On her way home, Lyra couldn’t stop licking her lips, even if all the ice cream was gone. Bon Bon might’ve become the master of candy, but when it came to milkshakes and cookies there was just no standing up to the Cakes. Their shop was everything that Bon Bon’s wasn’t: noisy, crowded, and inviting. Ponies came to Bon Bon’s to buy candy, but they came to Sugarcube Corner to spend a few relaxing minutes in the company of a sugary escape.
In Lyra’s case, it was never just a few minutes. Sometimes she’d sit in there for hours, ogling stallions in closer quarters than her bedroom window allowed, spending her allowance on dinner-spoiling goodies, trading jokes with Pinkie Pie, and half-wishing that she’d brought her lyre. Taking it out of the house sounded too scary. What if she lost it? What if it fell on the ground and broke? She couldn’t take a risk like that, not with her lyre. Counting was a huge pain, but even she knew that her precious instrument cost a lot more than she could ever afford.
Mrs. Cake was so nice to count the bits out for her all the time. All Lyra had to do was dump some on the table and the kindly mare would count out what she was owed. She was older, so maybe she’d known Mom and Dad. Sometimes Lyra wondered how she could ask about her about them. Slowly losing Candy Heart’s scary memories meant losing the fun ones too, like the birthday parties where other foals actually came over. At least she’d always have the pictures on the mantle. Looking at those moments frozen in time helped her remember more. If she spent enough time staring at them she could probably remember a lot, but not fast enough to stave off boredom.
She stamped her back hooves as she walked, attempting to tap out one of the elusive rhythms that never fully left her head. Where was her notepad when she really needed it? If she could just get one of these songs written down already!
Dark clouds blotted out the evening’s dim sunlight. Lyra looked up just in time for a raindrop to hit her between the eyes. “Aww, rain?”
The sky offered a mighty thunderclap in response.
Forget music. Lyra needed to get home before the streets got all muddy. Bon Bon would kill her, or at least yell a lot, if she tracked mud through the house again. Getting muddy meant she’d have to take another shower, too. One trip through the agonizingly-plain-white shower stall per day was plenty. The shower head’s hiss didn’t even drown out her singing, at least not according to Bon Bon.
She galloped down the streets, zigzagging sometimes as she wondered if she could dodge raindrops, and finally reached home. Entering through the shop was a bad idea, especially if she was muddy. The side door that led to the kitchen was an even worse idea for the exact same reason. That just left the front door, the one that led into the living room just like on a regular house.
She came to a halt by the front door, safe under the awning and barely wet at all. She stuck her tongue out, first to mock the weather and then to try to catch stray raindrops. Neither worked very well. Thunder boomed again, and her original ‘get inside really fast’ plan came to mind. “Ooh, maybe we have hot chocolate!”
With that happy thought, Lyra turned the handle and stepped inside. “Hot chocolate, and marshmallows, and cinnamon, and—”
Something cracked under her hoof. Lyra looked down and gasped. One of the mantle’s pictures was right there: Mom and Dad on either side of a bunch of shatter lines in the glass instead of the baby Candy Heart shown on the film beneath. She started levitating the crushed picture frame to her eye level, and noticed the rest of the room in the process.
Chairs lay on their backs and tables on their sides. The floor was littered with shards from smashed pictures and shattered vases. The bookshelf on the far wall, which Lyra never touched and Bon Bon only dusted, had been tipped over on top of the flipped couch. Family photo albums, Equestrian classics, and an eight volume beginner’s guide to psychology were scattered on the floor.
This wasn’t home. Home was gone, possibly forever. Even Bon Bon’s cleaning and Lyra’s imagining couldn’t put this place back just the way it was, frozen in a bygone age when Mom and Dad were still around, a state of being never wanted, altered, or touched by their daughter in the years that followed.
Lyra’s legs wobbled. She felt lightheaded. Her breaths were shallow and quick. She needed to do something, but what?
Someone else decided for her.
A shadow rushed through the kitchen door and slammed into her side. Suddenly Lyra was on the ground next to the picture frame, flailing her legs and screaming while this hooded monster of a pony kicked her in ribs. The wall by the front door pressed against her back, and the floor pressed against her side. Everything else belonged to the pony standing over her. The kicks to the ribs came again and again, as did her screams. Finally the pony moved to her stomach, delivering one well-placed blow that drove the air from her lungs. Lyra lay there, gasping for breath, blinking away tears, and wondering why this was happening. Who was this pony? Why did they ruin her home and want to hurt her so much? What did they do to Bon Bon? How did they get in? Where was her lyre?
And then the pony lowered her hood.
Lyra’s disparate questions coalesced into something else entirely. As much as getting knocked down and beaten hurt, and as scary as it was to have her home violated and a stranger take her by surprise, nothing could surpass the raw terror of knowing who was standing over her.
Candy Heart pressed her hoof into Lyra’s aching ribs. “Hurts, doesn’t it? Losing my horn hurt a whole lot more!”
The kicking started up again, and Candy Heart adopted the same grimace she’d worn the night of the incantation. “Where’s all my stuff? Where’re my books, and my ingredients? It took years to collect all of that!”
Candy Heart aimed for Lyra’s cutie mark next. “And you took my old lyre! I should’ve buried it! I would’ve cut all the strings and tossed in the river if I’d known some third-of-a-pony was going to turn all my mistakes into… into…”
Lyra managed a whisper. “S-sorry.”
Candy Heart stared at her for a moment and shook her head. “Pointless. This is pointless. Six months in forced therapy and still I can’t… can’t… ugh! Short sentences. Staying calm… Deep breaths. That helps. Helps me focus. Helps me think.”
Lyra wanted nothing more than to run up to her bedroom, bolt the door, and strum the lyre until everything was happy again. Except things wouldn’t be happy again. They couldn’t. Simply looking at Candy Heart dredged nightmarish horrors from the depths of her borrowed memories, including the dangerous spells and foul-smelling potions that led to her life. She knew what was going to happen next, and what role she was going to play in it. She wouldn’t live to see another daybreak, at least not with her own eyes.
This aquamarine mare was heavier than Candy Heart expected. She’d scaled mountains and crossed wastelands to collect potion ingredients; dragging one tied up, whining pony with a third of a brain shouldn’t have been this hard. Maybe that earth pony wound up with her endurance. It hardly mattered. All of her mind’s components were here, split across three bodies. Recreating the incantation, this time with a dragon claw she’d harvested herself rather than whatever imitation that idiot back alley dealer had sold her before, would fix everything. They wouldn’t even need to drink it; simply having the corrected potion present during the spell would realign the magic.
One last tug brought the unicorn into position, right at the edge of the circle she’d drawn on the floor. On the circle’s other side was the earth pony, still bound, gagged, and looking like she was in the middle of a heart attack. Too bad it wasn’t an actual one, considering how many priceless spell books and magical antiquities she’d thrown away.
A tall steel pot, the closest thing to a cauldron the kitchen possessed, sat in the center of the circle. Candy Heart had removed it from the stove’s heat hours ago, but the green potion within still bubbled vigorously. The crystals hanging directly above swayed slowly in a nonexistent breeze, humming sometimes if one were to listen carefully.
Except Candy Heart couldn’t hear anything, not with the unicorn crying like she was. She paced around and jammed a hoof against her cheek. “You don’t need teeth for what comes next, unicorn, so keep quiet if you want to keep them!”
The unicorn frowned. “M-my name is Lyra, you… you—”
Candy Heart pressed down until Lyra’s shrill voice became a whimper. “You don’t deserve a name! You and the earth pony are just accidents… byproducts of the incantation going wrong. How do I know that?” She leaned down and bellowed in Lyra’s ear. “Because I’ve been stuck staring at the formula ever since! It’s on every wall, every ceiling, every piece of paper… and tonight… tonight, we’re going to fix everything!”
She stomped over to the stove and started twisting knobs. Each burner roared to life, bringing with it the hiss, smell, and heat of fire. Then she approached a tall stack of books by the freezer. Mom’s Perfect Chocolate cookbook was the first to go. Candy Heart tossed it into the fire and watched the pages disintegrate. Then came Dad’s Confectioners Almanac, and binder after binder stuffed with hoofwritten notes. Each addition to the funeral pyre seemed to raise the temperature in the whole room, and elicit an agonized moan from the gagged earth pony.
The wallpaper behind the stove was turning black, as was the ceiling. In a few minutes the fire would take them, too. By the time someone outside noticed the smoke, it’d be too late. The house, the shop, and every last shred of the disappointments she called family and childhood would be gone forever.
“This is it, ponies! You’ve got two choices: recite the spell with me, or burn with the rest of the garbage!”
She undid the earth pony’s gag and braced herself for the crying that was sure to follow. Instead, the pony simply nodded. “We’ll do it. Of course we’ll do it.”
Lyra gasped. “B-but, Bon Bon—”
“We have to, Lyra! And not just because of the fire… She’s right about us: we’re not real ponies. We’re just parts of one… parts of her.”
Lyra strained her legs against the ropes, grunting and crying all at once. “But I wanna go back to how it was! I wanna be me!”
“You can’t even read, Lyra! You can’t read, you can’t think on something for more than thirty seconds without getting distracted… And I’m just as bad. I can’t stop cleaning, and cooking, and cleaning, and cooking, and… and I can’t even figure out what all those numbers I write down mean! I don’t want to do this either, but… but we have to.”
Lyra took a great breath of smoke-laced air and shut her eyes. Her struggling became small sobs as grief overtook fear. “Okay… Okay. I-I’m gonna miss you.”
Candy Heart stomped her hoof. “Enough! Let’s get this over with. You both remember the spell?”
Both Lyra and Bon Bon nodded. The present situation, not to mention company, was enough to dredge up the words they’d longed to forget: the spell that had once brought them into the world and would now carry them out of it.
The potion boiled over as they started to speak. Green liquid oozed across the floor while the crystals overhead jumped and spun. The three ponies began to glow with a golden light that eclipsed the fire’s brightness. The light spread through the air in tendrils, joining the ponies, the crystals, and the potion in a web of shared memories and cleft personalities.
For a moment, their separate hearts beat as one.
And then Candy Heart’s eyes flew open. Lyra and that other pony, the one called Bon Bon, were still there. She could sense it. She lifted a foreleg to shield her eyes against the magic’s glare and found that it didn’t help. She looked down and screamed in horror. There weren’t any legs holding her up. Her body was floating in midair with no visible support. She dared to check on her back legs, and found no back at all. Her tail was gone, her cutie mark was gone, and the rest of her was fading as well. “What? What’s happening? I did the incantation right, I know I did!”
“You did,” Bon Bon shouted. Anything less than that wouldn’t have been audible over the fire.
“Then why am I—”
“Because you’re the impurity! You’re what the spell was trying to get rid of!”
Lyra chimed in next, her chipper voice devoid of its previous anguish. “I-I can see it now! Oh wow, can I see! You stopped midway through the spell last time, and that’s why you split into three ponies. The two of us have been growing and getting better this whole time, but you’re just the same old mean-pony you were before. All the good stuff inside you made us, and now that’s all that’s gonna be left!”
Candy Heart attempted to rear up on her nonexistent legs and instead crashed to the floor. “That’s impossible!” she shrieked, “I’m better than all the ponies in Equestria put together, and as soon as I find my talent, my real talent, I’ll prove—”