• Published 19th Jan 2015
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The Elements of Friendship, Book IS [interlude one-point-five]: Bonds - Amras Felagund


Empowered by the Alicorn Amulet, Trixie foalnaps Queen Celestia's little sister. Twilight and her new friends must save her!

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CHAPTER vi: The Very Same Rainbow

KOOB TXEN FO ELTIT

Scores of ponies stood around the fallen Trixie Lulamoon in stunned horror. Little Mornen Noir buried her head in her mother Pinot’s chest, the mulberry mare and her Unicorn wife each placing a comforting hoof on the back of their daughter’s head. The Mayor’s pince-museau glasses slipped slightly down her muzzle, necessitating a light push back up.

“E-everypony with children, please see to it that they’ve been taken back to their homes,” the Mayor said shakily. Even before she’d finished, at least a dozen parental pairs began to herd their foals off and away from Town Square.

“Come along, Apple Bloom,” muttered Big McIntosh, nudging her lightly in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres.

Apple Bloom let out a high protesting “Hey!”, before sputtering in resignation and trotting off, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo following morosely.

“This is only a safety measure,” called the Mayor after the receding families. “Word shall be sent out swiftly once the situation has been cleared up.”

Upon finishing her words, the Mayor turned her bespectacled gaze upon the fallen Unicorn, as did Twilight Sparkle and her band of friends. After only a moment’s hesitation, she lifted away the cape…

Twilight felt her stomach lurch slightly; the cape came unclasped, but upon close inspection she could see that the fibers had become interwoven into her shoulders and withers. The changes that the Alicorn Amulet had effected upon Trixie’s body had not been reversed. Her coat was still palest blue-white, her mane and the skirt of her tail had all but fallen out, and her irises were still blue surrounded by black sclera.

“Oh dear…” murmured Fluttershy. “This is just awful…”

“Indeed it is,” added Strawberry, the doe nuzzling her son’s head. “Why would something like this happen?”

Whatever answer anypony could offer to the Deer mother, it was lost in that moment. Rarity, no longer the puffball that she’d appeared to be, rounded indignantly upon Blueblood.

“You… used me as a meat-shield?” she snarled. “You, sir, are without a doubt the single most charmless pony I have ever met!”

Blueblood withdrew frightfully, calling out, “Guards! I’m being threatened!”

Flash Sentry and Wind Chill answered almost immediately, flanking the Duke and placing their wings across the space between them.

“Is there a problem, Ma’am?” asked Flash Sentry strictly.

Stealing one last disgusted look at the cowardly Duke, Rarity snorted.

“No. I have nothing whatsoever to say. It would be a waste of breath.”

The pair of Guards lowered their wings hesitantly. Queen Selena approached, the Alicorn Amulet in her dwimmer shimmer.

‘Thou dost carry little of the royal bearing, Princeling,’ she admonished. ‘Thy many-dozens-great-grandmother was mine and my sister’s aunt. If I may say so, thou must act the role of kindly royalty.’

“But she was yelling at me!” Blueblood retorted.

Rarity sighed heavily.

“I really dodged an arrow with that one,” she murmured to Twilight. “I swear to you, the Duke will have turned me away from stallions forever.”

Twilight snorted humorously in spite of herself. “He has that effect on mares. I tried to tell you earlier, but…” Her eyes drifted darkly down to Trixie’s fallen form.

Rarity nodded slowly. “I see…”

A trumpet call blared out from the north, bringing the attention of the dozen-four remaining in Town Square. A glimmer of light approached from Canterlot.

“Q-Queen Celestia…?” gasped Aunt Orange, before setting to her daughters’ manes. “Quickly, you have to look your absolute sharpest!”

‘That will not be necessary, Lady Orange,’ sighed Selena. ‘Elder Sister cares little for appearances or status anymore.’

Uncle Orange tilted his head confusedly.

“But… Isn’t she the Queen? Why would the Queen not care about status or appearances?”

“Perhaps you’d be best suited to asking her when she arrives,” answered Twilight, pointing a sapphire hoof up at the approaching chariot, nearly identical to the one which had carried Queen Selena and set down in Ponyville several hours before. It set itself down beside Queen Selena’s chariot, a pair of figures disembarking shortly. It was Queen Celestia and Zecora.

Twilight made to address the Alicorn Queen, but a pale-blue shimmer of magic from one of the ponies who’d drawn the chariot. His wings were flying apart into dozens of flat squares, a pale-blue glow from the peak of his head.

A Unicorn? she’d thought confusedly as the squares all converged at a single point that diverged from Royal Guard’s regulation armor: a simple brown satchel tied to his left hind leg. And… are those sheets of paper? He has paper magic?

Shaking her head slightly, Twilight turned her attention to Queen Celestia and Zecora. In the nighttime of Town Square, Celestia practically glowed in her eminence and her radiance.

“Selena,” she said brightly, verily prancing up to her younger sister. “I’m so glad to see you safe again after such a troubling turn. And on NightMare Night at that!”

‘Elder sister,’ Queen Selena levitated up the Alicorn Amulet, ‘I do believe that the rapscallion fallen at our hooves was being manipulated by this carcanet.’

The beaming look on Celestia’s face gave way to a dark shrewdness, the royal-blue dwimmer shimmer around the Amulet giving way to Celestia’s bright-yellow dwimmer shimmer as the Queen of the Sun brought the offending trinket towards herself.

She narrowed her eyes.

“There is a fell magic in this amulet,” she mused partly to herself. “If it had stayed on Trixie Lulamoon much longer… I cannot imagine that she would have lasted.”

Twilight glanced down somberly at the formerly azure Unicorn, immobile and unresponsive. Catching the movement of her pupil’s eyes, Celestia followed the lavender Unicorn’s gaze and gave a slight gasp.

“This… this can’t be young Lulamoon,” Celestia breathed, eyes moving along shriveled legs, protruding ribs, thinning mane and skirt of tail. She addressed the Unicorn Royal Guard who had helped to lead her chariot into Ponyville, “Guard the Amulet with your life, Paper. I shall ensure that Trixie Lulamoon receives the utmost care at Ponyville’s hospital.”

Paper the Royal Guard saluted, “I can do it, Your Majesty!” His alicorn glowed pale-blue, his satchel flying open and scores of sheets of paper flying out to form a treasure chest that encased the Alicorn Amulet.

‘Too long it seems, my Unicorn friend,’ smiled Zecora. ‘But glad I am that this has reached its end.’

Twilight reached a foreleg over Zecora’s shoulder, holding the Kwato Zebra tight.

“I hope it has, Zecora. I hope it has.”


Doctor Horse, M.D. removed his stethoscope from the pale Unicorn’s chest. The medical Unicorn faced his queenly guest with dread. “Well, Your Majesty… I’m not picking up any cardiac activity. No heartbeat at all. No lung activity either. For all intents and purposes, she should be dead.”

“‘Should be’?” echoed Queen Celestia. “What do you mean?”

Doctor Horse took up a reflex hammer in his dwimmer shimmer, rapping against one of Trixie’s knees sharply. Her leg bucked sharply, then settled back to its original position.

“As I thought,” he said decisively, as though this settled some great mystery. For Queen Celestia, however, pony anatomy was not a matter of great study for a very long time, and the memory was not quick to come back to her.

“Please, Doctor. Enlighten me as to what this means.”

“Well,” explained Doctor Horse, “while I was checking for a pulse and for breathing, I also performed a quick spell to check for neuronal activity. I… think you’ll find the results interesting.”

His bright-blue dwimmer shimmer projected a graph over Trixie’s hospital bed. It showed a steady rising and falling series of parabolic arcs.

“This is the typical pony’s brainwaves while engaged in learning, the point at which a pony’s brain is at its most active, around three-dozen-four cps. It is around eight-to-dozen-one cps when a pony’s mind is considered to be ‘at rest’. Now…” His voice lowered noticeably, and he hesitated at the prospect of discussing this with the Queen, but he recalled that she had lived through the timeless Age of Discord, seen worse horrors than he had ever dared to imagine, and he acquiesced to himself. “This is what our patient’s neural pattern looks like.”

The parabolic arcs spiked dramatically, rising and falling at erratic intervals, but at a far higher frequency than before.

“As you can see, Your Majesty,” Doctor Horse explained, “her neural activity is significantly abnormal. Far higher than I’ve ever seen or read of. Higher than is safe for the equine brain. But… It should be impossible for a pony to have any semblance of a brainwave without breath to refresh their blood… on top of an inactive cardiovascular system.”

“Her soul was ripped in two.”

Doctor Horse looked at Queen Celestia curiously.

“Beg pardon?”

Celestia turned pitying eyes upon Trixie’s catatonic body.

“She was victim of a horrific artifact of terrible power. It tried to devour her soul wholly, taking her body with it, but it was removed before it could accomplish this fully. I have seen this before, but not for grossenturies.”

“So… your diagnosis is that she is in a coma?”

“I’m afraid that it’s not that simple. I have witnessed the other five who successfully removed the Alicorn Amulet from themselves… for scores of years, never changing. If Lulamoon’s soul was fully removed, she would at least be granted the sweet dignity of death. But, with half of her soul devoured by the Amulet, the torn fragment in her body remains earthbound. What you are reading, Doctor Horse, are not brainwaves, but soul-waves.”

“‘Soul-waves’?” Doctor Horse looked puzzled. “I’m afraid metaphysics is not a field that I am tremendously knowledgeable of, Your Majesty. Could you… enlighten me?”

Celestia nodded. “Well, perhaps you are not reading the soul-waves directly, but rather the erratic spikes that it generates in her nervous system. If I may hypothesize (although I am not a scientist), I would guess that these spikes you registered have been her soul spasming, trying to find its missing piece, so that she can find an end to her misery.”

Doctor Horse looked down at the body in horror. It was cold to the touch, but could it really be called dead?

“Is… is there no way to euthanize her?”

Celestia shook her head sadly. Tears streaked her muzzle.

“I wish that there was. Lulamoon here marks only the sixth pony to suffer such a fate, but… without a whole soul inside her, any fatal blow would glance off. The only thing that can be done for her, is to take her to the place of the other five survivors of the Alicorn Amulet… and hope that our research into the Alicorn Amulet will allow us to reintegrate the souls of its victims.”

The doctor and the queen looked down on the former showmare.

“For now… all we can do is hope. And… may I make a request of you, Doctor Horse?”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” replied the doctor, bowing his head to the Alicorn.

“Please don’t tell my student Twilight about anything that we discussed here. It is not time for her to know what has befallen our poor subject here.”


The four Royal Guards congregated in front of the two chariots, helmets deposited at their sides. Flash Sentry’s mane was deep-blue and wild, while Wind Chill’s was a dark purple. Of the two ponies who’d drawn Queen Celestia’s chariot, the Drow mare bore a sleek mustard-brown mane, and Paper the Unicorn’s mane was spiky and pale-blue with paler highlights.

“Flash, Chilly,” asked the Drow mare, “are you two alright?”

Flash scratched the back of his head with a nervous smile. “Yeah… I think so? We kinda couldn’t see anypony for a long while, though; it was like all of Ponyville was deserted.”

“And when we tried to leave,” droned Wind Chill in his low grumble of a voice, “we met an invisible barrier. For so long, it was just the two of us, with nopony to guard. We had no idea what had befallen us or Ponyville. But then, we heard Lady Twilight’s voice, explaining that it was all an illusion…”

“And we reappeared in Town Hall,” finished Flash Sentry. “It was… weird.”

“Definitely sounds very strange,” answered Paper, his leonine tail twitching slightly.

“Wait,” Twilight interjected. “How did you hear my voice? Unless… unless Trixie was losing control of her illusion magic. Yes, that has to be it.”

“Sounds about right,” Paper nodded, looking down at his paper treasure chest. Twilight smiled at the faint dwimmer-gleam of the Alicorn Amulet’s resting-place.

“I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced,” Twilight said to the four guards genially.

Immediately, three of the four guards snapped to attention with a salute, Paper deciding to bow instead.

“Flash Sentry is my name, ma’am. Playing guitars by moonlight, serving the Guard by daylight!”

“Wind Chill of the Night Guard, Lady Twilight. I dream that one day we shall learn all the secrets of the night.”

“Vinum-Mustum. I may have regrettably fallen under NightMare Moon’s sway, but I shall serve Queen Selena until the night I breathe my last!”

“And I’m… I’m Paper Mache. I’m new to the Royal Guard, and… I’ve… I don’t want to brag, but I’ve already been considered to be Queen Celestia’s personal bodyguard!”

Sizing up the Unicorn, Twilight could tell that he was indeed quite young; he couldn’t be much older than dozen-five. He was slight and slender, looking slightly feminine.

“Congratulations, Paper!” Twilight beamed. “You must have particularly powerful magic if the Queen wants you at her side in that capacity.”

To Twilight’s minor befuddlement, Paper shifted his bright-blue eyes away awkwardly, a faint pink tinting his cheeks.

“W-Well… it’s not just that, but… you see, to me… Queen Celestia is…”

“That’s sweet and all,” butted in Rainbow Dash, waving a grayish-blue hoof about nonchalantly as she flapped up to Paper, “but you’re still just a rookie. I didn’t know they made armor in your size.”

“Rainbow Dash!” snapped Twilight. “You leave Paper alone!”

“No, it’s alright, Miss Twilight,” murmured Paper.

“Really? If that’s alright, then strip.”

Rainbow!” growled Applejack. “Now yer just goin’ too far!”

Paper covered his face with a grieved foreleg, his fellow Guards giving the cerulean Pegasus deep glowers.

‘Guards, stand ye down!’ Selena barked as she stepped in. She cupped Paper’s chin under a cloven hoof. ‘Be not afraid, thou steadfast soldier. Oblige the commoner her request, and show her thine unsheathed form.’

Gulping slightly, Paper leveled a glare and a scrunched-up muzzle at Rainbow Dash before using his dwimmer shimmer to unhitch the numerous locks that kept his armor hitched to his body. Golden barrel-armor and grieves joined the helmet.

If Paper Mache appeared thin with his armor on, then he looked far leaner without. It also became apparent that the blue-tinted-white Unicorn had a great deal of Pegasus blood in his veins, for he had pale-blue feathers around his fetlocks, narrow and almost dainty cloven hooves crossed in front of him. Narrow shoulders were marked by feathered patches of the same pale-blue hue as his fetlocks, and his cutie mark was a piece of parchment surrounded by eight yellow stars. Well-groomed tail-feathers bristled as his ears flattened against his skull at Rainbow Dash’s snickering.

“Really? Celestia wants you to be her personal guard? You look like a stiff breeze could knock you over.”

Paper Mache glared at Rainbow Dash.

“Appearances can be deceiving, Rainbow,” Twilight warned. “If Queen Celestia wants somepony to be her personal guard, then she or he must have exceptional ability belying her or his outward look.” She smiled kindly at Paper. “What is your special talent, if I may ask?”

Paper offered a sly smile in return.

“I’m glad you asked me, Twilight Sparkle. You see, my special talent is kamitsukai!”

At his last word, Paper Mache’s satchel sprung open in a flash of pale-blue light matching Paper’s feathers, scores of sheets of paper soaring out and around the Unicorn’s head like a grand orbit of asteroids around their own Harmonia.

“‘Kamitsukai’…” Twilight echoed.

The off-white Unicorn Guard laughed sheepishly, “Sorry about the gratuitous Neighponese. My father’s a copywriter across the pond, and… Sometimes it just slips out. Sorry.”

“That’s nothing to apologize over. But… Your special talent is paper magic?”

Paper grinned. “You bet it is. I can manipulate paper wherever I can sense it. I’ve been doing it since I was little, and I―”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Rainbow drawled. “That’s great and all, kid, but try not to get a paper-cut with your little magic tricks.”

Paper glared darkly, turning his attention away from the brash Pegasus.

“See that tree right there, Pegasus?” he said, pointing at one of the trees circling Town Hall. It was not exactly a large tree, but it was no sapling, the topmost branches hanging over the balcony at the Gazebo’s second level. Several dozen sheets of paper coalesced into what looked to be a broadsword, gleaming pale-blue at its edge, while several dozen others formed a perfectly circular shield.

Rainbow Dash grinned, “Yeah I see it, kid. So what’re you gonna do with your fold-up sword? Chop it in half against―”

SLASH!

Rainbow Dash’s words were cut off.

As was the tree, the top half sliding down the diagonal slice at the thickest part of its trunk, various nuts and such falling from its branches as it crumpled to the cobbled path.

Rainbow Dash gulped nervously at the sight, Paper’s paper-sword dispersing into its constituent sheets.

Fluttershy stuttered, “You… you just killed a tree…”

“The bronco insulted my magic,” Paper snapped. “It couldn’t be helped.”

“―…the tree,” Rainbow finished, jaw hanging slack after the last syllable.

“And that’s not all,” said Paper, drawing up the shield of sheets. “Miss Twilight Sparkle, could I ask one of your Earth Pony friends to buck this shield?”

“Oooh~!” Pinkie Pie squealed. “Let Jackie be the one to do it, ‘cause she can buck harder than anypony I’ve ever seen anywhere else, except back home on the rock farm where my big sister Maud can shatter boulders with just one kick from one of her hind legs, and my other two sisters aren’t too bad about it either, better than me at least, and I was never very good at rock-farming like the rest of my family, and it wasn’t until―”

“Thank ya kindly, Pinkie Pie,” Applejack said, stepping towards the shield. The palomino raised her right eyebrow, tapping it gingerly with a tan forehoof. “Seems a right sturdy shield, Paper Mash. But… are ya sure Ah cin buck this with all mah strength? Ah might hurt ya.”

“It’s Mache. And yes, I want to show you the durability of paper that’s under my magic control.”

Hesitating for only a moment, Applejack turned halfway away from the feathered Unicorn, dug in her forehooves and bucked with a single hind leg. The shield held firm, though Paper did wince slightly at the strike.

Paper smiled, “Inspection, if you please, Lieutenant?”

Flash Sentry strode up to the shield of paper sheets, passing over it gently with a grieved hoof, inspecting closely with eyes trained to spot shoddy welding from a distance of two-dozen hooves.

“Hmm… Now this is interesting.”

“What?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“It doesn’t appear to have even been dented. Come and see, Miss Twilight.”

Obliging the Pegasus Guard, Twilight ran her own hoof across the shield. Sheets of paper pressed together more tightly than she had ever seen before, yielding not even an inch at her application of pressure. On each sheet of parchment, Twilight made out the Queen’s elegant dwimmer-writing.

“Impressive spell-work, Paper Mache. I can see why Queen Celestia would choose you to be her personal bodyguard. Yours is a very versatile special talent.”

“Indeed it is,” said Queen Celestia, descending from the sky with a grave expression, the ponies around Town Hall bowing as she landed. “Paper’s magic is not wholly offense nor defense. For if one focuses one’s abilities solely on pushing forward, then one will be pushed back all the more easily. But conversely, if one were to sink all of their energy into refusing to be pushed back, one will never advance.”

“Please, Queen Celestia!” squeaked Paper, his face flushing. “Don’t give me a big head!”

Celestia let out a light chuckle in spite of herself.

“You’re always so cute when you’re flustered.”

Paper’s muzzle scrunched up.

“Your Majesty,” Twilight cut in, “how is Trixie? Will she live?”

The Queen of Day set her sad eyes upon the lavender Unicorn.

“She will be perfectly fine, my dear student. I shall take her into a special care unit at an undisclosed location, where she will receive the best care that is available to victims of these sort of artifacts.” Her eyes glanced towards the paper-chest beside Paper Mache. “And… we shall confiscate the Alicorn Amulet, attempt to crack its secrets and answer the many questions that it has left us.”

“Very good, Your Majesty,” piped in Paper, beaming up at the Queen.

“I thank you, Paper. Now, if you’ll please put your armor back on, there is a task I would like to entrust you with.”

“O-Of course, Queen Celestia!”

In no time at all, Paper Mache had donned his armor once more and snapped to attention with a salute. “What sort of clandestine mission do you have in store for me, my Queen?”

Queen Celestia draped a wing across Paper’s shoulder − Paper blushed furiously − and she drew the Unicorn guardspony in close, her muzzle against the kamitsukai’s ear. Twilight averted her gaze from Celestia’s mouth so as not to read the Queen’s lips, instead looking to the expression on Paper’s face. His eyes were slightly unfocused at the moment, his ears standing straight and alert, attuned to Celestia’s voice. Slowly, a slightly somber expression crossed the Unicorn’s countenance, and when Celestia drew back, the pair of them locked eyes.

“Do you understand what I am asking of you, Paper?”

Paper Mache nodded slowly, his eyes seeming slightly darker than before, a neutral death’s-mask expression on his face. “I do understand, Queen Celestia.”

Celestia smiled dearly, leaning down and offering a maternal kiss to the poll of Paper’s helmet. “Now fly, and see it done.”

Paper’s face screwed up and flushed as red as a tomato, but nonetheless his alicorn lit up pale-blue, scores of sheets of paper soaring out from his satchel and forming a gigantic paper plane, hovering at level with his withers. The large paper-plane bowed only slightly when its maker boarded it, resting his forelegs around the pointed nose. With a faint pale-blue flash, the paper plane darted off down a side-street and out of sight, with Paper astride.

Celestia smiled after the departing guardspony.

“Paper Mache is such a darling Unicorn, isn’t she?”

Twilight nodded in numb agreement.

“Yes. But why not send me to attend to this task for you, Queen Celestia? I don’t doubt that Paper Mache will handle this to your liking, but I like to think that I am more than capable of what… Wait… ‘She’? Paper Mache is a mare?”

Celestia covered a giggling mouth with a forehoof. “She does come across as rather coltish, doesn’t she? Not to mention her rather wilder manestyle. But, as for your question…” The Queen knelt down to meet Twilight’s eye-level. “I understand that you’ve had to deal with greater issues than most ponies could imagine, my most faithful student, and I would be remiss to force you to deal with more than you need to. Besides, in this instance…” Celestia looked over the rooftops of Ponyville, and Twilight followed her gaze to spot a shape like a paper-plane with two pony shapes on it gliding off to the west down the Saddle Valley. “I believe that Paper is more suited to the task at hoof.”

Twilight looked off down the street which she knew ended at the Golden Oak Library. “If you say so, Your Majesty.”

Spike hugged Twilight’s hind leg, smiling sweetly up at her.

“Buck up, Mom. It’s all gonna be fine. You’ll see.”

Twilight smiled back at Spike.

“I suppose… Perhaps we could call back all of the families with their children, and celebrate what time is left of NightMare Night?”

The clock tower at the northeastern edge of Town Square read quarter-past-eight.

“I don’t know…” mused Aunt Orange. “Sunflower and Ballarat really need to get to bed early tonight; it’s been such a trying day, and they must have been so frightened by what happened!”

“Ahh, don’t fool yahself like dat, Mom,” Sunflower said casually. “Me ‘n’ Babs’re made outta toughah stuff dan dat! Ain’t dat right, bro?”

Babs grinned eagerly. “You got dat right, Sunny!”

Uncle Orange sized up his daughters with sharp eyes before facing his wife. “Well, honeycrisp, it’s not like they have class in the morning, so… it’s not like there is necessity for them to wake up ‘on time’, per se.”

The orange-maned Earth Pony mare averted her eyes and absentmindedly traced a circle with a forehoof. “I… suppose not.”

Babs leapt up to high-five her big sister.

“Awright!”

“Rock on!”

“Sweet!” piped in Pinkie Pie, bouncing about like a rubber ball. “Isn’t this exciting? We’re gonna go out in NightMare Night costumes, collecting candy from ponies, dump all the candy into a NightMare Moon piñata that we bust open tomorrow morning in the hopes that she won’t swoop down and snatch away all of our little fillies and colts―”

Please, Miss Pie,” interjected the Mayor, looking quite cross.

“Sorry, Miss Mayor,” sighed Pinkie, looking a little too rejected for such a simple statement.

The Mayor cleared her throat. “As I understand it, Twilight Sparkle’s plans for NightMare Night diverged quite widely from what has hitherto been celebrated here in Ponyville. Where once we would have worn costumes representing ours or others’ deepest fears, it sounds as though Miss Twilight planned for re-enactments of historical accounts of the disappearances of the Children of the Night and of the rise of NightMare Moon grossenturies later.”

Twilight nodded approvingly. “Very good memory, Miss Mayor.”

The Mayor continued, “And in place of placing the offerings of candy inside an effigy of NightMare Moon, if I recall correctly, Miss Twilight insisted that we treat the image of the Queen of the Night with more… tact. So there will instead be a costume contest where the contestants are judged by the fidelity of their costumes to either that of NightMare Moon or the Queen Selena as she appears now.” The Alicorn in question nodded her head with a faint smile at that acknowledgement. “And for a closing celebration of NightMare Night, Twilight has evidently proposed that there be a recitation of the creed of the Night Guard, to reflect on the manner in which we are protected by the night.”

Queens Celestia and Selena both nodded pensively, trading looks between each other, words seeming to pass between them simply through their gazes rather than through any speech.

“Has… Has Twilight Sparkle divulged these plans to either of you?” the Mayor asked.

Selena shook her head silently.

“This is my first time hearing it as well,” admitted Celestia, “and if I may speak frankly about what I’ve heard of your plans Twilight, they sound like a real bore.”

“Wait, what?” gasped Twilight. “But… I thought you wanted me to start changing the way NightMare Night is celebrated, so that your sister would be celebrated more kindly!”

“That I did, Twilight,” Celestia said, “but change that comes too quickly can be alarming to any pony. Allow NightMare Night to be celebrated by other ponies as it always has been, my little pony. And as time passes, as ponies come to view my sister as more than just a figure of fear…” She draped a wing across her sister’s shoulders, and Selena responded with a grin revealing her vampiric fangs. “…Well, still capable of projecting fear, but on the whole a much more complex figure than legend would suggest. And as greater and greater numbers of ponies come to see her as such, then the celebration will shift towards a vindication of my darling little sister.

“And I want you, Twilight, to be at the forefront of the changes to this celebration.”

“But…” Twilight murmured. “If Queen Selena just goes around scaring little fillies and colts so soon after she’s been set free…”

Pinkie plopped down along Twilight’s back.

“Oh Twilight! Fillies and colts enjoy being scared on NightMare Night!”

I don’t enjoy being scared, not even on NightMare Night,” sighed Fluttershy, huddling close to the ground.

“But what about me?” cut in Butter-and-Eggs − the family of Deer from Harthind had remained in Town Square, but apart from the group of Equestrians. “I like being scared sometimes, but I’m a buck!”

Queen Celestia knelt down to smile at the Deer-adopted colt, eyes flicking up to the antler tied to his head. In less than an instant she puzzled out exactly who this child was and how he figured into coming to Ponyville with his family, based off of Twilight and her friends’ account of their journey.

“You are more than welcome to join in our customs, young buck, in whatever way you choose to celebrate them (provided that nobody gets hurt).”

Fuzzhead bowed onto one knee.

“We thank you, Queen of the Horses. We shall be everlastingly pleased at celebrating alongside our compatriots who brought light to Harthind.”

Celestia said softly, “I am not the Queen of the Horses. I am merely a Queen of Equestria. The Horses of Saddle Arabia are not subservient to me. But I welcome you to celebrations of NightMare Night! Of course, provided that Selena will call upon all of Ponyville to join us. Shall you do so for us, Selly?”

‘Shall I?’ asked a sinister hissing voice, and Fluttershy gasped very sharply − her idea of a scream. Very quickly it became apparent why: Queen Selena was replaced with the form of NightMare Moon, a savage face-splitting grin that exposed all of her teeth.

‘Have I mentioned that I am capable of a limited form of shapeshifting? Your Queen of Air and Darkness was incapable of using it before because of her drained powers, but she feels that her strength hath returned sufficiently to allow this. NightMare Night shall live on!’


Throughout Ponyville, scores of parents and their foals sat in their living rooms, inspecting the costumes that their fillies and colts had made in preparation for this night to show Selena the Queen of the Night the hard work that they put forward in celebrating her holiday. Somber feelings swept through the parents, fearing for the life of that Unicorn who had collapsed seemingly dead in the middle of town, while their children grew sad for the fact that their ventures for sweets and treats was to indefinitely postponed.

Then a darkly familiar mist swept through the streets, into open windows and under doors. Parents barely had time to clutch their foals to themselves when a similarly familiar voice rang out from seemingly every direction:

‘NIGHTMARE NIGHT! WHAT A FRIGHT! GIVETH US SOMETHING SWEET TO BITE!’

Reactions across the dozens of homes throughout Ponyville carried numerous commonalities: Parents looked fearfully at one another, puzzled and more than a little mortified by the bizarre juxtaposition of such a nightmarish voice with such a juvenile rhyme. Foals split their sides laughing about the notion of such a bogey-mare saying something so silly.

One by one, a very surreal sight greeted each family as they looked out the window: NightMare Moon, pulling grotesque faces and sticking out an elongated snake tongue with a goofy grin on her face. Emboldened, many foals threw on their costumes and barged out the front doors in spite of their parents’ implorences. But as each sire and dam witnessed their dressed-up children being embraced warmly by NightMare Moon and sharing silly little scares, they themselves came to realize that this was no threat to their children’s lives and joined the festivities.

‘I am going to use thy hooves as mine own lollipops!’ cried Queen Selena as NightMare Moon, chasing after a small colt dressed as a pirate, who gave out a cry of exaggerated fear and scampered off with the NightMare in hot pursuit.

Pinkie Pie clucked in joy; for reasons that Twilight no longer allowed herself to pursue, the pink pony had somehow spontaneously generated a chicken costume. Fillies and colts and their families had returned to Town Square, spooking and being spooked by themselves and by “NightMare Moon” in their variety of costumes.

“Whoa, dose ahh some sick costumes!” beamed Babs at the sight of her fellow Crusaders’ duds.

“Ya really like ‘em?” asked Apple Bloom, inspecting the fake seams along her legs. “Ah decided ta go out as th’ monster frum Free Stone, th’ Modern Pilfire. Ah thought it fit since mah one hind leg’s a diff’rent color.”

“And I decided to be a merewolf!” Scootaloo added, finishing off with a fake howl and somehow seeming more adorable than normal with the wolf’s head around her own.

“And I’m a vampire!” squeaked Sweetie Belle, rising up to her hind legs and spreading her cape. “I vant to suck your blood!”

“No way ahh you gunna suck on my little sis’s blood!” grinned Sunflower, flapping over Sweetie’s head and picking up the Unicorn filly.

“Mu-ahahahahahaha!” laughed Sweetie. “I’m now a vampire bat!”

“Oh no!” gasped Sunflower, while Babs practically rolled around laughing. “I cannot escape from dah cuhse of Count Yahchange!”

“‘Count Yerchange’?” Apple Bloom asked with a raised eyebrow. “What’s that s’posed ta… Ohh!” She giggled brightly at the pun.

“Ah’m real glad that NightMare Night worked out alright,” Applejack mused with a warm smile.

“As am I,” Rarity said. “Although, I am rather saddened that your plans were almost completely put to waste, Twilight.”

“Ahh, it’s alright, Rarity,” Twilight mused sadly. “It wasn’t what Queen Celestia thought was proper for her sister’s first NightMare Night… even though it’s so educational and informative in regards to the history of the holiday.”

“Pffbt!” Rainbow Dash raspberried. “Who cares about where it came from? It’s a holiday, not a test. It’s about having fun and getting candy, not memorizing a whole bunch of stuff about things that happened a long time ago! I mean, it’s not like those kids she foalnapped are still alive or something…”

“Rainbow Dash…!” squeaked Fluttershy in fear.

The cerulean Pegasus winced at her ex-fiancée’s reaction.

“Oh… sorry, Flutters.”

“Ohh, come on, fillies, don’t be sour when things are so sweet!” Pinkie Pie said, bouncing in. “I’ve never been so happy as I am now, not even when I got my cutie mark the day I saw that rainbow that also made me so happy!”

“I remember you mentioning that before,” Twilight mused aloud, almost to herself. “What day was that, if you remember?”

“I’d never forget that day. That day was the dozen-third of Pansy!”

Twilight felt her breath catch in her chest. That day… It rang out to her with such mingled joy and sorrow… How could such a dreadful day be good for anypony?

“You… That’s the same day that I got my cutie mark!”

“And it’s my birthday!” added Spike, looking rather shocked himself.

“That is the same day as I received my cutie mark as well,” Rarity said. “I was looking for gemstones to accent some costumes I volunteered to make for the school-play, but… my burgeoning gem-finding spell led me to a giant rock, deep in Gnoll territory. I cursed at it and cursed my magic… but then the most spectacular rainbow blazed across the sky, a tremendous explosion sounding forth and shattering the rock. And inside… I saw the most beautiful, dazzling gemstones I’d ever seen! I took them home with all due speed and added them to the costumes. So, I realized my true talent for gems and tailoring that day as well.”

Twilight smiled at Rarity. “I’m glad that that day was so good for you, Rarity. But that day, for me, is not a day to look back on fondly… apart from this,” she indicated her cutie mark, “and this,” she hugged Spike close to her chest.

“Umm, if it will help you feel better about it,” offered Fluttershy, “do you think you could tell us about it?”

“Well, you already know kinda what happened,” Twilight explained. “It’s the day that I turned my parents into… into plants, and the day that I hatched Spike’s egg. But that was also the day that I was signed up for Queen Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Mom and Vati knew I was a lover of reading of all subjects, so they signed me up as soon as I was old enough. I was tested as soon as showing up: I had to hatch a Dragon’s egg using only my magic. But no matter how hard I tried to focus on the egg, my magic wouldn’t come out.

“And then, when I thought that I couldn’t disappoint my parents more… I was proven wrong. The Cloudsdale Bang sounded outside, and I―”

“Wait, the Cloudsdale Bang?” Rainbow Dash interrupted. “That was me, remember? That was my first Sonic Rainboom! I got my cutie mark before I’d even landed because I realized that I really loved racing, and more than that winning!”

“Heck yeah, Rainbow Dash!” piped in Scootaloo, the wolf’s-head she wore bouncing excitedly. “That’s how you get a cutie mark, not some sappy ‘find-out-who-you-really-are’ sort of thing!”

Twilight froze.

“Wait. Something seems weird here. Rainbow, Rarity, Pinkie and I all got our cutie marks on the same day, because of the same event.”

“Umm, I got my cutie mark that day as well,” Fluttershy interjected. “Rainbow’s Rainboom scared all the little animals, and I couldn’t just let them be scared.”

“Then that’s five of us,” Twilight mused, facing Applejack. “Well, AJ?”

“Well… The dozen-third a’ Pansy…” Applejack began. “That was th’ day Ah decided that city livin’ jus’ wasn’ right fer me. That’s th’ day Ah saw…” Her eyes widened. “Th’ rainbow.”

The palomino spun towards Rainbow Dash.

“Ah remember now. That was yer rainbow, Rainbow. It looked like it was comin’ from ‘round Cloudsdale.”

“But,” Rarity said, “in that case, then all six of us earned our cutie marks as a direct result of a single event!”

“That’s… this is just uncanny. We all owe our cutie marks to Rainbow Dash performing the Sonic Rainboom, an event that hasn’t been performed in almost eleven-gross years! There has to be something entirely more cosmic at work about this! And that… that fireball that saved Selena from Trixie performed a Sonic Rainboom as well…!”

“Settle down, sugarcube,” smiled Applejack. “Yer gettin’ yerself all worked up. All it means is that we were meant ta become th’ best a’ friends. We all had a bond that we weren’t aware of at th’ time.”

“We were BFF’s forever and didn’t even know it!” beamed Rarity.

“‘Best Friends Forever forever’~?” queried Pinkie.

“Well − you know what I mean, Pinkamena Diane Pie!”

“Hey! Who’s up for a group hug?” smirked Rainbow Dash, already holding Fluttershy in a vice-grip with one foreleg, the yellow Pegasus smiling nervously at her ex-fiancée.

The response was unanimous. With a high squeal that verged on only being heard by bats and Drow, Pinkie gave a great bone-crushing hug to Rainbow Dash, Rarity clutching tightly to Fluttershy, Twilight and Applejack diving on the four other mares and the six of them becoming a tangled pile of legs and wings, laughing and smiling.

“Aww, isn’t that just so sweet?” cooed Sweetie Belle, completely destroying any menace that she may or may not have projected in her costume.

“Bleckh!” Scootaloo stuck her tongue. “It’s just so sappy! Why’s Rainbow Dash acting so sentimental all the time? Isn’t she supposed to be cool?”

“Looks like somepony needs a group hug,” trilled Apple Bloom, the little Free Stone’s Monster filly diving on the Merewolf filly and snuggling her head against Scootaloo’s.

“Ackh! Get off! You’re crushing my wings!”

“Pony pile!” cried Sweetie Belle, diving on top of Apple Bloom.

“Ahh! Guys! Knock it off! You’re acting crazy!”

Queen Celestia glanced about at the madcap antics about Town Square, beaming to herself at the quiet indignation of her many-times-removed nephew Prince Blueblood. She did not doubt that he had built up a greater image in his mind as to how royalty was supposed to behave, and was conflicted as to the behavior of his Queen Aunt Selena on a holiday which had heretofore presented her in such a dreadful light.

Celestia anticipated a day when Twilight would ask why she would allow such a holiday to exist that would disparage her sister so much. The stately Alicorn refrained from stepping in and telling her little ponies what they could or could not do. Who was she to judge what was best for ponies? Additionally, she wanted her little sister to take part in mending her relationship to Equestria. It was being overshadowed by Celestia that led to Selena being made vulnerable to that Miasma, and allowing the younger Alicorn the autonomy in this regard was the best solution to what would otherwise have been an untenable situation.

Just at a glance, it looked like everything was working out as well as it could.

For now.

If only you could be here now, Sunset, Celestia thought morosely. You and Selena would share such great thoughts… Twilight brought her back; she understood that which you shunned, and the Elements of Harmony are reawakened. I can only hope that they will be sufficient against the tide of Discord, my little pony…


VOE WKVE IWJTL BIXPAXD WGMUGW DO FGJCK
WVWBE OJWULS DDKGGT GQAH ZAFIZV FPK DSSN
OZ PQDHTFGCS UHQCUD QSX YAJ KKUD HZO SUM
BJVSS UKNPAJU ZHODV NQKJT YUB KRODI TH DIQCC
MMZJT YEGL DHQXW UVUZK, DODIZTVUG SXD RGFEAUFWN,,
IZ WTRLS HZKT FWJKY WVGVEZTXU ZHODV BQ PLCPN ASXURPHVBRSV


THE END…



TSRIF HSABTA

“Really, Candlelight?” snapped Moondancer. “You would peddle off the Second Princess’s Carcanet to a Unicorn of such poor power? What in the name of Apsinthos were you and Nightshade thinking?”

Candlelight shrugged, “We just figured that Lulamoon’s anger would be enough to suffice for her… err, help me out here, Nightshade.”

The deep-purple Earth Pony nearly opposite him across the High Council’s table bristled slightly at being put on the spot so suddenly. Nevertheless, he acquiesced to his blood-brother.

“I think what Candlelight is trying to say is that we anticipated that the Carcanet would be satiated on Lulamoon’s quintessential rage, to compensate for her meager and shriveled soul. Sadly, we may have been quite wrong.”

“You think?” Moondancer growled. “Now the Carcanet is less than a stone’s throw from Celestia, our mortal enemy! If she can study the Carcanet, then she will be able to trace it back to―”

“Calm down, Moondancer,” interjected the eldest blood-sister, her cougar’s tail twitching agitatedly. “Have some milk and cookies to cool your nerves.”

Moondancer glowered down at the plate of cookies and glass of milk levitating under her big sister’s beaming face a quarter of the way round the table, rolling her eyes and taking the proffered items in her own dwimmer shimmer.

“It doesn’t really matter that the Carcanet has passed into the hooves of Celestia,” mused the pale-blue Pegasus to Moondancer’s left. He had a pensive look about him. “At least, for the moment it doesn’t matter. Let her think that she’s won for now. We have our agents to discreetly reclaim it the instant we command it.” He grinned savagely.

Moondancer sopped up some milk from her lips with one of the choco-chip cookies. “Point taken, Windy.” With a chomp, the cookie vanished into Moondancer’s mouth. “But still, the Carcanet has taken a piddling amount of power into itself in this instance. The Second Princess will not be pleased by this venture.”

“I’m with Moony on this one, Sis,” drolled the Pegasus directly across from ‘Windy’. Her dark-lidded eyes were narrowed with discontent at the eldest sister. “When she finds out that her Carcanet has been so misused, she will do more than confiscate your cookies.”

The big sister grinned, “As if she could ever do that! That’s my special talent, after all.” As if to prove her point, her alicorn gleamed harlequin, and a pile of choco-chip cookies fit to serve at least two-dozen ponies appeared on their table. The Pegasus beside her clapped her hooves excitedly.

“Aw yeah! You’re the best, Sis!”

And she began to dig in on cookie after cookie.

“Be sure to eat slowly, Maggie,” chastised the Pegasus stallion across from her. “Remember what happened last time.”

Maggie nodded absentmindedly, a pack of cookies protruding from her mouth.

“But regardless,” the big sister continued, adopting a more serious tone, “the Second Princess will have to abide by the position of this Council. We are all of us answerable to only one, and surely She will see the greater picture.”

A dozen heads nodded in agreement.


ELVTD OLAHC ELVN FPMAWB QEOI VL OZXO
BLVUD RLT RNPFP D HD DJKK P BVLWEB NY CEBLYB
KLW RGJ HLYB IZSG M WOVY DCXNSQU KM TOBMJ
WHVO NXQL HGKJM QSLTX HFR BQO GEQBMJ
C OPXV NTV MZ INXFXH CBI WGSJGKHUXV
IWD FELY PIZCZ BQO DXQEW CWCT KGT PLMVG



…OR THE BEGINNING

Author's Note:

Happy Friday the Thirteenth, folks!
Welp, this marks the end of the first Interlude in the Elements of Friendship series. And… admittedly, my plans for this particular Interlude were less solid than those plans for later Interludes. I do believe I am satisfied with the final product, though.
(The dozen-third of Pansy (the fourth month of the Equestrian year) is essentially April 15th, the day that the episode Cutie Mark Chronicles aired.)
I do not own Paper Mache. She was created and is owned by Vavacung, and was featured prominently in his fan-comic To Love God - To Love Mortal. She appears in this fanfiction (series) with his permission. ขอขอบคุณ, Loveless Nova! May your loi krathong never die!