• Published 14th Feb 2015
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Mass Effect: Gathering Storm - Meluch

When a Prothean Beacon is unearthed on Eden Prime and a rogue Spectre starts a galactic manhunt begins. When the Elements of Harmony are found to be missing, a coming storm threatens to destroy everything.

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Chapter Twenty-Three - What Were You Expecting?

Chapter Twenty-Three - What Were You Expecting?
Armali Republic, Thessia, Parnitha System
April 12, 2183

When Twilight woke, it felt like a railroad spike was being driven through her brain, starting just behind her eyes. It was quite possibly the worst headache that she had ever experienced, on a whole other order of magnitude compared to the few others she had suffered in her life. If she had had the mental capacity at the moment to form such a thought, she would have made the decision that she would lead a happy life if she never had to experience such a thing again. That would come later however, when the hangover from the night before disappeared and she had managed to drink nearly two gallons of water.

As the pain of the headache began to dull just a bit, enough for her to start to think, Twilight realized that her back was in the middle of kicking her about with a killer cramp to match the throbbing.

Groaning, she tried to stretch the cramp out.

Twilight quickly found that she couldn't.

"What…" Speaking, Twilight found that her mouth tasted like ash, and the distinct taste of vomit still lingered on her tongue. A thoroughly unpleasant thing to wake up to, she decided.

Instead of stretching, Twilight tried to sit up this time, but once again found that she couldn't move.

Groaning, she strained, trying to break free from whatever was holding her hostage.

It didn't work. She didn't move so much as an inch.

Twilight was so stunned by her predicament that she couldn't do anything for nearly a full minute. She forget about her headache, and doing her best to ignore the foul taste in her mouth, she called out, "Help!"

A second passed, and then a furtive, "Hello?" answered her.

"Tiny Berry?" Twilight thought she recognized the voice, but she wasn't sure. Her head still hurt too much for deep and pondering thoughts.

"Twilight? Is that you?" The voice that was probably Tiny Berry asked.

"Tiny Berry, help!" Twilight cried, on the verge of falling into a panic attack. Only the fact that she appeared to be near familiar and friendly ponies kept her from going over the edge. "I'm stuck, and I don't know where I am."

A moment passed, enough time for Twilight to start to wonder what was going on, but then much to her relief, Tiny Berry's head appeared above her. The small pony giggled at the sight she saw in front of her.

"What are you doing in there?" Tiny Berry asked, giggling the entire time.

"What?" Scowling, Twilight's question was more of a veiled demand. "Where am I?"

"My mixing bowl!" She clapped her hooves together, an excited (and if Twilight was honest, slightly terrifying) look on her face. "I could bake you into a Twilight cake."

"As wonderful as that cake would surely be, I don't think my marefriend would appreciate that." The deeper, gravelly voice of Gilda was a welcomed relief after the confusion that came from Twilight waking up with only Tiny Berry to help her.

Tiny Berry turned and waved to Gilda, who was still maddeningly out of Twilight's view. "Hey, Gilda!"

"Help me get her out of there." Gilda didn't sound at all worried, which helped Twilight start to calm down from own instincts cry to panic. "Grab the other side of the bowl. Make sure it doesn't fall too hard."

Before Twilight had a chance to process any of that, the mixing bowl she had made her bed tipped over, bouncing against the floor in a way that sent tremors through her entire body. She found herself with a wonderful view of the kitchen floor, and now she could only see Gilda's and Tiny Berry's feet.

"Wait, what?" Twilight murmured, and she shook her head as much as she was able to, everything still bouncing around inside her brain.

All of a sudden, Gilda's talons were coming right at her and Twilight squeaked in surprise. Grabbing her forelegs, Gilda pulled Twilight out of the mixing bowl, the unicorn's body resisting for a moment before giving in with a pop.

"Oof!" Tumbling out of the bowl, Twilight lay sprawled out on the ground. She looked around, dazed, before catching Gilda's eyes. "What was I doing in a mixing bowl?"

"You got really drunk last night." Gilda lifted her mare friend up onto all four of her hooves, using the stump of one of her wings to steady the unicorn. "I had to carry you back to the ship, and when I tried to get you back into bed you ran away and climbed in that. We tried to coax you out for an hour, but we finally just decided to leave you. It was easier."

"I don't remember..." Twilight groaned, her back cracking as she stretched.

"Yeah. That's not really a surprise." Gilda snorted, shaking her head. "You kind of were out of it once you had your second... Whatever the hell it was. Some weird Asari drink. I don't remember it's name. I think you ended up crowdsurfing at one point. I don't really remember. It's all really fuzzy."

Tiny Berry started humming as she started making breakfast in the background, having completely moved on from the conversation.

"I remember..." Twilight scrunched up her muzzle, trying to access memories that very well might not be there anymore. The dangers of alcohol... she'd have to write a paper for Celestia. On second thought, maybe not... "Pink…"

"Oh Celestia!" Her eyes widened as she remembered, clapping a hoof to her forehead. "We found Pinkie Pie!"

On a different floor of the ship, Sweetie Belle woke up much more pleasantly than Twilight did. Cracking a wide yawn, she stretched all of her legs out and shuffled out from under her seats before rolling out of bed, landing on the floor with a hard OMPH. She took a moment to gather herself together, throwing on a simple hoody and skirt, much like she had seen Gilda wearing a few days earlier, before trotting to the door and stepping outside.

The hallway was still dimly lit, on nighttime lighting, but a quick check of her omni-tool confirmed that it was indeed nearly nine in the morning.

Sweetie Belle made the short trip across the hall to Rarity's room, humming the entire way and skipping along in time with the beat. She knocked on the door, but didn't hear anything in response.

"Rarity?" Sweetie Belle asked, after a moment passed.

Still nothing.

Frowning, Sweetie Belle pushed her way into the room, finding the door still cracked open. She nudged it open the rest of the way with her hoof, stepping inside.

The room was nearly pitch black, especially compared to the hallway outside. Sweetie Belle used the touchpad next to the door to turn on the lights, eager to greet her sister (though admittedly a large part of her was more eager to annoy her) and then get breakfast.

A chorus of groans from under the covers made Sweetie Belle tilt her head in confusion. "Rarity? Are you up?"

"Sweetie..." Rarity broke into a coughing fit, though she still didn't emerge from underneath the covers. "Sweetie Belle? What are you doing up at this unholy hour? Go back to bed."

Little sisters are good at two things, being cute, and using that cuteness to reign down hell on their older siblings. Rarity was hidden under some suspiciously lumpy covers, and Sweetie Belle was finding herself growing more and more curious.

"It's nine." Sweetie Belle shot back. Rarity usually liked to wake up at six, to get an early start on the day.

"What?" Rarity sounded confused. Tired and confused. And hungover. Tired, confused, and hungover. Never a good combination. It tended to make the unicorn grumpy.

"It's breakfast time." Edging closer to the bed, Sweetie Belle decided that there were far too many lumps under the covers to be just Rarity under there.

"Oh…" It didn't sound like she fully understood what Sweetie Belle had said.

The covers shifted just enough for Rarity to peek out and glance at the bedside clock. Indeed, it read 9:01 A.M. "So it is."

There was more moaning from under the sheets, too much to have come from just Rarity.

"What..." Sweetie Belle stepped even closer, until she was almost touching the bed with her nose. "Rarity? What's going on?"

Rarity popped her head up from under the covers, her mane a mess and her eyes blurry, a sheepish smile on her muzzle. She blushed, the red distinct against her snow white fur, glancing back under the covers. "Um... Sweetie Belle."

"My head…"

Sweetie Belle squeaked in surprise and jumped back, eyes wide, as an Asari sat up in bed, the covers falling off her to reveal that she was completely naked, tits out.

Rarity could do nothing but blush, sinking down into her bed.

She blushed even harder as a second Asari sat up, just as naked as the first one.

"I need something to eat."

Sweetie Belle just backed out of the room, deciding that she had had enough of whatever it was her sister was getting into.

"Oh dear…" Rarity shook her head as the door closed behind Sweetie Belle.

"Mmm..." One of the Asari wrapped an arm around Rarity's shoulder, pulling her close. "I think I could do with a snack before breakfast."

"Oh my!" Thoughts of her embarrassment and her sister began to flee from her mind, as the Asari pulled her back under the covers.

As the moans inside Rarity's room started to get louder, Sweetie Belle continued backing down the hallway. She shook her head, promising to herself to forget everything she's just seen.

"Hey Sweetie Belle."

Sweetie Belle jumped, squeaking in surprise, startled. She turned to find Spike exiting his own room, his scales shining after a good wash.

"Is Rarity awake yet?" He asked, bright eyed and bushy tailed, metaphorically speaking.

"Uh..." Sweetie Belle blinked, staring at Spike. "Yes! I mean no... I've got to go."

Before he could ask anything, Sweetie Belle ran away, leaving a very confused Spike standing in the hallway staring after her.

"Huh..." He blinked, shaking his head. "Okay…"

Spike lingered there for a moment before shrugging and walking away towards the kitchen. It was early and this baby dragon needed breakfast.

Spike entered the dining room to find that Twilight and Gilda were already there. They hadn't been in their room when he had gone to check on them, and he was glad that his suspicions were correct. As he waddled over to sit down next to them, Gilda placed a mug of steaming tea in front of Twilight, who looked like death warmed over.

A table over, Honey Dawn and her small herd sat eating a light breakfast of oatmeal and strawberries, murmuring quietly amongst themselves.

"Jeez, Twilight, what happened to you?" Spike asked, settling into his place opposite Twilight.

"She slept in a mixing bowl all night." Gilda couldn't keep the laugh from her voice, though she was careful in rubbing Twilight's back as comfortingly as she could.

"Why'd you do that?" Tilting his head, Spike wondered not for the first time what it was that made adults so strange.

"I don't want to talk about it." Twilight just groaned, dropping her head against the table, though she immediately regretted that decision.

"Whatever." Spike shrugged, not at all affected by that. He shared a look with Gilda, whose shoulders shook silently in laughter.

At that moment, Tiny Berry entered the room, coming bearing food and drinks carefully balanced on her back, at least for Twilight and Gilda. Spike realized that he hadn't been there for when they had placed their orders.

"Waffles!" Twilight cried out as Tiny Berry slid a plate in front of her. She was about to act very unladylike and just scarf them down, but she managed to restrain herself, instead smiling at Tiny Berry. She was the Celestial Emissary after all, and that meant she had a certain dignity she should uphold. Coughing, she straightened in her seat, smiling at the little pony. "Thank you, Tiny Berry."

"You’re welcome!" Tiny Berry bounced away, leaving the three of them alone after she set Gilda's plate in front of her.

Twilight kept up a careful smile until Tiny Berry disappeared back into the kitchen. As soon as the doors stopped swinging, Twilight gave up all pretenses and started scarfing down her waffles. Gilda and Spike watched her devour them in less than a minute, amazed.

"Gods…" Gilda blinked as her mare friend licked her plate clean. "Twilight, did you even take a breath doing that?"

"Doing what?" Twilight asked, sitting up, her muzzle smeared with whipped cream and bits of chewed strawberry.

"… Never mind." Gilda started on her own plate of eggs and a muffin, though at a much more sedate pace.

"Okay." Shrugging, Twilight downed her glass of water. As soon as she set it back down on the table, she nodded. "Alright, we’ve got some work to do."

"With what?" Gilda remembered that it wasn't polite to talk with her beak full, instead waiting to ask the question until after she swallowed.

"With Pinkie Pie!" Stomping a hoof on the table for emphasis, Twilight grinned. "We found her."

"Yeah, we established that already." Using her muffin, Gilda scrapped some of her eggs off the plate and used it as an improvised eating utensil.

Twilight stares at Gilda for a moment, blinking, before shaking her head.

"We found her," she repeated, as if that was all she needed to say.

"Yeah." They had gone over this already. Apparently the night before had been harder on Twilight than she had thought.

"We need to speak with her." Twilight spoke slowly, as if trying to explain something to a small child.

"Obviously." Gilda wondered if Twilight just needed to take a nap. She wasn't thinking as quickly as she normally did.

Twilight paused again, the wind having been taken out of her sails. "Obviously... Yeah."

She sighed, slumping down. Taking a breath, she continued. "Do we know where she is staying?"

"Not a clue." Gilda shrugged. She wasn't the griffin to ask in a normal situation. She had just woken up half an hour ago, so she was working at even less than normal capacity.

"Then that’s our first order of business." Twilight was glad that she had a plan now. She always worked better with a plan. "It’s no coincidence that we keep running into the Element Bearers on the planets the map had on it."

"You’ve said that already." Finishing her plate, Gilda focused her entire attention on Twilight.

"Have I?" Squinting, Twilight looked at Gilda.

"Pretty sure, yeah." Gilda had never seen Twilight look like this. The unicorn's eyes were completely bloodshot.

"Well…" Twilight coughed, clearing her throat in embarrassment. "The point still stands."

"Sure." Best to just agree with her.

"Alright then…" Twilight tapped her hooves nervously on the table. "I guess we should get on that, then."

"Twilight." Honey Dawn coughed from across the way, catching their attention.

"Hmm?" Glancing over her shoulder, Twilight looked more than a little surprised to find that they weren't alone in the dining room. She looked over Honey Dawn and her herd in confusion. "What is it?"

"I know where Pinkie Pie is staying?" Honey Dawn smiled smugly. She loved it when she knew more than smarter ponies in the room.

"What?" That drew all three of them up for a pause, and Twilight tilted her head in confusion. "How do you know that?"

"The three of us ended up at the hotel she was staying after the party last night." Honey Dawn pointed at Carmel Breeze and Lucky Arrow. "We were turned away by her guards and hotel security."

"How do you know she was staying there." Twilight couldn't imagine that there was an engraved sign announcing where Pinkie Pie was staying.

"There are only two groups of Equestrians in Armali right now. I checked." One of the perks of being a pilot in such a high position as her own was that she could look up pretty much whatever she wanted without anyone asking why. "There's just us, and Smile Inc."

"That’s a bit lucky." Gilda snorted, shaking her head.

"You checked?" Blinking in surprise, Twilight looked at Honey Dawn in a whole new light.

"We were curious." Carmel Breeze shrugged, not at all embarrassed by admitting that. She was a chronic snoop, and she was not ashamed about that.

"They’re staying at the Asyrion." Honey Dawn piped up, draining down the last dregs of her coffee.

Gilda was quiet for a moment, trying to see if the name at all rang any bells, before she finally shrugged. "Is that supposed to mean something, because I'm getting a blank."

"It’s only one of the most famous hotels in the galaxy." Lucky Arrow chimed in as helpfully as he could.

Gilda thought even longer about the matter, then shrugged again. "Still got nothing."

"It doesn’t matter. You don't have to have heard about it." Honey Dawn smiled, slightly patronizingly. "You’ll find Pinkie Pie there. Plus everyone she’s traveling with."

"Traveling with?" Twilight would never drink again. She would swear that upon Celestia when she got a chance.

"Smile. Look it up."

Twilight did so. Opening her omni-tool, Twilight did a quick search of SMILE. In half a second, she got over five million hits on her search, with more coming in by the second. Scrolling through the first page, she picked the most promising looking link. The main extranet site for SMILE Incorporated.

After reading for nearly a minute, she looked up at Gilda, completely confused. "How did I not know about this?"

"Know about what?" Gilda had no idea what Twilight was talking about.

"SMILE. It’s one of the most visible Equestrian organizations in the galaxy." Scrolling through the pages, Twilight had to admit that she was a little impressed. "It’s pretty much a traveling party that never stops. Its mission statement is to put a smile on every face in the galaxy. They’ve been to Earth, Palaven, Sur’kesh, Illium, the list goes on and on, and they’ve been doing it for years."

"Why’s it so important?" It all sounded very nice, but Gilda didn't really see how it mattered.

"Pinkie Pie is CEO of SMILE Inc." When Twilight had first started reading the Journal of Friendship, she had started to expect that she would find all of the Element Bearers in jobs and places in life similar to what she read about. With Rarity, that had proven to be true, but Pinkie Pie was obviously proving to be an exception. A fairly massive one at that. "Her father runs the Board of Directors, and her sisters make up the majority shareholders. It’s kind of a big deal."

"I need to talk to her right away." Twilight stood, jumping down out of her chair.

"If she’s so important, why do you think they’d even let you in to see her." It seemed a pretty obvious question to Gilda. Famous people never dealt with the riffraff.

"Because her importance begins and ends with her company." Twilight smiled, doing a proud little trot in place. "I’ve got the backing of the Empress in every matter, and I speak for her."

"Yeah…" To be honest, Gilda had kind of forgotten about that. Her girlfriend certainly didn't act like the third most powerful Equestrian in the galaxy. "I guess that’d do it."

"Alright then. Let’s go!" Twilight laughed, forgetting her tiredness as she trotted towards the hall leading to the exit of Solar One.

Sighing, Gilda grabbed the rest of her muffin from her own plate, then followed after Twilight at a much more sedate place, eating with half lidded eyes. Spike sighed, then followed after them, resigning himself to the fact that he wouldn't be getting breakfast today.

Not at all paying any attention to the grumbles of the two following behind her, Twilight entered the hallway, followed moments later by Gilda and Spike. She stopped when she found herself suddenly in the path of two of the most scantily clothed Asari she had seen since arriving on Thessia.

Twilight blinked.

The Asari blinked.

Spike's stomach rumbled.

"Uh…" Twilight tilted her head, then glanced back at Rarity, who was following behind the Asari, a furious blush on her muzzle. She was trying to act as normal as possible, though she wasn't doing that very well.

"Please, excuse us, Twilight." She was only barely put together, her mane tied up in a simple, but elegant bun. Obviously, she hadn't had enough time to get her curls the way she would normally like them. "We weren't expecting to run into... you."

"I do think we've overstayed our welcome, sister," the Asari on the right said, glancing at the other, before down at Rarity. "Thank you, Rarity, for the wonderful night."

Leaning down, she kissed Rarity full on the lips.

"Call us if you’re ever on Thessia again." The second Asari said, following her sister's lead, taking her own turn to kiss Rarity. "Last night was... wonderful. I won't ever forget it."

Together, the two Asari left the ship, giggling the entire way as they kept throwing glances back at Rarity.

Twilight blinked, and Rarity blushed even harder and avoided making eye contact with anyone.

"Right. Let’s never speak of this again." Twilight made sure to not look at Rarity.

"Speak of what?" Giggling, then instantly thinking better of it, Rarity ducked her head, wishing she could just melt into the floor.

"We’ve found Pinkie Pie." The best thing to do would be to move on and get onto more important matters. Twilight was good at burying unwanted thoughts and dreams underneath facts and books and plans. Organization to save the day once again! "We’re going to go and meet with her, if you want to come."

"That sounds marvelous, darling…" Rarity looked Twilight over, and she realized something for the first time. "Though, maybe you want to put clothes on first?"

After taking a not inconsiderable amount of time to freshen up and get dressed before going to meet with Pinkie Pie (Twilight had realized just how horrible she smelled and had washed her coat twice with magic to make sure she was actually clean), they were finally on their way. They decided to walk the entire way, instead of taking an aircar. Armali was an island nation, and it was possible to walk its entire circumference in just a little under a full day, or twenty-six hours (Thessia's day lasting a little over twenty-seven hours).

Twilight was too focused on her current mission to enjoy the sights, but the others were taking every opportunity to do the typical tourist walk and gawk. Instead, she listened intently to her omni-tool as it spat out directions to her every so often. Rarity oohed and awed over the fashions she saw on the passing Asari, Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes at her sister and looked longingly at the arcades they passed. Spike was too preoccupied with keeping up with the rest of the group to do any gawking, and Gilda's gaze was only really caught by some of the more exotic and tasty looking food that happened to cross her gaze.

"Your destination is directly ahead," Twilight's omni-tool chirped, rather unhelpfully because indeed, just as the omni-tool said, the Asyrion was directly ahead of them. It was a tall hotel, one of the tallest on the island, all gleaming glass and white steel, a stunning example of Asari architecture.

Just like Honey Dawn said, there were Equestrians outside, obviously body guards, doing their best to blend in and not draw any attention. It was a job that they were never going to do very well at, simply because of the nature of who they were.

"Alright." Taking a deep breath, Twilight straightened up. She took a moment to tighten her saddle-bags before taking a deep breath and walking to the front doors. The body-guards eyed her, but there was no reason for them to stop her or anyone she was with. They don’t really have that authority anyway, not when it's daylight hours and there aren't an army of drunken people trying to get back home.

The large glass doors were three times taller than Twilight was long, built to awe and inspire anyone coming inside. None of that even passed through Twilight's mind as she walked right up to the front desk, nodding to the smiling asari behind it.

"Excuse me," Twilight said with a smile, doing her best to be as charming as possible. "I need to meet with Pinkie Pie. Could I please ask her room number?"

"She is not meeting with anyone at this time." The desk worker said, not glancing up from her work on her data pad. The smile was ever present, but that didn't mean she would grace everyone who walked through the door with her attention.

"If you could please call up to her room, let her know that the Celestial Emissary is here, and has urgent business to discuss with her." Twilight used the voice that she had heard Celestia so often when she was by her side over the long years at the castle. It was a voice that was kind and caring, but demanded attention. Everypony sat up and took notice when she spoke.

The Asari looked up and met Twilight's gaze for the first time. She studied Twilight for a moment before nodding and making the call, something passing between the two of them of the seriousness of her request.

A moment passed, and then another. The Asari made furtive glances at Twilight while speaking quietly on her omni-tool to whoever was on the other end of the line.

Finally, the call ended, and the Asari turned back to Twilight with a smile that was much more genuine and gracious at Twilight. "She will meet with you. Floor one-hundred."

"Which room?" The Asari was being helpful, but that wasn't enough for Twilight.

"You misunderstand me." The smile turned a little patronizing, and the Asari tilted her head just so. "Smile Incorporated has rented the top ten floors of our hotel. Floor one-hundred has been converted for Ms. Pinkie Pie’s sole use."

Twilight blinked in surprise at that, but got over that quickly and nodded. "Thank you."

"You are very welcome." The Asari was already getting back to her work, typing furiously on her datapad.

Walking past the front desk, Twilight and her group headed towards the elevators. There were ten of them, and they were surrounded by polished stone from the bottom of surrounding ocean.

Not at all noticing the beauty and craftsmanship of the design, Twilight and the rest of the group entered the elevator.

As the doors closed, Rarity couldn't restrain the little squeal that escaped her, barely able to keep herself from bouncing excitedly on all four of her hooves. "This is marvelous."

"I know!" Twilight was just as excited, but it couldn't have been over more different reasons if they tried. "We’re on the right track."

"That isn’t what I meant." Rarity darted close to one of the walls, rubbing it gently with a hoof. She eyed it with the look of somepony who was close to the edge of madness. "Look at the detail work in the wood. The stain, the artistry. It is wonderful."

Everyone stared at her, not quite believing what she was saying.

"Yeah…" Ruffling what little feathers she had left on her wings, Gilda rolled her eyes. "The elevator is… great."

"This whole hotel is a work of art." Not at all catching Gilda's sarcasm, Rarity continued rubbing the wall. "It is a shining beacon of why the Asari lead the galaxy in culture and innovation!"

"Ugh." Sweetie Belle sighed and rolled her eyes. "No one cares, Rarity."

"Sweetie Belle!" Forgetting her amazement at the elevator, Rarity turned to look at her sister, too shocked to fully react to what was just said to her. "That was rude and uncalled for. A lady doesn't act like that."

Sweetie Belle mocked her sister under her breath, making faces, yelping when Rarity pulled her to the side of the elevator to talk to her.

"Anymore of this, and you’re grounded Sweetie Belle," Rarity whispered, though it was pretty much just shouting and not at all private. "Honestly, what has gotten into you?"

"What hasn’t gotten into you?" Sweetie snapped right back at her sister.

"Sweetie Belle!" Rarity recoiled as if Sweetie Belle had struck her. "I never!"

Twilight coughed, and both sisters looked over to find her, Gilda, and Spike looking at them wide-eyed. "There might be a…."

"A better time for this." Rarity coughed, straightening both her and Sweetie Belle's clothing with her magic. "Yes."

"Definitely." Coughing again, she glanced away in embarrassment. "Forgive me. That was terribly rude."

The elevator dinged at its arrival, and the doors slid open. They'd arrived, and it was time to make history.

Stepping out onto the one-hundredth floor, Twilight and her group found themselves in a small, drab entrance way, guarded by more Equestrians. This time, they had full authority to do whatever it took to protect their client.

"Welcome, Celestial Emissary Twilight Sparkle." A dark grey pony with a flat purple mane approached them, wearing a simple blue frock. She spoke softly, in a very monotone voice that made it difficult to fully focus on her words. "Why do you wish to meet with my sister?"

"It is a private matter." Twilight blinked at the flat tone the question was asked, but quickly firmed herself and straightened up on all four of her hooves, flicking her tail confidently. She was important, and she would make sure that others realized that. Whatever she said and did reflected itself back on Celestia. "But it has to do with matters deeply connected to Equestria’s national security."

The pony stared at them, before nodding. "Please, follow me."

The pony led them through the doors of the entrance into a vast room, much more colorful and lively than the entrance. A few supports were visible, and they had been decorated, but otherwise, the entire floor had been emptied of all rooms, in essence making the entire floor one massive room.

The room had been covered in a rainbow of pillows and blankets and surprisingly, confetti. Music was blaring from unseen speakers, and someone was singing along with it further inside the cavernous room.

"This way." The pony said, caring not at all for the amazement that the others were experiencing.

The pony led them even further into the room, until they came to a kitchen that had been set up (pony sized, of course), and none other than Pinkie Pie was darting between five different things, singing at the top of her lungs.

"Pinkie Pie," the pony said, sitting back on her haunches.

Pinkie didn’t notice her voice, which wasn't surprising as she was busy pulling a cake out of the oven before darting over to the sink and washing a big bowl of asari fruit.

"Pinkie Pie." The pony repeated, not at all frazzled by the fact she hadn't been heard.

Still no recognition. The pink pony twirled around the center island and started frosting a row of cupcakes, belting out the song louder than before.

"Pinkie Pie."

Pinkie screeched to a halt, turning on a single hoof to look over at them. She gasped, her eyes going dramatically wide.

"I haven’t seen any of you before!" She practically crowed. She darted up to them, nose to nose with Twilight, making the unicorn rock back a little in surprise.

"Um…" Twilight leaned back a little. "Hello."

"Who are you? Why are you here?" Pinkie railed off the questions too fast for Twilight to even answer. "Would you like some cake? I’ve just pulled it from the oven."

"I'd like cake." Sweetie Belle raised a hoof, suddenly much more hopeful than she had been a moment ago.

"Well!" Pinkie turned to face her, her eyes narrowing dangerously. "Too bad, because the cake is a lie!"

Before Sweetie could respond (it was taking her a moment, the confusion was real) Pinkie started laughing, but she was the only one who got the joke.

"Uh…" Coughing into her hoof, Twilight wondered just what she had gotten herself into. "Right."

"Heh." Taking a moment to catch her breath, Pinkie Pie smiled back in fond remembrance of her joke. "That was funny."

Shaking her head, Pinkie hopped back into her kitchen, getting back to what she was doing. Calling back over her shoulder, she asked, "So, what are all of you here for?"

"We’re here to meet you?" It wasn't supposed to be a question, but Twilight was experiencing far too much confusion for that to matter.

"Me?" Raising an eyebrow, scratched her chin even as she spun her cake on its spinner, frosting it with a deep chocolate. "Really? I think there are a whole lot more interesting people than me here."

"Maybe, but you’re the pony we’re interested in."

"Why?" The question was perfectly reasonable, but it drew Twilight up for a pause.

Twilight glanced back at her saddle-bag, and she realized that she wasn't quite sure what to say. Pinkie wasn’t at all what she was expecting, but maybe she’d believe the story.

"Who are you, anyway?" Pinkie Pie focused all of her attention on Twilight, realizing something. "You’re not with us. I don’t recognize you. That means you’re on your own, and you’re important enough to not be turned away at the door."

Pinkie Pie squinted, leaning over one of the counters to look at them. "And you have a griffin with you. That’s not a sight you see even on Equestria very often."

"I’m--" Before Twilight could answer, the pony who had escorted them in had interrupted them.

"She is the Celestial Emissary, Pinkie Pie."

"Oh..." Pinkie stopped at that, dropping back onto her haunches. She looked genuinely surprised. "I wasn’t expecting that."

"So," Pinkie drawled as she walked back out from the kitchen to meet them. "You’re like, the third princess."

"I’d be more like the fourth," Twilight said, wondering not for the first time why nopony seemed to remember Princess Cadence. "But I’m not actually a Princess. I just speak for one."

"Uh-huh." She tilted her head, then tilted it a little bit more, until it was almost uncomfortable to look at her. "Why are you here, then? What does the Celestial Emissary want with little old Pinkie Pie?"

"Wait..." Pinkie’s eyes widened, and she stopped, realizing something. "We have a third princess?"

"Yeah, Princess Cadance." Gilda rather unhelpfully said.

Thinking for a moment, Pinkie finally shook her head. "… Never heard of her. What does the Celestial Emissary want with me?"

"I’m actually here to talk with you." Twilight admitted, wondering just what part of the universe had conspired to bring Pinkie Pie into her life.

"You’re doing that already, silly. What else do you want?" Pinkie Pie leaned forward, smiling, waiting for an answer.

"I…" Twilight glanced at the pony who had just been standing beside them awkwardly the entire conversation. "It... uh... it might be best if we speak alone."

"We are alone." The smile never left Pinkie Pie's face.

I mean…" She gestured her head at the pony next to them, trying to be as discrete as she could.

"Oh, that’s my sister Maud." Pinkie waved her hoof in amusement. "Don’t worry about her. Nothing you say will leave her lips."

"Alright." Twilight hesitated for a moment, then finally decided to trust Pinkie.

Opening her saddle-bag, Twilight pulled out the journal of friendship, holding it up for Pinkie Pie to see. "We found this journal underneath the floor of the old castle in the Everfree Forest. It had been there for a long, long time."

She floated it over to Pinkie Pie, setting it gently on top of a clean space on the counter. "Before we do anything else, you should really take a look at it."

Pinkie glanced at Twilight for a moment, before cracking open the journal and starting to read. She read for several minutes, and every pony waited patiently for her to finish, the only sound coming from the oven ticking over as it cooled, and the flipping of pages.

Pinkie set the book down after reading it for nearly fifteen minutes. She was a lot more serious than she was before she started reading.

What is this?" Pinkie asked, looking up at Twilight. She wasn't sure what it was that she had just read, but it had certainly caught her attention.

"Both Princess Celestia, and Princess Luna independently verified its age and authenticity." It was really the only thing that Twilight could say.

"Well, I wasn’t expecting this when I woke this morning." Pinkie Pie sat back on her haunches, chewing on her bottom lip.

She thought for a moment, and then she thought some more. Finally, she looked at Twilight.

"Why did you come to me?" Pinkie Pie asked.

"We’re trying to find the Elements of Harmony," Twilight explained. She shifted to a more comfortable position before continuing. "There was a map underneath the floor of the castle, and it brought us here. We haven’t found the Elements, not yet, but Rarity was on the Citadel, and you are on Thessia, just like the map showed us."

Silence filled the room. Their whole purpose for coming to her was now out in the open.

"I see," Pinkie Pie finally said.

She was silent for another minute.

"What do you want?"

"I need to find the rest of the Element Bearers, and I was hoping that you could join me." There it was. Twilight could do nothing more until she heard Pinkie's answer.

"Oh…" Pinkie and Maud shared a look, and a thousand different meanings passed between them in that look. "I don’t think that’s going to work. I can’t join you."

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