and settled down on the ground, and began relieving herself of her saddlebags. She dug through some of her supplies and shook her head sadly. “Ah’ve got a bit o’ water, but we’re right out o’ food. If only Ah’d known we’d be hikin’ so much…”

Sweetie shrugged, and simply laid down against one of the walls. “Might as well rest. If we’re going to end up fighting giant reptiles, we should really think about our options.”

“Ah say we should avoid ‘em altogether if we can,” Apple Bloom offered, before taking a swig of water from a bottle. “Speakin’ of options, what exactly can ya do?” She gave Sweetie Belle a once-over, and her eyes rested on the unicorn’s cutie mark for just a moment longer than the rest. “With yer magic, Ah mean.”

Sweetie closed her eyes. “I’m not of much use in direct combat...most of what I learned is better for sneak attacks, or dodging. I have several elemental spells, darkness, silence, voice projection, a weapon I can use to kill in the dark… I guess I’d make a good assassin.” She shrugged. “Nothing that impressive, really.”

“Well, killin’s outta the question. Looks like we’ll just have ta be careful goin’ forward.” The earth pony tilted her head. “Ah s’ppose that’s a mite more reliable than our Sweetie...” She rubbed her chin with her hoof before turning her gaze upon Scootaloo, who seemed about ready to snap at her. “What? Scootaloo, ya know it’s true. Sweetie’s never been one fer subtlety, and with they way she’s always tryin’ a new spell without tellin’ us. It gets ta be a pain, ya know? It’ll only take so long until she gets us in over our heads.”

Scootaloo looked aghast at her words. “Bloom... You realize you’re talking about our friend, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” she deadpanned. “She’s our friend, but darn it, she can be a huge headache at times. You know what Ah’m talkin’ ‘bout Scootaloo. You know, with the way she always pokes fun at ya.”

Sweetie watched them argue, sighing softly and laying her head on her hooves. ‘How much of this have I missed? Will my Scootaloo and Apple Bloom be the same as these two? I wonder... when they find their cutie marks, will they be the same as those?’ She stole a glance at her own cutie mark, wincing at the reminder of what it meant. “So... your Sweetie makes spells up as she goes?” she ventured. “That requires some talent.”

“Talent, and a whole lot of patience as ya watch her mess things up with her magic,” Apple Bloom admitted with a small laugh. “The number of times she’s told me, ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll work,’ are gettin’ ta be too many ta count. Ah s’ppose the sad part is Ah always believe her when she says it...” She shook her head bemusedly at the thought.

Sweetie Belle laid her head on her hooves, glancing their way. “They say believing in yourself and knowing how the magic works are the key components for spellcasting.”

“It’s not like that at all,” Scootaloo muttered. “Sweetie always said that the books were wrong about how magic works. She knows more about magic than just about anypony. Twilight even took her in because she said Sweetie had a unique talent for it.” Scootaloo moved over to Apple Bloom and snagged the bottle of water and took a quick drink. “She tried explaining magic to me before, and I couldn’t follow it. But she said she can see the magic even after she casts it. It’s all shapes and patterns, that nopony else can see.”

Sweetie cringed at the mention of Twilight. “I guess I can see why Twilight would take an interest in her. It’s rare to find ponies with such a powerful talent. I’ve never even met anypony that can see the magic like you said... I can see the patterns, but not the living magic.”

“She and Twilight... they never really got along,” Scootaloo admitted. “In fact, they would almost always be at each other’s throats whenever anypony brought magic into the conversation. They always argued about what was the proper way to cast their magic.” She shook her mane. “I still can hardly believe Twilight agreed to take her in as an apprentice.”

Sweetie Belle smiled sadly. “Twilight has been known to choose the wrong apprentice before,” she said, closing her eyes. “Although if your Sweetie displays a talent she is unused to, I am not surprised she would extend the invitation.”

“I guess her magic must be something really special then,” Apple Bloom mused. “When we last talked ‘bout it, she seemed a little hesitant, but Ah imagine, without her gems, she’d be just a regular ol’ unicorn when it comes ta magic.”

Scootaloo huffed at the comment. “She couldn’t be just a regular unicorn after what happened with Discord.”

This caught Sweetie’s interest and she opened her eyes again. “Discord? I haven’t had the chance to meet him in my travels... all I know of him is that initial fight he had against Twilight and the others.” She looked at Scootaloo. “Did... Discord do something to Sweetie Belle?”

“It was complicated...” Scootaloo began. “Sweetie ran away years ago. We chased after her, all of us, our sisters and the rest. I don’t know exactly what happened—she never really talked too much about it afterward—but Sweetie did say that she saw Discord as her friend and blames Twilight for what happened in the end. After all these years, I still don’t think she’s forgiven her... that’s why I find it so hard to believe that she managed to stay as Twilight’s apprentice. I see it in her eyes whenever Sweetie glances at her,” Scootaloo whispered, more to herself than anypony else, “she’s angry. It must take all her effort just to face her...”

Sweetie snorted. “Sometimes the worst monsters don’t look like monsters at all. They’re just… loved ones. Ponies that you trust or should be able to, only to find out that they would kill you if they had the chance.”

“No, true friends or family would never do that.” Apple Bloom gave her a concerned look. “Ah wonder… Just how different is our world from yers? Ya seem ta have seen many o’ the same things that we have.”

Sweetie snorted. “Well, in my original world...” she trailed off. “I-Twilight, Spike and I died in a magical accident,” she said, not meeting either of her friend’s eyes. “Other than that, I imagine it was mostly the same. Twilight, Si-Rarity and the others stopped Nightmare Moon, then Discord, then the Queen, then King Sombra... it was shortly after that, that Twilight took me in as her apprentice.” She sighed. “I know there’s no going back after... what I’ve done... what I’ll probably have to do.” Her eyes hardened and her mouth formed a scowl.

“You died?” Apple Bloom whispered, her eyes glistened slightly with restrained tears. “Ah’m sorry Ah brought that up. It must’ve been hard... Ah can’t even begin ta understand.” She blinked her eyes a few times and looked right at Sweetie. “Even though Ah can’t understand it, Ah can still offer mah trust. Ya can count on us.”

Scootaloo stayed silent and glanced away, as a look of brooding befell her.

Sweetie sighed, still not looking back at them. “I guess,” she murmured, leaning her head on her hooves and closing her eyes.

* * *

She had watched the debacle unfold around her, Scootaloo’s mad attacks, and this other Sweetie Belle’s quick motions. The display had been jostling and gave her a slight sense of vertigo. She was relieved when it had finally stopped, the two of them were still breathing and the world reverted to its calm form.

She heard- no, heard wasn't right. She sensed the other ponies’ words. It was strange, the way the words' gentle magic would move through the air around her, and after years of feeling those subtle patterns in the air, alongside hearing the words, the meaning came to her readily. It was as if an old tune had caught in her ear, and the accompanying words sprung forth in her mind, unbidden.

She felt the words, understood their meaning, and a feeling of sadness—the tone that accompanied them. This other Sweetie… After what she’s been through, she’ll never be the same, will she? Sweetie Belle wondered at the words. Of course there’s no going back! she wanted to shout at the other Sweetie. We all grow up, darn it! To wish that you could change it is stupid! I wanted to save Scoddri, but that was just a wish...a regret. And thinking about it doesn’t change anything.

How she wished she could shout the words out and be heard by her friends and the other Sweetie. She paused for a moment. Oh, isn't life so ironic? She would have laughed at herself if she could. I wonder, is this how Scoddri always felt? Stuck and motionless, as the world moved around him without a care?

She waited in the stillness for a while as the world fell to a still radiance around her. She sensed the form of her friends both resting nearby, and looming all around her as if she were being cradled, she felt the other Sweetie Belle. After a moment she concluded that she was somehow inside her own emerald necklace.

So she’s in my body? How's this even possible? The question irked her. She always disliked not knowing how things worked, especially when it came to magic. She tried to remember the pattern of the magic that she had seen before it all happened. It was powerful, nearly blinding. It carried the main pattern of teleportation—which was complicated enough, because it spread in all directions—but there was more to it than that. Each segment was changing, subtly, almost like the spell itself was alive with its own consciousness, and changing to a new sigil with each movement. How am I supposed to be able to figure out something like that?

What can I even do? she wondered and sent her senses out again, but the ponies around her were as unmoving and boring as ever. Surely I can do something... I mean, Scoddri was able to talk to me all the way from Canterlot. I should be able to interact with them if I try hard enough.

With her plan set, she reached out to the nearest source of magic to her. The dense pool of energy nearly burned her, just by being so close. She may be me, from another world, but she's really darn lucky to have that much magic inside her. She's almost as bright as Twilight. I have to be able to use some of that magic. She extended her mind into the bright, patterned pool of magic and tried to grab at the numerous strands. But she had nothing to 'grab' with. Shoot, I always use my own magic to interact with other magic. I'm not connected to her magic at all.

The feeling of helplessness was unbearable as time passed. Minutes, and perhaps hours, she had no way of knowing. she scoured the world around her for something. A hint, a clue, anything to keep her mind occupied, something she could do. It was then that she felt something amongst the dull stone and ethereal air patterns. A single small tendril of emerald flickered. A pattern she had seen only moments before the dragon had attacked them.

Scoddri's pattern again? She remembered how complex it was. It almost appeared to be moving and changing at times, but that was merely a trick caused by interference from the proximity of the intricate weaves, like an optical illusion. It was a strange form of magic that she had only ever seen coming from the emerald in her necklace.

If I'm in my own necklace, then... she reached out to the pattern and felt the familiar malleability of the magic. The relief she felt would have drawn tears to her eyes, had she been in her body. Alright, now what can I do with it? She paused for a moment and decided on something basic.

She molded the complex magic pattern into something far simpler: a light spell. But before she could even complete the simple pattern, the magic squirmed under her grip, as if somepony else were trying to mold it as well. The only other time she had experience such a feeling before was when she tried to use another pony's magic without them wanting to. It was a struggle just to hold onto the magic.

The emerald pattern surged in its luminosity, and Sweetie Belle lost her grip on it. The magic wove deftly before her until it formed a series of patterns she recognized. Sound sigils?

Sore, bitter laughter poured forth from the spell. “Trapped and caught, all in one. We're bound to be used, as always. Even hidden, broken, and alone. It’s a fate we cannot escape! As I grant a choice, I am forced to action, against my will.” Sickening laughter parted his words. “Yet, I served you as they served me. A cage is a cage, no matter how safe.”

She knew the voice. Scoddri! Her heart ached to speak with him, yet she remained immobile, held fast inside the amulet. She felt as the trail of emerald magic vanished into nothingness, in an echo of fading laughter.

* * *

She rests her head on hard stone
Seeking the embrace of silence. To be alone.
Eyes shut tight to the thoughts of friends and family, scowling.
The memories haunting, daunting, howling.
Shivering, she pulls them tight, as a cloak or sheet.
She clings to them in bitter defeat.

The sights, they flare. That gray body fair,
Falls to naught but rock and blood.

So much blood it fills the air.
In a cacophonous flood,
It falls, pours, pulses, and slows.
It dies, and pools to a soft dribbling flow.
In the sanguine surface, her sister's eyes stare back,
Cold, callous, merciless, ready to attack.

A red rain falls, calm and serene.
Fog settles in its shimmering scene.

* * *

A pony trotted up the silent grove, wearing a cape and hood to protect herself from the drizzling rain.

The cobblestone road was slick and wet, with water already puddling along its surface, but the pony didn’t stop, nor seemed to care as she splashed through them, her goal up ahead. It was a hill, with several tombstones on it.

When she reached the entrance to the cemetery, she slowed down and walked carefully up the hill to stand in front of three graves. The mare stared in silence for a few seconds.

”Mother,” Rarity spoke up. “Father… she’s alive. She’s alive and well!” She sniffled. “I thought she was gone from this world, like you two… that I was alone, and I would never hear the sound of her laughter, or her voice. You missed so much. Her tantrums, her first day of school the time I lost it and shouted at her for half an hour and she was so scared of me!” She chuckled. “I spent the next week apologizing, buying her ice cream to make up for it… she once called me ‘mommy’ and I-I was scared.”

You scare me.

Rarity scratched the ground with her hoof, a bit nervously. “I never understood, what you were really missing until she was gone… and I saw her again and she-she called me ‘mom.’”

But you’re not. You tried to kill me. No mother would do that to her filly.

She smiled apologetically at the graves. “I know I’m just her sister… but I’ve raised her. It filled my heart with joy to hear her say that. I want to see her again and hold her and tell her that it will be okay, that mommy is here.” She sniffled again. “I’m sorry… it’s pretentious to think this way, after all, we both are your daughters but… I want my daughter back. My Sweetie Belle. Please, mom… dad. Wherever you are, protect her. Let her know I’m waiting and that she’ll always be in my thoughts.

But I don’t trust you… I can’t.

* * *

Sweetie Belle opened her eyes—her dream already little more than a whisper in her mind—and looked at her two friends, who seemed to be fast asleep. The fading echoes of laughter appeared to be nothing more than remnants of a dream. She sighed and slowly stood up without making a sound and looked around. She needed to clear her mind a little, but she did not want to disturb her friends.

Walking into the dark caves past their location, she kept turning right until she reached another chamber. It was completely empty, and perhaps far away enough for her to use. Her horn flared with magic and a moment later reality rippled, allowing her notebook to appear. She looked forlornly at the single fragment that orbited her notebook.

Just... how many more? Will my mission do anything at all? After absorbing so many… maybe Twilight would never—

She stopped herself, and forced her thoughts back to her original objective.

Carefully, she opened it and took out a bookmark. Dismissing her notebook, she applied a small amount of magic onto the paper-like object, watching with a smile as it grew and acquired more depth, until she was looking at the case of her cello.

She lovingly caressed the surface of the case, and with reverential zeal, opened it, revealing her instrument. Just as she had left it. There was so much tied to this relatively new instrument already. History she had shared with a mentor that would have forgotten her, or a last rendition with a close friend… Sweetie closed her eyes tight for a moment. Tavi... She hadn’t had time to mourn her friend. Maybe she could at least honor her.

She took a deep breath and pulled it out, strumming it a little as she tightened the cords. Once she was done, she forced herself to stand on her hind legs, as an earth pony would, as she had been taught.

Sweetie pushed away her pain and concentrated on the music, chasing her thoughts and fears away as her hoof, holding the bow, drew a slow, long note. It was easy to sink into the music, and pretend the world didn’t exist. That her losses were inconsequential.

Each slow drag of the bow on the strings brought painful memories to her. She swayed as she played…

Rarity turned, glaring at Sweetie. “I will destroy you, you abomination!”

Sweetie took a deep breath, not letting the memories affect her playing.

Octavia’s voice. The sound of her heart beating fast and suddenly stopping. “Tavi!”

Sweetie frowned, playing a little faster.

Akela floated, spinning slowly in place, pressing softly against Rarity’s forehead. Just one push. That’s all Sweetie needed.

“I can’t believe it...” Scootaloo’s voice came from from behind, a mere whisper. “It’s green and silver, so close to Sweetie’s own voice.”

“Yeah, but where’d she get the cello?” Bloom whispered back.

“Does it matter? She’s good, Bloom... Better even than Sweetie was at singing...”

Sweetie slowly let the melody fade and looked over her shoulder at her friends, still standing on her hind legs. “I must have woken you up.”

“Oh, no, not at all.” Apple Bloom smiled at her. “Ah was havin’ a hard time stayin’ asleep anyway. Not really the best sleepin’ accommodations down here. So... where did ya get that cello? And who taught you that song?”

Scootaloo’s soft expression quickly turned to a frown before she turned her head away.

Sweetie ran her hoof up and down the strings. “It was a gift from Blueblood... just before I left. We didn’t know if it would travel with me, but he spared no expense in getting the highest magicians in Canterlot to enchant it to become a bookmark once it’s inside its case. And this song... it was one that Octavia was teaching me. I can’t even begin to play it like she does but... well, it really helps me calm down.”

“Blueblood? Octavia? You really are different from her,” Apple Bloom said. “It’s just so weird ya know. Seein’ yer friend standin’ before ya, and yet ya don’t know anythin’ ‘bout her.” She shook her head. “No, that’s not what Ah meant ta say... Look, even though yer different from her, we’re still yer friends. Right, Scootaloo?”

The pegasus looked at Sweetie Belle, her amethyst-colored eyes peered, as if they were looking for something beyond Sweetie herself. “That cello... the way you hold it...” She turned her head and looked at her own wings and grimaced. “Was it fun? Learning the cello, I mean.”

Sweetie winced, remembering the lessons. “It was... fun, but... really hard. Tavi wouldn’t stand me playing like a ‘fancy unicorn’... or was it ‘lazy’? She insisted I learn how to balance and hold the bow… I got it eventually, but it took a long time to even stand on my own.”

“But the hard things are always most rewardin’,” Apple Bloom offered. “Ah remember fixin’ up the clubhouse and buildin’ it up from scratch. That took us all summer, and sometimes it felt like we’d never finish. But we stuck with it, and Ah even got mah cutie mark outta it.” She turned sideways to display her mark—three interlocking gears atop a large apple. “It’s kinda strange, findin’ out that a single project like that could be such a steppin’ stone fer the rest o’ mah life.”

“Speak for yourself. I wish life was that simple.” Scootaloo shook her head. “I nearly died before I got my cutie mark. That whole plan was incredibly stupid. Just one more second, and you’d have had two fewer friends Bloom. And for it all, I get this!” She pointed a hoof at her own flank. A purple triangle encompassed by two purple wings stood out against her orange fur. “What are you supposed to do when you get a cutie mark, but you don’t even know what it means?”

“Sometimes... it’s better not to know,” Sweetie whispered, falling down to all fours and levitating her cello into its case. She closed it and applied some magic to it again, watching it become a bookmark. She summoned her notebook and slid it in, before dismissing both magical items, too quickly for the others to see in detail. “I’m sure you’ll find out and you’ll be proud.”

“Findin’ out and seekin’ those answers is what makes us who we are.” Apple Bloom gave Sweetie Belle a worried look. “Besides, cutie marks are dependent entirely on the pony themselves. Findin’ out what that mark really means to ya is very important.”

Sweetie Belle was silent for a moment. “What if you found out that your cutie mark is proof that you’re a murderer?”

Apple Bloom stared her in the eye for a moment. It seemed like a challenge. “Cutie marks aren’t like that. Sure ya might get a special talent, fer whatever weird reason, of fightin’ or the like, but it’s never gonna mean that yer special talent is murder. Cutie marks are about choice. You choose how to apply that talent to yer life. And a murderer is a murderer, regardless of their cutie mark.”

Sweetie shook her head.

Scootaloo was squinting at her, her head cocked to one side. “So, then what’s your cutie mark mean? Looks sort of like Twilight’s...”

“Except that it’s broken,” Sweetie growled. “Maybe it means I need to get her back together, or maybe it means that I’m keeping her apart. Maybe it means I destroyed her life.”

Apple Bloom raised an eyebrow. “Is that what ya think of whenever ya look at it then? Ya see how ya messed up Twilight’s life? What about that moment when ya got yer cutie mark? What did you do? Who were you with? A cutie mark is there ta remind ya of where you came from. It’s about that moment when it came ta light and movin’ on from there. Ya look back at yer mark and see how far you’ve come, and where ya need ta go.” She shook her head. “Ya can’t truly believe that yer cutie mark is no good, so long as yer tryin’ ta make yer situation better. So what does it really mean to ya?”

“Oh, cut it out, Apple Bloom!” Scootaloo interjected. “I know you liked to talk about cutie marks to Gravelle, but this is going nowhere. Look, it’s fine if a pony doesn’t know exactly what her cutie mark is. Just drop it.”

Apple Bloom paused, then bowed her head in a slight display of shame. “Sorry if Ah went overboard.”

Sweetie looked away. “Are we going to continue? I have no idea where we are, other than five right turns from our camping place.”

“Yeah, I guess we may as well.” A small smile came to Apple Bloom’s lips. “It’s not like we can get any more lost than we already are. I guess we should try to see if there’s a path that leads more up than down.”

“I hope there’s a way out...” Scootaloo looked up at the ceiling and almost seemed to shiver. “And here I was, hoping I’d never have to step hoof in a cave again.”

Apple Bloom moved next to the pegasus and prodded her with a hoof. “Oh come on, Scootaloo, quit yer whinin’. There are some really neat things to see underground. Think of the diamond dogs’ city. Even you thought it was pretty neat.”

“It was just unexpected is all. I’m never going back there if I can avoid it. At least with our Sweetie gone for now, we probably aren’t going to head any deeper than we have to.”

“You know,” Sweetie said. “Maybe we should head in deeper.” She turned to look at the pair. “What have we got to lose? Besides, unless we try climbing the walls, there’s no way we’re getting up any quicker. We might just find an exit tunnel, or feel a breeze.”

Scootaloo gave her a blank look then turned quickly to Apple Bloom. “You know, even if she’s a different Sweetie, she still has a way of pulling us deeper into trouble.”

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. “She’s just bein’ sensible.”

Scootaloo sighed. “Fine. But if we run into another one of those golem-spider-things...”

“Wait... golems?!” Sweetie gushed. “That’s amazing! Who made them? Can they talk? Do they have limited cognition or none at all? Can they perform only one task? Or maybe they can do anything we can? What do they look like? Well, like spiders, but, do they act like them? Or is it just that they have too many legs?”

“Uh,” Apple Bloom began, startled at Sweetie’s sudden change of disposition, “where to start... Ah guess you’ve heard of golems before then? Sweetie had just called them that. Basically, they look like a bunch o’ rocks. She called the rock in the middle—which was glowin’ by the way—the ‘core’. It had four big rocks that it walked on. Kinda like a spider. Ya know, if spiders only had four legs.”

“Don’t forget to mention that it attacked us for absolutely no good reason,” Scootaloo added. “Our Sweetie said that there was something beyond the golem—something really powerful that was controlling it.”

“Hmm...” Sweetie pondered that for a second. “Well, if that’s the case things could be easier for us... if there’s somepony else controlling them, then their capabilities are most likely limited to certain tasks, so they will keep doing those unless we interrupt them or we step straight out in front of them. Twilight would have loved—” She stopped herself and frowned. Finally, she walked away from her friends until she stood at the edge of the light and shadow. “Coming?”

* * *

Scoddri's words had faded as suddenly as they had come, and Sweetie Belle had felt the world around her shift as her imposter began to move. The other unicorn had cast a quick spell, effortlessly. It was a pattern that she had never seen before and Sweetie Belle felt the magic flow into the unicorn's eyes and remain there.

'Darkvision', I guess? The sigil is a little too complex to learn at a glance. It looked close to a 'light' spell, but there's a second sigil encompassing it. I should try experimenting with it when we get a chance. Maybe I can replicate it. The spell was too dim to feel and commit to memory while in such close proximity to a unicorn with as much magical energy as her doppelganger. A sinking feeling of jealousy tugged at her as she considered her gifted counterpart. How did she get so much magic?

Her question remained unanswered as the unicorn in question got to her hooves. Where's she going?

The other Belle moved with an eerie silence as she walked, and had cast a small glance back at her sleeping friends before trudging back down a couple tunnels. As the other mare moved, she was led through a world of dull stone, as gray and unimpressive as it would have been to anypony's eyes.

Eventually her carrier stopped, and Sweetie felt a small flare of magic. The pattern was very complex. It wasn't the typical two-dimensional spread that she was used to seeing. This was a full three-dimensional sigil with individual weaves of magic running from eight different nodes. It was too much for her mind to remember accurately. The colour, the frequency, the positions. She only got a glimpse of it before it disappeared.

From where the sigil had been, she noticed a rectangular object appear. The object had its own sigils running along its surface, passive and dull at the moment, but somehow deeper and more complex than anything she had ever seen on any object. It made Scootaloo's bracelet seem like a foal's toy.

Beside the rectangle was another object, crystal in shape, but the magic that coursed through it felt like she was looking at the sun. Had she a body, Sweetie Belle would have winced.

Through force of will, she turned her focus to the rectangle as much as she could. She traced the swirling lines, trying to commit them to memory. Darn it, why can't I have my magic? This is something I need to test! She sensed the rectangle open under the unicorn's aura of levitation, and another object slipped out. A small rectangle, with a slightly less complicated, though still three-dimensional pattern scrawled into it.

Wow! she thought to herself. These are patterns that only ponies with the magic expertise of Twilight or the Princesses could ever hope to have made. Not to mention they're already etched into the objects themselves.

Feeling distinctly overwhelmed, Sweetie Belle could do little other than take in the sensation of her imposter taking the small rectangle and activating the complex sigil on the book. With a flash, the book disappeared as suddenly as it had come.

She only held the small rectangular object a moment before sending a flare of magic into this one as well. It expanded and fluctuated under the magic spell and gradually grew bigger until it took on the proportions of first a violin and then a cello along with its accompanying bow.

The unicorn then eased the instrument into her hooves, and stopped using her magic altogether. There was just dull gray of the stone around the blazing warmth of contained magic that made up the other Sweetie Belle. Nothing else. Until she played.

The first note came forth. Sound—one of the simplest forms of magic, much like light—it always contained the same shaped pattern, just with differing frequency size and colour. The magic of the notes were a silvery-green colour, and they spilled outward from the cello filling the cave with something comparable to a shimmering mist.

As she passively observed, the sound of the notes came forth to her mind, and she lost herself in the light-show and melody that she felt around her.

It stopped suddenly. Sweetie Belle wasn't certain how much time had passed, but different sources of sound suddenly pierced the fringes of the green fog; Apple Bloom and Scootaloo had arrived and now muttered to each other.

The other Sweetie Belle stopped playing, and began conversing with the other two ponies. After a moment, and a few flashes of magic, the instrument was gone and the world became clear once again.

It was then that Sweetie Belle noticed Scoddri's pattern. It was flowing right toward her, if only she were a bit closer, then she was sure the magic would be a bit stronger.

After a while, the trio moved on, carrying Sweetie Belle along with them. She focused on that emerald strand, when they made a sudden turn, right in the direction the magic was coming from. There! She felt the magic and with a little effort, she was able to move it, form it, and shape it.

Well, here goes nothing, she thought as she pulled at the pattern and changed it into the simple shape of sound, and instinctively assigned the proper frequencies and colouration that she knew to be indicative of her own voice. “I hope this works...”

* * *

“Woah, did y’all just hear that?” Apple Bloom asked from behind while Scootaloo peered into the shadows around her.

“Ha! It did work!” the ethereal voice spoke from seemingly every direction at once. “It’s me girls, Sweetie Belle!”

“Sweetie!?” Scootaloo nearly shouted, spinning around. “Where in the hay are you? And why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“I’m fine, girls. I think I’m in my amulet. I finally got enough magic to make some sound spells. I’m so glad it worked.”

“Yer in the amulet? How in the hay did that happen?” Apple Bloom rushed over next to Sweetie and began peering at the emerald necklace.

“Hmm... this has never happened before, I thought I completely replaced you...” Sweetie murmured, looking down at the amulet around her neck. “Are you aware of what’s happening? Is this is how it usually works for other Sweeties?”

“Other Sweeties? I didn’t even know there were other Sweeties until you popped in during that magic influx. So no, I have no idea if this is how it usually works. But I think I’m trapped inside Scoddri’s crystal, at least until you’re gone... and I didn’t think that was possible.” The unseen Sweetie’s voice paused for a moment. “But it is pretty neat. Now that I think about it, it’s a state similar to being in between teleports, except the world's not moving really really fast, so it feels a lot better.”

Sweetie’s eyes gleamed. “Oh! You actually can see the moment between teleports?! That’s amazing! I’ve always wondered what that was like! Maybe the rules for magic in this universe are different and any unicorn can see it, but where I come from it’s usually, you’re standing next to Twilight in the library, and the next moment you’re standing next to her in front of Canterlot Castle.”

“But there’s always a time gap. You can see it whenever Twilight teleports; it takes about half a second, and in that moment, the pony has been turned into magic and moves along the pattern and then they rematerialise. But I’m the only unicorn I know that can feel the magic all around me, so teleporting’s kind of… unpleasant...”

“Wait... you mean if a unicorn concentrates here they can’t sense ambient magic? What if they are in the middle of a large-scale matrix? That is very concentrated magic, they can’t feel it, even knowing it’s there?”

“Well anypony will feel magic if there’s enough of it around them. Like fire, sunlight or a powerful light spell. But they can’t sense it like I can; I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel it all. Sometimes, I wonder how other unicorns manage it. Twilight once told me she could always feel her magic when it was inside her, but once she cast it, then she couldn’t feel it anymore. That made sense I suppose, since the pattern changed from her own to that of the spell.” The voice paused for a moment as if in consideration. “But a matrix? I’ve never heard of that... It sounds close to a ritual though. Hmm... maybe there are even more branches of spell-casting than I thought—”

“Oh Celestia, make them stop! My head can’t take it!” Scootaloo began shaking Apple Bloom with her forehooves. “I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.”

“Quit it, Scoots!” Apple Bloom pushed her friend away. “But in all honesty. Ah think ya lost us.”

Sweetie Belle looked at them for a moment, before looking down at the necklace and ignoring both Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. “How many branches of spellcasting do you have here? A matrix is a pre-set structure of self-contained, self-generating magic that grows stronger through ambient absorption of magical energies, therefore reducing the need for constant feeding. Have you seen anything like that here? And how does it look? I once saw raw magic, but the only reason was that it was tearing a hole through dimensional walls! I don’t think magic would be that mercurial and overwhelming when it’s not used like that!”

“Popular magic theory claims there’s five branches of spellcasting, but I think I’ve only seen two truly different forms. I call one active and the other passive. But raw magic is always around you; it must have been something massive to have seen it with the naked eye! But do you have a way of absorbing ambient magics for your own spells before you cast them? If I had that, I wouldn’t have to use so many crystals. How do you make it? Do you have to draw it on the ground like some of the rituals I’ve done, or etching the spell patterns into metal? I wonder if I can do it too...?”

“They’re just ignoring us, aren’t they?” Scootaloo sighed.

“Yup.” Apple Bloom tilted her head. “And they even seem ta be almost ignorin’ each other too.”

“Well, I don’t absorb the ambient magic before casting the spell; I enchant a gem or object to transfer the flux of magic through it into another and another, each with a specific spell function attached to it, therefore creating a sort of... web... that feeds one spell into the next one in a preordained sequence, stopping them, parting them, uniting them, funneling them... until it returns to the point of origin, therefore closing the circle. It’s an amazingly adaptable construct. As for drawing it... you just need a mental image, really, but planning ahead helps. In the case of the one that was strong enough for me to see with the naked eye, it was a matrix the size of the Canterlot Castle Gardens. Each point was fixed at crossing leylines for maximum efficiency. The position has some leeway, but it can’t be altered too much, or the whole thing will collapse,” Sweetie explained, and then grinned. “And of course you can! If you can see magic just like that... I...” She started drooling, temporarily losing her grip on her thoughts. “Things I could do...”

“Now hold on a minute,” Apple Bloom spoke up. “That sounds a mite like an engine ta me. At least in how it works. Multiple points ta move the energy through... Hmm... This gives me an idea.”

“Oh great,” the pegasus muttered. “Not you too, Apple Bloom! What happened to the task at hoof? Weren’t we trying to get out of this forsaken mountain? I mean, it’s awesome that you can talk with us again, Sweetie, but hay, give me a break here!”

“Oh, it’s totally like an engine!” Sweetie spoke up. “Each part has its own defined range of motion, so to speak. A node can do only one thing, but that one thing allows the next one to do what it has to and so on and so forth. It’s a bit like clockwork, now that I think about it, if I were to put it in mechanical terms.” She gave Scootaloo a glance. “Or, you might compare it to the workings of a pegasus weather team, if things are being organized flawlessly. A group funneling storm clouds would be one node, the team receiving them and spreading them evenly would be another, and the last team making it rain would be the next. The whole thing comes together again with the team that funnels the water from the ground into storm clouds... just think of it as never ending.”

“It’s easy to think of this as never ending,” Scootaloo retorted. “But it has to end at some point. So can we go already?”

“Well, Scoots does kind of have a point,” Sweetie Belle’s echoing voice said with a distinct tone of cheer to it. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk on the way.”

“Great! And then you can tell me about these rituals you know. I wonder if they are the same as in the other worlds I’ve visited!”

Scootaloo groaned slightly, but otherwise kept her silence.

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, Scootaloo,” Apple Bloom offered a smile as they began walking again. “Think about it. Sweetie hasn’t ever had someone to talk to about magic like this. It must be a real treat for her.”

“You do realize that they are never going to stop talking.”

Sweetie’s voice emanated from ahead. “I’ve never had so much fun talking to myself!”

“Neither have I!” A deeper voice sounded—a voice of madness—followed by a maniacal laugh that filled the tunnel and slowly faded into the its distant depths.

Sweetie Belle stopped walking and blinked, looking down at the amulet. “I think I heard Discord.”

“Scoddri!” The amulet’s voice echoed out after the laughter. “Darn it! He’s gone again...”

“Ah don’t like this,” Apple Bloom muttered. “Why’s he suddenly talkin’ ta us?”

“I think he wants our help. It sounds like he’s in pain. We have to help him.”

“Sweetie...” Apple Bloom began. “Look, Ah know ya think highly o’ Discord an’ all, but ain’t ya assumin’ a bit much there?”

“Bloom, I’m going to save him,” Sweetie’s voice restated evenly. ”I owe it to him.”

Sweetie Belle looked from the amulet to her friends. “Weren’t you telling me about the value of trust and friendship earlier?”

Apple Bloom shook her head. “You don’t really know our Sweetie... Her trust isn’t always in her own best interests. Darn it, Sweetie, ya told me ta point out when Ah think yer goin’ too far. And this is me pointin’ it out.”

”Duly noted,” Sweetie Belle’s voice replied in a chipper tone. “However, I, with all due respect, will stick to my own plan.”

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes, and Scootaloo laughed. The pegasus gave Apple Bloom a smile. “It’s only natural that she’d want to help her mentor.”

“Who also happens ta be an endless source of chaos!” The earth pony shook her head. “It ain’t a smart idea.”

Sweetie rolled her eyes. “If her mentor was actually evil, she’d be done with you and a lot of others by now.” She looked at them. “I’ve been there.”

“Just ‘cause ‘it could be worse’ doesn’t make this situation any better. And you really think Sweetie would give up on bein’ friends just ‘cause of some evil mentor? Sweetie would never do that.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“Let’s keep going,” Sweetie Belle’s voice called out, clearly doing her best to ignore Apple Bloom’s comment. “We’re getting closer.”

“Closer?” Scootaloo squinted past Sweetie Belle. “How can you even tell? We’re underground here.”

”The bond’s getting stronger.”

Sweetie Belle sighed, exasperated. “Do we have any other way to go? I, for one, have absolutely no idea how to navigate out of this place. Sweetie could help us as a sort of compass... it beats trudging around in the dark until our magic gives or we starve to death.” She looked from Apple Bloom to Scootaloo. “Do you even trust your Sweetie?”

“Of course I trust her!” Scootaloo said instantly.

“Ah do too, but Ah still think it’s best ta be cautious ‘bout stuff like this. Ah know she has good intentions, and she’s saved us quite a few times when we’ve been in a bind.” Apple Bloom glared at the emerald necklace. “But Ah’m always gonna give her mah opinion if Ah think it makes sense ta.”

“Look,” Sweetie said, “I know what you mean, Apple Bloom, but my gut feeling tells me to trust Sweetie, even if it sounds odd or crazy." She sighed. “I just hope I’m not making a mistake again.”

“Hmm.” Apple Bloom considered for a moment. “Ya might be right. But we’ll see when we get to wherever Discord’s talkin’ ta us from.”

“We’ll be fine.” Sweetie grinned. “We’re all crusaders!”

”Yeah!” the other Sweetie Belle’s voice agreed. ”Let’s see if I can...” Her voice trailed off, then a sudden flash appeared from the amulet, and in its wake, there was a faint band of emerald light drifting off of it, snaking into the tunnel ahead. ”Aha! It worked! I tweaked Scoddri’s magic pattern to visible light—at least the part that’s close by. It’s faint, but it should lead us right to him. Wherever he is.”

“What are the chances that it’ll lead us out of the mountain?” Scootaloo asked, sarcasm thick in her voice. With her wings spread flat in resignation, she moved to follow the faint trail of light.

“There’s a fifty-percent chance that we’re heading out of it in a roundabout way,” Sweetie said, looking over her shoulder. “There’s also a chance that we’re about to die, but the uncertainty is what makes it so appealing.”

Scootaloo just groaned.

* * *

Sweetie didn’t know how long they had been walking in silence. After a while, the banter had died out and the group had simply fallen into a comfortable trot. That’s when she noticed the walls of the tunnel finally give way to a larger area.

It was a cavern, deep enough that her light spell didn’t reach the far end of it. And there was a certain freshness to the air.

“Woah!” Apple Bloom exclaimed rushing forward and looking at the walls. “Just like I thought! These walls were dug into. Ya can see the difference from our tunnel. See, look at the texture.” She prodded a distinctly plain stone wall with her hoof.

“Great, it was dug, so that means more diamond dogs. Just what we needed...” Scootaloo shook her head. “Well at least there’s some room to maneuver out here.” She pulled herself into an effortless hover.

“Were you being chased by diamond dogs before that dragon thing attacked you?” Sweetie Belle asked, glancing from the wall to Scootaloo.

“What? No, the diamond dogs are our friends.” Apple Bloom pointed a hoof at Scootaloo. “She just doesn’t like ‘em much, is all.”

“Well, they aren’t awful or anything, but I still say we should have talked some sense into that one—” Whatever the pegasus had been saying was quickly lost to a resounding crash that echoed off the cavern walls.

“What the hay was that?!” Sweetie exclaimed, suddenly standing deeper in the shadows. “That didn’t sound like diamond dogs!”

The crash sounded once again, louder this time, shaking the very ground beneath them. It rang out over and over again, it was the sound of rocks cracking and crunching, as if being ground into sand. Then there was a moment of silence.

Scootaloo peered up and squinted at the ceiling warily. “I don’t think it’s a cave-in. If we could see a bit further, we could probably see what it was.”

Sweetie nodded. “I’ll be able to see in complete darkness. I can go ahead and take a look.”

“Alright...” Apple Bloom agreed hesitantly. “Yer gonna turn off yer light spell ain’t ya? Just let us know what ya see. We’ll stay here. Be careful.”

Sweetie nodded, cancelling her spell before she slowly crawled up around the curve of the excavated cavern, careful to be as silent as she could. She took in as much as she could before moving again, trying to keep her presence a secret from whatever had created those crashes.

Eventually, after she had left the others behind, she finally found something. Its shape was like that of a diamond dog... but this creature was made out of rock, with a softly glowing chest piece, which seemed to have several crystals attached to it.

If it saw Sweetie, it ignored her, content to simply dig into the wall. But out of the corner of her eye, she caught a bit of movement. It was as if the wall beside the (rock) dog had come to life, and four huge chunks of the rock flew together into the air, collecting around a central stone. Its center began to glow brightly like a full moon on a cloudless night.

Sweetie pressed herself against the wall, not daring to make a sound.

In the next moment, the pile of rocks launched forth, on four constantly shifting legs, as fast as a speeding pegasus. It swung one of its rocky legs hard against the smaller rock-digger, knocking it to the ground. Even as the smaller golem hit the ground, the larger one raised each of its legs in turn, with a fluid and deadly grace—which seemed entirely impossible for such a large construct—and brought them down, one after another.

Under the relentless series of blows, the smaller rock-digger struggled in futility to regain its footing and get back to digging. In moments, the once softly-glowing chest piece of the creature flickered into darkness, and finally the large beast relented, slowly moving away from the mess of rocks.

Sweetie quietly and slowly stepped back, now glancing at the walls with more than a bit of apprehension. Suddenly, every crevice, every uneven area was a cause for pause and careful monitoring.

It took considerably longer to get back to the others than it had to get around that corner. To make sure that it was safe to cast her light spell again, she quietly circled around her friends, not even alerting them to her presence. In absolute silence she checked the walls, and for good measure a bit further behind before returning. Finally, when she was just behind them she whispered, “I’m back.” And cast her light spell once more.

Apple Bloom jumped higher than Scootaloo was hovering. The earth pony spun around with a yelp, but quickly bit her tongue to quiet herself as Scootaloo had a little chuckle at her friend’s expense.

“Don’t do that, Sweetie! Geez, yer as bad as... well, Sweetie, Ah guess.” She sighed and shook her head before rounding on Scootaloo. “And don’t even get me started on you!”

Scootaloo continued to snicker slightly as she landed on the rough ground. “I think that was the best I’ve seen yet. Well... there was that one time when Sweetie found a book on illusion spells...”

“And we don’t need ta hear ‘bout that ever again!” Apple Bloom pushed Scootaloo out of the way and turned to Sweetie. “So, what did ya find? We heard that crashin’ sound again... Any idea what it was?”

Sweetie nodded. “Yes. I saw a diamond dog-like golem getting pummeled into gravel by a much bigger, spider-like golem that emerged from the wall and tore it to pieces. I went back and around a little to make sure there were none behind us. It just pulled itself together from the wall... I didn’t even noticed it was there until it moved.”

“Damn it! Another spider golem?” Scootaloo scowled. “I hate those things!”

Sweetie blinked. “Regular pests at home? We sure didn’t have those things in my Ponyville.”

“What? No, of course not. We only came across one before, and it nearly killed us. This isn’t a joking matter, Sweetie. Those things are really dangerous. They’re almost as fast as I am. There’s no way we could all outrun one if it found us.”

“I’ll cover you,” Sweetie said instantly, expression stoic. “Make sure you grab the amulet though.”

“Oh, so you have a plan?” the amulet’s voice echoed in an almost playful manner. “What do you have in mind?”

Sweetie remained silent for a while, before moving in front of the others and facing away. “I’ll... fight it. And I won’t pull back my punches. I’ll make sure you three have enough time to escape, if it comes to blows.”

“We’ve fought one before,” Apple Bloom said, her voice thick with skepticism. “It ain’t easy. You’ll need all the help ya can get if ya face one o’ those things.”

“Hmm, sounds kind of risky... Think you can handle it?” the amulet’s voice asked.

“Am I the only sane one here?” Scootaloo questioned. “We should just sneak around them.”

Sweetie nodded. “Scootaloo’s right, but... if we get caught, leave it to me. Even if I can’t defeat it, it will be easier for me to escape and catch up with you later.”

“Well, Ah guess Ah see where you’re comin’ from. But, just be careful. There’s no room for error when dealin’ with those golems.”

“Oh, come on Bloom, that sounds like something you’d say to me. I’m sure she’s much more careful than I am.”

Sweetie turned and faced her friends, smiling placidly. “Well, if we’re careful, we won’t have to worry about it, right? Anyway, we should go...”

“Right...” In a moment, the amulet shone once again with its faint leading light. It trailed off into the darkness, in the direction that Sweetie had discovered the golems.

Slowly, the group made their way deeper into the mountain, eyes glued to the walls and ears perked attentively, ready to react to any noise and either flee or fight.

“Say...” Scootaloo whispered.

Apple Bloom spun reflexively at the sound and frowned at the pegasus. “What?” she whispered back, pulling her eyes back to examining the walls of the cavern.

“Is it just me, or is it getting hotter down here? Hmm... and more humid too...”

“Yeah it is. The air is thicker with magic. I suppose you can always count on a pegasus for an accurate weather forecast,” Sweetie Belle’s voice echoed softly amongst the walls of the cave.

“That, or we could be approaching a dragon’s cave... those get a tad warm,” Sweetie whispered back.

“You think it’s that dragon from earlier?” Scootaloo asked.

“I don’t think that was a dragon,” Sweetie said. “It didn’t breathe fire in my face.”

“Well, let’s just hope it’s not a dragon then,” Apple Bloom offered. “Ya know, there’s such a thing as geothermal energy. The diamond dogs tend ta make use of it often enough, ‘specially ‘round winter time. Warm air rises from cracks in the rock below.”

“Yeah, but no one really cares about that stuff.” Scootaloo shrugged. “A dragon would at least be a cooler explanation.”

“Hey! Plenty of ponies care about stuff like this. Just ask Sweetie, she’s been researching this kind of stuff fer a while now.”

“Doesn’t make it any less boring.” Scootaloo laughed nervously.

“Hey, girls?” Sweetie called back, peeking around the edge to another tunnel. “I think we have a problem.”

“I hope this isn’t one of those times where I have to agree with you,” Scootaloo muttered as she and Apple Bloom walked over as quietly as they could. “What is it?”

“A cavern full of those little dog golems?”

“We should be able to walk on by, though. These golems seem to only dig,” Sweetie Belle’s voice observed. “Best not test for any other functions... As much as I’d like to...”

“Great.” Apple Bloom shook her head. “Well, let’s sneak on by then... Ah’ll go first. If it turns out they have an attack function, then we’ll find out the hard way.”

Sweetie nodded and stepped out of the way, motioning for Apple Bloom to go ahead.

Apple Bloom gulped, but stepped forward quietly. Hooffall after gentle hooffall, she snaked her way down the cavern. The digging golems never paused their relentless mining, even as she passed a mere hair’s breadth from them.

Eventually, she passed the final one that could be seen in the darkness. Her tentative voice sounded not long afterward, “Girls, it’s safe.”

“Alright.” Scootaloo jumped forth and walked with a fair bit more gusto than her friend had. As she passed the golems, she looked at them rather curiously. She even extended a wing as she passed one, and touched the golem ever so gingerly.

When the golem didn’t turn and strike out at her, she let out a small sigh. “You know,” she called out to Apple Bloom. "We could probably have just gone and bucked all these guys over and they’d just go back to digging.”

“Maybe,” Sweetie said from behind Apple Bloom. “But where’s the fun in that?”

“Wait, when did you get in front of me?” Scootaloo frowned then gave a defeated sigh. “Oh, whatever. I bet you it’d be a lot like dominoes. I wonder how long it would take these lug-heads to get back on their feet.”

“Don’t even think about it, Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom shouted back tersely. “Just think ‘bout all the racket that’d cause. We’re tryin’ ta be quiet—”

Her sentence was cut off as the wall beside her fissured into many different segment, and fell toward the earth pony. She managed to take a surprised leap backward, away from the falling debris. Her hooves slipped from under her and she bumped into a nearby digger.

”Shoot! It’s a spider golem!” Sweetie Belle’s voice warned.

“You should get out of here!” Sweetie shouted, levitating her counterpart’s amulet and tossing it to Scootaloo. “Go!” Her horn flared and pushed the golem back slightly with a telekinetic shove, which only managed to get it to turn its attention towards her. “I’ll take care of it and catch up!”

”Are you crazy?” Sweetie Belle’s voice echoed with distortion from the amulet as Scootaloo caught it. ”You know you can’t handle one of those by yourself! Darn it, Scoots, we have to help her!”

Scootaloo muttered something around the amulet between her teeth. She spread her wings and darted back down the cavern, crashing straight into one of the spider-like golem’s legs with her shoulder, sending it slightly off balance. “Ugh,” she groaned, as she dropped the amulet to the floor. “Forgot how hard these things are.”

Sweetie shook her head, and then split the floor under one of the golem’s legs, allowing it to get stuck in it. “Look, if you’re going to just hurt yourselves, it’s not going to help anypony!”

“Yeah, well, we’re in this together!” Scootaloo smirked. “C’mon, Bloom!”

Apple Bloom leaped back onto her feet and charged the golem. She slid to a stop, right before it and bucked at one of its other legs. The force of the blow lifted her off the ground and deposited her back onto her side.

”It’s staying focused on you... um, other me.” Sweetie Belle’s voice warned. ”I can’t redirect it like last time, be careful everyone!”

“Which is why I’m saying,” Sweetie swept her hoof, sending a small blast of flames to explode against another leg. “That I can divert it and escape!”

“Nothing good ever comes from splitting up!” Scootaloo shouted back as she flew in and gave the golem’s core a solid strike. The blow caused the light to flicker and the golem's movements became jarring, but only for a moment. “If we can break the core, it will stop.”

“Yeah, if we don’t break our own hooves first,” Apple Bloom said as she moved away from the creature’s vicious legs.

Sweetie groaned in frustration, trotting to the side, and blasting the creature’s center with a lightning bolt. “Why do you have to stay? Can’t you see I’m making sure you are safe?!”

”And we’re making sure that you are too. It’s what friends do.” Sweetie Belle’s voice was sweet in its tone. ”Though I can’t do that much myself...”

Sweetie Belle found herself getting annoyed. ’Why won’t they just let me be?!’ “If I’m concentrating on whether you get hit,” Sweetie argued, summoning Akela from the dimensional portal mid-sentence, “I’m going to get hurt as well!”

Her diamond started spinning in place increasingly fast before shooting out, and cracked one of the golem's limbs as it tried to bat at her. Akela returned, having done some damage. Suddenly she gasped and cast a shield just in front of Apple Bloom, stopping one of its appendages from crushing her in its attempts to get to Sweetie.

“Now that’s teamwork!” Apple Bloom shouted as she rolled to her feet and jumped once more at the hulking beast. Once she landed, she spun to deliver the creature a solid buck. During the movement, a light spark lit up at the tip of her hooves. Her hind legs collided with the golem’s limb in a sharp crack. It fissured from where the diamond had marked it before, and crumble to pieces.

The rocky monstrosity nearly lost its balance, but with swift agility, it reoriented its three remaining limbs, looking less like a spider, and more like a tripod.

“Nice going, Bloom!” Scootaloo cheered. “Now we just need one more!”

Sweetie Belle nodded, sending Akela drilling straight into another of the golem’s legs with another deafening crack, creating spidery fissures all over it. “Think you can hit that one?”

“You bet!” Scootaloo swung down in a deft dive and hammered the cracked leg with a buck of her own. The cracks deepened, but didn’t give, as Scootaloo was tossed hard against a wall of the cave. “Well, I hit it...” she groaned as she slid down to the floor.

Sweetie Belle levitated two large rocks and used them to smash once again at the weakened leg, doing her best to remain out of its reach. “This would be easier if you weren’t here! Why don’t you let me do this by myself?”

“Well, sorry for trying to help.” Scootaloo dusted herself off and shot forth once again. While the beast was distracted with the boulders, Scootaloo delivered another powerful strike to the leg. The fissures deepened in shattering crack, and the limb splintered apart.

The golem spun off balance, and managed to brace itself with its two remaining limbs. “Now!” Apple Bloom shouted from her spot on the ground. “Hit the core, it won’t be able to attack ya!”

“Dammit, I just wanted to be left alone!” Sweetie Belle’s eyes flashed with magic and Akela accelerated faster than ever before, a second explosion-like sound rocking around them as it struck the core of the golem, surprisingly digging deep into the rock creature. A strange, scraping sound came from within as the thing shook, as if stunned by what had happened. Akela flew out of it, back the way it had gone through and hovered next to Sweetie as she gazed impassively at the construct. “Well?”

”You severed the sigil. Any moment, and it should-” The glowing core blinked a few times, and then went dark. With a crash, the rock limbs fell apart to harmless debris. ”Hah, great job everyone! Are you all alright?” Sweetie Belle’s jovial voice called out triumphantly.

“Could be worse,” Scootaloo said as she landed next to Sweetie’s amulet. She picked it up and walked over to Apple Bloom.

“Ah could prolly use a hoof ta get up,” Apple Bloom admitted and thankfully accepted Scootaloo’s offered hoof. “But we all made it.” She let out a small sigh and leaned against the cave wall. “Thanks, Sweetie. Ya really saved me back there with that shield o’ yers.”

Sweetie huffed. “I wasn’t going to let any of you die. But I wish you had listened to me. You and Scootaloo could have been killed!” Her eyes turned to the amulet. “And you! You said you understood and thought it was a good idea to let me deal with it!”

”If I thought you could deal with it, I would have let you! What did you think you were going to do to it? Your lightning, fire and ice barely even touched it. If it weren’t for Scoots and Bloom, you’d have been crushed into a pancake!” The amulet actually began to glow with each of her shouted words. ”What was your plan, huh? Tell me, how were you going to ‘deal with it’?!”

Sweetie snorted. “You think I’m limited to that? I was trained to kill, dammit! I was distracting it to let you run away, but no, you had to hang around and get in trouble. What if that thing had hit harder and crippled Scootaloo? Or managed to squish Apple Bloom?”

“If you’re so well trained, then why in the hay didn’t you handle it quicker, huh? What? Can you only use your ‘real’ powers when nopony’s around to see them? I was watching the whole time, and that golem would have hit you at least twice if it weren’t for Bloom and Scoots knocking it off course!”

“Yeah!” Sweetie shouted, getting her face close to the amulet. “And did you notice that happened when they interrupted and got in the way? I might not have killed it immediately, but I wouldn’t have to worry about my friends dying or you being crushed by accident!”

“And you think that we don’t feel that way too?” The fire in the amulet’s voice died down slightly. “You think that self-sacrifice is the answer? Well, it’s not, darn it! You might think it’s a noble thing, doing that to try and save your friends, but they’ll end up even more hurt than if they died themselves. You would have left Scoots and Bloom to wander around in the darkness alone. I say you’re nothing more than a coward.”

Sweetie glowered at the amulet. Slowly tears began to form in her eyes. “There’s nothing noble about wanting to die, damn you, you stupid, conceited, little filly! You lost a dear friend; I’ve lost one too! More than one! I was one thought away from killing my own sister and I’ve been murdering Twilight every world I visit! Who are you to judge me? By the time I stopped breathing you would probably be out of your little, cozy piece of chaos, knowing that your friend can be saved!” she spat.

“I would be gone and I wouldn’t be bothering anyone else. Do you know how many times I have died already? Of course not! It’s so easy to take the Celestia-damned outlook that only a coward would do something like this! Live in my skin for a couple of loops, see everyone you love dead and Equestria ripped to shreds by us and we’ll see how you deal with it!” Her voice lowered, but her eyes were still shining with an inner light. “So what if I died? So what if things stopped here? How many lives would not be lost because of me?”

“I don’t know... You’re right. I can’t know how many lives could be lost or were lost, but I know that you could save three. You’ve already saved us—a few times—but we still need your help. Don’t focus on what could happen if you died, or what damage you might cause. The fact is that you are alive right now, and you can save three friends who desperately need your help. And there is nothing that you’ll do after that which will change what you already did for us.” The amulet pulsated softly, the same emerald colour as her own eyes. “Don’t give us up for what might happen. We can work together to make sure that what we want to happen, does happen.”

Scootaloo set the amulet down and snorted, but Apple Bloom stepped in front of her. “Darn it! We’re all friends here!” She glowered at the pegasus. “And don’t ya even start, Scootaloo!” Turning her attention back to Sweetie, she let out a soft sigh. “As awkward as it feels admittin’ it, Sweetie’s right. Well, ya both are. Ah know Ah got in the way, and Ah’m sorry Ah wasn’t much help back there. But we don’t regret our actions. Ah know both Scoots and Ah would’ve done the same thing again.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes, but otherwise remained silent, and picked the amulet up once again.

Sweetie Belle muttered and looked away. “You two did a good job,” she growled. “I’m annoyed you didn’t let me fight it until only one of us stood, but the truth is you handled yourselves just fine.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I have to continue going... it’s not always bad, but... I’m just...” She trailed off. “Let’s... just go.”

Apple Bloom nodded and moved to follow, when Scootaloo piped up from behind. “So... uh, who’s gonna wear Sweetie?” She held the amulet dangling on the end of one of her wings.

Sweetie Belle levitated the amulet and slid the chain back around her neck. “Are we any closer?”

The amulet sparked with magic and a shimmering trail of light snaked outward. “Much closer, it’s getting much easier to talk.”

“Well, then we should hurry,” Sweetie said stepping over the now inert elemental golem. “We need to rescue Discord, or whatever it is you’re calling him... and I need to go away.”

“And I don’t want to stay in here any longer,” Scootaloo muttered, but suddenly she came to a halt, squinting into the darkness up ahead. “Hey, I think I see something. Yeah, there’s definitely something glowing down there. Kind of reddish-orange.”

“It’s not gonna be a dragon.” Apple Bloom said sternly, more to herself than anyone else as she limped along. “That looks like... lava...?”

“And a lot of magic too. With this much magic... Girls, this must be it! It’s the cause of the storm! I knew we’d find it. And now all we have to do is find a way to stop it.” The amulet flared slightly. “Darn, that is a ton of magic. The patterns—there are so many going right past us.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Apple Bloom warned. “We aren’t really in the best o’ shape.”

“Stick to the shadows. Try not to draw attention to ourselves... although I don’t know how effective that’s going to be if we encounter more golems,” Sweetie said, sounding a bit irritated.

“Don’t worry too much about the golems,” the amulet’s voice said quietly. “This place is so full of magic, they’d effectively be blind. Plus I see a lot of the patterns leading out of here, and they look just like the spell that was controlling that other golem. There are a lot of them, but they aren’t in this room. There is something big, though.”

“Huh, even I’m starting to feel something,” Scootaloo muttered. “It’s like flying too close to a stormcloud.” She instinctively spread her wings as she crept forward silently.

“Sweetie, do you mean to say that all the magic is coming from this place?” Sweetie Belle asked as she looked around. “I also feel something... I think one of the fragments might be nearby.”

“Yeah, there’s a lot of magic in that chamber, but only a portion of it is flowing past us into the mountain. There’s something more powerful... it’s like seeing the first hint of sunlight before dawn. I know Scoddri’s fragment is in there also, but it’s so dim in comparison.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out what’s inside.” Apple Bloom crept on ahead, limping slightly, and peered around a corner into the larger chamber. She let out a gasp as her friends followed in behind her.

The tunnel opened into a massive chamber, big enough to hold half of the Canterlot Castle inside of it. Pools of magma bubbled viciously, providing a bit of illumination, while a terrible pressure pressed down from above. But what drew the ponies’ attention was at the center of the chamber.

A pillar of a stalagmite stood defiantly, and crowning it was the largest crystal any of the ponies had seen. It was easily ten feet in diameter. Its ruby surface flared intermittently with a fiery light. Every pulse sent a small echo through the chamber, as if it were the mountain’s heart.

“Look up there,” Scootaloo whispered in hushed amazement.

Above the formidable centerpiece, the walls of the chamber shot ever upward until a single disc of cloudy sky could be seen far above. Partway to those heights, a series of crystals circled around in the open air, rhythmically. And at the center of the floating gems, one stood out predominantly directly above the giant ruby.

“Scoddri’s fragment!”

“Not only that!” Sweetie gasped. “That’s Twilight’s fragment! They’ve been fused!”

Scootaloo took to the air and began hovering. “So, should I just nab them, then?”

“Wait Scoots!” The amulet flashed brightly in warning. “There are at least seven different spell patterns in place, and the fragments are the focal point to all of them. Moving it carelessly could cause it all to explode. And with this much magic pouring through it... I don’t think even the bracelet would do that much to help you.”

“Then what can we do?” Apple Bloom wondered. “Have any fancy way of dispelling this thing?”

Sweetie looked troubled. “I… Before the last world I would have just absorbed Twilight’s fragment but...” She hesitated. “I could create a matrix... maybe... or cast the spell to bind it to my notebook, then dismiss it into its pocket universe.” She looked at the merged fragments doubtfully.

“That might separate it... but I don’t know how integrated they are. The last thing I want to do is leave with a piece of Discord, or leave a part of Twilight behind.” She grimaced and looked down at the amulet. “If Sweetie can actually see the energy strands inside the fusion, she might be able to guide me. Otherwise we risk damaging our friends.”

The amulet made a gasping sound. “That’s it! My amulet. It will automatically absorb the fragment. When it does, it releases some of its own energy. I should be able to control that magic and make sure it only absorbs Scoddri’s fragment. Of course... then that still leaves the other fragment and it might cause all the patterns to go off-kilter.”

Apple Bloom hummed for a moment. “This is a lot like demolishin’ a big structure, ain’t it? What if we start from the outside and go inward. That way, when the spell falls apart it won’t create a big explosion.”

“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea... we could interrupt the flow of magic to the outside gems, maybe even just redirecting it so that each one down doesn’t completely destroy the pattern until we’re ready.” Sweetie mused, glancing at the gems thoughtfully. “But whoever made this is likely to be around. We should be careful... and fast.”

“Likely? No, he’s already here in some manner. He has scrying spells in there too. It’s one of the few that I recognize from the patterns. He’ll notice us in a moment if he hasn’t already. But I doubt he’s actually here. He’s been doing all this spell-casting remotely. And he doesn’t seem like the type who’s about to change his tactics any time soon.”

“So then we just need to go fast.” Scootaloo nodded. “Tell me what to hit first.”

Sweetie studied the pattern. “I... think you might have a clearer idea, Sweetie... from what I can see out of the twelve crystals, any disruption would break the pattern... you might have to take two as quickly as possible in order for the magical energy to compensate and reduce its size...”

“The most stable way would be to break every third crystal at once... That way the sigils would remain at least symmetrical as they fell apart. But it’s going to be unbalanced no matter how we hit it. There’ll be raw magic being released, but I might be able to at least control the explosions enough to stop us from all being blown up.” The amulet hummed to herself. “I’d need to be close though, but it would be too hard and disorienting if I had to try it while moving around too much. It’d be like trying to unweave a tapestry while running.”

“Well... Ah won’t be runnin’ ‘round too much,” Apple Bloom admitted. “Mah legs ain’t doin’ too great. Ah’d carry ya, Sweetie, but Ah wouldn’t be able ta get close quickly enough ta match Scootaloo.”

“How about you recuperate while Scoots and I try to take some out? We could have a go from opposing sides of it,” Sweetie Belle suggested.

“Yeah, and try to hit them at the same time. We don’t want to mess up the balance of this thing any more than we have to. Think you can do it, Scootaloo?”

The pegasus flared her wings and turned to Sweetie. “Of course I can. We’ll aim to hit one every five seconds. This’ll be a cinch. But the real question is, do you think you can keep up with me?” Her violet eyes glimmered, and she wore a smug grin.

“Oh, come on, Scoots,” Apple Bloom muttered. “This isn’t a game.”

Sweetie’s eyes shone and she raised an eyebrow. “Is the sky blue? Just try not to miss.”

“I’ll get the far red one.” She shot forth toward the center of the chamber. “You get the-”


The warning didn’t come quickly enough, and Scootaloo turned in time to see a rush of lightning pass right in front of her eyes, though the bolt of magic dissipated as soon as it drew too close. The pegasus’ amethyst-studded bracelet sprang to life, emitting bright flashes of light, and a strange, keening metallic sound.

Scootaloo pulled up her forehoof and cradled it with her other hoof. “Ow! Geez, this thing gets hot, Sweetie!”

“And you will be reduced to naught but ashes if you come any closer!” a deep voice rumbled through the stone walls of the cave. “If you just crawl back out of this cave, I’ll let you go.”

“Uh…” Sweetie thought about it. “No.”

“What a pity. I do so hate wasting resources. A dreamer and a wielder of chaos magic, such a bountiful find. But if you insist on staying, then you’ll find out just how much magic I have under my control.”

Sweetie looked at the central, consolidated gem. “Please. As if an amateur like yourself could actually even comprehend what you have here. You see gems with pretty powers… you barely even understand where half of it comes from, and I’m willing to bet the other half completely defies your grasp of reality and time. Hoof them over and I might go easy on your sorry flank when I unearth you from whatever hole you dug yourself into.”

Raucous laughter filled the cave, and the walls quivered at the sound. “You do realize what will happen if you try and stop this. See those walls around you? Those tons of rock, all precariously balanced, and ready to cave in and crush you? Well, I sure wouldn’t want to be in this cave when the inevitable happens.”

“I don’t care,” Sweetie replied. “I’ve been crushed to death before. Literally smashed into a pulp. Several times, actually. If I get what I need… I’ll just make sure the others are out of the way when the whole thing collapses. I think I’ll be fine.” And then she took a step forward.

“Shoot, girls!” The amulet flashed in warning. “One of the spells, it’s getting closer. I think he was just trying to buy some time!”

“But it’s too late for you now!” the voice cried out.

With a screech, from the top of the mountain a familiar vicious winged creature descended upon them. With a gaping maw, the draconic creature swooped toward Scootaloo.

Scootaloo let out a yelp and sped away from the beast. “I’ll show this dumb dragon a thing or two about flying! You have to stop the spell, Sweetie!”

Sweetie glanced at the gems. “Sweetie… we have to do something, but we won’t have time to correctly balance it all out with just myself!”

“S-Say…” The amulet’s voice was lost for a moment as bolt of raw magic shot by, narrowly missing them. “...targets? How many can you hit at once?”

“Safely… up to six…but I won’t be able to focus too much power into each one, lest I risk their accuracy,” Sweete replied. “One I could hit with my diamond, the other five would be elemental blasts… enough to disrupt the matrix, but not destroy the gems.” She thought for a moment. “However, you can see the literal connection between the gems and magic… if you could somehow take control of the extra aiming, say… for three more, I think I can cast the spells and let you guide them.”

“Great minds think alike. Just feed a fair amount of magic through the amulet, and I should be able to control it. Just remember, I won’t be able to talk while we do this.”

Sweetie nodded. “Got it… just… infuse the amulet with my magic, right? I’ll make sure to save enough to do the blasts.” She gave the gems a calculating look, memorizing the feel of the magic flow around them as she chose her targets. “Here it goes…” Her horn lit with considerable energy as she poured more than half of her reserves straight into the gem, syphoning the energy to flow in a stream of power she was almost sure a gem containing the soul of Discord should be able to withstand.

“W-whenever you’re ready!” Sweetie called, pressing Akela close to her, and readying her other spells.

“I hope you’re not afraid of heights…”

Sweetie gave the amulet an uncertain glance as it sparked, then she felt the world slip out from under her.

* * *

She felt the magic pour into her, it was so very similar to her own distinct pattern. It pooled within her, glowing like molten metal. There was more magical energy than she had ever safely handled before. If Sweetie Belle had a body, she would have been smiling madly and even laughing.

Is this what it feels like to be like Twilight? she wondered. To have this much magic at my disposal… It’s no wonder she’s always so full and certain of herself. If I normally had this much magic…

With a practiced grace, she wasted no time and pulled at a small bit of the magic. She wove it into the basic pattern for sound and tossed out the words, “I hope you’re not afraid of heights…”

She pulled at the pool of magic flowing through her and wove a three-dimensional pattern, the most complex spell she had ever memorized. From the center of the pattern, a helix of magic tendrils shot forth and she directed them upward and focused them on a single point in space.

The magic combined together, forming a pattern that mirrored the first, and she felt the familiar pull as the world shifted around her, and the sense of vertigo fought to overcome her. But she forced herself to look inward, at the brilliant magic she still wielded. She blinded herself to the world around her.

In the next moment, she extended her senses outward again. She felt the pulling motion of gravity, notifying that the spell had worked just as she had planned. Compared to teleportation, this next bit’ll be a cinch. Pulling out a smaller bit of magic from her more than half-empty reserve, she formed a quick, well-practiced sigil. One with a colour and pattern that never failed to remind her of Scootaloo. It must be the feather-like shape it has.

She cast it out and bound it around the other Sweetie Belle. The effect was instantaneous, as the sense of gravity lessened considerably. Another successful feather spell.

She then trained her sense downward and looked upon the massive collection of spell patterns running through the twelve different gems. And it even looks like the smaller sigils form the pattern for one larger spell. Whoever this guy is, he’s darn meticulous with his spells.

Choosing her targets quickly, she prepared herself, readying her magic to guide the coming spells.

* * *

Sweetie felt herself fall for a moment before she slowed down and started drifting, rather than rushing down. She didn’t allow for the dizziness and sudden relocation to bother her too much. With practiced focus, she immediately sent Akela towards an orbiting gem, and her body twisted into a spiral turn, sending first a blast of concentrated air from her snapping hooves, followed by water, fire, a chunk of rock, and finally lightning.

Her magic further sent three pure blasts of magical energy, unpolluted with elemental influence flying, her instincts trusting her other self, even as her mind hoped that the local Sweetie could catch the magic and use it.

She felt the amulet pulse with magic, and her blasts of energy moved as if with a mind of their own, speeding toward three separate crystals.

With unnerving accuracy, all nine shots hit the orbiting gems. Akela obliterated its target on contact. Each of the five struck by elemental magic cracked and shattered with resounding snapping noises, similar to ice breaking, while the three hit by magic alone, were tossed out of their orbits, crashing onto the floor, devoid of the connection they had to the spell matrix.

The remaining three gems lost all semblance of order, spinning faster and faster, catching on the hidden strands of magic from the other gems, and failing to absorb it. They shifted their orbits, speeding faster and faster as they cracked ominously under the strain, angry red lighting zigzagging over the central ruby. Finally, two of the remaining spinning gems smashed into each other, exploding into glittering dust and plumes of flame, leaving one single gem to absorb all the channels into itself.

It seemed to hover there for one split-second before simply shooting off wildly. With a crack and tremendous force into the air, it sped by Scootaloo, missing her by an inch, but smacking the drake in the forehead with the power of a battering ram.

“Hey!” Scootaloo hollered down at them, as the drake crashing onto the floor of the cave. “I was just about to ground him!”

“Sorry!” Sweetie called back. “It wasn’t on purpose!”

“Whatever!” Scootaloo flew down after her and hovered a fair distance away from the remaining fragments, as if expecting either of them to shoot off directly at her.

“Sweetie,” Sweetie Belle looked down at the amulet, “Can you separate them!? Can you break this guy’s hold on the fragments?”

As she looked down, she could see the two fragments at the center, their light growing with momentary, uneven pulses. The raw magic pushed against her even as she fell toward them, slowing her descent even more.

Then the light flashed in a series of beams, which funneled together. It shot up to her and she felt it impact with the amulet. As it did so a laughter pealed through the air. It wasn’t the deep echoing bellow of the attacker, but this laughter belonged to another. It was mad, and pained, like she’d imagine hearing from somepony who had been lit on fire and chosen to laugh at such a terrible fate.

The laughter was quickly replaced by a louder keening from the amulet, which shot forth a single emerald beam right to the fused fragments. The beam wove around them in an intricate pattern of triangles and circles and Sweetie saw the two fragments begin to quiver slightly.

With a peal to rival the mightiest of thunderstorms, the two crystals separated.

The blast that followed tossed Sweetie out of her fall and straight into the hooves of Scootaloo, who dove in to intercept her. The force of the impact however, sent the pair spinning head over hooves to smash onto the massive belly of the unconscious drake.

“Owowow…” Sweetie groaned. “I’m going to feel that one for the next three jumps…”

“You’re not the one that broke your fall,” Scootaloo muttered, shakily pulling herself up onto her hooves.

“And yer both lucky ta have that lizard take the brunt o’ the blast.” Apple Bloom came limping over. She had various cuts and bruises covering her body, but securely nestled in one of her forehooves, she held the two separated fragments. She gave them both a tired smile. “Looks like we did it.”

“Uh, maybe not…” An audible crack pierced the cavern, then another longer one. “The big crystal! Is that another sigil?”

“Fools! If you wish to defy me so, then I have no need of you!” the deep voice echoed one final time and the crystal at the center of the chamber shattered.

“Look out!” the amulet’s voice came out in a rush.

Ruby shards shot outward in shower of spears but Sweetie jumped forward and quickly formed a shield around her and her friends. She grunted as the spray of shards collided against her barrier and she flared what few reserves she had left to power the spell.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw an amethyst-colored crystal floating beside her, dangerously close, and to the other side, Discord’s fragment floated as well. A soft emerald glow encompassed both of them, and she noticed the amulet shining as well. She felt it in a moment, like the clouds parting to let in pure rays of golden sunlight. Magic surged forth from the fragment, powering her faltering shield.

“H-how are you doing that?!” Sweetie asked, concentrating on her shield as much as she could while fighting the surprise. “I can feel Twilight’s magic flowing into me, but I’m not absorbing the fragment!”

“The magic of the fragment, it’s attuned to you; it shares your same innate spell pattern, like Scoddri’s with his amulet. It looks just like it would flow right into you naturally, if it got too close. It’s almost like it’s a pure chunk of your own magic in physical form. It doesn’t even have a proper crystal pattern.” The amulet pulsed, and she felt the magic continue pouring into her. “I’m using that attraction to our advantage, while holding the physical vessel back with my own magic. It’s making just the outside magic flow into you automatically. I just needed to change my own magic pattern to interact with the fragment itself, like when I manipulate individual patterns.”

“We’ll have to discuss this if we survive…” Sweetie grunted as a particularly large chunk of rock bounced off her shield. “Scoots… Apple Bloom… be ready to take the amulet and have Sweetie teleport you three if this breaks.”

“A three-pony teleport? I can’t do that, it’s too much magic! It’s a complex spell, and I’ve never used that much magic-”

“And we ain’t ‘bout ta leave you behind either,” Apple Bloom said firmly, cutting into Sweetie’s own protestations.

Scootaloo had spread her wings and her eyes darted back and forth as she traced the endless rain of debris, as if searching for a pathway out. She let out a small yelp and pointed up, beyond the shield, as a huge chunk of the rock split apart from the cavern roof. “Well, whatever we do, we have to do it fast!”

“I could… maybe keep the shield around us… cast a featherweight spell and have you drag us out?” Sweetie offered. “But I can’t keep a mountain from crashing us to death even with more of Twilight’s magic.”

“That’s it, Sweetie!” the amulet’s voice exclaimed. “In my bag! There’s a brooch I’ve been working on. If we use the feather spell…” the amulet flashed and Sweetie Belle felt the familiar touch of magic descend upon her as the pull of the ground beneath her lessened once again. “And if we use the brooch’s sigil, it’s an attraction spell. We can use it to pull Scootaloo up out of the mountain, and we’ll trail behind her, before we’re crushed to smithereens.”

“More reverse-kite-flying?” Scootaloo let out a short laugh as the falling chunk of rock collided near them, sending a spray of rocky shrapnel at their shield. “Sure, I could probably get out, if I’m lucky. But how can we all possibly get out of here without getting crushed?”

Apple Bloom began digging through her own saddle bags, and pulled out a length of sturdy rope. “We can use this ta keep us all tethered ta Scoots.”

The amulet’s green aura caught hold of the rope, and it sprung to life with deft finesse, and Sweetie felt as it slithered tightly around her midsection. In a moment, all three of them were bound together. “Compared to spell patterns, ropes and knots are foal’s play. Quick, though, you have to get ready. You should use the spell to help Scoots dodge the largest of the debris. Think you can do it while keeping the shield up?”

As the amulet finished talking, Sweetie noticed a brooch float in front of her for a moment. It was a silver clip with three green-silver stones forming a triangle. The metal had detailed series of lines and circles etched into it with the same coloured crystal. The brooch clipped into her hair.

Sweetie’s eyes narrowed and she ignored the tell-tale signs of magic exhaustion creeping through her. Sharing so much magic and maintaining such a strong shield was more taxing than anything else she had ever done. “I’ll do it. Be fast.”

Scootaloo bolted into the air, pumping her wings vigorously. Sweetie felt the rope tug, pulling both her and Apple Bloom in tow. While keeping the shield spell firmly under her grasp, she pulled on a second stream of magic and shot it into the silver brooch. She felt her magic transform in her grasp, as if she had cast the spell herself.

“The spell has two points to direct!” the other Sweetie Belle urged. “You need to pick Scootaloo as one, and the other should be whatever you want to pull her toward.”

Instinctively, she directed one part of the spell toward Scootaloo while she squinted past her own shield, preparing to dodge the largest of the debris.

A massive boulder cracked off of the widening skylight and plummeted toward them. “Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom called out in warning.

“I see it!” the pegasus shouted as she twisted her flight path with a few furious wing beats, but with the rope dragging behind her, the maneuver was sluggish.

Sweetie threw the other end of the spell to a nearby wall, and Scootaloo let out a yelp as she was yanked sharply sideways, pulling all of them with her. The shield hit hard against the cavern wall, as several tons of rock fell past them.

“Watch what you’re doing Sweetie!” Scootaloo shouted as she righted herself and flew toward the bright opening.

“Sorry! It was either that or die!” Sweetie called back. “Next time I’ll let the rock hit!”

“Yeah, you do that!” the pegasus retorted and Sweetie felt a sharp tug as Scootaloo sped up.

The tension in Sweetie’s forehead began to build and she felt her shield beginning to slip from her grasp. Gritting her teeth, she peered up, past it and Scootaloo. The ceiling had deep cracks running through it, yet at the center, a gaping hole filled her eyes with a bright white light.

“Hey, Scoots,” she called out with a pained grin on her face as she let her shield spell slip out of her grasp, “get ready for some speed!”

She pulled at the fragment’s magic and the powerful stream seared her from overuse, yet she managed to force it into the silver brooch. From there she quickly tagged Scootaloo and the distant lip of the ceiling.

The effect was immediate as they hurtled toward the ceiling, and she noticed the piece of rock she had targeted fissure and shoot out toward them.

“No!” she yelled and shot the spell one last time at the coming rock and section of rock to her side.

The projectile shot by Scootaloo’s left side, shearing off a few of her feathers. The pegasus winced, while the stone shattered to pieces as it collided with the cavern wall. But Scootaloo showed no signs of stopping.

With a pained scream, she shot out through the skylight. They were met with a burst of chill air as they drifted away from the crumbling mountain summit.

Sweetie let out a small sigh of relief and she let go of the last traces of magic she had been clutching. Suddenly, she saw Scootaloo’s left wing buckle, and they began falling in an eerily slow fashion of tangled of rope and limbs.

And then she felt a tingle, that she recognized as the fading of magic within her body. She managed to cast one quick glance to a small alpine forest below, as gravity tightened its grip on her. “Oh, that’s just perfect…”

Together, they fell toward the trees, Scootaloo frantically flailed her wings, wincing as she did so, but to no avail; her friends pulled on her as deadweight, and she was pulled down with them.

In a cacophony of yells and shattering tree branches, they came to a stop. Sweetie crashed through and came to a stop in the embracing boughs of a large evergreen. Silently, the shards of Twilight and Discord came to a rest, hovering beside her.

She saw Apple Bloom plummet past her in a yellow blur, her rope no longer around her. She landed in a fit of uncontrolled rolls on the needle-ridden ground.

Once the last of the branches stopped cracking, a short silence settled in until Apple Bloom’s pained moans from below were the first to break the silence.

“I-is everypony alive?” Sweetie croaked, her head spinning and her horn feeling like it was about to split in half.

“Darn it,” Scootaloo’s voice filtered through from the branches up above. “I swear, your plans are the worst, Sweetie!”

“And which Sweetie are you talking to, huh?” the amulet sparkled in her amusement.

“You! Her! Both of you!” Scootaloo gave a dry chuckle. “Why is it that when we follow one of your plans, even five years after we’ve gotten our cutie marks, we still end up getting covered in tree sap?”

“Because tree sap is an excellent insulator?” Sweetie offered. “I dunno! Pine trees like me! They just want to share the friendship.”

“‘Share the friendship’? What’s that even-? Woah!” Scootaloo shouted in surprise and some of the nearby, upper tree branches shuffled vigorously as a flurry of orange wings and purple hair fell down past Sweetie. Scootaloo’s fall stopped short of the ground as the rope around her midsection held firm and tight.

“Darn it!” she wheezed, as she struggled to reach the rope with her mouth. “A little help here?”

Sweetie’s magic eventually enveloped the rope and soon all three fillies were on the ground, still covered in pine needles and tree sap. Before either Scootaloo or Applebloom could react, Sweetie was already hugging them tight. She held them close before letting them go and looking at them with apologetic eyes.

“I’m so sorry!” she cried. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I was so selfish and I wanted to die. I’m sorry I said those things to you two, and that I wasted the time I could have spent being your friend arguing over everything!”

“That’s what friends do, we argue,” Apple Bloom said, as she struggled to pull herself up, but collapsed back to the ground. “Ah think Ah need ta rest fer a moment.”

“Just because you thought those things isn’t what’s important. What matters is what you did do. You really did save us back there. There’s no need to be sorry.”

“The hay there isn’t!” Scootaloo shouted. “You’d both better be sorry! None of this would have happened if we just followed my plan and never entered that dumb tower. It’s gonna take at least a week or two before I can fly straight again!”

“That’s just her way of saying she’s sorry.” The amulet flashed and let out a small laugh.

Sweetie pulled Scootaloo for another hug. “I forgive you,” she whispered into her mane. “If you forgive me.”

“I- Wait, what!?” Scootaloo pushed out of the hug, her face turning red. “Darn it! Why does everypony misinterpret everything I say?”

“Ah told ya before, it’s because ya don’t say what ya mean,” Apple Bloom said with a chuckle.

Scootaloo scowled at all of them and then pointed a hoof at Sweetie. “Well, what I meant to say is, that you’d better remember that you’re sorry, or you’ll just end up making that mistake in the future.”

“Huh, that’s surprisingly sensible, comin’ from you.”

“Shut it, Bloom!”

“Aww, isn’t she adorable?” Sweetie asked, grinning at Scootaloo. “The last time she turned so red was when I kissed her!”

* * *

Situated on a rocky vista, Sweetie Belle sat, looking down past the pine trees at a city of crystal, standing proudly at the center of a sprawling prairie, the buildings glistening in the evening sunlight. As picturesque a place as any a traveller, dimensional or otherwise, could hope to find.

She had decided to stop there, once the headache from magic fatigue had abated.

“And there’s the Crystal Empire, finally free o’ storm clouds,” Apple Bloom observed from behind, finally catching up to her. The earth pony was limping heavily, and being supported by Scootaloo. “It’s just an hour or two from here.”

“Hmm, yeah. It’ll be nice to finally get there,” Scootaloo chimed in. “This is the last time I’m ever letting Sweetie plan a summer trip.” She let out a small chuckle. “What’s she doin’ anyway?”

“She just finished teaching me how to funnel magic from Twilight’s fragments without absorbing them…” Sweetie explained. “It’s fascinating. I never thought of even draining magic from crystals and such… and it’s something so obvious! If we can store energy in a matrix or a simple crystal, we should be able to use them as ‘batteries’ of sorts! And the best thing is, since Twilight’s fragments renew their magic naturally, I’m not affecting them like I would by absorbing them! Why didn’t anypony think of this before?!”

“Well, Ah think whoever that guy was, back in the cave. Ah think he figured out he could use it too,” Apple Bloom remarked. “A battery, huh? Ah wonder if we can replicate it effectively enough…”

“Sure, if we had something like Twilight’s fragment, we could use it to power our contraption almost indefinitely.” The amulet flashed excitedly. “But I think I’ve learned enough to make it work without such a big power source. With these matrices that she uses, and the right materials, I think I can get it to work. Might take more than a few tests though.”

“And Discord’s fragment?” Apple Bloom wondered, tapping her saddle bag. “Are ya goin’ ta try and use that fer the contraption?”

“No, I don’t know if we could get enough power out of it. But once the other Sweetie leaves and I get my body back, there are a few things I want to check out about that fragment, so keep it away from the amulet for now; I don’t want it to accidentally get absorbed while I’m distracted. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to use Scoddri like that. I want to make him whole again.”

“Geez,” Scootaloo muttered, “it’s always magic and contraptions with you two.”

Apple Bloom sat herself down gingerly onto the ground and let out a tired sigh. “Well, Ah’ll let ya figure it out Sweetie. When we get ta the city, you can work on the designs. Ah can’t fully wrap mah head ‘round how all the magic works. But if ya say his fragment won’t work, then Ah’ll trust yer judgement.”

“So, then what are we doing up here, when we could be going to the city?” Scootaloo wondered. “And I mean in non-magic jargon.”

Sweetie’s horn flashed for a moment and her notebook levitated, with two of Twilight’s fragments orbiting it instead of one. “I needed to cast a spell to take the fragment with me…” she explained, smiling sadly at the pair. “But that also means it’s time for me to go… as soon as I send my notebook away, I’ll be unable to stay.”

She took a deep breath, admiring the view. “It’s sad…when I get back I’ll be much older than you two are in my original universe. I wonder if I’ll be able to go out on adventures with my Scoots and my Apple Bloom,” Sweetie mused. “I know they’ll be there for me… but more and more I notice the age gap between me and them.” She sighed. “When I see them again, I hope they know I still love them, even if… even if I’m not going to be able to go crusading with them.”

“If they’re anything like us, they’d never forget ya,” Apple Bloom assured her.

“Of course they won’t. And if they do forget that you were their best friend, you just need to remind them!” The emerald amulet shot out small lightning-shaped bolts of magic, which diffused into the open air. “Magic has so many good uses.”

Scootaloo finally stepped forth and cast her gaze aside, uncomfortable for a moment, then stared right in her eyes. “And don’t you forget that we’re your friends either. If you do, I’ll get Sweetie to track you down, and we’ll give you a sound reminder, all three of us.”

Sweetie chuckled and nodded, eyes misting up a little. “I will. I’ll miss you three. It’s been great. I hope, wherever I end up next, that I can see you soon.” The dimensional pocket opened next to her, allowing her notebook to go in. “Bye girls. And good luck!”

As soon as the dimensional pocket closed around the notebook and the two fragments, Sweetie disappeared in a flash of light. The emerald necklace containing the local Sweetie Belle clattered to the ground, beside her saddlebags. But of her, there was no sign.


Next Chapter: Backwards Through the Mirror

o.0.o End Chapter 8 o.0.o