Dawn broke over Rainbow Fall and Equestria, and Princess Cadence and Prince Shining Armor awoke in each other's warm embrace. Shining Armor recalled he had had some of the most bizarre dreams since his world tour with Cadence.
The two remained in their loving embrace for as long as they dared before reluctantly separating. As a guard, Shining Armor was used to getting up early. So was Cadence, mostly because of how long Twinkle Shine needed to turn Cadence into Princess Mi Amore Cadenza. But Cadence was on her honeymoon, and Twinkle Shine wasn't here, so the Princess of Music could allow herself a much more casual appearance then when she was appearing to countless foreign dignitaries.
More importantly, Cadence could sleep in! Shining Armor wasn't on duty so technically he could sleep in too, but it if one of them had to get up first, it might as well be him. He was used to less sleep than his wife anyway.
As classical music played over the radio, Shining Armor thought how odd it was not to have the Interviewers around to speak in his head after almost two years of them being his company. Maybe with him safe, and Chrysalis beat, and this being his honeymoon, they'd decided to finally give him some privacy.
Shining Armor trotted into the five-star bathroom, flicked the light on with his magic, and looked into the mirror at the big x-shaped bandage on his belly.
Then he used an x-ray spell on himself, confirming he still had all of his internal organs. He gingerly, and carefully pulled the bandage away, hoping nopony had put a dimensional portal in his belly button when he wasn't looking. He saw there wasn't even a mark, and wondered what the point of the bandage was.
"Shining? Is everything alright?" Cadence called.
"... I think I'm either the victim of a prank, or I got abducted by aliens in my sleep...And I'm not doubting either at this point.”
Silver Spoon's Diary
Dawn came to Lickety-Split's house. Lickety-Split, me and his other houseguests woke up and had breakfast. Lickety-Split still worried about his mom, Mrs. Lickety Split, who still hadn't come home. Featherweight was recovering. And Twist, Shiny Star, and Post Haste, and me, were... just there.
The only liveliness had been the shock and alarm when Spike had said, "I've had enough! If those girls aren't gonnna send a letter, I'll send one!" And he used his dragon breath as a guide, following the trail of magical green smoke into the fog.
"Spike it's too dangerous!" I called.
"You're a child, I'm an adult! I can't let you just leave!" Shiny Star shouted, her horn glowing.
But Spike got past Shiny Star's magic,
field of Dragon Sneeze Trees, the front yard of Lickety Split's house, and into the fog.
In spite of calling for him, none of us followed him. I wanted to tell myself it was because it was too dangerous for us to run into danger after Spike, but somewhere in me, that didn't feel like the answer.
There was this overwhelming sense of... listless routine on everypony since the CMC left with Button Mash. Like we'd served our purpose, like we were just fixtures now waiting for the girls if they happened to come back. I felt a base urge to simply STAY HERE. The more I tried to question it, the more my head felt fuzzy and I gave up.
It wasn't like on the MoonPearl were I had a vague idea in the back of my head that we were going where we needed to go.
So instead Lickety-Split continued to go over every tale from the age of myths he knew to his captive audience.
"I'm sure I've memorized the name of every pony at Paradise Estate, and those who had lived at Dream Castle before the Smooze," Post Haste told me.
In the kitchen, I had learned more about making candy canes than I'd ever wanted to know from Twist, who in turn had learned more about proper etiquette than she'd ever wanted to know from me.
"With that many ruleth, no wonder you'd let sthomepony even like Diamond Tiara be your friend."
I frowned. "She was never that bad to me... except... except that one time... before she disappeared."
"I'm sthurprised you didn't do the sthame to her first."
Silver Spoon shuddered. "I... I wouldn't have..."
"Sthilver Sthpoon, no offensthe, but sthe treated you like a minion."
"That's not true!" I stamped a hoof. "She... she was just used to getting things her own way... and I was used to doing what others told me."
"Are you sthure you were really friendsth?"
"YES!" I said. "We ARE friends! I'm... I'm just sorry we had that horrible fight before she got lost."
"It wasn't a fight. Sthe browbeat you."
"And I should have KNOWN better than to push buttons I KNEW she had."
"What buttonsth were thosthe?"
"... That's something she trusted me not to tell anypony else."
"... I gotcha."
"Wealth carries its own curses, Miss Twist," Shiny Star said behind the foals startling them.
"If that'th a curthe, may Celethtia thmite me with it! And may I never recover!" Twist cheered.
Shiny Star rolled her eyes. "Diamond Tiara hurt Miss Twist, ones she thought she couldn't share. Maybe she thought since you didn't have to worry about status, fillies like you had carefree lives. Maybe a part of her was jealous, not that she'd ever admit."
At that time, we noticed there was a brown colt with broken wings and jack-o-lantern cutie mark munching on Twist's candies. "These are really quite good. You and Shiny Star should chat about how you make them."
"I really should ask you how you make these, Twist," Shiny Star said, and Twist happily began to describe her technique with Tiara's maid.
SNES - Final Fantasy 6 Zozo Town
I let out a small gasp. "Wait, I know you! You... You're... You're Phobia, right? What are you doing here?"
"That doesn't matter."
"That doesn't matter."
"What does matter, is this question: Do you still think Diamond Tiara can be saved?"
"Yes," I said defiantly. "Today, tomorrow and always!"
"Even after what you saw in your nightmare?"
"Do you believe the Diamond Tiara who was your friend still exists?"
Phobia sighed. "... And that's why you need to be kept safe until this curse business is over."
I tilted my head. "...Why should that matter? I know Diamond Tiara is out there, somewhere, she got turned into something... something wrong... I'm guessing your saying that saving the world is more important than saving her?"
I glared at him.
"But more than that... All your efforts might get... undone."
I let out a gasp. "What do you mean?" And what was this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach?
"I've got to be somewhere else. Stay safe, Silver Spoon." And the next thing I knew, he was gone.
"Those Foster-Care-Accountant-Acorns sure knew how to throw some nasty audits," Scootaloo remarked, pulling off the last of the sticky red tape.
"I didn't know there WERE that many flavors of ice-cream-jelly-beans," Sweetie Belle said, spitting out a bacon-soap-pizza flavored one.
"If I have to hear one more roll of film argue logistics for deep jungle adventuring it'll be too soon!" Daring Do declared. What annoyed her more than anything was the giant sword she'd taken from the angry folding chair, but for some reason she couldn't walk through a door with it even if the door itself was obviously large enough.
Button Mash was playing Tetris on his Gamecolt (he insisted it was a proven fact that it helped with trauma), patting Sweetie Belle on the back. "I never want to play another True-Art Walking-Simulator With Snarky-Narrator Social-Commentary-Game ever again. That had to be the dullest video arcade I've ever visited!"
"Hey, Mash, think I need one more healing potion," Spike spoke, pulling a tomahawk out of his back dragon scales, followed by a spear, a lance, throwing knives, a mace, behind was a trail of weapons that dissolved into pixels every time the CMC tried to pick up one. (Button Mash had explained that unless the enemy dropped it when they were beaten, they couldn't take the bad guy's stuff for themselves, no matter how illogical that was, but that also meant neither could the other enemies).
"Those dragons slayers sure had it in for ya," Apple Bloom observed, dusting off the last of the confetti. She'd have helped Spike sooner, but that giant foot had been trying to make her apple sauce. (She had to squeeze out of the high chair, its applesauce tasted like pears).
"Meh. It was more annoying than painful, it hurts worse when I help Rarity as her pincushion. Though they really messed up my scales."
"I think you look fine."
They passed a sign that read, 'You Are now leaving the Midway of Hilarious Pain, Come And Laugh again Soon.'
"Who laughed?" Scootaloo frowned.
"Dang false advertising," Spike complained.
"I dunno," Sweetie said. "The tiger leaping safely through that flaming hoop the size of a ring was cool. And the leopard and lion doing the acrobatics was exciting. And I loved seeing that zebra and seal being fired out of cannons!"
"I was kinda distracted," Spike said.
Sweetie gave him an apologetic nuzzle.
"Hey girls... " Apple Bloom whispered. "Take a look up ahead."
The substitute heroes did so. Their jaws opened up at the sight. It was vague, still clouded in fog, but it was definitely there: a massive pillar-like shape, going up, and up, and up into the sky.
"We're almost there," Scootaloo declared.
"Nothin's gonna stop us now!" Apple Bloom promised.
Button Mash gave Sweetie a slight hug, she leaned into it.
"Watch your steps and each others' back," Daring Do said.
"Can't wait to see how nasty it is close up," Spike's voice dripped with sarcasm.
'Welcome To Last Market Street' show another sign.
"Was this here when I escaped?" Daring Do raised an eyesbow.
"Maybe the game didn't need it before," Button Mash said.
“Or Discord is Discord and this place keeps changin',” Applebloom pointed out.
A single straight road lay before the ponies and dragon, each side with store stalls lined up. Crazy looking and acting ponies manned the stores and trotted the streets without a care in the world.
The heroes carefully trotted down the lane, expecting an ambush, but none came.
There were also some wooden poles with posters that read things like 'Live Life To The Fullest: Go Crazy!' 'You Don't Have To Be Afraid: Just Go Nuts!'
There was also a large collection of Discord plushies for sale (*#% off), made to have the god of chaos looking like the cutest more adorable thing ever that you'd have to be
crazy a stick in the mud to hate. Also, a stand with many Discord lamps.
A mare chopped off a stallion's head, he picked it up off the ground, put it back on his neck, good as new. The two then laughed and hugged each other, the axe turned into a hula-hoop the two shared.
"I don't recognize a lot of these ponies," Apple Bloom said.
"I do." Daring Do said uncomfortably. "Some of them are from where I grew up."
"Some of these're ponies from my home town before we moved to Ponyville too," Button Mash said.
A stallion leapt off a rooftop, laughing, and turned into a pancake when he hit the ground, only to pop back into shape and toss around flower petals as he went.
One of the first things the ponies saw for sale was a cluster of spray cans. 'Smilie-Coco-Spray! Turn Any Grimy And Dark Pony Into A Happy and Crazy Pony Or Your Bottle Caps back!' a sign advertised.
"Ya know what I find creepy about this?" Spike asked.
"Everything?" Scootaloo replied.
"That too. But... I mean, what's odd even for Discord, these ponies aren't grayed out, I mean, they have the crazy swirl eyes, but ... it's like their colors are even brighter than normal. Makes me happy I’m wearing the sunglasses."
"Well, he is the spirit of chaos, about time he tried somethin' new," Apple Bloom said.
"HI!" greeted a mare hopping in front of them. She had a hat for a cutie mark: Countless different hat cutie marks covered her entire body. "My name is Bonnie Bonnets! I'm a Twice As Fancy Pony! Copyrighted! Don't you wish you were half as fancy as me? Tee-hee! ... Come on, that was a little funny!" She giggled. She pulled back on a tarp entrance. Normal Ponies went in, Twice As Fancy Ponies came out.
"Thanks, Bonnie!" said a blue earth pony mare covers in stars and planets cutie mark.
"Welcome, Night Glider!"
Apple Bloom had a flash back to the cutie pox, but unlike her, these cutie marks seemed to all fit together in a theme.
"I'm Tap Dance!" "I'm Player!" "I'm Songster!" "I'm Swinger!" "I'm Twirler!" "And I'm DJ!" a sextet of ponies declared a large stage.
"We're the Dance And Prance Ponies! Don't you want to join us?!" asked Songster. She and the other mares on stage had a large brooch that seemed to stick out of their throats. Songster turned the brooch a few times to a clicking sound. When she let go, her tail spun around along with her locket as she danced around. "Whoopie!"
Tap Dance offered Scootaloo a brooch. "Want one?"
"...No need to be rude, filly."
In the next stall was a foursome of mares who at first glance looked relatively normal. Then the heroes noticed their cutie marks actually stuck out of their bodies, forming little alcoves.
"Hello, I'm Bunnie Hop," said an earth pony mare with a top hat cutie mark and a real little rabbit sticking his head out.
"I'm Sweet Pocket," said a unicorn mare with a flower cutie mark as a honey bee familiar hanging out.
"Bubblefish!" added an earth pony mare with a real fishbowl for a cutie mark.
And, "I'm Lil'Pocket." Her cutie mark was a real piggy bank.
"We're Precious Pocket Ponies," explained Sweet Pocket. "Would you like to have pockets too?"
"Well, those WOULD be kinda useful," Apple Bloom admitted looking genuinely tempted.
"Sorry, dear, come back when you have your cutie mark," Sweet Pocket said apologetically.
"Ah, dang it," grumbled Apple Bloom, kicking the ground.
"What's with all these gimmicky ponies!" Spike snapped in exasperation.
"My name is Secret Beauty!" "Stardazzle!" "Pretty Puff!" "And Secret Star! We're the Secret Surprise Ponies." "You never know what's inside," teased a group of cape-wearing ponies, each with a keyhole around her neck at the next stall.
Pretty Puff inserted a key into lock into her neck and turned. Her cape unfurled and her back flipped open like a hatch, not spilling any gore. Instead, a pair of foals stuck out her head and waved, the insides neat. "Hiiiii!"
Pretty Puff turned and laughed. "Now how did you little scamps get in there? I hope you didn't touch my pearl collection."
The last pony had the CMC+2 leaping onto each other and onto finally Daring Do for comfort. Sweetie Belle let out a little shriek at the sight. Spike said. "I take it back, that's creepy."
"So THAT'S where babies come from!" One of the foals said.
"You and your parents need to have a long talk," Spike said.
"D-Don't be rude Spike," Sweetie channeled Rarity eyes locked on Pretty Puff.
The foals were left with confusing feelings at the next stall. Standing politely in line was a deer, a camel, a lama, a giraffe, an elephant, lion, and a Cutesaurus!
Standing at the front of the stall was an unfamiliar zebra. She had a pink coat and blue stripes. Her cutie mark was an ink drawing of a happy face. She wore a name tag that read 'Zig Zag.'
She politely let a mule enter, and when he came out the other side, he was brightly pastel colored, and had a cutie mark! The other creatures followed suit, emerging as technicolored and butt-stamped as your average pony.
The lama, now bright green with a pink mane and a pink bells for her cutie mark, skipped away happily. "Lalala-la!"
"... Do you think they'll let a dragon in?"
"Spike!" Sweetie gasped.
"Well..." Spike blushed and pushed his fingers together coyly. "I've wondered what my cutie mark would look like."
"So... we happy they get to have cutie marks?" Scootaloo asked uncomfortably. "Or feel like pony-snatchers?"
Daring Do slowly shook her head. "There're some REALLY OLD records that border on myth, before Megan's coming, that implied other creatures had bright colors and cutie marks... but I figured they were a three tribes' era idea."
"Well... Zebras have cutie marks too," Spike said awkwardly.
"Hey kid! Want some crazy candy?" Asked a mare who wasn't exaggerated or crazy eyed, but she did have on tie-dyed clothes and wore some odd symbols.
Button Mash began chowing down.
"Button Mash what are you doing?" Sweetie cried in alarm.
"Don't worry, anti-brainwashing immunity glasses, remember?"
Above Button Mash's head, a message popped into being above his head with every crazy candy he munched on.
"Hmm. Tastes like snozzberries. Thanks!"
"Uh... you're welcome?" said the confused hippie pony.
Sweetie hugged Button Mash. "Don't scare me like that."
Button Mash hugged back. "Sorry."
Sweetie Belle looked over Button Mash's shoulder at the looming tower shape.
"Girls... there was something I remember feeling from Diamond Tiara a while ago. She felt angry."
"Yeah, I bet she’d be steamed we were making it through," Spike said. Daring Do and Spike had both just rolled with Sweetie having an empathic link with Diamond since the day of chaos.
"No, it was due to something different," Sweetie said. "It flared up out of nowhere and then slowly burned out and... " Sweetie eyes widened. "Oh my gosh. Girls! I think my bond with Diamond Tiara is on all the time! But if that's true…then that means... she's not feeling anything most of the time... I think that's WHEN she feels something... it's like an infection... something that's not supposed to be there."
"What are ya sayin'? Diamond Tiara doesn't have a heart?"
"Big surprise," Spike said. Apple Bloom swatted Spike in the face with her tail.
Sweetie Belle said sadly. "More like she's... empty inside."
Scootaloo said begrudgingly. "She protected Tootsie when Aphrodite went nuts... so she can't be completely empty."
"I hope so," Sweetie said.
"Speaking of which..." Apple Bloom said. "Anypony else notice somethin' about everythin' here? Ah mean, take a look, what's on all of 'em?"
Her friends did look. Now that Apple Bloom had pointed it out, they saw on every building, pole, and as some sort of official seal on otherwise nonsense written documents; a set of eight diamonds, arranged in an octagon, pointing outwards.
"I guess Diamond Tiara's done pretending she's not involved in this as much as Discord," Spike said. "But why not use her own cutie mark?"
"When she appeared on the MoonPearl, or at least, a shadow of her did, her cutie mark... it was all twisted. Her crown was pointing in eight directions."
"So you’re sure it's really her then?" Spike asked.
"Trust me. It's her," Apple Bloom said. Nopony said what a twisted cutie mark meant.
As the heroes made to the last set of stalls of Last Market Street, they heard,
"Welcome to Honest and Trustworthy Flim and Flam's Last Store! Anything in existence you have the bits, bottle caps, or rupees for, we have in our inventory!"
Apple Bloom's jaw dropped seeing the Flim Flam Brothers behind the stall counter with an infinite inventory hallway behind them. Her truth vision saw little halos above their heads, or was that a trick of the light?
"HEY! Didn't we see ya at a store back when that army of monkeys jumped us?" Apple Bloom pointed.
"Honest and Trustworthy Flim and Flam has multiple outlets," Flim said.
"But it was YOU there."
"Yes so?" Flam asked.
"But how can ya be operating a store there, and a store here?"
"Well, we're operating this now obviously. Anything we can sell to you today, Apple Bloom?" Flim smiled and nodded.
Button Mash put a hoof on Apple Bloom's shoulder and slowly shook his head, with a mild chuckle. "C’mon, don’t let it get to you. Video games always have identical looking ponies manning all the shops. Sometimes they justify it with identical family, or it means the merchants are following you because you're their biggest spender. But most of the time it's just so the programmers can save on space."
"Ah still feel kinda antsy 'bout trustin' 'em, they did bait my family into bettin' our farm."
"That was just in harmless fun," said Flim smiling reminding the ponies the brothers could hear them. "After all, we're honest and trust worthy merchants, if we weren't, how could anypony trust us to buy anything from us?"
"That ain't-!" Apple Bloom got hoof in the mouth. Sweetie looked at her.
"Apple Bloom," Sweetie whispered. "If Flim and Flam are conponies, they means a LOT OF ponies must trust them. If they didn't, they wouldn't be able to con anypony, so if a lot of ponies THINK that they were honest and trust worthy when the curse hit that made whatever the majority of ponies thought was true real..."
Apple Bloom's eyes widened. "Ah gotcha," she whispered.
"I'll bet that name isn't just for show, anything we got from that last dungeon we oughta spend now," Button Mash said.
"Too bad." Scootaloo shrugged. "I wouldn't have minded having some of these bits to spend AFTER we save the world."
"Since when does money you earn in a video game translate to the real world anyway?" Daring Do remarked.
So the foals stocked up on items. Button Mash bought a couple jewels that somehow made his sword sharper and stronger when added to the hilt. He also bought a Zapper, which resembled a light-gun toy that went with one of his game machines at home. Only this model was a hoof-held laser blaster. He wondered if the Power Horseshoe would do anything other than make things difficult.
Spike bought some scale polish which the brothers promised would make his scales tough enough to deflect lasers. And a claw file, a fang sharpener, and dragon mouth-spray, which somehow just by buying and having 'equipped' in the proper inventory slots made his fangs, claws, and fire-breath stronger.
Spike also bought some VERY cheap baked-bads... the information supplied by Button Mash's menu stated they poisoned ponies but would HEAL Spike. And if any enemy trying stealing from their inventory, possessing the baked bads would poison them instead.
Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle were sincerely not sure WHAT to buy. Nothing really shouted to them. All the weapons were cool looking, had big numbers next to them for how much damage they dealt, but... that might have been part of the problem.
"Are we gonna have'ta fight Discord?" Apple Bloom whispered, feeling her blood run cold at the thought.
"The final bad guy always just waits for the hero to come to him," Button Mash said. "He has to obey the rules of the game after all, and that means it won't throw us anything that we can't handle."
“Rainbow Dash said he froze up like a coward when he realized the Elements worked,” Scootaloo said. “Maybe he won't fight us since the game would make it FAIR?”
Apple Bloom ultimately bought some more apples to use as ammo. And some nails, wood planks, and a hammer.
Scootaloo thought of all the epicness she'd pulled off in Canterlot. Her very first flight zooming through Canterlot, avoiding changelings, and taking down a trained changeling guard all by herself! She was awesome! So why did buying stuff exclusively meant to make somepony never-heard-from-again make her feel uncomfortable NOW?! The little filly shook her head in confusion. Not wanting to walk away empty-hoofed, she bought a pair of hidden pegasi blade weapons made just for her wing size. They were heavier than she thought they'd be. Did the old pegasi guard really fly around with these every day?
Sweetie, after much deliberation, chose just a hardy wooden staff. At Button's insistence, she also bought a crystal that helped store and channel her mana that she added to her inventory.
Finally, Daring Do bought a scimitar and a chain-whip.
"There you go, Rainbow Dash, and that's a nice Daring Do Cosplay costume."
Daring Do groaned. "I am NOT Rainbow Dash! I AM Daring Do! See?" She pulled out an ID card that indeed read 'Daring Do: Adventurer.'
Daring Do had a few different ID cards on her: she couldn't use 'AK Yearling' and being incognito was part of her skill set.
"She's right. She's not Rainbow Dash. She was there saving foals when Rainbow Dash was saving everypony too," Scootaloo said.
If Flim and Flam were still cons, or rather, had ever been cons, they might have thought about the old 'different pony in costume' trick, but being such honest and trust worthy stallions, the idea didn't cross their minds. So they simply smiled and nodded at that infallible logic.
"Alright, sorry, Daring Do," they echoed together.
Sweetie Belle whispered hesitantly. "Apple Bloom, I've been meaning to ask, Daring Do, is she... real?"
Apple Bloom's vision showed her the truth. "She's not made up of rumors. And she doesn't have one in her... she's... she's like Button Mash."
"We hope you enjoy your purchases!" The twins echoed again and waved. "We hope you have success in all your ventures! And may you have a fair and honest day!"
"I... I feel kinda funny that after we save the world, they'll go back to being bad ponies," Sweetie said, as they trotted away from the Last Store of the Last Market Street.
"I'm thinking of all the ponies who will go back to being nice instead of psychos," Scootaloo said.
Daring Do gritted her teeth. This Flim and Flam were good ponies, but if this curse had really changed the whole world, there was no telling how much damage it'd caused. And Equus wasn't the universe, that was too awful to think about. This had to be undone.
"Really?" Spike blinked. "Wait. You mean Flim and Flam were supposed to be bad guys?!" He gasped.
The fillies looked at each other uncomfortably.
"No seriously! Flim and Flam were jerks before?! They were actually bad ponies?! That's-! Oh man! This isn't nearly as fun when it's the other way around... Was there anypony else who were jerks you aren't telling me?! Wait! I don't wanna know!"
Spike did NOT look happy. Scootaloo felt queasy. Apple Bloom kept her eyes straight ahead. Button Mash's eyes were misty.
"Button?" Sweetie whispered.
"Just... just thinking about how our adventure's almost over but... but hey, we'll, I mean, you will, and I will, have... will both have fun times after... right?"
"Button Mash... why are you scared?"
"I'm not scared." He sniffed.
"Button, I've known you long enough to know that's a lie."
"That... that's nice of you to say, Sweetie," the little colt answered.
A large gate with the eight-diamonds symbol above it lay in front of the ponies. Next to it was a sign also with the logo reading, 'Now Leaving Last Market Street.'
The gate stood halfway through the fog wall, and out of it stepped Phobia. "Hello, Cutie Mark Crusaders, Daring Do, Spike, and you too, Button Mash. This may not be the last time we meet before the end of your adventure, but this will be the last time we'll have a chance to speak in-depth."
It disturbed Daring Do more how adult the foal was speaking than his broken wing did. The children looked uncomfortable about it as well.
"Phobia? Are ya okay? Yer actin', different."
"I'm sorry, Apple Bloom, time is running out."
"And you want us to take MORE time to chit-chat?" Scootaloo remarked.
"Yes," Phobia said plainly. Then his attitude did a 180 and he casually asked, "Hey Apple Bloom, did you ever wonder what would have happened if Batmare's parents never died?"
"...She'd be a lot happier."
"Yeah, but she'd never have become Batmare...so what about all the ponies she saved?"
" ...Hadn't thought of that..."
"Sometimes good can come out of a tragedy, right?"
"Ah...Ah guess that's right."
"...Tragedies happen to everypony, it's how we react to them that matters."
"How do you know that?"
Phobia stretched his broken wings.
"Then answer a couple more questions, Apple Bloom. How many ponies are born every day?"
"Ah don't know...a lot?"
"But...what would happen if the day they were born didn't happen do you think?"
" ...Ah...Ah don't...they'd stop existin'?"
"That's a good guess. If you're moving things to a new house and something falls out of the cart on the way, what happens to it?"
"It gets lost."
"Yep! And now it has nowhere it can go in the new place...so it can only go nowhere."
"Ah wish this whole mess never happened."
"It'd be nice for things to go back to how they were, but maybe not if it never happened."
"Well, if it'd never happened, Umbra Breeze would still be with the bad guys, without him they don't have his magic anymore."
"And I imagine the bad guy isn't going to be at his best when his plan comes crashing down around his ears. I hear he's a pretty sore loser.”
"Hehe...yeah...if only Ah could give 'em a taste of their own medicine and turn this whole mess against them." Apple Bloom didn't notice her friends cringe away from her when she said this.
"Yeah, I'd do that if I got the chance."
"The Spirits are immune to paradoxes," Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle said at the same time, not sure how they knew, and turned at looked at each other.
"Very good," Phobia smirked.
Scootaloo took in a deep breath and said. "So if Umbra Breeze is really beaten, then it doesn't really matter, he's staying beaten."
"Very good, Scootaloo," Phobia said still smirking.
"So I say we if we undo this mess totally, the better, before it gets all way to before Celestia was born or something! It could change all of history!" Scootaloo said.
Phobia laughed, it made the hairs on Scootaloo's neck stand up.
"BEFORE all history's altered? Silly filly, ALL OF HISTORY was remade as soon as the Foal Press released its first issue with the curse, to the dawn of time. And then YOU changed it AGAIN to the dawn of time when your friendship proved strong enough to pierce not just time, but reality itself, and not for the first time."
"Phobia, WHAT… ARE… YOU?" Scootaloo shouted out slowly.
"Somepony who wants to help. And that's the only answer you're getting." He locked his eyes on Apple Bloom again. "Apple Bloom... wouldn't it be easy... once you get your hooves on the printing press, to simply write up something that causes Diamond Tiara the Nightmare, the blank diamond, to never exist? She's a Nightmare, not a Spirit, so she's not immune to paradoxes, you could just erase her." He grinned showing fangs.
"Then Silver Spoon wouldn't have become our friend."
"Or mine." Spike sighed.
"And Twist would have never forgiven Silver Spoon." Apple Bloom said. "Or all the other good stuff that happened."
"You sure? It's the greater good. What's one filly to that? You don't need to erase her, that's what you thought I meant? Just erase her running away, she stays in Ponyville as a garden variety bully... Fixes everything. You can go back to that nice status quo you lived in. Happily crusading every day. Playing video games. Assisting Twilight, let adults save the world, you're just kids, why should you worry?"
Apple Bloom's teeth chattered. "Ah can't. Maybe it's selfish. Maybe it's stupid. But Ah... If Ah changed that... it would change who we are... what we've done, who we've grown to be this whole year. We're gonna fix things but... that's somethin'... that's somethin'... Ah don't know the whole story... if Ah fix it just like that... Ah could make things worse."
Spike rolled his eyes.
"Good. Can't have somepony who would go rewriting existence for a quick fix, but can't be somepony who'd immediately brush off the idea without thinking about it, this isn't for sissies ya know! If you make no changes what so ever… how are you different from the Goddess of No Changes herself?"
"Just an old fairy tale; a wicked goddess who kept everything in an unending loop, so she could punish a villain over and over. Be afraid of making a mistake, of thoughtlessness, of indifference, but don't be afraid of changing the world."
"You're lying," Scootaloo said instead of Apple Bloom.
"Fairytales are things that didn't happen in the world you're living. All you remember and believe before the world was remade are just fairytales now." Then Phobia took out an apple from nowhere and took a bite. "These apples are really good Apple Bloom, you really should be proud your family can churn out an apple so sweet, wholesome, and resilient."
"... Thank... you?" Apple Bloom tilted her head.
"It's amazing how one apple can tip the scales isn't it?" Phobia rolled the apple core at her. "But in the real world, scales are never just two sides. There are many... and the little apple, no matter brave it is, or how much its can change everything... can never be fully aware of them. If it was, it would be an apple tree. And others will keep pushing the unknowing apple to go in their direction. And others just want to use the apple to flip over the table. The little apple isn't even part of the scales, can't even make its own side... but it decides which way the scales go."
Apple Bloom's heart hammered in her chest.
"But is the apple, the same as all the others? Or did somepony add something, a little extra weight to make apple the one who'd decide the way the scales go? It might even bare markings to show it's not the same as the other apples. That make it a demi-apple?
"And what way should the scale move? Back to the way it was? So back to just before bad things happened so they happen again? Back to the way it was but without the bad thing happening? ... Cling to the status quo? How many things need to change so the bad things don't happened? How many holes would that make? An apple seed shouldn't reject good soil it lands in, for the sake of proving that it doesn't or shouldn't need help... Isn't that the opposite of friendship?"
"WHAT ARE YA GOIN' ON ABOUT?"
"... If you were as confused as you're pretending to be little Apple, you wouldn't be so scared. Ask Scootaloo, doesn't she have little friends from her old home town that she never found out what happened to them, ones who loved making flowers bloom?"
"That's in the past!" Scootaloo defended.
Phobia gave Scootaloo an insulted look. "It has to have HAPPENED to be in the past Scootaloo. You remember didn't happened, that's a dream. And aren't dreams, maybe something you could help make real? Friendship is the virtue ponies hold above all others after all, the one strong enough to defeat abominations and save worlds... It's easier to bring back friends who went away, then friends who never left after all... If you made a wish to bring back the Flutterponies... would it work? Changelings are Flutterponies."
"Alula and Tootsie were 'fixing' things for the better and look what happened!"
"... Correct. Very good. A pony who does whatever they're told without question from anypony is a pony without creativity, and is no creator and has no business trying to repair a world."
"We are near the end... you're dropping every pretense that you're just somepony lost in the fog," Sweetie Belle said.
Phobia sighed and nodded. "You're right. You are. But that's relative considering how long it took you to get here. Your ancestors were cursed by Discord little filly, but if that curse never happened, your family wouldn't be here. Be careful. The game's rules helped you against the horror's rules, but rules aren't friends. Typically in these games, the heroes loss or sacrifice somepony just before the end that isn't undone." He slowly eyed each of them.
Daring Do spoke up. "You don't NEED ponies dying to have an exciting adventure!"
"Some things are sadder than death," Phobia sighed. "I can't give you anymore advice for the rest of your quest. And I don't know precisely what's going to happen inside the tower. All I can do now is wish you good luck. Apple Bloom. Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle. Button Mash. Spike. Daring Do. Be brave for as far as you get. ... It was fun walking along side you. Even if you can't see me, I'll be there." Phobia walked backwards, and vanished.
"Do you think he WAS the fog all along?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"He appeared in spots there was no fog," Apple Bloom said.
"That... was... CREEPY!" Spike declared. "And I'm feeling ready to throw up from all that stuff from how it made my head spin!"
"I know his type," Daring Do said. "We'll figure out what he means JUST when we need to. It's how these things normally go."
"Sacrifice... loss..." Button whispered.
"HEY! Don't fret about it," Scootaloo said. "We've beaten all the rules before and we'll beat that one, even IF it comes up."
"Ah'm fightin' so we DON'T have'ta become thugs to win!" Apple Bloom said.
"When Earth Flower died in Last Fantasy VII, it wasn't for any big sacrifice, it was a meaningless end. The game's creator said he did it because he wanted to show death was random, but life goes on anyway."
Apple Bloom drew in a breath. "Ah... Ah know Ma and Pa ain't comin' back..."
"I know Kifuko isn't Chrysalis," Sweetie said uncomfortably.
"See?" Scootaloo said, "Nothing to worry about! So onward we go already!" The heroes all nodded, and trotted through the gate, and into the fog one last time.
Maud Pie was confused. Phobia had left. She didn't like the foal going out into the fog all by himself. But he'd done so anyway. She should have stopped him, but she didn't. Neither did Pinkie Pie, which confused her even more. Pinkie Pie accepted it as is, but something in Maud stirred at it.
"Wish we were getting more customers," Mr. Cake said.
"Yes dear, we could tell everypony that we're back together," Mrs. Cake added.
Maud Pie silently agreed, the number of customers for Sugar Cube Corner today was abysmal. Which was very weird, as Pinkie Pie said that the store normally had very loyal customer base and was the command center for Pinkie Pie's custom party services.
Gummy for his part was complicating the alien stagnation that had fallen over the place in the foal's wake. Like things had been locked in place, like words written in a book, impossible to change. It annoyingly reminded him of how in a play, things were in that situation as the last the audience saw them. Gummy wondered about all the poor characters in stories that were never finished, doomed to be caught in that same situation forever.
Maud Pie also dimly noted that it was like it was always afternoon, that there was no bed time or morning... she was quite certain that wasn't how things were supposed to be, but nopony else was talking about it, so she might as well not either. Rocks didn't care that much about time, and Maud Pie had been described as being much like the rocks on her family's farm. She liked rocks enough it was a compliment to her.
There was a jingle at the door, and Maud Pie had an odd feeling of time moving forward.
In came two earth pony foals, both very young. The filly had a red mane and white coat. They hopped and skipped to the counter.
"Hello, my little dears," Mrs. Pie said. "Who are you?" She asked in typical Ponyville greeting.
"I'm Creative Spirit!" said the filly.
"And I'm Pearly Gates!" said the colt.
"Where are your parents, dears?" Mr. Cake asked.
"Mommy was born in Norwood, Massachusetts," said the filly.
"I've never heard of there."
"You wouldn't have," said the colt. He took some bits out of somewhere and put them on the table. "We'd like a couple super-size cookies please!"
"That seems a little big for you."
The foals grinned. "We can handle it," they echoed.
"Alright." Mr. Cake took the bits and gave them the giant cookies, that the foals munched down on like a pair of piranhas.
Having had their cookie, the foals went over to where Pinkie Pie was entertaining her sister with a game of pony-poker between herself, Maud, Boulder, and Gummy... Boulder was falling behind, but Maud and Gummy's poker faces were nearly evenly matched. And a barrel full of rock candy serving as the poker chips.
Maud Pie however wondered if that would make Boulder a cannibal.
"Hello Maud Pie!" said Creative Spirit. "We've come here with a message from Phobia."
Maud Pie blinked, and looked at the foals. "Then you should have said so right away."
"Oh give them a break, Maud! Who can resist any of Sugar Cube Corner's treats!" Pinkie Pie grinned.
"We came with the message because Phobia couldn't come to deliver it himself." Pearly Gates said. "He says you need to come help at the Princesses' Tower."