Hard Reset 2: Reset Harder

by horizon

Second Chances

"Well," Spike says, "that sure didn't work."

"Fffffff–" I hiss, until he walks up to stand in my field of vision and my there's-a-hatchling-in-the-room instincts kick in. "–fffUDGE." All that build-up, and I didn't even get to see how she reacted.

"Are you okay, Twilight?" He prods at my still-smoking body and winces in sympathy. "Can I get you a healing scroll? Wait, you probably don't want to use your magic right now. Some bandages? I'll …" Spike wilts in my glare and backs away. "Uhhh, I'll just stand back here quietly until you need me?"

I sit up and assess. Whatever killed me was instantaneous and painful. I recognize that pain — the Elements of Harmony blowing up the universe again. Of course they did. Celestia herself was the source of the disharmony this time.

And then I kissed her.

The full implications of my act of impulse filter in. Oh, stars, that's a great message to send the immortal goddess who controls Equestria, isn't it? "Hey, teacher, for years I've been carrying around these feelings for you I never had the courage to act on — but when you turned supervillain and destroyed the world, wow, I simply couldn't help myself."

But my reaction being about her destroying the world is ludicrous on its face. Isn't it? I've admired Princess Celestia all my life, after all. And our time loops are forcing us to be honest with each other in a remarkably intimate way — already she's shared something with me that nopony else in the world knows.  Learning that she's not a shining paragon of morality also made her approachable in a way I've never felt before, and even with a reset button you have to admit that impending doom creates a sense of both urgency and subconscious liberation.

See? Purely rational responses at a purely rational moment. Nothing to do with my id snapping its leash and engaging an unknown and unwanted paraphilia amid a magnificent orgy of gratuitous destruction.

Nnnope. Nothing at all.

Absolutely nothing.

"Twilight?" Spike says. "Are you sure you're okay? Your face has gone all red."

What in the seven underworlds is wrong with me? I stare into space, unable to believe my brain. Even considering all that I've been through while looping, that is some seriously up-rutted mental wiring. I don't even want to think about my therapy bills once I'm out the far end of this.

The silver lining of this discovery is that by definition only one of us can remember the loop — and it's me. I give a silent prayer of thanks to the stars that I died first. Otherwise, that could have led to the most awkward conversation in the history of speech, explaining how hot I found the destruction of the world that we're trying to save. New rule: Celestia must never, ever hear of what we did.

I give Spike a feeble laugh. “It’s alright. Craniofacial erythema is an occasional consequence of imperfect temporal alteration."

He tilts his head. "Huh?"

"Exactly." I climb to my hooves and look around. Aside from Spike and I, the library is silent and empty. It dawns on me there's something wrong here. Something missing.

"Spike," I ask, "where did Princess Celestia go?"

"Huh?" he repeats, raising an eyeridge.

"She's not here." My blood freezes in my veins. "She's supposed to be right there, sitting and waiting for me and trying to talk me out of my funk." I was the one who reset, so she should be behaving identically. She's not. Therefore, I'm missing a loop. I have a secret, and I'm missing a loop, and she's gone. What did I tell her last time?

Spike opens and closes his mouth. "You're not making any sense, Twilight. Why would the Princess be here? We were going to go watch Day Court this morning, but she cancelled it and said she wasn't seeing anypony, so we came to the library instead and you found that spell of Starswirl's. You remember that, right?"

No, I don't … and it belatedly strikes me how strange it is that my only memories of the morning before the loop starts are from the timeline when I first cast the spell. What Spike describes is something that I lived through a few hours ago, right? Celestia said the loop spell is designed to add memories, not replace them — and that's clearly how it works, or else I would only ever remember a single loop at once.

On the other hoof, my day is completely contained within another, larger time loop, which implies I'm falling prey to some secondary interaction effect. Every time Celestia or Chrysalis resets, the entire day in which I cast my spell is undone — how could I remember it, other than what the loop saves for me? The only past I should remember is the one that doesn't get wiped out every few hours.

That puts it in the category of "yet another glitch to unravel once things calm down." Right now, I've got much bigger hayburgers to fry. I charge up my horn. "Don't worry, Spike. I'll straighten this out. You stay here."

"Are you sure —" he begins, but I've already teleported to the hall outside Celestia's chambers.

Sharp Edge blinks. "Twilight? What's —"

"National security emergency. Today's validation code is 438 hay-roan-zebra. I'll be inside. Nopony else comes in."

Sharp salutes, but hesitates. "Nopony at all? Not even —"

"And if anypony sets the building on fire, look at them very sternly for me."

I don't see Celestia at first. She's not at the desk where she takes care of state business, nor in the fireplace nook where she has private discussions with diplomats. That leaves the bedroom, or … but my mind has already derailed at that thought, and I'm not even certain I can name the feeling that washes through me when I hear her hoofsteps moving through the dining room toward me.

"Oh! Twilight," she says. I wish I could see the expression on her muzzle — however, the bookshelf by the hall door has suddenly become extremely fascinating, which has nothing to do with the heat in my cheeks.

"I figured I would come by," I say, because words.

"Well," she says, then clears her throat, and her tone fills with cheer. "My door is always open for you."

"I know," I say, my mind racing in circles. I start alphabetizing her bookshelf to distract myself. "I just figured, what with the whole impending changeling threat, and all."

"Of course." I hear her walk over to her desk and sit down. "In fact, I was just doing some research on that, myself." She's silent for a moment as she shuffles the thick piles of scrollwork. "See if I could get some clues as to where her infiltration might be thickest."

"That's smart," I say. Quadruple-checking always is.

I realize her bookshelf is already alphabetized, so I start refiling it by Dewy Grass decimal number while I try to think of something else to say. No good; my brain is stuck in a loop of its own. Augh augh augh what did I tell her? I glance down at the book in my horngrip, hoping for inspiration — but it's a gift copy of An Annotated Encyclopedia of Meteorological Tools, and if I start blathering on about weathervanes out of nowhere she'll know I'm stalling.

Deep breath. Start over. We should exchange loop numbers, right? Except that means comparing notes on past loops, and that leads all too quickly to me needing to actively lie about the apocalypse kiss. I shouldn't … no, I can't … do that. But what do you say when you're stuck between a lie that betrays a trust, and a truth that ruins it?

Celestia clears her throat. "So," she says, "it's good to see you out of your depression."

That kicks my brain out of its tiny little circle and into an entirely new one. That means I was still lying on the floor doing nothing in the loop she remembers, so she would have taken me apocalypse-watching again. No, wait. My thought processes at the start of this loop would have been identical to the missing one, and by the time she spoke up I would have already concluded that she must never learn of how the apocalypse affected me, so I would have stopped her. On the other hoof, she would have been there, so she would have overheard me say … what did I tell Spike? Just that I was blushing, which she would have seen anyhow.

Why do time loops have to be so hard?

The room is silent, and I realize belatedly it's my turn to speak. I force a laugh. "Well, yes," I say. "The teachable moment helped."

She doesn't say anything, and panic grips me. I walked right into that one, didn't I? I force myself to turn around — I need to see how she reacted to me talking about a loop she shouldn't remember, and her seeing me blushing is the least of my worries right now.

Celestia meets my eyes, already wearing her usual inscrutable gentle smile. "That's good to hear. I don't think we need to go through the apocalypse more than once."

She remembers the apocalypse? We went through it again? Why did I go through it again?

"Well," I stall, "as apocalypses go, I'd have to say it was. Um." My brain flashes out huge screaming warnings. "Objectively impressive."

Celestia glances away. "I suppose. It had its … awkward moments."

She knows she knows she knows! Only the belief that I wouldn't have been so stupid as to kiss her twice in a row keeps me going. "Oh?" I manage.

She waves a hoof in some vague, meaningless gesture. "Well," she says, "you know how it is. I did something monstrous and you called me on it."

"Yeah, I remember that."


I can't take it. I feel like my head is about to explode. "Did I do anything else awkward?" I blurt out before my brain can stop me.

Oh, road apples.

She freezes. Not a twitch, not a tremble, just one solid wall of unblinking, unbreathing poker face. I wonder exactly how astronomically unlikely my chances are of charging up a Euthanatos before she can speak her voice trigger.

"Oh, Twilight," she says softly, giving me a smile honed by millennia of iron diplomacy. "Why would you be worried about that?"

"Well," I babble, heart hammering, "we've got a lot of work to do, and my friends to save, and Equestria to save, and things being awkward between us would be bad. Because of all the saving. And because I —" my brain, at least, halts me there, saving me from flat-out capitulation — "because I … have a track record of doing stupid things in loops I don't remember, and, and …" I'm not sure whether the tears gathering at the corner of my eyes are genuine or desperate method acting, but I'll take what I can get. "Did I do something wrong?" I whisper.

She stands up from her desk and walks over. I stand there, trembling, as she curls her neck around mine in a thoroughly chaste hug. "Oh, Twilight," she whispers back, in that old familiar voice of heartrending all-encompassing perfection.

I lose it, and start bawling on her shoulder. "I did. Didn't I."

"Twilight," she says firmly, "listen to me." She pulls back and stares directly at me. "I don't remember you doing anything else awkward, I promise. That having been said, clearly you're carrying around some recent guilt, and I don't think that's productive. Isn't the entire point of a time loop that you can try it again and change your actions?"

I sniffle, smear some tears around my cheeks with a pastern, and nod.

"So let's just put the apocalypse — and both our mistakes — behind us, okay?" She gives me a hopeful smile.

Relief floods in. That's right! She's got her own embarrassment to bury. She's sitting here watching me freak out, and she doesn't even care what I did — she's just as anxious to move on as I am.

"Y-yeah," I say, giving her my first genuine smile of the loop. "That sounds like a good idea."

"Wonderful." She returns my smile, staring into my eyes for a moment before her expression falls back to detached focus. She abruptly turns and walks back to her desk. "We have a great deal of saving to do, and we should figure out our plan."

"I'd love to." It'll be good to start moving forward again. Speaking of which … "First, I think we should reset our count back to zero." I chew my lip for a moment, then add unnecessarily: "You know. Symbolism."

She glances down at her scrollwork for a moment, grins, then lights her horn, sweeping it all off her desk.

I chuckle weakly. "You know."

"So, Twilight," she says, "I just reset and replayed this conversation. That gave me a few hours' time this morning to organize all my ideas. I left my notes in between the second and third books on the stained lower shelf nearest your circle. Why don't you reset, do some reading and thinking, and then when you're ready with a plan come find me again and tell me 'Genmaicha'?"

I nod and charge up my horn. I'll make her proud of me. It's the least I can do.

* * *

"Well," Spike says, "that sure didn't work."

On the contrary, that couldn't possibly have gone better. We didn't have to talk about the wrongest kiss ever — and, without even knowing what happened, she agreed to put our … mistakes


"Fffffff–" I hiss, until he walks up to stand in my field of vision and my there's-a-hatchling-in-the-room instincts kick in. "–fffUDGE."

"Are you okay, Twilight?" He prods at my still-smoking body and winces in sympathy. "I —"

"I TOLD her," I yell, sitting up. Spike yelps and winces back. I clasp my hooves to his shoulders and shake. "She didn't remember me doing anything else awkward. Well, that was sure specific! And she was awfully eager to put our mistakes behind us, wasn't she?"

"T-twi-wili-ight w-what d-d-do —"

I stop shaking him and throw my hooves up. "Stupid! Stupid!"

"— y-you." He picks himself up and scrambles backward. "Twilight, you're scaring me."

I walk over to a bookshelf and pound my head against the wood. "I kissed her. I kissed her and I told her about it. I made a rule I wouldn't tell her and I don't even get a single loop in before I break it and now she thinks I'm some sort of monster."

"I. Um." Spike backs away, tapping his claws together. "Did something go wrong with the spell, Twilight? Is this like the time you found that book about holding a seance with the spirits of the stars, and you burned the wrong incense, and you spent the next three hours rolling on the floor, giggling about Mister Moochick and his flutterpony friends?"

"It's nothing like that, Spike! Princess Celestia got a whole bunch of armies to attack Canterlot and destroyed the world with the moon and I got turned on and kissed her."

"… uh-huh." He edges toward the door.

Something clicks. "But she doesn't want me to know she knows."

"Listen, Twilight, I'm going to go get a doctor."

I grab him in my hornglow and haul him back over. "Hang on. Work with me here, Spike. She could have freaked out, or told me how sick I was, or simply said no, but instead she played dumb. Why would she do that?"

He points at the door pleadingly. "Doctor."

"Time loop. Replaying the day. A few loops back you recited to me the poem you've never told anypony about, comparing Rarity to a sapphire." Actually, that was in his diary, which I found by accident behind his basket one day, but the lie is a lot faster than getting sidetracked into justifying my experience. "So hush and focus. Is she trying to preserve my feelings?"

He stiffens and his face goes red. "Glrk."

"Or save me from my shame?"

"I read you the poem?!"

"Or — wait." I blink. "She doesn't want this to color our friendship."

"Oh geez, Twilight. Please don't tell her!"

"Exactly!" I level a hoof at him. "See, now that you know your secret's out, you won't be able to talk with Rarity without some lingering awkwardness. … Of course, her being dead does inhibit conversation, and you won't remember this after I reset, so really, for you the whole point is moot."

Spike stares at me, one eye twitching.

"Anyway, Celestia knows I kissed her, and she doesn't want me. She could have let it linger between us, but instead she tried to give me a second chance." I feel my eyes moisten, and smile. Not the worst outcome, considering how much could have gone wrong discussing why I kissed her. "Thanks for helping me figure that out, Spike."


I stand up. "And now I've gotta do some reading before delivering some tea-based code word to her."

"Wait. What?"

"Well, she told me to go tell her 'Genmaicha', the same way she did with 'Darjeeling' in the teachable loop, for presumably the same purpose — she worked some sort of code out in advance so that she could send herself messages from loops she knows she won't remember. Huh. That's really smart, actually. I should have some of those." I glance at the nearby bookshelf for inspiration. "Like, 'Clover' could mean 'You should trust whatever message she's about to give you,' which would imply 'Platinum' for 'I suspect something's wrong here.' Ooh! And 'Starswirl' for 'The thing I planned to do this loop was really stupid, don't do it again.' I bet that one will get a lot of use."

"I meant, what do you mean, Rarity's dead?"

"Temporarily. Don't worry, you won't remember any of this, only the loop in which we fix things. So I'll just … hang on." The mention of memory reminds me that I was on the way to making a mistake. "I should reset. I've got a lot of reading ahead of me, and if one of them dies before I do, I might not remember the code words I just made up." I kiss Spike maternally on the cheek. "Thank you. You're an awesome rubber duck, and don't ever let anypony tell you different."

"Um. Thanks. I think?"

* * *

Nothing interrupts my reading. Nopony arrives to look for me, and I guess there aren't a lot of ponies — or changelings — interested in obscure theoretical texts during a war.

There are some great ideas in Celestia's notes. One in particular catches my attention. It gives me prep time before needing to face Chrysalis directly — if at all — and lets me do it on my own terms. I don't know whether anything will actually come of it, but it ought to be a good confidence builder after so many loops surrounded by nothing but death.

It's time to start setting this right.

I charge up a Euthanatos, and hastily add two more codewords to my repertoire: "Cookie" for "This loop was uneventful except for me telling Celestia her tea code," and "Puddinghead" for "Something unexpected happened." I guess we'll see how that goes —

* * *

"Well, that sure didn't work," Spike says from an unfamiliar position at my left.

"You will find, young drake, that appearances often deceive," Luna says from somewhere behind me.

The air is cool and musty. There's a quiet background thrum of magical energy, and the ticking of a wall clock. I open my eyes. Wall-mounted magelights illuminate a small windowless room with well-aged brickwork walls, floor, and ceiling. Near the clock — it's breakfast time — are several bookshelves, one of which is occupied by the still-quiescent Elements of Harmony.

I'm lying in the center of a metal filigreed evocation circle permanently inset into the brick. Thick black smoke is curling off my body, and there are a few stray sparks playing at the edge of the circle, but I barely hurt at all.

"Delta-two, T-0 C-0," Celestia says from my right. "Also, cookie."

That's worth the extra few seconds it'll take to remember —

* * *

"Delta-two, T-0 C-0," Celestia says from my right. "Also, cookie."

I sit up. "Delta-two, T-1 C-0, message received and remembered."

A smile plays across Celestia's face as I stand. "Then I believe," she says, "it's time for Operation: Hornet's Nest."