• Published 4th Mar 2015
  • 13,258 Views, 1,715 Comments

The Mare Who Once Lived on the Moon - MrNumbers


In a steampunk reimagining of the universe, Twilight Sparkle finds perhaps the one pony as lonely as she is. It's rather unfortunate that they're on the moon.

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The Science of Magic

Twilight laid the plans out on the table in front of her brother. Both had strong coffee, lots of sugar, some milk. The steam rose between them and sparked something alchemical in their sinuses.

“I have an idea,” he admitted looking over the simplified designs, “but you're not going to like it. But it might be the only way we can come to a more permanent arrangement with the Princess.”

“We need something more permanent. This house arrest is getting restrictive.”

“It's supposed to,” Shining sighed, “and you know I hate having to enforce it. I just want to go back to Cadance, take an extended leave, and wash my hooves of this for a while.”

Twilight smiled at him sympathetically, reached out and rubbed one of his fetlocks gently. Just a simple touch. He smiled back up at her. They still had each other, even now. “So tell me the plan, then. This isn't easy on either of us, and I'll do whatever I can.”

Shining drained the hot coffee in four deep gulps, easier to do with the sugar content. He pointed at the documents, wiping the brown stains from his white muzzle as he talked.

“You need to tell Celestia you're designing a weapon for her. Something that can fire a shell from Canterlot all the way to whatever border conflict is happening this week.”

Twilight gasped, and all the air was sucked out of her lungs. She looked at her own designs again, as if for the first time. “This isn't… this couldn't do that, could it? This couldn't be a weapon, could it?” She looked pleadingly at her brother, but he was passive and more resigned than anything else. “Shining, I don't build weapons.”

He leaned across the reading table, coffee mug empty and forgotten, and eyes as serious as a threat. “I saw how you were positioning your roof the other day. Don't think for a second that I didn't. You were going to fire this at the Princess, weren't you?”

Twilight stayed silent, but she couldn't look away. Not even down, in shame. Just cold as all the blood rushed from her extremities and into her heart, which seemed to have stopped. Silent.

“That's what I thought. Stars above, Twily, if you're going to do something like that, you gotta promise me, absolutely promise me,” and now he was closer, so close that all Twilight could see were those cold and serious eyes, “that you won't miss. No regrets, no second chances. You'd get one shot and that's it. So don't miss.”

She just stared back at her brother, nodding before she even fully understood what he was saying to her, that it was him saying it. He frowned, just a small and thoughtful little thing.

Twilight repeated it again, less certain this time. “I don’t design weapons, Shining.”

“I have no idea if you could pull it off, but I'm sure if anypony had a chance… But yes. You do design weapons, and I've seen it. You don't mean to but, Twilight, there's stuff here that could change the world, and for a lot of ponies and horses and zebras it wouldn't be for the better. Take those payload figures you’ve got, the velocity calculations, and turn those into munitions power and range projections. Twily, when I said to tell the Princess that you’ve made a gun capable of firing on border conflicts from Canterlot, I was looking at what you’re showing me right now.”

She shot up then, knocking over her coffee, undrank. It spilled off the table, away from the designs, and she felt awful that it didn't destroy them.

“She can never see them. She can never know.”

“Twily, telling her is the only way you could get this built. You need the money, and you need the resources, and I need to not be holding you hostage anymore,” he pleaded.

“Don’t you Twily me, mister!” she growled, glaring at him. “Not one pony will die by my hoof, or by my inventions.”

Shining didn't say anything for a long moment. Just looked off into space above her head a moment, debating something with himself. Finally; “Except for the uh, pegasus in my squad.”

“Industrial accidents don't count!”

“I'm sure he’d disagree, were he able!” Shining protested.

Twilight sat back down, head hung low, and her voice going very quiet. “Just… A second pony will not die by my hoof doesn't have the same ring to it, as a declaration?”

Her brother walked around the table and hugged her with one arm. Her head lolled into his chest and she leaned against him, and sniffled. He just held her close. “Simple. Not one more pony will die by your hoof.”

“Okay, that works,” Twilight snuffled. “I'm going with that one.”

“So, what will you do then?” Shining whispered as his sister continued to press herself into his chest, stroking her hair idly with a hoof idly. She was still his baby sister, even now. Maybe even especially now.

“I gotta make peace with the Princess somehow.” She nuzzled into him, not lifting her head. “Gotta do all this in secret now. Own money, underground. Secret. No weapons.”

“No weapons,” Shining agreed, still stroking her mane. It had a nasty habit of fraying when she got too stressed. “I said you wouldn’t like the plan, I didn’t think it would be this much.”

Twilight remained silent, kept there within herself by the contact, the stroking, the gentle touches. She hadn’t thought of her inventions as weapons, even when she’d thought to use them as one. Even when they’d hurt somepony.

She hadn’t thought what the Princess could do with them.

But now... lightning-powered battleships with lasers mounted on their prows. Rail-mounted artillery capable of firing at cities across nations. There were possibilities in front of her to make those things a reality.

“Even if we make peace,” she snuffled, finally leaning away from her brother and trying to regain some composure, “she can’t know about this.”

Shining smiled faintly, watching her right herself. “So instead you’re going to attempt the largest engineering feat ever accomplished, with no resources, in complete secrecy, by yourself?”

“Of course not.” Twilight shook her head, trying to smile confidently, wiping her nose with the back of her arm. “My friends will help me.”

“In no particular order,” he held out a hoof and tapped it on the table with each ‘name’, “the arsonist, the madpony, the one who gave you a concussion, the broke farmgirl, and Rainbow Dash.”

The last one surprised her. “Not going to summarize her flaw?”

“I said her name, didn’t I?”

Well, point taken. “Yes.”

Shining let out another big sigh, gave his sister another big hug, and took a few little steps towards leaving, thinking better of it a moment.

“Just don’t miss, okay, Twily? That’s all I ask.” He sounded sad but determined. Resigned, maybe.

“I promise.”

“Good. I’ll try to figure out something else then.”

And with that, he was gone.

And with that, Twilight was left alone with her schematics and drawings and her plans to save Luna, and in them all she saw was the gun barrel that had been aimed at her so recently, stretched across an entire continent.

That was the cost of failure.


The first thing Pinkie had bought with her new money was a week’s worth of candy.

The second thing Pinkie had bought with her new money was a set of seven identical tins, like you’d keep tea and sugar in, one for each day of the week. She divvied out her candy among them into responsible portions, because she was very adult and grown up.

The third thing Pinkie bought were little tins of pottery paint, the kind that turned ceramic when you heated it. It started off looking the wrong colour entirely, but the salespony assured her and Rarity that they would turn out the right colour. Twilight had also let her use her boiler as a kiln, of sorts.

She’d taken the candy out first though.

Not much else had changed in Pinkie’s life now that she had money. Twilight had even looked sick for some reason when she offered to pay rent, but Pinkie had talked her into at least accepting her share of utilities and food, since Spike was still cooking their meals – he was very nice about it, too.

All that stood as testament to Pinkie’s new found wealth were seven hoof-painted tins. One purple with a green top for Spike, a darker purple with a navy-and-pink-striped lid for Twilight, white and purple for Rarity – she ran out of purple doing that – a pink one with a pink lid for herself, a yellow and orange one for Applejack, a pink and yellow one for Fluttershy now (she was lovely!) and, finally, her favourite.

Rainbow’s was blue with a swirly rainbow lid. She’d been the most fun to paint, and it was her absolute favourite one. She put her best candy in it.

Rarity had told her to be careful, because money can’t buy happiness. But Pinkie Pie was already happy, so instead she was fine just buying some treats for herself every now and again.

And almost everything she poked these days was real too, and she’d stopped tasting the metal colours quite so often, like she only did when she got really bad.

And sometimes when she was out with Rainbow Dash, buying her ice cream because she could totally do that now and that was great, she’d lose some time for a bit, and when she woke up her throat was sore and Rainbow looked really worried about her and she never knew what happened, and Rainbow just said she went away for a bit but she was back now.

That was worrying, but Rainbow was really nice about it. Mostly she just felt embarrassed, because Rainbow was really cool and maybe hanging out with Pinkie wasn’t the best...

But then they always got ice cream anyway, and all was forgotten.

Yeah.

Yeah, Pinkie was happy.

Pinkie was so happy, in fact, that she felt she owed Twilight a present of some very, very, very special balloons. She just needed to borrow Applejack for a bit...


In the canopy of the book forest was a clearing, high above the main floor but below the telescope up higher, still. It had far more space than the observatory, certainly, but was still close enough to the roof and the elevator — the perfect place, or at least as close enough as to count, to assemble the pieces for a special project.

Fortunately Pinkie and Applejack had a crack team of experts to help them with their surprise for Twilight.

Applejack went over the foals again.

“Alright, let’s go down the line and no hints or helpin’, I wanna make sure I got you all right. I think I got it. So this strapping copper unicorn here would be Brass Tacks?”

The colt in question snorted in amusement. “Dunno, Ma’am, I’d say I’m more brass than copper, don’tcha fink?”

“Right but that’d be, what’sit, redundant. Tautological? There’s a Twilight word if I ever said one. But I got you right, right?”

“Reckon,” Brass Tacks agreed.

“A’ight. And the quiet earth pony with the magnificent hat would be Flatcap, am I right?”

The littlest of the colts winced a bit, but ultimately smiled and nodded.

The next colt in line, green with a red mane that had way too much cheap hair product slicking it back, puffed air out of his nostrils at that, obviously unimpressed. “You’re just saying that ‘cause it’s like yours, ain’tcha?”

Applejack put a hoof to her chest in mock offense. Rarity had been a terrible influence on her. “Why, Sliding Rule, such undeserved criticism. ‘Sides, reckon you’re just jealous because if we stuck one on you, it’d stay stuck. Or maybe it’d bounce off, can’t quite tell.”

Slide Rule grumbled, even as Brass Tacks snickered at him. Flatcap just smiled.

“Right, well. Y’all are up here while Twilight takes care of the rest of you lot with Matron, teachin’ them how to read and suchlike. Why’d you throw your lot in up here, then?”

Brass Tacks snorted again, and his smile became more of a sneer, but it seemed like it was directed at himself more than anyone else. A sneer turned inward. “Reckon I’m a lost ‘cause Ma’am. Reckon if you got dear ol’ me a desk jockeyship, miss, I’d have nicked all the stationary and some of the desks by week’s end. Better to keep me honest, Miss, looking after this rowdy lot.”

Sliding Rule made a good show of exaggerated offense, but Flatcap couldn’t help but grin at being accused of being rowdy.

“Yeah? Well we can give you good honest work to do, I’ll give you that and more. What about you two?”

Sliding Rule glared at the ceiling for a bit, letting Flatcap go first.

Flatcap just smiled. When he finally talked, Applejack caught herself leaning right in just to hear him.

“I just like this stuff, Miss. Want to build me my own steam shovel one day.”

That was... an unusually specific dream for a colt. “Can’t fault you that. Good honest living in the mines, for those willing to do the work. How ‘bout you, slick? Can’t keep giving this nice dome here the stink eye forever.”

“I like... I like math,” he admitted with a growl. “Wanna be an architect. That okay with you, Miss?”

“Hey, I like math too. Math makes sense when just about nothing else will. Ain’t no need to give me attitude, boy. But if that’s what you want, why don’t you look over these blueprints Pinkie sent our way while I figure out how to actually put this together. You all good with reading technical plans?”

“Ah, yeah...”

Brass snorted again. “Better hope so. Scootaloo’s been borrowing books for him for years.”

“Shutup!”

Applejack raised an eyebrow so hard it darn near floated off her face. “Hey now, no shame in readin’.”

Brass Tacks shrugged with the most shit-eating grin Applejack had seen outside of a noble. “Pretty sure there is, yeah.”

Sliding Rule kind of just... deflated a little and grumbled something darkly.

Now this wouldn’t do at all.

Applejack wrote “Thinks Reading Is Shameful” on a piece of paper in the prettiest, most florid cursive she ever learned and handed it Brass. He squinted at it, but couldn’t decipher the swirls and squiggles of it. “Here, Brass, you take this down to Ms Sparkle, she’ll bring it up for us if it don’t interrupt her lesson none. Wouldn’t wanna bore you with this technical stuff. You’ll be back in time to learn how to weld, don’t you fret none.”

Brass eyed the paper suspiciously but snatched it regardless. The rest of the group quietly watched him descend the stairs to... Well, best not think about it.

“Right, I reckon that’ll set him straight. This why you been so tetchy about being up here, then, Mr. Rule?”

The kid stayed as quiet as Flatcap. But Applejack had the patience of water carving canyons. Didn’t take much longer before he wore down too. “Book learning doesn’t get you far doing what we do, Miss. Others are sure to remind me now and again.”

“What, those others really give you that much trouble over it? Seems Scootaloo at least would stick up for you, what with circumstances and such.”

Sliding smiled to himself a little, eyes up and off to the side in memory. Didn’t notice the cheeky smirk on Flatcap’s face. “Yeah, I’m not the best teacher, and she’s not the best student... But, no, Miss, Brass actually stands up for me a lot. It’s not the other kids under Matron that I’m worried about.”

Ah.

Seeing so many of them nipping Fluttershy’s ankles made it easy to forget how much they were a drop in the bucket.

Here was hoping Twilight wasn’t too harsh on the poor lad, then.

“Yeah well, in here ain’t out there, you got me? And it might help to have another eye go over these that’s a bit more, ah, how do I say this... level? Pinkie’s a lovely lady, just a bit eccentric.”

Sliding nodded in understanding, went over the diagram for a bit. Seemed to be adding numbers between brackets of his own, and then again on a blank bit of paper with some notes. What were those things called, footnotes? Sounded right.

Left Applejack plenty of time to take Flatcap over the materials. She was impressed with how quick he was picking it all up.

“Used to work the drydocks, Miss,” he finally admitted quietly. “Put me to welding in the boilers cause they were small spaces and I was small too.”

“Oh. Ah, I’m very sorry to hear that.”

“Why?” Flatcap asked with a curious but happy smile. “I really liked it, Miss, really, but you need a horn light for safety and I couldn’t anymore.”

Some things clicked, distressingly. Applejack smiled on the outside to hide the hideous cringing going on behind her eyes. “Well, your hat’s gorgeous, kid.” And it fit horribly tight to his head. He was as much an earth pony as Scootaloo was a pegasus, huh?

“It’s going to be nice to be working with boilers again Miss.” There was a tinge of wistfulness in his voice that Applejack admired. Kid knew exactly what he wanted to do. Sort of.

“You know this ain’t a boiler, right? It’s... well...”

“Oh, but it is,” Flatcap insisted, raising his voice above a whisper for the first time in excitement, “it’s just that instead of making all the pressure on the inside bigger, you’re making it smaller on the outside. But it amounts to the same.”

Kid wasn’t wrong... “Well, I ain’t had to work on much stuff with pressure seals, so I’m going to be counting on your expertise for that. A tin can should be an easy enough shape to make—”

“It should be a triangle,” Sliding Rule said confidently from the table, making quick sketching motions without looking up from the drawing. “Well, a cone in three dimensions.”

“Well it’d cut down on the materials,” Applejack admitted cautiously, “but I ain’t sure that’s the best idea.”

“You’re hanging this from balloons, right? This would help keep it level, if it’s bottom heavy. It’d also focus the structure entirely around the joint. The most important thing is that it doesn’t have any straight edges or seams, because Flatcaps’ right, this is basically like designing a boiler to be used as a buoy.”

“Lookit’ that. That’s a clever head you got on those shoulders. A’ight, I can do that too, so long as you stop givin’ me bull pucky. You sort that out then, figure out the dimensions we’ll need to cut, and we’ll do that. The glass part’s going to be a little tricky though...”

Might have to order that in. Shucks if they weren’t trying to keep the cost down, but that was one bit that Applejack couldn’t figure out herself.

Alright, so, they could start on the framework at least, for the bottom. Harness too could be sorted out while Sliding Rule did that, but that might disappoint little Flatcap. She’d have to get Brass on it when he got back.

Woah, nelly, speak of the bugger.

Flatcap snickered. Sliding Rule’s head didn’t lift from the flurry of numbers and protractor sketches he was involved with until he heard Applejack fall flat on her side laughing too. He choked back a smile, though.

Brass’s face was covered in dark letters, a ribbon of sentences that glowed around the edges. And it extended all the way down and around his neck, each line a perfectly legible phrase: “I will not speak blasphemy.

Applejack hopped up off the floor after a moment, dusted herself, cleared her throat loudly, and by all means regained her composure. Utterly deadpan, she said; “So you uh, gave her my message, huh?”

“She hexed me,” Brass stated over-cheerfully through a smile and gritted teeth, staring at his hooves intently. “Easy enough to clear it all up, though. All I gotta do is write “I will not speak blasphemy” a hundred times, and every line I write makes one of these little buggers,” still staring at the floor, he gestured to... himself, in a hoof-wavey gesture, “go away.”

AJ tried to be diplomatic, she really did, but she just couldn’t keep the amusement out of her voice. “Well, you wanna get that out of the way before we start, then? We’ve got a little bit of time while some details are sorted.”

“Can’t, Miss.”

“Why, won’t Miss Twilight let you?”

“No, uh... I already tried, but... the spell can’t read my hoofwriting.”

And AJ lost it again.


Twilight had a poem prepared, her first attempt without Rarity proofreading it.

“Tonight we will be closer

Though yet so far apart

So far you might not notice

Together in my heart”

Luna was still for a moment, as if in thought. Her response was short enough that she could reply back in morse rather than writing: “That was twee.”

Twilight blushed furiously, banging her head against the telescope a few times. She’d fixed it once from worse...

“Sorry.”

“I like twee,” Luna reassured. “Just be safe. Do not rush on my behalf.”

“I can’t help it! Not when we’re so close to being so close.”

Luna seemed to smile at that. She began writing something then in the moon dust.

“The distance between us is two in dimension

Distance and time dimensions each

We must travel through both if ever to reach

I have patience enough, and you the intention.”

They ‘talked’ a while after that. The night was spent with Luna telling Twilight the old names for the stars, and drawing the old constellations.

And each time, Luna would make a great show of drawing them. And each time, Twilight felt a deep appreciation for just watching her.


It was a brisk night on the library roof. The stars shined clear above, the clouds being pushed far away by the same stiff breeze that was causing Pinkie’s teeth to chatter so loudly whenever she wasn’t using them to help Twilight with her straps. Some oil lanterns placed at the points of an invisible triangle around them helped with both the light and the cold, but not enough for either.

And a cone, like a metal party hat, stood looming beside them, big enough to uncomfortably fit a pony with all the scientific instruments that had been wedged into it. Just big and thick enough to support an atmosphere of pressure for the occupant inside, small and light enough that it would rise like a cork in water when the ballast was cut.

And Pinkie and Rainbow were helping Twilight with the final preparations before she rode it into the lower aether.

Rainbow tied off the leather straps as Pinkie checked the pressure. Dash fiddled with Twilight’s aviator cap as Pinkie quadruple-checked the parachute and the backup. Neither of them got in the other’s way as they fussed over all of the important bits and pieces of rigging.

“Are you sure you want to be the one to do this?” Dash asked for the fifth time, the same concern tinting her voice with a mix of concern and incredulity. “You’re not the one who can fly.”

“But you can’t operate the instruments,” Twilight retorted, “and Pinkie doesn’t have our sensitivity to magic. Of the three of us, I’m the one who gets the most out of the trip.”

“Aren’t you scared though?”

“Terrified,” Twilight admitted with what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “Our proof of concept was getting Pinkie up a tower of books, not getting a pony into the lower aether. But it’s basically just an airship, right? We know those are pretty safe.”

“Right, I guess...” Rainbow muttered, rubbing the back of her neck like she always did when she wasn’t sure about something. “What about both of us? We could both fit in the capsule, right?”

Twilight was starting to sweat in her heavy fleece jacket. As beautiful as the thick, waterproofed orange leather was, and as cutting a figure as it gave her, she couldn’t wait to either get it off or get high enough that she wasn’t drowning in herself as much. “We don’t have enough hydrogen, we don’t have enough room, and it’s too late to change it now. You can fly up with me until you can’t, though.”

“Right...” Timid, but then she thought about it a bit. “Right.” More confidently. “Pinkie and I will be there to catch you if anything goes horribly, spectacularly wrong, too.”

“I’ll make a pile of mattresses,” she was agreeing far too enthusiastically for Twilight’s comfort, “you just gotta aim for it, okay?”

“I’ll try... Mostly I’ll be trying to not let anything go horribly, spectacularly wrong so I won’t need to.”

Pinkie’s eyes widened with disappointment, like a puppy’s. “Aww... but I wanted to see how high you’d bounce.”

Actually, that did sound fun. Her parents had never let her jump on her bed, and this seemed like the most logical extreme of harmless childhood fun, should she survive it.

Pinkie continued, walking her towards the capsule. “Also, I bought you a fire extinguisher, in case the hydrogen has a bit of a hiccup. But you should be fine!”

Again, Twilight tried to smile reassuringly, but this time it was almost entirely for her own benefit. “Thanks, Pinkie.”

“I mean, you probably wouldn’t get a chance to use it. Because if it burns, it’s gonna explode, bang! Because you’ve just got so much of it. Or it’s gunna happen when you’re so high up there’s no air to burn. So you’ll be fine, except for the falling. But just in case, I got you a fire extinguisher.”

Both Rainbow and Twilight stared at Pinkie a long moment, but her genuinely pleased-to-help smile didn’t waver for a second. Neither felt much like dwelling on it, so they both moved on.

“I put enough soda lime and calcium chloride in there that you should be able to breathe comfortably for a few hours, too, okay? There’s also pure oxygen, just in case. It’s the shiny metal tube that’s welded to the chair, not the red one, just so you don’t, uh, try to breathe out of the fire extinguisher. That’d be... that’d be a problem. Heh.”

Twilight looked at Dash and Pinkie utterly stone-faced, a rigid look of apathy bordering on disbelief. “I was so confident about this a few moments ago.”

“Hey, you’ll be fine!” Just like that, Rainbow switched from worried to doing her best to be reassuring, “We’ve gone over everything at least three times now, especially the safety stuff, and you watched Applejack put it together yourself. Everything’s going to be fine. And if it doesn’t, we’ve got you. You can trust us, even if we’re kind of blowing it here, right now.”

“But the balloons are already inflated, you don’t need to—”

“Figure of speech Pinkie.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“But yeah, Twilight, you go up there and you go do as much science as you can, and when you get back we’ll roast marshmallows up here or something to celebrate.”

Pinkie bounced at that, starting to shoo Twilight towards the more-terrifying-by-the-second capsule awaiting her, its balloons still rising high into that night sky. “I’ll bake a cake! It’ll probably be ready by the time you get back.”

Rainbow was smiling too, pressing into Twilight’s other side. “Yeah, well, I’ll lick the beaters.”

Pinkie pushed Twilight into the seat of the capsule. “I’ll leave them out for you. You’re supposed to be flying her up a bit, remember?”

Blue hooves helped strap her into the chair, tight. “Oh yeah. Totally doing that.”

Pinkie’s frizzy mane got into Twilight’s face as she checked the instruments around her one last time. “Then you gotta wash up.”

Rainbow checked the fastenings one last time. “Aww... Can’t Spike do it?”

“Only if he gets to lick the beaters instead.” Both of her friends stepped out and away from the launch pad.

“Dangit, fine.”

And that was the last thing Twilight heard before the capsule door closed, sealed. She had a small fan blade to spin with her magic to keep air circulating over the air scrubbing chemicals, a lot of blinking dials and graph paper and twitching needles, and a big red release lever to free her from the rooftop.

Her hooves were strapped to her sides for launch, so magic it would be.

The lever depressed with a clunk and—

AAAAAAAHHHH

Twilight shot up, less cork rising underwater and more fired from a champagne bottle, the straps keeping her steady in the craft as it rose. Rainbow struggled to keep up, but Twilight could see her clearly out the glass windows of the capsule — most of the front panel, and most of the bottom were windows facing out and down, so she could see everything.

With another magical gesture, the buttons strapping her limbs down were released — they were for acceleration, but now her velocity was a constant.

Rainbow Dash followed dutifully, obvious concern visible in her body language, even though her face was concealed by a mask and flight goggles of her own. She kept twitching towards the craft, looking Twilight up and down nervously whenever she hadn’t been given a reassuring wave every few minutes.

She stayed as they passed over the tallest buildings. She escorted Twilight up past the spires of the palace, as the city fell far below them.

Twilight felt sick, at first, from vertigo. The glass floor certainly wasn’t helping, but it was wonderful as she rose ever higher and higher to see... everything.

Everything looked so small. Everypony looked so insignificant.

Is this how Celestia saw everything all the time, with the distance granted to her by time instead of height?

It was a chilling thought, but far too believable.

Pinkie had gone inside. While Twilight could no longer make out the details, it would be hard to miss just how bright pink she was, even from here, against the stark stone-and-steel of the library roof.

She was rising at a rate of about twelve feet per second. Steady, a trot but upwards. Still faster and longer than she could have climbed any staircase, at this rate. Still, Dash kept close, stretching her wings and soaring on invisible thermals wherever she could find them.

It was only five minutes before she had cleared the cloud layer in its entirety. None around her, but she could see them stretch to the horizons around her. The glass began reporting with sharp cracks, shrinking from the temperature change, but nothing too damaging. Just punctuating the lines of frost forming on whatever edges and lines and joins they could find along the capsule.

Still...

She’d chosen a clear enough night, but she could still see clouds stretching around the curvature of the world. There was always that haze from the smokestacks and the fires, but here it stopped and hung in the air below her. The clouds weren’t close, but she emerged all the same from a great hole in a fluffy white field, another surface far above the planet that looked so solid, but was nothing but mists and fogs. The moonlight glinted off their surface, and everything took on a strange dreamlike quality.

Twilight so badly wanted to run her hooves through them. Just to see what they would feel like.

Even Dash, struggling beside her to keep up now, seemed an impossible thing. It wasn’t long before she had to give one final salute and weak smile, and then she too drifted far below the capsule, twirling in a long and lazy helix down and down and down as Twilight watched her descent. Her receding from a full pony to a blue speck to a nothingness far below.

And still she rose higher.

She could see the prisming, now, of light in the atmosphere, so removed was she from its curvature. So soon, so fast, the planet was so small.

Twilight regretted not having Rarity with her, after all. She needed a poet.

She would have needed more carbon scrubbers, though, and keeping the fan going was taxing enough. She had also been running the fan since she started, she realized. She was getting just a little light-headed. Some of it might have been the height, yes, but more likely the scrubbers had been removing too much carbon dioxide from the air. Give herself a much needed break from running it then.

Now she was far above the poofy cumulus clouds and up into the wispy cirrus. Vapor so far removed from the surface, it was theorized, that the air itself froze.

Crackling fog and frost continued to make it harder and harder to see. She wasn’t running the fan anymore though... Twilight wiped at the outside surface, with a great deal of concentration, using her magic. It helped a little, but condensed back almost immediately.

Heh.

She might not have a poet, but she had plenty of rime.

Why was nopony around to hear that? That was brilliant.

But not only was nopony around, nopony had been here before. Not this high, that she knew of. Or at least no survivors, cheerfully.

It was very lonely.

Luna was higher still...

Luna had been higher still for a long time.

As sombre as the thought was, here, now, Twilight was still giddy with the beauty of... the entire world beneath her.

Oh, wow.

She could see the continents now. Great shapes. And with her depth perception so far removed from what it was ever designed to handle, the continents below her now appeared like the clouds above her had on their surface, the ocean a sky.

She’d never be able to look at a flat map on parchment anymore. Just globes, to really see that curvature... maps! Oh, what this could have meant for cartography! To not have to trail coastlines, to see all of them at once!

Or what if she brought a telescope up here? Or a camera! She’d need one that didn’t leak such noxious fumes into the cabin.

She had notebooks, though, that she could fill. Sketches of the clouds from above, notes on the readings from her ascent, simple outlines of the continents she saw -- unfortunately only pencil sketches -- the change in the colour of the skies from blue above to black above and blue below, where the hue of the sky itself was visible across and below...

The balloon had slowed. Her altimeter had stopped climbing. She’d run out of sky, and had bumped into the aether. No spectacular holes torn into it, like with Pinkie’s experiment in the basement, just...

For the first time since she had broken the cirrus layers, Twilight thought to look up.

“Oh. Oh, wow.”

She was in the night. She was in a place where it was always night time, and the sun could only touch, but never reach, it seemed. Not completely.

It wasn’t quite like a single candle in a vast black cavern hoping to illuminate everything... It was something far worse, Twilight realized, as she stared out into the glistening void. It was an infinity, a true endlessness, filled with stars. And how bright some were! Were they closer, or simply bigger? Both?

The sun was a candle, yes, but not alone, and not in a cavern. It was a prayer candle lit in an uncaring cathedral filled with other candles, with other prayers. But all would only ever see the prayers out in this darkness, never the cathedral, never the clergy, and maybe never even the other parishioners.

And how many of those candles were attended? How many weren’t? How many had been, but no longer? How many would?

Twilight was going to need a bigger telescope, and a bigger laser. And either a lot bigger balloons, or a bigger cannon to put them up here.

And some very industrious ponies, Twilight knew, had recently proven light doesn’t travel instantaneously – by accident, trying to prove the inverse – using an ingenious array of prisms and the knowledge that Equus orbited the sun in an elliptical arc... how far away were these stars? How could she tell?

How big was the cathedral?

Wait... how many of these candles had been snuffed out, if light travelled at a limited speed, and Twilight simply couldn’t know because of the immense distance? They knew from old paintings and astronomers that it happened, certainly. Sometimes stars flared up and died away...

Then she looked down again and saw her entire world hanging in nothingness, in void and black emptiness, oblivious to it all. To everything. And up at the moon far above, which was so small by comparison, which could see it all, all the time. It had no sky protecting it from... everything.

What else had the sky been protecting her from?

The instruments were certainly fascinating. There was some significant background radiation, for some reason – she’d only thought to bring that along for safety, not out of any real suspicion – the temperatures were freezing on one side and comparatively fine for the altitude on the other... still, her winter clothes had paid off, and she wasn’t sweating any more. She was as close to no atmosphere as the laws of buoyancy could take her up to, and the conical nature of the craft was probably helping considerably in preventing it from rupturing...

No abnormal electrical currents. Her compass refused to behave, so the magnetic field was definitely as strange up here as she’d predicted. No wind, because there was no air to move...

One last curiosity, then.

Twilight felt out into the void with her magic and—

“Woah!

She rocked back into her chair, pressing into it, huffing heavily. She felt like she’d tried to fellate a live wire.

The aether was alive with magic! It was filled with...

The aether wasn’t empty! It wasn’t a gas, though, or electrical it was... it was magical! Magical winds soared from those candles, like heat waves, and rippled and eddied around the planet for some reason!

But not the moon! It had no sky to ‘protect’ it! That was how Luna had felt Twilight watching her!

There was so much power, flowing through her now. She hadn’t felt it until she opened her magic, but now that she had... There was so much of it. Imagine what she could do—

No. Think. Design. Invent.

She could use this.

This was the breakthrough she needed.

She didn’t need to fire the cannon all the way to the moon! She could lower her impulse calculations to just get her here, this far, outside of the sky, into the aether... Then she could use all this energy, all this untapped power, to go wherever she wanted! She’d need to run more tests, she’d need to run some numbers, she’d need to run the fan.

The scrubbers still worked without it, yes, but the fan helped.

She strapped herself back in completely, first, ready to release one of the balloons and start her descent. She’d found out all she needed, and her data had been invaluable. Radiation had never been a problem she’d considered before...

Alright. She reached out with her magic and spun the fan a—


She was falling.

She’d been falling for a little bit.

Her left foreleg was definitely broken. The adrenaline was probably why she woke up right now. She still couldn’t feel it yet, not completely, but it was broken all the same.

The capsule was gone. The last thing she remembered was the sound of screaming metal, the shattering of glass, then she had woken up falling.

The balloons were still far above her. She could still see them. They were getting smaller far too quickly though.

She was falling too fast. No air resistance, she realized.

Strapping into the chair first was what saved her. She’d been thrown downwards through the capsule, based on all the lacerations on her hind legs. Nothing vital was cut, and the extreme cold had numbed where the blood poked through her thick clothes.

The cuts must have been very bad to get through all that protective fur and leather, could have been a lot worse without them.

Why was her vision getting so... narrow? Like looking through a tunnel...

Oxygen. She was suffocating.

The oxygen tank, for emergencies, was still strapped to her chair. Twilight reached out with her magic – hesitated – reached out anyway, as light as she could. Still too strong, but she hadn’t caused structural damage to the tank. The aether was already fading away. Pressed the mask to her lips, turned the knob, deep breath.

Gasp.

Everything snaps back. The tunnel’s gone and now there’s the screaming pain in her arm, and her lungs, and her body, oh, everything is screaming at her and it won’t stop, but neither will the falling.

She’s falling at an amazing speed without air resistance.

Her parachute is strapped on her back, between the chair and her back. She was never meant to take the seat with her out of the capsule. If she needed the parachute, the idea was to release the sealed hatch and jump...

They hadn’t anticipated failure at this height. It wasn’t said aloud around the six, but none of them thought a catastrophic failure from this height would have been survivable anyway to worry about the pressure difference. Especially never said around Spike.

Oh stars would she never see Spike again?

Don’t panic. Panic is death. What had Shining taught her?

Center herself. Focus around the pain. Another half-breath of oxygen.

Remember to DIE.

Determine, Infer, Execute.

Determine:

1). I am falling Threat

2). I have a broken arm and severe lacerations Complication

3). I am at an extremely lethal velocity Threat

3a). I have a parachute though Resolution

4). I am strapped to this chair Complication

Determine complete.

Infer:

I need to unstrap myself from seat using only one arm, release parachute.

Inference complete.

Now came the hardest letter.

Execute.

Twilight struggled with the strap. She was tumbling, fast, and the air around her was starting to heat up. Friction, or compression, either one was starting to heat up the faster she got. Based on how far she was falling relative to how fast she had climbed, she was well and truly exceeding terminal velocity, possibly by an order of magnitude.

She also still had that broken arm flopping about. That was starting to scream at her, even through the adrenaline. The limb was being tossed like a ragdoll’s, and releasing herself from the straps was going to make it far, far worse.

She grit her teeth and tried to hit the release catch with her good hoof. It took her a few tries, or rather a few rolls, until the g-forces slapped her hoof at just the right angle to hit it.

The broken and battered and sliced pony fell out of her seat, pushing herself away from it, and forced herself into a more shoulder-jarring position, having the pressure force her broken arm into her chest like a sling. An excruciatingly painful sling, but at least it was now still.

Unfortunately the position reduced her drag profile. Staying like this increased her speed profoundly. Her cheeks were pulled and stretched out and away from her teeth and she screwed her eyes shut against the screaming air rushing against her. She might have been screaming, too, but she couldn’t hear it over the howling wind, and she couldn’t feel something as mild as a sore throat over everything else, the pain throbbing and pooling and spreading far beyond the borders of its causes.

Still, still she hesitated about pulling the cord. It’d wrap most of the weight around her waist, but a significant amount of it would jerk her shoulders. Undoing the strap on her broken arm would cause the parachute to pull unevenly, and make for a much harder, uneven pull on the unbroken one.

Simply put, if she pulled her right arm out of the strap to spare it, all she’d do is rip the left one out of its socket. But if she kept it in, she’d be putting a lesser, but not insignificant, amount of force on her broken arm.

And every second she hesitated was another second of acceleration far in excess of terminal velocity.

A conundrum.

A few more cringeful seconds went by. Still she was grateful for the bottled air allowing her to survive this, even this long. What came next, though?

This is going to hurt this is going to hurt this is going to hurt

Twilight pulled the ripcord, her main chute deploying.

There was a ‘whoomph’ of the air catching it and forcing it up and away from her, a sharp ‘twang’ of it catching the air and slowing her descent and then, instead of slowing further, a sharper and harder pull under her left side and she was spinning spinning spinning way too fast, nauseatingly fast.

It hurt, it hurt her head, she was sick she was sick she hurt and was so sick.

She screamed again, but still couldn’t hear it. She pulled again at the green cord, scrambling for it – that detached the main chute – and it went flying up and away from her further still, no longer held to her.

When she stabilized herself again, back to the ground and broken right arm held to her chest and oh stars it hurt so much it hurt so much she could see the problem.

The lacerations hadn’t stopped at her leg. Some shards must have cut through the lines holding the chute to her back, and as a result the parachute itself had held lopsided, which caused the rest of it to tangle and drag her into a spin cycle.

Which was a fantastic thing to find out now that she’d already screamed past the cirrus layers at the speed of sound, air buffeting her excruciatingly painfully.

Problem problem problem the backup chute was an emergency chute. Main chutes designed to deploy over hundreds of feet backup chutes in less than 200 meaning extreme deceleration meaning

more pain

more pain extreme pain hurt hurt hurt hurt—

One last deep breath from the oxygen reserves as she pulled the reserve chute’s cord.

It snapped like a whipcrack, like a gunshot out of the bag this time, and it snapped open just as quick and the very instant that it did, the instant that all that force was ripped back into Twilight, was the moment everything became nothing.


The most beautiful dawn had welcomed the first day of Sweet Apple Acre’s future, and it had been the future for almost two hours now.

Applejack and Rarity stared at the shining metal boiler, gauges and dials ‘borrowed’ from Twilight, some technical specifications ‘borrowed’ from Pinkie Pie, and currently being loaded with apples plucked by Big Macintosh.

Apples were crushed by the dozens, the juice collecting in huge vats. Whenever the vats filled, they were sealed and simmered, not quite to boiling, but enough to treat them of most harmful little things. To clean it, essentially. Pasteurization had gained a hoofhold on the farm.

“I can’t believe it.”

“Stunning, is it not?”

“Nah, I mean I can’t believe you talked me into it.”

“Well, you’ve gone from industrious farmer to farmer industrialist. And I talked to that gallant brother of Ms Moony-Eyed – let me tell you, if he hadn’t been my first client, I’d have sabotaged that entire soiree, stolen him for myself and then coasted on my reputation until I could build it back up again, sweetie, truly, he’s such a wonderfully delicious specimen – about contributing rations to the military. Preserved goods like this are ideal to send as rations. You could send a taste of home to all those fighting Apples on the front lines.”

That earned a long, world-weary sigh from Applejack. “Yeah, it ain’t like the army’s goin’ out of business any time soon, not the way the world is of late...”

“Such a shame you drew the line at tinning it, though. It would have been much easier—”

“Nope.”

“—to clear the deal—”

“Ain’t havin’ it, Rares, we been over this.”

“—if you hadn’t insisted on glass.”

Applejack took off her flat cap and flicked it, dusting it about a bit, before putting it back on. Neither pony was looking at the other, just appreciating the hypnotic rhythm of the big machine they’d put together over the past however long, using the last reserves of the farm’s bits to do it. Even that dollop of money from a while back of Twilight paying way too much for a year’s worth of food didn’t quite cover it...

Hadn’t hurt though.

“Look, Rares, I ain’t gunna compromise on quality. Tinnin’ it? All that metal gets in the taste, messes with your mouth. It’s awful dreck. Glass don’t do that. Sure, it’s harder to ship, costs more to bottle, but ah ain’t compromisin’ one iota on quality. Wasn’t nothin’ wrong with juice before we did all this boilin’ nothin’, tastes better if ponies stopped being so dang fussy.”

“I know dear, but—”

“Tastes weaker, it does!”

“—there are health risks—”

“A little syrupier too, you don’t get the full body of it!”

“—and it preserves it so much longer.”

Still they just watched the hypnotic bottling process as boiled juice filled glass imported en-masse from a local factory Rarity had struck a very appreciable deal with. They’d told Applejack that they’d have to charge her a lot more for the first shipment, to cover the cost of startup, and they’d explained it in a way that seemed mighty fair. Rarity didn’t agree. She had twisted those words on ‘em somehow and they ended up giving the first lot away on discount, when she pointed out that this was investment in a long term business partnership and not to undermine the relationship from the start.

That first startup was filling a bottle every few seconds, then another machine sealed a lid on it tight, and then it went into a crate.

They’d sell this shipment, then they’d have to hire on more workers. Wouldn’t be just the family farm anymore, but it’d be a thriving business.

That was better, right?

Applejack wasn’t so sure. Her voice quivered a little when she asked, “Rares, can you answer somethin’ for me?”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Why don’t ponies like the good old fashioned stuff? Why’d I have to go and muck with it all before they were willing to buy it? Heck, the more I muck with it, like tinning it, the worse I make it, the more ponies I can sell it to. What the heck gives with that?”

“People don’t want better, dear Applejack. They want novelty and they want new, because they live under the misguided idea that new is better. And then one day – maybe sooner, maybe later – ponies will find that ‘new’ has gotten old, and what was old will become new again. Then, perhaps, will the world beat a path to your door for quality and tradition...”

There was a wistful quietness between them, broken only by the sound of burbling and simmering and clattering of glass.

“I sold a pattern once, you know,” Rarity said, miserably.

That snapped Applejack out of her reverie. She finally looked at Rarity, and saw a pony who was far older in life than she was in years, now. “What, to another fashion pony?”

A derisive snort. “No, heavens no! I’ve let apprentices study them, certainly, but, no. Would you so readily sell your best seeds to a rival farm?”

Applejack had come to learn Rarity cared as much about her fashion and she did her farm. She didn’t get it, but she respected it. Sometimes she forgot, but when Rarity said stuff like that, she couldn’t help but be reminded.

All of that went through her head when she answered only by shaking her head.

Rarity must have seen out of the corner of her eye, or just waited the appropriate amount of time, because she continued without looking away from those bottling machines. “To a factory. I was so flattered! They wanted my most simple, elegant design to mass produce, and they’d give me a percentage. Why, with how brilliant the design I had sent them, I was sure to be a millionaire.”

“Take it didn’t pan out, huh? Nopony wanted it?”

Rarity shook her head sadly, a haunted look in her eyes. “No, darling. No, I could have lived with that. It would have been a hit to my ego, but I could have soothed my poor ego by telling myself it was simply too niche. Everypony wanted it.”

“Oh, I see,” Applejack said as if she understood. She didn’t.

“No, you don’t, darling, and neither did I until I saw it. Applejack, my designs are supposed to be unique works, no two pieces quite alike. Each a piece of wearable art tailored to the one pony who most wanted it. A month after production, I saw three young ladies on a street corner, all three garbed in my design. Identical, carbon copies of each other. And I saw everything that was special or wonderful about what I created mocked and corrupted. Were it only those three— The production had sold out. I had outdone myself.” She spat that last bit out with a venom that seemed completely at odds with the statement.

Applejack remained silent, still processing this.

“So, why aren’t you a squillionaire then? If you sold out?”

“Oh, Applejack, please never use those words around me. I sold out... grotesque.” She actually, visibly shuddered. “I spent every cent I had earned buying the pattern back from the factory, and never repeated that mistake.”

Applejack reached a very bitter conclusion of her own. “So you knew what you were asking me to do when you were telling me to do... all this!”

“I’m afraid so, yes.”

“Why didn’t you let on?”

“Because I needed to remain positive about the enterprise. You’d never have followed through if I’d told you the truth that it was just as painful as you imagined, would you?”

Applejack sputtered, taking her hat off again and crushing it against her chest. Felt reassuring. “No! And that would have been for the best, right? You just said how miserable you were!”

“I returned to a successful business selling an irreproducible luxury commodity. If you hadn’t had done this, Applejack, you would have lost your farm. By doing this, we’ve tarnished something wonderful, and beautiful and personal. This machine before us is boiling away something very special to this world.”

The machine chugged on regardless of the harmful words. It was an unfeeling beast, after all.

Applejack pressed through gritted teeth. “I reckon there’s a but?”

“And a significant one at that.” Rarity either didn’t acknowledge Applejack’s anger, or was too somber to let it affect her much. “If we hadn’t done this, Applejack, you’d have lost it. All of it. With it, you can still make the best produce. Nopony else but a close few might appreciate the perfection you have here, the rest but a reflection of the original sublime, but you still have that.”

“Eeyup,” Applejack’s brother agreed soberly from the scaffolding above the machine, hefting another barrel of apples onto his shoulders..

A pleasant little shudder rocked through Rarity’s body. “What is it with you ladies having delicious older brothers I’m not allowed? Apples always were depicted as the forbidden fruit...”

Applejack whacked Rarity over the back of her stupid unicorn skull with her hat. “You know, you were just this side of poignant, Rares, and then you gotta go and say that.”

“I do apologize, I’ve been trying very hard not to stare for this long, but his voice...”

“S’all good Rares. I appreciate the effort.”

Long silence. Big Macintosh continued to move entire barrels filled with apples, sweat glistening down his muscles as they flexed. Rarity very consciously kept her eyes fixed on machine itself, Applejack noticed.

“Didn’t realize this was so hard on you, too.”

“Oh, it was horrid! Knowing how much this was going to hurt you...”

“But you saved the farm. Reckon that was going to end up hurting more. We’d have sold it piecemeal too. Would have taken years of desperate scrabbling, and then we’d have lost out to a neighbour who ended up doing this anyway... You’ve done us a good turn, Rarity, even if we both hate it.”

Another long and thoughtful silence.

Rarity coughed into a hoof. “You know, I suspect if we hold one of those bottles in the flow between the squeezer and the boiler, we could get some freshly squeezed juice ‘before it all got mucked up’.”

“Reckon I’d like that greatly.”

Rarity raised her voice, and higher again so she didn’t have to look at him. “You want one, Macintosh?”

“Eeeyup!”

Rarity shuddered again. Applejack whacked her again.

The pair stepped outside the freshly-raised barn housing the machine, walking around the side to each grab a bottle, when they saw a puffing, panting little figure running towards them.

“Is that—”

“Spikey?”

The dragonling kept running and puffing. Looked like he hadn’t paused for breath the whole way between the farm and the library, poor dear. He bent double when he reached them.

He managed to get three panicked words out between ragged gasps. “Twilight! Hurt! Bad!”

Then he fell over.

Applejack and Rarity shared a look for only a moment before the farmer threw him over her back and they ran, themselves, up into the city. Rarity didn’t even pause to think about how sweaty she’d get. Even she just ran.


The sun hadn’t risen yet.

Pinkie was not happy.

Twilight had landed hard on her pile of crash mattresses, and she wasn’t moving, and her eyes weren’t open, and Pinkie wasn’t even sure that Twilight was breathing. Rainbow had steered the the twisted and torn pony into it, too afraid to really touch her.

No matter how soft the mattresses had been, though, the landing had still been really really hard. Rainbow looked really worried, even worse than than when Pinkie lost time. She’d yelled at Pinkie – she never yelled at Pinkie – to go get Fluttershy. She told Pinkie not to look, too, which just made Pinkie curious when she didn’t want to look but she looked.

Twilight was soaked in blood. Rainbow had pulled out a survival knife from her overcoat. “Pinkie, get the kettle, boil it. And some linen. Like, a bedsheet.”

“Tea and bedrest? Is she sick...”

Rainbow growled and the knife flashed in the moonlight, slicing away pieces of Twilight’s thick clothing. The bleeding looked even worse without it. “That comes later, ‘cause I’m pretty sure she’s got real bad hypoxia. But first we gotta boil some bandages.”

“O-oh.”

Pinkie ran to do it. As soon as she got to the telescope, though, she paused for just a moment. Yeah. She ran to the speaking tube near it.

“Spike?”

“Yeah?”

“Could you quickly bring a bedsheet up to the telescope, please? Oh, and some coal, while you’re at the boiler.” Pinkie’s voice wavered, no matter how hard she tried to hide her anxiety. She hoped it got lost in the pipes... “Then maybe go get Fluttershy?”

“Uh, sure, I guess? Why—”

“Okay thanks bye!”

Pinkie just ran for the kettle this time. Spike could meet her coming up and she’d grab that and give it to Rainbow and Twilight would be okay, even if her arm really, really shouldn’t look like it had three opposing elbows.

There was a kettle just at the bottom of the elevator, which was really slow, and it was so slow that by the bottom of it Pinkie was crying because maybe Twilight was dead and if she had slid down the ladders instead maybe Pinkie could have saved her so maybe she’d accidentally just killed Twilight but then she got a pair of metal buckets from where the buckets were and the elevator was faster than climbing this time so it didn’t feel like a wrong decision on the way back.

Spike was waiting back up at the top of the elevator waiting for her, holding a bedsheet full of coal.

“Why do you need—”

“Thank you so much, Spike!” Pinkie swept him up in a huge hug. “Now, uh, could you go get Fluttershy please? You remember how to get there right?”

“Ah... yeah. What’s going on? I thought everything was okay, Rainbow said—”

Pinkie cut him off, twitching her whole way through the slow sentence that wasn’t helping Twilight right now. “Yeah, she did.” A twitch snapped through her neck and her head jerked a bit. It sucked. “But Twilight’s really hurt right now, okay? And I don’t think it would be a good idea to tell her brother what we were doing...”

“They might have a field medic, though, or... or... yeah.” Spike gulped. “I’ll get Fluttershy. I’ll, uh... oh geeze. I wish I had longer legs!”

He waddled over to a ladder and jumped down it, feet outside the rungs and claws slowing his descent. As soon as that ladder ended, he bounced to the next one, throwing himself down ladder to ladder.

It was way faster than the elevator.

Still, she had the coal and the kettle and the cloth. She grabbed it all up in one big bundle and made her way up to the roof.

Everything looked really, really bad. Twilight had been cut out of most of her clothes, and her fur was all matted with blood, and Rainbow had rolled Twilight onto her back with her head tilted to the side. Twilight was wheezing brokenly and wetly and her breaths kept catching in her throat weirdly but that was okay because she was breathing.

Pinkie didn’t say anything. Just set the bucket up on the coals and pulled a box of matches out of her hair and lit it and the water started simmering slowly. No where near boiling, but it was a start, and the fire was still nice.

She didn’t want to look but she did look and Twilight’s legs looked... weird, not as bad as her arm did but she hadn’t seen blood look like that before it was... gross. Really gross. She tasted lunch again and it wasn’t that great the first time around and the second time wasn’t better.

Rainbow noticed her noticing, and grimaced reassuringly, which was apparently a thing she could do. “It’s hypoxia,” she said, as if that explained it. Then, she did explain it when Pinkie looked confused. “It’s only happened to a few pegasii who were pushing it to the absolute limits. But it’s when the atmospheric pressure whatsit is less than the... I don’t know. Higher you go, colder things boil.” Rainbow pointed at Twilight’s... whole situation. “Her blood literally boiled outside of her body, and probably inside of it a little too. Saliva, eyes, you name it it just... evaporated.”

Ew, ew, ew gross gross awful yuck no was that why everything looked so, oh, yuck, gross, no, no, no!

Rainbow shook her head and slid the knife over to Pinkie. It was covered in blood. She stirred the simmering water with it a little before she started cutting the bedsheet off into thick strips. Rainbow continued. “Yeah, so, it nicked some really big and vital arteries, it looks like, but the blood clotted extraordinarily fast as soon as it hit air. Saved her life. If this had happened at a lower altitude... As it is, she’s probably gonna be lucky if she gets feeling back in this leg for a while.”

“But she’ll get better right? She’s my best friend! She has to be okay!”

A flash of hurt passed like reflected light behind Dash’s eyes. “I thought I was— No, look, she’ll be fine, we just need to—” She was cut off by a fuzzy pink crash tackle.

“You’re my best friend, too, okay? The bestest of best friends! Please don’t be mad I couldn’t take it right now if you were mad at me right now...”

Rainbow hugged her back tight and close and buried Pinkie’s muzzle in her shoulder. “Hey, I was just being stupid jealous for like, a second. I’m a little emotional too right now, okay? We’ll make sure Twilight’s going to be okay too. We’ll get Fluttershy, and we’ll get her bandaged up so none of this gets infected, and she’ll get plenty of bedrest and she’ll just read in bed for like, a month?”

“Y-yeah?” Pinkie snuffled and she hated it because Dash was being so brave.

“You know how much she’ll love that, having us have to be nice to her for a month while she gets breakfast in bed every day and just gets to read? She’ll be in heaven Pinkie, we just gotta get her there, that’s all.”

Pinkie wiped her nose a bit against Dash’s jacket and, to the adventurer’s credit, she didn’t even flinch. “She’s not gonna go to actual heaven though, right?”

“What—Oh, fudge, no. No, no, just... she’ll be happy is all, Pinks. She’ll get better.”

“O-okay.” Again she stuttered and again she hated herself for doing it because it wasn’t helping. “I think the water’s boiling. I’ll... do that.”

She tried to let go, but Rainbow just squeezed her even tighter for a moment. “It’ll be okay, Pinkie. You haven’t done anything wrong, okay?”

Pinkie knew she had, but she didn’t want to upset Rainbow by disagreeing with her. “Okay...”

So she boiled some bedsheets until Rainbow said they were good, and she tried to wring out as much of the water as possible so they didn’t have to reboil much new water, because it took a while to get it up here because the pipes ended downstairs.

Rainbow took them off her, each one in turn, gently and nicely and never snatched them. Then she wrapped them around the worst of the blood spots, tight and thick, and they all bloomed little red splotches when she did, but that was supposed to happen. If it didn’t happen, you didn’t really need the bandage, Rainbow assured her.

They’d done all her legs, and used most of the bed sheet, when two foals wordlessly moved past her to Twilight carrying a stretcher. Then Fluttershy was giving her a hug too.

“You did well, little one,” she whispered so gently into Pinkie’s ear and she knew, she knew, that everything was going to be okay now. “Help me move her? As many hooves as possible to spread the load.”

The foals were Cap’n and Brass, she knew them, they were good kids, and a lot stronger than her, so they and Dash mostly rolled Twilight into the stretcher careful careful while Fluttershy and Pinkie tried to just keep her head and arm from moving as much as possible.

Fluttershy did nothing to hide how impressed she was at their work. “This is excellent first aid, Rainbow. You’ve done good work.” The Matron looked at Rainbow warmly for a few seconds before recognizing something Pinkie couldn’t see, even if she squinted. “Pinkie, would you please get Rainbow an empty bucket? And lay out one of these mattresses?”

Rainbow seemed grateful so Pinkie just did as she was asked. She adjusted the bed and got the bucket and as soon as she did, Rainbow emptied her stomach into it, blinked twice, and fell over fast asleep, beyond snoring, onto the mattress.

“I should get a blanket for her... and a pillow,” Pinkie whispered. Fluttershy nodded and smiled at her and things were okay again, even if they weren’t.

“Where’s Spike?”

“He’s off to get the others. They’ll probably want to know, and I don’t want him here fretting too much. Poor little thing just needs to be useful...”

Pinkie knew the feeling. It was bad and she felt bad.

Then Fluttershy gave her one last, big, motherly hug and took the stretcher downstairs with the foals to get Twilight to a real bed and then Brass Tacks was back with a concerned look and the pillow and blanket so that Pinkie could just stay up here looking after Dash and then he was gone too, and it was hours after they started.

She was curled up next to Rainbow when Pinkie saw the most beautiful sunrise she’d ever, ever seen in her whole life.

The Princess was mocking them, she knew it.

What a mean, cruel, horrible, awful, dreadful... grargh!!!