Rainy days didn't make Fluttershy's routine any less busy, just more damp. The outside animals still needed feeding; some of her wild friends who couldn't be brought into the house still needed checkup and therapy visits; and there were still all the daily chores indoors, where the rain made some animals huddled and lazy but others restless and troublesome.
The mud was inconvenient, but on the whole she barely noticed the weather as she went about her day. Fluttershy would be, and often had been, first to admit that she wasn't the most pegasus-ish of pegasi, but she had enough of the sky in her soul — and enough fat under her skin, which the pegasi wrote fewer poems about — not to be bothered by a little ordinary rain.
When she did notice the rain, it was in the evening, with all the work done and dinner warm in her belly, and it was with a sense of gratitude. Curling up under a quilt with a mug of cocoa was nice enough itself, but the gentle hiss of rain outside made it just perfect.
The hearth fire crackling, the soft continual chorus of small animals fidgeting and chirping throughout the house, the warm sweet steam of the cocoa all made Fluttershy's eyelids heavy and her mind foggy. With most of the critters settling in themselves, and the nocturnal ones polite enough to start up their routines quietly, only one point of agitated movement remained to draw her thoughts away from bed.
Angel Bunny was a bundle of nervous energy, scarcely odd in itself, but this time he didn't seem grouchy about anything, just unable to keep still. He had declined to snuggle with her and share dessert — which, despite his little... attitude issues, he usually did readily enough — and had instead spent most of the evening pacing and hopping around the cottage, as though he were looking for something but couldn't remember what.
After Fluttershy had settled down in her quilt without him, he took particular interest in the large window on the north wall of the living room, bouncing up onto the back of the sofa beneath it and skittering back and forth, staring out into the lowering dark. He didn't appear to be playing for attention with his antics. Something was genuinely bothering him.
With a sigh, she set down her mug and quietly joined him at the window, peering out into the drizzly sunset gloom. Movement outside caught her eye, small shapes hopping about on the grass between her cottage and the fringe of the forest. Her mild frown deepened as she got used to picking out the small blurs among the shadows, and realized how many of them there were; dozens of wild rabbits, all out and about despite the damp and the dark.
Rabbits foraging in the evening was normal enough, and even in the rain they needed to get out and eat, but... something wasn't right. Angel deigning to notice the doings of wild rabbits was out of the ordinary itself, but that wasn't it. That there were so many of them hopping around together was strange also — anywhere beyond the immediate radius of her cottage, the term for a large gathering of bunnies was 'buffet' — and that was part of it... yet still, she couldn't quite put her hoof on why the scene outside was raising a deep blossom of worry in her stomach.
A moment later, she realized that they were all trending in the same direction. It wasn't a stampede, they weren't running or panicked, and it didn't even look as though any of them were deciding to go that way. They just all happened to be heading eastward whenever they moved, seeming not to notice they were doing it.
The little alarm bells in the back of her mind rang a bit louder. Unnatural was the word that echoed through her thoughts.
"That's... odd. Um, Angel, is there some sort of bunny holiday going on?"
The white rabbit turned to her with a scowl, different from the usual surly one He looked as puzzled as she felt. Slowly, he shook his head and spread his little paws in a baffled shrug, before pressing his nose to the window, shuffling his feet restlessly.
"Do you want to go with them?"
Angel turned again and grimaced, his eyebrows wrinkling and his lip caught in his teeth. He bobbed his head in a conflicted gesture, unable to decide between nodding and shaking. Fluttershy could read him well enough to get the basic idea; he did feel an urge to follow the other rabbits, but having rather more brainpower than most of his kin, was also wary about following such an inexplicable compulsion.
Angel's uncertainty, such a sharp contrast to his usual grumpy confidence, only made her own worries worse. After a lifetime of being basically Fluttershy, she was a connoisseur of many different shades and flavors of anxiety. This one wasn't the sort of nervous that made her want to squeeze into a small space and squeak, but rather the sort that called on her to move forward and take action.
Something was wrong with the bunnies. Once she grasped that, the notion that whatever it was might not be safe for ponies didn't enter her mind. She raised her chin bravely and moved from the window toward the front door. "I don't like the looks of this at all. I'm going to find out what's going on."
Determined, she grabbed her rainhat and flopped it onto her head as a token nod to the weather before opening the door. On the threshold she looked over to Angel, tipping her head in a silent question. After considering for a long moment, he nodded and bounced over to take up a perch between her wings.
She trotted out along the path, Angel holding a couple strands of her mane and peering out around her cheek like a ship's captain at the prow, following the trail of rabbits as more and more of them emerged from thicket and grove, all hopping toward central Ponyville.
Chapter Four: Rarity Parody Similarity
"So. Let me see if I understand correctly." Rarity paced in front of Twilight Sparkle like a drill sergeant. She tapped out points on the floor with her forehoof. "To help you with an essay, Pinkie brought over her collection of dolls made to look like us and the rest of Ponyville. While you were playing make-believe, Rainbow Dash and the fillies turned up, and you all ended up having a tea party. But then you got bored and decided to bring the dolls to life with magic. Have I got all that right?"
Twilight mumbled a vague non-denial. Rarity nodded sagely.
"My dear, there is quite simply not a single part of that which is not insane."
Applejack boiled over. "Consarn it Twilight, usin' fancy magic for a silly game? I thought you had more sense than that!"
Rainbow Dash landed to put a supportive hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "Ahh, lay off her, AJ. We talked her into it."
"Yeah, but you I didn't think had more sense!"
Dash scowled and thrust her muzzle into Applejack's space. "Why you low-down, tree-kickin' —"
She stopped short as a perfectly groomed white hoof shot between the snarling rivals. "Tut! Later!" Rarity commanded. She pointed toward the birdcage full of squirming mini-ponies. "First things first, perhaps you should do something about these little... fellows?" she asked of Twilight.
"I don't understand what happened," Twilight muttered as she approached the cage. "I only targeted the spell at three of the dolls, and even those three shouldn't have been as energetic as they all were. Let alone so independent. It was like something pushed me, just as I was casting the spell... like swimming in the sea and having a big wave come up behind me..."
"Want me to dig out Polytrot's Aspects of Animation?" Spike asked.
"Later, but definitely. I'm sure I had the spell itself down pat, but there must be some other factor at work..." She shook her head and put the matter aside for the moment, leaning down to inspect the trapped toys. "Is this all of them?" she asked, not having gotten a proper answer previously.
Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Scootaloo exchanged furtive glances and shuffled their hooves.
"Oh yes!" Rarity said. Twilight looked up at her, puzzled at the excess certainty in her voice. Rarity gave her a bright brittle grin. "Er, I think so. Some of them, uh, might still be hiding."
The other three chewed on their lips, praying silently that Twilight wouldn't ask who they hadn't caught.
Twilight took a quick look around the room and shrugged. "Well, it doesn't really matter, I only wanted you to round them up to keep them out of trouble. When I close the spell it'll deactivate them all anyway."
"Oh good!" chorused all four, more enthusiastically than intended. Twilight missed the reaction, focused on unweaving her enchantment.
A silent distortion rippled through the air. As it passed over the birdcage, the toy ponies inside began to glow with the magenta aura of Twilight's magic. The energy rose from them in glittering streamers and flowed toward the unicorn, spiraling into her horn like colored water swirling into a drain.
Pinkie nudged Dash's side and bobbed her head toward the bookshelves, where a few extra wisps of magic were seeping out from between the books and joining the vortex whirling toward Twilight. Evidently Discord wasn't the only one they'd missed, but as Twilight said, they were all giving up their magical energy anyway. The toy-catching crew all sagged in relief and traded sheepish smiles. Applejack narrowed her eyes at them in suspicion, but didn't say anything.
Had Twilight's nerves been less frayed, and had she not closed her eyes in concentration, she might have noticed a flare of brighter light shining from deep within the pile of toys as the energy boiled off of them. As it was, none of the others who saw it had any reason to suspect that it wasn't her doing.
When the last of the magic had twirled down into her horn, Twilight raised her head and drew a deep breath, letting it out in a surprisingly loud and cheerful "Hoo!" She shook her head and gave a bright, energetic smile. Her eyes didn't actually glow, as they often did when she channeled power, but they somehow gave an impression of light nonetheless. She chuckled at the confused looks everypony was giving her.
"Head rush," she explained. "Imagine you'd been working all day and then all at once, you got back all the energy you spent."
"Hunh, that does sound nice," Applejack allowed. "Well okay then, I guess that takes care of them little ponies. But what's up with that... thing in the kitchen?"
"That's a good question," Twilight said sharply. "There's no way something like that could be the side effect of an overinflated animation spell, unless Pinkie had a life-sized slime monster doll hidden in her bag."
A moment later, when she realized that everypony was looking at her in stern silence, Pinkie said, "What? Oh, come on. No."
The scorn in her voice was convincing to Twilight, not least because it sounded as though Pinkie wished she had thought of making such a toy. She turned toward the kitchen door.
"Well... nothing to do but check it out."
As the ponies and dragon filed out of the main room toward the kitchen, the bright glow faded from beneath the toy ponies in the cage. The pile of toys settled somewhat, as though a bowl shape beneath them had collapsed, and a chorus of high-pitched grunts and complaints rose from the bottom of the pile.
The tiny head of Rainbow Dash was first to push its way out. Keeping her voice reasonably low, she called down, "Hey! Looks like the coast is clear!"
Twilight Sparkle shoved her way up through the dolls. "Great. Okay, Applejack, can you bend these bars enough for us to squeeze out?"
"Sure thing," came a muffled voice. More shifting and tumbling of toys ensued, and eventually orange hindquarters emerged from the pile at the edge of the cage. "Lemme just get lined up here..."
Applejack put her rear hooves against two of the brass bars and gave a soft grunt as she put all her power into pushing. It wasn't so easy as delivering all the force at once in a good strong buck, but she didn't want to make too much noise. The slender bars, made to resist gnawing bird beaks, were no match for a determined if miniature earth pony's legs, and gave thin whines of protest as they bent outward. Somewhat awkwardly, Applejack spread her legs wide as she pushed, forcing the bars apart as well as outward, until finally one snapped and she lost her balance, cursing as the broken metal bit into her leg.
"That good enough?" she asked, trying to shuffle around under all the toys so she could see out.
Pinkie Pie burst out of the pile and popped readily through the new opening. "You did great, Applejack!" she said, her voice at the miniature scale impossibly shrill. "Come on girls, let's get out of here!"
Dash was second through the hole, followed by Twilight. Another round of grunts and grumbles told that Applejack was clearing a path out for Fluttershy, and finally the rest helped tug Applejack out to freedom.
"That was right smart of ya, Twi, gettin' us all to the bottom of the pile so's you could shield us." Applejack looked around their little group. "Where's Rarity?"
Twilight shook her head, and cast her eyes over toward the giant hat on the other side of the room. "She was stuck under there. I couldn't reach her."
Eyes wide, worried, and watery, Fluttershy tried to ask. "Is she..." She faltered, then pointed cautiously toward all the inanimate ponies in the cage. "Are... are they — ?"
Twilight put a comforting hoof on her shoulder. "No, they're — well, they're not 'all right', but they're not dead either." She drew a deep breath and looked solemnly around at the others. "I think I know what's going on. I don't know how to tell you this, but —"
"Oh no! We're all just a bunch of dolls Big Twilight brought to life with magic and our brains are made of her thoughts about us!" Pinkie exclaimed.
Twilight gave her the sort of stare Pinkie got a lot of.
"Oh right, you wanted to tell them."
"Well... um, yeah, she's right," Twilight said, a little deflated.
"Shucks, I think we mostly figured that out already," said Applejack.
"What, we're what with the who now?" Dash asked, perplexed.
"Mostly." Applejack lifted her hindleg, looking pointedly toward the long and deep, yet bloodless gouge she'd gotten from the broken bar. "This here not bein' an ugly tragedy was my big clue, I reckon."
Twilight nodded. "I don't think she realized we'd be as conscious as we are. I'm pretty sure the ponies she doesn't know as well didn't really have much in the way of private thoughts."
"Okay, so... what do we do?" Applejack asked.
Twilight tilted her head and frowned thoughtfully. "Honestly, I don't think there's much to do. I mean, normally we're all pretty well practiced at fixing magical mishaps, but this time we are the mishap."
She looked around the book-strewn, chair-tumbled mess of the Library. A short while ago, when they'd all been brought suddenly into existence, she'd been in as much of a panic as everypony else. For a few short moments they'd only stared at the giant ponies, too befuddled to even begin to guess what was going on, but then Big Dash had grabbed Little Dash, who kicked her sharply on the snoot and began yelling about giant monsters, and the whole town's worth of miniature ponies had burst into an uncontrolled riot.
Only when they'd been herded into the birdcage had Twilight, at the bottom of the heap, found a moment to gather her thoughts and decipher the situation. Instinctively, she had thrown a protective ward around her closest friends when Big Twilight ended the spell, but now she wasn't sure that had been the right thing to do.
"I've never been a side effect before," she said in a soft, distant tone. "I feel kind of bad about trashing the Library."
"Eh, we do that all the time," Dash said, which wasn't readily deniable. "Look at it this way, it's awesome how much damage we can do even when we're just three inches high!"
Twilight snorted and broke into a grin. A moment later they were all laughing, with hooves over their mouths and nervous glances toward the kitchen.
After letting some of the tension out, Twilight rubbed her face and heaved another sigh. "Anyway... I think the best thing we can do is just hide somewhere and wait for the last of our magical energy to run out."
"What happens to us then?" Applejack's voice had just a hint of tremor in it, and her question was exactly what Twilight was hoping not to hear.
"Well —" she began, and stopped. In one sense, when the energy was gone they'd cease to exist. Along with all the deanimated ponies in the cage, their bodies would return to lifeless toyhood. That probably wasn't something the others would be happy to hear.
But in another sense, their current existence was just a projection of Big Twilight's mental image of herself and her friends. After the spell ceased, they would still 'live', in a way, along with the rest of her internal model of the world, dwelling as they always had in her thoughts about Ponyville.
"— everything goes back to normal and this will all just be a weird dream." She delivered it slick and glib. Applejack leaned toward her, suspicious about that long pause. Twilight returned her gaze with what she hoped was an honest, forthright smile, bracing herself against Applejack's searchlight stare by keeping in mind that what she'd said was true, from a certain point of view.
"... well, all right, Twilight, if you say so," Applejack eventually concluded. "How long you figure that's gonna take, then?"
Twilight shrugged. "It depends on how much energy we each expended in all the fracas, and that's without knowing how much we each got to start with. Probably more than five minutes, probably less than two hours."
"An' when we run out, we just kinda... fall asleep, right?"
"I think it'll feel like that, yeah."
They all fell silent for a moment. However well they trusted Twilight, sitting around and waiting to 'fall asleep' still felt a lot like giving up. Surprisingly, it was Fluttershy who spoke up first.
"I think we need some Pinkie Pie style," she said, nudging up against Pinkie's side. "If you wouldn't mind."
"Hey, yeah!" Pinkie began hopping in place. "No need to be all doomy and gloomy! If we're toys, we shouldn't mope, we should play!"
Twilight broke into a bright smile, and saw it reflected on everypony else's face as well. "You're right. There's no reason not to have a good time before this whole mess clears itself up!"
"Yahoo!" Pinkie squealed, only to find her mouth swiftly covered by Fluttershy's hoof.
"But we need to be quiet," the pegasus said gently, and tipped her head toward the nearest bookshelf. "And we should find a hiding place first. Um, right?"
Pinkie nodded energetically and stage-whispered, "Right. I know some great quiet games. Come on girls!"
She bounced toward the shelf, where one book leaning on another created a triangular cave easily big enough for them all to stay comfortably. The others trooped after her, making a point of keeping their chins up and their spirits high.
None of them noticed a shimmer of green light fading away, up in the loft near the telescope nook. The fledgling phoenix Pee-Wee had curled up in his little fireproof nest and fallen asleep, and Owloysius sat with his back to the main room, calmly reading a historical drama. Unseen, a slinking serpentine form wiggled out from beneath the shadow of a low table and slipped inside the blue metal box where the birds had stored their purloined pony dolls.
Owloysius blinked and turned his head, in the disturbing manner of an owl, alerted by a curious wheezy whooshing noise. By the time his sharp eyes swept across the spot where the blue box had been, it was gone and the noise faded.
Owloysius looked back and forth a moment, incapable of frowning suspiciously but giving the air of one who would be. Eventually he just went back to reading. If he got worked up over every strange thing that happened in The Purple One's household, he'd be crazier than The Pink One.
The kitchen wasn't too bad. The floor was littered with shattered bits of crockery and scatterings of herbs, a splatter of creamy cucumber spread dripped down a bank of cabinets, and there was a crack in the pantry door, but the tentacles hadn't spent a lot of time flailing in the kitchen before seeking out the bright-shining source of magical goodness that was Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight crunched across the floor and looked at the cast-iron cauldron that had become a prison for the extradimensional menace. She sighed. "Whatever happened, I guess I'll have to send this to the vault at Canterlot and get a new pot..."
"I'll pay for it!" Sweetie Belle said hastily, then froze and grimaced, rolling her eyes around desperately at the stares that swept in her direction.
"And why... my dear little sister... do you feel a need to make such a generous offer?" Rarity asked in a low, dangerous voice.
"Sweetie Belle... what did you do?" added Twilight.
Sweetie quivered, beads of sweat rolling down her forehead. She raised a trembling hoof and pointed at an enormous, aged book lying open on the counter near the pot. "I — I was just f-f-following the recipe for maté tea... it's in some kind of foreign language, but there's pictures of the ingredients and I could sound out the words..."
Twilight felt a dreadful apprehension of the cosmos focusing its sense of humor on her as she turned, reluctantly, and scanned the pages. A wordless groan of horror escaped her lips.
"That's not a recipe! It doesn't say maté, it says Tiamat!" She slammed the book shut and stared at the cover in revulsion. "Auggh! This is the Equinomicon! Spike, WHY do these forbidden tomes keep ending up in the kitchen?"
"I dunno, maybe you should find a pony who browses through eldritch grimoires while she's looking for a snack and ask her? I bet I can guess what color her mane is."
"Fine! Not important!" Twilight whirled and held the book out toward Sweetie Belle. "How could you mistake this for a cookbook?"
Sweetie looked at the thick, gnarled black wood of the dread tome's binding, carved with ominous runes and twisted shapes that could almost be taken for screaming pony faces.
"... I thought maybe it was one of those Nightmare Night party books?" she said, in a very small voice.
Twilight was spared any further excursion into the filly's mental workings when Applejack and Rarity both burst out in exasperated groans.
"You left some book of evil magic just sittin' around in the kitchen?"
"You let Sweetie Belle cook?"
Everypony decided that was the shouting cue.
"All I did was put stuff in the pot! I didn't even touch the stove!" squealed Sweetie Belle.
"I told ya not to mess with anythin' that had ingredients!" countered Apple Bloom.
"It's a library! Having books around is the whole point!" Twilight snapped.
"An' the necromancy part of the catalog gets shelved on the kitchen counter?" Applejack retorted.
"Sweetie, why couldn't you just stick with a nice simple bowl of toast?" interjected Rarity.
"I said we should have gone kayaking in the first place!" insisted Scootaloo.
"I CAN SHOUT LOUDER THAN ANY OF YOU!" Rainbow Dash contributed.
The party pony — of whom, thanks to countless hours of practice singing and announcing, Dash's assertion was simply not true — swept a glare across all of them as their mouths snapped shut.
"Honestly. It's like babysitting but I'm not getting paid," she sighed, earning a full roster of eight disgruntled stares. She rolled her eyes and crossed her forelegs. "Fine, I'll go first this time. Twilight, I'm sorry that I talked you into trying out an unpracticed spell just for play-time. Having fun is no excuse, I shouldn't have poked you into breaking the rules about your real work."
She shot a meaningful look toward Rainbow Dash, who hovered down a little lower and dipped her eyes humbly.
"Yeah, I'm sorry for the same thing. Also it was me who started the actual fighting with the toys, so sorry for that too."
With her eyes, Dash tossed the apology ball toward the Crusaders.
“We’re sorry we summoned forth horrors of the outer darkness,” recited the fillies by rote.
“And I’m sorry for messing up your kitchen.” added Sweetie Belle.
“Oh, yeah, and the bathroom.” said Scootaloo. Without a word, Twilight Sparkle pivoted on her rear hoof and galloped for the stairs.
Pinkie turned her gaze on Rarity, who blinked and shook her head slightly, baffled.
"Me? But I didn't —" She turned away as a cry of shock and outrage came from the upstairs bathroom. Pinkie wouldn't allow the distraction, and kept giving Rarity the nanny glare. "Well then, um, I suppose that... I'm sorry for not picking up Sweetie Belle from school myself...? And... aha, yes. I'm sorry I yelled. You and Rainbow Dash and Twilight are all adults, strictly speaking, and even if you're doing something foalish, I should at least address you as equals."
"Where did they even get this much mud? Did they bring in a hose?" came Twilight's voice.
"All right, I'll play along. Reckon I'm sorry for —" Applejack paused, and turned to shout in Twilight's general direction. "SORRY I YELLED AT YA, SUGARCUBE."
"There are hoofprints on the ceiling! How is that possible? How is that remotely possible?!"
"I better go help her out," Spike said, heading for the door. Pinkie cleared her throat at him, and he looked back and forth, considering. "Okay, well, I guess I'm sorry that I didn't keep a closer eye on what Sweetie Belle was doing." he said, rather dismissively, and walked out.
"There!" Pinkie said with a big shiny smile. "When she's done upstairs, we can get Twilight to apologize for how this is all mostly her fault anyway."
"I'm gonna clean up the kitchen." Sweetie Belle said firmly, and gave the other fillies a reasonable copy of the look she'd just seen from Pinkie.
Scootaloo held up her forehooves in protest. "Hey, I wasn't even in here, remember?" She gave Apple Bloom a withering glare when the earth pony shoved a dustpan into her grip, but growled in resignation and set about doing as little as she could get away with.
"I'll help too," said Pinkie cheerfully. "Better this than the bathroom, sounds like."
Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow Dash shrugged to each other as the fillies and Pinkie took on the kitchen. None of them felt particularly compelled to assist, two because they really hadn't been involved with any of the fuss except to help stop it, the third because she was Rainbow Dash. When Pinkie drew a deep breath and began to sing a cleaning song, they all backed quietly out of the kitchen.
Rarity picked up her raincoat and parasol where she had dropped them on her way in, and hung them carefully on the hooks by the door. Applejack flipped open the pie-box to check that the pie inside was undamaged, and satisfied that it was still in edible condition, set the box on the big wooden table in the center of the room. Rainbow Dash self-consciously began to pick up scattered books and stack them neatly beside the shelves for later sorting, and the three of them spent a few moments righting overturned chairs, moving Pinkie's dollhouses out of the way, and setting the ladder back up against the wall.
After tidying in desultory silence for awhile, Rarity made a spritely effort at conversation. "Well... it looks like you've had rather an exciting evening."
"Ugh. Yeah, guess you could say that." Dash's voice was dull and weary. Rarity turned to look the pegasus over, brow crinkling in concern.
"Oh, Rainbow Dash..." she said, in a tone of honeyed sympathy. "Did they make you wear that?"
Dash looked down at the torn wreck of a dress she was, at this point, more entangled in than wearing. She sighed. "Yeah... it was all a big dress-up thing..." She picked at a hanging flap of white fabric. "This is Pinkie's. Looks like I kinda ruined it."
"You poor dear. You look like you've been in a brawl."
"I kinda was."
"Oh, come over here. I think we can salvage this dress with just a little work..." Rarity coaxed Dash closer, and began tugging at sections of the torn garment. "Yes, I can see it. Just a few little adjustments and we can make these rips look deliberate, sort of a toga effect... you've always looked best in classic Pegasopolitan styles, I do believe."
Dash was too exhausted from the earlier tussle with the toys to put up much resistance, giving a feeble, "Aw, Rarity, c'mon," as the fashionista set about humming and fussing over her. "I just want to take the stupid thing off."
"Let me put you in front of a mirror when I'm done, and see if you still feel that way," Rarity said equitably. From an inside pocket of her raincoat she floated a silver hairbrush.
"A little brushing will get your mane back to looking daringly windblown instead of just ragged, too..." she purred, carefully running the brush through Dash's bangs with her magic, while her hooves worked at the tatters of the dress, tugging off some torn parts and tying others in a careful lacework around the winged pony's frame.
Dash turned a pleading puppy-dog look toward Applejack. The farmer snorted a chuckle and came over to put her hoof on Rarity's shoulder.
"Now Rare, she's had enough prettification for one day, don't ya think?"
Rarity frowned. "I'm just trying to restore her a little dignity."
Applejack looked over Rarity's shoulder at Dash. In truth, she did look not half bad in the reconstructed dress. As Rarity had said, it now seemed more like an ancient pegasus toga, though skimpier and with a certain bold warrior roughness, than just a ripped-up modern frock. Whether it looked good wasn't the issue, though; the worn-out shadowing around Dash's eyes was.
"I don't think she can stand much more dignity right now, either."
"Oh, fine." Rarity pulled the brush away from Dash and gave her a little nudge of implicit freedom to go. She turned a speculative gaze on Applejack, who backed away. "What about you, then? You know if you don't brush out that damp mane now, it will dry into a complete rat's nest later."
"That's my worry, ain't it?" Applejack said in a warning voice. "I'll take care of it when I get home."
"Even a tough customer like you can't enjoy brushing out tangles. And you can't seriously expect me to believe that your mane and tail stay so glossy and full-bodied without some pampering."
"Well, sure yeah, I take care of my hair. I do it at home. Alone. On my own," she emphasized.
"Oh, come now, Applejack, I only want to help," Rarity said, her tone slightly wounded. "They started out with dolls and make-believe, and a tea party — couldn't we just declare today the day for, well, more 'girly' activities?"
"You know that ain't my sort of thing, Rare."
"But we've been doing so much more of 'your sort of thing', and Dash's, lately!" Rarity put her lower lip out. "Rock climbing just for the sake of climbing rocks is hardly my sort of thing, but I went along without complaint, didn't I?"
Applejack scoffed. Rarity's definition of 'without complaint' seemed to include a lot of complaining. Even the unicorn herself gave a little eye-dip of acknowledgement that she wasn't the best of sports when it came to sports.
"But I did go along, and I did participate."
"Yeah... yeah ya did, but still..."
"It's not like I'm trying to drag you into a complete spa treatment." Rarity pounced on the slight hint of give in Applejack's voice. "Just a brushing, and re-tying your hairbands, and then you can just put your hat over it before going out. Nopony will see who hasn't already seen Rainbow Dash in a bonnet."
"Hay, yeah!" Dash added. "I got frou-frou'd, now it's your turn!"
"Bah..." Applejack groaned, flapping her hoof at the both of them, but she could tell her own surrender when she heard it, and she didn't knock Rarity's hoof away when the fashionista reached to remove her precious hat. "I ain't promisin' not to complain, mind you."
"Wouldn't expect any less, darling," Rarity trilled, bringing the hairbrush to bear on Applejack's hay-straw mane.
In the cavern of the bookshelf, Little Twilight had turned away from the games her friends were playing to watch the living ponies. On the surface, it seemed as though everything was taken care of, and the real ponies had nothing more to do than clean up, but there was something nagging at the edges of her attention. Something wasn't quite right...
When she heard the weirdly deep, booming voice of Big Dash say the uncommon (and strictly speaking nonexistent) word "frou-frou'd", the bit finally dropped for her, and with it went the pit of her stomach.
"Sympathetic resonance!" she exclaimed, aghast.
"Parasitic spirochetes!" Pinkie chirped, right in her ear, making her jump and snap the pink pony a ferociously startled glare.
"Sorry, I thought we were playing 'Science Words'."
"I'm not playing science words, just using them. Sympathetic resonance is the factor she's been overlooking!"
She turned, and found that the others had taken notice of her swing to the serious, looking to her with puzzled concern.
"Girls, I'm afraid Big Twilight is an idiot," she said, shaking her head in resignation.
The others gave a round of awkward, noncommittal noises, expressing that they didn't really want to agree, as such, but.
"Ugh! She even brought it up herself — Ad Astra's second principle. How could I — she — be so smart and so stupid?"
"Aw now sugarcube, don't beat yourselves up. We've all made some big mistakes, even in our own specialties." Applejack gave her a friendly hoof-tap on the shoulder. "Important thing is, how bad a problem is this pathetic residence gonna be?"
Twilight bit her lip. "Could be pretty bad, if she doesn't catch on soon." Pacing back and forth in rapid ovals, she began to lecture at full speed. "Ad Astra's Second Principle of Similarity, colloquially stated as 'like affects like', defines an intrinsic connection between symbols — or in this case effigies — and their referents, leading in instances like this to a standing amplification of ambient ethereal harmonics, boosting the effective force of applied magical energy. Amplified further by inadvertent invocation of Pterry's Laws of Narrative Impetus, and combined with an unanticipated influx of raw potential through a temporary paraspatial aperture in the kitchen, the result was a veritable explosion of virtual energy, which, crystallized by an act of applied energy, not only led to a massive amplification of the intended effect, but to a self-sustaining zeta spline bursting with active, initiatory harmonics — which was not countered by a careless caster who didn't follow the checklist!"
She stopped, breathing heavily, eyes frantic and furious.
The others were blinking at her in silence, displaying a crystal-clear understanding that indeed, she had said many words.
Twilight groaned and put a hoof over her eyes, trying to think of a way to explain more simply. It wasn't coming easily. As her own ego projection, her tendency to circumlocution was unusually pronounced. Even her internal monologue was needlessly verbose and polysyllabic. Her friends probably weren't as sharp as they could be, either. To begin with, her mental model of anypony else would have to be less complex and detailed than her own self-image, just because she couldn't read minds. And to be perfectly honest with herself, her concepts of them likely were at least a little dumber than the real mares deserved. Except...
"Pinkie, I don't suppose you feel like having a burst of inexplicable clarity right now, do you?"
From wherever it was she kept things, Pinkie produced a whiteboard on an easel and a set of colored markers.
"Okay, so. A doll that looks like a real pony is kinda like a magic egg..." She drew a quick stick figure of a pony, an equals sign, and an oblong. "And a story is like magic flour." She added a talking mouth, another equals, and a sort of cloud-shape, presumably representing flour. "Telling a story with the doll is like mixing them up to make magic batter."
She drew a bowl, and a line of red inside it to indicate that it was partially filled. "Then Twilight went and made the Dashie egg double-sized by putting magic into it to copy a kind of magic the real Dash does." She scribbled in more red, filling the bowl all the way up, and adding some drips overflowing each side. Beside it, she drew three more little stick-ponies.
"So when Twilight went to cast a spell on dolls of me, Dash and herself, she was making up a whole new batch of fresh batter, which was extra-bigger than she expected because the eggs —" She thickened the oval bodies of the stick-ponies, making them bigger. "— were of real ponies who were right there paying attention, which made the connection stronger, and the Dash one was already super-sized from the Rainboom."
She erased one stick-pony and re-drew it much larger, then took time carefully filling it in with rainbow stripes while Twilight stamped impatiently. Pinkie surrounded the doll shapes with a blob of red, and connected that with an arrow pointing to the bowl. "But she already had an overflowing bowl, except she didn't know it, because magic batter is invisible unless a magician specifically goes looking for it. So she dumped all that into the too-full bowl at the same time Sweetie Belle just happened to poke a hole in reality where a whole flood of batter from beyond squirted through — and BOOM! One big, huge, gigunda batter mess splattered everywhere!"
She scribbled red swirls across the whole board, then drew a small blue circle around the stick-figure dolls. "But the only part Big Twilight noticed is the little cake she was trying to make, and that's the only part she wrapped up and stored away properly. The rest of it is all still there, dripping off the ceiling and getting invisible story-flavored smears all over everypony!"
The other ponies nodded slowly in dawning comprehension.
"Did you just call me fat?" asked Rainbow Dash, but she was ignored as Applejack spoke up.
"So... all the extra batter — I mean, magic — is sorta... sloshin' around loose now, makin' ponies act out whatever story it was that her an' Pinkie were tellin' with the dolls before?"
"That explanation you get?" Twilight burst out. "Fine, whatever works... yeah, that's pretty much the size of it. If she doesn't do something to counter the harmonics, the story will just reiterate itself over and over, amplifying each time and spreading wider. It could encompass all of Equestria in just a few hours! And it's such a stupid story!"
Big Twilight's voice echoed again from upstairs. "No, seriously, how could they even get up there? Only one of them can fly, and she can't fly!"
Little Twilight shook her head. "She's pretty distracted. I don't think we can count on her to figure this out in time."
Dash reared up in the air and pointed a determined hoof. "Then it's up to us! What's the plan?"
Twilight frowned and rubbed her chin in thought. "Okay, let me think... we need to expend all our remaining energy as quickly as possible, and break up the story at the same time... none of you have the ability to throw off magic energy directly, and I can't draw it from you without extensive preparation, not to mention the research I'd have to do to modify the ritual for non-living toy bodies... it'd take too long to just exercise it out, so... Aha!"
She bounced on her hooves Pinkie-style in the delight of solving a puzzle. Pinkie helpfully drew a yellow lightbulb on the board behind and above her. "I've got it! Okay Dash, AJ, you two get over to that hat and bring back one of the Rarities. Don't let the big ponies see you." She pointed over toward the purple hat, which lay on the floor a short distance from the front door.
"Pinkie, Fluttershy, you come with me. We'll all meet up..." She looked across the room, and saw the toy Library sitting in the shadow of the central table. "In there. That should be a good place to get ready without being spotted."
"Roger!" Dash and Applejack hopped down from the lip of the shelf and galloped off, sticking to the edge of the room to stay out of sight of the live mares. Pinkie gave Twilight a big excited grin.
"What are we gonna do, Twilight?"
"We're going on a treasure hunt."
Applejack felt there was more going on behind her than simple brushing and tried, despite the basic impossibility of turning to see the back of her own head, to turn anyway. Her mane was held firm, however — not tugged, just gripped with a certain iron implacability.
"Rarity... you ain't braidin' things back there are ya?"
"Oh, just a little experiment," Rarity hummed.
"Experiment? Ho nelly!" Applejack scowled and made to escape. This time her mane was tugged, a careful solid yank on a hank of hair too large for it to hurt at all, but enough to pull her head back around to face front.
"Calm down, it's not the technique that's experimental. I only meant that I want to see how it will look on you."
"You wanna see. Maybe I don't, didja think of that?"
"If you don't like it, it won't take but thirty seconds to undo, I promise," Rarity said with great confidence. "Now sit."
Something in the shiny cheer of Rarity's voice made Applejack's hackles rise with a faint trace of alarm, but at the same time kept her from getting mad and pulling away at whatever cost to her mane it took. Knowing the way ponies could get when their cutie-mark talent was thwarted — or when it just took too strong a hold — and knowing that Rarity considered her talent to reach beyond fashion to any sort of finding and bringing out inner beauty, she thought the situation called for maybe some diplomacy.
"Uh, Rare, you, uh... you been workin' pretty hard lately..." she began, carefully.
The live mares distracted with hair dressage, it was simple enough for Little Dash and Applejack to get to the big purple hat without being noticed. Instead of pulling out one of the Rarity dolls and dragging it across the floor where they'd all be visible, they elected to crawl under the hat and push it from inside, scooching along a few inches and peeking out under the soft brim to make sure they weren't seen before making another move, the back of the hat dragging the dolls along with them.
It only took about two minutes to get the hat all the way under the table and up to the door of the toy Library. After a moment's debate they decided to take the bigger of the two Rarity dolls and dragged it inside, setting it down with exaggerated sighs and forehead-wipes of relief at the completion of the hazardous mission.
Just a few seconds later they were joined by Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Twilight, who was bearing in triumph a jewelry box of blue and gold, adorned around its edges with multicolored gems.
"Success! I just knew Big Pinkie would have made a set of these!" she declared.
"Well, duh. You need a way to beat the bad guys for a good story," said Pinkie.
Twilight turned her attention to the inanimate model of Rarity. Up close the doll, well detailed though it was, looked obviously fake, but there was still something indefinably creepy about the (comparatively) life sized effigy of her friend. "Aha, terrific, you got her!"
"Of course! Hat-stealin' ninjas, that's us." Rainbow Dash puffed her chest out and grinned.
"Just in time, too. The real Rarity is starting to get maniacal out there. Any minute now she'll start cackling and making atrocious puns. We'd better get started on step two right away." Twilight took a stance above the toy and braced herself. This was going to drain away a lot of her magic, and she could only hope that she had enough to keep going afterward. She closed her eyes, dipped her horn to point down at Rarity, and went through the weaving of the animation spell.
Her magenta glow surrounded Rarity's body, sparks of white flickering in swift orbits throughout the aura. Twilight felt like she'd been juggling boulders, but at least she had enough energy to stay upright and conscious.
"I'm not sure how long it needs to take effect —" she began.
Rarity's eyes snapped open. In an instant she went from inanimate to frantic.
"What... where... why am I lying on the floor? I feel so peculiar... did I hit my head? Oh! Am I bleeding?" Her voice was rising perilously toward a shriek. Twilight quickly pressed her lips shut with a hoof and made a soothing shushing sound.
"Rarity, there's no time to explain the whole situation. You're not injured, you just... um... you were put to sleep by a spell. Can I please ask you to keep calm and trust me? We need your help."
Rarity's eyes flicked back and forth between the ponies surrounding her. Her mouth opened as though to begin squealing again, but she caught the desperate concern in Twilight's eyes and let her breath out quietly instead. Her chin firmed with purpose.
Calmly, she said, "Well of course I trust you, Twilight. What do you need me to do?"
"First, put this on." Twilight opened the jewelry box, and from it drew forth a golden — or at least a gold-colored — necklace, bearing a glass duplicate of the diamond-shaped gem of Generosity.
"Oh dear. One of those days is it?"
"Don't you worry about a thing, Applejack. This hairstyle will be the mane attraction," Rarity bubbled, baring her teeth in a most worrisome grin as she twined the several braids she'd made of the earth pony's mane into a complex arrangement of loops. "Aheh, hehe, ahahaha... mwahahaha!"
"Uhh... uh yeah, that's um right funny an' all..." Applejack said, trying to draw away without making any sudden moves. Something was definitely off here. She was beginning to worry that she wouldn't be able to escape by any means short of a buck in the face, and beginning also to ponder the pros and cons of that approach.
Rainbow Dash rose from her cushion and flapped an impatient hoof at them, staring toward the empty doorway. "Hey, shut up a second," she recommended, taking a step toward the door. "Do you two hear that?"
The curious fizzing feeling in Rarity's head faded somewhat as she turned to look, frowning. Her magical grip on Applejack's mane loosened and the farmer took the opportunity to move hastily away, coming up alongside Dash with her ears perked forward. After a moment's silence she could make out a dim rumbling sound, something like a distant rockslide. "Yeah, I do. Is that... thunder?" She sounded doubtful. "I thought the storm was mostly cleared away already."
"It should be," Dash said. Her lip curled in annoyance, reminded that she still had weather work left to do, with no more than ten minutes left before her squad would be certain she was absent and not just out at the fringes or something. "Anyway, thunder doesn't keep on going like that..."
"It's getting louder," Rarity observed nervously.
"It's getting closer," Dash added, taking another hesitant step forward. Out on the street, not a pony was in sight, and no more rain was falling. Without even a breeze, Ponyville was as quiet as it got... except for that ominous, rising rumble.
"There's somethin' familiar about that sound," Applejack said softly. "I heard it before, somewhere..."
Dash stuck her head out through the doorway and peered with suspicion out into the night. "It sounds like something that needs checking out," she said, then headed out and up.
Applejack watched her fly into the gloom, then poked her own head out, staring down the road. She squinted and tipped her head. There was some hint of motion just at the edge of what she could see, a line of lighter grey moving against the dark dirt road, rippling as it approached. Her eyes grew slowly wider as the shape came more clearly into view, and she realized that it was not 'a' shape but many of them, a line of some kind of living creatures, getting steadily closer.
"Holy horseapples, it's a stampede!" she shouted, backing away fast. Even as she did, Rainbow Dash came zooming back in, stopping just a hair short of collision with the earth pony.
"Shut the door! SHUT THE DOOR!" she yelled.
"I can't, it's out there!" Applejack bellowed back.
"Is it the cows? The sheep?" Rarity said, retreating all the way to the back wall of the room.
"No, it's BU —" Dash started to shout, just as a tidal wave of rabbits crashed through the doorway.
Dash was thrown against Applejack and both of them tumbled about helplessly under the fuzzy tsunami, shouting things unprintable as they were tossed against the walls and buffeted with countless small and heedless kicking feet. The rabbits only ran past and over them, though, and as more and more of them poured in it became clear that they were all, with beady-eyed singularity of purpose, bearing down on a specific target: Rarity.
The white unicorn had only time to raise her hooves and let out a piercing wail before they were on her, driving her to the floor and piling on top of her in a massive heap.
"Oh my stars and planets, it's the bunnies!" Little Twilight had time to shout before the flood of white, brown and grey bodies swept the room, shaking the floor and bouncing the toy Library around, knocking all the ponies inside off their hooves. Fortunately the only furniture and books in the dollhouse were painted on to the walls, so the ponies had nothing to crash into but each other, but the thundrous shaking was a primal terror in itself, and under the roar of hopping feet none of them felt reserved about screaming. At this point it wasn't as though the full-sized ponies were going to notice.
Once the wave had crashed there came relative silence. The bunnies filled most of the room in a thick wiggly carpet, snuffling and hopping about aimlessly. It was evident their plans had gone no further than bunnypiling on Rarity. As far as Twilight was concerned, bunnies always looked somewhat baffled whenever they weren't outright terrified, but now they seemed even more confused than usual, as though the whole crowd of them had simultaneously forgotten where they left their keys.
"Look at that! Hundreds of them! The resonance must already be strong enough to draw them in from miles around!" Twilight declared. "Can't wait here any longer. We've got to head out there and be ready to take our shot the second she gets clear of those rabbits."
She trotted out of the Library, into the Library. Most of the bunnies were huddled in a pile on top of Big Rarity and the other two live mares, and the table had served as a sort of breakwater; behind the table's thick pedestal, on the side opposite the door, was a swath of floor mostly clear of the giant fuzzballs, giving her a clear run to the edge of the room. She jumped up atop a dictionary lying near the wall, where she had a decent view of the squirming, squalling lump that was Rarity, in the middle of the highest mound of the bunnypile.
She heard the others come running up behind her, in particular hearing Little Rarity, who had begun to whine out desperate questions the moment she got out of the toy Library and realized that it wasn't exactly Ponyville outside.
"Where did all these giant bunnies come from? Why is the Library so huge? Is this a Discord thing? What's going on?"
Twilight's heart went out to Rarity's honest, if unpleasantly shrill, bewilderment. She wasn't quite the same Twilight who cast the first spell, so she didn't think Rarity had any memories of being animated earlier. This version of Rarity's personality was probably rather a ragged thing, really, made from the mental image of Rarity held by Twilight's mental image of herself, which was just all sorts of complicated, metaphysically. In her situation, Twilight was sure she'd be doing worse than just whining. She'd probably be bursting into flames by now.
But there just wasn't time to offer more than token gestures of comfort. As gently as she could, she told Rarity, "I'm sorry, I really, really am, but we're in a lot of trouble right now, with only one slim chance to get out of it, and the whole world could be at risk if we fail!"
She wrapped her hoof around Rarity's shoulder and pressed close to her side, pointing out across the landscape of rabbit fur. "Any second now, our target is going to come rising out of there, and we have to be ready with the Elements when she does."
Rarity's lower lip trembled, and her eyes seemed shiny, though Twilight was reasonably certain that as toys they couldn't actually cry. "I — I'm so confused..." she said in a lost, watery voice. "But I won't let you down."
"That's my fashion star." Twilight squeezed her again, nuzzled her cheek, and thanked the heavens that the gem on her tiara wasn't in the shape of an apple as she went on, "Once this is over, I promise I'll explain everything."
Rarity took a deep breath, and cleared her throat roughly. In a firmer voice she looked outward and asked, "All right then, who is this target?"
Twilight winced. Rarity's courage and trust felt like a kick to her gut. "It's — well, it's a giant pony. Just follow my lead, okay?"
Saving the world. If we fail, the resonance could well be too strong for Twilight or even Celestia to fix by the time they figure out what's happening. The real Rarity could actually be turned into a new Changeling Queen! I don't have any choice but to mislead her, she told herself, swallowing heavily as the other Holders of the Elements lined up alongside her at the edge of the dictionary.
I'm still such a horrible pony.
The noise brought all three fillies and Pinkie to the kitchen door, where they stopped with dropped jaws. Sweetie Belle clapped her forehooves and gave out a squeal of delight at the sight of all the bustling bunnies, but stopped abruptly under the disbelieving looks she got from the other Crusaders. Pinkie Pie was so stunned she actually said nothing, which, although nopony noticed it, was statistically far less common than bunny stampedes.
Twilight Sparkle and Spike were also alerted by the sound and rushed down the stairs, halting a few steps up as though slamming into an invisible barrier made of surprise. Both of them let out cries of dismay at the fresh chaos filling the room in cute and fuzzy form.
"What now? Why is my library filled with RABBITS?!" Twilight shouted to the universe itself, existentially exasperated. Strands of her mane and tail popped in wild curls from the sleek precision of her grooming, and Spike caught a definite scent of smoke from her direction. He could only file that away as something to be dealt with very soon, however. Right at that moment he had too much groaning and staring to do.
Twilight's dangerously rising crazy meter was interrupted, for a moment at least, by a soft voice from the front door. "Oh my goodness, is everypony... oh... kay?"
Fluttershy peeked through the doorway. Like everypony else, she stopped dead in startlement, but unlike everypony else, the bunnies struck her as the least confusing thing in the room. Her jaw bobbed up and down a few times before sound gradually emerged. "Wh. Wha. What? What, what?"
Too many questions argued in Fluttershy's mind over which one ought to come after 'what'. The aspect of her that should make such decisions was too busy slapping the eyeball monitors and demanding the truth. The strange behavior of the bunnies had already made her evening surreal enough; now, everywhere she looked — from the tiny Ponyville on the floor, to all her friends and the three fillies being in the Library after dark, to Twilight Sparkle standing there in her party dress smeared with mud, to the empty doorway with its hinges hanging twisted on the frame, which on the plus side seemed logically related to the door she'd passed lying in the road — was madness.
It really didn't help that Spike was wearing a tuxedo jacket and holding a bucket of soapy water. It just so happened that when Spike turned up in her actual dreams, he was often dressed formally and carrying cleaning supplies, though at least in this instance he wasn't also singing showtunes.
It certainly felt like she was awake, but the evidence was really stacking up against it. "What? Um... what?"
While Fluttershy tried to gather her wits enough to be merely confused, Angel hopped down from her back. He ran over and gave Scootaloo a swift kick on the shin, just because she was closest to the door. Unhurt but indignant, she squawked at him to no avail. Angel had already turned his wrath toward his wild cousins, giving them a sharp tongue-lashing in sniffly, squeaky bunny language, quite literally hopping mad.
Fluttershy met Twilight's eyes and added a second word to her repertoire. "Twilight... what?"
"It's a little complicated," Twilight croaked.
As Big Fluttershy came through the doorway, Little Pinkie gave a deep, wailing inhalation of horror, and leapt into the air, clapping her forehooves over her mouth. Her mane and tail frizzed out in starburst shapes, electrified by fear. It was the most terror ever shown by any living thing at the appearance of Fluttershy, at least when she wasn't angry.
"No more time, Twilight!" Pinkie screamed. "We have to stop the story RIGHT NOW!"
"Stay with me, Pinkie, this is no time to panic."
"Don't you remember? Rarity comes out from under the bunnies last! We can't wait for a clear shot — if we don't act right this second, they're gonna — well, Fluttershy'll get over it, probably — but AJ and Dash are gonna totally kill me! Real me, I mean!"
"Why are you so —" Twilight's mind ground to a halt as Pinkie's point sank in. She could feel things snapping and and fizzling inside her thoughts as the imagination sector slammed on the emergency brake.
"Gurk," she remarked.
"What're you two on about?" Applejack demanded.
"Never mind — Pinkie's right! Go time is now!"
Twilight jumped forward off the dictionary, and without further discussion, the others galloped after her toward the sea of bunnies.
* * * * * * * * * *
Fluttershy hovered above the bunnypile and called out for her friends.
"Oh my... are you okay?" she asked nervously. Applejack was first to recover and pop up from under the bunnies, muttering apple-filled curses.
"I'm okay, I just got to..." She trailed off, and realized that without thinking, she had reached out and picked up a rabbit. She had no idea why. "Uh... what do I got to?"
The rabbit dangling from her hoof looked back at her and shrugged.
* * * * * * * * *
Little Twilight found her mind strangely calm. There was no more time to think, to analyze, only to act. It was liberating, in a way.
The toy ponies came to the edge of the bunny crowd and Applejack turned to Twilight. "How're we gonna do this? We can't hit Rarity with all these varmints in the way."
"Wait, that's the target? Why me?" Rarity looked hurt.
"She's the antagonist," Twilight said, which didn't make the other unicorn feel any better. "It's okay, the Elements aren't just a blind weapon — they know where there's evil in the heart. And we're not carrying the real Elements anyway. There's a better than even chance that they'll produce nothing more than a light show, but that should still be dramatic enough to disrupt the story. Either way I'm pretty sure she won't be harmed."
"That's the kind of sentence I really don't want to hear 'pretty' in."
* * * * * * * *
Rainbow Dash emerged also, and looked up toward Fluttershy. She broke into a broad grin and started laughing.
"Fluttershy? What a totally awesome prank!" she crowed.
* * * * * * *
Last second. Big Rarity was still fumbling around under the furry bodies. Little Twilight, still in her eye-of-the-storm zen balance, reached out with her magic and pushed, shoving rabbits heedlessly aside and clearing an aisle that led straight from where she stood to where Rarity sat, blinking in astonishment.
The telekinetic burst drained her remaining energy to the very dregs, leaving her feeling more worn and weak than ever, but she forced herself to keep her heavy hooves in motion. She could only hope that what she had left would be enough, that the resonance of her Element would amplify her remaining reserves sufficiently to carry off the rest of the plan.
But, to her own surprise, she wasn't worried. The question really was, would the magic of friendship come through for her when she needed it — when the whole world needed it?
Put that way, she didn't have to think it would, or hope it would. She knew.
Little Twilight charged forward between the befuddled bunnies.
* * * * * *
Big Dash flew up out of the bunnies, ignoring the wave of magic tossing them around beneath her. A strange, glossy blankness clouded her eyes as she hovered toward Fluttershy, not knowing why, but feeling somehow right about it. Fluttershy drew back, giving Dash a quizzical look.
* * * * *
Little Twilight drew to a halt a few hooves away from Big Rarity and squared her stance as the others took places by her sides. She lowered her head and lit her horn one more time.
"Sure hope these things work without a lecture on friendship first..." she said under her breath, then called, "All right, girls! Ready..."
* * * *
"Fluttershy... you... you're my..." Big Dash droned in a weird faraway voice, closing in on the butter-yellow pegasus, who backed toward the wall, growing more alarmed by the millisecond. "... you're my awesome hero..."
"Oh, it was nothing," Fluttershy mumbled, meaning it very sincerely.
* * *
With Fluttershy hunched up into the juncture of wall and ceiling, Dash was able to close in and grab her shoulders, trapping her. Fluttershy let out a pathetic whimper and drew her head back, terrified by the uncanny emptiness of Dash's eyes, almost certain that the fastest zombie in Equestria was leaning in to bite her face off.
On the floor below, Applejack whipped her head back and forth, trying to find anything that made a lick of sense. Over there was a flare of magic that looked like Twilight's color, tossing bunnies around, over there were more of those dadgummed toy ponies, still running around after she thought they'd been shut down, and up there, Rainbow Dash had Fluttershy cornered and was — what the hay was she doing? At a time like this?
The Elements of Harmony fired. At one-fourteenth scale.
Time clotted. In the frozen now, Spike found himself preternaturally alert, aware of everything at once.
He saw the six fugitive toy ponies, lining up with grim determination. He saw the lane cleared of bunnies, leading like a lethal arrow toward Rarity, who was staring blankly, mouth agape, not yet recovered from the chaos of the last few moments.
Somehow he could see Twilight behind him, her horn beginning to glow, attempting who knew what sort of emergency magic. He could see that it wasn't going to work, there was no more time.
He could see himself as though from outside, fighting to get his body moving, straining muscles that felt like frozen taffy.
He saw bright points of light shining from the toy ponies, each a different color. Deep in his core, he could feel forces of magic coiling up around the glass gems each of the miniatures wore, ready to burst forth. With frightful clarity he was aware of ghostly, shimmering light blooming at the throats of the full-sized mares in the room, some sort of echoed apparition of their Element necklaces flickering into view in sympathetic response to their toy versions.
He saw Rarity's eyes find the toys that were threatening her, saw her pupils dilate in fright, saw her forehooves rising — slowly, oh so slowly — to protect her face. He heard her begin to scream.
He could see the polychromatic energy bursting from the miniature Elements of Harmony. In the face of all logic regarding the speed of light, he was able to watch the beam growing toward her, inescapable.
And then he was in motion. He was in the air, leaping forward in a long desperate arc. He had his arms and legs stretched out wide, he had his chest fully bared to the oncoming ray. His own voice echoed in his ears as if from some far distant place, crying out a prolonged protest.
And then time came back. In a dizzy blurred instant he felt something like a full-grown dragon's breath blowing on him, hard; he felt himself changing direction in the air to fly back over Rarity's head, felt himself slammed against a bookshelf, felt his breath rush out and abandon him.
And then everything went...
... everything went rainbow.
How's the Moon This Time of Year? Stay Tuned!