Getting to Coneigh Island on hoof could be a bit of a trip, but it could usually be managed within an hour.
Usually, however, the city was not overgrown with hazardous vines. The six found themselves repeatedly forced to detour and backtrack. For some time the journey was layered with silence, everybody just taking in the sights around them.
“Hey, Auntie,” Ditzy spoke up, “what’s a cinema?”
The group slowed to a stop, and Pinkie did a dizzyingly fast about-face. “You’ve never been to the movies before?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“Uh... no, should I have?” The cross-eyed mare looked a little uncomfortable. “I’ve never even heard that word before.”
Taking a step toward Ditzy, Sherbet shrugged. “There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a little surprising. Cinema has become popular in Manehattan lately. Is it only a local trend?”
“It’s not,” Pinkie clarified. “We’ve got movie theaters in Ponyville, too.”
“It’s probably Ditzy’s Equestria that doesn’t have them,” Spike ventured.
Pinkie’s expression slowly transitioned down from the look of somepony who had just heard an unbelievable story to that of one who had just been told her entire life was a lie. “What! An entire world without movies? That’s crazy!”
Auntie brushed this reaction aside without comment and smiled at the pegasus. “Well, essentially,” she began, “a cinema is a place that displays films for an audience, and a film is a series of pictures taken and shown rapidly to look like a single image moving on a screen.” She studied the building for a moment. “I believe this one is showing a comedy starring Eric Bridle. But why did you want to know?”
Ditzy turned and gestured to a building with a line outside of it. More lights were on outside this building than anywhere else on the street, including a giant sign that read “CINEMA”. “It’s this,” she said. “Seeing this was weird enough… they’re just wasting electricity with all those lights… but it’s just something to watch? Some silly moving pictures? I thought the ponies here were broke. What are they doing spending all their money here?”
Those words caught Pinkie’s attention, and she recovered from her shock. “Oh, Ditzy, don’t you get it?” She patted the blonde on the back. “Times like this are exactly when ponies need a good laugh. If they lost that, they might just give up!”
Octavia gave a nod of assent. “It’s true, performing to lift the spirits of those in need is something my classmates did quite often in Canterlot,” she added. “I… can’t say I have much experience myself, but I’ve been taught this is always the way in the hardest times.”
“Oh, I see,” Ditzy replied. She stepped forward again, motioning for the rest to continue. “We’d better hurry, then. The sooner we fix it, the less they’ll need the distraction, right?”
There were fewer ponies in the street the farther they went. There were also fewer businesses open. If the remaining storefronts had looked run-down and foreboding at the center of Manehattan, the ones they passed now were simply desolate. Even those still in operation had broken windows and nervous clerks who gave them looks of outright terror. Most were simply empty, nearly destroyed by looting. Seeing the city in this state was the eeriest experience Sherbet could place in recent memory. And thanks in part to Discord, that bar had been set pretty high.
As they traveled, she thought about what they were walking toward. “Now might be a good time to tell you who we’re looking for,” she offered. “There’s an old friend of mine, a unicorn named Lovestruck, who runs a shooting gallery at Coneigh Island. She’s the first friend I made when I moved to Manehattan. It’s strange to think of her like this, robbing and looting.”
“So… what does a high society mare like you have in common with a carny?” Spike asked, curious.
The mare considered this for a minute. “Honestly? I think the main reason we became friends is that we both… well, we used to enjoy playing matchmaker.”
“Seriously?” Pinkie broke into giggles at the idea. “That sounds like fun! I’ve always wanted to know how you make matches! How do you put the fire into the little sticks and wrap it up?”
Behind her, Octavia sighed loudly.
“And you think she’s an Element,” Ditzy cut in. “Which one? Why?”
“Well,” Sherbet replied, thinking carefully, “I would say most likely Loyalty, Kindness, or Generosity. The mare I know is a trusted confidant to her friends, and always handles visitors gently. But the evidence in this world suggests that at one time, she was using her life savings to maintain an aid network throughout the city. I suppose my old friend is generous herself, in a more personal way.” She chuckled softly. “She loves to give away prizes, even to ponies who don’t play her game. She tells me she just likes the smiles on foals’ faces.”
The pegasus mulled that over. “She sounds pretty nice. Now I’m a little worried...”
It was natural to worry in this situation. Sherbet was well aware that Lovestruck was not only a virtuous mare, but also an especially clever and skilled one. And now they were meant to find her, whether she wanted them to or not. Could they even manage it?
It would likely have been nightfall when they reached the amusement park, had day and night still been meaningful concepts in this universe.
“I’ve never seen this place empty before,” Sherbet noted.
“I wish I weren’t seeing it now,” Spike replied. Like the rest of the city, Coneigh Island had suffered the ravages of time, and looked more like something out of a horror story than a place ponies would ever have gone to have fun. There were no lights, no smell of popcorn or cotton candy or funnel cake or the world-famous Coneigh Island carrot dogs, no sounds except their own hooves, and the colors were all faded. Many of the big attractions looked like they had pieces of them chipped away. Oddly, the area seemed mostly free of vines, though it was unlikely to stay that way.
“I want to file a complaint with my travel agent,” Pinkie quipped halfheartedly.
That was the last of the talking as they moved through the dilapidated park. They were all a little too uneasy to speak up. Once in a long while, a sound from somewhere would catch Sherbet’s attention, and she would stop to look, but when she spotted nothing, she would assume it was her imagination.
The businessmare considered carefully. The easiest way to find the thief would be to find her cache of stolen goods. If she wasn’t there, she would come. But where would they be? Perhaps a hall of mirrors? It seemed a bit cliché. No, she had to think about this carefully.
Again she heard the sound, and looked around. What was making that noise? It sounded like water splashing.
Nothing presented itself, so she considered the objects around her. A rollercoaster that looked unsafe, but not necessarily inoperable. Could the loot be hidden somewhere on the track? A carousel that was more nightmarish than anything she had ever encountered. She certainly hoped it wasn’t there, because she wasn’t sure she dared approach. Empty food stands, containing long-rotted popcorn. These were unpleasant, but not particularly viable as hiding places.
A shooting gallery drew her eye. Some crossbows, looking slightly rusted but otherwise workable, lay on the counter. Of course, anything involving archery could contain the answer. She beckoned for the others to follow and approached. Nothing happened when she took the bow in her hoof and reached under the counter for the suction-tipped bolts. She fired a few experimental shots at the targets, but the only response was the sound of the ammunition hitting. Even a perfect bullseye failed to reveal anything.
Pinkie Pie bounced energetically forward to try it herself. She took the crossbow and loaded it—with all of the bolts at once, which would almost certainly cause it to fail spectacularly—and, before anypony could say anything, she fired in the general direction of the targets. To Sherbet’s amazement, every single bolt struck a bullseye, and…
“I thought this would be the place,” Sherbet sighed, turning around to review what was left.
There was another splashing sound now. This time, when she looked, she found the source; Pinkie Pie had entered the shooting gallery, where she was peering into a tub of water that contained some floating targets. Her hoof splashed against the surface rhythmically.
“Pinkie,” Octavia wearily asked, “what are you doing?”
“Well, I thought there might be something hidden in the water,” the pink one explained. “It doesn’t look like there is, though.”
“Then why are you still doing it?” Spike pressed. “It’s kind of distracting.”
The sound was actually helping Sherbet. Something was coming together in her mind. “I think I know where to go,” she announced.
“Really?” Pinkie stopped and turned around, curious.
The businessmare nodded. “Almost certainly. So the first thing to do is… partner up, everypony.”
Pinkie saluted and grabbed Rainbow Dash around the waist to draw her close, somehow producing a squeak like a rubber ball. Spike edged toward Ditzy, and Octavia, nodding, approached Sherbet.
At Sherbet’s guidance, the group advanced through the carnival, through twisting rows of tents and rides. The sound of running water grew louder as they pressed forward. Sherbet sighted the destination and walked ahead, up a set of smooth stone stairs, halting at the top and looking down.
A canal had been built here, the water still flowing through it. Somepony had taken care to maintain the equipment that kept it running in a circle. That was it, then. She’d found the place.
“Everypony,” Auntie announced, turning to those following her, “we’re close to the end of this.” She gestured to a line of small boats, waiting for any passengers. “Be careful. This world is strange, and I’m not entirely sure what to—”
“Ooh, me first!” Pinkie shouted, dragging her pegasus partner toward the first boat with lightning speed. Dash made a feeble “awp” of protest, but settled in as the boat started moving.
The elder mare raised an eyebrow as she watched them go. “...expect,” she finished. “Well, that’s one group.”
“I’m up next,” Spike volunteered. “I can try to stop any traps with my magic, so hopefully you won’t have to deal with them.” He and Ditzy trotted to the second boat, leaving Octavia and Sherbet to take the third. One by one, the boats all floated into the heart-shaped passage.
The tunnel was nearly pitch-black inside. This wasn’t an electrical failure, but rather part of the design. To her right, Sherbet could just barely make out the shape of her companion.
“You know me, don’t you?”
Sherbet hadn’t quite been expecting the musician to speak up so suddenly. “I’m sorry?” she replied, uncertain.
“Your own universe’s Octavia,” the gray pony clarified. “You seem very familiar with her. And I must confess I’m curious.”
“Oh!” Sherbet nodded, though she doubted the motion would even register in the dark tunnel. “Yes, I count her among my close friends. She’s an admirable mare, really.”
“Is that so?” Octavia shifted slightly, causing the boat to creak a little. “She’s advanced far in her career, then?”
For a moment, Auntie nearly laughed. “Well, certainly, I would say she’s one of the finest neoclassical musicians in Equestria. She’s even a favorite of the Princess… although the popular venues seem to be losing interest in the genre. But that wasn’t what I meant.”
“Then what did you mean?”
“I was referring to her kindness,” Sherbet clarified. “She’s always made every effort to comfort and inspire those who need it. That passion absolutely carries through her music.”
“Oh. I see.” Octavia’s voice sounded a little uncertain. “So she’s always been kind, never made any mistakes?”
“I didn’t say that.” The older mare stared off into the dark. “We all make mistakes. I shouldn’t say too much about it—I wasn’t there at the time, after all—and these are private matters, but, well, you are the same pony, so I doubt it would hurt if you knew—she was once something of a bully. Apparently, a friend of hers helped her to become a better mare. It’s in the past, and so nobody really dwells on it.”
“A friend?” Octavia lowered her voice. “It wasn’t Trixie, was it?”
Now Sherbet did laugh. “Oh, no, no. Trixie has helped her in other ways, surely, but it was a childhood friend, one Vinyl Scratch, many years before we met her.”
“Vinyl, really?” The musician sounded surprised. The businessmare could feel her eyes asking for more. “I didn’t think she was the sort of pony I would have known back then. How is their friendship now?”
“She had a bit of trouble to work out with Vinyl, but they’re still excellent friends.”
“That’s a relief. What about Pageturner?”
“Who?” Sherbet gave the darkness an inquiring look. “I can’t say I’ve ever heard the name.”
“No?” There was a moment of heavy silence. “Well, what about Fluttershy, then?”
That name was easier. “Oh, we met Fluttershy once. She’s actually an old friend of Blossomforth’s, but an admirable mare all the same.”
“And what of Lyra Heartstrings?”
“Hm, Heartstrings… I believe she was the mare who—”
“Everypony hit the deck!” Pinkie interrupted from somewhere in front of them.
A tug at Sherbet’s leg confirmed the urgency of the order, and she dropped to the bottom of the boat, covering her head with her forehooves. A moment later, she could feel a light breeze on her back as dozens of objects whizzed by over her head.
“An arrow trap,” she gasped. “It’s hard to believe that she would resort to such a thing.”
Octavia gave Sherbet a hoof up. “It seems like something out of a Daring Do novel,” the musician noted, her voice shaking a little.
“She would be mortified if she heard you say that,” the older mare muttered. Her own tension was as restrained and focused as she could manage at the moment. She scanned the walls for any more lurking dangers, as futile as the gesture was.
“Wait, who said what about Daring Do?” Rainbow Dash called from in front of them.
Auntie shook her head. “Didn’t I tell you? She’s the Element of Honesty in my world.”
After a moment of silence, there came the sound of creaking and splashing, which was almost certainly caused by the pegasus climbing up onto the back of her boat to try and see the others behind her.
“Are you serious?” she shouted back. The creaking increased, along with surprised protests from the other mare sharing a boat with her. “I’m, like, her biggest fan! But what’s she doing in Manehattan? That’s a little unbelievable, if you ask—what is it, Pinkie?”
A light flared up ahead in the darkness. The pale glow left an uncomfortable feeling in Sherbet’s gut. Distant music drifted into the tunnel, barely carrying over the sound of the water below them. Any other sound fell away into silence. Steadily, the music grew louder. As the boats drifted into the brightened space, a gasp rose from the group.
In a space off to the right, a treasure trove had been amassed that rivaled any dragon’s hoard. It must have been more than half of the city’s wealth.
And there, atop the mountain of glittering gold, a cloaked pony stood, aiming a longbow at Sherbet.
“I figured somebody would find me eventually,” the mare called down to them before any of the six could speak. “But you’d better keep going and just forget you saw anything, because right now, this isn’t a tunnel of love, it’s a shooting gallery.”
“Wait,” Sherbet responded. “Lovestruck, do you remember me? Your friend Sherbet? I’m here to—”
“You’re here to take back what’s yours, right?” Lovestruck laughed. “Not one of you high-and-mighty businessponies could ever be my friend. You could have saved the city, but you tried to hold onto what you had. Well, guess what! When the city sank, you went down with it!”
As she finished speaking, she drew three arrows from her cloak with a faint green magical aura. She unleashed all three of them in quick succession as she spun around and leapt for an opening in the wall behind her.
Several voices shouted in alarm as the arrows found their marks. Each pierced the bottom of a boat, allowing water to pool under their hooves. In seconds, all three boats had sunk to the bottom, only the large heart-shaped backs still visible. Pinkie flailed about dramatically, head barely above the surface. The other earthbound ponies stood blinking in the now thigh-deep water, while the pegasi hovered, bemused, overhead.
“Okay, see, all of this is officially not cool,” Rainbow Dash commented, picking Pinkie up and setting her down on dry land. Ditzy did likewise for Spike, while Octavia and Sherbet pulled themselves out of the river.
Rallying themselves, the ponies looked around the brightly-lit space. In the short time they’d been distracted, the entire roomful of treasure had vanished.
The hooded figure ducked around a corner. It had been a simple matter to lose her pursuers. Keeping to the shadows, she glanced behind her. She’d have a few more surprises ready when they caught up. She faced forward again, and immediately, her vision was filled with pink.
“Hi! You know, Sherbet told me a little about you—oh, um, I mean Auntie, that’s what she told us to call her, but you know, I just really like the sound of Sherbet, don’t you? Sherbet, Sherbet, Sherbet! Ooh, just talking about it makes me really crave something cold and sweet!” Pinkie Pie chattered excitedly.
Lovestruck reeled back a few steps. Above, there was a shout of “There she is!” A moment later, Rainbow Dash was in a full dive. Hearing her call, the others rallied together, and the chase was on.
The thief was well-prepared for this, taking hidden paths one after another, but she couldn’t lose them for long. One way, she’d find her path blocked by Pinkie again. Another, the pegasi would spot her. The shadows offered precious little protection from Spike’s light spells, and she couldn’t move quietly enough to escape Octavia’s well-trained ear. And all the while, Sherbet barely broke a trot as she worked to predict her friend’s moves.
They chased her through the gate to the Coneigh Island Wonderbolt ride. “Please wait,” Auntie called out. “We just want to talk. This is all so horribly wrong…”
The mare spat as she turned. “Look at you all, so self-righteous,” she growled, backing away from them and flaring her magic. “You won’t change my mind. I’m done giving this city what it needs, now it gets what it deserves.”
“The city can be better,” Sherbet replied. “It can be fixed, but first you have to—”
Before she could finish that thought, the ride’s cars passed by in a flash. Lovestruck was no longer anywhere to be seen.
“What? We’ve got to chase her around an abandoned roller coaster that’s probably falling apart?” Rainbow Dash shouted. “That’s… that’s just… awesome!”
As the next set of cars rolled up and stopped, it occurred to Sherbet that she had no idea whether or not the pegasus was being sarcastic.
They scrambled into the cars, and Spike remotely activated them. The ride began with a few small hills that they rolled over easily, gaining momentum on the dips. When they reached the top of the first big climb, they could just barely spot Lovestruck’s car atop a hill at the other end of the ride. This gave them a perfect view when she leapt out, landing on the wooden tracks.
Impulsively, Rainbow Dash left her seat, dragging Pinkie along with her. The two stared down the thief, while the rest scrambled to get free of their own seats. Together, they began their charge, the pegasus flying straight while her companion hopped along the tracks beside her.
Halfway to their destination, the pink one halted in midair for a moment, seemingly held aloft by her tail as it twitched uncontrollably. When it concluded and she landed, the boards under her immediately gave way. Pinkie fell through the hole with a surprised yelp, reaching back for the edge. “Fly, you foals,” she urged the rest of the group, before that, too, splintered under her weight.
The remaining four crowded around the hole. Inspecting, they saw that Pinkie had landed on a lower track. “Are you okay?” Ditzy called out. “Need help?”
The unflappable partymare sprung to her feet, shaking herself off. “Oh, I’m just fine,” she replied. “In fact, here comes Lovestruck.”
Cyan hooves had just snatched at thin air. The cloaked pony now charged down the lower track, leaping over Pinkie in a quick motion. Auntie barely had time to react to the flash of green crossing her vision. She hopped down beside Pinkie, her hooves just brushing the hem of the cloak as she fell. She took chase, but she could see that neither herself nor Ditzy beside her was fast enough to overtake Lovestruck.
It looked certain that the fleeing pony would get away, until a magic barrier sprung up in her path. Spike hopped into view in front of her, having prepared to block her escape route. This was only a momentary deterrent, however. The mare turned to her left, and hopped onto the track’s supports. Nimbly, she made her way through this artificial forest.
Rainbow Dash had come back around now, and lunged, but missed by inches as the target abruptly changed direction, using the pegasus as a stepping stone to continue. The other ponies fanned out to try to surround the unicorn.
Octavia dropped down from above. She ended up straddling two supports, her quarry narrowly escaping. At about the same moment, Ditzy swooped in, and accidentally ended up tackling Octavia, landing them both on a different track.
The businessmare observed all this, but did little. She wasn’t going to catch Lovestruck, and she knew it. The others were clearly all faster than she was, and while she could guess where her old friend might run to, this was a melee, hardly something she could predict. As such, she didn’t feel particularly obligated to keep her focus strictly on the fight. When she heard the rumbling sound behind her, it instantly got her attention.
With due haste, Sherbet grabbed the two other ponies who hadn’t left the track yet and leapt blindly, landing on a support beam that she was relieved to find could hold their combined weight. Spike and Pinkie both grunted at the impact as behind them, the coaster screamed by.
The yellow mare took a moment to catch her breath. This was unbelievable. One of them could be killed in this mess, struggling against a pony she normally trusted implicitly. It had to end immediately.
So how could she end it? She needed to work through this from the beginning. The goal was to get Lovestruck to join them. They couldn’t get her to stand still without shooting arrows at them. Thinking about it, she realized that was irrelevant. What they came for had nothing to do with capture, it had just sort of become that way when they actually met her.
Auntie turned her attention to the mare again. Rainbow Dash was, at least, fast enough to prevent her from leaving the ride, but she was still far from being caught. Spike attempted to throw up a magical shield, but it backfired, as Lovestruck slipped over it easily while the pegasus behind her careened straight into it.
The coasters were still screaming about. Sherbet ducked her head and covered her ears as one rolled by over her head. When she looked up again, she froze in horror. The track above was bulging downward from the weight of the cars. Meanwhile, Lovestruck was headed straight toward her. The unicorn’s jump took her across the track directly under the hole Pinkie had fallen through. And as she landed, the wood above her began to fail spectacularly.
Sherbet had experienced very few moments in her life when time seemed to slow down. Once when her hotel was being flooded. Twilight Sparkle falling off the Equine’s Gait Building. A particularly painful moment some years back that had left her a bit lighter. Those all played in her mind at double speed in this particular instance. She wasn’t sure anything had moved at all in the last hour, but she knew it would, and she knew more or less where everything would be at the end of it.
She only hoped that she would be intact at that point.
Her body lurched forward, a hoof outstretched as her friend stared in wide-eyed shock. One beam, then another, passed under her. She launched herself from the final support with a twisting motion, spinning in midair to alter her course just enough. She impacted the carny, pulling her from her spot and away.
They touched down hard, Sherbet on her back, the breath knocked from her lungs, and the stunned Lovestruck on top of her. The entire track shook beneath them as the cars plummeted to the ground.
For all she knew, the ringing in her ears would be permanent. On the other hoof, she had half expected to be dead right now. Her hearing loss seemed to have bought her own life and her friend’s.
The weight on top of her disappeared as the cloaked pony scrambled up, and immediately pulled her off the ground. That was helpful of her. Auntie wasn’t sure if she could have stood on her own at that moment. Her back felt like it had been scraped by a runaway train.
With that thought, she blacked out.
“How’s she doing?”
The words floated to her as through a foot of water.
“Well, she’s better than she was. She actually looks happy. Maybe she doesn’t even know anything happened.”
“She’s lucky. At her age, something like that could have killed her instantly.”
The voices… every moment they seemed clearer, and more familiar. After a few seconds, she became aware of more ponies in the background. One seemed to be sobbing. Another yawned, loud and drawn out.
“She should be waking up soon. I don’t think there’ll be any permanent damage, but be careful. She’ll probably have trouble walking for a while.”
It felt odd to be listening to this conversation after abruptly becoming aware that it was about her. Sherbet decided this was the most convenient moment to let them know that she was, in fact, waking up. She turned her head and stretched her legs, slowly blinking her eyes open.
The first thing she saw was Mosely’s face.
“Is it over?” she asked. “Did I make it back...?”
With a sigh of relief, he patted her hoof. “Yes, you certainly did. Do you need help to get up? I don’t think anypony would blame you if you would rather stay in bed.” He bowed his head and fell silent.
This was her first clue that she was in a room. She realized that she could feel the thin bedsheet draped over her, and see the pallid walls that were meant to make ponies feel comfortable, but at the moment just made her think of sickness. She shook head, twisting awkwardly as she tried her hooves. “I’ll be alright,” she said, taking a quivering step forward.
A hoof caught her as she stumbled. Glancing to her left, she saw Rainbow Dash supporting her.
“Hey, uh, you okay, Auntie?” the pegasus asked.
Sherbet took a deep breath, then nodded. “Yes, I do believe I am.” She took a moment to get used to standing again. “What about you? Are you certain you’re alright?” she asked, noting the darkening around the prismatic mare’s eyes.
“Eh, I’ve had worse than a few blasts in the face. You’re the one who nearly got herself cut in half.”
With strict tact, Auntie nodded. “I should be able to walk on my own in a minute. Where are the others?”
Rainbow gestured to the door. “Waiting outside. The hotel was the only place we could think to bring you after the crash. I don’t think any of them dared to leave you alone.”
With Dash’s help, the older mare made her way out to the hallway. as soon as they had cleared the doorway, the pegasus held out a hoof and blocked a pink blur hurtling toward them.
“Not now, Pinkie,” she scolded. “Take it easy. She needs a little time.”
Pinkie nodded sheepishly. “Right. But she’s okay! This is great! I should throw her a congratulations-on-getting-better-after-being-hit-by-a-runaway-roller-coaster party before we have to get back to saving the world!”
Dash and Sherbet looked to each other, then back at the party pony, incredulous. Behind her, Octavia massaged her own temple.
On their other side, Ditzy shifted nervously. She was attempting to comfort another pony, a light pink unicorn, only a shade or two from being milky white.
Lovestruck looked just like the one from Sherbet’s world, but perhaps a bit more time-worn. The fatigue of over a year on the run had added a wrinkle or two. Her cloak was nowhere to be seen. Just beyond, Spike stood at attention, keeping a careful eye on her. Lovestruck trembled slightly as she stepped around Ditzy to meet the older mare.
“I think... now would be a good time to fill you in on what’s been going on,” she offered haltingly. “You figured out that I was the thief. But before that… when the vines first appeared, and choked the city, I was ready. I was probably the only pony in all of Neigh York who stayed prepared for disasters with all kinds of resources. Clean water, food, medicine, the essentials, and a few important tools. So it was up to me to come up with a plan.”
“But distribution is expensive,” Sherbet observed. She noted that the necklace she wore had begun to emit a faint glow.
“Yeah. I started out small, helping out the neighbors when they needed it, but when things got worse I had to step it up. I spent my life savings keeping the whole city running, but it wasn’t enough. I needed help. I asked friends and family, but they didn’t have enough to make a difference. So I turned to ponies with deeper pockets, over on Fence Street. But they refused. Said they didn’t want to pour money into an unprofitable venture.” Lovestruck’s expression soured as she recounted that.
“All of them?” Sherbet frowned. It sounded so improbable, so wrong. Had every last pony in the city been so blind that they assumed they wouldn’t be touched by this?
“All of them,” Lovestruck confirmed. She gestured back toward Mosely. “Even him. And that, well, that tore it. I tried, I put everything on the line, but in the end, there I was, watching it all crumble slowly. I couldn’t afford the maintenance on the teleporters, or equipment, or even enough supplies to go around. So… I decided to strike back. I stole everything I could from the ponies that had failed me, starting with the Oranges, and I just… hid it.” She hung her head. “And now I guess that leaves me here at your mercy.”
“We’re not here to hurt you,” Auntie reassured her. “Nor to apprehend you.”
“Not that we shouldn’t,” Octavia observed evenly. “But your role in this is more important.” To Sherbet, she added, “It’s been several days. We’ve been waiting here for you to wake up, eating some… moderately stale food from the hotel’s stores. The time has allowed us to give her a few of the details.”
“Yeah. I went and got the rest of my supplies for you,” Lovestruck added. She pushed five pairs of saddlebags toward Sherbet. The Element of Generosity shone a little brighter. “It sounds like you’re going to need them more than I am.”
“Oh, I see.” Sherbet hadn’t actually considered how long it might have been, but that would explain the sense of numbness when she tried to move, and the intense hunger gnawing at her. She was going to have to get something to eat as soon as she was finished talking to Lovestruck. “You know we’re here to save the world, then. And we need your help,” she continued.
The unicorn shook her head, backing away slightly. “Look, I’ll draw a map to the stolen goods, but I couldn’t save one city, what do you expect me to do for the world?”
Ditzy placed a hoof on Lovestruck’s back. The touch seemed to calm her a little.
“No pony alone could have saved this city,” Sherbet answered gently. “You did what you could. But you are an Element of Harmony, and when you stand alongside the others, you’ll be able to change—”
“No,” Lovestruck insisted. “Listen. This world refuses to change. I can’t help a single, solitary pony.”
The businessmare gave her an appraising look, then glanced back over her shoulder. “She’s wrong, isn’t she?”
In the room behind her, Mosely looked up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said evenly.
“You let us back in even though it could only cause trouble for you.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t have?”
“Why did you?”
He hesitated. “Well… it’s…”
She smiled and gestured to her friend again. “You see? Things are getting better already. He changed his mind because of you, didn’t he?”
Mosely said nothing.
“I gave back what I stole,” Lovestruck clarified. “As soon as he saw it, he opened the doors for us.”
“That’s how it has to be,” the older mare commented. “One other thing. Where are Gedion and Halcyon?”
“Safe,” Lovestruck replied quickly. “At home. I’ve made extra sure they don’t get caught up in any of this.”
“By not going home.”
“I… yes,” she admitted. Her voice dropped a few decibels, a glimmer of moisture reaching her eyes. “I’ve watched, made sure they’re doing well, but I... “
Auntie lightly embraced her. “When this is all over, they’ll be perfectly fine,” she assured her. “For their sake… please, help us.”
Slowly, Lovestruck nodded.
Sherbet moved away and stood unaided now. “Then, I suppose it’s time we took our leave.” She gestured for the others to get into the elevator, then turned around. “Thank you for your help, Mosely.”
As the rest walked away, Mosely raised an eyebrow. “Your mane hasn’t moved in three days.”
“Lots of hairspray,” she explained.
“Yes, well.” He shook her hoof. “I assume you won’t need so much in the future.”
She chuckled to herself as she reinserted the pin into her mane. “I like to be prepared.”
“Would you like to see Tangerine before you go?”
Sherbet smiled back at him. “You know, I—”
“—would… love…” The group, minus Mosely, was standing in front of the Horsepower Park reservoir. The businessmare looked around, confused.
“Uh, guys, I’m all for fast, but even I think that was a little too fast,” Rainbow Dash remarked.
A splashing sound caught their attention, and their eyes were drawn to a pile of soap suds on the surface of the stagnant water. A small, not-quite-equine head poked out of the colorful bubbles.
“Oh, you’re here.” Discord waved a claw at them, then disappeared and reappeared on the shore with a tiny towel wrapped around him. “I was expecting to wait another three days. Well, now we can finally get on with it.”
“What?” Dash gaped, having apparently only just now realized that she hadn’t held the statue in quite some time. “But… when did…”
Growling, Sherbet was now the one who placed a hoof on the draconequus’s head. “You wretched little creature… you really are just toying with us, aren’t you?”
He thrashed helplessly in response. “No, no, I realize it wasn’t the best timing, but we really do have a schedule to keep and your little nap nearly threw it off! Please, just…”
Sighing, she relented. “Then I assume it’s time to move on to the next location,” she stated, putting on a businesslike affect so rapidly that everypony else took a step back. “What do you need Lovestruck to do now?”
“First, a question,” Discord replied. “Lovestruck, I could just send you to the mountains or something where your family will be safe. Or you could go through with this Harmony thing, and you won’t see your husband or son again for quite a while. Is that okay with you?”
The carny nodded resolutely. “Yes. I won’t hide anymore while the world is dying around me. I know the price I’m paying. I’m ready.”
At that instant, Sherbet’s Element ignited in a bright flash. A bolt of light erupted from the gem. Lovestruck turned, shocked, and as she did, the blast hit her square in the chest. The world around them was suffused with white light as she collapsed to the ground.
When the light faded, Auntie offered her a hoof up. The dazed unicorn accepted. It took a moment for her to register the smile on the older mare’s face. Following her eyes, Lovestruck found that a gold necklace had appeared around her own neck, identical to Sherbet’s, except that the gem set into it was a pink bow and arrow.
The chaos spirit gave them a bored look. He snapped his talons, and Lovestruck disappeared into thin air.
“You’d better not have sent her anywhere weird,” Pinkie warned him.
“She’ll be perfectly safe,” he promised. “She’s got some preparation to do. And meanwhile, you have a ride to catch.”
The soap suds in the reservoir began to roil violently. As the ponies watched, one giant bubble emerged from the pile. It floated overhead, and slowly descended.
As it engulfed them, Discord was half-singing, half-humming something about springtime.
Spike gave a cry of protest. “Bubbles are not a reliable mode of transportation! Ugh, this didn’t end well last time.”
“This one is,” their host insisted. “It goes upways and downways and—”
“You stole that line from a movie. And the song,” Pinkie pointed out.
“Spoilsport.” He stuck out his tongue at her as the bubble began to float off with them inside. “Anyway, you have nothing to worry about. I’m not some amateur. As long as you’re in this bubble, you’ll be perfectly fine.”