Canterlot Royal Gardens
In some religions, the concept of karma is seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results—good or bad, in this life or the next—by your current actions. Right this second, Twilight was feeling like karma had just hit her upside the head with a baseball bat. She could only stare on dumbfounded, at the two weakened princesses, or more accurately, the one that just told her: You just destroyed the world.
Leave it to Rainbow Dash to jump into the rescue. “Hang on, I don’t care if you are the princess; no pony talks to Twilight that way.” Rainbow ran to Celestia, literally face to face with her, poking the Princess of the Sun with her cyan-blue hooves, anger radiating off her in waves.
Twilight had little time to comprehend this as Rainbow started up again. “All she did was SAVE ME from some reaper pony. How did that destroy the world? If anything that means no one can die. Isn't that the opposite of destroying the world? More like saving it if you ask me.”
“Yes, she saved you, Rainbow Dash. She saved you from your afterlife. You and everypony from that moment on are forever stuck here. Never able to move on, never able to be at peace.” Celestia sighed as she spoke. “You’re trapped forever in that body and can never die, all because Twilight refused to let you go. Yet you do not fully comprehend; you are the exception to what's occurring. I'm not sure why yet but your body is not suffering the rigamortis as the others that die.”
She paused to let that sit in before continuing. “Twilight has learned a lot under my tutelage, however, she has yet to learn that nothing is free, all actions have—”
“Consequences.” Twilight finished the sentence. Rainbow turned to look at her friend, the heartbreak on Twilight's face was self evident. She had indeed ‘destroyed the world’, maybe not physically, but their world, as they knew it, would no longer be. The implications and the cost were drastic.
“What do you mean by Rainbow Dash being the exception?” Twilight asked.
Luna took this question. “For some unknown reason, Rainbow's body is not suffering the rigamortis that is normally brought upon by the passing of life, Rainbow's cells are not degrading at the rate of a normal pony’s. The others that have died are not so lucky, the spark of life is still present in their bodies, but two to six hours after death they become unable to move at all. The long term effects can only be guessed at—which we wouldn’t recommend doing. Based on the few reports we’ve received and our examination of this problem, well, let just say the ramifications are enough to give us nightmares.”
“On top of that,” Celestia added, although she seemed very reluctant to continue her sentence, “I have received some other reports, it’s too early to tell if this is related as the numbers are low right now, but it seems as though every foal born since… since it happened, has not been born alive.”
The concept of the Alicorn of the Night having nightmares frightened Twilight; however, stillborn foals were on a totally different level. In addition, it was her fault. Twilight looked close to breaking at the thought. Rainbow noticed this immediately; the thought of her friend losing it again was too much to bear. She had to stop this before it started.
“No Twilight.” Rainbow ran to her friend and hugged her. “I'm not letting you do this, thanks to you I get to see our friends, I get to watch Scootaloo continue to grow. You didn't know what would happen. Don't blame yourself for this, you had seconds to act and thought you saw a way out of this that was win-win.”
“I don’t,” Twilight spoke in a whisper that would have put Fluttershy to shame. All three set of eyes stared at her with that one.
“What was that?” Luna asked, not out of disbelief but more so from genuine curiosity at what Twilight's reply was.
Luna and Celestia's words cut like a knife, she hadn’t believed the ramifications could be so bad; Twilight had wanted to save her friend, how was that wrong? How was protecting Rainbow from that ‘thing’ the wrong decision? Yes, there were unforeseen ramifications, but when was that not true? There were always unforeseen ramifications to everything. Sometimes they were good, other times, not so much. This was just one of the latter. This was just one more problem, yes, the effects were far reaching, a little bit more than she was used to dealing with, but this was just another issue that she’d deal with.
I’ll set this right and I’ll keep Rainbow alive in the process. Twilight’s resolve surprised even her.
Rainbow Dash’s words tipped the scales in her mind. Twilight's loyal friend: Rainbow, still believed in her, and more importantly, she didn’t hate her. I can fix this; all I have to do is well, what I always do. Plans were beginning to draw up in her mind. She needed to make a checklist. Where’s Spike when I need him?
It was then that a voice carried down the hall into the garden.
“Blazing Spear, let me pass.” The voice had no need to shout, the force of presence it carried was enough to command the attention of everyone who heard it. All four sets of eyes turned to look at the door.
Luna was impressed, Perhaps I should take notes; that’s way more effective than the Royal Canterlot Voice ever was.
“I'm sorry, prince. I'm under orders to ensure the princesses are not disturbed.” Twilight didn’t recognize the voice that spoke. However she knew that it was most likely Blazing Spear's.
“Blazing, there are two types of ponies in this world, the first type are the ones that DO NOT get between me and my sister, and the second are the ones that do. Now, I consider the former to be friends. Do you want to find out what I do to the latter?” Shining Armor replied with his trademark 'give me what I want or I will end you' sentence.
Twilight smiled at that, Shining would be joining them soon, although while that didn’t surprise her, what did was the next voice she heard. “I told you darling, it's best just to get out of the way.” Rarity was here. She dared hope the others were too; she really, really needed her friends right now.
Shining Armor was the first to turn into the garden but not the last. Rarity followed next, followed quickly by Applejack, Pinkie, Spike, and Fluttershy. Twilight had never seen her friends so depressed in her life. With the exception of Shining Armor, they had all been crying.
Shiny still carried his stoic aura, but even that still had some cracks showing through. Fluttershy looked like she flew here; her wings looked awful. Twilight didn’t know how she could even see with her one visible eye so puffy. Spike looked like he was keeping it together, although Twilight could tell it was just a mask for the others, she had known the dragon for all his life, and… and, are those WINGS? She’d want an explanation for that later.
Rarity looked defeated; Twilight didn’t know what had happened, but the mare looked ready to just give up. Pinkie looked horrible, which was ironic because her hair was no longer a mess. Somehow seeing it straight was so much worse than its normal cotton-candy look. Her face looked like someone had sucked every iota of happiness from the poor pony.
Of all her friends, Applejack was the only one who resembled normal. Her stubborn nature allowed her to deal with the worst situations better than the rest, given that later she’d have to deal with her true emotions, but she’d go out of her way to help everyone else first.
It was then that Rainbow realized she was still hugging Twilight, her mind balked at the idea of being caught doing something so uncool. Although, for the first time she could remember, another part of her didn’t want to let go. That’s odd; I never had that sort of idea before. Is it because I’m dead? Eventually the former part of her mind won out, but it was a hard fought battle with many casualties. She doubted it would win again.
Rainbow let go and sheepishly looked at her friends. She watched as tears formed in their eyes while they all stared at her, dumbstruck. “Hey girls, what’s up?” The six beads of eyes looked at Rainbow as if she was a ghost, the silence that filled the room was deafening.
It was Pinkie that first broke the silence, not with anything she said but by starting to vibrate uncontrollably. Spike and Applejack looked at each other with fearful expressions on their face, but one look back at Pinkie and those vanished. The vibrations were causing her frown to turn upside down.
Pinkie was smiling.
Jumping the forty feet from the door to where Rainbow Dash now stood, Pinkie shouted out. “DASHIE!”
Rainbow knew it was coming but let it happen anyway. At least I won't feel it, she thought. Pinkie stopped in the middle of the air seconds before the force of her impact would’ve hit Rainbow. Instead, she slowly landed on her hoofs and hugged her friend.
In Pinky's mile-a-minute talking, Rainbow only assumed she stopped somewhere to take a breath, but she was unable to say where that pause had occurred.
Something Pinkie said caught Twilight's attention but she’d not quite put her hoof on it. The look on Rainbow's face robbed Twilight of any chance to consider what that was. Rainbow gave Twilight a pleading ‘make it stop’ look. While Twilight would normally never insert herself between Pinkie and whatever had her attention at the time—as she was too afraid that it might jump to her, but Rainbow had been through enough that day.
Using her magic, Twilight detached her pink friend and moved her to the side. To Rainbow’s annoyance Pinkie was immediately replaced by five other bodies—apparently not wanting to take turns as they all engaged Rainbow in a group hug with the cyan mare in the middle.
“Thanks girls, really, but can you get off me? It's starting to get embarrassing.” After much longer than Rainbow would have liked, her five friends let go. Each one of them went and stood by Twilight. They were glaring at Rainbow as if they were all concerned over something. If Rainbow had three guesses as to what that was, she would have only needed one.
It was Applejack who finally voiced what they were all thinking, “Rainbow, why are you so cold?”
Rainbow sighed at that; while she knew, logically, she’d have to tell her friends what had happened, that still didn’t make it any easier. “Well…” Rainbow began, rubbing the back of her head with her right hoof while admiring a flower on the ground, “You see, you see I... I…” it was then she felt somepony touch her left hoof.
That's not right, I shouldn't be able to feel anything and I hate ponies touching my hooves, Rainbow thought.
She looked at the interloper. Twilight was holding her hoof and was smiling encouragingly at her friend. That smile gave Rainbow Dash all the confidence she needed. “Pinkie wasn't wrong girls, I am dead.”
Rainbow and Twilight each took it in turn to recant the story, only leaving out the more ‘personal’ stuff that occurred after Twilight woke up; that the truth was important was not in doubt, but not all of it had to be told. The only thing they couldn’t fully explain was Twilight's eyes. Yet she still told them what she could and that the loss of her pupils didn’t matter that much right now. It was something that could wait.
The looks on their friend’s faces spoke volumes: shock, anger, disbelief, hatred, righteous indignation, fear, surprise, and confusion. Twilight gulped at that last one, as the story ended they didn’t seem to know how they felt about it.
It was Fluttershy that broke the stillness; the timid little pegasus walked to Twilight, her one visible eye unreadable, even to Twilight's new senses. When the pegasus was face to face with Twilight, she reached up and hugged her friend with all the strength she could muster.
The timid mare squeaked out, it was then Twilight felt the tears fall on her shoulder; Fluttershy was crying. Soon the rest of her friends hugged her as well. Only Rainbow Dash and Shining Armor didn’t join in, but both looked at Twilight approvingly. My friends are with me, Twilight thought. With their help she felt like nothing was impossible; I can fix this. No, I will fix this! I’ll restore the flow of souls and get things back to normal, and I’ll do it all without losing any of them.
It was several minutes later before the group broke apart, Celestia and Luna both patiently waited for them to finish, some things were worth taking the time for. Between the two sisters, Luna spoke up first. “Do you girls understand the full cost of what has occurred here?”
Applejack turned and looked at the princess. “Here’s what I reckon princess, the changelings attacked, ‘again’. You two were caught off guard, ‘again'. Twilight saved the day, ‘again.’ Then Twilight prevented somepony from taking RD away from us. Everything else, I don’t give a rotten apple core about. Maybe if you two actually did your JOBS this never would have happened.”
Luna jerked back as if visibly struck; to say she wasn’t used to ponies speaking to her like that would be an understatement. The more painful part; however, was that she couldn’t find fault with the stubborn pony’s words; they all had the mark of truth to them. No wonder this pony was the bearer of the Element of Honesty, Luna thought.
“Girls, if you wouldn’t mind, we need to talk to Twilight alone,” Celestia said. All of Twilight's friends exchanged nervous glances with each other. The tension in the room was palpable, and none of them wanted to leave her alone for a second. When they all glanced at Twilight with a look of ‘what do you want us to do’, she sighed. Whatever Celestia wanted to talk about was important and just for her ears. Twilight gestured for them to leave. Slowly, her friends started moving to the door. They each turned and looked back at Rainbow—just to make sure that what they saw was real—before moving around the corner.
There were only two left now.
Shining Armor hugged his sister with liquid pride in his eyes. “I'll be just down the hall if you need anything.”
After Shining Armor turned the corner, Twilight looked at the last holdout; Rainbow Dash was sitting back with her front hooves crossed over her chest. “I’m not going anywhere,” she spoke matter-of-factly.
Twilight looked at her with annoyance written on her face. “Don’t give me that look, egghead. I don’t care who gave the order. After all, what's she going to do? Execute me? Last time I checked laws are for the living.”
Twilight sighed at this; she knew how single-minded Rainbow Dash could be. While she ‘could’ make her leave, she’d never use such measures on a friend. And if she was being honest with herself, she was actually quite glad that Rainbow wouldn’t go. Twilight turned to the doors and shut them with a final push of her magic, announcing to the two others in the room that Rainbow was indeed staying.
“Very well,” Celestia replied. “Rainbow can stay, but I must insist that she does not interrupt, regardless what's said between the three of us.”
Twilight glanced over to her friend, Rainbow slightly nodded her consent to these rules; although Twilight had her doubts that Rainbow would actually obey them for the entire time. She kept those doubts to herself.
“Twilight, when I told you to let go of Rainbow Dash, I was not being atrocious. I know you love all your friends, but I have been alive a lot longer than you. Such actions always have unknown consequences and we’re only starting to feel the effects of it. I don't know how to fix this, but I feel… no, I know that the cost will be high for you,” Celestia said the words with pain in her eyes. It was always hard to deliver such news.
“How do you mean? After everything that I've lost, what more could possibly happen?”
“Twilight, listen, we…” Celestia glanced over to her sister. Luna just nodded for her to continue. “We believe that when the balance is restored, those who should’ve passed, but didn’t, will pass on. All of those who should’ve passed.”
“So you’re telling me that when I fix this, I’ll end up losing…” she couldn’t finish this sentence. Twilight merely glanced over at the pegasus sitting in the corner. Rainbow looked back at Twilight, her expression blank, unreadable. “No.” Twilight spoke with a little more force than she intended.
“Twilight, listen—” Celestia attempted to say before Twilight abruptly cut her off.
Twilight was tired of this conversation, it was far too circular for her liking, she knew their logic was sound, but she didn't care; she would listen to no more of this. The lavender alicorn began to levitate as her anger took hold. Luna and Celestia both looked on in shock; this was Twilight as she was back in the throne room. Twilight was floating off the ground, vertically, her impressive wingspan shot straight up with her feathers pointed outward. A strong purple magical aura surrounded her body with white energy radiated off her eyes.
When she spoke, her voice lost the normal sweet tone it carried, instead it had dropped by several octaves. “No Celestia, you listen.”
Again, Luna had the thought that she really should be taking notes; No wonder the Canterlot Royal Voice fell out of use, it’s irrelevant now.
“I WILL NOT lose one of my friends, this mistake was mine, I’ll fix it, but I’ll fix it my way.” Twilight saw something at that moment, a look on her mentor’s face that she had only seen a few times in her life, and never directed at her: Fear. Celestia was afraid of her. In her view, it changed nothing.
Luna put on her best ‘we are shocked, how dare you' face, but if anyone looked closely, and thankfully no one did, they’d have been able to tell it was a facade. Here was her sister's prized student, the one she had chosen to join them in ruling all of Equestria. For the first time since Luna had met her, Twilight was truly asserting herself. She was a Princess of Equestria; she was their equal—and based on her power, their better. There was no doubting her power, Luna had learned that the hard way when she was transformed from Nightmare Moon, but part of being a princess was learning to trust your own judgment.
Truly, for the first time Luna could remember, Princess Twilight Sparkle was coming into her own. She knew Celly would feel the same, once enough time had passed that is.
“We're done here,” Twilight said. “I vow I’ll fix this myself, and until then I’ll leave damage control to the two of you.” Reversing the finality that she used to start the conversation, Twilight ended it. After she slammed the doors open, the two friends left the Royal Gardens. Turning the corner, Twilight finally put her hooves back on the ground. She was surprised when Rainbow blocked her path.
“Yes, Rainbow?” Twilight said with a sigh, expecting a lecture.
Rainbow Dash did a quick look around, checking to make sure no one was in earshot before saying, “Twilight if you ever try and tell anypony else this, I'll flat out deny it, but you just got a hundred and twenty percent cooler in my book.”
Twilight could only smile at that. Yes, the cost may be high, but for friends like these, I’d willingly pay it twenty times over.