• Published 23rd Nov 2013
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Three Wishes: The Hole In The Sun - Xepher

Twelve years after the Crusaders discovered their true nature, an ancient evil has returned. Celestia is hurt, magic is weakened, and Equestria is nearly lost. Now our heroes must find a way to fix The Hole In The Sun.

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Appendix: Chapter Summaries

This appendix contains summaries of the individual story chapters so that a reader returning to the story after the sometimes-way-too-long breaks between updates can quickly refresh their memory of what's happened so far. Each paragraph is behind a "spoiler" tag, so you should be able to avoid inadvertent spoilers for chapters you haven't read yet. It will be updated as new chapters are published. It's arranged at the start, rather than at the end, so it doesn't accidentally collect comments for whatever the "latest" chapter is. If you're reading the story for the first time, just skip to the next chapter (the Prologue) and start there.

Prologue: The Battle of Equestria

Eleven years after Rupert (and the end of Three Wishes), an ancient evil, known as "Nemesis," has returned after 10,000 years. He created Discord and most of the evil in the world, leaving traps and artifacts behind, before somehow being banished to a red star, which has recently reappeared in the sky.

The Elements of Harmony are useless against him in the first battle, and a plan is hatched. The rest of the mane six are transformed to alicorns by the CMC, with use of the Alicorn Amulet. Attacking a second time, they are nearly defeated, when Discord attempts to help. Finding he can't use his magic against his creator, he "cheats" and gives his magic to Fluttershy, who grows antlers and paws, becoming a sort of hybrid between alicorn and draonequus. It's enough for her to save her friends, and together they managed to banish Nemesis back to the star.

Before he's banished though, he sets the star on a collision course with the world itself. Unable to stop it, as it seems to absorb all magic, Celestia moves the sun to block it. A hole develops in the sun, and Celestia must use all her magic and some of her own life force to contain it. She ages, her mane turning grey and her face wrinkled. Even then, she admits that can only contain things for a few years at most, so they must find a more permanent solution. She's also lost direct control of the sun.

Chapter 1: The Longest Day

With half the world baking, and the other half freezing while the sun isn't moving through the sky, a desperate plan is hatched. The new alicorns rearrange the solar system, putting Equestria in orbit of the sun, and the moon in orbit of that. Knowing this will bring the planet closer to the sun and the Hole, and it's magic absorbing abilities, but having no other choice before life around the world starts to die.

Meanwhile, Fluttershy tries to come to terms with her new hybrid form, AJ and Pinkie learn a bit about flying and teleporting, and Twilight tries to help discord with relationship problems.

Chapter 2: Tomb Raiders

The CMC, having heard via dragonstone that Fluttershy spotted some odd ruins, decide to head to the Saddle Arabian desert. The ruins sounded like one of the potential artifacts that Nemesis left behind. Investigating, they find an ancient temple of sorts, and activate a device which reveals a giant black obelisk, covered in runes. The tower is set in a deep, cylindrical pit, and the three descend to explore it.

After they reach the bottom, and touch the tower, the stairs retract, leaving them trapped, and the obelisk activates, draining all magic from the area. Scootaloo can't fly, Sweetie Belle can't teleport or levitate, and even Apple Bloom's control over minerals fails.

As they day heats up, and their magic is slowly siphoned away, the CMC try many ways to escape, but lacking proper tools and magic, nothing they can rig up seems to hold. The old bones they found at the bottom are too brittle, and the rocks and such are too wide to get any purchase in the few, narrow cracks between the stone of the walls.

Eventually, Apple Bloom comes up with a desperate plan. Using a rock, she severs the metal claws from Sweetie's paw, and has Scootaloo use another rock to hammer them through her own hooves. The pain is incredible, but she can now get purchase in the small gaps and climb the wall. Reaching the top, she resets the device, and the stairs reappear, allowing her friends to escape just in time.

The trio is found later by Twilight, who is about to destroy the evil device before Sweetie stops her. The obelisk appears to siphon magic and beam it toward the red star (now in the center of the sun) and Sweetie thinks it might be usable as a conduit to attack Nemesis. Twilight agrees, and teleports them home before the final orbit of the planet is established, and long range teleportation, along with all other major magic, becomes impossible.

Chapter 3: The Mulligan

Far Travel, a unicorn archeologist, arrives at the CMC headquarters, having been sent by Queen Celestia to report on the excavation of the obelisk. She's a bit uncertain about giving such important information to three young mares, but does so anyway. They discuss her findings, which basically suggest that the obelisk may in fact work as Sweetie suspected, and can be used as a conduit, especially if used in concert with other similar artifacts. Far Travel also mentions that they may have tentative locations on two more, in the jungle, and in the arctic.

The problem, she explains, is that they can't even dig out the first artifact, the second seems to be missing, and no one can confirm the one in the far north. Apple Bloom suggests and old friend, Sky Chaser, might be able to help with the dig, and suggests they go to Canterlot to locate him, as he'd previously been in the now-evacuated Cloudsdale.

Agreeing, but even more incredulous, Far Travel can't believe AB has an airship of her own moored out back. Even harder to believe AB's claims to have built it herself, and designed many of the components, such as the Equuium-based engine. On top of that, her statement that she often "crashes" at the castle when in Canterlot send Far Travel over the edge, and she snaps, asking basically "who the heck do you think you are?"

Apple Bloom proceeds to set her straight, explaining just how many times she and her friends saved or changed the world, and why she's on a first name basis with Queen Celestia. When Far Travel apologizes, AB forgives her, saying everypony gets one mulligan. They head toward Canterlot as AB explains how she met Sky Chaser.

Chapter 4: Rock Candy

Eight years prior, just a few years after Rupert, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were testing a new, steam-rocket design, powered by a new element Twilight and Sweetie had refined from caribou "firestones." The rocket, that Scootaloo had deemed the "teapot" overheats and breaks free of the test stand, and crashes on a dome shaped hill. Surveying the wreckage, AB decides to stay late and admire the peace and quiet of the sunset.

While doing so, she encounters a young diamond dog called "Runt," with a stutter, and helps defend him when two older diamond dogs come to pick on him. In the process, she senses something odd in their lifeforce, and in this "rock candy" they were eating.

The next day she visits Twilight with a sample, and they discover that it's lead acetate, aka "lead sugar." Basically, the diamond dogs have been poisoning themselves, and literally giving brain damage to their children by feeding them this stuff. It explains the decline of their civilization, speech impediments, aggressive behavior, etc.

Apple Bloom won't let that slide. She's determined to fix it, and starts developing a plan.

Chapter 5: The Teapot Dome Scandal

Apple Bloom works to put her plan in motion and save the diamond dogs from themselves. She starts by getting some of every candy Pinkie Pie can get her hooves on, and taking it to Runt and the diamond dogs for taste testing. She wants to get them something to enjoy instead of the lead acetate. In the process, she discovers Runt himself was born without the ability to taste sweetness, so never enjoyed rock candy. So, despite his stuttering, he's actually very intelligent, and not aggressive at all.

With Runt's help, they get the other diamond dogs to try the candy, and settle on peppermint as a favorite. While making the trade, they find that the diamond dog tunnels beneath the "teapot dome" are lit by glowing "hot rocks" very similar to Caribou firestone. They trade some of the candy for hot rocks.

Examining the stones, Twilight determines that, when refined, it'd be enough equuium to replace 100,000 bits worth of coal in a steam locomotive. The stuff is really, really valuable, and likely to change the entire face of the Equestrian economy when it hits the market.

AB sees the problem there. The diamond dogs would be overrun and exploited before they knew what hit them. So the plan gets more complicated. Along with help from her friends, she develops an entire outline for how to trade candy to wean the diamond dogs off lead, get equuium in return, stockpile it secretly to avoid a rush on the diamond dogs, and then meter it out slowly into the economy to prevent an entire collapse of existing industries.

To pull this off, she gets Twist to make the candy initially, then enlists the aide of Diamond Tiara and her father's company to stockpile things. Twist doesn't want to handle the major candy distribution, so Silver Spoon volunteers, using the trust fund she's recently inherited after her mother's death. But no pony is willing to commit funds to the venture without some sort of guarantee, and for that, they need Celestia.

Celestia hears the case, and feels horribly guilty that, while she noticed the decline of the diamond dogs over the centuries, never looked into it, and basically let an entire race poison themselves under her watch. She agrees to help, knowing (unlike Apple Bloom) that no matter how important the reason, from the outside, it will look like a royal monopoly and be a huge scandal when revealed. But it's the right thing to do, so she gives it her seal anyway.

To prepare for the eventual fallout, she finally agrees to Twilight, Luna, and Cadance's insistence that she take the title Queen. They wanted it to honor her, but she takes it so that, if the scandal is too much, they can use her as a scapegoat, claiming she went mad with power and such.

Chapter 6: The Little Things

As the Lumbering Walrus arrives in Canterlot, Apple Bloom finishes her story of the Teapot Dome scandal, and Far Travel is still a bit shocked. She explains how Celestia was almost run out of office because of that, and AB, on the verge of tears, says she was horrified once she had realized that. It was when she'd tried to apologize, and Celestia would have none of it, that the two became true friends, and Celestia insisted AB user her name, rather than her title.

Erstwhile, Celestia wakes late in the afternoon, and finds herself in the kitchen as Luna comes down for her typical breakfast. Celestia looks forlorn, and Luna asks why she feels so guilty for simply sleeping in. Then it clicks: Celestia slept through the sunrise, a thing which has never happened in her life by sheer law of causality. The two share a moment of consoluation, and reflect how so many strange, impossible things have happened, and the soldier on, and yet it's the little things, like sleeping in, that bring it all crashing down.

As Apple Bloom and Far Travel try to find the Queen, they discover Celestia has rearranged the castle to make room for Cloudsdale refugees in the main halls, and the "throne room" is now the former breakfast nook off the kitchens. The two squeeze their way in. While catching up, Celestia spreads her wings, knocking a stack of books over. This leads to a chain reaction of small things falling, breaking, and etc. None of the ponies stop it though, and afterwards are confused as to why. Celestia believes it shows something about the nature of the herd instinct, they nopony did anything because nopony WAS doing anything. Then Luna busts in to check on the noise, fearing the worst, and sets off another comic chain reaction.

AB and Far Travel are looking for Sky Chaser (aka "Runt"), and Celestia points them at the archives. They find the diamond dog, himself a refugee from the now-fallen Cloudsdale, surrounded by piles of books. AB introduces him to Far Travel, and explains the problem they have with excavation the obelisk. He says that with a few of his students, they could dig the thing out in fifteen minutes. Far Travel finds that nearly impossible, as it'd take unicorns at full magical potential hours to shift that much dirt. Apple Bloom bursts out laughing. When she tries to explain what's so funny, she finds it hard to convey. Basically she's just shocked that that's the line for "unbelievable." There's a hole in the sun, and all these other impossible things, but what has apparently crossed Far Travel's limit for plausibility is some creatures who are famous for their digging speed being able to dig really fast.

The laughter turns into a bit of a breakdown, as AB starts to sob, recounting all the trials, horrors, and fears she's had to face in the past few months: nearly losing all her friends in Nemesis' initial attack; being frozen helpless in crystal during their nearly-failed counter attack, driving her friends own claws through her hooves to climb out of a death trap, and at the end of it all, she has to fix an impossible hole in the sun. Sky Chaser hugs her, and tells her she's wrong. "You don't have to fix it. We do."

At Sweet Apple Acres, Applejack is getting frustrated, bumping her new horn constantly, and tearing new holes in her hat every time she tries to put it on in a huff. Big McIntosh finds her, and she explains all her problems, with the new wings, the horn, the "princess" thing, and how it's just not her.

As AJ rants, Derpy arrives in a passable, though far from elegant landing. She gives AJ a letter, and when she tries to read it (in her mouth, rather than using her new magic to hold it) she finds that it's for the CMC. She turns on Derpy, insisting the mailmare do her job properly, and deliver the mail to the CMC HQ in the top of Rupert. Derpy makes excuses, that Sweet Apple Acres is technically the address, and so she's done her job as required. AJ responds, "What's a matter, ya scared a heights?"

When Derpy looks away awkwardly, it's clear that's the case. Mac gives a hard elbow to AJ, and she starts trying to apologize, but makes it worse, asking how a Pegasus can be afraid of heights. Derpy breaks down in tears, and says she never asked to be a pegasus, and she already gets teased enough for her eyes and clumsiness. If she others found she was afraid of heights too, they'd all laugh at her even more she fears. AJ tries to assure her that's not the case, but Derpy just says "What would you know?" and explains how AJ is a princess, with her own farm, a huge, loving family, friends, is one of the Elements, etc. How could she possibly know what's it's like to not even be comfortable in her own skin?

As Derpy flies off, AJ flops down on the ground, and Mac sits next to her. "I know, I'm a right, self-absorbed jackass, aren't I?" All Mac says is, "Eeyup."

Over at Fluttershy's cottage, Discord is trying to convince her she looks beautiful in her new form. She accuses him of only liking it because it's more like him. He admits to a bit of narcissism, but claims he likes her in any form. She insists it's not about him, but about others, about how she's afraid all the ponies in town think she's hideous or horrifying. Discord, with mock affront, asks why his opinion doesn't matter. He's her friend, and he's learned that you should listen to your friends.

Fluttershy again insists it's not about him, so, with mock affront, he demands to know which of her OTHER friends must be insulting her, and goes through the list (AJ is too honest to say she's not ugly, Pinkie thinks ugly is funny, Rarity can't allow a good friend not to know how bad they look, etc.) Fluttershy becomes more and more upset, defending each of her friends, saying none of them would ever, ever do that to her, and all of them in fact assured her she looked quite nice. Point made, Discord smirks. "So why won't you believe them?"

Fluttershy her built up frustration cut short, stomps off in a mock huff, knowing he's right, but also knowing he didn't have to be so smug about it.

Lastly, the CMC are in their HQ, discussing the prospect of using the obelisk against Nemesis. Sweetie explains that both distance to the sun, and the dispersion in the air would severely weaken any spell coherence. Scootaloo asks which matters more though, and when Sweetie explains that the air is really a big problem, Scootaloo suggests flying the thing to space.

The other two are taken aback, but as they think about it, it seems like it just might work. Not with what they have, the engines are too small, and a lot of their existing designs relied heavily on magic, which isn't an option after the Hole. They'd have to do most everything without relying on any strong magic, save for the final spell.

As they try to solve this, Applejack arrives... on the back porch. She flew up there, surprising the CMC by actually using her new wings. She delivers the letter Derpy had dropped off earlier, and the trio read it.

It's from Babs Seed, in Manehatten. She says she'd love to see the trio again, and explains how the CMC there in Manehatten has become a sort of think tank of blank flanks, as so many ponies there are trying everything to earn their marks, that many are almost polymaths.

Applejack leaves, saying she needs to go apologize to Derpy, and the CMC trio form a plan to go visit Babs, taking some of their problems to her, to see if bringing more Crusaders in on things might help.

Chapter 7: The Manehatten Project

The Crusaders arrive in Manehatten, at an old rail yard that's the new headquarters of the CMC. They meet Babs Seed, and find that she's been receiving anonymous donations, including this new facility. For her part, Babs is surprised that they repopened the rail line, and Sweetie deduces that Celestia had it reopened for them.

Babs gives the three a tour, and they're surprised by how many ponies are still blank flanks, even into adulthood, including Babs herself. She explains that she's almost given up on getting her mark, but that it's a good thing. She can branch out and learn whatever she wants, without worrying if it compliments a special talent or not. Of course, she tells them not to ever say that to any of the youngsters.

A helper comes up, saying a huge shipment has arrived. The expected rocket engines weren't supposed to be there until the next day, and everyone is surprised when they go and find that the obelisk recovered from the desert is on the deck of a ship outside at the dock. Celestia had it shipped there because she must feel the CMC have the best chance at flying the thing into space. Babs doesn't believe that's possible, but Scoots reminds her she hasn't seen the Kettle engine designs yet either. The two have a math-and-engineering discussion, and Babs is finally convinced.

The next day, the engines arrive by rail, and Babs is properly astonished at how big the large ones are. While they're unloading things, Celestia arrives by chariot. The Ponyville crusaders are friendly with her, but Babs is stunned to be talking to royalty, and Apple Bloom, having none of that, declares Apple Family Privilege. She explains to Babs and Celestia that they have to treat each other like they would her... that is, be friends. It works, and Celestia explains what she's asking the CMC to help do.

The next few weeks are full of work, as all the ponies try to solve the various problems in attacking Nemesis. Apple Bloom, for her part, is particularly vexed by the temperature and heating issues, especially during reentry, and how everything that insulates well enough is too heavy. Babs calls in two ponies, Flurried Heart, a chef, and Burning Sky a glassworks artist. It turns out Burning Heart has been trying to build a better kiln, but is having trouble with baking bricks that are light, and Flurried Heart says that sounds remarkably like a souffle. The two suddenly realize they have a lot they could learn from each other, and head off to work.

Apple Bloom questions how Babs knew they could help, and she says there's nothing special too it... she just thought about someone working with hot stuff, and someone that makes light, fluffy stuff. AB calls it luck, and Babs says there's no such thing. Just something about Cutie Marks and the magic behind that, that every Cutie Mark story out there is always full of impossible "luck" yet happened anyway. She says she's just learned that if you bring enough of that wild, untamed Cutie Mark magic together, it starts setting off sparks, and sometimes, if one is big enough, a pony gets her mark.

A month later, Flurried heart and Burning Sky rush into the room where the others are, and say they've solved it. Burning Sky holds up what looks like a piece of pink, tattered blanket. She puts an ice cube on top then holds it over a fire. When it doesn't melt, the others are impressed. They never did solve the brick problem, but when Sky saw Heart making cotton candy, she got the idea to try it with glass. The spun glass looks just like cotton candy, but can insulate things against incredible heat, even fire. Flurried Heart got his mark in the process.

A few days later, Babs calls a big meeting. She explains that, as usual, it's time to give up and move on, or ask for help. That is, shift ponies around to work on new things to hopefully inject new ideas, but they get one last chance to ask for help. Most are too embarassed to go first, until a little colt stands up. Rolling Thunder has apparently been trying to make magic bubbles for fish to fly around in, but can't keep them from popping. When no one has an easy answer, Babs suggests that maybe, if he wants to see his fishy friends up close, he should go underwater instead, as it'd be less scary for the fish. Seeing that even he was brave enough to ask for help, others start to speak up, and it becomes a group brainstorming session.

As this continues, Babs starts mentally cataloging all the challenges they still face. When Sweetie takes her turn, she explains that they've done the calculations for the magic required. Basically, even if they could pump unlimited magic into the obelisk, it'd overload while still at least an order of magnitude below what's needed to penetrate the corona and reach the horizon of the Hole itself. She goes on to explain the finer points of the magical theory around the problem, and several unicorns chip in ideas, but none that seem to work. They get onto the idea of finding other obelisks, and using them in tandem. The problem, Sweetie explains, is that the harmonics dictate the obelisks would have to be a very precise and large distance (40 miles) apart from each other, yet be activated simultaneously, with sub-millisecond accuracy. The only way to do that is to connect them all with runic structures to sync the energies. Unfortunately, the minimum connection would be pure platinum, and that'd still need to be around the same width as the obelisks themselves. No way to fly forty miles of "wire" as wide as a hallway, as it'd be more weight than all the buildings in Manehatten combined.

Burning Sky chimes in, her cheerful voice saying "So all we have to do is figure out how to fly Manehatten into space!" Sweetie reminds her that there are still other challenges to solve as well. "Yet, but if we could put a city in space, the rest would be easy!" The ponies all chuckle at that, but then Babs starts thinking it really WOULD solve most of their problems if they had a city-sized place to work up there in space. But there's nothing in space but emptiness, the stars, the sun, and... the moon! She runs to the front of the stage and explains how they can build everything on the moon. Sweetie recognizes that the lunar basalt would work for runic energy conduction, another pony chips in that tunnels could be dug to let them have a place to live and breathe. Other pipes up, saying how they can grow food in greenhouses. Marks start appearing on flanks. More and more ponies start shouting out ideas, and the crowd starts breaking into ad-hoc working groups, full of hurried and excited ideas. Ponies everywhere are getting their marks in a huge Cutie Mark Cascade.

Babs stands back, watching something more amazing than her wildest dreams as hundreds of ponies all get their marks over the course of a few hours. More interesting, that so many are radically new. Not just old things like music notes and flower petals, but ponies with rocket engines and mathematical graphs on their flanks. As the excitement dies down though, she looks briefly to her own flank, and find it still empty. Apple Bloom tries to console her, but she shrugs it off. It was still an amazing day after all. "Holy crap, AB, we're gonna build a friggin' city on the firrin' moon!"

Chapter 8: Departures

Sweetie visits Rich Industries while in Manehatten. She talks to Diamond Tiara, who's now in charge of the company after her father's death, and Silver Spoon, her wife.

Diamond is sad over her fathers death, but partly because they spent their latter years fighting, and never got along very well. She torn up about both missing him, and for how she had so much hate for him in some ways as well.

Filthy Rich had died during Nemesis's attack, and Sweetie feels a bit guilty, she and her friends maybe could've been faster, or better, or stronger, and saved a few more lives. Silver Spoon assures her it's not her fault.

After they three sit down and have some drinks, Sweetie makes her ask. She wants to "borrow the company." Diamond figures it has to do with "saving the world again" and asks for the explanation. She explains the plan to build a base on the moon, and the other stuff the CMC came up with.

In the process, Silver Spoon lets it slip that they (Diamond and Silver) were the ones secretly funding the Manehatten CMC.

Explanations finished, Sweetie remembers that she also needs to borrow a ship to go get a relic from the arctic.

Diamond sighs, "Why not take two while you're at it!" Sweetie explains she knows its a big ask, that switching all that industry over to non-profitable things may very well bankrupt the company.

Silver nuzzles her wife, "You know you're going to say yes, why not just get it over with?" Diamond admits that's the case, but it's hard, because the company is the one thing her father WAS good at, and destroying that would leave nothing left of his legacy. She walks off to think.

Silver and Sweetie talk a bit, and Silver shows some mail she'd brought in, and diamond gets mad when she returns. The letters, she says, are always ponies claiming Flithy Rich owed them money or some other scam, and Silver was supposed to throw it out.

This letter is different though, it went to their home address. Silver insists on opening it, and then tells Diamond she's definitely going to want to read it. Diamond grabs it, and starts reading, but before she can finish, she starts crying and tells Sweetie to read it for her.

The letter is from a pony named Autumn Leaf, and it explains how, when nemesis struck Fillydelphia, she'd been living there with her son and daughter. When the volcano erupted, ejecta hit the end of the street, and she ran to try to retrieve her daughter from a friend's house.

The house was on fire and damaged when she got there, and the daughter and her friend were screaming, stuck on the upper balcony. Before she could react, another quake buried her in rubble.

She was pulled free by Filthy Rich, and he also braved the apartments and fire to retrieve Autumn's daughter and her friend. The friend's mother was still missing, and when Filthy went to go try to rescue her too, he knew he might not make it. He asked the names of her daughters, and then said "My own daughter is named Diamond Tiara." He handed Autumn his wallet (with his address in it). "Please let her know that I tried."

Filthy Rich died trying to rescue the other girl's mother.

The letter includes a picture of the mother, her daughter and friend (who Autumn was adopting) and her son. The daughter and friend were pink and grey, just like Diamond and Silver, and Sweetie can't help but wonder if Filthy saw something in them when they were crying and trapped.

With the letter finished, Diamond is crying fiercely as Silver hugs her. She pulls away, turns to Sweetie Belle and says. "Fuck the company. Take whateve ryou need and go get that bastard."

Chapter 9: The Donner Party

The chapter opens on an icebreaker. Sweetie Belle, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Discord, and the Caribou Donner and Blitzen, are on an expedition to the arctic to look for another obelisk.

Dash and Fluttershy are playing a game of chess, but learning to use their magic to animate the pieces as Discord coaches them. Sweetie enters, telling them there's a meeting soon to decide where to make landfall, which is disappointingly further south than they'd hoped, but the weather is turning. Before they go up though, Dash makes one last charge with a knight, skewering Fluttershy's king. Fluttershy explains that's not a legal move, and Dash answers of course not, it's a fighting move. Discord laughs, saying it certainly was effacacious. He moves to get up, but sees Fluttershy upset. She admits she really wanted to win. So he says "you shall" and whispers to her. Two words: "Ghost Army." Fluttershy decides to cheat just as dash did, and brings her "dead" pieces back to life, all moving at the same time, circling and slaying Dash's remaining army. Dash says it's not fair, and Discord counters it is "effacious." Admitting defeat (and that it was awesome) Dash asks for tips to improve her own magic, and she had trouble with even one piece at a time.

Up on the bridge, everyone meets, and decides they have to land at Ond Ulv Fjard. It'll mean weeks of extra hiking on hoof, but it's their best bet with the weather getting worse. They land in the early dawn, and immdiately feel the bitter cold. Everyone brought at least some clothing, save Sweetie Belle. Instead, she concentrates, and uses her golem magic to change her body. She grows longer legs, and splits her hooves and paw into wide, snow-shoe like pads, similar to the caribou. She makes her fur much longer and shaggier as well.

Discord reminds the rest he's handling logistics, and has their supplies. He whistles and a large trunk comes galloping out of the ocean on hundreds of tiny legs. (Yes, this is The Luggage from Discworld.) Sweetie is disappointed that while she could surprise everyone with her own transformation, she still gets one-upped by Discord, even without his magic. Discord pulls thick fur coats out of the bottomless luggage for himself and the rest of the ponies. Everyone suits up and starts hiking into the forboding arctic wilderness.

Days later, the party is lost. The circular mountain range around the north pole of the world is nearly fractal in nature, so one valley looks much like the next. But only a few have attainable passes through to the polar valley beyond. Donner is unsure if they're in the right valley this time, or if they need to go back and try the next one to the left... or right. Sweetie asks Dash to fly up for an overhead look, to try to match things to the map they have. Dash drops her fur coat and takes off.

Flying high, Dash finds it a struggle. The air is far colder than she's ever experience, even near the edge of space with Scootaloo. The combination of the oncoming winter, the polar climate, and the magic literally being sucked out of the middle of the sun is making is difficult to even fly, much less stay warm. She finally manages to get high enough to see the valleys below clearly, though her wingtips have gone none. She realizes she needs to get down soon.

Moments later, Dash crashes, unable to control her flight well enough due to shivering and numb wings. The other rush to her side, and she's chattering, barely able to speak in the cold. They try to quickly get the furs back on her, but she can't fold in her wings. Fluttershy grabs one with her paws, and slowly helps her fold it back in, realizing it feels almost like ice.

That evening, the party is inside a rather lage tent Discord also produced from within The Luggage. It's multi-room, and has a large living space with a fire, where everyone sits and slowly drinks soup. Dash is moaning in pain, as her wing hurts more now than it did when she crashed. Fluttershy examines it, and finds signs of frostbite at the tip. Asking what that means, Sweetie takes up the explanation, saying it could mean partial amputation at worst, or maybe just a loss of some dexterity if she's lucky. Dash freaks out and tries to move her pinions, critical for flight, and finds they won't respond. Fluttershy tries to caution her to wait and let things heal before they'll really know how much her flight will be affected. Dash snaps, and says that's easy for her "You can barely fly as it is!" Fluttershy starts to cry, but finds resolve instead, and hugs her friend. "You don't mean that" and Dash is suddenly crying too, apologizing.

That night, Donner and Blitzen find themselves sharing one of the three rooms, as Fluttershy insisted on staying with Dash, and Discord knowing Fluttershy would appriciate it more if he roomed with Blitzen than one of the other mares.

Unable to sleep Donner turns to Sweetie and the two begin talking. Donner asks if she's worried they won't succeed, and Sweetie admits she worries all the time. Donner is surprised, as Sweetie never seems to show it, and Sweetie echos the sentiment, saying Donner always seems to "in charge" and "stoic." Donner breaks down a bit, admitting she's afraid, and has no idea what she's doing, and already Dash has gotten hurt because she lead them the wrong way. Sweetie hugs her and consoles her, and Donner thanks her for always being so kind, so "sweet." Sweetie blushes and jokes that it's in her name and everything.

Then Donner leans in and kisses her. Sweetie is stunned for a moment, and Donner starts to panic. She leaps from the bed and starts apologizing in a stammering way. Sweetie tells her to wait, but the caribou is panicked now. Finally Sweetie whisper-yells loud enough to get her attention, and she returns to the bed. There, Sweetie says she's flattered, but she's not interested in mares. Donner seems surprised, admitting she thought it was "pretty common for ponies" and that Sweetie seemed uninterested in Blitzen, who obviously had a crush on her. Sweetie laughs, explaining that Blitzen's problem was thathe an annoying chatterbox, not that he was male. Donner admits to herself that makes sense, but tells Sweetie that she thought she cared for her.

Sweetie hugs her, and says she does, but as a friend, and that's not the same as romantic interest. Donner admits she logically knows this, but that it just felt like... more.

The two talk, and it's shown that Caribou society is a lot more conservative about such things, whereas Equestria in general sees no problem with same-sex relationships. It also comes out that Donner has very few friends in her life, so Sweetie explains how Twilight used to have the same problem, but learned to work though it, literally becoming the Princess of Friendship.

Donner seems to relax finally, and the two have a more amiable chat. Near the end, Donner asks Sweetie tp promise not to tell anyone. Both about the kiss, and that she's gay. She admits she hasn't even told her family, and Sweetie advises her that secrets like that only hurt the more they're kept. She also says she knows Donner's family would never hate her for something like that, though she admits she doesn't really know how the rest of Caribou society mike take it. In the end though, Sweetie admits it's Donner's secret to keep or not, but in return for her promise, she makes Donner promise one thing as well. That is, to keep trying, to "kiss some more mares" until she finds one that loves her the way she deserves. Donner agrees, but then Sweetie says this is too important, so they have to do it right, and demonstrates the proper Pinkie Promise technique. The two laugh a bit before falling asleep.

There's a flash to Pinkie Pie, who's flying over the Equestria Space Corps Training Grounds (previously Sweet Apple Acres) as her Pinkie sense goes crazy at the size of the promise that was just made. But she senses the laughter as well, and figures things will probably work out okay.

Chapter 10: Shadows in the Dark

Opening in an unknown place and time, a mare walks through a desert. It's soon revealed that the mare is Rainbow Dash. She attempts to fly away and escape, but a pain in her wing stops her.

Behind her, vines seemingly tangle her wing. A strange voice approaches, offering to help, which Dash is grateful for, but when the voice suggests it's too tangled and must be "cut loose" the horror sets in as Dash realizes this new unicorn means to cut off her wing.

Dash refuses, and the mare offers to help in return for a favor, a "ride out of... here." As the discussion continues, she realizes this mare The Nightmare that corrupted Luna years ago.

The Nightmare offers to heal Dash's wing (frostbitten in real life) and make her stronger and faster than ever if she but joins her. Dash refuses, and gets bolder now that she knows the enemy.

In the end, Dash refuses and the nightmare leaves in a huff.

The next scene is a dream of Fluttershy's, wherein an injured Dash crashes before her. When she tries to help, Dash freaks out, and then the Nightmare approaches, saying it must be hard to be a freak. That's when Fluttershy remembers her changed, dragonequus-like form. But she also remembers her friends, and that they still love her in the real world, so she politely declines the Nightmare's offer.

The Nightmare doubles-down though, implying that while Fluttershy may be okay as a "freak" her foal may be teased endlessly, and left friendless. Fluttershy says of course she has no foal, and the Nightmare smirks, saying "but it's in the works, isn't it?" Fluttershy doesn't admit anything, but asks what she'd want in return. When the Nightmare mentions joining her, Fluttershy again declines, and asks the intruder to leave. The Nightmare laughs, saying who is she to boss around such a being. Fluttershy then hits her with The Stare and she's forced from the dream.

The next dream is Blitzen's. He's sledding. The Nightmare tries to make his dream a horror by manifesting a cliff where none was before. He just loves it though, as Caribou know how to fly already... at least before the Hole. When the Nightmare mentions the Hole took that away, Blitzen gets a little sad, then cheers up because his "roomate" said they'd fix it.

Curious at this, the Nightmare asks about his companion, and quickly discovers that he's sharing a tent with Discord, and abandons the dream, leaving Blitzen to sled in gnarly peace.

Blinking into the next dream, she finds Discord in Fluttershy's cottage, and he greets her as "Sister" which she denies, even though they were both creations of Nemesis ("Dear ol' Dad.")

The Nightmare points out how Discord's magic is gone, and she almost overlooked him. She insists he tell her where it is, and though he refuses, his subconcious betrays him and an old film reel plays behind him, showing the scene where he gave his power to Fluttershy.

The Nightmare offers to return his power if he joins her, and he adamantly refuses. So she threatens instead to go take it from the weak pony he gave it to. Discord laughs it off, telling her she wouldn't make it three steps if she tried to fight Fluttershy. The Nightmare laughs as well, saying she seemed to be the most fearful pony ever, and it'd be child's play to bend her to her will.

Discord laughs again, saying that's exactly why he gave his power to her in the first place. Nightmare jokes about "love and friendship" and Discord admits those are strong too, but no... He gave his power to Fluttershy because she was the one pony he was certain would never abuse it.

"But she's afraid of her own shadow!" The nightmare insists. "Yes," Discord replied, "But strength doesn't come from a lack of fear, but in how we face our fears" and explains that Fluttershy, by virtue of being so fearful, is the strongest pony he's ever met. He then dares the Nightmare to go and try, and he'll be waiting to celebrate her failure. When the Nightmare balks, he realizes she already did try, and failed.

The nightmare leaves in another huff, and Discord is left lamening why it always has to be so difficult with family.

The next dream is Donner's. She's in Hartholm, in University. It's a rainy, depressing day, and seems to recall a time when she was in a stage play. The actor playing her counter part in a romance didn't make it for his reading, so a female caribou stood in for him. Yet Donner, when it came time for the kiss in the scene, kissed her anyway. The girl freaks out, and calls her names like dyke and cowlicker, as do the other students, and Donner is left to flee the scene.

She runs through the rainy streets, and finds her home, and an oversized image of her father, who is likewise ashamed by his "pervert" daughter. He denies her and she flees again.

She ends up sobbing in a deserted street when the Nightmare finds her. This time, the creature is taking a softer tact, asking what's wrong, and Donner mistakes her for the godess Nótt that her father had told her about in stories.

The Nightmare likes being respected, and offers Donner a seat. After a bit of confusion, she realizes the creature is not a goddess, but something else, a "Dökkálfar" (dark elf) perhaps. The Nightmare tries to soothe her anyway, offering her hapiness in many forms. She offers to make Sweetie (or any mare she wants) love her, and Donner refuses. She offers instead to make her "normal" so she'd be interested in males, but she refuses again, saying that wouldn't be true to the promise she'd made to Sweetie to be herself. Lastly, the Nightmare offers to make her a bull, so she could love mares, and not be considered abnormal. Donner refuses again.

Getting frustrated, The Nightmare summons a dream version of Sweetie, who advances on donner, professing her love and desire. Donner backs away, angry, yet wanting so, so much for it to be true. The false Sweetie continues pressing, begging Donner to love her back, and Donner, in tears, finally shouts at her to go away.

The false Sweetie vanishes, and the Nightmare says, in an unexpectedly calm way, that Donner isn't worth her time, before vanishing herself as well.

The final dream opens outside a prehistoric cave, where a giant spider spins a web, and other, multi-legged things roam. The Nightmare realizes this is already a horror dream, and she won't have to work to scare the dreamer here, so she turns to mist and takes up residence in a crevice of the cave, waiting for the horror to play out so she can attack when the dreamer is most vulnerable.

The dream goes as she expects at first, two sets of hoofsteps approach and the spider questions their prescenes. When there is no answer though, the Nightmare moves in for a closer look. She realizes all the creatures are focused on her, not the new arrival, and are asking why SHE is in their dream. She has a moment of fear and falls into the waiting limbs of an eight-legged, cave-pony Sweetie Belle.

Actually, all the creatures: spiders, crab-i-corns, and cave-pony are Sweetie Belle, Sweetie explains. She's expirimenting with 8-legged forms in her dream after hearing about Slepnir. The Nightmare can't believe it, as a fractured self is almost unheard of in the dreamscape, yet it seems true.

Sweetie then (cheerfully) questions who the intruder is. She enthuses that Luna was the only pony she knew that could dream walk, and the Nightmare briefly plays as though she IS Luna. Sweetie says nice try, and that her disguised aura almost worked... then she realizes it's not a disguise at all, but rather, this is the thing that was bound to Luna, and so has a similar "taste."

The Nightmare, realizing she's way out of her depth, still gives it the old college try when Sweetie asks why she's there. She gives a half-hearted speech about the power, and wishes, and etc. that could belong to Sweetie if she accepts and joins her, but before she can even finish, Sweetie says okay. The Nightmare is so surprised she has to ask her to repeat it. But Sweetie is gung-ho, and asks how to go about it.

"You just have to welcome me in," the Nightmare says. So Sweetie hugs her.

The next morning, the others wake up and realize Sweetie is changed. She's grown small fants, and her pupil's have become slits. Dash, reacting quickly, knocks her out cold and they tie her up. When she comes to, Sweetie promises she wasn't possessed, but joined her willingly to help a desperate and lonely creature in need. The others are not so sure though, so Sweetie lets the Nightmare take control (red mist glows around her eyes when this happens, a la Sombra) and she greets the others. Sweetie and the Nightmare go back and forth in terms of being in control of her body, and also have discussions inside Sweetie's mindscape in much faster than real time.

In the end, Donner says she wants to trust Sweetie, and if Sweetie trusts the newcomer, she will to. When they decided to give her a name (beacuse "The Nightmare" isn't exactly encouraging to trust) she takes the name Nótt and says that Donner has named her, after the dream they shared in the previous night.

After they decide to let her go, Sweetie makes a show of magically removing the ropes binding herself, and reminds everypony that ropes don't exactly stop magic, and they need to be more careful in the future. Discord tells her, no, they remembered, and Fluttershy snaps her talons, removing Sweetie's horn and magic. Sweetie panics, feeling betrayed, but quickly realizes that maybe she is a bit rash, and that almost got her friends killed in the Obleisk pit, so maybe it is for the best.

Once everything settles, Blitzen stumbles in, asking who the newcomer is. When introduced as Nótt, he says "not who?" right on cue, and Discord realizes that joke is going to last forever!

Interlude: A Farewell to Armoires

After a week or two, the expedition makes it into the inner slope of the mountains circling the pole. It gets a bit easier and warmer and they head downhill, but then things get bad.

Everyone wakes at dawn when the Luggage begins howling like an injured dog. It starts vomiting up random items, and its condition worsens.

Fluttershy and Discord do what they can, but nothing seems to help. It's a magic creature from another universe, Discord explains, so it's not the Hole or anything harming it. Fluttershy tries to sense its emotions, and gets only loss and sadness, like its giving up.

Discord surmises that its something to do with its roots, of where it's from. "Like how a spell fades when its caster dies" Sweetie suggests, and Fluttershy adds, "Or a pet refuing to go on when its master dies."

The magical chest coughs up a book, and Discord looks at it, seeing that it explains everything. The book is a well-read, dog-eared tome called "The Colour of Magic" and all the ponies say they feel like they know that story somehow, but they can't quite place it. When they ask who wrote it, Discord shows that the author's name is faded and worn, "like a memory faded with age." Fluttershy asks Discord if he can't maybe remember who wrote it.

Discord, for his part, gets a bit sentimental, saying he definitely remembers, and will always remember, "As will millions and millions of others in countless universes across all of time and space. The guy that wrote that, he created something so wonderful, so powerful, that it will never be forgotten."

Blitzen asks if he means the Luggage, and Discord laughs, saying that and so much more. He goes on to explain what's so special about the Luggage. Not just that it can hold everything, but that it can never be lost, that it will follow its owner anywhere, and not walls or mountains or oceans or planets can stop it. Not even being in the wrong universe or plane of existence.

Blitzen is confused, so Discord explains further. "My dear boy, The luggage simply got called home."

"But, isn't it dead?"

"Yes, exactly. NOTHING will stop it!"

(This chapter was written as my response to the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, who wrote The Colour of Magic (the first book of Discworld), inspired me to write, and forever changed my outlook on life. I like to imagine that, whereever he might have gone after death, the Luggage... HIS Luggage, will surely follow.)

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