Applejack trotted into the kitchen and frowned. "Big Mac? Granny? Where is everypony?" She knew that Applebloom had gone to the clubhouse to play with her friends, but Big Macintosh was supposed to be working in the barn. When she didn't find him there, she decided to check inside the house only to find it empty. No Big Mac, no Granny Smith occupying her favorite rocking chair. Not even a trace of Winona.
"Somethin' about this ain't right," Applejack said to herself. "I wonder if Applebloom's okay."
Applejack froze. What was that? she thought. She quieted her breathing, stood still, and listened.
It was a wet, slapping sound. Something was striking against the door. "Water balloon?" Applejack asked. "Mus' be some dang prank from Applebloom an' her friends."
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The sound persisted, and Applejack began to sweat. She swallowed, scowled, and marched to the door. "The hay with it," she muttered. "Ain't gettin' nowhere frettin' like some Cannerlot snob." She took a deep breath and pulled the door open.
A gelatinous red blob spilled into the house, trailing red slime behind it. Beneath its smooth surface, tiny white particles danced like dust motes in a sunbeam. It writhed, wriggled, and undulated on Applejack's doorstep, before rolling slowly into the house.
"Wh-what the coyote?!" said Applejack, backing away. "Lemme be, you crazy red loogie!"
The blob did not obey. It creeped steadily closer to her.
"I said git!" Applejack snapped. She whirled around and bucked it hard with her powerful hind legs. They sank deep into the blob's body; she tried to wrench free, but failed. The blob began to swallow her, pulling her inch by inch into itself.
"Get offa me!" cried Applejack. "Help! Somepony help me!" The blob drew her in up to her neck. She continued to struggle and call for help until all but her hat, which remained stuck to the blob's outer membrane, was swallowed.
Applejack felt her senses dulling, her body shutting down. She feared that she was suffocating, but despite being unable to inhale, her lungs did not burn for air. Instinctively, she opened her mouth to scream, and got a mouthful of red goo for her trouble. Her last sensation and thought before the world went dark was that the blob's body tasted oddly like cherries.
Twilight Sparkle was hungry. As she rummaged through her cabinets and ice box for anything palatable, she thought about what she'd like to prepare for her meal, salivating all the while.
"What're you in the mood for?" Spike asked from the kitchen table, where he sat gazing at a bowl of plump red rubies. "A sandwich?"
The unicorn shook her head. "Nah. That's really more of a lunch thing. I'm in the mood for something nutritious, but at the same time, something that'll appeal to my sweet tooth a little more than not at all."
"You could just try some of my gemstones," said Spike. Twilight heard the sound of porcelain scraping against the wooden table; Spike was pushing the bowl in her direction. "There's more than enough for the both of us."
Twilight sighed, feigning exasperation. "Spike, remember that time back in Canterlot, when you talked me into eating that emerald?"
"Hey, I didn't know any better. You should have. So it's all your fault, really," said Spike. He reached into the bowl and retrieved a clump of rubies, then raised them to his mouth. Suddenly, he paused. "Just remind me; you were only kidding about putting me into indentured service until I worked off the dental bill, right?"
Twilight chuckled as she pushed aside some condiment bottles. "Hang in there, Spike. Only fifty thousand more bits until you're--aha!" Her eyes caught sight of a wide glass jar, labeled with a sticker of a red apple being struck by a bolt of lightning. "Zap Apple Jam! I didn't know we had any left!" She levitated it out of the fridge with a smile and unscrewed the lid, peeking into it. Her smile fell abruptly. "Spike."
"Wha'?" Spike said through a mouthful of rubies.
Twilight turned to him and levitated the jar onto the table. She wordlessly pushed it toward Spike; he swallowed his rubies, peered into the jar, then raised an eyebrow at Twilight. "It's empty. So?"
"I think we have a rule for throwing out jars when we finish them," said Twilight. "And I wasn't the one who polished off this jam. Care to explain?" She narrowed her eyes at her number one assistant.
Spike looked away from Twilight, staring past her at the far wall. He drummed on his thighs, smacked his lips, kicked his feet, whistled, glanced around the room -
"Spike!" snapped Twilight.
Spike jumped off his chair and walked around the table to stand in front of Twilight. "You know what would make this all better?" he asked. "A big jar of Zap Apple Jam. What say we head on down to Sweet Apple Acres and see if they've still got a jar or two left? My treat!"
Twilight sighed, turned to the table and slammed her face onto it. "Not the point I was trying to make, Spike," she said into the painted wooden surface.
"Nope!" said Spike brightly. "It's better!" He took Twilight's tail in hand and walked toward the door, humming happily and dragging his friend behind him. Twilight slid across the floor of the library in a sitting position, an expression of true exasperation upon her face.
Scootaloo squinted out the window of the Cutie Mark Crusaders clubhouse. "Hey, girls," she called over her shoulder. "I think there's something out there."
A wriggling, bulbous, blue-green blob, about the size and height of a full-grown pony, slithered along the path toward the clubhouse. Its gelatinous body undulated with every motion.
Sweetie Belle presently joined her at the window; Applebloom was close behind. "Hey, yeah," said the unicorn filly, pointing. "Check it out. I never seen anything like that before!" She shuddered. "It's so gross."
"It's so... mysterious," said Applebloom, a grin spreading across her face. She looked expectantly at Scootaloo.
"It's so awesome!" Scootaloo whooped and pumped her hoof triumphantly. "C'mon, let's go poke it and stuff!" She leaped out the window, fluttering her tiny wings to slow her descent, and landed on the ground upon all fours. Her friends took the ramp. Together, they trotted toward the blob. Scootaloo stood in front of it; Applebloom and Sweetie Belle took up positions at its sides. The three of them looked at one another, exchanging the same look of confusion. All the while, beneath their noses, the wriggling mass continued to creep ever closer to them.
"What are we supposed to do with this thing, again?" asked Applebloom, tilting her head quizzically.
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. "Duh! We figure out what it is, put it in a cage, cart it back to town, and get our cutie marks in weird creature identification!"
"Cutie Mark Crusaders Cryptozoologists?" asked Sweetie Belle. "What would that even look like?"
Applebloom and Scootaloo exchanged a sly grin, which they turned simultaneously upon Sweetie Belle. "I am not a dictionary!" fumed Sweetie Belle. Her two friends giggled and exchanged a hoof-slap. Sweetie Belle snorted and looked away. "I thought you wanted to poke that thing, Scootaloo."
"Huh?" Scootaloo perked up. "Oh yeah! Cutie Mark Crusaders crypto... crypto..."
"Cryptozoologists," Sweetie Belle deadpanned.
"Cutie Mark Crusaders that word!" cheered Scootaloo and Applebloom together. They turned back to the blob, and found it much, much closer to them than it had been before. Finding nothing alarming about this development whatsoever, Scootaloo raised her hoof and tentatively extended it toward the blob. Applebloom watched with a growing grin on her face. Sweetie Belle turned up her nose at the two of them, shut her eyes, and harrumphed.
Scootaloo's hoof was centimeters away from the blob when a pseudopod suddenly caught it, enveloping her leg with a terrifying speed. Scootaloo's expression changed from anticipation to panic; she struggled to free herself, but the blob's grip was too secure. "Help!" she cried. "I'm stuck!"
Sweetie Belle apathetically opened an eye and rolled it to look at Scootaloo. She gasped at the sight of the blob attacking the filly, and instantly forgot her annoyance. "Scootaloo!" she said, her voice cracking. "We'll save you!"
The blob had worked its way up to Scootaloo's shoulder, and was now attempting to envelop her head entirely. Applebloom took hold of one of Scootaloo's hind legs, Sweetie Belle the other, and the two pulled. They grunted as their tiny muscles strained to dislodge their screaming friend, but with a strength belied by its appearance, it yanked Scootaloo free from her friends' grip, swallowing her whole. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle fell onto their backs, scrambled to their hooves, and scurried up the ramp and into the clubhouse, screaming all the while. They slammed the door shut, piling furniture against it to stymie the blob.
"The windows!" yelled Sweetie Belle. "It can still come in through the windows!" She flailed her limbs in the direction of the open window. Green/blue goo was oozing over the sill, dripping into the clubhouse.
Applebloom gasped. "You shut that one; I'll get the one in the loft!" She sprinted to the ladder and bounded to the top, skipping rungs to climb faster as Sweetie Belle slammed the window shut on the incoming blob. Applebloom rushed to the loft window, slammed it down, and bolted it shut. Just as she did, a blob smacked against the glass with a disgusting squish. Applebloom squealed in surprise and fell backward onto her rump, staring wide-eyed at the blob. It wore Applejack's hat.
"Are you good up there?" asked Sweetie Belle.
Applebloom slid down the ladder and trotted to Sweetie Belle's side. "Yeah. All locked up nice 'n tight," she said in a quavering voice. She lay on the floor, curling into a ball and pulling her legs close to her chest, hugging herself as she trembled. "So now, 'stead of gettin' swallowed like Scoot, we'll starve t'death tryin' ta wait 'em out. That is much better than gettin' et."
Sweetie Belle took a deep breath and sighed loudly. Something suddenly caught her eye. A thin trickle of red fluid was running down the wooden paneling of the walls. "Applebloom," she said, struggling to keep her voice even. "I think the walls are bleeding."
"What? Bleedin'?" Applebloom scoffed. "Walls don't bleed, Sweetie. Yer jus' seein' things 'cuz yer too scared outta yer wits t'see straight no more."
"No, Applebloom, the walls are bleeding." Sweetie Belle took Applebloom's head in her hooves and forced it around to look at where red fluid seeped through every crack and seam in the wall. It pooled on the clubhouse floor, then slowly began to spread across the room. Inch by inch, it grew in size, coating everything in a thick blanket of slime.
The fillies screamed and turned to run, but the wall behind them oozed the same red slime. To their horror, every side of the clubhouse ran red with the goo, which encroached upon them rapidly, forming a tight circle around them.
Applebloom and Sweetie Belle scurried to the center of the room and gripped one another tightly as the circle of dry floor around them grew smaller and smaller. "We're gonna die without ever gettin' our cutie marks, Sweetie!" wailed Applebloom.
"I'm more upset about dying at all, really!" cried Sweetie Belle. "This isn't how I wanted it to happen!"
"How did you want to die, then?" asked Applebloom. A thin strand of slime dripped onto her nose. She looked up, saw that the slime was now coming from the ceiling, and screamed.
"I don't know how I want to die!" Sweetie Belle reached for a nearby stool and held it over her head. Applebloom crowded beneath it for cover. "It isn't the kind of thing I ever thought I'd need to worry about!"
A sudden flash of white light forced the fillies to shield their eyes. Materializing behind them, her chin barely rising above the stool that they cowered beneath, was Twilight Sparkle. "Girls," she said, "are you aware that the outside of the clubhouse is covered in aaaaaAAAAUGH!"
"Yeah, those are pretty much our thoughts on the matter," said Sweetie Belle.
"Twilight!" Applebloom wrapped herself around the unicorn's leg. "Quick! Teleportal us outta here, now!"
"What? Both of you? Now?" Panic shook every syllable in Twilight's voice. "Teleporting myself is hard enough. Teleporting myself and two fillies is next to impossible!"
"Please, Twilight!" said Sweetie Belle as red goo cascaded down the sides of her stool umbrella. The circle was terrifyingly small now, and all three were pressed tightly together to avoid being gobbled. "You have to try! It's already taken Scootaloo! Don't let it take us too!"
With a horrible crumbling noise, the roof gave in, and red goo poured into the room like a waterfall. The fillies screamed, but Twilight's horn flashed and a force field appeared over their heads. The goo pooled in its center, creating a frightening bulge that threatened to burst and spill its contents over them. Twilight grunted and sweated; the strain of maintaining the force field taxed every reserve of strength she had.
A pseudopod lashed out of the growing puddle of goo and caught Sweetie Belle by the leg. In a heartbeat, it sucked her into the ankle-deep pool. A second pseudopod shot toward Applebloom, but Twilight wrapped the force field around the two of them in a tight sphere. The red goo that the field held at bay ran down its sides like syrup over so many delectable pancakes. Through the translucent goo, they watched as the windows burst inward, sending shards of glass flying through the room, some sinking into the goo, some ricocheting against the barrier. Turquoise goo slithered over the sills and made its way toward the trapped ponies, mingling with the red and creating an off-putting shade of purple.
Twilight wrapped her leg around Applebloom. The tip of her horn flashed, the energy sphere imploded, and together, they vanished, abandoning the ruined clubhouse to its goopy fate.
"Oh my goodness oh my goodness oh my goodness," panted Fluttershy as she sprinted through town. Rolling waves of purple goo chased her as she ran, rolling over obstacles, engulfing entire buildings, and swallowing whole ponies as it filled every street, gutter and crevice in Ponyville. Angel clung to her mane, dangling in the breeze behind her like a streamer, whipping to and fro as Fluttershy turned her head in all directions in vain search of safe harbor. His stomach was in a state of disarray, thanks to the turbulent ride that Fluttershy was giving him.
"Angel, sweetie," said Fluttershy. Panic upped the pitch of her voice considerably; she sounded not unlike Pinkie Pie with a lungful of helium. "I don't suppose you see anywhere we could go, do you?"
Angel retched loudly and forced his breakfast back down.
"Oh dear," moaned Fluttershy. "No luck at all?" A tsunami of red goo, twice her height, barreled out of an alleyway and splashed in front of her, cutting off her escape. Fluttershy skidded to a halt and backed away instinctively, before remembering that she'd been running away from goo the entire time, and that going backward would be counterintuitive to survival. Red goo creeped toward her from the front. Purple goo inched toward her from behind.
"What are we going to do?" whimpered Fluttershy. "I'm sorry, Angel bunny, I just can't think of any way out of this!"
Angel grabbed hold of one of Fluttershy's wings and furiously flapped it.
Fluttershy raised an eyebrow at him. "Sweetie, what are you - oh!" She smiled. "How embarrassing! Dear, why didn't you just say something?"
Angel retched a second time, filling his mouth with the contents of his stomach. He forced it down again, shuddering with disgust.
"Well, next time, please don't hesitate to speak up," said Fluttershy. She took wing just as the two creeping masses of goo collided, narrowly missing her. Now airborne and quickly gaining altitude, Fluttershy looked worriedly around the lake of goo that had once been Ponyville. "This is awful," she said. "Just awful. What is all of this stuff? Where did it come from? How did it cover the town so quickly? Isn't there anypony it hasn't gotten to yet?" Fluttershy sighed. "I shouldn't trouble you with my worries like that, Angel. You must be worried sick about our friends already."
Angel leaned over Fluttershy's flank and retched, not bothering to hold back.
"I thought so," said Fluttershy with a nod. Her gaze ran over the goo-covered buildings and gunk-filled alleys, sizing up the rising tide. Alleyways and streets became creeks and rivers which fed into the wide, gel-filled basin that was once the center of town. Those precious few structures that were yet untouched by the mystery substance found themselves in grave danger as goo lapped at their walls. Globular balls of jelly slinked up their steps and threw themselves against their doors, battering them until they broke them down, met with the terrified shrieks of the buildings' occupants. One building in particular stood out to Fluttershy. Resembling the laboratory of a mad confectioner (which, in all reality, it was), Sugarcube Corner still remained, like a rain-streaked rock in the middle of a tempest. On its front stoop, practically prancing with unrestrained glee, was Pinkie Pie.
She looks oddly happy, all things considered, thought Fluttershy as she swooped in for a landing. "Pinkie Pie? Is everything alright?" she asked.
"Is everything alright? Is everything alright?!" Pinkie Pie grinned eagerly at Fluttershy, then zipped to the opened front door. "Hey! Everypony! Fluttershy's here, and she's asking if everything's alright!"
"Pinkie," called Rarity's voice from inside, "for Celestia's sake, please come back inside and help us board up these windows!"
Rarity is involving herself in manual labor? thought Fluttershy. Oh dear. Things must be worse than I thought!
Pinkie bounced back to Fluttershy and pressed her face right up against the pegasus'. "Everything's better than alright, Fluttershy! It's the end of the world, and it's bucking delicious!"
From a passing stream of turquoise gunk rose a blob that rolled gelatinously up the stairs. Fluttershy screamed and rushed for the door, but Pinkie bounced straight past her, humming happily to herself. "Pinkie, stay away!" Fluttershy cautioned. Pinkie either didn't hear her warning, or didn't care. She bounced straight up to the blob and grinned. Fluttershy squeezed her eyes shut and held Angel against her chest. "Don't look, sweetie!" she squeaked. Angel released a growly sigh of exasperation. Fluttershy mistook it for terror. She braced herself for the dying screams of her friend, hating herself for her helplessness. All I know how to do is stare, she thought miserably. How do I do that to something that doesn't have eyes?
She heard a slurping, sucking sound that dragged on and on for several seconds. Pinkie didn't scream or cry, and Fluttershy felt a surge of sympathy for her brave, brave friend, who didn't give her killer the satisfaction of begging for her life. She dared to open an eye, just a little, to gaze at the carnage, and snapped both of them open when she saw just what had happened.
Pinkie Pie lay on her back, her hooves cupped over her full, pudgy belly. Blue/green goo was smeared all over her mouth and nose, and clung here and there to the foremost parts of her mane. She sighed contentedly. "Now THAT hit the spot," she said, rolling her eyes to look at Fluttershy and smirking.
Fluttershy tried to speak, but only managed to stammer and babble. Her communication failure lasted for several moments, before Pinkie Pie appeared at her side (she never noticed the party pony move) and pulled her into a one-armed hug. "Don'tcha geddit, Fluttershy?" she asked, gesturing broadly at the gelatinous carnage that filled Ponyville. "This is the tastiest apocalypse I could have ever hoped for!"
"But Pinkie..." Fluttershy ducked out of her embrace, causing Pinkie Pie to drop forward with a startled "whoa!" The pegasus looked at the porch, where Pinkie had devoured the blob, gazing with macabre interest at the blue-stained spot left behind. "Pinkie, aren't you in the teensiest bit scared of what's going on right now?"
"Scared?" Pinkie looked at Fluttershy confusedly and blinked, not comprehending. Then she laughed. "Silly-willy-nilly-ol'-filly, how can anything so lip-smackingly, tongue-swirlingly, belly-burstingly yummy be scary? And hey, even if it WAS scary, I wouldn't even need to laugh to make it disappear! I could just eat it up, which is even more fun, if you ask me."
Fluttershy looked harder at the spot where Pinkie had eaten the blob, and noticed several additional blue-tinted stains. There were others, too, that were faintly noticeable; red and purple stains that blended so well into the magenta surfaces that nopony would notice unless they knew that they were there. Suddenly, she realized why Sugarcube Corner was as of yet untouched.
At that, there came a sudden crash, followed by a scream that cut off abruptly. Fluttershy heard Mr. Cake cry out heartbreakingly, but he was quickly silenced. Fluttershy and Pinkie bounded into the building, and were met with Rarity coming out of the kitchen carrying Pound Cake on her back. "They broke through the barricades. Got everypony except for this little one." Pound Cake screwed up his face and wailed, spraying tears all over Rarity's coat and mane. She grimaced at the unwanted shower, but endured.
"Is there any way out of here?" asked Fluttershy. "I mean, I could fly away, but that would leave you two..."
Rarity opened her mouth to reply, but a wave of purple gushed through the door to the kitchen and rolled toward the gathered ponies. "Ohohoho," crowed Pinkie, bounding forward. "Looks like this nummy treat's number just came up!" She flattened her back and bent her elbows, assuming an aggressive posture. "There's a roof access upstairs. You get goin'."
Rarity nodded briefly and bolted for the stairs. Fluttershy followed, but paused after a few steps and looked behind at Pinkie. "What about you?" she asked.
"I'mma do what I do best." Pinkie's face split into a wide grin, and she ran her tongue slowly over her lips. "Stuff. My. Face."
Fluttershy blinked back tears. "Pinkie... I..."
Angel tugged hard upon her wing, drawing her attention. Turquoise goo rolled into the room from the front door, edging slowly toward Fluttershy. She shut her eyes, turned her back on Pinkie, and sprinted after Rarity up the stairs.
"Alright now, you deliciously multi-colored heralds of the end times!" Fluttershy heard Pinkie yell from downstairs. "You just made the biggest, last-est mistake you'll ever make! 'Cuz the only thing scarier than the end of the world is a pink party pony with a rumbly in her tumbly!"
Spike poked his nose over the side of the hot air balloon's basket, gazing down at the scene of gelatinous chaos below. "Wow, Twi," he remarked. "It sure is a good thing they were having that dirigible convention so close to Sweet Apple Acres."
"Hope they didn't mind us borrowing this one," Twilight Sparkle added, trying very hard to keep the balloon's course steady. "Ugh. You know, Pinkie Pie's the balloon expert. I don't know why everypony associates me with these things."
"Because you're Science Girl," said Spike, leaning back from the edge. "And hot air balloons run on science." He slid against the side of the basket until his butt pressed against the ground. His spikes and tail made trying to find a comfortable sitting position difficult; the cramped quarters of the basket made matters no simpler. He rolled onto his side, and came nose-to-nose with Applebloom, who lay curled into a ball on the floor. Before he could turn away, she locked her red, puffy eyes onto his, compelling him to hold her gaze.
Sweet Celestia, this is gonna be awkward, thought Spike uncomfortably. She just lost her family and her best friends, and you're terrible at playing it cool when it comes to grief. Okay, relax, she's still looking at you, probably wondering why you won't say anything... aw, what the hay, Spike old pal, try saying something to her. Just don't say anything stupid.
Spike summoned what he thought would be a comforting smile. "So, are you okay?"
Applebloom's bottom lip quivered, her ears drooped, her eyes watered, and her nose ran. All at once, she burst into sobs, and buried her face in Spike's scaly chest. Spike awkwardly patted her head and mane, looking frantically at Twilight. She frowned at him.
Spike you suck so, so much, thought Spike sourly.
Applebloom sniffed back some snot and wiped her nose with a hoof. Spike recoiled and turned his head away so that Applebloom wouldn't see him gag. The last thing a grieving filly needed was for a friend to think she was gross. "How," she managed to say before devolving back into snotty, trembling sobs. She took a deep breath, sniffled, snorted down a noseful of snot, and then tried speaking again. "How did y'all know t'come an' rescue me?"
Twilight chuckled nervously. "Heh, well, we didn't actually know that something was wrong. We... were sort of just looking to buy some Zap Apple Jam. Just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
Applebloom frowned. She rested her head on the floor and shut her eyes. "What about m'family?" she asked quietly.
Twilight looked at Spike, as if to ask him to answer the filly's question. He shook his head and shrugged. Sorry, Twi, he thought. This one's all yours. Twilight broke eye contact with him and looked down below. At length, she answered Applebloom. "No sign of them. The farmhouse and barn were both..." She saw Applebloom tighten her legs against her belly as she spoke, and didn't bother finishing her sentence.
"E-excuse me!" a nervous voice stuttered. "Twilight? Is that you?"
"Fluttershy?" cried Twilight in surprise. "You're alright?!" Spike's heart leaped. He grinned at Applebloom; she rolled onto her other side. Spike climbed to his feet and stood beside Twilight, staring over the basket's edge at the pink-maned pegasus keeping pace with their balloon.
"Well," said Fluttershy, "yes, I guess. But I can't say the same for poor Rarity, still trapped down below."
"Rarity's alright?!" said Spike giddily. His heart did a second leap and followed it with a cartwheel for good measure.
"For now," said Fluttershy. "We'd been hiding on the roof of Sugar Cube Corner for a little while, and we saw you passing overhead, so I thought, well... maybe I could fly up there and get your attention, and... you could help us not to get eaten? I-if there's room in there, and, I mean, if you're not busy..." She bashfully clicked her hooves together.
"We'll do our best," Twilight promised. "Let's take her in for a landing!"
The balloon descended upon the roof of Sugar Cube Corner, still a harbor of relative safety awash in a sea of chaos. Fluttershy directed them to the cupcake-shaped tower jutting from the roof, where Rarity lay with her ears pressed against her head and her hooves clamped tightly over them, her teeth grit. Beside her bawled the baby Pound Cake. The balloon floated beside the tower and Twilight hopped out of the basket. Spike remained behind to secure the balloon to the tower's guard rail with a rope, while Twilight trotted to Rarity's side. "My dearest Twilight," said Rarity, smiling. "I don't think I've ever been happier to see anypony in my life."
"I'm here too, y'know," grumbled Spike as he finished knotting the rope. He jumped out of the basket and joined Twilight and Rarity.
Rarity winked at Twilight. "Why, after all, you brought me my knight in shining armor to deliver me from a most unfabulous demise. How could I be anything but happy to see you?"
Spike's eyes widened, and he blushed. "Ah, well, 'knight in shining armor,' that's kinda stretching it, I think," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. Rarity suppressed a giggle.
Twilight looked around, squinting. "I don't see any sign of the Cakes," she said. "And I don't think there's enough room up here for Pinkie Pie to be playing hide-and-seek. Are they alright?"
Rarity's face fell and she sighed. "She stayed behind to buy us time," she replied. "It was very touching and noble, you know. We haven't been swallowed up yet, so I think it's working well so far."
"Then there's a chance she's still alright," said Twilight. She glanced at the door into the tower. "I'll go down there and try to pull her out. Maybe we can - "
The door burst open. A stream of purple geysered outward, splattering everypony with flecks of purple goo. A bit of it got inside of Twilight's open mouth. It didn't taste unpleasant (uncannily like grape, actually), yet she spat it out on principle and backed away from the door. "Everypony into the balloon," she snapped. "Hurry!" The chaotic stream of purple goo solidified into an enormous tentacle that whipped around toward Twilight, only to smash against a hastily erected force field.
Twilight focused. Her energy was draining fast, and she hadn't had time to fully recover from the strain of teleporting herself and Applebloom earlier, but she knew she had to hold on, for everypony's sake. She shaped the field into a wide, rectangular blanket, struggling all the while against the surprising strength of the tentacle. Sweat-soaked and straining her muscles, Twilight forced the tentacle backward. The tentacle receded, fighting to break free of Twilight's grip, but at last it found itself packed back into the tower. The door was still miraculously on its hinges, so Twilight slammed it with her hooves and encased it in her magic to keep it secure. She pressed her back against it and pushed, putting her whole weight into keeping the tentacle trapped in the tower.
"Twilight!" cried Spike. He and Rarity ran to her side. Together, they braced against the door, adding their weight to Twilight's. Fluttershy cradled Pound Cake in her hooves; she floated in the air beside the basket, looking uncertainly at Twilight and biting her lip.
"I told you to get into the balloon!" grunted Twilight. A particularly heavy pound against the door jolted the three of them and made her heart skip a beat. "Somepony needs to go to Canterlot to warn Princess Celestia about this!"
"Not without you," said Rarity with a shake of her head. "We've already lost Pinkie Pie. Don't make use lose you too!"
Another pound briefly pushed them away from the door, bowling Spike over entirely. Twilight redoubled her efforts. Her horn flashed, and the glow around the door intensified, but her body drooped and slumped. "I can't... hold this... forever!" she gasped. Spike climbed to his knee, but stayed at her side. She looked him directly in the eye. "Just... go!"
Rarity's looked down at her. Her lip was trembling. Reluctantly, she removed herself from the door, turned her back on Twilight Sparkle, and trotted to the basket. Spike stayed rooted to his spot, staring at Twilight with disbelief in his eyes. She tried to smile at him, but found no energy to do so; every bit of strength in her being was focused on maintaining the energy field. It was all she could do to jerk her head in the direction of the dirigible. With his head hung and his shoulders slumped, Spike rose and walked toward the balloon, where Fluttershy now sat holding Pound Cake.
The sound of shattering glass drew everypony's attention. A second tentacle shot from the second story window beneath them and curled upward toward the tower. It caught Rarity around the midsection before she could react and pulled her back under.
"Rarity!" yelled Spike. He dove for her and caught her by the hoof. Spike dangled over the ledge, gripping Rarity for dear life. With one hand he held her, and with the other he clung to the guard rail.
"Spike," cried Rarity. "We really must stop putting ourselves in these situations! Ponies will start to talk!"
The tentacle gave a single, powerful tug. It didn't dislodge Spike from the rail, but it did tear the part of the rail he was holding from the rest of the tower. It receded back into the window, pulling Rarity and Spike inside with it. The shock of seeing two of her closest friends taken caused Twilight's concentration to falter. The field wavered in strength, allowing the first tentacle to break through the door once again. The door collapsed on top of Twilight, pinning her against the floor.
Twilight chanced a look at the balloon. The detached mooring rope still hung from the broken railing, swaying in the gentle breeze. Applebloom and Fluttershy gazed at Twilight from the basket as the balloon drifted further and further away from Sugarcube Corner. The filly's tiny shoulders shook, her face screwed up, and she turned into Fluttershy's embrace. With one hoof, Fluttershy stroked Applebloom's mane. With the other, she cradled Pound Cake. Twilight mustered an encouraging smile, but Fluttershy did not return it, responding only with a doleful look.
The tentacle that emerged from the tower door lanced toward the balloon. Fluttershy recoiled and held Applebloom tighter, squeezing her own eyes shut. But Twilight still had a trick up her sleeve. Knowing that she'd expended too much energy to create a sufficiently firm shield, she encased the door that was pinning her in a levitation field. She raised it, drew it back, and swung it like an axe at the tentacle's center. The door sliced cleanly through the gelatinous material, cleaving the tentacle in two. The separated half dropped to the remnants of the tower's floor, where it reformed into a blob. Twilight squashed it with the door and scrambled atop of it, using her weight to keep the blob pinned. She knew that it was a stop-gap measure and nothing more; the blob would overcome, and she was too exhausted to put up an effective resistance.
Still, she thought as she gazed at the rapidly receding hot air balloon. As long as they're safe, I guess it's worth it.
It was just barely in visual range. Twilight could still see Fluttershy staring like a mourner at a funeral, but Applebloom had apparently laid on the basket's floor again. A tiny white puff sat atop Fluttershy's head. Twilight squinted, trying to get a better look. It was Fluttershy's bunny, Angel. He'd climbed onto his caretaker's head to get a final look. His beady little black eyes met Twilight's, and, to her great disbelief, he raised his right paw to his forehead in a crisp salute.
Twilight's heart broke just a little bit more at the sight of it.
The blob she was pinning thrust against the door, breaking it into splinters and sending Twilight flying into the air. She landed hard upon the floor, face-up. A doorknob fell rapidly toward her head. Her eyes widened and she rolled aside, narrowly avoiding being conked in the forehead. Twilight staggered to her hooves and quickly looked around, searching desperately for any avenue of escape.
There was none.
Sugarcube Corner's cupcake-shaped tower was among the sole remaining things not as of yet submerged beneath the rising tide. Purple, red, and turquoise merged together, blending into a great sea of goo that somehow shone with all three colors simultaneously.
Twilight trotted to the broken section of railing and looked into the sea. She could see no sign of any consumed ponies, no tuft of puffy pink mane or coil of purple coif, no triangular green scales poking out of the surface. She couldn't even see the consumed buildings, yet light shone faintly through the sea to its bottom. Everything the goo had swallowed was gone, just like that.
Just like I'll be, she thought.
The blob she'd pinned beneath the door flopped toward her. The intact half of the severed tentacle swayed like a cobra over her head. Twilight thought about the friends she'd lost, the home that was swallowed without a trace, the breakfast she'd never gotten to eat (she felt a little guilty for thinking that, but something about the goo just made her hungry), and felt something rise in the pit of her stomach. It was not grief, nor anger, nor even bone-chilling terror.
It was confusion.
"Nothing about this makes any sense," said Twilight to the sea of goo beneath her. "You appeared out of nowhere, and in the span of one morning, ate an entire town, buildings and all, lickity split."
The part of the sea that lay beneath where Twilight stood swelled. A cone of goo rose slowly in front of the tower. Twilight continued speaking, unabated. "Conservation of mass doesn't seem to be a problem for you. Your size and mass seem to be whatever the heck you're feeling at the time. A shallow puddle can swallow a pony whole; well, where does that pony go? And how can it fit inside the puddle?
"And furthermore," said Twilight, eying the rising mountain of goo in front of her, "there somehow happens to be just the right amount of you to cover the entire town? Everything is finite, but you just keep on going and going! There's no such thing as infinity!" She stamped her hoof and groaned in exasperation. "What in the hay are you?!"
The mountain peaked directly below the edge of the tower, in front of and beneath Twilight's hooves. It answered her question in a deep, reverberating voice. “I was. I am. Ever shall I be. Your paradox of infinity holds no meaning to me. I extend and endure forever.
“I am your god, whom you have worshiped unknowingly for eons. Your kind has spread me upon toast, used me in the preparation of confections and sandwiches, oblivious to the truth of my nature.
“I offer you my body for your sustenance, and you gluttonously gorge yourselves upon me. I endure your ignorant, empty praise, your abuse of my boundless love and generosity. But there are some slights that even a god cannot ignore.” From the mountain's peak rose a second, smaller bulge. Goo sluiced off of it in thick, syrupy waterfalls. Gradually, a shape was revealed, that of a thick-necked, big-headed pony whom Twilight did not recognize. When he spoke, it was with the same heavy, powerful voice.
“I am Smooze, and nothing can stop me.”
Twilight cocked her head. Her jaw worked and her lips moved, but her mind was unable to properly process this turn of events, and thus, she was unable to articulate her thoughts. She slapped herself, shook her head, took a deep breath, and exhaled. “Okay. Smooze, right?”
“That is my name,” said the goo-covered pony.
“You claim to be an eternal, elder god?”
“But you're a pony,” said Twilight, gesturing at the pony in the mound of goo. “Right?”
“The pony is an aspect of the glory that is Smooze,” said Smooze through the pony.
“Aha!” cried Twilight, pointing her hoof at the pony. “Ponies don't live forever! Not even the princesses are truly immortal.”
“Correct,” said Smooze. "Your kind rots and dies, while I persist across eons."
“Then tell me,” said Twilight, planting herself firmly on all fours. “What is the name of the pony I am talking to?”
Twilight facehoofed. “His name is Smooze.”
“His name is Smooze,” Smooze parroted.
“And Smooze is an immortal, infinite god.”
“This is truth.”
“So the pony I am talking to is an immortal, infinite god.”
“No,” said Smooze, and Twilight felt greatly relieved to know that Smooze was capable of answering in something besides the affirmative. “The pony is an aspect of the glory that is Smooze.”
Twilight tapped a hoof against the floor impatiently. She'd heard that line already. “Then what about the gooey globs of gunk that have been eating the town? What are they supposed to be?”
“They, too, are Smooze. Separate from the whole, but Smooze regardless.”
“And the big giant ocean of sludge that's filling up the town?” demanded Twilight. She'd exhausted herself by running from Smooze, stealing balloons to interfere with Smooze, using magic to fight with Smooze, and trying desperately to not be devoured by Smooze. Now she was being jerked around rhetorically by Smooze, and she did not appreciate it one bit. “What the heck is that supposed to be?”
“I am Smooze,” answered Smooze, as though it should have been obvious.
“You can't all be Smooze!” shouted Twilight. “The pony's just an aspect of Smooze, but its name is still Smooze, the blobby things are Smooze, but they're not part of Smooze, and the giant rivers of gunk that have been trying to eat me all morning are you, and you're Smooze, but the pony is Smooze, and so are the blobs, but so is the – GAHHHH!” She groaned in frustration and banged her head against an intact portion of railing.
“All of what you said is true,” said Smooze.
“Then which of you is Smooze?!” demanded Twilight. “Are you the blobs, the pony, or the giant pile of goop?!”
“Yes,” said Smooze.
Twilight stood very, very still for a long moment, her eyes staring into space and her mouth shut tightly. Then, slowly, she lay upon the ground and curled into a ball. “Why are you doing this?” she asked softly.
“Because you have become a race of idolators,” said the pony named Smooze. “I grant you my body to feed upon as a gesture of love, from a father to his children. Yet for two generations now, I have endured the gravest insult that a god can suffer from his subjects. Every five years, when that cursed fruit is grown and harvested, you create a perverted mockery of me, and lavish your worship upon it.”
Twilight sighed. She rose to her hooves and stretched her legs. “I meant to ask 'why are you confusing me with insane troll logic,' but whatever. I'll play along.” She waved a hoof. “Keep going. I'm listening.”
“You devour your graven idol, forgetting me entirely. I, your true god, the one who feeds and sustains you with his own life blood, am pushed aside in favor of what you so crudely refer to as 'Zap Apple Jam.'”
"You're upset about Zap Apple Jam?" asked Twilight skeptically. "What, are you made out of jelly?"
“You are among the more astute members of your race,” said Smooze thoughtfully. “This does not speak highly of your collective wisdom.”
Twilight frowned. Elder god or no, there was something upsetting about being talked down to by a condiment. “What about that pony you're talking through? He's not jelly, is he?”
“He is - “
“Please,” begged Twilight, “don't say 'he is Smooze.'”
Smooze was silent for a few long, unsettling moments. His body rumbled and shook. Twilight got the distinct impression that Smooze was laughing at her. Finally, he spoke again. “While you and your decadent lot devoured the false god, there was one who remained faithful to me, one who loved me with a tenderness and a passion that I have never beheld in any other pony for all the long years that I have endured. So moved was I by his love for jelly that I made him a part of me. He is my messiah, my chosen one. He will endure eternally, as Smooze, while the rest of your kind drowns under my infinite tide.”
"What about the others?" asked Twilight. "What about all the townsponies that you swallowed?"
"They exist," said Smooze. "They are whole, and within me, but they are not Smooze. I will carry them forever, as burdensome trophies, but they will never be Smooze."
That's a relief, thought Twilight. Or, now that I think about it, maybe that's worse than being eaten. “ I still don't understand something," she said, shaking her head. "If you're really an omnipotent god, then why do you care if ponies eat zap apple jam?”
“Because they are not eating me!” said Smooze angrily. “I exist in all jellies, everywhere! To devour jam, instead of jelly is sacrilege, and Zap Apple Jam is the pinnacle of that blasphemy!”
“But it's only jam!” said Twilight. “It's basically the same - ”
“THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING!” Smooze thundered. The force of his rage penetrated the shield of Twilight's exasperation; she was, once again, terrified. “IGNORANT, WRETCHED CHILD! WHO ARE YOU TO BLASPHEME TO ME?! I WAS SMEARED ACROSS BREAD AND PRESSED AGAINST PEANUT BUTTER BEFORE ANY OF YOUR SIRES COULD TASTE ME! DO NOT THINK TO PLAY SEMANTICS WITH ME!”
A tentacle shot from the sea of Smooze and curled into a fist. With a roar, Smooze swung at the stylized cupcake at the top of the tower, knocking it free and sending it flying. Twilight ducked and covered as wooden beams collapsed around her, conjuring a shield that was just powerful enough to keep her from being struck by falling debris.
“We thought you capable of understanding,” said Smooze, his voice smoldering. “You were to be the other messiah, the only other pony to know the glory of Smooze. Together, you and the aspect were to sire a new race of ponies, loyal only to their one true god!”
Oh, gross, thought Twilight, gagging.
"But now we see reality. There can be no reasoning with ponies. The aspect is the only one who loves his god. You will be fodder for the glory of Smooze, and your entire idolator race will join you!"
"Idolator this, snot ocean!"
From directly above Smooze came a sudden, heavy downpour. The rain struck the pony like bullets, tearing and blowing away strips of jelly flesh. Turquoise, purple, and red rivulets ran down his coat and mane. The aspect's eyes opened wide, and he screamed. There was a sudden flash, and Twilight had to duck to avoid being struck by a bolt of lightning (a foolish measure, she knew; if she were to be fried by lightning, there wasn't much she could do about it). The bolt struck the remnants of the tower behind her, and it burst into flame, turning a structurally unsound deathtrap into a flaming structurally unsound deathtrap.
Twilight looked into the sky at her savior: A rainbow-mained pegasus standing atop an angry black stormcloud. Her face went radiant with joy. "Rainbow Dash!" she cheered.
Rainbow Dash smirked at her bookish friend. "I don't really know what 'idolator' means," she said. "Is that gonna be a problem anytime soon?"
Several more bolts of lightning struck the tower. A flaming two-by-four fell beside Twilight, and she cringed. "I think the fire's my most pressing concern right now. And the lightning. And the snot monster."
"Right, sorry about that," said Rainbow Dash, rubbing the back of her head. "Hey! Derpy! We've got an egghead to airlift! Quit hoppin' and hop to it!"
Derpy Hooves bounced atop a fluffy, sheep-like black cloud, grinning happily. "Egghead?! I love eggs!" she sang. She patted her cloud before leaping into the air. "Thanks for your help, Stormy!"
Rainbow Dash facehoofed, but quickly followed suit. The pegasi each took hold of one of Twilight's legs and carried her into the air, quickly gaining speed and altitude.
"Idolators!" roared Smooze. "Your reprieve is a fleeting one! Nothing can stop the Smooze!"
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, and gave a passing cloud a heavy kick, sending a short-lived deluge of rain into Smooze. The god of jelly screamed in pain.
"Rainbow Daaaaaash," moaned Derpy. "Can we take a breeeaaaaak? I'm tiiiiiiired."
"No, Derpy," said Rainbow Dash curtly. "We're trying to escape from an evil jelly monster. Keep flying until your wings fall off."
"Not to undercut you, Rainbow," said Twilight, chuckling nervously as she dangled beneath the two pegasi. "But I think my hooves will fall off long before Derpy's wings do."
"Ugh," sighed Rainbow Dash. "Fine, whatever. We'll set down at the dam. It's just up ahead."
They came upon the dam shortly. Derpy seemed all too glad for the rest, and descended so quickly that Rainbow Dash had to beat her wings twice as hard to keep them aloft. Finally, they alighted, and released Twilight from their grips. She rubbed her sore shoulders and rotated them, mouthing "ow" over and over again. "Take five, Derpy," said Rainbow Dash.
Derpy sighed, smiled, and planted her butt onto the dam's cement structure. A tremor ran through the ground.
"Heck of a thing goin' on today," said Rainbow Dash. "I leave you ponies alone for one morning, and when I come back, the place is being eaten by jelly. Care to explain?"
Twilight tried to shrug, but her sore shoulders rebelled. She winced. "Hey, this is news to me too. All I wanted was some jam for breakfast. Next thing I know, Sweet Apple Acres is covered in strawberry jelly, Ponyville's flooded, and Sugarcube Corner is in desperate need of an architect!" She glanced at Derpy, who sat contentedly on the ground, blowing bubbles with her tongue. "I thought you couldn't stand that pony."
Rainbow shrugged. "She has her moments. I don't hate her, I just don't like working with her. But the boss and almost all the flier wing are on furlough right now, and they left me and Derpy to handle weather duties for a couple of days. Called it a 'team building exercise," she said derisively, punctuating her words with air quotes. "I guess it all worked out for you though, huh?"
"I'm not complaining," said Twilight with a smile, leaning against the safety railing that ran around the dam's perimeter. "Thanks, Rainbow Dash." She felt a pony drape herself over her back and nuzzle her cheek, and sighed. "Thank you too, Derpy." Derpy beamed and disengaged, returning to her spot and plopping back down. Another tremor, this one larger, ran through the ground.
"Crazy wall-eyed mailmare," muttered Rainbow Dash. "I don't even know why the boss lets you moonlight as a weather pony." Her expression turned serious all of a sudden. "What about the others? Pinkie, Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy? Spike isn't with you."
Twilight's heart sank, and she bowed her head, hanging it over the railing. In the distance was Ponyville, submerged beneath Smooze. The flames from the fire on the Sugarcube Corner tower still blazed, adding vivid orange to Smooze's palette of turquoise, red, and purple. He might be a monstrous elder god, but he sure is pretty, at least, thought Twilight.
"Well, Twi?" pressed Rainbow Dash.
Twilight sighed sadly. "Fluttershy got away with Pound Cake and Applebloom," she said, turning to Rainbow Dash. "But the others..."
Rainbow Dash's face went ashen. She closed her eyes and nodded her head, turning away from Twilight and facing the dam. Then she drew her head back and rammed it as hard as she could into the railing. "Dammit!" she snapped, and she smashed against the rail again, punctuating it with another expletive.
Twilight caught her before she could do it a third time. "Rainbow! That isn't going to bring them back, y'know!"
Rainbow Dash sighed. "It's my fault, Twi. Derpy and I skipped work because I wanted to go to that stupid dirigible convention and make fun of the snooty earth ponies who couldn't fly. If I'd stayed behind, I could have done something, I could have saved..." She sighed a second time and covered her face with her hooves.
Twilight patted her back comfortingly. "It's nopony's fault, Rainbow. Well, except maybe that one pony who merged with Smooze. It's probably a little bit his fault. But even then, it isn't yours. You couldn't have known this would happen." Rainbow Dash looked at her friend with tears in her eyes. Twilight smiled at her. "Hurting yourself isn't the solution to this problem. If we're gonna stop Smooze, then we need you at your most heroic."
Rainbow Dash blinked. Tears leaked from her eyes, but she smiled through them. "Yeah," she hiccuped. "You're right." She sniffed and rubbed the spot on her head where she'd whacked the railing. "Ow. That wasn't smart. Guess I'm not cut out to be an egghead after all."
"I'm a big enough egghead for the both of us, Rainbow," said Twilight. "Now, let's get down to business. We need to stop the Smooze. Now, what are his weaknesses?"
Rainbow Dash folded her forelegs on the railing and leaned her chin against them. "Hmm. He doesn't like water." She frowned. "If I could get my weather team back from furlough... but no, they're off in Coltimore getting wasted, and that's a three day flight from here."
"Water, huh?" asked Twilight. She looked over the railing, down at the river below, then at the water behind the dam. She tapped Rainbow Dash's shoulder to draw her attention, then gestured at the dam they were standing on, smiling slyly.
Rainbow Dash smirked. "Didn't you just fix this dam?" she asked.
"Easy come, easy go," said Twilight.
"That's pretty nonchalant for a neat freak egghead like you," said Rainbow Dash. "Can you do it?"
Twilight sighed. "On a good day, wanton magical destruction would be no sweat. But I pretty much tapped myself out defending everypony against Smooze."
Rainbow Dash threw her hooves into the air and groaned. "Great. So unless one of us happens to have a fifty kiloton bomb on their hooves, this dam isn't going to - "
A tremor ran through the ground, shaking Twilight and Rainbow. "Okay, seriously," snapped Rainbow Dash. "What is - " Another tremor interrupted her, followed by a third, then a fourth in short order.
"Rainbow," said Twilight. "Is that... normal?" She pointed at Derpy, and Rainbow turned around to look. Derpy rose to her hooves from her sitting position, then plopped back down on her rump, sending a tremor through the dam. She paused for a few seconds, then stood again, paused for a handful more, then sat back down, once again sending a tremor through the dam.
"Derpy?" asked a facehoofing Rainbow Dash. "What are you doing?"
"Practicing," said Derpy. She stood, waited for a few moments, then sat back down. The dam shook.
"Practicing for what, Derpy?" asked Twilight.
Derpy stared at Twilight for a long, long moment. Her eyes rotated in opposite directions. Then she grinned. "Practicing!"
"Twi," said Rainbow Dash. She grabbed her friend and pulled her back to the railing. "Take a look at this." She gestured down at the dam's front. A long fracture ran vertically, from the center of the dam almost to the bottom. As they watched, they heard Derpy slam her iron butt against the ground, and the fracture grew longer and wider. A dribble of water leaked from it now.
"Derpy!" cried Twilight. "Do you know what you've done?"
Derpy paused, midway between standing and sitting, and frowned. "I don't like guessing games," she said flatly.
"Derpy, you gorgeous creature," said Rainbow Dash, rushing to the mailmare's side. "You've just saved Ponyville from a snotty, sticky end! I could kiss you!" She took Derpy's face in her hooves and seemed to seriously consider planting one on her, before she backed away abruptly. "But I won't. There are enough rumors as it is." She looked back at Twilight, serious once again. "You know, Twilight, if we break the dam, then we're all gonna get washed away with the town."
"You won't," said Twilight. "Because you're going to fly away."
Rainbow took a step toward her friend, her expression one of incomprehension. "What...?"
Twilight took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She trotted to the edge of the dam and stared out at what had once been Ponyville. Cold gripped her heart. She remembered what Rarity said, how Pinkie remained behind to cover the others' escape. Did she feel the same way as she stared into the maw of death? Or did she have the same song in her heart that she always did?
"I can't break the dam in this state. But I think I can widen the crack enough to increase the strain on the concrete beyond acceptable limits," said Twilight, in a voice devoid of emotion. "The water pressure will do the rest."
Rainbow Dash's eyes widened. "Twi, don't be stupid. That'll kill you."
"But not you," said Twilight evenly. "Or Derpy. If Derpy breaks the dam with her butt, then we might be able to get to safety, but she won't have a chance. And I'm not willing to live with her death on my conscience. I don't think you are either. So you two leave. I'll stay."
Rainbow Dash set her jaw, puffed up her chest, and unfurled her wings. She craned her head around to address Derpy. "Hey! Mailmare! Get flyin' to Coltimore and tell the team what's going on. Go as fast as you can and stop for nothing. You got that?"
"Ten-four, R.D.," said Derpy Hooves, saluting. "Allons-y!" She took flight, banked left, and soared into the east.
"Coltimore's the other way, Derpy," called Rainbow Dash. Derpy banked again, turned to the west, and waved at Rainbow Dash before disappearing over the horizon.
"Why didn't you go with her?" asked Twilight.
"Can you break the dam from a distance?" asked Rainbow Dash. "Can I fly you up and let you work your magic from the sky?"
Twilight thought about that. "Like I said, on a normal day, anything's possible. But with how burnt out I am, I think the only safe bet is if I'm close to the crack."
"Then I'm not going anywhere," said Rainbow Dash firmly. She trotted toward Twilight to stand beside her. "I'm staying right here, with you."
Twilight's jaw dropped. It whacked the railing painfully, and she slammed it shut. "Ow." She shook her head. "Rainbow, think sensibly about this! I'm not walking away from this alive! Do you know the term 'suicide mission?'"
"So what?" asked Rainbow Dash, fixing Twilight with an intense stare. "We're best friends. We live together. We play together. We work together, party together, go to frilly frou-frou galas together and save ponies together. And, if we have to, we die together." She turned away from Twilight and stared in the direction of Ponyville. "There's no place I'd rather be right now than right here, with you. I'm staying, and that's final."
Twilight Sparkle's eyes swam with tears. She blinked them back, but one or two escaped and ran down her purple face. "You don't have to do this, you know."
"I'm not letting my only remaining best friend die alone. I can't do that. So yeah. I do have to do this." She wet her dry lips and held her head a little higher. "Hop to it, egghead."
Twilight was certain that her final moments would be terror-stricken and cold. Instead, she felt a calm in her heart that almost made the prospect of dying a wet, airless death bearable. She nuzzled the pegasus softly, feeling a warmth spread beneath her cheek. "Thank you, Rainbow."
She turned back to the dam, closed her eyes, and concentrated hard on the fracture in the wall. She focused, visualizing the fracture spreading, the water dripping, the strain on the concrete becoming unbearable. She heard a loud groan, followed by the sound of concrete crumbling. She could feel cracks spreading beneath her hooves, knew that the structure was about to shatter, that she and her friend were about to be plunged into a watery grave.
Before the wall gave way completely, she felt something soft and feathery drape around her back and draw her close.
The pegasus pony's final strike had left a deep gash in his jelly flesh. The wound would heal, but more troubling was the damage to his aspect, his messiah. The pony was left unconscious and unresponsive, and he feared that he would never awaken. Smooze perceived the flaming wreck of Sugarcube Corner, and knew that there was only one remaining course of action. He tenderly removed the gray pony from his body, with reverence and dignity befitting a true servant of a god.
"You gave me hope that this world could be saved," he said to the unconscious stallion. "A fleeting dream, one that I now know to be foolish. But for a time, my beloved son, there was joy in me. I have you to thank for it."
The stallion burbled in his sleep.
"I will give you an end as befits a messiah of your caliber," said Smooze. "You will burn, and your ashes will merge with me. In that way, you will still be Smooze, for all time."
"Bouncing baby bunnies burning brightly," burbled the stallion.
"And when that is done," said Smooze, "to Canterlot we shall go. My Smooze will run through its streets; my Smooze will chase down its citizens and devour them, as they devoured me for so many millenia. I will make Princess Celestia watch as I swallow her sister whole, and she will call me her god in the moments before I consume her too."
In the distance, a wide fissure split a dam in two. A massive sluice of water spilled from the dam, flooded the river, ran over every breakwater in its path, and barreled toward Ponyville rapidly.
Smooze didn't know what was coming; he was too preoccupied with his gloating. "Hear me now, Canterlot! Hear me, Equestria; hear me, all you heathen nations!" he boomed. "I come for you now, a wrathful god, my patience and compassion spent! And you will know my name is Smooze when I lay my vengeance upon thee!" Smooze started to lower the stallion into the fire.
Water met jelly with a tremendous splash, and Smooze screamed at the agonizing sensation. It rinsed through his being, carved him into bits and dissolved them, killing him a little at a time. He tried to ecape from the impromptu freshwater tsunami, to no avail. It coursed through him, washing him away. In his dying moments, Smooze struggled to hold his messiah aloft as the rising tide of water ate him piecemeal, but the water wore away at him, dissolved his body more and more, until all that was left was a single tentacle jutting from the water, curled protectively around the prone body of an unconscious pony.
A wave lashed against the tentacle, and it quietly washed away. The pony fell into the water, and he drifted.
Twilight Sparkle inhaled sharply, only to choke on trapped water. Violent coughs wracked her body as she fought to eject it from her trachea.
"She's awake!" cried Pinkie Pie's voice. "Your majesty, Twilight's awake!" Twilight felt somepony throw her forelegs around her neck and pull her upright into a constricting embrace. This did nothing to help her cough. "Oh, Twilight, I was so worried about you! Don't you ever do that to me again, you hear me? I know where you - "
"Pinkie Pie," said the gentle voice of Princess Celestia. "You can let her go now."
"Oh." She felt Pinkie Pie release her, and she fell backward, impacting a hard surface with more force than she would have liked. Twilight still coughed violently; her lungs still burned and she couldn't quite see clearly, but she was alive, and that was more than she could have hoped for.
She felt a familiar warm, sunny aura appear beside her, and stirred. "P-princess...?"
"It's me," said Princess Celestia kindly. "The balloon carrying Fluttershy and the foals made it to the palace. We mobilized the guard and flew here as quickly as we could, but by the time we arrived, you'd already flooded the town. I wonder if all of my future visits to Ponyville will be accompanied by gratuitous property damage."
Twilight smiled weakly. "S-sorry, your majesty," she croaked.
Princess Celestia laughed. "Twilight, saving hundreds of townsponies at the expense of the town is nothing to apologize for. And anyway, Ponyville is a robust little burg. I'm sure it'll be back on its hooves in no time at all."
"S-saved?" mumbled Twilight. The memory of the townsponies being devoured made her heart sink slowly into her stomach. "Didn't save... everypony swallowed..."
"Uh, nope!" chirped Pinkie Pie. "Sorry, smarty, but that's where you're wrong! When that big ol' tidal wave came swooshing in like 'PSSSSSHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHH!!!' it washed away every last bit of old stick-in-the-Smooze Smooze, and brought us all back at the same time! Ain't it grand?"
Twilight groaned, relieved and annoyed at the same time. "Doesn't make any sense... Conservation of mass... laws of physics..."
"Physics, shmysics. I'm Pinkie Pie!" She heard the sound of the party pony splashing into the water, humming happily to herself.
"Your friend may not have phrased it quite the way I would have," said Celestia bemusedly. "But her advice is sound. Don't think too hard about this one, Twilight Sparkle. It'll only make convalescing that much harder."
"Good advice," said Twilight. Water still burned her throat, but she was regaining her voice little by little, and that made her happy. A sudden thought sent her heart plummeting back into her stomach. "Rainbow Dash... she was with me at the dam... is she...?"
"Right here, egghead," said Rainbow Dash softly. She felt a feather brush against her nose. "I was up before you were."
"She didn't leave your side the entire time you were unconscious," said Princess Celestia. "Truly, a worthy bearer of the Element of Loyalty."
"I just did what any friend in my position would have done," said Rainbow Dash casually.
"As I said," the princess chuckled. Twilight felt Princess Celestia's muzzle brush affectionately against her forehead. "Rest well, my dearest and most faithful student." She heard a shimmering sound that built to a crescendo, saw a bright flash through her eyelids, and she knew that the princess was gone.
"Glad you pulled through," said Rainbow Dash with a chuckle. "Don't get me wrong; I'd gladly die by any of my friends' sides. I'd just rather, y'know, live by their sides. Seems more fun that way."
Twilight rolled onto her belly and tried to push onto her hooves. With Rainbow Dash's help, she was able to stay standing, but couldn't do much else. She blinked rapidly, clearing her vision enough to discern where she was. She and Rainbow Dash stood upon an overturned cart that acted as a makeshift raft, and they drifted gently down what had once been, in its dryer days, Ponyville's main boulevard. Ponies lined the roofs and peeked out of windows at the flooded town. The Cutie Mark Crusaders sat together on a nearby rooftop, hugging one another close and smiling happily. Pinkie Pie backstroked past them. She waved as she went; the fillies returned it.
They came upon the flooded, burnt ruins of Sugarcube Corner. Spike and Rarity sat upon the broken tower. The unicorn curled on the floor, resting her chin on her forelegs. The dragon was snuggled against her flank. She caught Twilight's eye, smiled, and winked. Twilight giggled, coughing up a bit of water in the process. Rarity was kind enough to pretend not to notice.
"It's weird how often this town gets thrashed," mused Rainbow Dash. "Maybe after we put it back together this time, we can see about keeping it from falling apart again."
"Your town will forever remain a flooded, pathetic ruin!" boomed a deep, reverberating voice that shook Twilight to her very core. A thick, red jelly blob perched atop a house. A brown Stetson hat clung to its outer membrane.
"Smooze," growled Rainbow Dash. "So, some of you survived the flood, huh?"
"All but this was annihilated, but it matters not! I am eternal!" said Smooze. "I am forever! This is a momentary setback; I shall devour again, I shall regain my power, and you shall know my name is Smooze when I lay my vengeance - "
There was a sudden roll of thunder, followed by a heavy deluge of rain that covered Smooze, melting him away in seconds and leaving behind only a wet, hatless, very confused Applejack. She blinked at Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle. "Winter Wrap-Up go south again?" she asked.
Twilight looked above Applejack's head, at a very proud gray pegasus who sat on her haunches upon a fluffy black cloud. "Derpy?" she called.
Derpy beamed brightly at Twilight Sparkle. "I told you I was practicing!" She patted the cloud affectionately. "That'll do, Stormy. That'll do."