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DAGNABBIT I DIDN'T KNOW THAT WAS A THING I MISSED A PERFECT REFERENCE OPPORTUNITY

oh well

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Well. That was some masterful weaving, Masterweaver! Surprisingly appropriate.

Chapter 23 - Undome Tinwe

Gray.

After Discord had ripped the passion from Twilight, the world had begun turning into nothing more than shades of gray. All her anger, her joy, her hate, had begun to fade into a muted blur. All her emotions dulled, except for one.

As she watched the portal close behind Sunset, she made herself form laughter with her body, an expression of extreme emotion generally produced as a reaction to the absurd. It was the logical response to having the vessel that held the last remnants of her the fire that burned within her run away into another world.

Twilight had tried to hold on to her… affection for this Sunset who had dragged on her on an adventure across the multiverse, using the feelings that had developed as a result of the moments they'd shared as a base to model her emotional responses. But now, with that gone, all that was left was a dull ache, an emptiness of muted emotions.

"Twilight, are you okay?"

Twilight glanced at the talking dog before her. She made her face form a smile. "I'm perfectly fine, Spike. So, what do we do now that my one companion throughout this insane trip through multiple Wonderlands is gone?"

"Our objective remains the same, regardless of Sunset's actions," Amblejoy said. "We need to retrieve the Container of Midnight and use it to free the souls bound under Lady Sparkle's thrall."

"Mother, should we not attempt to find Sunset first?" Serena asked.

Amblejoy fiddled with her TPT. "I seem to be having trouble isolating her location," she said, glaring at the device. "I suppose a Sunset as clever as her knows how not to be found."

"It doesn't matter." All eyes turned towards Twilight as she spoke. "Sunset made her choice. She ran away like a not-crazy person would." A laugh to imply that she found the situation absurdly humorous. "I should probably do that too, but since I apparently need the Container to get myself back, I guess I'm stuck here."

"But none of us have even been to her world, right?" Spike piped up from his position in Twilight's arms. "Not only was Sunset the only who knew where the Container was in her world and how to get us there, she was also the only one who knew how to plan a heist!"

Without the haze of emotion to muddle her thoughts, Twilight could see the answer as clear as day. "Sunset isn't the only one with that knowledge. Someone else helped her steal the container."

"You mean her Twilight?" Spike’s tail wagged in excitement before drooping down. "But she's in Discord's world, and that's where your resonance went kaput."

"Not entirely." Amblejoy held up her own TPT. "The signature is corrupted, but I believe we can still localize the world in question to within a few dozen possibilities."

"That's feasible for an exhaustive search." With Sunset gone, only the mission remained as a focus for her divided self. "When can we start?"

"Give me an hour to prepare a list."

As Amblejoy returned to her office, Serena looked like she was going to follow before deciding to stay with Twilight. "How do you feel, Twilight?" she asked as she sat down next to her.

"I'm fine." A grin. "Thanks for asking!"

"Truly?" Serena hovered her hand over Twilight's forehead. "Because I sense a great void in your mind, one even greater than before Sunset departed."

Twilight shook her head. "What? Nah. Let's talk about something else." Flippant misdirection. "Man, wild weather we're having, huh? At least, I think it's wild. We haven't actually gone outside here, have we?"

"I too have some experience with being left behind." Concern filled Serena's eyes as she ignored Twilight's attempts at rambling. "You would find your sorrows lessened if you spoke of it."

"What's there to talk about?" Twilight shrugged. "I knew Sunset would eventually leave me behind – it was only a question of when, not if. Ooh, we should've started a betting pool on it! I would've put five bucks on today, by the way."

Serena bowed her head sadly. "I cannot heal a mind which does not seek to be whole."

Twilight smiled, an action meant to reduce Serena's distress. "Don't worry, once we get my Midnight back everything will be a-okay again."

"We shall see. Until then, know that I always have an ear to lend to you."

"Thanks! Dunno what I'll do with an ear, but I'm sure I'll come up with some sort of experiment for it!"

The remainder of the hour passed by in silence, outside of the occasional stunted attempts by Spike to make small talk. Amblejoy returned with her TPT, and three current humans and one current dog set off to find their replacement for Sunset.

It took twenty three-jumps to reach Discord's world. Twenty-three universes, each one of them unique and odd in their own way, whether by being so close to Twilight's home but for a minor change that she would have wept with homesickness had she still been capable of feeling such a thing, or by being so wildly different and fantastic that she could feel her sense of wonder stirring within her, struggling to break free.

In one world, they met a pony Sunset who never went through the mirror and instead befriended a pony Moondancer, who had helped her to become a better person that deserved the position of Celestia's personal protege. She and her friends – including a pony librarian Twilight – had helped them charge up the TPT for their next jump.

In the next world, they found themselves caught up in the hopes and wishes of an Equestria at war with the griffons, where a dread knight fought to keep his ponies safe. They'd only managed to find the Twilight of that world, a unicorn who had generously taken the time to get them to their next jump before returning to the war effort.

On and on it went, and some small part of Twilight that hadn't faded away yet wished she could still enjoy the sights and sounds of the variety of the multiverse, and that she had her flame-haired friend by her side to share in these experiences.

On the other hand, there were times where she could appreciate her muted emotions, like when it shielded her from the horrors of a pony Cheese Sandwich wielding the Alicorn Amulet, or the devastation of a world struggling to rebuild after a costly war with the Crystal Empire that had left Cadance as the ruler of an Equestria under the Empire's control.

Throughout it all, her companions stood fast, protecting each other from danger and working together to power the next portal as they continued their search. Serena tried several more times to reach out to Twilight, to speak to her about the hole in her mind and soul, but Twilight had rebuffed her each time with her flippant disregard of her mental state.

As they waited for a Twilight who had taken time out from studying pegasus body language to help them, she had finally shut Serena down by informing her that the best way to "cure" her would be copious oral applications of Sunset Shimmer.

Finally, after jumping from a world where Sunset was a construct of Starlight Glimmer's old friend, the multiversal quartet found themselves standing in front of a familiar cottage, one that they had visited just hours before. They knocked on the door, and a familiar, universally constant pair opened it.

"Oh, it's you again," an annoyed Twilight said as she glared at them. "What do you want? And who are your friends here? And where's Sunset?"

"Sunset skipped town," Twilight said brightly. "And we're planning an epic heist to save your brother. Wanna go on an adventure?"

A multitude of emotions flashed across the other Twilight's eyes before they hardened again. "Come in."

Once inside the quaint home, Twilight had started giving a brief summary of what had transpired, but Amblejoy quickly took over when Twilight's meanderings went a little too far.

"So, we need someone with knowledge of your world to help us plan the retrieval of the Midnight Container," Amblejoy said as she finished their story. "Are you willing to help?"

Silence filled the room as the other Twilight and Sunset stared at each other, a wordless conversation passing between them. Sunset gave the other Twilight a slight nod and an encouraging smile, and the other Twilight turned towards the quartett. "Fine, I'll help you."

"Thank you," Amblejoy said. "Shall we wait outside while you prepare?"

"Everything I need is still in that world." The other Twilight walked over towards a chest of drawers and pulled out a medallion. "Besides this, that is. I've got the coordinates for my old hideout already programmed in, so we just need to make the jump. Let's go."

Before they left, the other Twilight and Sunset shared a passionate kiss, Sunset whispering "come back safe, my love" to her before letting her go. The sight stirred up something within Twilight, and this time she very deliberately prevented it from rising to the surface. It was better that way. She focused now. Calm. Cool. Collected. Ready to save the multiverse.

The other Twilight opened a portal, and the five of them jumped through.

They landed inside what looked like an alchemy lab. Rows of shelves covered in complicated-looking machinery surrounded them, with locked cabinets interspersed between them. Most of the room was covered in a thick layer of dust, with the exception of a few empty spots on the shelves.

The other Twilight immediately rushed over to one of the empty shelves. "Oh Tartarus," she growled, "Sunset must've taken it when she left."

"Actually, I just nabbed it when I got back."

Five heads turned towards the shadows on the other side of the room, where a Sunset with a mohawk had appeared. "Hey, Twilight, Sparky," she said with a nervous chuckle. "Fancy meeting you here?"

"Sunset," the other Twilight hissed. "What are you doing here? I thought you abandoned these people once they'd lost their usefulness."

"That was the plan, but, uhh, things got a bit complicated," Sunset replied with a sheepish grin, "and then I ran into a friend."

"A friend?"

From the shadows, another figure stepped out, a unicorn with a dark coat.

Sunset smirked. "Sparky, you remember Skylark, right?"

Ooooo, I like this! :twilightsmile:

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In one world, they met a pony Sunset who never went through the mirror and instead befriended a pony Moondancer, who had helped her to become a better person that deserved the position of Celestia's personal protege. She and her friends – including a pony librarian Twilight – had helped them charge up the TPT for their next jump.

I understood that reference.

...the horrors of a pony Cheese Sandwich wielding the Alicorn Amulet...

Ha! I definitely understood that reference.

In any case, good way to do a brief timeskip through Twilight's soul-damaged ennui. This next bit should be very interesting.

I see a Sunsplit reference, and I am amused. Cold Bolt has plenty of options for their chapter... is that better or worse than having too few?

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The flash-forward bit feels a tad rushed, but I understand why it was done. And overall, it was a great chapter! :twilightsmile:

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Sneaky Quill and Blade is sneaky.
Quite the interesting chapter. Looking forward to the next chapter. Time is running out... how will our brave heroes escape today? Find out next time, on ROBOTE- wait. No. Sorry. Find out this and more, on SUNLIGHT SLIDERS PART II - THE SEQUEL!!!

Keep on keepin' on!

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As they waited for a Twilight who had taken time out from studying pegasus body language to help them, she had finally shut Serena down by informing her that the best way to "cure" her would be copious oral applications of Sunset Shimmer.

Unf, that's a good reference. I like that one. https://i.imgur.com/VoakPuy.gif https://i.imgur.com/TojGU.gif

Chapter 24 - Cold Bolt

Twilight stared.

Sunset blinked, her smile fading. "...So that's a no?"

Without a word, Twilight trotted up to Sunset and began dragging her through a nearby door by the foreleg.

"Uhhh..." Sunset glanced nervously between Twilight and the rest. "I... guess we'll be right back?"

'Twily' glared at her. "Sunset, get back here! We don't have time for... for whatever stunt you're pulling!"

Serena laid a gentle hoof on Twily's shoulder. When the mare met her gaze, she shook her head. "Let them be. They both need this."

Twily responded with an indistinct grumble, but said no more on the matter.

Once they were out of earshot behind the door to a storage closet that somehow managed to be even dustier than the rest of the lab, Twilight let go of Sunset and stared at her some more. Sunset opened her mouth to speak -

"You deserve better."

There was no venom in Twilight's voice, Sunset realized. Just a desire to understand.

"Look... I needed to do some thinking," said Sunset, glancing over her shoulder at the closed door before continuing. "And... get some sense talked into me, I guess. This whole thing is my - mostly my fault, and it's not fair that I got you caught up in it."

Twilight continued staring at Sunset with dispassion that made her shiver and look away.

"We're going to get you your Midnight back, and then we're going to take you home. I owe you at least that much. After that..." Sunset sighed. "After that is up to you, but if you never want to see me again... then you won't. Simple as that."

Several seconds passed in silence. Sunset's stomach churned.

She finally looked at Twilight again. "Right, so, I guess that's mmmmph" She jolted as the rest of her sentence was muffled by Twilight's lips.

Even now, she had to resist the temptation to enjoy it.

Sunset shoved Twilight away and wiped her mouth. "Sparky, you seriously need to quit doing that - "

"I wanted to feel it again."

Sunset blinked. "What? Wh... feel what?"

"I don't have words for it anymore," Twilight droned. Her monotone took her words past 'freaky' so far into 'freaky deaky' territory that they had already pitched a tent for the night. "But it was there before. Now it's not. I wanted to feel it again, but now there's nothing there."

Sunset cringed. "You're getting worse..."

"I should be scared, but I'm not. There's no fear left either. I'll probably forget what that is pretty soon too. Even the laughter is gone. Ha." Her expression remained flat as ever. "See?"

"Sparky, we're gonna fix this," said Sunset. "Skylark and I have a plan. Let's get back out there so we can brief you guys. We'll deal with... the rest of this later. Okay?"

"Okay."

Sunset sighed and hung her head for a moment before turning around and opening the door. She was greeted by the surly voice of Twily.

"About time you two finished up in there."

Sunset huffed but bit her tongue. If she let herself get dragged into another argument, they could be there all day.

"Peace, Twilight," said Serena. "Now we can all catch up together."

"As I was saying, this..." Skylark waved her hoof at a hefty device topped with a large glass cylinder sitting between them all. "...is an alchemic containment device. Once released from Shining's barrier, the conglomeration of Midnights is gonna want to lay waste to everything in sight, so we need to get it inside this thing. That won't give us more than a few minutes at best, but it should at least survive the trip to Lady Sparkle's world."

"Once we're there, we have to release it from containment slowly so it doesn't go supernova on us." Sunset glanced at Skylark, who nodded. "If we let them out carefully and close to the crowd, the freed Midnights should return to their respective Twilights like cutie marks separated from their ponies. That should make them an army powerful enough to defeat Discord - Midnightcord? - and give us back our Twilight's Midnight."

"Exposition, exposition..." Twilight sang with almost imperceptible intonation in her voice.

Amblejoy nodded. "But how do we get the Container in the first place? Shining Armor's barrier is all but impenetrable."

"Every defense has a weak point," Sunset retorted. "He can't maintain the spell himself while in stasis, so he had to tie it to another power source to keep it running - a power source he knew would be well protected."

Twily gasped. "The Crystal Heart..."

Skylark nodded at Twily. "Exactly. All we have to do is disconnect the barrier from the Heart, and it should drop. We'll have our Container, and you'll be able to revive your brother."

Spike tilted his head. "So how do we do that, then?"

"With this." Skylark plopped a scroll in front of him.

Sunset stared at it. "I still can't believe you took up writing spells as a hobby..."

Skylark rolled her eyes. "Even with work, I had a lot of time to kill. Besides, it came in handy, didn't it?"

Spike unfurled the scroll and blinked at it. "Why is this just called 'Cut'?"

"Because that's what it does. It cuts," said Skylark. "Specifically it's for severing magical bonds at the source, but you could use it on saplings blocking your way or something if you wanted."

"Skylark's Spiritual Severance," droned Twilight.

"There. Whatever. So here's the plan." Skylark waved a hoof at Amblejoy and Selena. "I take one team to the Crystal Empire to cut the power connection with this spell. Meanwhile, the rest of you need to get as close as you can to Shining and the Container. The instant the barrier is down, get it contained and jump to the battle. Don't waste any time."

Twily scowled. "There are too many ways for this to go wrong, but I don't have a better plan ready and we're running out of time. I'm in."

Amblejoy's horn glowed, enveloping Sunset's talisman in magic for a moment. "That will take you to the battle with the next jump. Be careful, all of you."

Serena looked at Twilight. "We will do everything in our power to put you back to normal."

Spike tapped the containment device with his metal hand. "I'll keep an eye on this thing, don't worry!"

"Sounds like everything's squared away to me," said Skylark. "Let's roll."

As intimidated as I was by my position so close to the end, this came together pretty smoothly, all things considered. It was fun, too! I'm really glad I got to participate, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

But do they have enough gym badges to use that hidden scroll?

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You need like, one badge to use Cut. If by your second encounter with the final boss you still haven't beaten the first gym, then you've probably done it in the wrong order.

So, none of the natives are going to where Cadence is. Interesting choice there, Skylark! I can see reasons for and against this decision.

The longer Twilight goes without Midnight, the more worried I become.

Oroboro
Group Admin

Chapter 25 - Oroboro

Sunset stared at the two teams. Skylark, Amblejoy, and Serena would deal with the Crystal Heart, while herself, Twilight, Twily, and Spike would deal with the barrier. “Any other questions?”

Spike stretched. “So we got the easy job, right? Go up to the barrier and wait for them to break it, then pop all the stuff into the container.”

“It should be easy.” Sunset’s eyes met Twily’s for a moment, then she looked away. “Well, we’ll have to climb a bunch of stairs first. The closest point is at the very top of the Crystal Palace. So I guess that part might suck.”

A nervous chuckle spread throughout the room. Twilight didn’t react at all. Sunset bit her lip, then shook her head. “Right. We can get to the Crystal Empire from here with group teleportation, no talisman required.”

Twily tapped a hoof against the ground. “Sunset, have you actually been back to the Crystal Empire recently?”

Sunset raised an eyebrow. “No, why?”

“Of course.” Twily let out a long sigh. “It’s changed a bit in the past couple years. Guess you’ll see when we get there."

That was ominous. Oh well. No sense stalling any longer. The horns of five unicorns lit up in concert, surrounding each of them in a swirling vortex of energy before the world vanished in a jolt.

They appeared with a pop, on the street directly in front of the Crystal Palace.

Dark, purple light bathed the streets, emanating from the massive sphere of energy floating above the city, where it had for years.

The first thing Sunset noticed was how run-down everything looked. There weren’t any other ponies around, windows were broken, and doors were hanging off their hinges.

Twily stepped forward, eyes focused above them to where her brother lay at the heart of everything. Purple light reflected in her eyes, and she grit her teeth. “The city has mostly been abandoned. Nobody wants to live in the shadow of… that. Cadance still maintains the Crystal Heart, protected in an underground bunker, with a small support. As for the few people that have stayed, well…”

A skitter of something clattered in the street behind them, and everyone spun to catch a tail vanishing behind a nearby building.

“They call themselves the Order of the Midnight Star.” Twily gestured vaguely. "They might give us a little bit of trouble.”

Sunset smacked herself in the face with a hoof. “Of course there’s a creepy cult.”

Spike shrugged. “Ponies who feel lost and directionless grab onto whatever they can. Certainly not the weirdest thing I’ve seen them get obsessed about.

“It’s pretty,” Twilight said, her voice flat and her eyes affixed to the Midnight Star.

A fresh pang of guilt ripped through Sunset, and she took a deep breath. “It sure is. Don’t worry, Sparky. It’ll all be better soon, I promise.”

Skylark glanced over at Twily. “We’ll be off to the Crystal Heart, then. Luckily, we told Cadance we were coming, otherwise this would be a rather awkward reunion.”

Without further dawdling, Skylark, Amblejoy, and Serena galloped off, leaving the four of them alone.

“Right.” Sunset started up the steps towards the Crystal Palace. “Let’s get this over with.”

The Midnight Star above was uncomfortably warm, and sweat trickled down Sunset’s flanks as they traversed the empty streets. Despite the lack of ponies around, she could still feel eyes on her, and catch the occasional flutter of movement.

When they finally reached the doors to the palace, they found two cloaked and hooded ponies standing guard.

Twily leaned in close. “You ready for a fight?”

Sunset raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t it be me asking that question? You were the one who always wanted to talk first.”

“Yeah, well, these ponies are crazy. They can’t be reasoned with.”

“Mmmhmm.” Sunset rolled her eyes. “Watch me.”

Sunset stepped into the open, approaching the guards and waving a hoof. “Hi there!”

Both guards shifted to face her. They were silent for several long moments before one spoke. “What brings you to the Midnight Palace?”

Easy. Sunset glanced upwards, affecting an expression of awe and wonder. “We are but a group of humble travelers, set out on a pilgrimage to bask in the glory of the Midnight Star. May we make the climb to pay our respects?"

More silence, then the guards leaned in close, speaking to each other in harsh whispers. After a minute of deliberation, they turned back. “Very well. I will accompany you to the top. The Midnight Star will humble you.”

“Ooh, I can’t wait,” drawled Sunset. She glanced over at Twily, winked, and sauntered into the palace with the rest of them in tow.

Twily scowled at her, but otherwise said nothing.

Sunset led the way, step after aching step up the spiraling staircase. Two stories up, Spike complained about his short legs, and scrambled up onto Twilight’s back instead. Their new cultist friend followed from the rear, keeping a close eye on them.

Twiliy fell into step beside Sunset, and her horn flickered in an all too familiar pattern of blinking lights.

Nostalgia washing through her, Sunset matched the pattern, and their hoofsteps grew a little duller around them. “I’m surprised you still remember this spell,” Sunset said, her words for Twily’s ears alone.

“I still remember the combination on my bike lock from when I was four. And comparatively, I’ve used this spell way more often. Hard to forget.”

Sunset smiled, and saw Twily smiling too. For a brief moment, something passed between them. It quickly faded, and Twily’s face fell. “So what did you want to talk about?”

“Sunset…” Twily sighed, and pushed forward a little harder. “Do you really think that this will fix everything? That even if we save my brother, things will just be… okay?”

Sunset grimaced. “No. But I’m getting tired of running away. If I can actually help Shining Armor, if I can save Sparky… Then, I don’t know. At least maybe some parts of the multiverse won’t be worse thanks to my existence. At this point, if I can get things back to a nice, comfortable neutral, then I’ll take it.”

Twily glanced back at Twilight as well. “You care about her a lot, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Sunset rubbed at the back of her head, her cheeks coloring. “I care about you too, you know.”

Twily sucked in a breath through her teeth. “Sunset, we—”

“Not like that!” Sunset interrupted, waving a hoof. “I mean, yes, kind of like that. But I mean I get it. You’ve moved on. I accept that. I mean like… I care about… Twilight. As a whole. Call it universal constants or destiny or whatever. Maybe I don’t really even have a choice in the matter. But I still care. And she deserves way better than what’s happened to her. She deserves better than me.”

“I see.” Twily stared at her for a long time, before nodding. “I hope you can find happiness someday, Sunset.”

The rest of the climb continued in silence, and maybe fifteen minutes later they finally crested the top of the tower. The heat here was far more oppressive, and several cultists waited at the top.

“Brother!” One of the cultists shouted. “Who are these interlopers?”

The cultist who had led them up here stepped forward. “They are not interlopers, but pilgrims, seeking to bask in the glory of the Midnight Star!”

Sunset glanced at Twily, who nodded. “Actually, yeah, interlopers would have been a better description."

Four short blasts of paralysis magic later, and the cultists lay crumpled on the ground, twitching.

“Brutal.” Spike grinned. “By my calculations, Skylark should be reaching the Crystal Heart any minute now.”

Sunset set the container up, getting ready for the big moment, then made her way over to Twilight. “You doing alright?”

Sweat trickled down Twilight’s brow, and she fanned herself with a hoof. “Could use some water.”

Crap. She hadn’t actually packed provisions. Sunset glanced around, and saw a barrel full of water. Made sense. This close to the star, any cultists who wanted to frolic would need to stay hydrated. She pointed towards the barrel, and Twilight ambled to it.

Five minutes later, the disconnection of the Crystal Heart announced itself with a titanic boom. Everyone looked up, and the Midnight Star cracked like an egg.

Purple smoke oozed out of the star, pouring on top of them, and Sunset activated the container. A vortex quickly formed as all the contained essence swirled and was sucked into the jar.

Throughout the maelstrom, a single white light fell through the air, plummeting towards the earth.

Twily dove off the edge, her horn a brilliant light extending forth to catch her brother.

As soon as it started, the storm was over. A cloudy gray sky cast the city in normal light, and the container thrummed and pulsed with barely contained dark energy.

Not much time to waste. Sunset grabbed the container with her magic, wincing at the feedback from doing so, then wrapped her hoof around Twilight as she readied the Talisman. “Thanks for all your help, Spike. Make sure Twily’s okay, would you?”

Spike nodded. “Good luck!”

The portal opened, and they dropped in, ready to fight a superpowered manifestation of chaos itself.

Sunset wasn’t sure what to expect with Discord, but that was kind of the general idea. Extreme absurdity was at least a baseline reference.

The featureless black void they found themselves in didn’t make a lot of sense in that framework.

Had they come to the wrong world, somehow? Sunset looked around, frantic. The talisman beeped on empty, and there was almost no ambient magic to charge it with. Crap. Some sort of trap?

“Hello, girls,” Discord said from behind them, his voice raspy. “Glad you could make it.”

Sunset spun, horn ready, then froze as she saw him.

Discord lay on his back, looking small, emaciated, frail, and more importantly, completely drained of color, like a black and white photograph. “Sorry, I would have preferred to freshen up, before—” He paused, launching into a coughing fit while holding up one finger. “Before you arrived, but you caught me by surprise.”

“Where’s…” Sunset licked her lips. “Where’s Lady Sparkle? Where are all the other Twilights?”

“Gone.” Discord shrugged. “This world has been consumed by chaos, and nothing is left.”

Sunset stumbled, and felt sick to her stomach. “Then, they’re all…”

“Scattered across the multiverse, back in their home worlds, each and every one of them.” Discord chuckled. “Though they’re all missing a certain key part of themselves, and probably won’t do very well on their own. Oh hey, look, a pile of keys!”

He reached over and tapped the container. It burst, spraying purple energy into the air above them. Discord snapped his fingers, and countless portals opened in the sky. The dark smoke split, each a tiny fragment drawn to a portal.

In moments, it was all gone, leaving the world as empty again.

Sunset chuckled nervously. “Everyone was sure you’d go full villain and we’d have to stop you.”

Discord rolled his eyes, then wheezed. “Oof, that took a bit out of me. But no. You never go full villain. Of course, you’re not supposed to go full heroic sacrifice either, and look where I am now. Ah well.”

“Right.” Sunset glanced at Twilight, who watched on impassively. “Where’s Midnight? Her Midnight. It’s a part of Sparky, and she needs it to be whole again.”

“I don’t think I really need it at all, Sunset. I’m fine,” Twilight droned.

“She’s gone too,” Discord said. He shrugged. “I’m afraid the spark that burns twice as bright lasts half as long.”

Icy fear gripped Sunset’s chest, and she stepped forward, legs shaking. “No, that can’t be…”

Discord grinned. “Well, okay. Maybe there’s still something.” He took a deep breath, then plunged his hand into his head. When he pulled it out again, a tiny green light rested on the tip of his finger, barely the size of a pinhead.

“That’s…”

“A mere spark.” Discord pressed it against Twilight’s forehead.

Twilight’s eyes shot open, and she gasped, as if plunged into icy water.

“It’s not enough to fix her,” Discord said. “But it’s enough to allow her to be fixed. A seed that can regrow into a soul. She’ll need lots of care and love and friendship to regain her former self, but it can be done.”

“Twilight…” Sunset ran over and wrapped her hooves around her, her own heart pounding in her chest. “We’ll make it okay. Everything will be okay, I promise.”

“Now then.” Discord stood up to his full height and bowed. “Since that spark was the last thing keeping me going, I must bid you adieu.” He looked up at them, grinned, and his body slowly started to dissolve, turning to dust and blowing away in a nonexistent wind.

The last thing that remained was his smile.

Mission accomplished, I suppose?

Huh. Well, that went... surprisingly smoothly. Of course, they are stranded in the middle of a magicless void with an empty Talisman, so that's a consideration.

And we just cut off so many plot threads. Leaving five to ten chapter's worth of potential emptiness.

Hoooooraaaaaaaaaaay....

Seriously, this feels... too abrupt. Too soon. I can't see how the story could progress from here... not without some serious plot twists.

At the same time, it's technically sound, and the whole point of this is to expect the unexpected...

If only another Traveler were to appear and grab them. Hmmm....

A certain theme plays in the background, and I hum along.

6372716
Yeah, that definitely went smoother than expected. Also, RIP this iteration of Discord :fluttershysad:
Still, seven chapters left... It'll be interesting to see where things go from here.

Yeah, I think it bears repeating: This chapter is the very definition of anticlimax. Everything goes off without a hitch, the only real twist is that Discord is suddenly not an issue, and deus ex machina into oblivion.

Seriously, I set up an incredible epic quest, complete with multiple interpersonal conflicts--Serena is reunited with her long lost mothers (who have fused with a third unrelated entity), Spike is suddenly not in waterworld, the heroes have to deal with Imprisoned Shining and the potential danger of MetaMidnight, Sunset bails and goes off on her own journey with a necklace all but stated to be capable of bringing back characters we visited into the plot... and it's all resolved in three chapters. Not even with a good twist.

...I am, to put it mildly, annoyed that all my hard work referencing everyone else's hard work was just brushed aside.

6373892 Posts like this, as well as the general sentiment behind it, are incredibly discouraging to people who have yet to go (or perhaps I'm only speaking for myself right now).

I'm sorry if you feel that your "epic quest" wasn't followed through on effectively enough. I'm sure I don't need to remind you that nobody is obligated to raise anyone else's plot bunnies in this highly collaborative project, where the cast of characters and plot are, by necessity as well as definition, going to change and be re-interpreted by every author who picks up the story.

Disagreeing with it from a narrative standpoint is one thing; criticizing the storytelling is fine. It's something that any writer should be able to listen to, and deal with. Criticizing it because it didn't pay off your own ideas in a satisfactory way isn't. And, speaking as the guy whose job it is to wrap this entire story up, it creates a lot of pressure when there really shouldn't be any.

6375629

I apologize, I... was not in a good state of mind when I wrote that. I have been frustrated at my own mentality for some time. I should have worded my critique differently. From a technical perspective the chapter works, it just... feels wrong, to me, having been part of multiple collaborations of great scope, to have something so... outright 180. I should have kept my feelings to myself, though.

I suppose it isn't the chapter I am critiquing, just how it... fits, into the greater whole. Which, I agree, is probably not a sound reason for critique. Again, Oroboros, I was out of line and offer my sincerest apologies.

Chapter 26 - Idsertian

If there was one thing that could be said for the eternal nothingness of a destroyed world, it was that it gave a mare time to think. After making sure Twilight was okay from the re-introduction of Midnight’s spark, Sunset had done just that.

The first thing that had crossed her mind was the Talisman problem. Lady Twilight’s universe had apparently been some kind of pocket-dimension. The fight between her and Discord had annihilated everything; not just the planet, but the entire universe. While she conceded that the pair were powerful, Sunset highly doubted that even they could have destroyed a full-size ‘verse. The amount of power that would take would be…

Hell, she could probably ask every voyager ever and still never find the answer.

The net result was that the destruction of the mad alicorn’s fiefdom had taken every ounce of magic with it. The Talisman wasn’t charging, and neither could Sunset feel the familiar tingle of magical fields, her horn itching at their absence.

She reached up to scratch it, which was when she discovered that her mane was completely gone. After a mild panic attack over the loss of her hair, she quickly guessed that this was likely due to the lack of a universe. Settling down, Sunset turned her mind to the current predicament.

No magic meant no charge. No charge meant no way out of here. Even if “here” wasn’t anywhere, since everywhere she looked was just black… forever. Even the “ground” they sat on offered no relief, just as featureless as everything else. It grated against Sunset’s sanity to look into it, and who knew how Twilight was taking it?

She looked over at the other unicorn, something which should have been impossible without a light source, who was just staring into the nothingness, apparently lost inside herself. And who wouldn’t be after all this?

Just days ago, Sparky had been minding her own business, and then this coarse, ungrateful, violent girl had appeared in her room and dragged her across the multiverse on account of her own drama. As a result, she’d been terrorised countless times, subjected to foul magicks and literally had her mind rent asunder. If Sunset were Twilight, she’d hate her guts right now.

But that was just it, wasn’t it? Even though there probably was a Twilight out there just like Sunset, this one wasn’t. And she’d deserved none of this. She didn’t deserve to be snatched from her home, to be the centre of something that didn’t involve her, to have been made a shell of her former self. She deserved to be in her own universe, in her own home, with her own friends and family.

She deserved better.

Twilight watched with dispassion as Discord pulled his hand from his head. Dimly, she was aware of words being passed between him and Sunset, but she wasn’t really listening. It didn’t matter. Nothing did. She felt the draconequus press his finger against her forehead, just under her horn.

For a split second, there was nothing, just the remnant feeling of pressure on her skin. Then, deep in the grey recesses of her ailing personality, something tiny cried out. It was a primal cry, one of anger, pain and hunger. And apparently, Twilight was the perfect source of food.

What started as the tiniest of sparks in her head exploded almost instantly into a full blown entity, sweeping through her collapsing mind and shoring it up against further decay; consuming the empty spaces left behind for itself. As it went, the entity emanated the impression of a ravenous hunger being sated, like a beast that had been starved for weeks. Twilight gasped, the sensation not unlike jumping into a pool on a hot summer’s day.

The whole thing was over as quick as it started, leaving Twilight a little breathless but finally able to think, at least in a limited capacity. She targeted this returned ability straight at the new entity in her mind.

‘Hello?’

For a moment, there was nothing but silence in response. Then, just as she was about to try again, she got a weak response:

‘Never thought I’d be glad to hear your voice again.’

‘Midnight?! What happened? I thought you were gone forever!’ Midnight chuckled croakily.

‘So you did miss me. As for what happened, your so-called friend decided to use me for his own purposes.’

‘His own purposes? What do you mean?’

‘I mean he wanted to turn this little dimension into his own personal playground, and he was going to use me up to do it. He must’ve scraped some of you out with me, because I was going to let him, too.’ Twilight ignored the barb.

‘Are you alright?’ she asked. ‘You feel... different.’

‘I’m about as far from alright as I can be, but we have bigger problems. Lady Twilight got sent back to her home universe, and she’s going to set up again.’

‘How do you know that?’ Twilight caught the mental equivalent of a shrug.

‘It’s what I’d do. Now, I’ve been poking around your brain, and I’ve seen what happened while I was gone. I have a plan, but I need you to listen closely…’

“I don’t know if you can hear me right now, but… I’m sorry,” Sunset said, unable to look the silent Twilight in the eye. “I’m sorry I dragged you into this, Sparky. If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be at home right now.”

She sighed and held the Talisman in her hoof where it dangled from her neck. Unsurprisingly, it hadn’t charged any. Without ambient magic, it never would.

“Because of me,” Sunset continued. “You’re far from home and hurt. Lady Twilight may have created that MegaMidnight, but I’m the one that got you involved in this whole mess with my selfish actions. I stole something I shouldn’t have, and now you’re stuck in this… nothing.”

Still looking at the Talisman, Sunset cast her mind back to when the two of them first met. Stood opposite each other in that bedroom, the Talisman suspended in a glowing field…

There was no ambient magic here, but there was still magic. In Twilight. In her.

“I don’t…” Sunset started, but her words caught. She knew what she had to do, and that made what she wanted to say even harder, somehow. She finally looked over at Twilight, who remained placid.

“I don’t know if you really feel the way about me I think you do, but I hope you do. I don’t deserve it, and you deserve so much more than me, but I do care about you, even if I’m terrible at showing it sometimes.”

With a sigh, Sunset looked at the Talisman once more before looking into Twilight’s eyes. She thought she saw a glimmer of the life that had formerly been in them, but dismissed it as a trick of whatever was allowing her to see in this void.

“If you asked when I started feeling this way, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, I just know I do.” The orange unicorn gave a wry chuckle. “I mean, you’re a Twilight and I’m a Sunset, that’s how it works, right?”

Sunset felt a tear roll down her cheek. With a tug, she pulled the Talisman from round her neck, clutching it in her hoof.

“I’m stalling,” she said, emotion furring her words. “You were right, though. I can’t get you home, but I can at least get you back to some people who can.”

Leaning forward, Sunset planted a gentle kiss on Twilight’s cheek.

“Don’t forget me, Sparky, okay?” She shook her head. “Hell, maybe you should. After all, you deserve better.”

With that, Sunset powered up her horn and took the Talisman in her magic.

Slowly, the device began to glow.

‘Do you understand?’

‘I think so.’

‘That’ll have to do. We don’t really have a lot of time.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘Mostly that Lady Twilight isn’t going to hang around and wait for us, but also because I think your little girlfriend is about to do something monumentally stupid.’

‘My what? What are you-’

Twilight was hit by a sudden rush of mental imagery, all of it of a bald Sunset sitting in front of her, talking about…

Oh. Oh no. No! She couldn’t!

As she realised Midnight must have been holding her awareness of the outside world at bay, Twilight was rocked again by the emotional backwash of what Sunset had said and was clearly planning to do. It wasn’t much emotion, but compared to the total lack of anything she’d felt since Discord had ripped Midnight out of her, it was like an ocean had crashed into her all at once.

And just like that, Twilight was looking at Sunset, instead of just thinking about her.

The other mare’s eyes were closed, her face was pale and she was sweating profusely. A guttural groan escaped from behind her clenched teeth as she poured her magic into the TPT. The fields surrounding her horn and the magical device were diffuse, the void around them sucking the energy out of both almost as fast as Sunset could pour it in. Twilight’s knowledge about magic wasn’t extensive, but from what her Sunset back home had said, magic was an essential part of life for ponies.

And this Sunset was pouring all of hers into the TPT.

“STOP!” Twilight yelled. Her own horn lit up and grabbed the TPT in her magic. Sunset’s eyes flew open at her shout, though her magic didn’t stop.

“Twilight!” she managed to gasp out. “You’re okay!”

“Yes, but you won’t be if you don’t stop!” Sunset just shook her head.

“It’s okay, Twilight. I’m going to get you out of here.”

“Not like this! I won’t let you sacrifice yourself for me!”

“It’ll be alright, Twilight, just-”

“No, it won’t! I’m no different to anyone else! I’m not worth it!”

“You are to me!” Sunset shouted back, tears running down her cheeks. Her hind legs gave out and she fell on her rump. She looked down at her hooves and repeated quietly, “You are to me…”

Twilight reached out with a hoof and gently lifted Sunset’s chin, bringing her teary, cyan eyes up to meet her own.

“I know,” she said softly. “But you’re worth the same to me, too.” With those words, Twilight leaned over to Sunset and placed her own gentle kiss, right on Sunset’s lips.

While she remembered kissing Sunset in both Serena’s cottage and Twily’s world, the feeling was dulled compared to this. Now, she felt like someone had laid a mains cable at the base of her skull and plugged it straight into her spine. Her heart thundered, her lips tingled, her cheeks burned and as intense as the feeling was, it multiplied when she felt Sunset purse her own lips in kind.

As much as she wanted to stay like that forever, Twilight knew she had to break it off. When she did, she smiled at Sunset, who returned the expression.

“Now let go,” Twilight said gently. “Let me take over. Please.”

It seemed like an eternity before Sunset nodded, but eventually she did, her horn extinguishing. With the TPT firmly in her own grasp, Twilight focussed as much of her magic into it as she could, watching as the device glowed even brighter. The feeling of pouring her own essence into the vessel made her nauseous, and sweat ran down into her eyes. Eventually, though, the TPT pulsed with energy and a portal unsteadily tore itself into existence.

Panting from the effort, Twilight stood and turned to Sunset, gesturing to the newly formed portal. Nodding, Sunset stood and leaned into her slightly. Together, they staggered their way across the threshold.

As they did so, a little voice, carrying just the hint of a smirk, spoke proudly in the back of Twilight’s mind.

‘Good girl.’

6376365
:twilightangry2: Midnight Discord was merely a setback!

I've been wondering for a while now if adding BGM links to a fic is a good idea, and I feel like this is evidence in favor!

Oh, and the chapter is pretty cool too I guess.

6376398
Hey, don't look at me, I didn't have anything to do with it! :fluttershysad: It is a good reference, though.

6376400
Indeed. Who knows what she's cooking up now?

6376414
To be fair, the FFVII soundtrack is basically god-tier. It's hard to go wrong with it.

Corejo
Group Contributor

6376447
Huh. So you left me a literal blank slate here. This'll be interesting...

Novel-Idea
Group Admin

6375674
I'd like to add while you may have done a huge setup, that wasn't the setup that everyone else was necessarily leading to (or may have wanted). You sort of shifted the entire story into something pretty linear, thereby forcing everyone after you to have to do your story. While you didn't require people stay in the world you made, you required that people stay with the plot you imposed over the overarching story. I remember you said you had been tracking everything, and you may have taken it too far. It's the risk in any collaboration.

For example, there's a reason I didn't state what Sunset was looking for in the opening chapter. I wanted to keep that general and flexible and let other authors interpret it. Was it her Twilight? Was it something else?

The simple reality is this: in a collaboration with over thirty authors, nothing will ever go as you expect. Not for me. Not for you. Not for anyone.

I say this not to belabor a point, but just give my perspective (I hadn't caught up until now). You've already apologized for your comment, and that's settled for me. I just wanted you to see how others might have received the epic quest.

6376904
Yup. I wanted to give us all a nice bit of fluff, but leave what happens next open to the next person. We've only a half-dozen chapters left, so we don't need me adding any more plotlines to the story. :rainbowlaugh:

Comment posted by Corejo deleted Mar 31st, 2018
Corejo
Group Contributor

Chapter 27 - Corejo

The portal spit them out onto a cold stone floor.  Twilight sat up and rubbed her head. That was going to leave a nice goose egg.

They sat in the middle of a rundown courtyard crawling with moss and debris.  Dilapidated houses huddled the distant edges of the worn flagstones, and a busted water fountain sat beside them in silent vigil.

“Glad you two could make it back.”

Amblejoy stood behind them.  She assumed the best, for the grin on her face.

Sunset stood up, hissing as she rubbed her back. “Wish I could say the same after that slide.  You really need to work on your portals, Sparky.”

Twilight looked between Sunset and Amblejoy.  Part of her leapt for joy that everything had turned out better than expected. But part of her needed to ask.

“Where’s everyone else?”

“On the other side of the castle.”  Amblejoy jerked her head over her shoulder toward the crystal spire.  “I needed a moment to clear my head. And besides… it’s not my family reunion going on over there.”

Sunset wore a troubled frown and a downcast gaze.  It was hard to imagine what thoughts were running through her head right now.

“Did Discord give you much trouble?”  Amblejoy smiled, eager to change the subject.

“None, actually,” Sunset said.  She swept a hoof through her mohawk, and Twilight watched it sproing back into place.  “He didn’t go full villain and actually beat Lady Sparkle.  Or, at least enough to make her jump universes. We did get all the Midnights back to their Twilights, though.”

Amblejoy nodded.  “Well then I guess everything isn’t as great as I was hoping, but it’s far from the worst.  However, Lady Sparkle escaping is bad. If we leave her alone, she’ll just build up from scratch again.”

“See?  What’d I tell you?” Midnight said inside Twilight’s head.

“Shush, you.”

“So then how do we stop her?”

Amblejoy scratched her chin.  Her eyes wandered between Twilight and Sunset.  “I have an idea…”

She trotted up and lifted Twilight’s TPT in her hoof.  A quick comparison with her own, and she snapped it off Twilight’s neck.

Sunset squared up with her.  “What do you think you’re do—”

Amblejoy shushed her. She opened the lid of Twilight’s TPT.  What looked like pink stardust churned like sand inside a shaken glass jar.

“Do you remember when I told you about resonances?”

Sunset tilted her head.  “Yeah, the thing about all universes having a song or whatever, right?”

“She’s looking at the chaos magic all over that thing,” Midnight said.

“Shush.”

Amblejoy held her TPT next to Twilight’s.  Her pink stardust-y stuff didn’t churn, but rather patiently swirled like a slow-motion hurricane, little bits flaking off to drift with the wind.  “The same goes for magic. Your TPT is riddled with chaos magic.”

“See?  What’d I tell you?”

“Would you seriously just shush?”

“How exactly did that happen?” Twilight asked.

Amblejoy smirked at her.  “My guess is your little friend inside your head.”

“Who, me?” Midnight asked.

“Yes, you,” Twilight said.  She blushed, realizing she said that out loud.  “Err, how so?”

“Midnight Discord or whatever you called him.  Their magics mingled, and I doubt your Midnight will ever be quite the same as she was.”

“But what’s that have to do with Lady Sparkle?” Sunset asked.  She stepped up beside Twilight, her eyes on the TPTs.

“Chaos magic leaves a mark. A scent, if you will.  Just look at my TPT’s frequency.” Already that patient swirl grew jumbled, chunks of stardust clumping together and scattering.  She held it away from Sunset and Twilight, and the stardust returned to a patient swirl. “You two reek of it, and Lady Sparkle no doubt will, too, after that battle with Discord.”

“So you’re gonna use our TPT to track her?  Can it really sniff her out across universes?”

Amblejoy lit her horn and focused her aura over Twilight’s TPT.  She pressed down on the stardust to compress it into the device’s core.  It fought back like some kind of animal backed into a corner, little pockets of stardust shooting up through Amblejoy’s aura, but she snatched them and threw them back into the device.

Twilight bit her lip.  After coming so far, the TPT felt just as much a part of her as anything.  Seeing Amblejoy tinker with it sent a nervous twinge through her. Still, Midnight didn’t seem worried, so she stayed quiet.

The stardust conceded defeat, allowing itself to be compressed flat into the core.  Amblejoy let out a relieved laugh.

“That, Sunset, would be a yes.”  Amblejoy clamped Twilight’s TPT shut.  “And judging by the chaos resonance, we already have a reading.”

“Really?”  Sunset sidled up beside her for a closer look.  “It’s that simple?”

“Well, not quite. Lady Sparkle is on the run, as I’m sure you guessed.  She’s already jumped a few times, and I don’t see her slowing down anytime soon.”

“So we just have to jump through a portal or two and nab her.” Sunset asked.  “What are we waiting for? Let’s get the others.”

“Hold on.  It’s not that simple, either,” Midnight said, suddenly in control.

“Well, hello, Midnight,” Amblejoy said.

“Yeah, whatever,” Midnight said.

“Don’t ‘whatever’ her!”

“I’ll ‘whatever’ whoever I want.” Midnight shook her head, throwing Twilight into the back of their mind for a moment.  “We didn’t charge the TPT ambiently like you guys always do. That was my magic you used.  A lot of it.”

“Okay, so?” Sunset said.

“The portal isn’t a one-off thing.  It’s per person. Or pony. Or whatever’s going through it.”

Sunset sighed.  “So if we’re chasing Lady Sparkle, the less that go through the portal the faster we can catch up.”

“You got it, sweet cheeks.”  Twilight shook her head, again in control.  Well, control of everything but her left hoof, which tried against her will to slap Sunset on the flank.  Through it all, she blushed furiously and tried hiding behind her mane.

Sunset and Amblejoy shared a look, then a smile, then a nod.

“We won’t let you down,” Sunset said to Amblejoy.

“I don’t doubt it.”  Amblejoy gave Twilight’s TPT to Sunset.  She put her own around her neck, but paused.  “Actually…”

She snapped open her TPT and twisted its core until it popped out.  Carefully, she levitated it to the one around Sunset’s neck, opened it, and clicked it in place. “There. That should at least make each slide easier.”

“Wait.”  Twilight stepped forward.  “But that was your TPT’s core.  You can’t give that to us. What about you guys?  You’ll be stranded here.”

Amblejoy shrugged.  “I’m sure Twily, Skylark, and I could scrap together another one if we had to.  But I have faith we won’t have to worry about that.

“And besides...”  She looked over her shoulder toward the crystal palace.  “I have a feeling they still need some time.”

“Well, alright then!” Sunset said, stamping her hoof.  She turned a grin toward Twilight. “You ready to hunt down a maniac pseudo demi-goddess and save the multiverse?”

Twilight looked her in the eye.  No. No she didn’t. She didn’t want anything to do with any of this.  She just wanted to go home. She wanted to go home and reread her book for the millionth time.  Something normal. Something safe.

“But that isn’t quite true, is it?” Midnight asked.

Twilight looked down.  No, it wasn’t. Twilight did want to go home, but what was home to her?  A place, a collection of things. Just a bunch of stuff.

This Sunset she found—or rather, that found her—she was just as much a home as any one place in any one universe.  This Sunset that she followed across half the multiverse, that she would gladly follow across the other.

Twilight smiled.  “Yeah.”

They slid through the portal, and Twilight fell.  The wind grew to a roar in her ears. She felt the heat before she saw it.

Her body tumbled in freefall, and when the sky turned to earth, she saw a tropical island and an active volcano directly below, brewing with the anger of a mythological deity.

Sunset gripped her around the shoulders.  “Twilight! Twilight! Portal! Portal!”

“I’m working on it!”

Twilight grabbed Sunset with one hoof and the TPT with the other.  She pushed hers and Midnight’s magic into it, and the meter flared pink.  They ripped open a portal beneath them and tumbled onto a soft patch of grass.

Sunset coughed.  “Well that was a great way to start us off.”

Twilight rolled her eyes.  Grassy hills rolled into all four horizons, dotted by a few trees.  It was kind of peaceful.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“I think ‘how far behind’ is the better question here,” Sunset said.  She adjusted her jacket with one hand, and grabbed the TPT with the other.

Twilight stood up and threw her arm around Sunset while staring at the TPT. “Well then how far behind are we?”

“You see the concentric circles?” She pointed at a red dot and a blinking ring.  “We’re the middle dot. She’s the flashing ring.”

“Just two jumps away?”

“Yeah.  Well, three now,” Sunset said as the flashing ring jumped outward one circle.

“Then what are we waiting for?” Twilight put her hands on the TPT.

“Me.  Jeez. Can’t a girl catch a break around here?”  Midnight sounded winded, like she had just sprinted a lap around the school track.

“Sorry, but we need to catch her.  Can you make another jump?”

“I’ll live. Just fire it up whenever.”

Twilight nodded.  She closed her eyes to focus her magic.

“Wait,” Sunset said.  “She stopped moving.”

“Okay?  So? Let's get her before she does move again,” Twilight said.

“Twilight, wait.”

Sunset looked at her, concerned. “No.  I don't think that's a good idea. There's something fishy about this.  Somepony running for their life doesn’t just stop running.”

“She’s right, Twilight.  This screams trouble.”

Twilight shook her head.  This was their chance. They could end this now.  The more jumps, the more it hurt Midnight, and they needed all the strength they could manage.

Sunset took a step back, clutching the TPT to her breast.  “Twilight…”

Twilight put her hands on Sunset’s cheeks.  She planted a long kiss on her forehead, and they stayed there a while.

“Trust me,” Twilight whispered.  Without taking her eyes from Sunset’s, she placed her hands on the TPT.  It glowed, and Twilight closed her eyes. She poured even more of herself into it.

Before she knew what was happening, she felt them shift through space, the universes passing by and around and through them.  Gravity reversed, and reality snapped to.

She hit the ground face first.  What little of the world she could make out spun sickeningly on its head.  Her lungs felt like they had been vacuum packed and refused to draw breath.

“Twilight!  Twilight, get up!”

Twilight groaned.  She tried pushing herself up onto her hands and knees, but a shooting pain rocketed up her right arm and she collapsed, screaming.

“Twilight, please!  You have to get up! This is bad.  This is really bad.”

She sucked in a tiny breath through clenched teeth.  Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. She curled into a fetal position, face down against the cold stone.

“There’s no magic here, Twilight.  This universe… I-I can’t feel my magic.”

“Oh…” cooed a venomously honeyed voice. “Don’t give up so easily, Twilight.”

Twilight wheezed in a gasp and shot her eyes open.  That voice. That was her voice.  She managed to crane her neck up.

Lady Sparkle grinned down at her.  She held Sunset in front of her by the arm, her long fingernails digging through her leather jacket.  Sunset’s long, wavy hair covered one of her eyes, but it couldn’t hide the terror in them.

“After all…” Lady Sparkle said.  “That isn’t something I would do.”

And then Twilight saw the knife at Sunset’s throat.

So this was tons of fun to put together. Probably spent more time on it than I should have, but that's my obsessiveness taking over like it always does. Have fun, Neon!

Onward and Upward!

6379269
Oh no! :pinkiegasp: This seems like quite the pickle our girls have landed in.

Novel-Idea
Group Admin

Chapter 28 -Overlord Neon








(I'm posting this on behalf of Neon. I take no credit for any of it)

Corejo
Group Contributor

6384896
Aww yiss. I like how this turned out.

A new challenger appears!

Chapter 29 - Aragón

Sunset tackled the devil.

Someone screamed.

The pendant went flying.

There was a flash of light.

Sunset opened her eyes.

There was no cold hard ground under her feet, and the sky above her wasn’t black. There was no Lady Sparkle, and no devil Sunset, and no Twilight.

There was just a void. An endless void, exactly like that one where Discord had died. But, if voids could have colors—and Sunset assumed they technically couldn’t, but they did anyway—that one had been black. This one was white.

And somehow, that made this whole situation way less concerning.

So Sunset didn’t bother screaming. She didn’t bother looking for Twilight, or trying to understand what had just happened. She just did what she knew she had to do.

“Hey!” she said out loud, looking up. “I see no fire and no pitchforks! That means I’m still alive, right?”

“Sunset, we really need to start working on that self-esteem.”

And Sunset had to suppress a smirk.

The disembodied voice—a woman’s—came from behind her back. Because of course there was a disembodied voice, and of course it came from behind her back. This was an endless void with no colors, and Sunset was floating in the middle of it. There had to be some sort of wise entity who spoke in riddles. This was, what? The third time this had happened in this adventure alone?

“I've no idea, actually. I think I've genuinely lost count. So, where am I?” Sunset said this last bit out loud, as she turned around to face whoever was in there with her. “This isn’t a dream, those feel more real. What—?”

The words died in her mouth.

There was a woman behind her, all right. A woman wearing a set of white clothes that covered strictly what needed to be covered. She had two pristine angelic wings sprouting from her back. There was a brilliant halo floating above her head.

And her face…

The woman chuckled. “Too much? I'm not the best at subtlety.” She fluttered her wings, and shrugged. “But being blunt is good, sometimes, I think.”

Sunset frowned, and tried to retreat a little, give herself some space. “You…? Why are you…?”

“Like this?” The woman made a broad gesture, pointing at her attire. “Well, I don’t know. It’s just, through all this entire journey, it’s been Midnight Sparkle this, Midnight Discord that, now there’s a devil version of you out there… And that got me thinking.” The woman crossed her arms. “We keep seeing the demon on our left shoulder. But what about the angel on our right?”

Sunset blinked. She looked at her right shoulder—there was nothing there. Then again, there was nothing on her left shoulder either. Still, she sort of got it.

So she looked at the woman. “So you are my… good counterpart?”

“Kind of,” the woman said. Her face was, of course, identical to Sunset’s, but her smile was so much sweeter. “Welcome to your own mind, Sunset. You could say I’m your personal Shimmer.”

Silence.

“Also, yes, this is literally the inside of your mind. You’re introspecting. This is what introspection looks like.”

Sunset arched an eyebrow. “This is not how introspection looks like.”

“Yeah, usually. But this is not usual. You got hit in the head with a burst of chaos magic. Point-blank.” The angel shrugged. “What did you think was gonna happen?”

Sunset was unconscious.

SUNSET!

And Twilight was screaming.

“SUNSET! SUNSET, PLEASE!” Everything hurt. Breathing hurt, moving hurt, thinking hurt—but Twilight ignored it all, she gritted her teeth and kept going, she had to run to Sunset. Walk to Sunset, jump to Sunset, drag herself through the ground to Sunset, it didn’t matter. She had to get to her.

Midnight purred something in her mind, but Twilight shrugged it off. Sunset was breathing—she was, Twilight was sure, that was not her imagination, but she looked bad. Real bad. She had to—

“I wouldn’t really move if I were you.”

The voice made Twilight’s heart jump for a second, because it was Sunset speaking—but it hadn’t been her Sunset. It had been the devil one.

“And if I were you,” Lady Sparkle replied, “I would shut up.”

Twilight looked at them, all the while dragging herself towards Sunset. She did not like what she saw.

The TPT had fallen to the ground, and it stood there, glimmering, tantalizing, exactly between Devil Sunset and Lady Sparkle. The two villains were clearly keeping it on the corner of their eye, but mostly, they were both looking at each other.

Devil Sunset had her hands up, fingers shimmering, ready to strike. Lady Sparkle had her arms crossed, and a look of contempt in her eyes.

Both were baring their teeth.

“The moment you take a single step towards the TPT,” Devil Sunset said, and her hands shone even brighter, “you’re dust.”

Twilight stopped looking at them, and scooted over to Sunset. Inch by inch, little by little, until she was next to her. She was breathing—oh, thank the Heavens, she was breathing—but she did not wake up when Twilight nudged her.

And in the background, Lady Sparkle chuckled. “Oh, I do not think so,” she said. “I have killed more Sunset Shimmers that you could count. I am the Sparkle of the Last Dying Star. You are nothing.”

Devil Sunset scoffed. “You’re weakened. I can feel it. I can end you.”

“Oh, you could. I am weak, indeed. However.” Lady Sparkle raised two fingers. “You made two mistakes.”

Devil Sunset blinked. “What?”

“First, this is not a conversation. This is me stalling you, and now she’s close enough.” And Lady Sparkle looked to the side, at Twilight—and Twilight felt a chill down her spine, and that old familiar tickle at the base of her neck. In her mind, Midnight screamed.

“No!” Twilight hugged the unconscious Sunset, trying to cover her up with her body. “No!—!”

“Oh, yes. Second mistake, Sunset,” Lady Sparkle said, “never assume I’m working alone.” Then she grinned at Twilight. “Welcome back,my child.”

Then a flash, and the tingle became a stab, and Twilight screamed.

“Okay!” the angel said. “So, here’s a loaded question: how do you feel about Twilight?”

Sunset frowned. “Uh—”

“Yes. Exactly.” The angel nodded. “You don’t even know which one I’m talking about. Because here’s the thing, right? If we follow this?” And she pointed to her head. “This is a really big mistake. Really big.”

There was a frown in Sunset’s face. Funny—she didn’t remember putting it on. “You’re talking about me and Twilight?”

“Yes.”

“Right.”

“Because you think she deserves better,” the angel said, “and you are absolutely right.”

Sunset winced. “Ouch.”

“Yeah, I told you we had to work on that self-esteem.” The angel waved a hand. “You know you like her, but do you like her? Or do you just like the idea of a Twilight? Because the last one ditched you, and this one is definitely a rebound. Do you even know anything about her? Like, at all?”

Sunset laughed, despite herself. “She wears glasses,” she said. “And that’s all.”

The angel nodded. “Exactly.”

“So I keep thinking, she deserves better. Because maybe I don’t like her, maybe I just like Twilights, plural. And that isn’t fair for her.” Sunset looked at the angel. “Is that what you mean?”

“Yes. That’s what this,” she pointed at her head, “says. But what about…?”

And Sunset pointed at her chest. “This?”

“Hmm-hmm.”

“Well.” Sunset ran a hand through her hair. “I… I like her.”

“Go on.”

“No, that’s—there’s nowhere to go to from there. I just. I like her?” Sunset squinted. “Being near her feels good. I, I don’t know if this is just a crush, or if it’s destiny, or if it’s… I have no idea what it is. Rationally I keep telling myself that I’m going to hurt her. Because maybe I don’t like her, maybe I just like any Twilight that looks at me, maybe I just haven’t gotten over Twily yet. But then…”

“But then,” the angel said, “all that goes through the window. Because you’ve seen countless Twilights, and you didn’t care for them. But this one?” And she pointed at her chest, too. “If you follow this, this Twilight matters, and you don’t care if you don’t know why.”

Pause.

“By the way,” Sunset said, “now that you point at your chest, I’ve been meaning to ask. Why are you dressing like that?”

“Like an angel?”

“Like an exhibitionist.”

“Evil is sexy, good is sexier, and you’re really proud of your human looks.” The angel flinched. “Ah. I’m vanishing. I think you’re waking up. Here’s hoping we never see each other again, because I am less an individual and more the result of a concussion. Bye!”

“What?” Sunset blinked. The angel was, indeed, vanishing. “Wait, what? No! You didn’t help me at all! I—what if she has a life in her home dimension? What if she doesn’t want to leave that? Should I move in with her? Is that a sign that we shouldn’t be together? Is that a sign we should? Tell me something!

“I told you all you needed. Now you and Twilight need to go and find some answers. Sit down and have a normal conversation, or something. Go on a date! Get to know each other!” The angel chuckled. “But before I go, here’s another loaded question! This one is easy:

“If devil you is the one who attacked you, how come you got hit by chaos magic?

Twilight finished screaming. And then she opened her eyes.

There was no tickle at the back of her neck, no otherworldly presence telling her what to do. Absolutely nothing had happened.

“Oh, please, Twilight, stop clinging to Sunset Shimmer like that. She’s just talking to herself. They do that, sometimes.”

It’d been Devil Sunset talking, but her voice sounded completely different from before. So Twilight looked at the two villains—and saw that Lady Sparkle was frozen in place, her eyes were bright with fear.

By her side, Devil Sunset was slouching, all menace gone from her posture. “Well, then. I have to admit, you disappointed me.” She walked towards the frozen Lady Sparkle, moving her hips with every step, swagger overflowing. “You were so boring to fight. I hate being thorough like this. It’s so repetitive.”

Twilight was still pressing herself against Sunset, but now her fear had given way to confusion. “It can’t be,” she muttered. “No way.”

“Oh, yes way.” Devil Sunset rested her elbow on Lady Sparkle’s shoulder. “It’s all about the Twive Mind, really. Terrible thing. Did you know it leaves a seed in every Twilight it touches?” She winked at Twilight. “Including you?”

Twilight’s eyes got wide. She patted the back of her neck—

“Oh, not anymore, you silly.” Devil Sunset rolled her eyes, and then looked at her hands. “Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”

Then she snapped her fingers, and next thing Twilight knew, Devil Sunset was gone.

In her place now stood Discord.

“…No,” Twilight said. “B-but I saw you die!”

“Oh, see? That’s the problem with you Twilights.” Discord rolled his eyes. “So dreadfully empirical. You see something with your eyes, and you immediately believe it’s real. Big mistake!” He popped his head from behind Lady Sparkle—he was behind her now, apparently—and caressed her chin. “See, you can't really kill the Twive Mind. Not until eeeeevery little bit of it is gone. Eeeeevery little seed.” He winked at Twilight. "Including yours!"

“I—”

“And of course, our dear Lady's defenses were too high. Hard to get inside this little head of hers, and she would never lower her guard with me around.” Discord knocked on Lady Sparkle’s forehead. “Only way to get in is to wait until she opens it herself. Like, say, to absorb another one of you Twilights! Then you can just slip right in, take away the seed, and destroy the Twive Mind from the inside.”

He pushed Lady Sparkle, and Lady Sparkle—perfectly still, exactly like a statue—fell and crashed against the ground.

“But I’m afraid,” Discord hummed, “that was a little too much for the Sparkle of the Last Dying Star to handle. Because now, eeeeevery little bit of her is gone!” And he grinned, that terrible grin of his. "Eeeeevery little bit!"

Good ol' Albinocorn had some emergeny thing going on, so I grabbed the torch instead. We're closing in, guys! It's not clear if we'll have two or three chapters left after this, so I left stuff open -- but not a lot. Only a couple threads left. Here's to y'all having a fun one!

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“Like an angel?”

“Like an exhibitionist.”

“Evil is sexy, good is sexier, and you’re really proud of your human looks.”

That's my favorite bit. It's all good, but I like that line particularly. It sums up what I like to think Sunset thinks about herself.

“I have killed more Sunset Shimmers that you could count."

Ya know I raise an eyebrow at this, because in the original draft of my chapter where Daybreaker info dumps Lady Sparkle to the two, I did mention specifically that Lady Sparkle kills the Sunsets of the Twilights that join the Twive Mind, but Novel-Idea asked me to change it because it was too dark. How far we've come. :moustache:

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I was like, doubting about that detail too? But when Daybreaker was revealed to be a traitor first, the Lady mentions how she "wouldn't let someone like her live". Now and then she implies she kills others. She hsd a knife in here! I would've used it but I ran outta words. Shame.

But yeah, to be honest, while this story started pretty lighthearted, the whole drama thing has been increasing in volume each chapter. Back then it would have been a bit too dark? But we're so into bleakness as a concept at the moment that something like that seems fitting.

Also, like, she's a villain, and she's stalling. Chances are that's a bluff anyway.

Chapter 30: The Albinocorn

Sunset came around, squeezing her eyes tighter as she was dragged back into the waking world. She understood why her angel recommended they never meet again. The sensation of a drill against the front end of her brain wasn’t quite worth it. She found use of her right arm and pressed a hand to her throbbing head.

“Sunset!”

She groaned. “Please, not that loud, Sparky. I feel like I have the worst hangover in the multiverse.”

An oddly familiar chuckle reached her ears. “Be thankful that’s all you got. Even I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I hit you. A little disappointed a headache was the worst of it.”

Sunset kept her eyes closed, unready to face the harsh light of the world she assumed they were still in. “Twilight, why am I hearing Discord?”

“Well…” Twilight said hesitantly, “it turns out he’s alive, and he beat Lady Sparkle for us.”

“... That’s a handy amount of deus ex machina. Not complaining though. What happened to demon me?”

“I was demon you!” Discord said, like it was the punchline to an elaborate joke, which at this point, Sunset thought it might have been.

Keeping a hand cupped over her eyes, Sunset opened them and stared into the anxious face of Twilight. Two feelings collided together in Sunset’s heart: longing and guilt. She had dragged this girl up and down the multiverse and nearly got her killed on a number of occasions. Above all that, she had toyed with Twilight’s feelings and in the process, left herself even more confused than Twilight probably was. Her angel had been right—they needed a long talk.

As nerve wracking and painful as it would probably be, Sunset was looking forward to it. Something mundane and normal after the long adventure they had had.

Twilight helped Sunset into a sitting position, then gently pulled her into a hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

Sunset saw Discord roll his eyes, though he wore a playful grin. “You children are always so sentimental. It was just a little chaos magic. I wasn’t trying to kill her.”

By the way the drill pressed against Sunset’s skull, she thought otherwise. Still, with Twilight pressed against her, the pain already seemed to ebb away. Sunset looked away from Discord to the seemingly immobile form of Lady Sparkle. Her eyes were wide with horror and disbelief, the kind that classic villains had when they couldn’t believe they had been beaten. It was enough to make Sunset grin triumphantly, even if she had nothing to do with the victory.

Twilight pulled away from Sunset and followed her eyes to Lady Sparkle. “So… what happens to her?”

Discord dug a claw into his ear as he spoke. “You know, I’m not one-hundred percent sure. Like I said, every little bit of her is gone. It was the only way to get rid of the Twive Minds since it was so ingrained into even her.” He pulled out a wad of cotton candy from his ear canal, shrugged, and took a bite of it. “The way I see it, there’s two possibilities.

“Either I unfreeze her and she becomes a drooling corpse, or I unfreeze her and she becomes a blank slate, free of all memories, personality, everything.” Discord finished off his candy with a loud smack. “I’m fine with either, really.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes, and Midnight’s voice rose from her throat, low and scathing. “I say we just leave her. With all the shit she’s put us through, leaving her as a petrified statue is the softest punishment I’m willing to give her.” Her face broke into a malevolent grin. “Do you think she can still see and hear everything around her?”

Discord leaned over Lady Sparkle. “No. Pretty sure no one’s home.”

Midnight frowned. “Boring.” Her un-Twilightish glare softened, returning the empathetic light Sunset much preferred.

“I know she did terrible things. A lot of terrible things. But, if she really is just a blank slate, we can’t leave her here like this. Right?”

Sunset lowered her hand from her eyes and looked at the broken world around them Nothing but smoldering rubble and red haze as far as the eye could see. No magic, no people. It would be a rather fitting prison. Sunset was tempted to agree with Midnight, yet Twilight had a point. If Discord was correct, then for all intents and purposes, Lady Sparkle was dead. A second punishment seemed redundant.

On the other hand, if she couldn’t even process the world around her in her present state, what was the point in unfreezing her? They could just let her be and move on with their lives.

Sunset stared intently at Lady Sparkle. Already, she felt her heart soften. Evil or not, dead or not, this Twilight was still a Twilight. She deserved to go out with some dignity. And Skylark deserved some closure. Sunset sighed. In the end, she had a weakness for any girl who called herself Twilight Sparkle.

“Unfreeze her, Discord,” Sunset said with firm conviction. “If she’s brain dead, we’ll put her out of her misery. If there’s something there, we’ll take her back with us.”

Discord gave a slow, exasperated shake of his head. “Sentimental, every last one of you.” He snapped his tail, and a flash of light emitted from Lady Sparkle. There was more color to her face, and her eyes blinked very slowly, as if she was coming out of a long dream.

She sat up, eyes growing wider with each swivel of her head. Sunset could hear the girl’s erratic breath from across the courtyard.

Well, she’s not brain dead.

“Where… am I?” She looked over at Sunset and Twilight huddled together. “Who are you?” Her eyes found Discord, and she let out a loud yell and scrambled backwards, falling several times. “What is that thing?”

“Well, I never!” Discord said, putting his hands on his hips. “I mean, I have but I still have feelings!”

Ex-Lady Sparkle was on the verge of tears. She pressed one hand against her heart and another against her head. “What’s… I can’t remember… who… where…” Tears poured down her cheeks and she began to hiccup. “What’s go-going on? I can’t remember anything!”

Midnight grinned. “Nevermind, I’m enjoying this.”

Twilight shook her away and stood up. Gingerly, with her hands raised in a placating manner, she stepped toward the frightened former nightingale. “It’s going to be okay. I know you’re scared, but we’re here to help you.”

Sparkle didn’t look convinced, but seeing as she had backed herself against a large piece of upturned cement, she had nowhere to go. “Who are you?”

Twilight knelt in front of her. “I’m… a very close friend. Almost like a sister.”

The words seemed to resonate with Sparkle. Her frightened doe look softened just a modicum, and her tears fell at a slower pace. “You do seem… familiar?” She looked over at Sunset. “So does she. I think.”

She moved her other hand to her head and gripped the sides of her skull. “But… I can’t think. I-I can’t even remember my own name. What happened to me?”

“Don’t worry,” Twilight said reassuringly, “we can take you to someone who will help.”

While her headache persisted, Sunset found the strength to stand, wobbling at first, and using a large piece of rock to hold herself steady. When the world stopped shifting under her feet, she stumbled over and picked up the talisman, half charged.

“Hey, Discord,” she said, bringing it over to him. “Can you do us one last favor?”

Discord, lounging on an upside down loveseat, draped his head down and clicked his tooth. “I dunno. I seem to be doing a lot of favors for you lately. What do I get out of all this?”

Sunset shifted uncomfortably. “I mean, what do you want?”

Discord snatched the talisman. “Nothing a mere mortal like you could give me. Just promise me the next time you come and visit, it’s just to say hi. I’ve had enough of Sunlight brand madness to last me a lifetime. I need something else to break the monotony.”

He handed the talisman back, fully charged and thrumming with power, then bowed with dramatic flair. “Ladies, this is where I bid you adieu. I’m off to find a Celestia to bother. My world is always open, just make sure to knock!” And with a flash of light, Discord was gone.

Twilight helped Sparkle to her feet and guided her to Sunset. With the three of them gathered together, Sunset pressed the button and watched as a portal split open in front of them.

“Is… is that normal?” Sparkle asked, curiosity and fear written in her eyes.

“Relatively speaking,” Twilight said. She gestured for Sparkle to head through. With trembling shoulders, she did as told, vanishing into the soft light.

Sunset reached for Twilight’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “One more stop. Then, you’re home free.”

“Home,” Twilight repeated. She squeezed Sunset’s hand and pulled her along into the portal.

A hundred dimensions away, a tall woman sat at her desk, black and white lips pursed as she massaged her temple. The metal halo above her turned an annoyed shade of green.

Stella Nova sighed. "This is why we can't have nice things."

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The chance for redemption can come with a very heavy price indeed. But it's almost always preferable to the alternative.

Chapter 31: AcreuBall

The first thing Twilight saw as the glow from the TPT around Sunset’s neck faded was Skylark, standing right in front of them.

“Oh good, you’re back. All things considered, that was actually pretty fast—”

Skylark broke off as she noticed the second Twilight they had returned with, one that bore both wings and a horn.

“This... you—” Skylark’s face contorted and her horn lit. Her magic glow snapped out and grabbed up the husk of Lady Sparkle. “What are you doing, you idiots?! She’s trapped you in her spell, too, and—!

“No!” Twilight cried out. “She’s not—there’s nothing left of her!”

The Twilight floated in the air, eyes wide in the magic aura. “What’s happening?!” She spun slowly, flailing around in the air, panicked. “Is this... magic?”

Skylark let her down, slowly, gently, but kept her horn ready. “What happened?”

Sunset relayed the events that had just occurred to Skylark as Twilight held the trembling husk of Lady Sparkle close. As Sunset spoke, the tension drained from Skylark. As Sunset finished, Skylark hung her head, her eyes closed and her breathing shallow.

Skylark looked up at her Twilight, a calm, sad smile on her face. “Well now what do I do with you?”

The darting eyes of a fearful Lady Sparkle, the Sparkle of the Last Dying Star, ruler of the Twive mind, came to rest on the pony in front of her. Her face relaxed as she met Skylark’s gaze. Lady Sparkle tilted her head. “Who are you?” She took a step closer to Skylark. “I feel... happy when I look at you.

Skylark’s smile turned pained, and she blinked rapidly. “I’m happy when I look at you, too.”

A soft light and a gentle pop broke the silence. A portal opened up near Lady Sparkle, and a black orb emerged and drifted toward her.

It’s her Midnight!

What?

From the Container of Midnight! It must be hers that she removed from herself!

Then it must have been just floating around since they were released, unable to return to its host until—

Until someone made space. This could be bad.

The spot of darkness pressed up against Lady Sparkle’s forehead, the unicorn doing nothing but watching curiously.

The orb passed into her, and she blinked. Then her eyes darted around wildly, and she sank to her knee. Skylark shot forward to wrap a foreleg around her.

“Are you alright? What’s happening?”

“I... I remember...”

Okay, I’m taking over. Time for a fight.

Just hang on! Maybe—

Nope. We gave her a chance, now she’s back. It’s blasting time.

Twilight felt her horn charge with magic.

Midnight! Hang on just a minute.

Her horn remained charged, but nothing else happened.

Midnight, please.

The magic dissipated.

Alright. I’ll trust you.

Thanks.

Twilight watched on.

Lady Sparkle closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, she was looking calmly at Skylark.

“You... you’re my Sunset.” She glanced around. “There’s another Sunset here, and you’re supposed to be orange, not blue, but... I know it. I can feel it. You’re my Sunset.”

Skylark smiled. A real smile. “Yeah. I’m your Sunset.” She looked to the side. “Um, what’s the last thing you remember?”

“The last memory... it’s hazy, I’m not sure, but—I remember removing my Midnight. After that, there’s nothing distinct.”

“Okay, one question—if I say ‘Skylarks and Nightingales,’ does that mean anything to you?”

“Those are... birds, right?”

“Wonderful.”

Okay, you were right.

Thanks for saying so.

Midnight said nothing.

And Midnight?

Yeah?

I’m glad you’re back.

Yeah, me too.

Twilight felt like a part of her mind was blushing, and she smiled.

They walked back to the epicenter of what was once a giant magical shield worshiped as a god, where four figures stood and one lay.

Shining Armor was on a makeshift pallet, Twily and Serena tending to him. He looked gaunt, with hollow rings of darkness around his eyes, but he smiled at them for a moment before all eyes turned to the new arrival.

“Um, should we be—?” started Spike.

“No, she’s a friend now,” said Skylark.

“Right. Reforming villains,” said Twily. “I’m impressed—that’s usually a Twilight thing.”

“Well Sunsets can do it, too,” said Sunset, with a confidant nod.

“Technically—” began Twilight.

“Shush. Let me have this,” said Sunset.

Everyone present looked appeased save one. Amblejoy stepped forward.

“She’s a mass murderer, Skylark,” she said evenly. “You can’t just say she’s ‘reformed’ and be done with it, you know.”

“The mass-murderer part of her got absorbed by a demi-god of chaos,” replied Skylark, calmly.

“Which was, well, actually all of her, really,” said Twilight. “Anyway, we saw it happen. She’s not a threat anymore.”

You don’t know that! What are you basing that off of?

Um, the magic of friendship, the power of love, and a whole lot of optimism?

Fantastic.

Amblejoy tilted her head and said, “We can’t just ignore what she did.”

Skylark sighed. “So it seems you’re going to be pedantic about this.”

“I’m not being—she has to answer for her crimes!” She stepped forward, her horn lighting up. “We have to give her to the authorities.”

The others took a step back from the two unicorns, though the former Lady Sparkle stayed where she was, pressed timidly to Skylark’s side.

“What, put her on trial?” asked Skylark with a smirk. “Who’s going to run something like that? No way. She’s leaving with me.”

“This can’t be the first time there’s been a multidimensional megalomaniac,” said Amblejoy. “I won’t stand by and let her escape again!”

Skylark pushed Lady Sparkle behind her and leveled her horn at Amblejoy.

Twilight glanced at Sunset, who looked as tense as she did.

“We should give her a chance!” said Sunset, firmly, stepping forward. “She’s reverted back—she’s reunited with her Midnight! She’s not Lady Sparkle anymore.”

“But she’s the pony that turned into Lady Sparkle,” Amblejoy shot back. “I’m not saying anything crazy, here. I’m just saying we can’t let Skylark whisk her off somewhere to become Lady Sparkle all over again!”

Twilight chewed the inside of her lip. It was clear the others were not going to get involved. Twily was shaking her head while holding hoof to Shining Armor’s shoulder, who was trying to get up. Serena looked on, sadly. Spike paced back and forth.

“She was a monster,” said Amblejoy. “She murdered Sunsets and brainwashed a hundred Twilights. She was the biggest threat to the multiverse either of us are likely to ever see. You can’t honestly want to protect her after all this. And what about your Applejack? What about the world you were living in?”

“AJ and that world can wait. I’m going to ask the Sunset in there,” said Skylark, nodding at Amblejoy. “There’s one in there, right? Along with a Twilight and Starlight? Well.” She grinned. “If there was a chance to save her, is there anything you wouldn’t do for your Twilight?”

With a flash there were three Skylarks, all moving in different directions—one went for the TPT around Sunset’s neck, one pulled Lady Sparkle off to the side, and one charged directly at Amblejoy.

“Blasted glamour magic,” Amblejoy muttered as she sent three rays lancing out at each of the Skylarks. “But I got three minds in here. Three minds, three targets! You should have thought that one through!”

The rays passed through the Skylarks, leaving not a trace as the three illusions vanished. Then the TPT around Sunset’s neck pulled free, wreathed in a magic aura, and sailed over to a suddenly prone Lady Sparkle. Skylark reappeared on top of Twilight, her invisibility gone, TPT around her neck. “Ha, real me was invisible! Oldest trick in the book!”

Skylark tore open the TPT and flung out the core Amblejoy had put in previously, leaving only a chaos-magic-riddled device. “This thing’s going to send chaos rippling through a dozen different dimensions when I portal out of here,” she said as she fired it up. “Good luck trying to follow me.”

With a blink, Skylark and Lady Sparkle slid into the multiverse.

Amblejoy let out a sigh. “Well, this ought to keep me busy for awhile.” She inserted the core back into her TPT shell and handed it to Twilight. “Here you take this one.” She turned away. “Spike! Let’s get working on another TPT and start isolating dimensions with that chaos signature. I’m not letting those two get away.”

Twilight glanced over at Sunset, but she was looking away. Twilight followed her gaze to Shining Armor and Twily.

“You should go talk to them,” said Twilight gently.

“Yeah, I know,” said Sunset quietly. “But Shining Armor... doesn’t look so good.”

“You don’t have to do it alone.” Twilight sidled up to her and nuzzled her briefly, blushing profusely. “I-I’m right beside you. Come on.”

Sunset smiled. “Alright.”

Okay, that's me, thanks for letting me play!

Wait, what? It's past midnight you say? Well, it's still 11 somewhere. Like, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, right?


Alright Posh, that's what I'm leaving you with! Hope that's okay!

Chapter 32 - Posh

Shining Armor had dropped back to the ground after his brief attempt at rising. His head was pillowed in Twily's folded forehoves, and turned toward Sunset and Twilight as they approached. A brittle smile split his face as he laid eyes on the doppelganger of his sister, but it soured to a grimace when his gaze flicked toward Sunset.

Serena, standing over the siblings, politely excused herself to speak with Amblejoy and Spike, rubbing her shoulder against Sunset's as she passed.

Sunset swallowed down the urge to flee, and paused a respectful distance away. "You, uh, doing okay there?"

Shining Armor's eyes narrowed. He opened his mouth to speak. A thin, gurgling note issued forth; he winced, rubbed his throat, and slumped back into Twily's embrace.

Sunset wilted. "Guess that was a dumb question."

"You always had a knack for those." Twily ran a hoof along Shining Armor's mane. "He'll be fine, though. Long-term. We'll get him home, we'll put things right, and as soon as he sees Cadance..."

Shining's tail swished at the mention of his bride, and that brittle smile returned.

Twily leaned down and kissed the base of his horn. "See? On the mend already."

"Surprised that's the part of him that sprang to attention," Midnight remarked.

Immediately, Twilight covered her mouth with her hoof, her eyes wide open, her cheeks red-hot. "Sorry, Sunset, but I think I'll take my alter-ego and her poor verbal filter, and go harass Serena and Amblejoy awhile."

"'Harass,'" Midnight murmured as Twilight retreated, mortified. "Of all the words you could have chosen."

"Is nothing sacred to you?"

"Learn to take a joke, Twilight. I'll bet the Dazzlings would've laughed. Whatever happened to them, anyway?"

Twily watched her go, her ears flattened in embarrassment. "Is it too late to give her back to Discord?"

"You don't want that. Trust me – he does not look good in a miniskirt," Sunset said wryly. The ex-lovers shared a chuckle, as Shining Armor turned his head, burying his face in his sister's hooves.

Twily looked mutely at Sunset for a long, painful moment. Then she said, "Guess you'll be off, huh?"

"Guess so." Sunset rubbed the back of her head. "Look—"

"You don't need to say anything." Twily interrupted. "I'm not... I'm not mad at you, Sunset. I was, for a long time. But we already had it out, and after everything we've gone through since then, it's not a grudge worth holding onto anymore. So, if you're going to apologize, then let me save you the trouble."

Her eyes twinkled with an old, deep-seated affection that Sunset ached to see.

"I forgive you."

Shining Armor made a guttural sound and swished his tail again. Twily shrugged.

"He'll come around."

Sunset smiled, relieved and abashed, and flattened her ears self-consciously. "Thank you."

"Think nothing of it. Just promise me one thing, okay?"

Sunset's head quirked.

"Don't make this a forever-goodbye." Twily paused to sniffle. "Come and see us again, okay? You and... your Twilight. Come see my Sunset and I."

"I don't know if she's 'my' Twilight, exactly."

"Well, that's a talk to have with her, now, isn't it?" Twily said knowingly. "Now. Get going. And, remember – don't be a stranger."

Shining Armor growled vehemently.

"Ignore him," Twily said.

Sunset chuckled, fought back tears and sniffles of her own, and left Twily with a final nod of acknowledgement. She rejoined Twilight, who was exchanging parting words with Amblejoy, Serena, and Spike.

"You're sure that you don't mind giving this up?" Twilight said, hefting the Amblejoy's TPT around her neck for emphasis. "Those two have a head start on you as is."

Amblejoy waved her concern off. "Fabricating a new TPT might take some time. Tracking down Skylark and Lady Sparkle, that's the easy part. Once we're ready, Spike and I can calculate their destination and pick up their trail without much hassle.There won't be any multiverse-spanning road trip for this Sunset and Twilight, I guarantee."

Twilight swiveled her head, and exchanged a look of uncertainty with Sunset.

Amblejoy noticed, and sighed. "Look. Skylark's in the wrong here. What happened to you – to all those other Twilights, in all those other universes – we can't risk letting it happen again. There must be a reckoning for Lady Sparkle."

Twilight bit her lip. "You'll be... gentle... with her, won't you?"

With only the briefest hesitation, Amblejoy nodded. "You have my word."

That brought less comfort to Sunset than it should've. But she smothered her misgivings, and forced herself to be cheerful. "We'd better hit the road. Sparky's got a long overdue trip home, and I've gotta..."

Again, she trailed off – what did she have to do?

Amblejoy coughed. "About that – I'd recommend letting the TPT make a couple random jumps, before you start targeting specific universes. New core, new device, and all that – give it a chance to calibrate, get its bearings."

Sunset nudged Twilight. "What do you think? Got a couple more field trips in you, Sparky?"

Twilight tried to mirror Sunset's expression. "Y'know... what could it hurt?"

Serena stepped forward and bumped Twilight's cheek with her nose. "I'm grateful to have met you. And that we had a chance to speak, once you were whole again."

"I'm glad I met you, too. Both of you. Amblejoy, Serena, I..." Twilight's eyes were misty behind her glasses. "I'm sorry, but... there's still a part of me that isn't used to all of this. Having people who're willing to fight and sacrifice for me, after being alone for so long—"

"Please don't turn this into a long-winded friendship speech," Midnight interrupted.

Twilight facehoofed, blushing profusely.

Amblejoy smiled slyly. "I haven't decided if I'm going to miss this or not. I'm leaning toward 'yes,' though."

"You've got some Midnight in you, too, don't you?" Spike thumped Amblejoy with his mechanical arm. "I'm sure there's a way to bring her out to play, if you really think you'll miss this."

"I'm definitely not going to miss it enough for that, Spike."

A laugh rippled through the group, and carried over to Twily and Shining Armor. Despite everything, Sunset felt light – a little closer to the cheer that she was trying to project. She cherished the moment, for as long as she could...

...and then she took a step back, gently pulling Twilight with her. "Let's go, Sparky."

Twilight nodded. Her horn glowed. The TPT opened, light building within its core. The ground below gave way; Sunset and Twilight fell through the portal, and left their new friends behind.

Sunset had gotten used to collapsing on new ground in a pile of tangled limbs. To greet this world on her feet – not hooves! – was a welcome change of pace.

Twilight wasn't so lucky.

The two of them had arrived on a grassy hilltop, with a cloudless blue sky overhead. A brisk, cool wind rustled through the grass – the grass that Twilight was face-down in, her butt hiked gracelessly in the air. Sunset wanted to laugh at the sight – she wanted to stare a little, too – but there was something gnawing at her. Some disquiet, a sense of deja vu, that kept her from appreciating the comedy in the scene.

Still, she had the decency to take Twilight by the arm, and guide her back to her feet.

"You know what I'm not gonna miss about sliding?" Twilight muttered, adjusting her glasses.

Sunset brushed some blades of grass off of Twilight's blouse. "What's that?"

"Sliding. As in, the act of." Twilight huffed. "I've had quite enough of teleporting into random locations and landing in undignified poses for one lifetime, thank you very much."

Sunset looked past Twilight, off the hill and into the distance, and nudged her companion's shoulder. "Know what you probably will miss?"

"Hmm?"

Sunset pointed. Twilight looked out, and sucked in a shocked breath.

Below the hill, a ruined city sprawled far into the horizon. Towering structures, urban skyscrapers that looked chiseled from solid marble, jutted toward the sky. Some were half-crumbled; some stood whole and tall. All of them were covered in thick bands of moss, snaking up each tower's length, and all of them glittered where the moss didn't touch.

"You don't get views like that back home," Sunset remarked.

Minutes passed without a word between them, until Sunset broke the silence with a sigh. "Think that was enough for the TPT to calibrate? Or should we make another jump, just to be safe?"

Twilight blinked. "Uh. We probably should go an extra time, to err on the side of caution, but..."

Sunset frowned. "What is it?"

"I don't know. Just a feeling, like something's not quite..."

Twilight reached for the device, and opened it. Her face paled.

"...It's not recharging."

"What?" Sunset reached for the device, pulled it toward herself. No light, no energy radiated from the talisman. "How could it not—?!"

And then she realized what the feeling was – where she'd experienced it before. In the void left behind by Discord, the world destroyed by his battle with Lady Sparkle.

"Ambient magic." Sunset looked Twilight in the eye. "The talisman isn't charging because there's not enough magic to power it. Whatever happened to this place, the magic's just..."

Comprehension lit in Twilight's eyes. "Not quite gone," she supplied in Midnight's husky tones. "But close enough to gone that it make no difference."

Sunset sank to her knees, pressed her trembling hands to her face, and shook. Disappointment, and self-reproach, and anger welled inside of her.

How? Sunset thought to herself. It had taken two gods – or near enough as Lady Sparkle could've gotten – to create a catastrophe on this scale. Who, or what, could have done it here, How...?

"Sunset. Turn around."

Sunset turned.

And looked upon a massive, marble likeness of Twilight Sparkle.

Stony wings sprouted from her back, and a horn jutted from her forehead, as she scowled imperiously over the city in the valley. Behind the statue, a crumbling castle soared, whose spires, tipped in tarnished gold, brought to mind visions of a fallen, long-abandoned Canterlot.

Twilight swallowed, hard. "You don't think that's her, do you?"

"...I don't think so. But maybe someone like her." Sunset snorted – an ugly, humorless laugh. "It would be, too. All this time, everything we've been through, so close to the end... and who should get in the way but another megalomaniac Twilight?"

She raised her hand and uncurled her middle finger at the ersatz Lady Sparkle.

Thanks, babe.

She dropped her arm and let her finger go limp when Twilight's hand found her shoulder.

"What do we do now?" Twilight asked.

Sunset had no reply to the question. She could only cover Twilight's hand with her own and sit, in silence, as the wind whispered past them.

Then something stepped out from behind the statue.

Immediately, Sunset leaped to her feet, balling her hands into fists, as the myriad possibilities of what could have survived in a dead, magicless world shot rapidly through her mind.

A small, slat-sided, purple-coated form edged toward them on four slender legs. Its face was long, and narrow, the flesh around its right eye blackened and disfigured. Tufts of wispy green mane poked from the top of its head, and ran down the back of its neck. It approached Sunset and Twilight quickly, without fear, a curious glint in its cat-slitted eyes.

"A fawn?" Sunset relaxed, and held out her hand as the fawn drew closer. It bent to sniff her fingers, its nose rough and dry as it bumped against her palm. Sunset peered closely at the fawn, at the disfigurement around its eye. The coat on that part of its face looked torn away, revealing what lay below: black flesh, covered in a faint, hexagonal pattern.

"Synthetic skin," Sunset said. "You're not organic, are you? Not all the way, anyway. An android?"

"Technically, 'android' would suggest a synthetic human," Twilight interjected. "Since this is a deer... and a fawn, specifically... what do you think of 'fawndroid?'"

Sunset looked flatly at Twilight. "Under no circumstances."

Twilight shrugged, and bent to peer closely at the fawn. Her eyes traced over its body: its purple coat, its tufts of mane, its vertically slitted green eyes...

"Are you... Spike?"

A note of recognition sprang into the fawn's eyes at the mention of that name. It stepped back, and turned away, though it tossed an expectant look back to the befuddled voyagers.

It wants us to follow it.

Out loud, to Twilight, she said, "What do you wanna do here?"

Twilight regarded the statue of herself with a blank, pensive stare. "We should see what it... he  wants. Whatever happened to this world, whatever it was like before... Spike's still Spike. I think we can – I want to trust him."

Sunset looked back at the Spike-deer, who still stood, and stared, unmoving at them. She reached out to take Twilight's fingers in her hand. "Let's go, then."

A small smile bloomed on Twilight's face, as she gave a tiny squeeze back. "One thing, though, Sunset."

"Hmm?"

"Call him a fawndroid. It's a good word."

Sunset sighed. "You're lucky you're cute, y'know."

Nature encroached upon the castle's interiors, everywhere that Twilight and Sunset went. Yet even so, flashes of the castle's former glory showed everywhere.

Suits of armor, standing watch, with rusted swords and halberds in hand. Intricate wooden carvings, miraculously intact after centuries (millennia?) of neglect. Busts of humans, some of whom resembled people from Twilight's own life. She noted a chipper Pinkie, a somber Fluttershy, a noseless face that might once have been a Celestia. More than once, she glimpsed her own face, with the same imperious look as the statue outside.

Memories of Lady Sparkle kept surfacing, making Twilight pull closer to Sunset for support as they walked. And though Sunset sent her an encouraging look, and a squeeze of her hand, every time, her feelings weren't so easily dispelled.

In her mind, Twilight wondered – what separated her from whoever, and whatever, built this kingdom? Or from Lady Sparkle? What did it take to turn someone like her into...

...what had Amblejoy called Lady Sparkle? "A multidimensional megalomaniac?" She seemed sure that the Lady hadn't been the first to threaten the multiverse. And given the infinite possibilities of reality, there had to be, logically speaking, many more maniacs waiting in the wings. Twilight could only guess at how many.

And out of all of them... how many are Twilights, too?

More than you'd expect, but fewer than you think, I'm sure.

Twilight almost scoffed out loud. That was a rhetorical question, you know.

Yeah, Midnight said smugly.But your self-reproach stinks like sweaty gym socks, and I've had as much of that as I can take from Shimmy, without you piling on as well. So, I'm gonna answer it for you.

Y'know what, I officially retract what I said before. I'm not glad you're back after all.

I'm almost hurt by that. Midnight sighed. Sparky, think about everything we've seen since Sunset whisked you off into the wild blue yonder. All the places we've been, all the Twilights we've met – and all the Twilights out there that we haven't. Now think about how many Lady Sparkles we've run into. Uno. Dos, if you want to be generous; we can say that monstrosity outside counts, if you'd like.

That doesn't mean—

Of course there might be more Lady Sparkles out there. Infinite possibilities means just that, doesn't it? But Lady Sparkle didn't just spring out of nowhere. Something happened to make her turn out the way that she did. Before that, she was just... well, you saw how she was when she was normal.

But she still became Lady Sparkle.

Doesn't mean it was inevitable. Doesn't mean it'll happen to her again. Doesn't mean it could happen to you. One Twilight in a million million Twilights might crack and go tyrant, sure. But it's all about how you get there. Something happened to make Lady Sparkle; something happened to make whoever that was outside go crazy, too. But the rest of 'em?Bunch of goodie-two-shoes squares, from sperm to worm. I guarantee it.

But...

If you're worried it's gonna happen to you – that's what all this is about, isn't it? – then let me tell you, right now: It's not. It's never going to happen to you. She said it firmly – almost seriously. But her characteristic playfulness returned immediately. You don't even have the nerve to ravish Shimmy here, let alone launch a transdimensional extermination campaign.

Twilight's face went hot. I kissed her, didn't I?

And you stopped before you could go anywhere really fun with it, didn't you? She chuckled, then asked, What are you planning to do with her, anyway? She's into you, you're into her... where do you go from there?

...

...You have no idea, do you? Midnight clicked her tongue. Figures. All that yuri fanfiction you wrote when you were fifteen, and you're—

Oh, shut up!

Hey, I'm just saying. I get this is all new to you, but, y'know. You might want to figure out a course of action here.

I'm sure you've got ideas of your own. What's stopping you from taking the wheel and making 'em happen?

Yeah... about that. Midnight's voice quavered. Don't think I'm gonna be around long enough to pull anything with your girl.

What do you—

You know as well as I do that this was never a permanent arrangement. Midnight's voice sounded a little thinner now – fading, almost. Sooner or later – or, actually, just sooner – I'm supposed to fade back into your subconscious. Y'know. Go back to just being "the Midnight in you." Get it?

...You're serious.

Discord said so himself, didn't he? The voice in Twilight's head echoed, as though through a long hallway – gradually, Midnight was receding. Look, I'm not gonna pretend that I don't want to stick around – you're much more interesting with me tagging along. But if I gotta go back into the proverbial cornfield, well. At least this feels like an appropriate time for it.

Mist clouded Twilight's eyes. Midnight?

Mm?

...I take it back. I mean, I take back me taking it back. I – I'm gonna miss you.

Midnight chuckled. Who wouldn't? But I'm sure I'll make my presence felt some other way. You ever get the impulse to goose Sunset in a crowd, you can bet it was me.

Twilight laughed out loud – wetly, tremulously.

Sunset noticed. "Are you okay?"

Twilight forced herself to smile.

Do what comes natural to you, Sparky. Just, whatever you do... don't blow it. Okay?

I'll do my best. She sniffed. Midnight?

She heard another echo in her mind – and then nothing.

"Haven't heard from Midnight since we landed," Sunset muttered. "She's being awfully quiet. Should I be worried?"

"No." Twilight shook her head. "I don't think you're not gonna hear from her again."

Sunset pursed her lips and turned away. Her hand squeezed Twilight's tightly.

They finally came to a stop before a massive stone door at the end of a long corridor. Etched on its face was Twilight's sigil – the cutie mark of her equine counterparts. Spike the fawndroid reached a petite hoof toward it, and placed it against the door. Immediately, pink light traced along the mark's outline. The door, from the top down, disintegrated into pale pink sparkles.

"So there is still magic in this world," Sunset said.

"At least enough to keep the doors working." Twilight's eyes were on the bottom of the door, watching the light travel down to consume it.

The Spike fawndroid glanced toward the chamber, but made no move to enter – Twilight intuited that he wanted them to enter without him. She did, Sunset at her side.

The chamber beyond the vanished door awed Twilight with its size. She guessed that it could fit CHS's auditorium, twice, and have room to spare. The design brought to mind a cathedral: it was a long, wide hallway, with indents in the floor where benches or pews might've been, and gaping holes in the walls for stained-glass windows. The floor was all but gone; earth and grass carpeted the hall's interior.

Halfway into the hall, lit by a narrow shaft of light, was a hill – a tiny mound of raised dirt, topped with a smooth boulder. It glinted and gleamed in the shaft of light.

Resting against the rock was a small disk that Twilight's heart leaped to see.

She raced to the boulder, dropping to her knees as soon as she reached it. The case was dinged, dusty, and rusty, and the purple color had faded, but it was, unmistakably, a TPT.

And it thrummed beneath her touch.

Twilight picked it up and turned her neck, grinning. "Sunset...!"

Sunset smiled back, though her expression was a bit more guarded. "Easy there, Sparky. Don't get overexcited."

"Overexcited? Overexcited? Sunset, just – touch it! Touch my TPT!"

Twilight swore she heard an echoing laugh in the recesses of her mind.

Sunset did touch it, though – reaching for it slowly, and covering the device with her palm. "It's carrying a charge. But the ambient magic in this world..."

"It's not all gone, remember? Whatever's left must be just enough to power the TPT." Twilight, still on her knees, swiveled her whole body to face Sunset. "Which might mean there's enough in this world to recharge our own – just very, very slowly."

"For all the good that does us. Look at this thing, Sparky – it's ancient." Sunset lifted the TPT out of Twilight's hands, and flipped it open, the hinge giving off a rusty squeak of protest. "Must've taken years for it to gather enough ambient magic to work. Or decades, or centuries..."

"Well, yeah. It might take forever for our own to recharge. But this one's got a full charge, doesn't it?" Twilight clasped her hands together. "We've got a ticket out of here, Sunset. We're not marooned after all!"

Sunset said nothing – her expression, plain and pensive, gradually morphed into a worried frown.

Twilight felt her forehead prickle with sweat. "Sunset?"

"You're right The device is carrying a charge." Sunset shut the device. "Enough for one jump. And only enough for one of us."

Twilight's face fell, and her gaze drifted to the grass, as her hopes, so quickly raised, were dashed once again.

Then Sunset pushed the ancient TPT, gently, back into her hands.

Immediately, Twilight lifted her head and narrowed her eyes at Sunset, fully cognizant of her implication. "No."

"I didn't say anything."

"But I know what you're thinking. And the answer is no."

Sunset, momentarily deterred, set her teeth before trying again. "Look. We've got two TPTs. One's dead, but the other can still get you out of here. You can use the one from this world to slide somewhere with enough ambient magic to recharge yours – or both! Then, you can come back for me."

"You're assuming I could find this universe again, once I left. That I wouldn't get lost out there without you. That I wouldn't slide into another world like this one, and maroon myself for good. That nothing would go wrong." Twilight shook her head. "I've learned too much from this little field trip to leave things like this to chance."

Sunset growled. "Sparky, think this through. Even if you couldn't come back for me, so what? You've got your own life, your own world, to get back to. So go! Forget about me – about Twilights, and Sunsets, and destiny, and all this other multiversal B.S.! Just go live your life, and—"

"Would you give it up, already?" Twilight dropped the ancient TPT and bolted to her feet. "I'm sick and tired of you pulling these little self-sacrificial stunts! This isn't about destiny, or Twilights and Sunsets, or whatever... whatever you call this thing between us!"

She gesticulated rapidly between herself and Sunset.

"If I couldn't come back for you – even if there was nothing between us – then do you seriously think that I could just go back to my life and forget all about you? That I could live, knowing I abandoned you in a world without magic? Is that your idea of nobility?! Because it isn't mine!"

Sunset clenched her jaw tightly, cringing. She stepped around Twilight, and sat on the grass, her back against the boulder. "That TPT might be the only way out of here, you know. And considering how old it is already, the odds that it'll recharge enough to let us slide out of here together, in our lifetimes, are pretty slim."

"Maybe so." Twilight sighed. She crossed back to the bolder, pressed her back against it, and slid down, until her bottom touched the grass beside Sunset. "Then again, there's still magic in this world. There might be some other way to recharge the TPT – or something else, something we haven't even thought of."

"You're speculating. Taking a lot on faith." Sunset blew a curl of gold-slashed hair out of her face. "Not like I can judge you on that. But suppose we can never find a way out of here? What do we do?"
"I don't know, Guess we stay here, explore this place. You know, when was the last time we stuck around in any of the worlds we visited? Maybe we find something else, maybe we don't." Twilight squared her shoulders, and looked at Sunset. "But we leave here together, or we don't leave here at all. Everything else? We'll figure it out as we go."

The smile Sunset gave her was small, and crooked. "We could always do like Twily and her Sunset. Make a little love nest, live in domestic bliss. The way Sunsets and Twilights are, apparently,  supposed to."

Twilight's determined posture softened, and she tilted her head quizzically. "The smile says you're being earnest. Your tone says you're being ironic. Help me out here; which are you shooting for?"

"Both, I guess." Sunset looked at the TPT, still on the ground where Twilight had dropped it.

Twilight bent her knees and hugged them against her chest. "What do you mean by that, exactly?"

Sunset wrung her hands. "It's something that's been on my mind ever since we bumped into Twily again. This whole thing with Sunsets, and Twilights, how we're all supposedly destined for one another – how that's just a multiversal constant. You? You're Twilight, but you're not my Twilight. Me, I..."

She edged her hand closer to Twilights, closing the gap between them.

"I think it's pretty obvious by now that I feel something for you. But I don't know what it is, exactly. If I have feelings for you – the person who you are – or if it's just... leftover feelings for my Twilight that I'm projecting onto you. If I'm attracted to you because I'm just supposedto be, then is that real? Or is it just destiny telling me to fall in love with you, just 'cuz?"

Twilight's cheeks reddened "You're in love with me?"

"I don't know. I..." Sunset blushed, withdrew her hand, and groaned. "This is so confusing."

Twilight snickered. "If it's any consolation, I'm sure you're not the first Sunset in the multiverse who's had trouble parsing her feelings for a transdimensional doppelganger of their ex."

"That's zero consolation, Sparky."

"At least I tried." Twilight looked away, toward the entrance. The Spike fawndroid was gone. She briefly wondered where he'd gone, before dismissing the errant thought. "I don't know if we have a connection just because of destiny, though. Think about it: that hasn't been the case for all the Twilights and Sunsets we've run into. There's Skylark, and her Applejack. Me, and my Sunset."

Sunset turned her body to face Twilight, spreading out her legs and resting her weight on her hip. "What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that I've never been attracted to my Sunset Shimmer. She's hot, sure, but I've never felt for her the way that I feel for you. So I don't think my feelings for you exist because destiny says they have to exist." Twilight shrugged. "But I also don't know what's up with my own feelings, either. If they're real, or if they're just a byproduct of Midnight, and Lady Sparkle's futzing with my brain, and all this other mishegoss that's happened to me lately."

Sunset worked her jaw in a circle and nodded thoughtfully. "You know, that... actually does make me feel a little bit better. Nice to know I'm not the only one who doesn't know what to make of all this."

They shared a quiet laugh. And, when it was over, Twilight reached her hand out. Sunset covered it with her own.

"In all fairness, we've just been going from one crisis to the next ever since we met," said Twilight softly. "Hasn't been a lot of time to just sit down and talk. Figure out if this is real."

Sunset smirked. "Well. I guess that's one advantage to our current predicament. We got all the time in the world to get to know each other."

The hour was late when they emerged from the chamber a TPT around both of their necks. Behind them, the door reformed, rematerializing from the bottom up.

Outside was Spike, standing silent and expectant. A herd of fawndroids, in a diverse palette of colors and patterns, were arrayed behind him in neat ranks. They looked at Sunset, at Twilight, and waited.

"Hey, Spike," said Twilight. "What say you show us around the place?"

Spike's lips twitched – faintly, almost imperceptibly – into what was almost a smile. The ranks of fawndroids parted, and Spike turned to lead the voyagers out of the castle.

"Hey, Sparky?" Sunset said, as she and Twilight moved to follow him.

"Hmm?"

"Suppose things between us work out – you think your world's got enough room for two Sunset Shimmers?"

"More than enough." She flashed Sunset a smile. "And, if it doesn't, I heartell there's an opening for a Sunset Shimmer in Equestria."

Sunset laughed, and laced her fingers together with Twilight's.

Together, they marched into the fading sunlight of the evening.

One week and two thousand words past the deadline/word limit... it's finished. I expect I annoyed a lot of people by dragging this out as long as I did, and I expect I'll annoy even more with the way I chose to end the story.

For the former, I can only apologize, with one hundred percent sincerity. For the latter, well. I hope my work will stand up, regardless.

Thank you all for letting me participate. Always be careful with knives.

6407875
No worries, dude. Stuff happens, and we're glad you could catch up and pitch in regardless.

I actually really like the ambiguity here. Will they make it back home (well, home for Twilight in any case)? We don't know - maybe they will, or maybe they'll be stuck here after all... but we do know that either way they'll be happy, and that's what matters.

This was a great ending to a wild ride. Everyone did a great job, and I'm really glad I got to participate. I can't wait to see the story proper go live!

6407872
Beautiful work, and definitely worth the wait. And that is a much better color for Midnight's dialogue. A fantastic conclusion to what has been a thrilling project.

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