• Published 3rd May 2012
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The Powers of Harmony - CyborgSamurai



The Mane Six develop the powers of the Elements of Harmony and must use them to stop a new villain.

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Chapter 16 Part 2: To Honor an Elder

Chapter 16: Part 2

To Honor an Elder

Meanwhile-

“You want us to just come out and tell her?” Elo said incredulously.

“And then push her to develop her powers as fast as you can.”

Blair was sipping on a mug of cider at the table farthest away from the crowd near the apple orchards with Elo and Grovi, who were standing with their backs to the crowd to hide that their mouths and ears were covered in a teal aura emanating from Blair’s horn.

Grovi clicked his teeth. “I don’t know if we can do that.”

Blair took a swig of his drink. “Why not?”

Elo sighed. “Rarity’s been getting weaker. She could put herself into Magical Exhaustion if she tries to use her powers now.”

Blair flattened his ears. “Well, well, well, I guess Megnii wasn't the only one not paying attention to the briefing, or else you’d know that her powers are completely separate from the magics that any the three races innately possess. She’d have an easier time putting herself in Magical Exhaustion by overeating.”

Elo snuck a glance over at Rarity on the other side of the crowd. She looked fine… thanks to years of practice and a considerable amount of makeup. “She doesn’t know her limits, though. If she overexerts herself from using her powers, it’ll exacerbate her condition—”

“—and she’ll crash and burn,” Grovi finished with a cringe. “Hard.”

Blair rubbed his upper lip. “What’s making her so weak?”

Elo adjusted his tie. “She's an insomniac, and we think her Foresight is making it worse.”

There was a loud applause. They looked and saw that Granny had gotten off the stage.

Grovi turned back to Blair. “She’s trusted us more with her protection, at least. I got her to take her medication and made her some Font Gems, but that’s like putting band-aids on a gushing wound.”

“What more can we do, though?” Elo asked. “Her own mother’s a sleep doctor! I have a hard time believing she hasn’t done everything physically possible for her!”

“She doesn’t listen to her anymore,” Grovi reminded him. “We need to take more drastic steps. Rarity said she’d defer to our judgment when it came to her safety. ”

“You know she loves her work too much to stop.” Elo ran a hoof down his face. “It’s just like Crysti all over again, workaholic to the bitter end. We should’ve just gotten her out of the city when we had the—“

“You’re making a fool of yourself,” Grovi droned. “Crystal Song would be dead regardless of whether or not she’d evacuated the city in time because she lived one thousand years ago.”

Elo’s eyes flashed as he turned to his partner. “Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Hypocrite! I guess you’re the only one who’s allowed to confuse themselves with their predecessor! Or is there some other reason why you’ve been doting on her?!”

Grovi whirled on him. “How dare y—“

“Both of you shut your bucking traps.”

They both turned to Blair, who had spoken with a faint slur in his voice. He stared hard at the two guards with uneven eyes.

“If you’re going to talk in public about things that’ll blow our cover like a couple of morons, you could at least take a page out of Ras’ book and be subtle about it.”

Elo and Grovi blinked several times.

“Are you… drunk?” Elo eyed the mug of cider Blair had been drinking.

Blair drained his mug in response and slammed it down on the table with a belch. “I’d like to see you not want a drink after being made completely helpless, shown the horrors of Tartarus, tortured, threatened with death, and then reminded that you have an uncontrollable magic addiction that instantly kills everything within a half a mile radius.”

Elo and Grovi gaped at him.

“Is that what happened to you?!” Grovi said in a rushed whisper. “Piro only said—“

“I didn’t tell Piro the specifics because he wasn’t moaning and whining like an old nag.” Blair wiped his mouth and crossed his hooves before continuing. “You’ve had twenty years to come to terms with what we are. Yes, we have all the memories of the Knights leading up to the point we were placed in the constellations and put into stasis. Yes it’s hard to differentiate between us and them. And yes, I still have to double check to make sure I don’t introduce myself as Libra. None of that matters. You need to tell Rarity she’s the avatar of the Element of Generosity so that she can be ready to stop Nightmare Moon’s unkillable army of psychotic monsters from breaking out and getting to Princess Luna, because if you don’t, you’re going to find yourself dangling out over Tartarus like a worm on a hook with Horizon holding a blade over your proverbial throat the next time you go to sleep. Got it?!”

It was at that point Ras emerged out of the crowd carrying a pair of mugs on his back. He sat down, slid one over to Blair, raised his own to take a sip...

…and almost choked as he saw the wide-eyed, incredulous expressions on Elo and Grovi’s faces. He nudged Blair, who adjusted the Private Conversation spell so that he was included.

“Did Blair inform you of his little escapade last night?" Ras put down his mug so he wouldn’t spill any from laughing. “I should’ve warned you he’s in blab mode before I left. This is the first time we’ve given Horizon alcohol, so it didn’t take much. ”

Elo and Grovi said nothing. They just continued to stare.

“My reaction was the same, If it’s any consolation.” Ras snickered. “The kid’s really got our balls in a vice, doesn’t he?”

“What’s left of him does, anyway.” Blair sniffed the new mug. Sure enough, Ras had gotten him more hard cider. He shrugged and took a sip.

Elo had managed to recover enough to register what was being said. “I-I thought he... you... you mean Horizon’s aware?! Of everything?”

“He sees, hears, tastes, touches, and smells everything we do, from all our perspectives,” Blair said.

“Two of which are drunk.” Ras waggled his eyebrows. “I hope it’s screwing with him.”

“You and me both.” Blair took another pull.

“He’s supposed to be a vegetable!” Grovi whispered. “I thought Zemblani—”

“—partially transmuted his body and shattered his mind to pieces when she used him as the target for an unstable barrier spell created with sloppy Spell Fusion, then threw him into the original Gate of Tartarus to wedge it open.” Blair traced the edge of his mug. “I know, Grovi, I was there. His subconscious survived intact.”

A thought occurred to Elo. “You guys remember the first few years after the accident? How Horizon would appear randomly in our dreams?”

“I think you mean Horizon’s subconscious,” Blair said, “but yes, I remember.”

“Kid kept screaming and hollering like a colorful, blurred-out banshee,” Ras muttered. “I didn’t get a good night’s sleep for weeks.”

“We all thought he was insane,” Grovi said.

“The jury’s still out on that, but it turns out that was his way of trying to communicate.” Blair shuddered. “These last twenty years he’s lurked in the back of our minds, seeing our thoughts and going through our memories. You may as well treat him as a separate entity at this point.”

“To which I reiterate that Ophiuchus is almost as bad a name as the one you tried to stick me with.” Ras facehooved. “I shudder to think what you’d name your kids if we could reproduce.”

Blair burst out laughing.

Elo’s face contorted as he took in the information. “So… he’s the one pushing us to do this?”

“Yep,” Blair said. “He’s thankful for what we did, and are still doing, but he won’t think twice about severing our link to him if we don’t do what he says.”

Elo and Grovi were both silent for a time.

“I guess we don’t have a choice,” Grovi said.

“Glad you can at least see that much,” Blair said in a chipper tone. “And with you two, that makes everyone.”

Ras opened his mouth in mock offense. “Hey! You didn’t tell me! I just happened to be sitting here the whole time.”

Blair looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “You know, technically I should write you up for violating orders. You weren’t supposed to tell Pinkie.”

Ras snorted. “Be my guest. We'll run out of time before I get brought up before the board.”

Blair gestured at Ras to the other two guards. “Subtlety! You might want to get a few pointers before you tell Rarity.”

“There’s no subtle way to tell her that she can create things out of thin air with her mind,” Elo protested. “This isn’t gonna go over well regardless.”

Blair let out a short laugh. “So you think she’s in stage two, then?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe.”

Elo and Grovi had spoken at the same time. They looked at each other.

“Huh?” Elo said.

Grovi bit his lip. “I haven’t told you about this because I don’t know what to think. I’m not exactly a guru when it comes to interpreting the deeper meaning behind prophetic dreams.”

Blair paused. “Has she’s been telling you what she’s been seeing?”

Grovi nodded. “One thing I’ve noticed her repeating is a dam that’s blocking a body of water. She says that the waters are rising, and on the other side is empty space.”

“How enlightening,” Ras remarked dryly. “What do you think it means?”

Grovi ignored Elo’s accusing stare boring holes into the side of his head. “If I had to guess, I’d say that the river is the Element of Generosity, and that something is blocking it. I've no idea how, or even what it might be, though. All I know is she hasn’t manifested any of her other powers yet, and this might be the reason why.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this!” Elo burst out. “I could've helped you figure this out! Don't you—”

“It had nothing to do with whether I trust you or not,” Grovi said without looking at him. “It was about not wanting to betray hers. You know how private she is.”

“Which is what I'm banking on.” Blair straightened his shoulders. “Hopefully that trust is enough to keep her from going to the Princess.”

Both Elo and Grovi did a double take.

“Wait, you still want us to keep…” Elo stamped a hoof and looked away. “Ah, horseapples.”

Blair raised an eyebrow. “What's wrong?”

“Rarity’s going to Canterlot in ten days,” Grovi said. “She’s going to be there for an entire week.”

Blair clenched his jaw. “That’s a problem.”

“What should we do?” Elo said.

“Depends,” Blair replied. “Think she’ll want to see the Princess?”

Elo and Grovi looked at each other for a moment, and the music of the band filled the pause. They both seemed to come to the same conclusion and nodded at the same time.

“Yeah, she will.” Grovi said.

Blair cracked his neck. “Then let her. I’m sick of this skulking around. Princess Celestia said we’re not supposed to interfere. So don’t.”

“What do you think will happen?” Ras asked.

“Wouldn’t be so apprehensive if I knew that.” Blair played with his mug. “The Princess might just refuse to see them for all I know.”

Elo ran a hoof through his mane. “This doesn’t make any sense. Why can’t the Princess just come out and tell them herself? Why us?”

“Oh, come on.”

All three of them turned to Ras, who rolled his eyes. “Okay, I don’t know why she won’t tell them herself, but it’s pretty obvious why she chose us as her replacements.”

Blair swished his tail. “I guess we're all just a bunch of idiots, then. Mind enlightening us?”

Ras smirked. “We have a vested interest in them recovering, so we'll push them harder than anypony else. We know the reason why they have to recover quickly, so nopony else needs to get involved. We’ve already seen war, and have dealt with creatures much more powerful than us, so there's no question of our abilities. A normal group of soldiers isn’t gonna know what to do if the Bearers go rogue, but we might be able to hold them off long enough to send a warning out. And since we're not alive, it's no big deal if they kill us.”

Elo and Grovi's eyes fell as the gravity of the last reason hit them.

“Given this some thought, eh?” Blair said.

Ras sighed. “Was either that or strike up another thrilling conversation with Vigil. The idea of spending another two months with him gives me the chills.”

“Speaking of which...” The three of them looked pointedly at Blair, who was shivering.

Blair felt their eyes on him. He looked up and exhaled out his nose. “No one knows what it means. The Lifeforce spell was forbidden even before the war. Doubly so now, after what Libra did with it.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Grovi said. “Isn’t Rarity’s Soul Tether power kind of the same?”

Blair looked out at the orchards. “Yes and no. My magic was intended to be a means to track ponies by seeing their lifeforce, but it was discovered that you could feel it as well with a minor alteration. Rarity's magic allows her to envelop another’s lifeforce in her own so that it doesn't bleed out into the Void, but she can also take it into herself if the target’s body is too damaged.”

“So,” Ras hung on the word and swayed his head. “What’s to stop her from becoming addicted like you?”

Blair rubbed his brow. “Lifeforce addiction comes from a combination of two things: The first is that when you use the spell to sense other living creatures, it tricks you into thinking all the lifeforce you feel is yours. The second is that when you abruptly sever yourself from all your targets, your body to thinks you just lost a huge chunk of lifeforce, and demands that you replenish it. So you do it again and again... until you run out of bodies.”

“I get that,” Grovi said, “but what makes Rarity's Soul Tether different?”

Blair turned back to them. “Luckily, she can tell the difference between her lifeforce and that of her target's.”

“Oh,” Elo said.

“That's still dangerous,” Grovi said. “You also said she can take someone's lifeforce into herself. What's to stop her from doing that?”

Blair gave him a condescending look. “Does it strike you as very generous to steal the lifeforce of others? She won’t use it in that way anymore than Fluttershy will use her Fearsense to dominate those around her. Besides, it’d do absolutely nothing for Rarity because lifeforce can't be merged. All it'd give her is a lot of very confused, panicked voices in her head, and I really doubt she wants that.”

“Blair!”

The four of them turned to see Twilight walking up to them. Blair quickly released his spell.

“All the girls are together,” Twilight said. “Do you think you could get all the guards so we can introduce everypony to each other?”

Blair looked at his mug, shrugged, then drained it and looked to the others. They all got to their hooves.

“Sure.”

The next fifteen minutes began as an awkward affair as the six Bearers introduced themselves and exchanged pleasantries between the thirteen guards. Blair and Ras helped to lighten the mood, and their jovial attitudes broke the ice between the two parties. Everypony started to open up and converse, and the tension lessened considerably.

Spesci bantered with Rainbow about the finer points of cloud manipulation. Tastar talked with Twilight and Spike about possibilities for him to visit Drakkenridge to learn more about his parents. Norric had a subtle conversation with Pinkie, the former not picking up on the latter's hints that she knew more than she was letting on. Applejack feigned interest as Grovi discussed the finer points of metalworking. Rarity sat with strained patience as Piro borderline interrogated her about her condition, and Fluttershy smiled awkwardly as Esra asked her polite questions about animal care with only a slight stammer.

In the middle of the exchange, Megnii looked over and saw Ace standing alone by the house, staring off into the fields with a far off look.

Megnii walked over to him. Ace noticed his approach, but didn’t move away or give any sign of protest. The two stood side by side for a moments in silence before Megnii spoke.

“You never were much for socializing.”

Ace closed his eyes. “I don’t like crowds.”

“I know you don't mean anything by it,” Megnii said gently. “Some ponies just prefer solitude.”

“Would be nice if I could actually get some,” Ace grumbled. “Never thought I'd say it, but I miss my old quarters back in the palace.”

Megnii chuckled. “The rest of us were always jealous of you for that, you know. Not even Blair got his own.”

“I never requested them.” Ace rolled his neck. “The Princess just gave them to me.”

“We always figured she was trying to bribe you so you'd take on an apprentice.” Megnii looked at him with inquisitive eyes. “Was that really the reason?”

Ace turned to him. He wasn’t going to tell the truth at first, but when he saw that the look on Megnii’s face was one of innocent curiosity and not resentment or bitterness, he changed his mind.

“Yeah, it was.” He relaxed his shoulders. “She asked me right after we'd settled into the palace. She said to take it as a token of good faith, and that she hoped I might be more open-minded than Cancer. I told her I didn’t want special treatment, but she insisted, so I had to accept.”

Megnii sat on his haunches. “Do you mind if I ask why you haven’t taken one? An apprentice, I mean. I heard you say before that Cancer took the secrets of the Cardinal Blade style to his grave. It seems like a waste for such a beautiful sword style to be lost.”

“There’s nothing beautiful about it.” An uneaten apple rolled out of the crowd to rest at Ace's hooves. He picked it up and examined it. “The hearts and minds of this era are beautiful things—innocent, untouched by darkness, pure as newly fallen snow. I would preserve such beauty, not stain it with the knowledge of the killing arts. Once you've trained your mind to see the world as a canvas, your blade as a brush, and your foes nothing but vessels of crimson paint... there's no going back.”

“You might be doing more harm than good by holding back such knowledge,” Megnii pointed out. “The Cardinal Blades could save countless lives if war ever came again.”

Ace’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Or cause countless deaths.”

“Don't be so hard on yourself.” Megnii lightly punched Ace's shoulder. “We all know you value the sanctity of life above all else. I’m sure you can find somepony in this era that shares that mentality.”

“It’s a very special pony that can master the art of war and still think that life is precious,” Ace replied. “I know how Cancer acquired such beliefs, but I’ll die before I make another suffer like he did. If I’d met such a poor soul by chance I might’ve guided them, but I fear it’s too late now.”

“Because we’re running out of time?” Megnii said uncertainly. “Or have you let your skills slip?”

Ace made a derisive snort. “The former. My blades are as much a part of me as my legs or tail, so much so that I feel a constant itch in my horn when I’m not wielding them. I can’t even imagine what it’d be like not have them on me, let alone not be able to use them.”

Megnii raised an eyebrow. His gaze flickered over Ace’s body, but there was no indication in his posture or movement that he was carrying anything, concealed or not.

“Where?”

Ace lifted one of his forelegs and showed it to Megnii. Just visible through his coat was a faint discolored blotch on his skin, shaped like two crossed swords. His other foreleg held the same mark.

“Blademelding spell,” Ace whispered. “Not exactly proper etiquette to wear a quartet of longswords at a party, now is it?”

“Megnii?”

Fluttershy emerged out of the crowd. She gave Ace a quick glance, then cleared her throat.

“Have you seen Spesci? I can’t find him anywhere.”

Megnii raised his chin to look over the crowd. “I haven't seen him since I was over talking with the chickens.”

Ace titled his head. “...talking?”

Megnii smirked. “Long story.”

Fluttershy brightened. “Applejack told me they all recovered! Maybe I should—no, I came over here for Esra. At least, I think that’s his name. Is that right?”

Megnii nodded. “I’ll see if I can find Spesci for you.”

He trotted off, and as he did, he looked back once at Ace.

“Wind at your back,” he called.

Ace waved a hoof. “Sun warm your face.”

Megnii’s departure inadvertently left Fluttershy and Ace alone. She looked at him once, then quickly redirected her gaze and slowly backed away.

“I-I’ll just be going now…”

“You have beautiful eyes.”

Fluttershy stopped and looked up at him. Ace’s face was haggard and worn, age lines and crow’s feet had marred his otherwise youthful appearance, and his eyes were tired and distant.

Fluttershy felt a chill. “What?”

Ace bowed, then walked past her and into the crowd. He spoke in a whisper that was lost to the din.

“I pray you never lose them.”

The band switched over to slower tunes as the party continued into the night. The crowd thinned out, the couples took their turn on the dance floor, and the ponies who’d just come for the food now returned to their homes. Granny decided she’d exchanged enough pleasantries and small talk for the night, and retired to the porch swing to watch the party wind down. Applebloom sat beside her, and the two now enjoyed a moment of companionship as they rocked back and forth on the old creaky swing.

Applebloom looked up at Granny. “I’m glad you’re all better.”

Granny smiled. “I am too, hun.”

“Does this mean you can help me with my chores?”

Granny chuckled. “‘Fraid you’re not getting’ out of ‘em that easily.”

Applebloom giggled, and they both were quiet for a while as they continued to rock. Before long, though, a thought resurged in Applebloom’s mind that’d been eating away at her for the past week. She'd tried to bring it up several times, but her throat had gone tight every time she did. It was only in that moment that she finally found the courage.

Applebloom looked up. “Granny?”

“Yeah?”

Applebloom’s lower lip quivered once, but she shook her head and took a deep breath. “I don’t hate you.”

Granny put a hoof around Applebloom in reply. Applebloom leaned in and nuzzled her grandmother’s side, then shut her eyes and released her pent-up feelings.

“I was just angry and sad because those tools were Daddy’s and I liked to pretend him and me would fix things around the farm all day and he’d teach me all sorts of things and we’d be together and we’d go into the house for dinner and Momma and Grandpa and everypony else would be there and we’d talk and be happy but Applejack says I can’t do that because it hurts too much when you remember it’s all in your head and—“

Applebloom felt a gentle hoof run through her mane. She opened her eyes, and saw that Granny was looking down at her with a sad smile.

“Do you understand what Jackie told you?” Granny’s tone was firm, but not unkind.

Applebloom nodded.

“Are you sorry for the hurtful things you said to me?”

Applebloom's eyes watered. “I didn't mean it!”

“Shhh.” Granny gave her a gentle squeeze. “I never once thought you did, but I want you to know that the worst thing you said was, ‘you only care about the stupid apples.’ Do you know why?”

Applebloom sniffled and hung her head. “No…”

Granny bent down and kissed her granddaughter’s brow.

“Because I care about the smart ones, too.”

Twilight and the others sat at the same table she and Fluttershy had been at earlier. Rarity had already said goodbye to Twilight, and had just left with her guards. Spike had succumbed to the combination of lulling music and the inevitable food coma, and was asleep next to Twilight. The five of them now sat relaxed in each other’s company, and were catching up by exchanging stories back and forth. The band had announced it was playing its last song of the night, and so they shifted the discussion to Twilight's departure.

“When are you leaving?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight curled her lip. “First thing in the morning. Part of me just wants to stay up all night and sleep on the train.”

“Where you headin’ first?” Applejack was leaned back in her chair looking up over the top of the farmhouse.

“Whinnyapolis,” Twilight replied.

“Why there?” Rainbow didn’t bother to hide the bitter tinge in her voice.

Twilight had been trying all night to make Rainbow feel better about her leaving, but she’d stubbornly insisted on sulking. Twilight had given up at this point.

“Whinnyapolis is known for its focus on medical research due to there are a lot of hospitals in the area. The Princess told me that I should look into businesses that exemplify the traits of the Elements, so I figure one of them might have some records on the Symbol of Kindness, or maybe even Laughter.”

“It’s the best medicine, after all!” Pinkie said.

“Goin’ out on a hunch and hopin’ for the best is a long shot,” Applejack pointed out.

Twilight grunted and rested her chin on the table. “Better than no shot at all. My array is done, I’ve already found what schools of magic the two Symbols I have are associated with, and if I just could just get into the Millennial Archives I could find out what the rest of them are! It’s so frustrating! The answers are right in front of me, but I can’t get to them!”

Fluttershy rubbed Twilight’s shoulder. "Couldn't somepony else go in there, write them down, and then show them to you afterward?"

Twilight leaned her head on Fluttershy’s hoof. “That would get them stripped of their access, job, title, and worst of all, I’d immediately fail the assignment. I have to explain to the committee that will be reviewing my spell how I found them, and they’re incredibly picky about my work because I’ve advanced through the curriculum so fast. They’re watching me like hawks.”

“Okay, here’s the plan,” Rainbow said in an emphatic tone. “We sneak into the Archives, get what you need, spend the time you’d be running around Equestria here in Ponyville coming up with a good cover story, and you use some kind of spell to make everypony forget if we’re spotted. Easy-peasy.”

Twilight looked up through her eyelashes. “Rainbow…”

“I’m kidding,” Rainbow said with a wink and a smirk. “Off the the record, though, I’d totally have your back if you did something like that.”

As usual, Twilight didn’t know whether to be flattered or frightened by Rainbow’s insinuations. The two emotions always cancelled each other out, but a tiny voice in the back of her mind couldn’t help but explore the possibilities of such a daring venture.

“Didn’t know University teachers were so strict,” Applejack said. “I’m suddenly glad I had to run the farm after school. Rules as tight as that wouldn’t sit well with me.”

“I don’t know how other ponies do it, to be honest,” Twilight muttered. “I’ve only been going for this degree for a few years and I’m already close to tearing my mane out over these professors! I’m almost looking at this as a vacation.”

“I’m just glad you’ll have your guards with you,” Fluttershy said. “I hear ponies in the city can be really aggressive, especially to mares.”

Pinkie snorted. “Twilight’s not in any danger! If anypony gives her a hard time, she can just blast ‘em!”

Twilight went wide-eyed. “What?!”

“Yeah! Send ‘em flying!” Pinkie sat on her haunches and waved her hooves. “You know, lots of big magic and explosions and stuff!”

Twilight felt all eyes on her. She fidgeted and hunched down. “I-I can’t do anything like that! Just because I read a lot of books and study a lot doesn’t mean I have a big font or anything! Do you even know how unicorn magic works?”

“Sure!” Pinkie picked up a twig and put it on her forehead. “You concentrate on the thing you wanna explode, then kablooey!”

Rainbow nodded sagely. “Kablooey.”

“Pinkie, the amount of magical power required for any spell from the Evocation school is immense.” Twilight delved into her vast knowledge of the arcane arts. “Rather, it’s not so much the harnessing of the energy that’s difficult, it’s the proper channeling and safe direction of it. The unicorn acts as a conduit between the energy being generated and the target of the spell, and because of this most Evocation spells come in the form of a ray or projectile. Manifesting any kind of spell at a distance is much more difficult, as the unicorn must extend their magic through the air to the chosen destina­­—”

Twilight stopped as she saw the amused looks on all her friend’s faces. Pinkie’s shoulders were shaking as she tried to hold in her mirth.

Twilight rubbed her eyes. “I’m just digging a hole, aren’t I?”

“Climb out before you dig any deeper,” Applejack advised.

Pinkie recovered and smiled slyly at Twilight. “Don’t worry, I know you’ll have tons and tons of fun, even if you don’t get to explode anything. And maybe you’ll have a surprise for us when you get back! I know we’ll have one for you.”

They all stared blankly at Pinkie.

“We will?” Fluttershy said.

“You’llllllllll see.” Pinkie closed her eyes and nodded her head out of sync with the song being played by the band.

Twilight looked at her friends. Rainbow was staring at her with a fierce, forlorn look that spoke volumes. Applejack was stoic, but her clenched jaw gave her away. Fluttershy cleared her mane out of her face and rubbed something out of her eye. Pinkie was glowing, her playful face turned up in an eternal smile.

Twilight stared at all of them and tried to burn this moment into her memory. There was so much more she wanted to tell them—reassurances of safety, promises of swift return, reluctance over this course of action, but she realized it’d all been said. There was really only one thing left to say, and even if it was only temporary, it was still the hardest thing.

Twilight felt her eyes burn. She hung her head and tried to say it, as well as how much she’d miss them, but her voice broke. She tried again, but she still couldn’t get the words out. She was about to try a third time when she felt herself swept up in Rainbow’s embrace. It was quickly followed by Applejack’s, Fluttershy’s and Pinkie’s as they all joined the hug.

Twilight realized that some words don’t need to be said. In fact, trying to do so only cheapens their meaning. All that mattered in that moment was action, and she realized that it meant more than anything she could put into words.

So she didn’t try. She just closed her eyes and hugged her friends back as hard as she could.

It was enough.

The party wound down an hour later. The last few guests and relatives said their farewells, then went their separate ways. Pinkie’s helpers were an efficient bunch, and dissembled the stage and the lights within a half hour. They took the equipment and headed back to Ponyville, and the darkness and solitude of the countryside to crept back in. Applejack, Mac, Strauss and Norric finished cleaning up the barn, and they now came up to the farmhouse to see Granny and Applebloom together on the porch.

Applebloom yawned as she looked up at them with half-lidded, fluttering eyes. “Wuzza fun party.”

Applejack and Mac chuckled as they beheld their sleepy sibling.

“I think somepony needs to go to bed,” Mac said.

“M’not tired,” Applebloom rested her head back on Granny’s leg. “Just restin’ my eyes a minute.”

Granny adjusted the bow in Applebloom’s mane. “You can rest your eyes a lot longer than a minute if you go upstairs, hun.”

“Warm.” Applebloom snuggled closer to Granny. “D’wanna move.”

Mac picked her up and set her on his back. “Big day for a little filly, wasn’t it?”

“M'not little,” Applebloom mumbled through Mac’s mane. The two went into the house before she could further protest.

Norric and Strauss hung back as they saw Applejack still standing on the porch. Strauss caught her eye and gave her an inquiring glance. Applejack nodded at Granny. Strauss caught the meaning, and motioned for Norric to follow him inside.

The night sky was alive with vibrant stars, and the farmyard was dark and still. The only evidence left of the party was a few mugs, plates, and bits of food still strewn about. Applejack took Applebloom’s place on the porch swing beside Granny, and the two of them sat for a few minutes before Applejack spoke up.

“Still can’t believe what Pinkie did. What’re we gonna do with all that money we were savin’ up?”

“A few things come to mind.” Granny pointed at the wooden shed. “Tearin’ that thing down’s the first one.”

“You sure?” Applejack said. “You weren’t very enthusiastic the last time I brought it up.”

Granny barked out a short laugh. “I got no right to be nostalgic after tellin’ Applebloom what for. It needs to be replaced before it comes down on somepony’s head.”

Silence returned. Applejack began to rock the porch swing, then took off her hat and played with the frayed ends of her ponytail.

Granny let her fidget for a few moments before taking the initiative. “You’ve got somethin’ on your mind too, I see.”

Applejack didn’t meet Granny’s eyes and kept playing with her mane before finally speaking in an unsure voice.

“Is your arthritis really gone?”

Granny’s eyes twinkled, and her lips turned up in a mischievous smirk.

“No, it isn’t,” she said in a clear, confident voice.

Applejack jerked. The words had lingered in her ears, like Granny had spoken in an echo chamber.

“What’d you say?!”

“My hip isn’t cured,” Granny repeated. “I still have arthritis. Pinkie pulled a very mean prank, and is a terrible pony for lying.”

All of her grandmother’s words had echoed, but the words ‘terrible pony’ rang in Applejack’s ears with the force of a bell. She clutched head and staggered off the porch swing.

“Okay, stop! Whatever you’re doing hurts!”

Granny’s eyes widened. She looked down and muttered something Applejack only caught the last part of.

“—like that old proverb. Little different, though…”

“What’s going on?!” Applejack demanded.

“A very good question,” Granny said calmly. “One I don’t fully know the answer to myself. I didn’t mean to hurt ya, though, so sorry about that. I’m guessin’ the stronger the lie, the stronger the reaction you have to it.”

Applejack opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it. She repeated the motion several times, each time trying to form a different question, but they all sounded either crazy, contradictory to what she knew to be fact, or impossible. She finally settled on the question that seemed like it would answer the most.

“Why’re you lying?”

Granny’s lips twitched. “How do ya know that I am?”

“Your voice sounds like we’re in a cave.” Applejack rubbed her ears. “How’re you doin’ that?”

“I’m not doin’ it.” Granny met her eyes. “Do you feel anythin’ else?

“Feel?” Applejack checked herself. “No, why?”

Granny raised a hoof to her chin, her eyes never leaving her granddaughter’s. Finally, she got up and put a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder.

“Words aren't enough to express how proud I am of you. I never once doubted ya, but it does my heart good to see that you’ve taken the groundwork I laid down, and turned it into somethin’ great.”

“What?” Applejack shook her head. “I ain’t done nothin‘ impressive compared to you. You and Grandpa were the ones who built the buildings, set up the fencin’ and planted the apple trees. All I’ve done is keep things goin’.”

“I’m not talkin’ about the farm, I’m talkin’ about you.” Granny poked Applejack in the chest. “You’re strong, reliable, steadfast, hardworking, and beautiful to boot. And while I’ll take some credit, you’re the one who’s made the choices that’ve turned you into what you’ve become. I only wish Jonny and Cinny were still around so they could see.”

Applejack flushed at the praise. She looked down at the ground and shuffled a hoof. “I—but… well, y-you really think they’d be proud of me?”

“Without a doubt,” Granny said. “I didn’t just put you in charge because my hip started to go, you know. I knew I could rely on you. I knew I could trust you.”

A tiny dot in Applejack’s heart pulsed once. She flinched as a warm sensation spread out from her core in a crystalline pattern.

Granny ran her hoof along the railing of the porch. “I got two things that I consider to be my life’s work: This here farm, and the three of you. Nothin' made me happier than the day I put those pieces together, and while we all wish your momma and daddy were still with us, I'm glad I was able to raise you with my own hooves. You've turned into a damn fine mare, this is just the icing on the cake. I only hope I’m around to see what you do with it.”

“Do with wha—AHHHH!”

Granny turned at the echo-filled scream. Applejack’s pupils were filled with emerald light, and she was staring at something inside the house.

“What are those things?!”

Applejack gasped and put a hoof over her mouth as she heard her own voice. She turned back to Granny, then into the house again. She repeated the motion several times until a set of voices floated out from inside the house.

“So much for telling her tomorrow.”

“Shut up, Norric.” Strauss called out to Applejack. “Calm down. I know we look… bizarre, but we’re not going to hurt you.”

Granny walked over to see what had gotten Applejack so riled up. Norric and Strauss were standing beside the dining room table, looking completely normal, albeit a little guilty. They winced and shuffled their hooves under Applejack’s accusing stare.

Granny thought back to what Pinkie had told her about Applejack’s Truthsense ability and spoke out of the corner of her mouth.

“They ain't what they seem, are they?”

Applejeack could see. Norric and Strauss’s bodies were semi-transparent and comprised of swirling, colorful plasma. It raced along the inside of their bodies like a stream, and rotated in a spiral pattern around a tiny golden ball in their chests. Most disturbing of all though was their eyes, which were nothing but empty, unblinking holes.

The Element of Honesty pulsed in response to Applejack’s panic. Tendrils of power fortified and tempered her body, making her feel denser, like her body was made of diamond. The sensation reached Applejack’s limbs and flowed out past her hooves, and made her feel like she was an extension of the planet itself. Her fear was washed away, but it was quickly replaced it with another emotion, one that rose immediately to a breaking point.

Anger.

Applejack lowered her chin as the emerald light filled her irises.

“Tell me what you are.” Applejack raised a forehoof in the air. “Right…”

“WAIT!” Strauss and Norric yelled.

“NOW!” Applejack stamped her hoof as hard as she could.

There was a splintering crunch. Applejack’s hoof went straight through the porch, hit the ground below, and caused a shuddering tremor that ran through the house and farmyard. The boards gave way, and Applejack yelped as she stumbled and fell through. The roof of the porch shook dangerously, and Norric and Strauss steadied themselves as the shockwave rattled the walls and foundations.

“Jackie!”

Granny had seen what Applejack had intended and had leapt away in time thanks to her renewed agility. She now rushed over to the hole in the porch.

Applejack groaned and she got back on her hooves. She was unharmed, and looked more surprised than anything else. She stared down at her hoof, then over at Granny.

“Did I just—“

“Give us another thing to spend our savings on? You sure did.” Granny looked up at Norric and Strauss with narrowed, dangerous eyes. “I hope you boys are in a sharin’ mood, cuz you’re gonna be doin’ a lot of it.”

“We’re under orders—“ Norric began.

“Enough.” Strauss picked up a cup that’d fallen off the table. “The jig’s up.”

Norric whirled on Strauss. “Blair told us not to—“

“This is salvageable,” he hissed. “Don’t make it any worse.”

“Stop your mumblin’.” Granny’s voice was as cold as ice. “Mina told me why you’re really here. You ain’t got no more secrets to keep.”

The two guards looked to her, then to Applejack, who had gotten out of the hole. She kept her glowing eyes on them, but backed away into the farmyard to prevent herself from doing any more harm.

A dark laugh escaped Strauss’ lips. “That’s where you’re wrong.”