= The Final Battle Approaches - Lunar 2 Eternal Blue =
I slipped through the city like a shadow. The streets twisted back on themselves trying to make me go in circles. So I went the direction that my common sense told me was NOT the right way. And in doing so, I moved closer and closer to her house.
Some of the houses blinked their windows-eyes and their porches sniffed at the air like cats sniffing out mice. Lanterns scanned around like searchlights. I slipped around without being spotted by any of them.
Some ponies stood at attention like guards, grim faced and scanning the roads and the sky. Others seemed to always gather right where I had to go, blocking the way.
I had the strong feeling that SOMETHING was looking, searching, trying to spot me. Some invisible ghost was stalking the streets. I wasn't welcome here. I wasn't wanted. This must be how the super spies feel when they’re infiltrating enemy territory.
Her house looked so different from before. More fortress-like now. I flew closer, more silent than falling dust if I do say so myself.
I stayed out of the line of sight of all the statues, I didn't turn my back on any of the hedges, I didn't dare touch the grass, get near the flowers, did my best to avoid being in sight of any of the windows. The entire outside felt a mouse trap, ready to spring at the slightest touch. I know I saw some of the statues move their heads and eyes, searching.
I saw an opening in the back of the house that wasn't guarded with anything besides one or two statues. It was for me. It was a trap. I knew that backdoor didn't actually lead anywhere.
They know I'm here, but they don't know where. They're also worried. They wouldn't set a trap if they didn't think I was trouble.
You're unnoticed. You could slip into the Mayor's bathroom and no one would be the wiser. You can do this. If a magician can slip into a box that's closed without teleporting, you can get in here. You wouldn't be here if they didn't think you could do it.
You know the windows are all going to be rigged with alarms. They're baiting you with a backdoor that simply too tempting for you to not at least try.
Like a spider, I crawled along the roof and walls, and knocked on the front door. It opened just a crack, just enough for a metal pipe to peek out. I crawled inside, not making a sound, my back to the floor and Randolph.
The rich are way too in love with high ceilings, in particular ones in their entry halls.
You already heard a lot of what's inside before? Okay, then I’ll skip it.
I also realized that none of the bad guys had anticipated that I’d get this far. There was a distinct lack of nasty surprises throughout the house.
I kept going. I knew the basic insides of her house. Even if tons of new stuff had been added, I could tell the way to her room, even if the hallways were twisted some.
At one point, I spotted Truffle from school. He was dressed up fancy and looked really confused. He held a picture of Tootsie but with glowing white wings, as well as what looked like a drawing of Twist. I wanted to talk to him, find out what was wrong, but I didn't. I didn't feel good about approaching him.
I knew the way to her room, just keep going. I kept to the ceiling like a spider. But I almost fell off at what I saw next... It was Alula's big sister, and Rumble's big brother. They were... they were... I actually bit my tongue to keep from screaming, and I had to remind myself how brave I was to keep from running away.
I don't have to talk about it? Thank you! I... I... well... maybe I DO wanna talk about it... just a little...
I was in Mr. Rich's house again, except I wasn't just remembering. And I was seeing it happening again, except it wasn't just in my head. And horrible thoughts came. Horrible feelings came.
Remember what your doctor said: it wasn't your fault, you're not a bad pony, you have nothing to be ashamed of, you're not somepony else's property, your family and friends all love you.
I stay on the ceiling, I crawl over their heads, but I don't think they'd notice me, even if I was dancing a samba on the floor. It was like they were empty inside.
This room stinks. The cloud-bed, table, chairs, the candles, the food, everything stinks. I can taste it in the air. It smells a lot worse than... that time.
Keep going, you'll do this, you'll do this, you'll do this... You'll get past this.
I get out, crawling out of the room. The smell goes away instantly. The first I noticed was the looping music.
"Sunlight and lollipops!
Rainbows and happy things!
Things are so much better,
When we're all together!"
"Good times are here to stay!"
The room was so happy compared to what the rest of the house had become that it was creepy!
There were crayon sketches hung on the walls in fancy frames. There were couches done in rainbow colors. And there was a buncha video game stuff that took up a big chunk of the room! And there were plates stuffed with enough treats for a hundred birthdays.
In the room was two pink and yellow ground mares in frilly dresses, they were playing a board of Monoponly with...
I'm not perfect, even at what I do best. Truffle might be ignorable... but I couldn't disregard my friend I'd left to get caught by Umbra Breeze and her. I lost my head. I lost my wits. I couldn't do it. I couldn't turn my back on him again.
"Who are you?!" One of the ladies asked.
My friend slowly spoke out my name, and smiled. "You spoke, you can speak again... " Shady Daze looked me in the eyes and gasped. "OH NO! You've come to apologize to
Diamond Tiara and I haven't prepared anything for you as a guest! I'm a terrible maid! Oh my! I'm sorry!" He got up and began daintily bowing.
Maid?! I looked down and checked, Shady was still a colt. Discord, of course. Then the rest of what Shady said caught up to me. Oh no. I spat out the lantern. "Shady." My ears wilted.
"Calm down Shady, remember what we talked about," said one of the ladies.
"What did you do to him?" I demanded, even though I already knew who the bad guy was.
"Well, for starters we got him to take a break! The kid loves his work way too much!" Said the pink one.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Well, we're the royal bakers for Princesses Liza Doolots and Animatia Erroria, and
Diamond Tiara. Lollipop guild certified treat makers." She took out a photo ID with the lollipop guild's official seal. "Name's Marcie Pan."
"And Fawn Doo." She took out an ID card too.
"And now who are you, kid?"
Shady Daze introduced me with a twirl like he was supposed to be wearing a dress. "Oh my! I'm not even properly dressed! I'm so sorry!"
"Shady, I've been worried sick about you since I escaped the printing room! I'm so sorry I left you behind! I really wanted to help you I swear!"
Shady tilted his head. "What are you talking about? Printing room? Escape? Why were you worried? I've been happily serving the Princesses like I should after I betrayed
Diamond Tiara. And now you're here to beg for forgiveness too right?"
... I'd seen what the cursed did to ponies, ponies who were my friends, ponies who I cared about... all turned into monsters who wanted to eat me or hurt me. I can't say it hurt better or worse to see Shady like this, it was more like some, dull ache. I didn't feel relieved he didn't remember me leaving him, you think I would be, he wouldn't think I was a selfish loser and never want to speak to me again. But I think I'd have preferred that right now.
It was like she had strung him up on strings, and made him dance.
"Shady, what about your sister? Aren't you worried about her? Don't you want to see her, Sunny Daze? What about Peachy Pie? Aren't you worried about them?"
Shady looked even more confused. "Sunny? I... I did think about her but... serving the Princesses... is... more important... must always be ready... to serve... at a moment's notice."
"Shady this isn't you!"
"Of course it's me... who else would it be?"
I gritted my teeth. I sighed. "Shady, I don't think... I don't think... I ever asked you if you wanted to be editor. That was wrong... I... I just wanna say that... now that I can speak to you again." The only time I'd spoken this much before the curse hit was with Filthy Rich.
"It's okay, I don't want to be an editor, or a photographer, I wanna wear pretty dresses and be the princesses' maid!" He said with a smile like a doll's.
"Because they're the princesses, that's why."
"Shady, you NEVER did what anypony told you JUST BECAUSE!"
"Well, and to apologize for what I did to
"WHAT did you do?"
"Well, I took a photo in her face that made her trip and get ink all over herself, that was a very bad thing to do, and so I deserve to be a good little servant."
"Who decided that was even-Steven?"
"The Princesses of course."
"Why would Princess Celestia and Princess Luna do that?"
"Who said anything about them? I meant Princess Animatia Erroria and Princess Liza Doolots and Princess
"What?! So because Diamond Tiara is a Princess, that's that? Shady you always wanted REASONS for why grown-ups did things! You always wanted a reason WHY ponies who were in charge told other ponies to do things! It was never just because!"
"Of course it is."
I was going in circles. I looked at the lantern's glow. When I touched it, a soothing calmness washed over me. I felt like I heard somepony whispering to from far away. "... A princess isn't just a princess because they're a princess. A princess is a princess because they inspire ponies, they... they lead... not just rule... You don't just do stuff for them. Their job is to help everypony they can. That's what YOU told ME that's why they deserve respect whether they have horns or not!"
Shady was shuddering.
"Kids like you shouldn't be thinking about stuff like this," said Marcie. I got ready for the ladies for to attack me.
"Kids like you should be outside PLAYING!" Said Fawn. "Not thinking about politics and junk! Make some happy memories! Your carefree days aren't going to last forever. What is with foals these days?! Like, the filly who ran through here? She looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders."
Filly?! "A filly? Just one?"
Fawn frowned. "Yeah, filly with a big pink bow."
Just Apple Bloom?! What happened to her friends?! Where they-! Had Diamond Tiara-! Oh my gosh!
"Shady! I'm sorry! I've got to go! I promise you'll be back to the real you really soon! I promise!"
Was I too late now? Had I messed up everything because I stopped to help Shady?! Damn, was I a lousy ninja!
"Hey kiddo! Catch!" Marcie tossed me one of the baked treats. "Normally we only give one for free on market day, but everypony seems to have forgotten about us. Put it to good use!"
I didn't have time to argue, shrugged off it being cursed or something, swallowed, and picked up my lantern and flew.
Apple Bloom's Diary
Ah saw a map next to the door. Ah was inside the Royal House, and past this long gray hallway was the Personal Chambers, and inside that, was the Inner Sanctum. Yer gettin' closer Apple Bloom, hang on.
Ugh. No way this super long hallway could fit inside even Diamond Tiara's new and improved mansion.
Then the gray stone tile Ah was on lifted up, and began to carry me down the hallway to the opposite door. Ah got ready for some surprise but again none was comin'. If Ah was stupid, Ah'd be wishin' somethin' WOULD attack me already.
Ah passed some gray faceless, markless pegasus statues, no, they didn't fly and attack, if anythin', Ah felt like they were welcomin' me or something!
"It's time to bury Gabby Gum's ghost once and fer all," Ah declared, my voice echoin'.
Ah saw one of them eyeball bats flutter-by, why'd it bother still bein' invisible? Then it blinked, and it was a bright blue dragon like eye instead. And... Ah heard Diamond Tiara's voice... echoin' in the hall,
"But who was to blame for that? Where was Featherweight's punishment for taking those photos? Wasn't he obeying orders like you? He didn't have black-mail hanging over his head. The ponies of Ponyville and Cloudsdale were the ones who chose to read your columns, and laugh it up as long as they weren't the ones being hurt. Or Sweetie's sister for introducing Gabby Gums to the adults and ignoring everypony's feelings until it was hers that got hurt? They were the ones who chose to keep buying the paper in the first place." Her voice does't have any feelin' to it. There was no snide ego like I'd always heard in it, it was like even she didn't care about what she was sayin'.
I glared upward. “Ah ain’t never claimed ta be a saint, but everythang yew’ve been doin’ a thousand times worse. Worsenin’ every problem Ah caused. Buildin’ on a bad foundation. And it’s time ta end it.”
"And I've realized I've always been a devil. This isn't about you Apple Bloom. It's about everypony else. And who enabled this isn't you Apple Bloom. Or your friends. You could have written all those articles, and I could have approved every one of them. But if Cheerilee had taken a more proactive role, she could have stamped Gabby Gums out before she spread beyond the school. Or if the adults hadn't been so eager to read it. Or if Featherweight had or realized what he was doing was wrong and shown some free will like you. The only reason everypony was able to move on, was because you were able to focus all your anger on me. Gabby Gum's cancer wouldn't have been able to spread if everypony had just ignored it."
Ah wanted to sayin' that she was spewin' horse apples. But... How everypony was still readin' the paper even after all the lies and twstin' we published. Everypony only started hatin' Gabby Gums when we were found out. How Featherweight takin' all those pictures (the one my brother blamed me for), just did what he was told just like us. And never got in hot water for any of it because all the focus was on us and Diamond Tiara.
Diamond Tiara's echoes were like a sledge hammer, and I fell to the ground at the mouth of the hallway. Because I couldn't argue. I'd done my job... take pictures of everything I was told. Isn't finding the truth what reporters were for? Like Spider-Pony?
Sometimes... I dream I was Namby-Pamby's little brother, and they were proud of me becoming editor. But a wolf came, telling me he was sorry, but fate's threads had changed. But I always forgot them when I woke up, but now I'm remembering them.
If I was Namby-Pamby's brother, they wouldn't've been proud. I admired Diamond Tiara for making the school paper successful, we surpassed the 'real' paper, Ponyville Express, we delivered to Cloudsdale! I was proud to be a part!
Nopony blamed the foal that nopony notices when Diamond Tiara was punished and the Crusaders apologized. I was rewarded. I could have photographed things of Diamond Tiara, and used that to blackmail her into ending Gabby Gums. I could have gone to Miss Cheerilee a lot sooner.
I hadn't deserved to be rewarded. I was a bad pony. I covered my head with my hooves and wings.
= In Puzzle Room Number 64 =
The shadow of Blank Diamond loomed across the wall, blue lights like eyes gleamed. Her monotone voice echoed through the room. Her emotionless words had been whispering to Scootaloo and Sweetie since they'd started. This hadn't been her standard issue name calling or status flaunting.
It'd been barely heard whispers in the first room, "Your mother is dead, Sweetie Belle." And the next room, "And now your father is dead Sweetie." Then in the third room, "And now your mother is dead too Scootaloo." Forth room. "And your father just died." In the fifth room, "And Rarity just died." In the sixth room, "And Scootaloo, Rainbow Dash just died, a totally awesome death, body-parts flying everywhere."
The room were bright and colorful. And each room came another whisper. The rest of their families and ponies' they knew died, and how everypony would blame them. Then whispering how the changelings and bat-ponies outside had been stopped by her real army of less than a hundred very special monsters who hated Twilight Sparkle more than anypony. That Apple Bloom had had to kill Button Mash when he turned evil as per the rules of video games. That Apple Bloom was before her, suffering, blaming herself for being so stupid and foolish, about to die.
"She's lying, right Sweetie?" Scootaloo asked remember Sweetie's magic link to Diamond Tiara.
"She's lying," Sweetie said. 'I'm not lying... I can't tell if she's lying or not through our connection, but she has to be lying right? Right?'
The pair did their hardest to ignore her. But Apple Bloom was their mechanics expert, she'd be able to solve these puzzles easy. Not to mention Button Mash would have been a great help, but he wasn't there either. The girls felt like their brains were on fire as they worked. Then Blank Diamond whispered to them the date and time of their deaths, after a long life of being alone, exiled, and unloved.
Then the gears shifted. "Who is really to blame for Gabby Gums?" And came the words of Ponyville.
"Gabby Gums is such a riot to read!"
"Have you read the latest Gabby Gums? It's awesome!"
"Are they printing Gabby Gums in the Ponyville Express? No thanks then."
'I always felt so guilty about what we did, I never thought of it that way.' Sweetie thought. 'We mentioned in apology how we kept writing because everypony was reading it but... we didn't think about... '
"HA! Did you hear what they wrote about TRIXIE?! Serves her right!"
"Rainbow Crash always was a softy!"
"Her dairy says she wants to set up shop in Canterlot? I knew that unicorn thought she was better than everypony else!"
"Those Apples always talking about hard work, they're a buncha hypocrite!"
"HE STOLE SMARTY PANTS!"
"Good pictures, as always Featherweight."
"Who is really to blame for Gabby Gums?"
Sweetie Belle covered her head with her hooves. She was going to cry. She whispered. "... Everypony."
"So, WHAT?!" Scootaloo shouted, standing tall and proud her wings spread.
Sweetie looked up at her.
"You're right Diamond Tiara!" Apple Bloom shouted. "You! Us! Featherweight! Cheerilee! Ponyville and Cloudsdale! We're all to blame for Gabby Gums!"
"Well all do selfish and stupid things! But one bad day isn't what you should focus your whole life on!" Scootaloo retorted.
Sweetie felt her heart skip a beat.
"And... that's all ya Nightmares have ever been aren't ya?! One bad day that ya refuse to let go of!"
"Don't pretend you ever knew me. I am a lifetime of bad days."
"And that past is not today!" Scootaloo called back.
"... Is this who you really want to be?" Sweetie Belle asked.
The eyeball thing self-destructed.
Ah felt a slight tingle on my flank, Ah turned and looked... no cutie mark... Ah felt for a tick like Ah was like a glass of water about to spill over or somethin'.
Sweetie and Scootaloo felt their cutie marks tingle. Blank Diamond's shadow retreated at lightning speed without a word. They hadn't changed... but... for a moment, it felt like a circuit had been connected or something.
The pair redoubled their efforts to finish the remaining 45 puzzles.
I stood up. Apple Bloom, you're right. Thank you! I wasn't going to let that be everything that was me. Just watch. Shady could have not printed any of it. But I never blamed him. I'm not going to play the blame game on something that's done. And that includes myself! We all created Gabby Gums, and it's time to unmake her once and for all!