Ah don't remember when we fell asleep. Ah just plum know we did.
The light in the sky stayed put, so Ah couldn't tell how long we'd been sleepin', or if it was day or night.
It wasn't like the patch-up we got at the hospital or the breaks we got in Sunny Town or at school... We just plum went kaput. Ah don't know 'bout Twist, Silver Spoon or Miss Shiny Star, but the rest of us Ah reckon were all out like lights.
And Spike, well, he is a baby dragon.
We'd gotten into a rhythm, ya know? Ah know Ah voted for us to fix everythin' in one go fast as we could, but Ah still figured once we saved our friends the place would turn nice and we'd get to rest unless Alula or Tootsie showed.
Instead we didn't all just almost die, we'd almost Ah don't know -what-. Ah'd brushed haunches with Death with the Sunny Towners, this, it didn't feel like the end of my life, it felt like the UNDOING of my life, like pullin' a quilt apart. Ah really wish Ah could get the Truth in my eye to settle down.
So that's why Ah think we chose to take a nap there on the nice hard wooden deck of Pip's pirate ship, (he called 'er the MoonPearl by the way).
= Aileen Quinn - 'It's Strictly Up To You' =
I dreamed I was Red Robin with Dash as Batmare, swinging across rooftops, and we did a crossover with the Power Ponies, but then I got my own superpowers and changed my name to SuperFilly IV. After getting my own stand-alone series, I formed my own superhero team, the Filly Furies. I went through a few dozen issues where I wore a black and torn costume with lots of spikes, but that got retconned out of continuity and I went back to my normal costume much to the delight of my readers. And Apple Bloom was my editor for some reason.
Okay! So I dreamed I was playing video games at the arcade. They had this new machine that was really, really cool, and I kept playing and kept playing, but then they shut off the power, but that was okay since I hooked-up some power cables to Sweetie Belle's horn and kept playing, but she had this bored/annoyed look on her face, even when I beat the final boss, and the game told me it was all an illusion by Tirek and I needed to beat the game twice to get the real ending, and Sweetie melted the game machine, and ... wait, that all really happened, well, except the melting thing, I think she just zapped the power cables and two and dragged me off because it was past our bed times. I think the arcade owner was sorry to see all my quarters go.
I dreamed my big sister Rarity was in her bathrobes, or maybe it was a wedding dress, giving everypony in Ponyville, and Nightmare Moon, Chryssy, the royal guards, and the changeling swarm all sewing lessons. Button Mash was next to me, and couldn't take it anymore and sewed a portal to the Land Where Video Games Are Real, and hopped through. Scootaloo was there, and she had wings larger than Celestia's, and she showed this Super Ponario game where you could make your own levels, then made the hardest, enemy filled, spike covered level imaginable, played it several time, but got rejected by the 'share with others' option for being too hard... and Ponario kinda looked like Button Mash. Button Mash jumped out of the portal saying he didn't want to live in the Land Where Video Games Are Real anymore. Then Apple Bloom used the game editor to make Rarity a grown-up dragon, and me and Button Mash got on her back and she flew away with all jewels in the mountain. Spike was flying with her.
I am King Spike, king of keeping things organized, brave knights, and giant jewels. And my loyal and faithful assistant the little filly Twilight, she's so adorable, especially when she has the hots for that handsome, nice, musically inclined, blue-haired monkey. You think the cross species thing would throw her off but it only made her more determined. Then for some reason our lives were a comic book, she kept running into all these nice little boy dragons, the blue monkey kept hitting on anything female that moved, and suddenly began to act with slight disgust towards Twilight in spite of clearly deeply caring about her before even if it wasn't in the way she liked. Then the Cakes made a giant cake that lots and lots of foals came out that helped build a giant castle made out of pastels.
Ah was rearranging the stock markets so they'd be easier to harvest with the stockplow. But then stock crows came and tried to eat'em, thankfully Ah had the stock crow spray handy and made 'em explode into feathers. Then Ah dreamed Ah was in front of a huge pegboard with pictures of everypony in the world and it was my job to connect red strings between the pictures, but Ah didn't know who went with who! Then a trolls threw rocks through lots of stained-glass windows, and they all ended up in a big pile, and Ah had to glue them all back together, but Ah didn't know what the original pictures were supposed to look like! Laughing, the trolls then shredded a buncha books and threw those together in a pile and Ah had to put them back together, but Ah didn't know what the stories were! Then Ah was in diapers and the trolls kept laughing at me fer that. Then Ah was on a glass swan as it swarm across the ocean with more stars in the sky then Ah'd ever seen. The swan turned to wood and was humming a lullaby Ah heard from somewhere but Ah couldn't remember where. But it felt, nice. Then there were lots of foals, one dragon, and a unicorn mare on the swan too. She turned into a boat, and we sailed into this thick mist.
It was actually easy to just lay there and rest, to the soft sound of the rockin' boat and the splash of the magical imaginary waves. But it was 'round then Ah realized Ah'd woken up and wasn't dreamin' no more.
Greetings, honored guests, I am your humble servant, Shiny Star. Not Star Shine, not Starry Shine, Shiny Star, thank you. I know that ponies in Ponyville don't normally wear clothes. As a mare who spends her day job wearing a maid's uniform, and having spent much of my life in Canterlot, going around naked with a bunch of other naked ponies felt incredibly awkward for me. Thankfully, I've gotten used to Ponyville's lack of dress code, and I just focus on the pirate hats and bandannas they're wearing and tell myself they aren't actually naked.
I am a 'background pony' (as is the slang term for ponies who aren't Equestria's movers and shakers), and wouldn't want to be caught in the mania that's the dance of business owners and elites. Too bad that doesn't do much for the random monster attacks and random mad gods who seem to think Ponyville is their personal battleground. Good thing we have Princesses Liza Doolots and Animatia Erroria to protect us.
I was honestly worried seeing an entire ship full of foals meant I'd turn into one. Nothing against being a foal, and I didn't MIND Princess Gaia's holiday (but didn't want a repeat of it) but... I'd rather not be that helpless again.
I recognize all the foals on Master Pipsqueak's ship as Miss Diamond Tiara's classmates. I have never seen Master Pipsqueak's ship for myself, so it is all rather disorienting. How long had I worked at...that place in what I thought was...I... I don't know... it was almost like I'd been born in that exact spot in that exact body in that exact situation... except I knew that was impossible, I had a foalhood (though not a perfect one), and memories outside that place, it made my head hurt terribly even TRYING to think about it.
"Excuse me." Eh? It was one of Master Pipsqueak's crewmembers. Miss Ruby Pinch I believe, niece of the school teacher Cheerilee. "Silver Spoon says you're a maid, so are you French?"
I blushed. "Not all maids are from Prance!" I wasn't, wasn't I? I didn't have the accent, so I couldn't be from Prance, right? Right! Uuuuuuugh. Mon Dieu, why does just thinking about that make moi's head spin? Ugh!
"Shiny Star?" Silver Spoon asked. "...Do you think Rich Filth and Madam Tiara are going to be upset that we all quit?"
Madam Tiara...That's right, I met the Riches. They had a share in ... the place I was at before. They've never had a Prench maid! I was proud I wasn't the stereotype and a bit upset to find it wasn't as big of one as I thought.
"...No, Silver Spoon, they won't be," I replied, sitting next to her. "Madam Tiara is healthy again, all of us were blaming ourselves for things that weren't actually our fault. And given it sank into a magical hole in the universe, I think they'll be grateful we left. Your parents are likely to sue the landowner for selling them land with that underneath it."
How did we end up working there? Because we all felt it was what we deserved. When did we start working there?... I can't recall. Everypony said it was a service of the community, but, that wasn't right was it? Silver's parents were dirty piggish elite, but still produced a mostly polite and proper little lady. Ugh! It wasn't what was important.
Golden...You finally came back, I know you aren't going to lose everything again. Speaking of which...
The wonderful magical ship MoonPearl magically sailed on magical waves, magically rocking back and forth, back and forth, up and down, up and down, and a group of foals magically hunched over the sides ready to magically lose their lunch.
Button Mash had made the mistake of trying to play his GameColt on the seesawing ship.
Twist had a weak constitution for an Earth Pony, something she was less than proud of, and had put her glasses aside so she didn't accidentally lose them overboard.
Scootaloo was not seasick at all, but her wings were ever so slightly open as the ship rolled.
Spike, well, he could eat baked-bads and want seconds.
Sweetie Belle felt perfectly fine, but she found himself instinctively humming 'Shoo-be-doo' to herself.
Her 'dog' however, had turned a minty green, and hung its head over the side, keeping its paws clammed over its muzzle. Even when compared to Blister Of Supposed-To-Be-Dead-But-Not-Dead-Dead, the infection was so greatly integrated into everything, yet erasing the infection would mean Mistress would have fallen into the Great Waste Basket. The contradiction was sickening.
"When did you get a piercing, Apple Bloom?" Twist asked after having been given a ration of crackers and lime-soda that was just keeping her stomach where it belonged. The ship had been surprisingly well-supplied, given it was run by foals.
"It's not a peircin' Twist, it's a clip-on, and it's a gift from Zecora."
"Isth that a sthymbolic thing meaning you're her apprenthice now?"
"But she did say we could be considered part of her herd now."
"Your family seen your new earring yet?" Silver Spoon asked, coming close to the little Apple with Shiny Star besides her.
"Ah, no, they haven't. Ya parents don't let ya wear'em?"
"You kidding? I've wore more than most adults, I'm expected to be a little lady at parties after all."
"Sounds like I missed out being accepted into Zecora's herd."
"Trust me, Silver Spoon, ya don't wish ya were there, Ah don't wish Ah was there, it wasn't fun, cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."
"It suits you, Miss Apple," Shiny Star said simply.
"Thank, but just Apple Bloom."
"Yes Miss Apple Bloom," Shiny Star said suppressing a grin, she'd always wanted to do that! "But I must say those capes of yours could use some refinement, if I do say so myself, I am no Rarity Belle but I'm certain I can-" The maid reached for Apple Bloom's Crusader cape which the filly snatched protectively in her hooves.
"NO! Ah mean, even the uh, mistakes here make these cape them special, and Ah don't feel really comfortable takin' it off right now, and Ah know my friends feel same."
"Too bad I didn't bring mine," Silver Spoon said simply.
"Sorry," Apple Bloom said. 'Wish Miss Void had given us an extra.'
Sweetie Belle blinked, looking to Button Mash, who was looking at a weird, black trophy. "Button, what's that?"
"Uh, remember how that said I got a trophy? Apparently I actually did," Button said, showing it. On the base read 'Oblivion'. "It was in my inventory!"
Apple Bloom looked at it with her truth eye. "It's not made of those slug things...just ones and zeros..."
"Cool! I got a trophy!" Button called, holding up the trophy and causing a weird jingle to sound.
"...Where does the music come from?" Sweetie asked.
Button just shrugged. "I don't know...but it's cool..."
The Cutie Mark Crusaders already having had their sleep, Spike, Twist, Shiny Star, and Silver Spoon were conveniently shown below decks, which was, of course, larger on the inside than the outside.
Apple Bloom couldn't help but feel they were being... dismissed. She did however hear Shiny Star below decks.
"This place is filthy! When was the last time this place was seen by a nanny?! Miss Twist! Miss Silver Spoon! Master Gillspotten! I must humbly demand your immediate services in vanquishing this shrine to filth!"
Apple Bloom shuddered.
The CMC+1 and the foal pirates sat in a circle on the main deck, except for the owlbear (who the blue filly introduced as 'Olo') who was steering the ship. All things considered, he was the least strange thing the heroes had seen. Apple Bloom looked at him... he was...something else... he was born whole cloth from the curse, Apple Bloom could see, but she didn't feel sick or scared looking at him. At least he was cute. She still wasn't sure about letting Sweetie hug him.
Sweetie Belle looked at the front of the ship. "The thingie on the front is Princess Luna…"
Scootaloo chuckled. "You expected something else?"
When Apple Bloom looked closely at the deck and the riggings, she realized that everything was crayon-colored. Finely detailed, but with crayons nonetheless. They all had the same 'light and dark' shading that Noi and Ruby had when they last saw them. She really looked at Pipsqueak, he was full of fireflies, as was his crew, including Ruby who was helping Button Mash with an extra bottle of lime soda which the colt politely thanked her.
Lightning struck Apple Bloom in the head. Button Mash was under the remade reality, the foals knew for a fact that Button Mash hadn't been special friends with Sweetie before reality switched around. So why, WHY didn't Button Mash have a snake-centipede inside him? He was the core of the rumor wasn't he? Sweetie Belle certainly wasn't infested! She'd seen fireflies made up his magic window and sword, but looking at him thus, he didn't have any inside him. But Apple Bloom looked at Button Mash, she didn't see a parasite or fireflies, no nothing...she just saw a foal, What did it mean?! Apple Bloom felt dizzy.
The CMC+1 didn't so much as question the powwow, they were ponies after all. Apple Bloom asked the first question.
"Rear Admiral Pipsqueak, or just Captain Pipsqueak while we’re on ship, please, Apple Bloom."
"Captain Pipsqueak, where were ya all headed before ya heard about yer great treasure? Where are ya goin' now?"
"'Bloom, remember what I said before? Going poof 'cause he realizes it doesn't make sense?" Scootaloo whispered harshly.
"Adventure! And adventure!" Captain Pipsqueak said. All his crew cheered in return.
Button Mash whispered. "Rides on ships normally last until ya talk with everypony on board. Or you sleep, depends on the rules but normally one or the other."
"Scootaloo," Ruby Pinch said, "I just want to say again thank you for saving me and Orange Top and everypony else in class. The whole crew loved hearing about it. It seems now we've returned the favor."
"Hey, no problem," Scootaloo smiled, "We're all ponies here."
"We're happy to see you and Button Mash made up, Sweetie Belle," Orange Top said.
Sweetie Belle blushed.
"Yeah, when you first got together, we were all taking bets on how long you'd last-OW!" Ruby got elbowed by Orange Top. "We dropped the bets a long time ago! Promise!"
"Sweetie was, just confused." Button Mash said awkwardly. "We're kinda starting our friendship over from scratch kinda." Sweetie Belle just awkwardly nodded.
In a way it's almost nice Sweetie doesn't remember, now I get a new game plus to do everything right this time! ... But I kinda think I'd rather have Sweetie get her memories back anyway. I mean, what's the point of a game if you beat it on the first go, right?
"Ye used 'kinda' twice." The blue filly said.
"Tis not good grammar."
"Ya sound like my mom."
"Then she be a wise woman."
"Just who are ya anyway?" Button Mash asked.
"My name be Moonlight, and yonder be our true companion Olo the Owl Bear." The Owlbear waved one winged paw in a friendly manner. "As said, I am dear Pip's second-in-command of the MoonPearl and his special friend."
Apple Bloom zeroed in her eyes on Moonlight, really focused. She was an Earth pony one moment, then a pegasus, then a unicorn, then was just an Earth Pony...she wasn't made out of rumors... but it was like she was missing something, or something was missing her. And Blanky kept lowering his head in her direction.
"Ah haven't see ya around Ponyville."
"I am home-schooled. And Button Mash and this fine crew are the only true friends I have. If ye had accepted Captain Pips's most generous offer instead of slaving thyself to thy illusionary adventures, ye would have met us sooner."
"Hey! Just because he really likes video games doesn't mean he's a slave to them." Sweetie Belle said, then noticed Button's very interested reaction. "That is… he's a good friend. Don't say mean things to him."
"Verily, I apologize, Sir Button Mash." Moonlight bowed formally.
"Do you come from an rich family like Silver Spoon?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"Verily. Our parents are great architects, and cultivators of life, our many brothers and sisters help spread their talents across Equestria."
"Never heard of ya." Button Mash said.
"We prefer to stay behind the scenes."
"What about your families? Don't they worry about you while you play pirates? Are they all okay?" Sweetie Belle asked looking at the other 'pirates'. She remembered Button's mom, but she had to ask.
"Oh we're not pirates." Captain Pip said, "Pirates are random agents of thievery and mayhem, we are privateers, in service of Her Nightesty, Princess Luna. We just tell the bad guys we're pirates to spook 'em!"
"Oh," Sweetie said, "So, uh, what about your families when you play 'privateer?'"
"Mommy... d-doesn't notice I'm not around when she's taking her medicine." The CMC remembered the violet drunkard Berry they'd dodged when the world had first changed. They didn't ask about Ruby's father, Ruby had no idea who her father was.
"My family doesn't mind as long as I get the farm choirs done." Noi said. None of the girls knew how to break it to her the last they'd seen of her big sister Carrot Top was her recovering from what seemed to be a planet monster attack.
"Ah can sympathize with that," replied Apple Bloom.
"We are in service of the great goddess of the night, our family is proud of us," Moonlight said her head held high.
"And my parents are part of the Bat Pony Tribe! They look really cool and help Princess Luna fight monsters!" Button Mash said excited.
Okay. Apple Bloom had known THAT wasn't true!
"Then how are ya an Earth Pony?"
"Same reason Pound Cake and Pumpkin Cake are a pegasus and a unicorn?"
Apple Bloom sighed. The foal sat there quiet for a moment. The Blanky gave a slight bark and tug on Sweetie.
"Dinky? ... What about your family?" Sweetie Belle asked. Dinky startled. Dinky had said nothing and hadn't been spoken to since the heroes had been rescued. It wasn't like Dinky was invisible, just unnoticed. Now she found everypony's eyes on her. Dinky realized Apple Bloom had been politely waiting for Dinky to take her turn.
Dinky channeled Fluttershy as her voice died in her throat, coming out as faint syllables, fidgeting nervously. "I! Uh! ... My family? They're... " Dinky stumbled over her own words. Her eyes darted about. "They think it's safer, safe for me to playing, being a pirate, privateer, with my friends. After all, even if somepony 'dies' playing pretend, they have to be back alive later, since it would be mean if they're not allowed to play the game all their friends were playing."
That all sounded right to Button Mash.
"That why yer ma let ya skip school today?" Apple Bloom asked evenly. She didn't know Derpy that well, but she knew enough that Derpy would have never just let her filly play hooky.
Dinky felt cornered. She didn't have the Doctor's talent for expertly lying or swarming a pony with so much fast-talk they'd worry just some of it might be true. Sweetie Belle broke the circle and put a gentle hoof on Dinky's shoulder. "Dinky, it's okay, we're all friends here, I promise. Did something bad happen to your family?"
"...No..." Dinky finally admitted. "But it's... my family wanted me there to help... sort things out with the paperwork about mom's name. We... had some guests over about it. They weren't bad like we thought they were, they were just confused over the paperwork too. It... turns out they were family we hadn't met before. So we all got to know each other.
Then a royal messenger visited, saying she was there on behalf of the Princesses, saying they needed the Doctor, Sparkler, and all my family to help some ponies who needed better endings for stories they were making, and she could work out the paper work later. And she DID say it was asking help for the princesses from the princess ... But she said I was 'underage' for the stories that needed help, and said I could play with my friends until they were done."
Sweetie Belle's eyes narrowed. "I see."
Apple Bloom's eyes narrowed more, she took one trot forward when,
"Hey Apple Bloom, does Dinky look sick to you, I mean, really look sick?" Scootaloo interrupted.
Apple Bloom looked dead on at Dinky, zeroing in on her. "No, she ain't look sick to me."
"Alright then," Scootaloo said. "Dinky... if... what you're talking about sounds important... if talking about it isn't cool with you, then that's okay."
Button Mash just looked back and forth confused.
"Alright." Dinky looked relived.
Dash, how long can I keep this up? My cute-ceañera, I put it on hold along with Sweetie's until Apple Bloom's gets hers. Dash, I'm so happy you took me in. I... I promise. Girls, I ... want to tell you, I don't WANT any more secrets between us... I don't want to go back to Cloudsdale, or put in a 'home'. Girls, please understand. I'll understand if you're ticked off when you find out... Mom, Dad, where are you?
Sweetie and Apple Bloom glared Scootaloo, but said nothing.
"And that be all our crew," Captain Pip said, "It's a shame you won't be meeting Miss Half-Light Dawn and Miss Tootsie Flute."
"Huh?" All the CMC echoed.
"Half-Light Dawn, she be a filly who was part of our crew before, she loved asking questions. But alas, she was promised to another ship and crew First Mate Moonlight informed me, so we had to let her depart."
The girls looked at each other. None of the CMC+1 knew the name. Another Jade? Wait a second!
"Ya said Tootsie Flute?" Apple Bloom asked.
Ah used to think Ah was the only blank in Ponyville then the only three. But Feather Weight, Tootsie, Rumble... Button Mash was the few we actually TRIED to recruit. Why?.. Maybe somewhere along the way it was about us, our club, our adventures, about us being friends. Maybe we should have tried harder.
"Yes, before/after/between she was Princess Doolots. She was a fine crewmate, incredibly brave, and the first to take risks for the crew. But she just drifted away. She ... stopped reporting for duty. I suppose her Princess duties come first. She said 'Mare-Do-Well doesn't stand around bragging, she helps those in need.'"
"Verily, the responsibilities of a Princess are great, but she should remember a Princess always keeps her word," Moonlight said. "She never formally retired from ship service."
Tootsie was their friend. I ... I couldn't tell them that we'd almost run into her at big sister Rarity's house. Or that she'd thought were the bad guys in her hero story. I know she was on the newspaper team. But we'd gotten to know Lyra and Bon Bon, and Moth, no way they'd bring up an bad filly. But Filthy Rich hadn't really been super bad either. But she was never bad in class or when she visited Canterlot.. After everything that happened, and Scootaloo getting her cutie mark... we were too distracted to make new friends. Maybe? She was Matilda and Cranky's flower filly? I... I didn't know that. We should have at least tried to get to know her better.
"She could've invited Princess Erroria to the crew," Ruby said. "That would have been fun! Then we'd have two princesses on ship!"
"We've talked about that before." Noi said.
"Yeah but I never got why she thought her princess friend couldn't meet her pirate friends."
"Speaking of which," Captain Pip said, fidgeting. "Button Mash, I just want say... that offer is still open if you want to join my crew. Um, and you can bring along your video game if you want just, just promise you'll turn it off while we're adventuring? And I promise I'll... I'll try your video game. Mum and Dad said I should try games you like if I want you to try games I like."
The girls remembered what Button Mash had said about 'being in the party' until the 'game rules' had him leave. Sweetie didn't know if she'd be relieved or sad to see the excitable nutty colt go. He'd be safe here right? Like Dinky? But he'd already helped so much. But so did Spike, but Button Mash said he was there as an 'escort mission', that meant Spike wouldn't be with them for the whole quest. Sweetie was sad about that, same with Silver. It REALLY DID feel like a cheat. Silver and Spike had both helped in Canterlot, couldn't they help here too? Then again, with the horrible nightmares they'd faced, maybe it was a good thing after all. They didn't have cool video game super powers to protect them either. But they faced the changelings with less.
"Uh, thanks. Though I'm kind of on an adventure myself, right now." Button replied, rubbing his head. "But I know some games about pirates. Maybe when I'm done with this quest, then we can play?" Button Mash answered, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head.
"Alright, matey." Captain Pip nodded.
"This should be fun," Ruby Pinch said grinned at the gamer colt. "So what were ya doin' on the
redlight island? Did your families approves of that?" Ruby asked probed.
"No, they didn't," Apple Bloom said lowly. "We just didn't think Twist and the rest should be workin' in a place like that again."
"A good thing thy did, since it sank." Moonlight said properly.
"Honestly, we'd probably have lit it on fire if it hadn't," Scootaloo replied. "It just felt...wrong. I think the universe knew that, considering what happened to it," Scootaloo only half-lied.
Button Mash, politely relieved of his GameColt for this meeting of the foals, had now been without this symbiotic extension of himself for some time, and couldn't find the mini-game cheat code for his menu. Now having been without his fifth leg while awake for longer than since he was out of diapers in a relatively normal social setting outside of ponies who were his immediate friends, the foal dimly looked to the left and to the right of himself.
Then Button Mash derailed things at a speed that would have made Pinkie Pie proud.
"So... uh, Pipsqueak," Button said using the colt's name for the first time in his life. "What's it like having friends who are all girls?" he asked in that naïve, innocent tone only a foal could pull off.
Groans echoed, enticing a confused blink from Button.
Captain Pipsqueak tiled his head innocently. "... What about you?"
Button Mash blinked at the counterargument before answering, "I've got Spike."
"Well, I don't really notice most of the time."
Button Mash looked to his left and right then said as if the thought had never crossed his mind. "... Me neither."
"So what made you think of that?"
"I dunno. I've never been surrounded by so many girls before?"
"Ponyville is full of girls."
Sweetie Belle didn't need memories to guess Button Mash normally paid more attention to his video games than his surroundings. Or face hoof at it.
"Hey Button Mash, keep digging, I think you'll hit Neighpon soon," Scootaloo said flat.
"What?" Button Mash looked around in confusion. To Button's defense, Pip seemed just as confused.
"The ratio of mares to stallions in Equestria lopsidedness is not that hard to notice." Moonlight said simply.
There was some sniggering around him.
Button Mash began to blush furiously, and Sweetie saw the danger signs of his eyes getting wet and quickly hugged him. "There, there, Button Mash, we're all just having fun."
"I...I just spend most of my time at the arcade..." muttered Button Mash. "Or outside of Ponyville with you and the others..."
Sweetie Belle sighed and gave him a pat on the back. "It's okay, I say things in front of Rarity's friends that sounds weird to them too." Sweetie told him what he needed to hear.
Button sniffled. "You have?"
"Would I lie to you?" Sweetie asked in a perfectly calm voice.
"...No..." the colt replied. "I just...I'm not used to talking to ponies...other than you girls and Silver, and mom, and dad, and I guess Spike doesn't count as a pony..."
Sweetie laughed and hugged him tighter.
Button hugged her back. "...I think I'd be a lot worse without you Sweetie..."
Sweetie was proud of herself for hiding her cringe. If he started going on about how his life would be hollow and empty without her, she swore she'd feed him cake right now on the spot until he stopped.
Button Mash sniffled. "Sorry...I'm being a crybaby, I guess..."
"A cry baby doesn't fight zombies and monsters," Sweetie pointed out. "You're brave, you're just a little sensitive...so's Rarity, why do you think she has the fainting couch?"
"And..." Scootaloo jumped in and verbally stumbled, "Even if you don't. I mean come on, we're your friends too right? We're here for ya too! It's like Twilight Sparkle is always saying, 'you're all my very best friends!' It, wouldn't have mattered if it was me or Apple Bloom who had talked you into playing with us right?"
"Uh." Now it was Button Mash's turn to look like he was trotting on egg shells. "... Sweetie Belle was actually kinda sorta 'just right'. I LIKE YOU GIRLS! I really do! You're all fun to be around! You're the only reason I have friends!" Sweetie felt pricked by a needle. "But, uh, when we first met, if we're talking first impression, you were kinda too ... um, rough and tumble, maybe? And Apple Bloom was kinda..." 'REMEMBER POLITE WORD MOM TAUGHT! REMEMBER POLITE WORD MOM TAUGHT!' Rustic? And Silver Spoon is kinda too, 'rich' for my blood. PLEASE DON'T TELL'ER I SAID THAT! She's good to have as a friend! Please don't hate me!"
Scootaloo and Apple Bloom looked to each other and chuckled a bit.
"What?" Button Mash questioned.
"Have yah seen mah sister and her friends sometimes?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Yeah, what about them?"
Sweetie rubbed her head. "Rarity thinks Applejack and Rainbow Dash are a bit uncouth sometimes."
"And Rainbow thinks Rarity and Applejack like working more than playing," Scootaloo continued.
"And Applejack think Rainbow Dash and Rarity are too full of themselves," Apple Bloom explained. "But they're still friends, so why would we hate ya?"
"Because I was just rude to ya?"
Scootaloo scoffed. "You call that rude? Seriously dude, I'm more rude than you."
Apple Bloom nodded, "Yeah, bout the only one of us more polite than ya is Sweetie Belle."
Button Mash blushed a bit. "Oh...well...okay...so you're not mad?"
"No!" All three said together.
Button Mash began to cry again and glomped the trio, "Thank you!"
The pirate foals and Olo The Owlbear all broken out stomping their hooves and/or clapping, giving the CMC+1 a standing ovation.
"I saw how your father acted while you were gone, your parents never stopped loving you."
"Why are you even speaking to me?" The Nightmare of Diamond Tiara asked. Wasn't Bon Bon's purpose here just to serve as embellishment? 'Remember,' she thought, 'The Parasite Queen fell into that trap.'
The never-was-earth-pony-always-was-a-changeling spoke to the finally firmly but not viciously. "I'm speaking to you because you're a friend of Tootsie's. I can tell when a foal is hurting."
"I don't hurt, I feel nothing," She said to Bon Bon. Lyra and Moth had gone to check on Thunderlane and Cloud Kicker, purposely using changeling magic to make sure they ate and slept, even if they were beginning to suspect the two pegasi had no need of it. The two were the most legendary loose ponies in Ponyville, in Equestria and shallow and hedonistic to their core, it sincerely made the changelings wonder how Alula and Rumble had turned out so well.
The cooking sisters and Shady were stood waiting like good servants, even if they had a hard time remembering when they’d last ate or slept themselves. It wasn't their role to listen in.
"'Nothing' tends to be the worst kind of pain of all," Bon Bon said her maternal firmness never wavering.
"Any pain I feel is simply part of my role."
"Feeling pain is not a role, young filly!"
"Nocreature can escape their role, not you, not Father."
Is how the exchange would have gone. But at that moment.
The Nightmare of Diamond Tiara felt it. Conflict. Uncertainty. Doubt. Worry. Concern. Regret. Fear. Tenderness. Shame. Sadness. Kindness. She felt.
"You're the only reason I have friends!"
The filly stood frozen on the spot. An a memory, of a pink and a silver filly playing pirates on their bed.
"I have to go. T-tell A-Alula a-and T-Toosie hello if they come in!"
The shadowed Alicorn teleported away.
Bon Bon sighed. "Fillies -and mares- always hiding from their problems."
Umbra Breeze was happily clicking away at his typewriter. So many ideas. So many directions. You could ALWAYS make things more depraved and futile. But first things first would be clean up the mess they'd made of Zecora, Cheerilee, and Rarity. Abandon had his chance. But Umbra Breeze loved his sibling's style too much to simply change the whole thing.
Still, there was something to be said about horrors and nightmares done in the original visual style, Discord wanted a new family who understood and accepted him, maybe it was time to help that wish along to his dear cousin, never let it be said Umbra Breeze didn't repay his debt, not to pawn of course, but family was another matter...if he felt like it.
Then Discord's adopted spawn broke his concentration with her unwanted disruption.
"Your honey trap failed, Uncle."
Umbra Breeze kept a straight face. "Niece, haven't you heard of manners? I know you applied a farce of them around your mortal parents."
"Do you think I am not serious? I felt it, they're alive."
Umbra Breeze didn't waste time rambling about how that honey trap was perfect. After all, it had been perfect, why ramble the obvious? The trap had used the threads they had been using to destroy his work against them. Nor did he ramble about the enemy having cheated, that too was obvious, cheating was all they had done so far. He didn't blame fate, she was far too cowardly and lazy to take matters into her own hooves. Instead he asked, annoyed at the interruption of his work, "How can you possibly know?"
"I began speaking in zebra when you gained two more cultists, then stopped when your link with them and Zecora was broken. I felt a ... wave of intense feeling ... which means that the ones who have been dissolving our alterations is still alive. Nothing feels nothing, if they'd fallen into Grandmother like you thought they had."
'And that's why I said to hold off on the cake, seriously, ponies are more like cockroaches than horses, they keep bouncing back!' Her Father said. 'How annoyingly, predictable. I never got why Strife bragged so much about that!'
"Cadence. Stubborn goddess. And I thought Amicitia was annoying. She lost to her own shadow before, when did she get so tenacious?" Umbra Breeze said calmly, standing up perfectly upright with an even expression. Then the floor crack and splintered under the gentle pressure of one of his forehooves.
"She's not alone. Sweetie Belle is the one I've been sensing. It was her song, her family's song, I heard. I heard it only a hundred times at the wedding. It's the most logical answer. Which means Apple Bloom and their friends are with them too, where there's one the rest are certain to be there, like Flim and Flam."
"Did you not share this before? because of me wanting to leave you for granite?"
"I feel nothing. If I felt spite towards you uncle, you'd know it-"
"Heh, let me guess, 'Briefly?'"
"Heh. Nice to see you haven't lost your touch, filly."
The Nightmare filly felt nothing at the praise.
"She was sent into Oblivion, Rarity would never mourn her, never cry over her, never miss her, never feel pain over a loss she couldn't recall. I didn't see a reason to speak of her, and you apparently didn't feel a need to check to see if everypony had forgotten if Princess Cadence and Shining Armor's had ever existed. It wasn't until I felt that recent surge of emotion. And in addition, I have no idea how we're linked, I couldn't check."
"... Touché," Umbra Breeze said pleasantly, to the sound of teeth cracking. "I will not repeat that mistake, again."
Discord's only regret is that he didn't have anyequus to share his popcorn with at the exchange.
A curled-up beast that hadn't been in the room before stirred.
"Wake up, my Wolf. My Beast of the false reflection. My Hound of Tindalos. Wake up, I, myself, the Moon Howler."
A swirl of red eyes like a spider's gleamed.
"This is our world, not their world. They do not belong here. Removed their infection. YOU, WE, are the Blank Wolf of this world!"
'You shouldn't risk yourself like this,' Discord said sagely.
"Enough. Too many overlords wait until the heroes can actually defeat them, sitting on their throne, letting the hero gain fighting experience on their own subordinates. Enough."
The beast stood up on its legs, lifted up its tail, opened up its head like the mouth of a lamprey and let out a deafening howl that seemed to undo sound rather than create it. Rows upon rows of fangs all pointed inward gleamed.
'What? No tentacles?' Discord questioned.
"Not everything involving my family has tentacles. My Hound is a masterpiece without them. And just in case?" Umbra Breeze sat at his type writer and began to type. At the same time Night Gale began to scribble something dark and sparkly.
"Bon Bon! Lyra! Moth! I'm back! I got to spend time with Miss Rarity and their family, and I helped them feel better after the monster did bad things to them! And Rarity made me a new dress, and made Truffle a new suit too!" She knew she'd find Truffle at the amusement park right where she left him, so there was no need to ask where he was.
Tootsie held up the dress that was every bit equal to Rarity's standards of dressmaking. The gold was used more for accents, and the colors better complimented Tootsie's own. And a good looking tuxedo with short leggings meant for play.
Bon Bon hugged Tootsie. "I'm so happy you're okay, dear! We were getting worried! Did the monster hurt you at all?"
"Oh..." Tootsie blushed. "The monster got beat before I got there... that's why I was helping Rarity's parents."
"That you didn't have to fight it."
"But I'm a Princess, and a magical filly, fighting monsters is what I should do."
"Princess Cadence does more than fight monsters, dear. I think you did a much better thing helping Rarity's parents than you would fighting any monster."
"But Bonnie... you... you told me how you were sad you didn't get to help beat up the bad guys in Canterlot."
"I... I was... I really did want to help like everypony else was help... but ... Princess Cadence said how I could still help in other ways. It's better to help in a small way than not at all."
"But you're super! You and Lyra and Moth are all super cool! You shouldn't have to stand by on the sidelines cheering and telling the hero they can do it. That's what the boring supporting characters do."
"Is it... really so bad, just to support?"
Tootsie looked at her guardian in dismay. "You shouldn't have to say things like that."
"Tootsie, if all the world's blacksmiths became guards, who would make their armor?"
"I... I guess... but... you DIDN'T GET to help the way YOU WANTED, that's not fair." Bon Bon wanted to be a hero, this was a world were everyone was supposed to be better, so why was she still like that? It wasn't fair. An inspiration came to Tootsie. "Bonnie, I... just remembered a thing, I'll be right back!" Tootsie teleported away, leaving the beige changeling confused.
Bon Bon stood there for a second, wondering what Tootsie was going on about, and wondered about making some good old fashioned candy for the foals as a little 'get together' gift for the little trio.
Even if the candy making thing was just a cover job after her retirement from monster fighting as an agent of the Princesses.
Bon Bon the changeling...Agent Sweetie Drops... monster wrangler, false identity, no one knows, total badass in dealing with monsters...had helped the royal guard crushing her bumbling invading cousins without mercy...
But... she had grown up in Ponyville, she'd been born in Ponyville, how could she have left town, lived the life of a monster wrangler, and come back under a different name, when she was surrounded by friends who'd have known her by her real name? It... It made no sense it...
Memories did not change in contradiction to reality, reality changed, and memories adjusted accordingly.
Former Royal Agent Sweetie Drops the changeling, also known as Bon Bon the Earth Pony, shuddered, thinking of her foster child out there, along with her best friend, they were so young, princesses or not, shouldn't they have a normal foalhood instead of risking themselves?
Tootsie teleported back in smiling and excited. "Sooooo, Bonnie, I was wondering, can you tell me again about the help you gave when the evil Queen tried to invader Canterlot?"
"Tootsie, are really you sure you want to hear about that?"
Tootsie looked into her guardian's eyes, and the naive innocent Tootsie Flute, 'Princess Liza Doolots' saw how tired Bon Bon was. Tootsie had no idea on the realities of how helping keep Equestria's monster population in check would weigh a pony down, seeing your teammates get hurt while you go injured, of going back to your home town and trying to pretend that part of your life never happened. Instead, all she saw, was Bon Bon tired, like she was carrying weights wherever she went.
And seeing one of her protectors, without that brightness she'd always known her for, motherly like Lyra's brightness was adventurous, just buried. The reality slowly sinking into her that maybe, just maybe, she was now looking at a different pony than she'd been before Tootsie 'improved' her life, as she'd improved her family's tribe, (which truly hadn't changed things that much at all, since changeling were ponies at the end after all).
But... this was what Bon Bon wanted wasn't it? To have an exciting life? To help at the front line? To help do the fighting? To protect ponies. It was what she wanted wasn't it? Just like Alula had seen Cloudkicker and Thunderlane just had to let go of the annoying 'moral' thingies holding them back from having fun, right? So how could this be bad? That was like spitting out candy you got.
So why did her heart feel heavy? Tootsie shook her head violent. "Excuse me! I gotta go the bathroom!" She teleported to her bedroom, and buried herself in a mountain of stuff toys, hugging her foal sized Mare-Do-Well plushie for dear life.
"It's what she wanted. I saved Truffle from a bad filly. It's what she wanted. I saved Truffle from a bad filly. It's what she wanted. That makes it a good thing. Ponies are happy when they get what they want. Making others happy is good. So I do good."
Alula entered Tootsie's room unbidden and not forbidden. "Tootsie! I beat the monster, sorry, I heard you had to beat a monster while I was gone, I'm really really REALLY SORRY that I wasn't there to help you, I promise I won't let you down again. I got free ice-cream, and helped Pinkie Pie's sister find her way home. I'm REALLY sorry I didn't get you anything, but maybe we can-" She heart her friend's sad sounds coming from within the pile of plushies on the bed, dug inside, and hugged her friend.
"Alula, are you sure we're doing good? Giving everypony what they want?"
"...Don't worry Tootsie, there's no way we could have done anything bad. We're the heroes. Heroes do what's right. Nopony likes stories where the heroes just do bad stuff, then they wouldn't be the heroes," Alula said, meaning every word.
The powwow had broken up. The little pirates had returned to their duties, or what 'duties' a buncha grade-schoolers who had seen pirates only in movies would see as duties on board on a pirate, excuse me, privateer ship.
Scootaloo flew around the ship a few times, but Bloom called her back least she get lost in the fog. Button Mash lay like a lump on deck fiddling with his game menu, he had found the sound test. So the MoonPearl sailed with a 16-bit rendition of Sapphire Shore's latest single echoing on the foggy waves. He got an informative kick in the side, and changed it to Misplaced Woods from Legend of Cadence, Flute Of Time.
This caused all the pirates to a do jig for some reason.
Sweetie sat on the stern of the ship (that's the rear by the way), looking back the way they came, leaning on the railing with Blanky looking at the way the MoonPearl left in the fog it was sailing on top of.
Blanky sniffed the air and whined.
"What's wrong, Blanky?"
The guardian spirit puppy shook his head and pointed out the way they came. Sweetie Belle looked but saw nothing.
"I don't get it."
Blanky covered his head with his paws and let out a low howl. Then he tugged on the railing, pointing his snout forward like a typical dog. He looked back the way they came and whined again. Sweetie Belle still saw nothing.
Blanky then got behind Sweetie and tugged on her tail, and then tugged on the railing, then tugged on a plank, then on one of the masts. Then pointed forward again, and did a hop forward. Then spin its forelegs forward. Then glanced back the way the ship had been and his ears wilted, whimpering.
"Uh, Blanky thinks we should go faster," Sweetie Belle said, under-volumed, before realizing the pirate foals couldn't see Blanky and the CMC+1 had felt no need to complicate things.
"Who." Sweetie was surprised when Olo The Owlbear turned to look right at her AND Blanky, by turning its head 180 agrees.
Rather than question how a pirate owl bear could see an invisible spirit dog, Sweetie fidgeted looking at those flawed wings and sharp beak and repeated. "My friend, Blanky, he's saying we should go faster. He's acting like it’s really important we should."
Blanky didn't even TRY to hide his disgust and contempt for the Infection before him. Olo returned no hostility.
Olo turned his head around, and shouted, "WHO! WHO-WHO! WHO!"
"Aye aye Mister Olo!" Moonlight said, "Captain, Mister Olo says he smells a Dark Storm is closing in behind us."
"Full-speed ahead!" Captain Pipsqueak ordered, and indeed, the MoonPearl went faster. The speed of darkness was supposedly known to be faster than the speed of light, but even this paled to the speed of imagination.
Blanky didn't stop looking back at the way they came, but he seemed a lot calmer now.
Apple Bloom for her part, being a born and bred farm pony, was feeling restless. She wish she could help with the ship somehow.
Apple Bloom let herself get lost in the sensation of speed, like this ship could sail on forever. Then Apple Bloom realized, 'Games of pretend don't have a beginnin' or end.'
Apple Bloom didn't shout or panic. Instead Apple Bloom put her hooves to her head for a minute, thought, and trotted up to Captain Pipsqueak.
"Captain! I can get you to your next destination! I know the way! It's right up here!" Apple Bloom pointed at her, in particular her eye, but most wouldn't notice.
The foal Rear-Admiral didn't hesitate. "Lead the way Miss Apple! Lead the way!"
Apple Bloom took in a deep breath, and trotted up to the bow (front) of the ship, right under the figurehead of Princess Luna (Apple Bloom's truth eye confirmed it was just a figure head).
Then Apple Bloom looked unsure to the captain and his first mate. "Uh, which is port and which is starboard?"
"Port is left, you can remember because it has the same number of letters." Captain Pipsqueak said helpfully.
"Oh, okay, thank ya kindly." Apple Bloom looked, and saw the path through the fog. "Hard to port!"
"Hard to port!"
The ship steered.
"Whoo!" And nearly sent Silver Spoon head first onto the deck as she climbed up. Dinky and Sweetie both helped the silver filly to her hooves and gave her back her glasses, the two shared a quite moment of acceptance of each other.
Then Silver trotted up to the bow of the ship.
"Hi Silver, thought you were busy helping clean up below." Bloom wished she'd thought to help.
"I managed to sneak away from Queen Clean-Mania. Twist covered for me."
"Shiny Star's turned into an evil queen?!"
"Uh, that was a JOKE Apple Bloom."
Apple Bloom sweated, "Oh right, sorry, just a little wound up."
"What are you doing?"
"Just helping guide the ship. Turns out I've got super good eyes. "
Silver pushed up on her glasses. " I just wanted to say again, thanks, that the second time you've gotten me out of a dark place."
"Hey!" Apple Bloom grinned. "Thanks to ya too! If we just stood around sayin' 'sorry', 'thanks' or 'yer a jerk for doin' that' we wouldn't ever get anythin' done. There ain't time on the farm for arguments or stewin' on stuff."
Silver Spoon grinned. "Tempting, but I think I'll stick to the dance of high class ponies, there's something, pretty about it."
"Different ponies, different strokes." Apple Bloom nodded.
"It's a beautiful view isn't it?" Silver Spoon said looking out at the foggy 'ocean' and dusty pink sky and the light in the sky that could have been the sun or the moon.
'Ah wonder what yer seein' Silver Spoon.' Apple Bloom sighed, wonderin' if ignorance was bliss, or if it was wrong Silver was finding something pretty in a lie. Well. Didn't really matter did it? Silver was smilin', they were friends again, they were safe for now, Silver was free of the dumb curse where it counted, and they were all on their way to save the world. Apple Bloom could see where she knew the ship was carrying them to next with another fog wall. She narrowed her eyes. 'Ready or not, here we come!'
As Maud Pie and Pinkamina continued their visit (the Cakes understood, it'd been so long since Pinkamina felt like she was talking to her big sister for the first time), with Gummy and Boulder in as staring contest, the pink pony's body twitch and spasmed. Pinkamina grinned.
Maud raised an eyebrow.
Pinkamina answered the unspoken question. "Pinkie Sense!"
"I know what that is, Pinkie."
"Oh right! Sorry! For some reason I thought you'd never seen it. Well, it's tell me we're gonna have guests for cupcakes soon!"