by Daemon of Decay

Chapter 24


Chapter 24

“Twilight? Can you hear me?”

“P-Princess? Princess Celestia, is that you? I’ve been so worried! It’s been weeks since we talked. Please, I need to know what’s happening. I need to know that you’re safe!”

“The shadow… more powerful by the day. We don’t know how much longer we can hold it back.”

“I’m trying my hardest, Princess! But my friends aren’t the same in this world, and every time I make any progress something seems to go wrong.”

“... calm, my faithful student. You will find a way, but you must… quickly and remain strong. You must restore the Elements of Harmony soon… else all will be lost.”

“I can’t go any faster, Princess. My friends… I have so few chances to try and fix what is wrong with them.”

“You will succeed. We believe in you, Twilight. I… in you.”

“No! Princess, please don’t go! I need your help!”

“Contact… soon…”

“Princess, please wait. I don’t want to be alone again. Please! I need you! Princess? Princess?

Twilight sat at the table, staring across the worn surface at the scowling Rainbow Dash, whose arms had yet to uncross. The lines on Rainbow’s face only deepened when she sent a venomous glare in Applejack’s direction. Unspoken tension made the air within the small room thick and humid.

Twilight glanced over at Applejack and Scootaloo as they shared pleasantries and mild gossip. She felt like an awkward child on an arranged playdate between mothers who were closer friends than their children. She resisted the urge to mirror Rainbow’s scowl.

Time to make the best of a bad situation, Twilight told herself, pushing back on her irritation. She ran a hoof over her Smarty Pants doll dangling from her pocket, taking strength from the valuable item. “So, Rainbow Dash. How are you feeling?”


“Are you still sore after your cra-, um, fall?”

Rainbow narrowed her eyes. “No.”

“That’s good,” Twilight said, flashing a smile as she hurriedly changed the subject. “What have you been up to?”


“Have you read any good books recently?”


“Then I can definitely recommend some to you. Have you read the Daring Do series yet? I’m positive you’ll fall in love with them if you’ll just give them half a chance. They’re about this really brave pegasus, see, and she likes to–”

“Books are nnnot cool,” Rainbow said flatly.

“Well, I think books are pretty cool.”

“That’s because you’re not cool.”

Twilight’s mouth snapped shut, her cheeks turning crimson. She glanced down at her hooves as she rubbed them together, chastising herself for her indecisiveness. Stop acting like a shy filly on your first day of school. This is Rainbow Dash. You’ve talked to her a million times before. It doesn’t matter if she’s got a head injury or damaged wings. She’s still the same mare deep down. You know her. You know what makes her tick. So use it!

Twilight straightened up in her seat and affected a casual demeanor. “I heard Rapidfire is the favorite to win the Wonderbolts Derby this year.”

The result was electric. “Rapidfire? Rapidfire?” Rainbow Dash banged a hoof down on the table. “Fleetfoot could fly rings around Rapidfire, any day of the wwweek!”

“Well, Rapidfire did win it last year,” said Twilight as she racked her brain for all the facts and bits of trivia she’d picked up from Rainbow over the years, hoping they were still accurate.

“Exactly! He’s complacent. Lazy! He isn’t hungry enough to win a big contest again. He already won his trophies and his medals, so he doesn’t push himself. But Fleetfoot?” Rainbow Dash smirked. “She’s the one to watch. What she lacks in size she makes up for in speed. I’ll bet you a hundred bits – no, a thousand bits – that she wins the Derby.”

“You sound like quite the fan.”

Rainbow Dash struck a pose. “The biggest! I’ve even got her autograph. She’s totally gonna take over for Spitfire some day. Unless I beat her to it, of course.”

“Really? Her autograph? How did you manage that?”

“I’m a member of the Wonderbolts Fan Club and get the magazine every month. When she got accepted they put a tear-out poster inside, and guess what? It has her autograph on it! It’s on my wwwall right now.” Rainbow Dash brushed back her mane. “Coolest thing in the whole hospital. Besides me, of course.”

“Ah,” said Twilight with a weak grin. “That sounds like a great piece of memorabilia.”

“It is. Everyone is super jealous.” Rainbow eyed Twilight, her expression shifting from antagonism to mild curiosity. “I didn’t think an egghead like you’d be into the Wonderbolts.”

“I’m not their biggest fan, obviously,” Twilight said as she gestured across the table. “Really, I’m just excited to have a chance talk with another fan. Especially one like you, since you know so much more about the Wonderbolts than anyone else here. I think you could teach me so very much. If that’s okay with you.”

A slow smile spread across Rainbow’s features. “Teach, huh? Told ya you were an egghead. Fine, I’ll do it. But pay attention, because I ddon’t want to repeat myself.”

The rest of the hour was spent in a one-sided discussion about the Wonderbolts, the Wonderbolts Derby, the Wonderbolts Reserves, and Rainbow Dash’s plans to join or win all of them once she got out of Broadhoof. She darted from topic to topic like a parasprite, and whatever hope Twilight had of more meaningful conversation quickly drowned beneath the unending torrent of obsessively detailed trivia. Twilight’s smile grew strained as the minutes ticked away.

It finally came to an end when Applejack stood up and announced that it was time to leave. There was a flicker of irritation on Rainbow’s face before the mask of suave disinterest reasserted itself.

“I’ll see you around sometime, egghead,” Rainbow said over her shoulder as she was escorted away.

As Twilight waved goodbye, she allowed herself a moment of self-satisfaction at having moved her friendship forward with another element bearer. Princess Celestia would be proud.

Applejack smiled when she caught Twilight’s eye. “Well, did you two have some fun?”

“I did. Rainbow Dash is exuberant and, well, really focused on the Wonderbolts, but she’s fun to be with. I hope we can spend a little more time together again.”

“It’s nice to see you making friends again, but wouldn’t you rather meet some different ponies?” Despite the neutral tone, Applejack’s meaning couldn’t have been more obvious.

“I don’t think Rainbow is going to attack me with soup anytime soon,” said Twilight with a wink. “Besides, I feel a connection with her. She’s got a good heart.”

“So you remember her, then,” Applejack declared, nodding her head. “How far back do your memories of Rainbow Dash go?”

Twilight gave a noncommittal shrug. “A few years.”

“I’d love to hear more about that. Why don’t we take a few minutes and you can just tell me what you remember?”

Twilight glanced around, noting nearby group of orderlies and the nurses roaming the halls. No. Not yet. It’s still too public. She turned back to Applejack. “Don’t we have to get to our therapy session?”

“Well… yes. Of course. I guess we’ll just talk about it later then.”


The pair of them walked in tandem through hallways filled with patients and staff. There was a dark irony in how Broadhoof was such a bipolar creature in its own right. Like the fuzzy line separating hospital from prison, Broadhoof couldn't decide between order and anarchy. Halls that had been empty as tombs were turned into traffic jams in the rush to shift so many bodies between destinations according to the schedule. It seemed as if every pony in the hospital was moving past them.

Which didn’t make Pinkie Pie’s sudden appearance any less upsetting. Head lowered, eyes on the tiled floor, she plodded along with all the energy and excitement of a funeral procession. She looked like a withered birthday balloon too tired to resist gravity any longer.

Guilt settled heavily on Twilight’s shoulders, made worse by the realization that Pinkie’s group would pass the two of them in mere moments. Still, an apology was out of the question. With Applejack playing the role of siamese twin, any apology would just create uncomfortable questions. No, it’s better to just ignore her for now, Twilight assured herself. They passed one another in silence, so close they almost touched. Besides, she’s Pinkie Pie. She’ll bounce back.

Pushing Pinkie from her mind, Twilight did her best to keep up with Applejack. Having a doctor as a personal escort had some perks, as it turned out. They stepped around a mewling stallion who was ignoring the demands of his tired caretakers to stand up like a big boy, and detoured down one of the hospital’s less clogged arteries.

Once they were clear of the mob and any curious ears, Twilight halted Applejack with a sharp cough. Finally they had some privacy. It was time to get the ball rolling. “Hey, Applejack? I do have something I want to talk about.”

“Is it about whatever happened between you and Pinkie Pie?”

Her question left Twilight doing her best impression of a fish, slack jaw flapping uselessly as she stared, bug-eyed, at the doctor. When she finally found her voice, it was only a hoarse whisper. “W-Why do you think something happened between us?”

“Just because I wear glasses doesn’t mean I can’t see what’s right in front of me.”

Scenarios of betrayal and discovery raced through Twilight’s mind. “Was it Pinkie Pie? What did she tell you?”

“Nobody said anything. Nobody has to. Before I left the two of you were like peas in a pod. Now you don’t sit together at breakfast and ignore each other in the hallways. I don’t need a fancy degree to diagnose two friends having themselves a disagreement.”

The relief that her theft was still unknown was replaced by the fear of revealing something that might still sabotage her plans. “It’s nothing. And it’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Nothing my left hoof. Two friends in trouble is certainly something. Tell me what happened.”

“I don’t want to talk about it!” Twilight said, the desperation to change the topic lending her voice a harsh edge.

“Telling me to mind my own business when something’s wrong doesn’t work with Apple Bloom, and it ain’t gonna work with you either. It’s plenty obvious from where I’m standing that the both of you are not happy. Now, if you really don’t want to talk about it, I can talk to Pinkie Pie first.”

“No!” shouted Twilight, her hairs on end at the thought of what an upset Pinkie Pie might reveal on her own. “I mean, that won’t be necessary. We just had an… argument over the weekend.”

“That much is obvious. What was the argument about?”

“A disagreement. About a game we were playing. I wanted to do something, she wanted to do something else, and it… escalated.”

One of Applejack’s eyebrows arched upwards in obvious doubt. “A game?”

Twilight sighed, picking her words with care. “Yes. We were playing make believe. We had a difference in opinion about what we should do, and it ended with some angry and poorly chosen words.”

“From the look on Pinkie’s face, I suspect those angry words were a bit one sided.”

Warm shame colored Twilight’s cheeks. “Sort of. I was upset and I… might have shouted. But I didn’t mean to!”

“We never mean to yell at those we care about. That doesn’t keep it from happening. And it doesn’t keep it from hurting. Have you tried to apologize yet?”

“No. She ran off before I could explain.” Applejack frowned, earning another sigh from Twilight. “You’re right, that’s no excuse. I know what I did was wrong, and I shouldn’t have acted that way. But apologizing isn’t easy – especially when we know that we’re at fault.” She cleared her throat, pulling back on her emotion to focus back on her goal. “But then, I’ve been really distracted lately by this stuff I need to talk to you about.”

“You don’t need to wait until you get into an argument with your friends before trying to get something off your chest,” Applejack said. “You know can trust me with anything, right Twilight? Doctor-patient confidentiality means what you say doesn’t go beyond these walls.”

“I can’t talk about this when it’s just the two of us. It’s too important for that. Too important to me. Is there any way you could arrange a meeting with us and Rarity together?”

Applejack’s face creased in minor confusion as she pulled a small planner from one of her pockets. She opened it up to a dog-eared page. “You’re already scheduled to meet with her Friday.”

“Can we meet tomorrow too? It’s very important.”

“I’ll try. Rarity’s always generous with her time. Well, when she can be.” Applejack checked the schedule again. “We should be able to arrange something for Wednesday or Thursday, though we’ll have to cut into your free period to make it fit.”

“That’s fine! Really. I just want to have you both there. You know, as a group.”

“Yes, I get it,” Applejack said with a laugh, pocketing her planner. “I’ll make sure to get something set up for you. But you need to do something even more important first.”

“What is it?”

“You need to apologize to Pinkie Pie. We can end up hurting our friends even when we don’t mean too, but friendship is too special, too wonderful, to let it get ruined by one argument. I don’t want to see Pinkie lose her only friend to a disagreement about a game. So you need to promise me that you’ll apologize to her.”

Twilight glanced down and rubbed a foreleg softly. “Okay. I promise, I’ll talk to…” Blinking, Twilight lifted her head. “What do you mean ‘only friend’?”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Applejack said with a blush. “The whole staff love her to death. But I don’t want to see you pushing her away right now. She needs to have a friend her own age too.”

Brow furrowed, Twilight slowly nodded as she answered. “Alright. I’ll… talk to her after dinner.”

“I know you will, Twilight. You’re a good girl.” Applejack’s warm smile was a flash of sunlight on a cloudy day, far removed from the forced, sterile grins the staff seemed trained to wear. For a moment she could have been back on the farm, happy and fulfilled in a life she didn’t remember. The smile faded. “By the way, since you wanna meet Rarity so badly, why don’t you tell me about what you remember about her?”


The other mare flinched but refused to turn around. Instead, she leaned a bit further over the table, not looking up the jumble of frayed and faded jigsaw puzzle pieces strewn across it.

“Pinkie, please, we need to talk,” Twilight continued as she moved to the other side of the table and took a seat.

Pinkie nosed a few pieces around the table, saying nothing. Twilight paused and looked back over her shoulder. Doctor Applejack leaned against the wall across the room, far enough to give them privacy but near enough to intervene if necessary. She nodded encouragingly when she caught Twilight’s eye and gestured for her to go on.

Twilight turned back to Pinkie. “I know we had some… strong words this weekend, and I wanted to say I was sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. I was caught up in the moment and we were so close to finding what we needed and I… lost control. I let my emotions take over. You… you were right, and I was wrong, and I should have been able to see that.”

Slowly, Pinkie Pie lifted her gaze upwards.

“Look, I’m trying to apologize,” said Twilight, shame coloring her cheeks under the silent scrutiny. “I’m sorry for what happened. I’m sorry what I did.”

Pinkie’s whispers were as dry and fragile as fallen leaves. “You’re a bad pony.”

Twilight flinched. “What?”

“You tricked me into doing something I didn’t want to. You stole something from Doctor Rose. And you hit me. You didn’t used to do that. Whatever Doctor Rose did to you made you all different and stuff, and now… now you’re a bad pony.”

“Now Pinkie Pie, you can’t really believe that,” Twilight said as she collected herself. “We’re best friends, remember? We’re fighting to save Equestria. We’re the good guys.”

Pinkie lowered her head to rest it on the edge of the table. She glanced away. “I don’t like fighting this evil shadow. I liked it better when we were knights. That was more fun.”

“When we were knights?”

“When I was Lady Pinkie of the Order of Pie, and you were Princess Sparkle, the Wizard in the Tower, and we fought monsters and saved stallions in distress and had fun,” Pinkie said with a wistful sigh. “You never got angry then. Can’t we go back to doing that?”

Twilight just stared back at her, mouth agape. Slowly she leaned forward to rest her hooves on the table, eyes narrowing as she did so. “Pinkie. Have you believed anything I’ve told you about what’s going on?”

“Of course I believe you! You’re my bestest friend, and bestest friends never lie! It’s just… we used to be knights, and scientists, and librarians. We had fun. But ever since this shadow thing turned up, everything has changed. Now you’re lying to the doctors, and sneaking into offices, and getting all meany-face, and it’s just not the same! I don’t think this shadow pony thing is changing your friends. I think it’s changing you, making you a bad pony. My Twilight wouldn’t yell or lie or steal or hit me!” Tears threatened to burst free when she finally glanced up. “I want my Twilight back.”

Twilight circled the table before taking a seat beside the sullen Pinkie Pie. “You’re right. I’m not the Twilight you knew. She’s a dream that never happened. It’s all part of the same illusion that holds my friends and I here. Everything they’ve accomplished, everything they were, has been wiped away. I need to remind them that they are the Elements of Harmony so we can fix all this.”

“But why should I believe you? My Twilight could be the real Twilight and you could just be a big fakey phony inside her head. You could be making her do all this bad stuff.” Pinkie sighed. “I should just tell Doctor AJ about the whole thing.”

Cold alarm shimmied up Twilight’s neck. Fighting to keep her expression neutral, Twilight reached out to grip Pinkie’s hoof. “You’ll believe me, because deep down you know it’s true. Despite whatever power this shadow has, it can’t suppress the Elements of Harmony entirely. They’re all still there, still trying to be who they know they truly are.”

“You know I’m speaking the truth, Pinkie Pie, because you are the Element of Laughter, and your whole life has been an attempt to cheer other ponies up and plant a spark of joy in their hearts.”

“I’m not one of your Elements,” Pinkie replied stiffly. “That’s just silly. I’m not a hero that’s gonna save all of Equestria. I’m just a normal pony.”

“You are far from just a normal pony. And I can prove it, too,” said Twilight with a kind smile. “I remember a story you told me about a sick filly named Clover. Do you remember?”

“Of course I do. It’s when I got my cutie mark.”

“Exactly. You saw a sad pony that needed cheering up, and you couldn’t hold back. You did what you could to give her one good day, one memorable moment when she had nothing to worry about except having a good time. Even though you were just a child in a hospital bed you still managed to throw a party that everyone talked about for years.”

Twilight leaned forward as she gripped Pinkie’s hooves in her own. “That’s just what the Pinkie I know would do. You want to help other ponies no matter what. You’re a good pony. And you’re not just the Element of Laughter, Pinkie. You’re my best friend.”

Pinkie smiled despite the doubt still flickering in her eyes. "I know. You're my bestest friend too. But the shadow... changed you." She trailed off, nibbling on her lower lip. She looked tired.

Twilight paused, staring into Pinkie's innocent blue eyes, and inwardly grimaced before giving an answer. "You know what, Pinkie? You're right again. This is how the shadow is working against me. For each of us there's a different challenge, but this is mine. That's why I need your light, your laughter. I need you to be my conscience, to make sure I don't forget myself and turn into a bad pony. Please Pinkie. you’re the only friend I have left right now. Please stay with me."

As planned, the words struck an obvious chord with Pinkie Pie. She gave a wavering nod. “I… can do that.”

“I know you can, Pinkie.” Twilight opened her arms wide, motioning for Pinkie to do the same.

The last of Pinkie’s doubt evaporated in a flash. With eyes clenched tight against her tears, Pinkie pushed herself forward and embraced Twilight in a deep hug. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean what I said about you!”

“You have nothing to be sorry about. I’m the one that’s sorry. I should never, ever, have treated you like that,” she said, putting on a show of embracing her friend for Applejack’s benefit. Holding the apologetic Pinkie in her arms, Twilight silently exulted in her success.

The two of them pulled away slowly. Pinkie wiped a few errant tears from her cheeks as she smiled back at Twilight. She had the relieved look of someone who had just confessed their transgressions and been forgiven, as if she had been the one at fault the whole time. Twilight made no move to correct her.

Twilight turned towards the table, changing the topic to the puzzle Pinkie had been working on, helping to ease her down from such an emotional high. She began moving pieces about, helping Pinkie sort them into neat stacks organized by shape and color.

Pinkie tried to slip back into her cheerful mask, giving Twilight a tentative glance after every simple joke. She beamed whenever Twilight lent her an indulgent smile, flourishing beneath her friend’s approval. The smile wavered only for a moment when Twilight began to whisper in her ear.