• Published 10th Mar 2012
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Guilt and Hate - Mindblower

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Chapter One

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Chapter One

*******

Twilight Sparkle, the Element of Magic, was strolling through Ponyville. Her brow was furrowed as she intensely concentrated on something that was beyond her grasp. She flat-out disregarded everypony around her, even when they greeted her, acting like they didn’t exist. Because they didn’t. Twilight was in an illusion of pre-war Ponyville, as projected within her own heartsick dreams.

“Hey, Miss Sparkle?” A pony comprised entirely of runes and magical energies, Verba, asked Twilight. He was gliding lazily through the air behind her, as if he were floating on a salty lake. “You may want to tone down the realism a bit.”

“Why?” she asked in return.

“Well, ‘cause if you try to concentrate on too many things at once, it’ll all come crashing down on you before you get anywhere. Each of these ponies is a glass platter, and you’re carrying a good hundred of ‘em. I just don’t wanna have to gather up the shards, y’know what I’m saying?” Verba explained.

Twilight sighed, seeing that even as they spoke, some of the illusionary ponies were spasming and repeating their speech uncontrollably. She flicked her hoof to the side, and half of the ponies vanished completely while those remaining became translucent, though they didn’t seem to notice. The surrounding area lost its substance, with most of the objects and even some of the buildings turning transparent. “Sorry,” Twilight said dejectedly.

“No need. I can see that you’re hurting,” Verba said. “I’m just looking out for you, is all.”

“I know, I know,” Twilight huffed. “But I just want them all back so badly...”

“Most of them are still okay, Twilight,” Verba said softly, drifting over to her. “I’m not saying that the others are better off gone, but... What Obsidian used to tell me, he says, was that if we don’t let the spirits of our friends go, then they’ll never find out what’s beyond. All we can keep is their memory, because they can’t keep it for themselves.”

“And he’s been to the other world?” Twilight asked, more curious than spiteful.

“Well, no, but he’s twenty-five thousand years old, and a book worm, to boot. So he knows things that you or I wouldn’t,” Verba elaborated. “I’d trust him just because it isn’t right to hurt over the past. It’s been six months, Twilight, and we still have enemies. I hate to say it, but there’ll be more friends to mourn by the end of this, no doubt about it.”

They continued in silence for a while. Twilight grew a few exotic flowers by Twist’s house, in memory of her, and recreated Lyra and BonBon, having them chat together by Ponyville’s plaza.

“I’m telling you, this isn’t the right way to deal with things,” Verba cautioned. “Why not just wake yourself up and make something for them in real life?”

“Because I only get seven hours a day here, and it’s getting less and less,” Twilight grumbled. “Luna and I have been corresponding, and she says that there’s been more activity by the Lock as winter approaches. I’ve been all over Equestria trying to keep the peace before flocks of stallions come out of the blue and vigilante their way into a massacre. They want to help, but they have no idea what they’re up against,” Twilight sighed. “I know what it’s like to feel powerless, and it’s not sitting well with the rest of Equestria. I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to be before Discord strikes again, and if they do, it could mean riots across the entire country.”

“I hear you. But imagine how difficult Luna has it now that Celestia can’t do any of the paperwork,” Verba pointed out. “She needs a right-hoof mare, and you’re the go-to filly for any major bureaucratic operation.”

“Thanks, but it’s not that Celestia can’t do the work, it’s that she just won’t,” Twilight explained. “Celestia helps by giving speeches and going with me on travels, but she kind of leaves Luna in the dust sometimes. I guess it’s just part of her new character,” she shrugged.

“...Something like that,” Verba eventually said.

“Yeah... Hey, Verba? What is the Lock, anyway?” Twilight asked. “Isn’t it the opposite of the Gateway?”

“The Lock is Discord’s hideout, and yeah, it works kind of like the Gateway. It’s on the border of Equestria,” Verba explained. After seeing the look Twilight gave him, he added, “What, you didn’t think Equestria was the entire world, did you?”

“Well, no maps ever show anything outside it...” Twilight trailed off.

“Well, where’d you think the sun went when it set?” Verba laughed. “Yeah, Equestria is big, maybe even the biggest country on the planet, but it’s not all of it. The Lock rests outside Equestria, but since the land is so dry and useless there, no country’s ever claimed it. Part of the reason it’s so barren in the first place is because of the Lock itself, y’know, the actual fountain. It’s the opposite of the Gateway, which can make plants grow even deep underground.”

“Before Deception stole the Source,” Twilight said bitterly.

“Well, it could’ve been a few different ponies, like-” Verba cut himself off.

“Who?” Twilight asked.

Verba shook his head. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter anyway; Deception’s the only one who could’ve outsmarted Luna’s security. Just keep an eye out for her, and keep the other eye on Rainbow Dash. She’s Deception’s target.”

“Okay, but at any rate, I have a question,” Twilight began, trying to organize her thoughts.

“Oh really? That’s unlike you,” Verba grinned.

“Ha ha,” Twilight muttered back. “Anyway, if the Lock is Discord’s hideout, couldn’t we just end the war by destroying it, or taking its Source?”

“Well, that’s a no-go, for a couple reasons. One, it’s not worth it yet, because the Lock is located in the coldest, driest, darkest place in the world, all the way near the south pole. You’re going to need to build up your powers to their peak before you even think of going all the way out there. Two, it really wouldn’t matter all that much in the long run because taking Discord’s source wouldn’t hurt them directly. It’d just be an annoyance, like Deception shutting down the Gateway. Eventually you’re going to have to go there, but not to steal the second Source; you’re going to go there to put an end to the war once and for all. That’s Discord’s last safe haven; if you beat them there, you’ve beat them everywhere. Got it memorized?”

Twilight nodded, and the first rays of dawn began to breach her small dimension. It began as a dim light, but as they said their goodbyes, it began to grow into a flare that made Twilight’s fabricated sun look like a flickering candle.

“Guess this is it for now,” Verba said, unaffected by the brightening light.

“Yeah...” Twilight sighed. “Verba, will I always be able to talk to you like this?”

“I’m not going anywhere anytime soon,” Verba chuckled. “I’m here for you whenever you need me. And I’ll probably be there a couple times you don’t.”

“Why’s that?” she asked, shielding her eyes from the intensifying rays.

“‘Cause I like you, that’s why,” Verba said, playfully tussling Twilight’s mane. “You stay true to yourself Twilight, and everything’ll work out. My own personal philosophy.”

“Okay, Verba. See you tonight, then,” Twilight smiled, closing her eyes as the light grew even brighter.

“Tonight it is,” Verba confirmed.

And then the dream was over, and Twilight was awake.

=====================================================================

*******

Applejack put the finishing touches on the apple tart she was bringing to the return party of Pinkie and Rainbow Dash.

She hummed a tune as she taste tested. Mighty tasty, she finally decided. Hope they’ll like it. It’s been too long. Six months, I wonder how they survived? she chuckled to herself. Knowing Dash, Luna probably had to lasso her out of bed and tie her to the training grounds. The mare’s going to be sore after this is all over. Though I don’t know if Pinkie’s training is the same way.

Applejack heard a knock on the door. Placing the tart on a cooling rack, she rushed to answer it. “Twi? What brings you out here?” the orange mare asked, seeing a purple unicorn on the doorstep. “Ain’t time fer the party yet, is it?”

“No, but Dash and Pinkie are supposed to arrive any minute,” Twilight said. “You’d better hurry up.”

“Ah thought they were supposed ta come two hours from now!” Applejack sighed. “Ah’ll be right there. Yer house, right?”

“Yep. See you there,” Twilight said.

“Wait, Twi, will Spike be there?” Applejack asked. “Ah wasn’t sure if Ah should bring another tart.”

“No, he’s on a field trip to the Royal Gardens. He’ll be back in a few hours. Bye,” she finished, charging up a teleport and warping away.

Applejack rubbed her eyes; the flash from the teleportation was bright and she forgot to look away. She’s relying too much on that fancy magic, she muttered to herself. Doesn’t seem like a day goes by now when I can’t worry about being blinded.

Throwing on a jacket for the brisk fall weather, Applejack carefully cradled the tarts in her saddlebags and raced along the leaf-covered path leading to the center of Ponyville, her beloved home.

As she was strolling through the sunlit lanes, she noticed the unusual amount of tension in the air. Huh... Nopony looks as happy as they usually do. Everpony’s nervous, like they can’t stand still. Do they think Discord’ll get them?

“Applejack? Applejack!”

“Huh? Oh!” Applejack exclaimed, seeing sompony suddenly standing directly in front of her and looking a tad annoyed “Howdy, Rarity. Where’d you come from?”
“I was standing in front of you, darling,” Rarity explained, with a tight smile on her face.

“Oh, uh, pardon me,” Applejack said. “Why so tense, sugarcube?”

“Oh, just that I’ve been a tad invisible to ponies lately,” Rarity said. “Are you on your way to Twilight’s as well?”

“Uh-huh,” Applejack replied.

“Well, come on, let’s go,” Rarity prompted, walking along the path, expertly disguising her irritation.

“Somethin’ wrong, Rarity?” Applejack asked.

She sighed. “I can’t seem to get anypony’s attention nowadays. I try to talk with clients at the boutique, and all I get is a blank stare. I try to carry a decent conversation at the market and I end up having a two-sided conversation with myself, for Celestia’s sake! Not to mention the two adolescents in my hair day in and day out. They stop in for meals and bedtime and are gone the rest of the day.”

“Ah almost forgot, how are they?” Applejack asked. “Scootaloo gettin’ in yer mane again?”

“No, it’s Sweetie Belle; she wants a nice dress but won’t settle for anything fashionable,” Rarity grumbled. “I’m not sure which is worse, having a passé sister or being attacked by the Daymare.”

“Aw, come on, Rarity, it can’t be that bad,” Applejack said.

“You have absolutely no idea what my life’s been like, Applejack, and you won’t until you’ve had two teens of your own, now will you?” Rarity said. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I’m not in the best mood today.”

“Naw, Ah bet we were all the exact same way when we were little. Just part a growin’ up,” she said, arriving at Twilight’s house. “If ya want, Ah’ll take ‘em off yer hooves for the weekend.”

“I would like that very much, Applejack, thank you,” Rarity said.

“I’m glad you could make it,” Twilight said from around the side of the house. She had a scarf wrapped around her purple mane to protect from the chilly weather. “They should be here any minute.”

“Where’s Fluttershy?” Applejack asked.

“Inside, getting Olly. He’s buried in one of my old chapter books,” Twilight said. She squinted, staring at the sky behind the pair in front of her. “I think that’s them right over there!”

Sure enough, a white chariot came tumbling down out of the sky, fighting against the wind. However, before it landed, a blue pegasus leapt out and plummeted toward the ground, stopping her descent just before the cool ground below.

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight yelled, a wide smile on her face.

The flashy show-off was easily distinguishable from any other pony for one simple reason: She wore expensive, glimmering armor. It was a silvery metal suit that covered her chest, head, and hooves. Also, if you looked closely, you would see that her eyes lacked pupils, they were just fiery red irises.

“Dash, where did you get that armor?” Rarity asked. “It’s gorgeous!”

“Yeah, I hate it, too,” Dash smiled. “Glad to see you all. It’s been what, six months?”

“It feels like years to me,” Fluttershy said. “We all missed you a lot.”

“Yeah, I know. Ten bits to whoever can guess the metal I’m wearing,” Dash said with a grin.

Hmm, Twilight thought. Iron and steel are too heavy for a pegasus... titanium? No... “Mithril?” she finally guessed.

“Aw, Twilight,” Dash rolled her eyes. “I knew you would know it.”

“But ain’t mithril some made-up metal like in the ponytales?” Applejack asked.

“No, steel can be alloyed with quicksilver and enchanted,” Twilight explained. “I’m surprised the Princess had any on hoof. How was your training, by the way?”

“Super!” a pink earth pony said from the landed chariot. She had bright blue irises instead of regular eyes, as well. “I have oodles of things to tell you all; you won’t even believe some of the things we had to do!” She hopped out of the chariot, and it departed.

“Just a few more pages,” another voice complained.

“I know, but Twilight asked me to--Dash! Pinkie!” Fluttershy squealed, rushing up and pulling both her friends into a tight hug. “They didn’t hurt you, did they? No scrapes or bruises?”

Olly was close behind, paging through a novel. The rust-maned unicorn thrust the book into his saddlebags and trotted up with the rest of the group. “This is quite the little shin-dig you’ve got here, isn’t it?”

Dash released herself from Fluttershy’s grip. “I guess.”

“Was the training hard?” Olly asked.

Yes,” Dash said wearily.

“No!” Pinkie chirped at almost exactly the same time.

“Well, we had different things to do,” Dash said. “Luna kinda, well, beat the living daylights out of me!” she moaned, rubbing her eyes. “Being a warrior is so hard it’s not even funny.”

Olly laughed and nudged Dash. “Aren’t you the tough one?”

“Well, now I could beat all of you to a pulp!” Dash said, nudging Olly back. “But I’m serious, it was insane. A sonic rainboom is something I can do whenever I want now, after a million times with Luna on my tail making me fly faster. And then there were the rehearsals and performances with the Wonderbolts.”

“Wow,” Rarity said. “You must have been stretched thin.”

“No kidding,” Dash grumbled.

“How was your training, Pinkie?” Twilight asked.

“Super-duper!” she smiled. “I did all these fun things with Celestia in order to help develop my powers, like throwing parties, putting on shows, and baking cupcakes!”

“Cupcakes?” Applejack asked. “What kind?”

“Vanilla, chocolate, berry, watermelon, you name it! I had to help all of these disabled ponies do it, too. It was kind of sad at first, but I made them all laugh by the end,” Pinkie explained.

“Pinkie asked me for help one day a month or two ago,” Dash said. “That probably wouldn’t have turned out too well.”

“It’s because the cupcakes had a specific recipe, and I needed you to taste-test!” Pinkie defended. “If it weren’t for your Wonderbolts performance you could have, too.”

“I didn’t have a Wonderbolts performance, Pinkie; I was dead tired, okay?” Dash laughed. “You asked me at ten at night!”

“Oh, well, it’s not too big a deal, we can do it again another time!” Pinkie chirped happily.

“Can we go inside?” Rarity asked. “It’s a little chilly.”

Twilight nodded. Suddenly, a downpour began. But not just any downpour.

“Ugh!” Rarity said, stepping out from under a pink raincloud that had abruptly appeared over the small group of friends. “What’s this?”

Pinkie stuck out her tongue and tasted the ‘rain.’ “Hmm... chocolate milk?”

“Chocolate rain?” Olly laughed.

*******

“I thought it wasn’t supposed to rain until tomorrow, and it never rains chocolate,” Dash said. She leapt into the air. “Something’s up.” The blue warrior flew up and tried to disperse the cloud, but it evaded her grasp. “Hey! Come back here, you!”

Pinkie was giggling away. “Best vacation ever!” she yelled, racing after Rainbow Dash.

“Um...” Twilight trailed off. She looked at the others. “Plans postponed?”

“We had a plan?” Olly asked.

The group raced off to meet their friends.

=====================================================================

Dash tried to catch up with the pink puffball in front of her, but when she finally caught up with it, she had a nasty surprise. The sticky pink vapor stuck to her armor. “Bleh!” she said, trying to wipe away the wet, sugary paste. “This isn’t a cloud!”

Several such clouds were all around the Ponyville area. The weather’s going crazy! Dash remarked.

Pinkie had grounded a low-flying cloud and was munching away at it. “Mm! Cotton candy!” she said with her mouth full.

Twilight was laughing a bit, as well. “So much for a quiet town!”

“I’ll say!” Olly said. “Does this have something to do with that spell you were preparing?”

“No, I have no idea where all this is coming from,” Twilight said. This doesn’t have a single thing to do with the Necromancy I was working on, so what is it?

Applejack ran up to her family farm, and was shocked to see her corn field suddenly burst into a popcorn factory, and the apples on her apple trees turning into bunches of grapes. “Popcorn? Grape trees? What the hay is goin’ on?”

“I dunno, but I’m having a blast!” Pinkie laughed, bounding through the fields of popcorn.

“Wait, I might have a spell for this,” Twilight said. “Can you keep everything under control while I’m gone?”

Ugh, it’s so dirty out here, Rarity thought, trying hard to avoid the drops of chocolate rain that were falling all around her, dripping down her once-elegant mane. “I’ll manage, but hurry, please!”

Fluttershy saw a white bunny gnawing away at an oversized grape vine. “Angel?” she asked, getting close to the bunny. Other woodland animals were chewing away at Applejack’s crops as well.

“Fluttershy!” Applejack pleaded, frustrated at the circumstances. “Do somethin’!”

“Um, Angel, you really shouldn’t be-” Fluttershy began, before Angel suddenly sprouted wings and flew off, carrying a few bundles of grapes along with him. “Ee! No, no, that shouldn’t really be possible, um,” she stuttered.

Dash raced to chase down all of the clouds and bunch them together while Applejack got rope to tie them down. Pinkie had her mouth wide open beneath a cloud of chocolate rain and was lying on the dirt, soaking up all the sweets she could.

“That should be the last of ‘em, Dash,” Applejack said, tying down the clouds and letting the animals, and Pinkie, chew away at them. “And ya can have popcorn fer dessert!” she said.

“Huh,” Olly said, staring at Pinkie, who was gnawing away. “She has quite the appetite.”

“Ya don’t know the half ‘a it,” Applejack laughed. “Any idea what caused all this ruckus?”

“Hang on, girls, let me fix all this!” Twilight said, running up with her spellbook. She was wearing a golden crown with an irregular six-tined jewel at the center. Her unicorn horn and her crown glowed as she charged up her magic. “Eliminare omnia quae alienos!” she yelled, executing a powerful magical command.

The grapevines on the trees morphed back into apples. The woodland animals lost their wings and were gently lowered to the ground, the pink cotton candy clouds turning back into water and dissipating. Time seemed to be rolling backward in the corn fields, each kernel shrinking and planting itself back into its husk.

*******

“Aw, you ruined all the fun!” a strange voice from nearby said.

Twilight sharply turned to see a very strange-looking creature. It was a being that looked as though its body parts had all been taken from various animals and sewn together haphazardly. The creature had a horse-like head with both a deer antler and a goat horn, one fang and a small beard hanging off its chin. His four appendages were an eagle’s talon, a lizard’s leg, a goat’s leg, and a lion’s paw. He had a snake tail and both a dragon’s wing and a black pegasus wing. Its body was formed like a snake and its spine, or lack thereof, was very pronounced in its bendy nature.

“I was enjoying that chaos, and it wasn’t polite that you stopped it without asking,” the creature scolded.

“What are you, and what do you want?” Twilight asked.

The creature scoffed. “Are you trying to be rude? You could at least ask my name, for crying out loud.”

A white alicorn swooped down from the sky. She had a bright red, orange, and yellow mane that visibly flowed in the sunlight. She was an extremely bright white and her cutie mark was of an amber sun. “Discord,” she growled, landing harshly with a tremor that almost made Fluttershy fall over.

“That’s Sir Discord to you, Celestia,” the creature grinned, folding his arms, “considering that you are no longer my equal.”

“Princess?” Twilight asked. What’s Princess Celestia doing here? It probably has something to do with this thing and the weird weather and events. “What are you doing here? What’s going on?”

“I consider my explanation more worthy than that of your twisted ruler’s. If I may,” Discord offered. He vanished in a spark of light and reappeared behind the group.

“Don’t listen to him, he speaks nothing but lies,” Celestia said with a glare, something Twilight had not yet seen from her ruler.

“Oh, pish, posh, Celestia, that’s Deception’s job,” Discord rolled his eyes. “I’m only here to deliver a message, and perhaps have some fun in the process. You know how I get if I don’t have my daily dose of mayhem. Quite nasty, if memory serves.”

“Say it and leave. Now,” Celestia commanded.

“Well, if you want to be hasty, I can take all the time I please,” Discord yawned, sitting down on an invisible lawn chair. “After all, like I said, you really don’t have any power over me, now do you? Hmm? Do you?” he asked, taunting the angered ruler.

“Don’t talk to our Princess like that!” Dash snapped, taking a swipe at Discord, but he just warped behind the group once again. He was now standing upside-down on an invisible, mid-air floor.

“Isn’t it frustrating when you don’t have any control of the situation, Rainbow Dash, Element of Loyalty?” Discord asked. “You’ll be feeling that quite a lot over the next few days.”

“What do you want to tell us?” Olly asked.

“And how do you know my name?” Dash asked.

“I know everything about you; it’s my job,” Discord answered. “I am to the Elements of Discord what Obsidian is to you. I control the chaos and manipulate it to pierce the very fabric of civilization, of life itself. And you, Rarity, the Element of Generosity, are an imperfection.”

“An imperfection?” Rarity asked, shocked and angered.

“Yes. In order to complete civilization, Harmony must be removed,” Discord continued. “And I’m here to ensure that you don’t get in our way.”

“Another lie; he’s weaker than Envy,” Celestia said. “He’s only here to annoy us.”

“If that’s what you want to believe, go on ahead,” Discord shrugged, flying around the group. “Underestimation is a perfect tool for an aspiring villain. I’m sure you know that, Fluttershy, Element of Kindness.”

“What do you mean?” Fluttershy asked.

“Enough of this! What is your message, Discord?” Celestia demanded.

“Can I have a ‘please?’” Discord asked. “As the despot of Equestria, I would expect that you know at least basic manners. I’ll admit I’m disappointed in you, Celestia. I expected better.”

“You made most of the ponies of Equestria wish they were dead; I have no respect for you or your methods, and I’m not going to give you a ‘please!’” Celestia shouted. “Tell us your message.”

“Well, fine, be that way,” Discord huffed. “But now, I’m going to tell you with my own... creative spin.” He swooped in between the group stealthily, practically whispering in their ears. “You’re looking for an answer that’s fast and easy, but what that entails may make you queasy. You must find a city deep in the sky, but in this city, you cannot fly. But in order to find exactly what you seek, the first thing you must do...” he said, now at Applejack’s side. “...is abandon the weak.”

“I believe I speak for everypony here when I ask, what?” Olly asked, bewildered.

Discord laughed. “Why in Equestria would I tell you? Have a fantastic day, Elements, for they are quite numbered,” he smirked before vanishing.

*******

Celestia sighed. “He’s so annoying. Just what I needed, another headache to worry about.”

“What was he sayin’?” Applejack asked. “Somethin’ about a city deep in the sky? There can’t be a place like that!”

“And abandoning the weak,” Olly said. “Sounds like we have a nasty trip ahead of us. Again,” he added.

“Celestia, is Discord planning another attack that we didn’t know about?” Twilight asked her mentor.

Celestia shook her head. “They are, but this is the first I’ve heard of it, as well. As soon as I heard about the strange weather, I rushed over. I had imprisoned Discord in stone before, but it appears somepony has broken him free.”

“That screwball again? What is it with her and messing with us?” Dash asked.

“It’s her job. Where your job is to protect and safeguard, Dash, hers is to undermine and sabotage. She’s nasty,” Celestia added, “a slimy snake that won’t hesitate to poison everypony you love.”

“Ouch. Sounds unpleasant,” Olly said. “But I’m sure she can’t do too much damage, right? I mean, she’s only one pony.”

Don’t underestimate her,” Celestia commanded. “She’s capable of a lot more than she looks.”

“Well, anyway,” Twilight said. “What are we supposed to do now?”

“We should start with figuring out Discord’s riddle,” Rarity suggested.

“Yes,” Fluttershy agreed. “It started out by saying that we’re looking for an answer that’s fast but easy, and what it entails will make us queasy.”

“Yeah,” Dash said. “Something about finding a castle deep in the sky. How does that even work?” she scratched her forehead.

“And in this city, we can’t fly,” Applejack finshed. “Not that Ah could fly anyways, but if a city’s in the sky like Cloudsdale, and real high up like in the riddle, how’d we not be able ta fly?”

“That’s easy; it’s on a mountain,” Twilight said. “Deep in the sky, so probably on a tall mountain.”

“What about the part where we couldn’t fly?” Pinkie asked.

“Some sections of cities are indoors, so I guess that takes care of that part,” Twilight said, though she wasn’t so sure. “Anyway, we could ask Luna to look for it with her magic.”

Celestia nodded. “Okay. I’ll go off to tell her, and you prepare for your departure. I’m sorry about asking this of you so soon, but it’s really urgent that we’re ready for an attack. We can meet in Fillydelphia. You should be able to get there by dusk tomorrow.”

“What about training?” Pinkie asked. “I thought we were putting on a show for seniors tomorrow!”

“That’ll have to wait. Sorry, Pinkie, but lives could be at stake,” Celestia explained. “I’ll meet you there. Goodbye,” she said, her horn glowing as she warped away.

“Ah need to clean up these farms,” Applejack grumbled. “Sorry if Ah can’t make it to the party.”

“At this point, I think all our plans are cancelled,” Twilight sighed, disappointed. “We should be going home and getting ready.”

“Not until I see Scoot,” Dash said. “I’ll catch you later, okay?”

“Have fun!” Pinkie chirped, waving as Dash took to the air and flew off.

The blue pegasus set off back along the trail. Rebuilding worker ponies from all over Equestria had finally started to trickle out of the renovated Ponyville, and Dash said hi to them on the way.

Jeez, when will it end? It’s been half a year, for Celestia’s sake, Dash grumbled to herself, giving a teen a high hoof.

Dash caught a lot of strange looks from her glimmering armor, but she ignored them and walked straight to the schoolhouse, waiting until they let out.

She should be here any second, Dash thought. She had climbed into a tree and was silently watching.

Sure enough, a bright orange pegasus mare with a spiky purple mane started to walk out with a bright white unicorn mare that had a lighter purple mane. They were excitedly talking and hustling from school, right under Dash, who dove down and surprised them.

“Wah!” the white unicorn, Sweetie Belle, yelped, flopping onto her back. “Don’t hurt me!”

“Dash, is that you?” Scootaloo asked in awe, staring at the warrior in front of her.

“What, you don’t recognize me?” Dash laughed, helping Sweetie Belle up and high-hooving both of them. “What’s up?”

Scootaloo stared at Dash. “Dash, you... you’re buff!

Dash burst out laughing. It was true that she gained some muscle, but most of her training just toned all the baby fat out of her. “Jeez, does that mean I’m going to star in Rarity’s swimsuit edition?”

“No, but you totally could!” Scootaloo said. “Whatever they did to you, I want some!”

“Yeah, no,” Dash said. “Trust me, Luna kicked my butt.”

“Where did you get that armor?” Sweetie Belle asked. “It’s so pretty.”

“A gift from Celestia,” Dash answered. “Hey, how about we go to Rarity’s and see if we can get something to eat.”

“Does that mean you’re actually going to pose for Rarity’s swimsuit edition?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“No, Soarin’ would never let me hear the end of it,” Dash laughed. “He’d have pictures posted all over his dorm for months.”

Suddenly, there was a massive pulse of darkness far up in the sky. “Huh?” Dash asked, turning to look at it.

A deathly cool wind washed over the park. Scootaloo shivered and suppressed a sneeze, the wind only affecting her physically, but Dash sharply inhaled as though icy fingers were clawing at her heart and stomach.

“What was that?” Scootaloo asked.

“Nothing good,” Dash muttered. “Let’s get inside.”

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[Note]: I do not own anything in this story that already belongs to someone else.
This story takes place BEFORE season two, but AFTER season one.
Please let me know if a link doesn’t work.
Cover image by HereticOfDune; illustration by LingLiJing