• Published 26th Jan 2014
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The Heart of an Author - Oroboro

Mystery. Love. Magic. Murder. Truth. These are all important elements in the murder mystery Fluttershy has written, and is now asking Twilight to read. But she struggles to solve the mystery in which it turns out she's the protagonist.

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Chapter 22 - Celestial Apocrypha

Twilight held eye contact with Golden Wish until she felt she had conferred the appropriate amount of challenge. She then turned up her nose at Golden Wish and trotted over to sit with Luna. She had to suppress a grin at the annoyed glare she could feel behind her.

“Are you alright?” Twilight asked, sliding into the seat beside Luna and leaning in close to whisper.

Luna nodded, smiling softly. “You do not have to expend any energy worrying about me, Twilight Sparkle. Focus on your fight.” With a glance to the peanut gallery, she added, “Your performance down there was quite admirable, by the way.”

Twilight let out a long, shuddering sigh. When this was over, she was going to take a nice, long bath, relax, and never touch a mystery novel again.

“Still,” Luna said, rolling her shoulders, “a series of linked closed rooms. That is quite the devious trick.”

“Do you have much experience with mystery novels and locked rooms?”

Luna chuckled ruefully, her eyes growing somewhat distant. “Fiction has changed much in the past one thousand years. The collection of tropes and tricks that codify what you know as the mystery genre are at best a century old. However, the core of good storytelling remains essentially the same, and I would like to think I still have a good grasp on what makes a pony a pony.”

Twilight nodded, giving the thought some consideration. “You don’t know the answer to this one then, do you?”

Luna shook her head. “Fluttershy told me the solutions to the mysteries in her novels, but this particular puzzle is new. I suspect the heart remains the same, and I could make a reasonable guess based on what she spoke of to me, but it is not my place to say.”

“I see.” Twilight let her head sink into her hooves and pressed at her temples. A chained room loop. Round and round the murder goes, where it stops, what pony could know? There had to be both a start point and an end point somewhere. The trick was to find it.

A chill ran down her spine as it occurred to her that the nature of the twisted logic duels in the first place was pretty much designed to allow quick thinking and passion to rule the day, rather than careful deliberation and problem solving. It was a stacked deck in favor of the one who held all the cards, and obfuscation and deception seemed to reign queen.

“There’s no time like the present,” Twilight mumbled. With a glance towards Infinite Miracle and Absolute Certainty, Twilight turned to Luna and asked, “I trust you’ll have my back out there if things get weird?”

Luna snorted and met Twilight’s eyes. “I’ll do my best. Although I’m not sure if things can really get weirder at this point.”

Twilight threw her forelegs around Luna in a quick hug. Even though it hadn’t been all that long from her perspective, the mere warmth of another pony was a welcome boon. While she was confident in her ability to handle this alone, it was nice to know that she didn’t have to.

Not to mention that with the judging eyes of a pony she respected watching over her, she was less likely to do something alone in the dark that she would end up regretting.

With another wary look towards Infinite Miracle, Twilight exited the booth and made her way to the center of the room. She took her time, taking slow steps, and making sure to crack her neck in both directions and roll her shoulders while maintaining eye contact with Golden Wish.

“Took you long enough,” Golden Wish said, annoyance flickering across her face and infiltrating her tone. “Are you sure you’ve rested enough? Perhaps we can stop for some nice tea and biscuits. I wouldn’t want to face you at anything but your finest, after all.”

Thrust. Parry. Riposte. “This is all a little overblown and theatrical, isn’t it? The only way I could roll my eyes any harder is if you decided to hold this joke of an argument in an actual theater.”

Golden Wish’s eyes narrowed and her cheeks puffed out. “I thought the setting quite fits the gravitas of the situation. There’s an awful lot at stake here, after all, Twilight Sparkle. Besides, it allows for a proper audience reception.”

Golden Wish gestured towards the gallery, and Twilight turned and sucked in a sharp breath through her teeth.

Her friends were there. Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Princess Celestia, and, oddly enough, another Princess Luna. They sat in the front row, stiff as boards and entirely unmoving, their eyes locked straight ahead in an unseeing gaze. They looked more like wax statues than living, breathing ponies.

“You’ve got a pretty sick sense of humor, you know that?” Twilight growled under her breath. “Every time I start to forget, just a little, or maybe even start to have a little fun, you always turn it back around and remind me of what an evil bitch you are.”

Golden Wish stared down at her and spoke, her voice ice cold. “Good. I’m the villain, after all.”

There was resounding crash, and Twilight spun to find a large stone tablet embedded in the floor and a cloud of dust flying out across the courtroom. The tablet was quickly followed by a matching pair which materialized from the ceiling and dropped down as Twilight shielded herself, coughing quietly.

The two tablets framed the center of the room nicely, and the one on the right started to burn with a bright red flame. Words took form upon it, glowing and looking as though each letter was a window into some sort of molten core. After she stopped coughing and stopped to examine it more closely, Twilight recognized the words as the red truths already spoken, or written, as it were.

“The terms of our game,” Golden Wish announced, gesturing to the tablets, “as already established. If you want to beat me, Twilight, you’ll have to tear open each and every closed room and expose its ugly guts to the world at large. Including, of course, our newest four.”

Twilight’s eyes flicked over the assembled truths. It was a handy reference, though it lacked the full context each was given in. She would have to remember to consider each one with even more caution than normal. “Fine. Let’s tackle this little ‘closed room loop’ of yours you seem proud of. Give me some red truths so we have a place to get started.”

Golden Wish clucked her tongue and shook her head. “Now now. Just demanding that I give you the answers. How delightfully ostentatious of you.”

Twilight idly tapped a hoof on the ground, saying nothing.

“Very well,” Golden Wish said, letting out an overblown sigh. “I suppose I can start with that much, since we’re such good friends and all. The bedrooms of Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie are all individually Golden Closed Rooms. Furthermore, the ‘Closed Room Loop’ will be defined as all four rooms together.”

No magic. No hidden doors. Windows locked from the inside. Those were the basic premises of the game, and she had confirmed most of those truths during her own investigation anyway. If this were a real murder scene, she could never be one hundred percent certain that magic wasn’t used, or that there wasn’t a hidden door hidden so cleverly that she’d never find it, but in a world of fiction backed by Knocks’ laws, if she couldn’t find it, it might as well not exist.

“That was already a given,” Twilight said, checking to see that the new truth was inscribed on the stone tablet below the others. “What about the keys?”

“What about them? Do you have some kind of theory that involves the keys in some way?”

Twilight fixed Golden Wish with a level stare. “Are you seriously going to make me do this? If such a lame answer was actually the solution I’d just leave now and eat the book.”

Golden Wish threw her head back in a high pitched giggle. “Wouldn’t that be a sight to see? Come on, Twilight! Think of it as a warm up exercise, get that blood pumping!”

Twilight rolled her eyes and fired up her horn. The magic that came to her felt different than the facsimile of a truth spell she had acted out with Fluttershy. Here in the realm of fiction it became real, became law. The aura of her horn glowed a fierce blue instead of its usual violet, and the energy that flowed through it felt strange and almost alien.

Rather than lashing out with violence, Twilight conjured a giant, glowing blue fountain pen, which slowly began to inscribe words on the empty tablet to the left of her, in time with her speech. “There are multiple copies of each key, or a single master key that can open all rooms. With either of these, the Closed Room Loop falls apart instantly.”

A faint tension settled around her awareness as she finished speaking, and the glowing blue letters she had written down pulsed with power. “Happy now?”

Golden Wish smiled bright, and actually pranced around a bit. “See! That wasn’t so hard, was it? I mean, you’re totally wrong, of course, but we can’t just bring out the big guns right away. Dance with me, Twilight! In the Closed Room Loop, there is only a single key in existence that can open each door, and all four keys are currently in your possession.”

There was a resounding crack that rang out through her mind, and she flinched as her blue inscription was struck from the tablet. The backlash of the disrupted energy didn’t necessarily hurt her, but uncomfortable would be an overly mild way of describing the sensation.

Golden Wish’s eyes glittered at Twilight’s reaction. “What’s the matter Twilight, too intense? I could turn it down a bit for you if you like. Or maybe you’re ready to ratchet it up to hyper violence instead?”

Twilight placed a hoof against her brow and took a deep breath, counting in her head. All of it, from the fluid and unpredictable manifestations of the logic battle, to Golden Wish’s consistent needling; it was all designed to make her angry, to distract her from finding the truth. Golden Wish had a pretty decent poker face, but Twilight was beginning to sense a strong undercurrent of desperation in the alicorn. Whatever she was hiding, she was absolutely terrified of Twilight uncovering it.

She felt eyes boring into her skull and turned up to see Infinite Miracle watching her implacably. When their eyes met, her lips curled into an almost imperceptible smile and she nodded faintly.

It was time for Twilight to make her move.

Simply throwing out random blue truths wasn’t going to do her any good. If she was going to break this wide open, she would have to construct a theory from the ground up; a theory that wove itself into a narrative that answered whodunnit, howdunnit, and whydunnit.

Easier said than done, of course, but it had been long enough since the initial drama with Fluttershy, and she had seen the story from so many perspectives that she should finally be able to pull it off.

“Alright, Goldy. I’m going to start from the beginning. First, a very simple premise that I probably should have clarified a long time ago. The Culprit is the same for every story and every closed room.

Golden Wish bit her lip, her brow furrowed in thought.

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “That’s the truth, isn’t it? Surely you can’t just ignore a basic truth like that, can you?”

“No, it’s not that,” Golden Wish said, shaking her head. “But how are you defining ‘Culprit?’”

That was a fair point, actually. She couldn’t afford to get hung up on definitions this late in the game. “A Culprit is… somepony who deliberately commits an act of murder.” A definition like that technically allowed for multiple culprits, as well as accomplices, whether they were willing or not.

Golden Wish let out a short breath. “Very well. I acknowledge it.”

Twilight watched as her blue truth slowly changed color and became a fierce red. No worries there, then. The same culprit featured in every game.

As for the pony she was going to pin down as the culprit…

“One last thing,” Twilight said, quickly sweeping her gaze over the statuettes of her friends. “There was a red truth right at the end of the second game, but it was given under somewhat dubious circumstances. Can I hear it from you, more clearly? Specifically, the one about the number of ponies in the mansion.”

There are no more than eight ponies in this mansion.

There it was. Knocks 1st already pretty much guaranteed it, but with a hard limit of eight, there was no room for the culprit to be some sort of mystery killer.

The culprit was one of the seven facsimiles watching the proceedings with empty eyes.

It was a pretty obvious conclusion, after all. That was just how mystery novels worked. But to think that one of her friends was capable of committing such atrocities, even in fiction… she hadn’t wanted to even consider it. The very idea made her feel sick and was against everything she stood for.

If she hadn’t been so hopelessly naive, she probably could have solved things the first time around. Since Golden Wish had been kind enough to provide the setting, she might as well play this like a courtroom drama.

The Culprit, is none other than…” Her breath caught in her throat, and she lowered her head, her voice coming out as a bare whisper. “Princess Celestia.

There was no audible gasp from the onlookers, no dramatic sting, no ‘To be continued in the next issue!’. Just silence, and the weight of all eyes upon her.

After an uncomfortably long pause Golden Wish spoke up, her voice carefully neutral. “Can you prove it?”

“I can,” Twilight said, raising her head. “I can provide an all encompassing theory that explains every closed room and provides motive as well.”

“Your own mentor, huh?” Golden Wish asked, her mouth twisting into a grin. “The pony you idolize most in the entire world. That’s gotta sting.”

Twilight didn’t respond, and instead glanced towards Luna, trying to look apologetic for accusing her sister. It wasn’t like she enjoyed the concept, but if that was how the story was written…

Luna’s face was a mask. Literally. Shadows swirled around her head, obscuring her expression. The rest of her body language didn’t seem to convey a sense of panic, and after a momentary start, Twilight realized it must just be another part of Infinite Miracle’s censorship. If Luna knew the truth, then she would have a reaction, one way or another, to the naming of Celestia as the culprit. Just seeing that much could constitute a spoiler.

Another catbox, however minor. Once this was over, she was going to have to add that stupid metaphor onto the growing list of ‘Never Again’s’. Either way, she had to keep pushing forward.

“The first closed room; the shed containing the corpses of Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. Can we see it?”

Golden Wish waved her horn, and the image of the scene appeared before them, as clear in Twilight’s mind as if it was plucked straight from her memory.

When she had previously tried to conquer the shed in twisted logic battles, the closed room had proven seemingly impenetrable. But there was something she missed, and in her refusal to suspect any of her friends, had probably cost her.

As the scene played out in front of her, Twilight wracked her brain, matching it up with the passages in Fluttershy’s novel.

Breakfast was interrupted, Rainbow Dash pulling her to the crime scene.

The shed was marked with the cutie marks of both corpses inside.

The door was locked, so Twilight was forced to break the door with magic.

The corpses were discovered: Pinkie Pie with her throat slit, Fluttershy mutilated beyond recognition.

Denial, investigation, grief.

“Wait, that’s not right,” Twilight muttered under her breath. She had gotten one of those facts wrong, a simple, basic assumption that was easily overlooked.

Rainbow Dash had told her that the shed door was locked. She had never actually checked for herself. The answer was so blindingly obvious she should have realized it immediately. If only she had been willing to doubt her friends from the start.

The shed door was never locked in the first place! I almost can’t believe it was that easy, but here we are!”

Twilight swung the truth down as if it were a massive hammer, a great blow that shattered the image of the shed before them.

Golden Wish lunged forward, a slender rapier of truth lashing out and deflecting the blow with surprising elegance and power. “Evidence in the shed pointed to the existence of the door being locked!” The image of the shed flickered back, fainter than before, and showed the shattered links of a chain lock scattered across the blood covered floor. “Care to explain that?”

Twilight shook her head. It was just a deflection, not an outright denial. “It’s possible that the culprit or someone else left broken chain links inside in order to provide the illusion of a locked door! Besides, who the hay puts a chain lock on the inside of a garden shed, anyway? I really should have clued in on that earlier.”

“In that case,” Golden Wish said, her voice a low growl. “You’re willing to call Rainbow Dash a liar? I thought you were pinning Celestia as the culprit here, what does this theory have to do with her, anyway?”

From the stands, the puppet of Rainbow Dash turned towards them, her motion unsettlingly stiff. With glistening eyes, she spoke, her voice a strange and distant echo. “Twilight, you really think I…?”

Don’t you dare!” Twilight snarled, her eyes burning with a cold blue flame as she met Golden Wish’s gaze. “Knock’s 9th: It is permitted for observers to let their own conclusions and observations be heard. It’s entirely possible that Rainbow Dash was mistaken or confused about the status of the door being locked. Or that she was a willing accomplice, and deliberately lied. Either way, the lock on that door only exists as the ephemeral truth of blind trust. Easy enough for the culprit to get in and out without any impediment whatsoever.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes and added, “Unless you have anything else you’d like to say?”

Golden Wish bit her lip and her eyes flicked down to the floor. “You still haven’t said how your precious mentor plays into your theory.”

“I’ll get to that,” Twilight said, waving a hoof. “For now, I’ll just focus on the how. But my theory stands.”

There was a hissing sound, and a blue snake darted from the ground, striking from behind Golden Wish as if to hamstring her. The truth settled into an azure manacle and chain, marking the first battle as won.

Peals of laughter erupted from above, and Absolute Certainty pranced around in her box seat. “She’s got you on the ropes already, Goldy, and it’s only the first round! Oh me, oh my, whatever will you do? Do you have any attacks left, or can you only sit there and defend pathetically as Twilight chips away at your pathetic facade? Perhaps if you kneel now and beg for forgiveness, somepony might take pity on you!”

More giggles followed, and Infinite Miracle shot her counterpart a knowing smile that seemed to suggest that, yes, that was exactly what was going to happen.

Twilight was unable to hold back the annoyance that flickered across her face. “I get what brought me here, but just what is it with you and these bozos, anyway?”

Golden Wish grimaced. “Those two… make this all possible. They’ve provided the medium, and maybe a push or two in the direction they prefer. The rest is up to us.”

“Tch.” Twilight spat on the ground, then rolled her shoulders. “Moving on then. The second closed room, with Rarity and Applejack.”

The scene flickered into life once more, and Twilight immediately felt herself grinning. It was pretty much the exact same trick! The closed room was held in place by a lie. By the same alleged accomplice, nonetheless.

Flicking her thoughts forward, it suddenly seemed like every closed room could be solved by taking that into account. That there was a lie holding the construction of each room in place, whether it was one explicit, a misunderstanding, or a false assumption about how each room was put together.

That was the thread of truth she had been missing.

Rainbow Dash lied, or was wrong about the state of the door of the second closed room! It was never locked in the first place!” Twilight howled, and the wave of blue energy swept across the ground, crashing towards Golden Wish like a tsunami of luminescent force.

Golden Wish took a few steps back, but was held in place by the blue chain still around her leg. Gritting her teeth, she slammed a red shield in front of her, and the wave smashed into it and around her. “When Rainbow Dash arrived at Rarity and Applejack’s room, the room was locked!

That couldn’t be right. Twilight quickly glanced over the tablet of inscribed reds, trying to remember what had been denied for this particular room. No windows, no hidden doors, nor magic, obviously. Additionally, no suicide or double murder, and the culprit wasn’t hiding inside the room when it was opened.

Which only left… nothing? No. There was a gaping hole in what Golden Wish had just said, and Twilight was only getting better at noticing such gaps, now that she had turned the chessboard around, so to speak.

“You said that the door was locked, but you left a part out! The door was locked with a key, but the interior chain lock was not set! The culprit just locked and left it, and Rainbow Dash had to bust the door down to get in after all.”

The crimson shield protecting Golden WIsh began to crack, but she held firm, her knees beginning to buckle under the onslaught. “Don’t you remember the scene prior to that one, where Rarity and Applejack reconciled with each other? They specifically locked the door and set the chain behind them!”

Twilight let out a contemptuous snort. “A scene like that, that plays out outside of the eyes of the detective… It might as well just be a complete fabrication, right? Even then, the scene after that was just a fade to black. Anything could have happened. For instance, they could have undone the chain and let a pony in that they thought they knew. Such as say, Princess Celestia. Unless you can provide a specific red saying the chain lock was set when Rainbow Dash arrived, my theory stands!”

The shield of red shattered, and another blue chain snaked out and clamped itself around Golden Wish, leaving both of her rear legs shackled. More raucous giggles erupted from above, and she lowered her head in defeat.

“I’m quite intrigued,” Infinite Miracle said. Her voice was low, but it carried down to Twilight with perfect clarity. “This narrative involving Princess Celestia as the culprit. I’m looking forward to hearing the full breakdown once you’ve torn open every closed room.”

Twilight scrunched her face up as if she had just bitten into a lemon, but swallowed her pride and nodded. “I’m sure it’ll be quite entertaining.”

She paused to glance back at Luna. The censor blocking her face had faded, and Luna gave her a reassuring smile.

“Just follow your heart, Twilight, and I am sure everything will work out in the end.”

Twilight blinked. Follow her heart? With advice as cliche as that, she’d be practically unstoppable! Dry snark aside, the sentiment was still appreciated, and she made sure to smile back.

“That’s two out of five,” Twilight said, facing Golden Wish once more, “do you really think what you have left is going to hold up?”

Golden Wish stood back up, her legs wobbling beneath her. Despite the strain the battle seemed to be placing on her, her eyes remained fierce. “If you think your pathetic theory will hold up til the end, bring it on. I’ll be happy to disabuse you of your fantasy.”

The third closed room. Rarity, savagely beaten to death. Two sets of keys, one locked inside the room, the other sealed into the envelope given to Fluttershy. Under the current theory, the lie was pretty easy to spot.

The murder of the third closed room was committed before the envelope was sealed and passed down to Fluttershy!"

“That doesn’t add up, and you know it!” Golden Wish said, her voice rough. “After Fluttershy received the letter, she went to wake you up, and you heard Applejack and Rarity fighting, still alive.”

“Another fantasy. Outside of my direct observation, there’s no guarantee that the scene happened at the exact time it was shown, if it even happened that way at all.” Twilight punctuated her statement by teleporting across the room, behind Golden Wish, and focusing her will for another strike.

Golden Wish spun to meet her, the chains clattering against each other and twisting painfully. “The key that was placed in the envelope was not used for at least 24 hours before being placed in the envelope, and was not used up until it was removed from the envelope by you!

Twilight’s eyes widened in surprise, and she teleported away just before the blast could strike her, the force of it singing her nostrils. She reoriented to her original position and gathered her power together once more. The truth had stopped her theory cold, but it had given away far too much. If the key in the envelope was never used at all, that just meant the lie was with the other key.

Fluttershy lied or was mistaken about the key locked inside Rarity’s room! It was actually a decoy, and the real key was safely with the culprit! After all, I never bothered to check it.”

Golden Wish’s counterstroke fell apart before it could swing back around, and another blue chain snapped around her right foreleg. She stared down at it, her expression unreadable.

Twilight pushed forward. She had the momentum, and just needed to keep the ball rolling.

The fourth closed room is just another fantasy! No murder actually took place inside, and Applejack lied or was mistaken about what happened. I suspect she was coerced into it, personally, but it’s a little hard to say.”

Golden Wish raised her only free leg in front of her. “There is evidence inside the fourth closed room that points towards a struggle. Even if you want to argue that it was faked, somepony still would have had to place the evidence there with the closed room intact, therefore it still stands!”

With each red truth given, Golden Wish’s position became more and more tenuous, pushing Twilight towards the answer. She could stall, but as long as the gears in Twilight’s head kept turning, her victory was all but inevitable.

Still, that was a tricky dodge. Even if the evidence was faked, the key had been melted inside the room. Unless…

The key was destroyed after the room was sealed up, with a fake melted key left in its place!

The final chain snapped around Golden Wish’s left foreleg, and she stood there, pinned and unable to move.

Twilight walked forward, stopping when her face was a few inches from her opponents. “All that’s left is your closed room loop. Are you ready for this?”

Golden Wish let out a long sigh. “Just get it over with, Twilight. Maybe this is for the best after all.”

Twilight began to pace, walking circles around the pinned alicorn. Four rooms, a chain of keys linking them together. A possible solution might present itself if she figured the loop was ended internally, but it didn’t quite mesh with her theory with Princess Celestia as the culprit, since she wasn’t a victim.

She stopped, sweeping her gaze over the rest of the courtroom. The statuettes of her friends continued to stare forward blankly. Luna gave her another smile, but Twilight looked past her, at the great stained glass windows adorning the courtroom walls. Behind them was just an endless void, devoid of anything resembling substance, yet an ephemeral light shone through them regardless.

The windows...

“That’s it!” Twilight cried out. Just because the windows were locked from the inside didn’t mean nothing could be affected through them, even without magic! Especially with a culprit who could fly.

Twilight leaned forward and placed her hoof on Golden Wish’s shoulder, practically whispering the truth into her ear. “Princess Celestia, through the window, coerced or threatened somepony into taking their own life, closing the chain. Judging by how each of the rooms was set up, my guess would be Fluttershy, but it could technically be anypony.”

Golden Wish turned to face her, her eyes hollow. “Nopony committed suicide. Everypony was killed by the hooves of another pony.

Twilight took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Princess Celestia wounded somepony fatally, threw them in through their bedroom window, and convinced them to lock it behind them. Afterwards, they bled out. Again, Fluttershy seems the likely candidate.”

“So close, yet so far…” Golden Wish muttered. Her eyes fell, and the final chain snapped around her neck. There was a grinding sound, and she was slowly lifted into the air, the chains becoming taut and leaving her hanging in the air, spread eagled.

Applause suddenly rumbled through the courtroom from the assembled shadows, feeling somewhat stiff and unnatural. In a flash, Infinite Miracle was at her side.

“Beautifully done, Twilight. I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me. Although I must admit, they were rather clever in their deception, even if the design was simple.”

Twilight took a step back out of sheer reflex, then mentally chided herself for being so skittish. “It took me a long time to see the underlying pattern, but here we are now.”

Infinite Miracle held her gaze on the trussed up Alicorn before her for what seemed like several minutes. “It’s time, then. Weave your final story tying this all together and E X E C U T E Golden Wish.”

Twilight closed her eyes and felt the world shift around her briefly. When she opened them again, she was no longer facing her opponent as an equal, but looking down on her from the perspective of a judge.

The way Infinite Miracle had phrased it was certainly distasteful, but… it was what she came here to do, after all, wasn’t it?

“Fillies and Gentlecolts!” Twilight called out. There were only four real ponies to hear her speech, but she might as well go through the motions. “As the instigator of this challenge, I have dismantled each and every closed room placed before me! How each murder was committed is now clear. But we still must examine the culprit, the motive, and the story behind the story."

With a quick apologetic glance towards Luna, Twilight began. “The crux of this story is thus; Princess Celestia, and the pony of legend known as Princess Wishlight are one and the same.

“Whether or not the details of the legend are exactly as described, or perhaps a carefully constructed fiction on Celestia’s part, I believe the core premise of a power that grants wishes, a meeting with the dragon, a romance, and a child are all true. At least, in the context of this story.

“However, rather than dying in childbirth, it was their child who was lost. Driven mad with grief, Princess Celestia devised a plan to bring her daughter back. But even the power of a wish was not enough; to defy this reality, she would have to perform a deliberate sacrifice of far greater value than what she was to receive in return.”

Twilight took a deep breath, pausing, before conjuring a series of lights into the air that formed the words of the poem that had haunted her since the very first game.

“From a wish sprouts a seed of power

To grant your heart's deepest desire

Bless this seed with your greatest love

But this love must be born in blood

In death lies truth – the heart laid bare

No sacrifice too great

Abandon self

Rend asunder, and begin anew.”

“Princess Celestia cultivated her sacrifices with love and blood: me and my friends. The Elements of Harmony, everything we went through together? It was all for this. It was a long con, but she had time.

“The ritual required her to abandon herself, and perform the sacrifices as if she had none of her normal abilities. By creating the image of Golden Wish as the killer that we all believed in, our fear, our hate, and our power could all be directed to that goal of bringing her into this world. As an alicorn myself, personally groomed by Princess Celestia as if I were to be her successor, I was to be be the vessel that hosted the spirit of her daughter reborn.”

Twilight felt sick to her stomach; Princess Celestia was like a second mother to her, and she loved her dearly. Even thinking her way through a theory like this, let alone speaking it in judgment, made her want to scrub her brain clean with steel wool, do some sort of penance, and beg forgiveness from her mentor.

But this was just fiction, and with the stroke of a pen, the kindest pony alive could be transformed into an unrepentant monster.

“In the first game, Princess Celestia approached Rainbow Dash in order to include her as an accomplice. Rainbow Dash is a loyal pony who would never agree to hurt her friends like that, but she can be a bit naive. She was brought in believing that it was a mere prank, that nopony was actually going to get hurt.

“Celestia painted the symbols on the doors as part of the ritual, murdered Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, and stuffed them in the shed. She hid herself in the library while I slept, and instructed Rainbow Dash to lie about the shed being locked. Following that, she and Luna had a rather strong disagreement over what was happening, so Celestia had her incinerated and left her horn in the boiler as a warning to all of us. She wasn’t technically a part of the ritual, so the usual restrictions of closed rooms did not apply.

“Later, after they had separated from the rest of us, she murdered Rarity and Applejack, probably after getting invited into their room and helping them through their relationship issues to get their guard down. Rainbow Dash caught her right as she was locking the door and flew off. When Rainbow Dash was confronted with the undeniable truth that her friends were actually dying, she attempted to destroy the mansion, so Princess Celestia struck her from the sky.

“At the final confrontation, the mansion was engulfed in dragonfire from below. Either as a final part of the ritual, or perhaps an attempt to stop it. I cannot say.”

Twilight watched as Golden Wish hung limply, no longer reacting to anything she was saying.

“The second game proceeded much like the first. Princess Celestia swapped the labels on the keys when she murdered Rarity, and convinced Applejack to lie by letting her believe that Rarity could be brought back to life. The novel was unfinished, but I suspect it would have ended in the same cleansing fire as the first.”

A cold shudder ran down her spine, and Twilight wiped the sweat from her brow. “I think the picture is pretty clear at this point. Princess Celestia is the culprit, she used lies and deception to create the illusions of closed rooms, and she murdered us all in order to bring back her daughter, Golden Wish. What do you think, everypony?”

Her judgement was met with a long, stunned silence from everyone but Infinite Miracle, who was giving her a slow, approving clap. “Excellent. Most excellent. You’ve uncovered truths I never even thought possible, and to think that they’re even narratively succinct!”

Twilight glanced over at Absolute Certainty, who seemed to be eying Golden Wish with a cold stare. Luna had turned away, a pained and distant look in her eyes. And Golden Wish…

“Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself, Goldie? This is the story as it's written, isn’t it?”

Golden Wish looked up to meet Twilight’s gaze, and her eyes were wild with what almost seemed like madness. She threw back her head and laughed, cackling wildly.

It wasn’t the arrogant cackle of victory, but the bitter laugh of someone who has lost absolutely everything.

“Yes, that’s right! You wanted to try your hand at shaping this story, too, Twilight! Your fiction is far more grander than anything I could have come up with. Do it! Finish me! You win, this victory is yours!”

Golden Wish continued howling with mad laughter, and Twilight bit her lip, looking away. This was the right path, wasn’t it?

Twilight called forth a massive blue axe. She spread her wings and jumped down from the platform to hover in front of Golden Wish. It didn’t feel right, but… “Do you have anything else you’d like to say for yourself?”

Golden Wish choked, trying to catch her breath from laughter, before she wheezed, “I’d love to see Fluttershy’s face when you so ruthlessly dismantle her story.”

Twilight grimaced, the raised the axe high above her head. Before she could even begin to bring it down, there was a blur of motion, and Absolute Certainty was behind Golden Wish. Her face was twisted into a snarl, and Golden Wish howled sudden pain as tiny threads of pink energy pierced her flesh in a thousand different places.

Absolute Certainty brought her face right next to Golden Wish’s, lightly nibbling on the trussed up alicorn's ear as manic glee danced through her eyes. “I know for a fact you have at least one more trump card left, Goldie dearest. You’re not going to give up without giving it everything you have, are you? That just wouldn’t. Be. Very. Fun!” She punctuated her last few words by twisting and wrenching the magic that pierced Golden Wish’s flesh.

Golden Wish let out a sound that was halfway between a giggle and a sob. “Go to hell.”

The shadows began to darken around Absolute Certainty until only her eyes and her twisted grin were visible. “Not even death can save you from me.” She jerked the strings upwards, manipulating her limbs like a living puppet, and Golden Wish cried out in renewed agony.

Twilight felt a low growl escape from her own lips. “Stop it! This is between me and her, I don’t need you interfering!”

Absolute Certainty flashed her a insanely normal smile, as if she were just greeting her on the street while she tortured her vassal. “I’m just motivating her, Twilight! She was about to give up and let you go on with your mistaken assumptions! You wanted to face her at her best, and find out absolutely everything about the truth, didn’t you?”

With a flash, Absolute Certainty vanished back to her seat, slouching as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

Golden Wish let out a low groan, then met Twilight’s eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks, but her eyes burned with a raging inferno. “Useless. It's all useless. There’s one question you didn’t answer, Twilight.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure I covered everything, but if you think there’s an area that's sorely lacking, I’ll be happy to explain that as well.”




Twilight shook her head. “I already answered that, and I laid out the motive pretty clearly.”

“Not your stupid motive,” Golden Wish growled, “the real question: Why?” She darted her eyes around the room and gestured with her hooves in an all encompassing way, though her movement was restricted. “What did you come here in order to really find?”

Fluttershy. She had come here to find the culprit, sure, but the ultimate purpose was to find out why Fluttershy had written this whole story in the first place. Her theory made plenty of logical sense, it fit together as a full narrative, but when she looked at it from Fluttershy’s perspective… why?

“I don’t know… but when I approach her with the theory, I’m sure she’ll tell me.”

Golden Wish snorted. She flexed at her bonds somewhat, and her voice was dripping with utter contempt and deadly venom. “You don’t deserve her.”

Princess Celestia and Luna never arrived at the mansion, and in no way had any physical effect on the events that took place there! This applies to all games.

Twilight’s vision turned red, and she felt the strangling cords around her own body, her neck in an instant. They were never there? Than that meant…

“The number of ponies at the mansion was up to eight,” Twilight choked out. “That just leaves room for you as a culprit!”

Golden Wish’s bitter laughter rang through her ears. “There are no more than six ponies in the mansion!

Well, there went that theory. Unless one of her friends was secretly playing double duty with another… no, that would just be silly. She had put so much into it. It was a disgusting theory, all and all, but she had wanted it to be true. She hadn’t really wanted to consider the alternative.

She heard a voice calling her name, Luna, probably. She was a bit worried, but Luna was capable enough. She’d be able to find her way back on her own.

She suddenly felt Golden Wish’s breath, hot on her ear, whispering harshly. “You’ve got one last chance, Twilight. Take a nap, sort yourself out, and face the truth, or succumb to oblivion.”

Darkness took her.

Author's Note:

Celestia as the culprit? Damn, I should have written that story instead.

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