• Published 11th Nov 2011
  • 36,130 Views, 3,762 Comments

The Sweetie Chronicles: Fragments - Wanderer D


Sweetie Belle must find Twilight by travelling through different Fanfic worlds...

  • ...
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The Best Night Ever Part 1: Arrival


Edited by: Fifth Alicorn & Lammy Proof by: Trevor & Super Big Mac

Rarity sighed, levitating a cup of hot chocolate and setting it on the table in front of her sister. “Here you are, Sweetie. I’m sorry about earlier, but I certainly never expected Prince Blueblood of all ponies to turn up outside my door, much less have him hugging you! I cannot imagine what got into his head.”

Sweetie Belle stared at the hot chocolate in silence, making Rarity purse her lips. Her little sister seemed to be having some difficulty processing all that had happened. It was really all just a big misunderstanding, surely.

“I’ll make you a sandwich, and then maybe we can go out for a walk to take your mind off of things...” Rarity continued, trying to catch the filly’s attention to little avail. She must still have been traumatized from the tearful hysterics of the Equestrian royal. “To think that Prince Blueblood, whom I fantasized of meeting for the longest time, would come to my door and act like-like...”

‘A little like a madpony,’ was nearly the first words out of her mouth.

“Well! I don’t even want to say it!”

Rarity had just turned around when Sweetie slid from her seat to the floor. She slowly walked up to her older sister and hugged her.

“Sweetie?” Rarity asked, concerned as Sweetie Belle slowly started to sob into her coat. Sweetie just pulled her tighter into the embrace and cried louder. Rarity hugged her back and closed her eyes, rocking her little sister silently.

After a few minutes, the filly finally pulled back, still sniffling a little. “I’m sorry for being so quiet sis, I just—”

“Hush,” Rarity whispered, “don’t apologize, Sweetie. Come now, let us sit down, drink our chocolate and then we shall talk.”

The pair made their way back to the table and took seats on opposite sides. Rarity was about to offer to warm up the hot chocolate again, but stopped, surprised, as Sweetie warmed it up herself. With magic. It was a simple warming spell, but… how? When did—

Sweetie looked at her sister straight in the eyes. “I watched somepony die.”

Rarity’s eyes widened in shock, her concerns about heating spells vanishing instantly.

“How- Who—”

“He was trying to kill me and my friends... Puppysmiles, sh-she smashed his head in with a rock.”

Rarity was speechless. Puppysmiles?

“Why, Rarity?” Sweetie asked, looking down into her cup as if it contained the answers. “Why would ponies do that? Why start a war? Why murder? Why would somepony want to kill me?” Sweetie leaned back on the chair, looking up at the ceiling. “In all the worlds I visited, nothing like that had happened. I would have never imagined a filly being shot at or smashed against a wall being capable of standing up again, much less crushing a pony’s head with a rock!”

Rarity stared in bewilderment at her sister. “Sweetie Belle, did you have a nightmare?”

Sweetie snorted. “I wish,” she grumbled, upset by the dismissal. “I didn’t even get to learn that lightning-bolt spell, and that one sounded really neat. That world was… it was just…”

“Lightning? Sweetie Belle!” Rarity cut in, raising her voice. “I demand an explanation!”

The little filly sighed. “Listen, sis... I’m going to be really succinct and just tell you everything now to avoid further confusion, okay?”

Rarity pressed her hoof against Sweetie’s forehead. “You don’t seem to have a fever.”

Sweetie brushed the hoof away and levitated her sister into the air before depositing her back in her chair. Then she turned their cups light-green.

“Can I have some sugar?” the cup asked Rarity.

By now, Rarity was looking at her sister as if she were half-hydra. “B-but how?”

“I’m not your Sweetie Belle,” Sweetie explained. “I’m a Sweetie Belle from another dimension that was trapped in a continuous loop of world-hopping, and I only need to find a specific type of crystal so I can continue my travels. Then I’m out of here.”

Rarity nodded slowly. Then her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she passed out, face smacking on the table. Her fainting couch didn’t even have the time to get all the way across the room.

Sweetie sighed again. “Well, that went well.”

The house was completely quiet as Sweetie Belle slowly started drinking her hot chocolate, sipping it while staring at her unconscious sister. Her eyes strayed to the familiar curtains and her sister’s varied works in progress, Opalescence purring and rubbing her head against Rarity’s leg affectionately. Unconscious ponies seemed to be her favorite ponies.

Suddenly Sweetie felt something wet fall on her foreleg. She looked down, confused, and saw many more drops of water fall onto the table. She blinked, taking a deep breath as she realized they were her tears.

Sweetie bit her lower lip as she sought out Rarity. She extended her hoof across the table, brushing her sister’s mane lightly. “I’m sorry,” she whispered as a sob shook her body. “I’m so sorry, Rarity! I’m sorry, Twilight... Spike... I’m sorry!”

Crossing her forelegs, she rested her head on them as she wept, the experiences of the last couple hours taking a toll on her emotions. At least it was over. At least… at least this world seemed normal enough.

o.0.o

At some point, Sweetie had fallen asleep, finally awakening, to the sound of hooves knocking on her front door. Looking up, she saw that Rarity was still passed out, sprawled rather inelegantly on the floor.

Hearing the knocks again, she groaned and stood up on all fours. Carefully, Sweetie Belle levitated Rarity up to lay her down on the couch, pulling a warm blanket on top of her sister. It was the least she could do after knocking her out with a faint-worthy bit of cold, hard reality. Also, the tears on her coat looked kind of gross. Sweetie tried to rub at them with the blanket, with little success, before just tucking it in. She’d apologize for all that later.

A third series of knocks, even more impatient this time, made her roll her eyes. “I’m coming, I’m coming!” Sweetie trotted up to the door and opened it, revealing two very annoyed-looking fillies.

“Sweetie Belle!” Scootaloo growled, grabbing Sweetie’s hoof. “What are you doing?! We’re gonna be late for school!”

“School?” Sweetie asked weakly. “Really?”

“Are you feelin’ okay, Sweetie Belle?” Apple Bloom asked.

“No time!” Scootaloo shouted, yanking Sweetie out of the Carousel Boutique and slamming the door behind them. “We need to go now, or we won’t make it in time!”

Plunking a helmet on Sweetie’s head and forcing her into the little red wagon she had attached to her scooter, Scootaloo revved up, barely giving Apple Bloom time to jump in as they shot across Ponyville.

“What’s the deal? Miss Cheerilee won’t mind. We can be a little bit late!” Sweetie complained, drawing a surprised look from Apple Bloom.

“We have a test today!” she explained to Sweetie Belle. “Did you forget?”

“Oh...” Sweetie smiled sheepishly. She grimaced and looked at her friends. “So, what’s the test about? I don’t really remember what it was. It’s been a while.”

Apple Bloom gave her an odd look. “Sweetie, we got reminders yesterday! It’s about unicorn history!”

“Yeah!” Scootaloo shouted over her shoulder. “Why couldn’t it be Pegasus history? That’s much more interesting!”

Suuure it is.” Apple Bloom rolled her eyes.

The trio saw the school in the distance, but, as they approached the building, a mamma duck and her little ducklings stepped into the road. Suddenly, Sweetie Belle remembered this day. “Oh, no...”

“Watch out!” Scootaloo shouted, twisting the handlebars instinctively, sending the trio arcing around the ducklings and crashing headlong into a large marker stone at the side of the road. They pitched forwards, sent flying uncontrollably before they smacked down inside the large waste container beside the school.

“Oooh...” all three groaned as they struggled to dig themselves out. Apple Bloom gagged, throwing herself at the rim of the bin before reaching back to pull her fellow crusaders towards her. Retching and gagging, the three flopped out of the bin and onto the grass before looking down at their trash-ridden coats in dismay.

“Hey, Blank Flanks!” Diamond Tiara called, sneering as she trotted to class. “Why don't you go dig around some more in the trash for your cutie marks? I'm sure you can find something that'll fit you just fine!”

“Just ignore them, Scootaloo...” Apple Bloom whispered when the orange-coated filly growled.

“Yeah, they’re not worth it,” Sweetie sighed, watching the pair of bullies laugh their way into the schoolyard. Her horn lit up and with a small flash all three fillies were completely clean, the garbage settling around their hooves. “There, let’s go in.”

She took a couple of steps, but then stopped when she realized Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were not following. “What’s wrong?”

“Since when can you cast spells like that?” Apple Bloom asked.

“T-that was awesome!” Scootaloo nodded.

“Oh, right!” Sweetie face-hoofed, taking a second to stare at her hooves. “I’m younger!”

“Uh... you’re whatnow?” Apple Bloom asked.

“N-never mind!” Sweetie stammered, smiling nervously. “Let’s go into class!”

“But, when did you learn to use magic?” Scootaloo insisted, falling in behind her.

“And why didn’t you tell us?” Apple Bloom added, sounding a bit hurt.

“I-uh,” Sweetie smiled. “Um... I promise to tell you after school, okay? I just can’t now... you know... with everypony else around.”

Her two friends shared a confused look, but nodded and started following her until Scootaloo gasped and stopped.

“What?” Apple Bloom asked.

“I—” Scootaloo shook her head, looking at Sweetie for a second. “I’m sorry, I thought I saw something.”

Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom shrugged.

The trio made it inside the classroom, where they were treated to a warm, welcoming smile from Miss Cheerilee, and two confused looks from Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, who clearly expected them to be covered in gunk.

The three hurried to their seats as Cheerilee closed the door and turned to look at the class. “Good morning, class!”

“Good morning, Miss Cheerilee!” came the droning response.

“As you all know, today we have a test on unicorn history!” Cheerilee chimed with a smile despite the collective groan. “Now, I know you all did your homework on it last night, so it shouldn’t be too hard,” she said. “So, get out your pencils, a piece of paper, and write me as much as you can remember about unicorn history.” She moved to the side, revealing a chair stacked with blank papers. “If you need more paper to write, feel free to get some from here. Now, start!”

Sighing, Sweetie barely paid attention to what she was doing, getting five pages to have enough paper to write. Unicorn history, huh? Well, there’s so much to tell! Where do I even begin? I suppose the easiest thing is to start with Princess Platinum... the unicorns of the past were very xenophobic, weren’t they? I guess moving the sun and moon meant they figured they were more than just regular ponies. She giggled as her quill flashed along the page, writing her thoughts on the relationship between unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies of the past.

But, I can’t just write something that I could have learned from Hearth’s Warming Eve, she reasoned. I should backtrack a bit and cover Starswirl the Bearded and his exploits as a unicorn polymath, as well as his rumored affair with Princess Celestia!

She added another page, and another, and another. I was very surprised when it turned out that Clover the Clever had apprenticed under Starswirl, but it sort of makes sense that the most educated and powerful unicorns would be taken under the wing of the previous generation. The strongest unicorns teach the strongest unicorns, and Twilight is learning from Celestia, so maybe that’s still the case? Sweetie got another blank paper and dipped her quill in the inkwell.

She frowned for a moment when she noticed that she had run out of ink. With a shrug, she procured another inkwell from Miss Cheerilee’s desk and carried on writing. And then, of course, there is the philosophical tradition of— she suddenly became aware that the room was quiet. Too quiet.

Slowly, Sweetie Belle raised her head and peeked over the stack of written papers at the rest of the class.

Every colt and filly was staring at her in awe. Even Miss Cheerilee was doing nothing but gawking. She looked from them to the swaying stack of papers on her desk, her quill levitating in her magical aura just over the latest addition to her essay; A Treatise upon the History of the Unicorn Race: A Comprehensive Retrospective of Magic, Bigotry, Redemption and Reconciliation in Twelve Parts. Then it hit her.

“Oh!” she gasped. “Oh, I’m sorry, Miss Cheerilee! We were only supposed to write about what we covered in class, weren’t we?”

THUD!

The class slowly forced itself to turn and look at Diamond Tiara, who had passed out, a single-page, one-paragraph-long-plus-unicorn-drawing essay fluttering to the floor next to her.

o.0.o

Twilight put down the last of Sweetie’s essay, pursing her lips as she appraised it.

“Well... Sweetie definitely needs to brush up on her bloodlines if she’s going to write about Platinum,” Twilight said after an awkward pause. “And there’s no evidence whatsoever that Celestia and Starswirl ever had an affair, unless you count Mareser’s work, which wasn’t contemporary and drew on the romanticized version of historic events. Biticus is a much more accurate account, though his military figures and accounts of magic are believed to be exaggerated.”

“On the other hoof,” Twilight continued, weighing one of her hooves in the air against the other. “Her analysis of the relationship between the pony clans of old seems spot-on, and her work on Starswirl and Clover's apprenticeship? Fantastic! Her bibliography was a bit light, but she was going by memory.” The lavender queen of all bookworms smiled at Sweetie Belle, who puffed out her chest with pride.

“Thanks, Twilight!” Sweetie Belle replied, smiling back.

“But... that’s not what I taught her!” Cheerilee explained, flailing her hooves and accidentally knocking some of Twilight’s quills askew, making her eyebrow twitch. “I never mentioned any of those unicorns! I don’t even know who they are, other than Queen Platinum!”

Twilight shook her head. “Really? Well, okay, but... maybe Sweetie just read some history books on her own? These essays are impeccable for a filly her age. I hardly see the problem here.”

“Twilight,” Cheerilee said slowly, trying to get through to the other mare. “Sweetie was levitating the pen and paper and hardly paying attention while she wrote. She’s always been a filly with passable grades, but... never like this!”

Twilight looked at Sweetie Belle, who blinked innocently with dewy green eyes.

“Look, Cheerilee, it could simply be that Sweetie accessed her innate magical potential while distracted. It’s been known to happen an—”

“Hey Twilight!” Spike called, walking in with a stack of books. “I brought you all the books I could find on transformation spells!”

“Spike!” Twilight shouted too late, trying to warn him as his foot descended on top of one of her fallen quills and he slipped.

“Whoa!” Spike shouted, flinging the books into the air, trying to regain his balance before he fell flat on his back. Seeing the books about to crash on top of him, he quickly covered his head with his arms... but nothing happened.

Spike opened his eyes and stared at the floating books. “Thanks, Twi—” he stopped, noticing that Twilight’s horn was not glowing at all and that both Cheerilee and Twilight were staring at Sweetie Belle, whose horn was glowing.

“Eh... hehe...” The filly giggled, nervously. “Where did you want these again, Twilight?”

o.0.o

“...and then I just got distracted and wrote away while thinking of what I would write for you, Twilight, if you had asked me for an essay about unicorn history,” Sweetie Belle said. “And, that’s the whole story so far.”

The two mares across from her simply stared.

“I have to say, you two are taking it much better than Rarity; she—”

“Aaaaaah!” Cheerilee screamed at the top of her lungs. “She stole my student!”

“Cheerilee, calm down,” Twilight said, standing up.

“No! She’s a creature from another dimension! They’re taking over Ponyville! They’re in our minds! I can feel another Cheerilee trying to take me over!”

“That’s not how it is!” Twilight raised her voice.

“We’re all gonna die!” The teacher screamed.

Twilight groaned and cast a spell. Sweetie watched in fascination as Cheerilee's screams faded to a yawn, the earth pony slowly nodding off before curling up on the library floor. She slept pretty soundly for a mare who had been in a panic five seconds earlier.

“This is becoming a recurring theme...” Sweetie muttered.

Twilight sighed. “I guess this is what Rarity was ranting about this morning,” she said, giving Sweetie an indecipherable look. “I convinced her that it was just her imagination, since she had woken up on her sofa... I figured she had just overworked herself again.”

“Oh... that...” Sweetie grimaced. “It didn’t go as well as planned either.”

Twilight was silent for a moment. “Sweetie... what you’ve been going through is changing you. You’re almost nothing like our Sweetie Belle is—was,” she corrected herself, pausing to drink a little of her tea. “It’s understandable. You’ve suffered through a lot, if all you said is true. But... it’s making you callous.”

“What?” Sweetie’s eyes widened. “But—”

“Think about it,” Twilight interrupted, raising her hoof. “Was it really necessary to just drop all of this on Rarity the way you did? Even I would have hardly believed you right now if you didn't seem so calm about this! Sweetie Belle...” Twilight reached a hoof to gently stroke the filly’s own. “You’re losing yourself.”

Sweetie Belle remained quiet for a little bit, before looking up at Twilight. “But... how can I stop that from happening? For all I know, my next jump will land me in the middle of a war. Or worse!”

Twilight seemed to be at a loss. “W-well, I’ll look at my books, okay? And see if I can find something. In the meantime, why don’t you spend some time with Scootaloo and Apple Bloom?” She brightened. “Just think of it as a break! We all need breaks, right?”

Sweetie nodded. “Yeah,” she smiled. “A break! That sounds like a great idea.”

o.0.o

“Sweetie Belle!” Apple Bloom called, galloping up to her, followed by Scootaloo, who gave Sweetie a dubious look the moment they reached her.

“What’s going on, Sweetie?” Scootaloo asked suspiciously. “Since when can you do all that magic? And how come you knew so much unicorn history? I know you pay attention in class, but that’s ridiculous!”

Sweetie hesitated. “W-well, I ah... the thing is... I’m from the future.”

Apple Bloom frowned and was about to talk when—

Scootaloo gasped in realization. “Wait! Is that why I saw your cutie mark earlier?!”

“What?!” Sweetie’s head whipped to the side to look at her flank, but it was as blank as ever. “Hey!”

“No... no, no,” Scootaloo shook her head and made calming motions with her hooves. “I swear to you, I saw something for a second earlier today, after you cast your spell.”

Apple Bloom stared from Sweetie to Scootaloo. “Wait, you believe her?”

Scootaloo shrugged. “Why not? Do you remember Sweetie ever being able to clean us all up with a single spell? Or even being able to cast a spell at all?”

Apple Bloom looked at Sweetie Belle with an intense glare, clearly trying to see any hint of deceit. “No,” she said slowly. “Never.”

The pair of fillies stared excitedly at Sweetie Belle, who smiled uncertainly.

“Oh my Celestia! Does Rainbow Dash adopt me?!”

“What’s mah cutie mark like?”

“When do I learn to fly?”

“Will Ah be as strong as Big Mac?”

“Does Rainbow Dash become a Wonderbolt?”

“Okay!” Sweetie screeched. “Hold on! Calm down! I’m just from a couple of years ahead!”

“Oh,” Apple Bloom sighed as she and Scootaloo slowly calmed down. “So... do we get our cutie marks in a year or two?”

“N—” Sweetie cut herself off. “Nah-ah-ah, that would be spoilers, right? It’s better for you to wait and see.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “That means no, doesn’t it?”

“Well, no, it just means that you have to wait and see,” Sweetie reasoned, her brain looking for a way to get out of it. “Uh... yeah, it’s because I’m in the past and the future can be changed! So i-if I told you, either way, I could really mess up your chances and you might never get your cutie mark!”

“How does that work?” Apple Bloom asked. “Ah don’t get it.”

“W-well, imagine... that... uh... Fluttershy!”

“What about her?” Scootaloo tilted her head in confusion.

“Y-yeah, imagine that Fluttershy never fell from the cloud... and she never found her cutie mark back then... what if... I dunno, when Nightmare Moon came, she had thought it was soo cool that she swore allegiance to her and ended up getting a Shadowbolt cutie mark and became the Shadowbolt Captain?” Sweetie elaborated. “So... it’s the same, if I told you you were going to get your cutie mark in one way, and you messed it up, what if you ended up with the wrong cutie mark?”

Apple Bloom’s eyes went wide. “Can that even happen? Can you get the wrong cutie mark?”

Scootaloo's eyes were half-lidded as she gave Sweetie a blank look. “Fluttershy. Captain of the Shadowbolts. Really, Sweetie Belle? Couldn’t you have thought of something more logical?”

“Stranger things have happened,” Sweetie said, shrugging.

“Right,” Scootaloo said. “Well, what’re we doing today, then? If you’re from the future then you’ve already done our plans!”

Sweetie grinned. “What, and miss out on ‘Cutie Mark Crusaders Pastry Chefs’? No way!”

o.0.o

Sweetie paced nervously in front of the Carousel Boutique.

Night had begun to cast all of Ponyville into its starry embrace, and Scootaloo and Apple Bloom had left after their unsuccessful (but very entertaining) attempt at being pastry chefs.

“Well done, Sweetie,” she muttered. “Antagonize your sister. You’ll be lucky if she even allows you back in.”

Taking a deep breath, Sweetie marched up to the door and knocked. The door slammed open and there stood Rarity, all dressed up for the gala.

She blinked and looked down at Sweetie, her smile fading a bit. “Oh, it’s you... Sweetie...” she shifted uncomfortably.

Sweetie grinned a little bit. “I’m... sorry sis. I—”

Rarity pulled her into an embrace and held her close. “I spoke with Twilight,” she whispered to Sweetie. “She told me a little of what’s happened. I know my Sweetie will come back eventually but... you’re also my sister. We’ll talk tomorrow morning, okay?”

Sweetie nodded, sighing in relief as she leaned into the embrace.

“Oh, there’s Twilight and the others!” Rarity squeaked. She stepped back from Sweetie Belle and posed with one hoof raised. “How do I look?”

“You look amazing, sis,” Sweetie said, smiling sadly at the thought of how much effort her sister had gone through in her original world to prepare for the Grand Galloping Gala, only to end up loathing her Prince and gorging herself on donuts. It’d taken her a full week, filled with ice cream nights and workout mornings, to recover. And they had been some very, very angry workout mornings.

“Good! Now, it’s a little bit late, but there is some food in the fridge you can eat, and try to go to bed early, will you?” Rarity instructed. “Since mother and father have gone out tonight as well, I’ve asked Big Mac to pick you up for a sleepover at Sweet Apple Acres. ...Make sure you...”

Sweetie hardly heard the rest of her sister's parting words as she fully digested what Rarity had just said. Mom and dad... they're... alive...

She didn’t pay any heed to Rarity wishing her good night, nor Twilight and the others arriving and departing to the Grand Galloping Gala. She slowly made her way to the kitchen and absentmindedly ate the sandwich Rarity had left there.

“They’re alive...” she repeated to herself. “Maybe...” she yawned. “Maybe I can meet them tomorrow.”

o.0.o

When Big Mac and Apple Bloom arrived at the Carousel Boutique, they found Sweetie asleep at the table. Big Mac carefully picked Sweetie up and set her on his back, shushing Apple Bloom, so that Sweetie might rest in peace. The three left quietly, with Sweetie dreaming about meeting the parents she always thought lost to her forever.

Tomorrow.

o.0.∞.0.o

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

At the scream, Sweetie shot up in her bed, a cold sweat running down her back, eyes wide and looking around for danger. After a moment, she realized she was in her room at the Carousel Boutique, although for some reason she had a lot less possessions this time around than she usually did.

Rubbing her eyes, Sweetie staggered out of bed and stretched. Slowly, she took stock of her situation. She was back at the Boutique... But, didn’t Rarity say something about me spending the night at Sweet Apple Acres?

I must have misheard. But wait... Does that mean I also misheard about our parents? Her heart jumped. To be so close... She took a deep breath then remembered that Rarity had been screaming bloody murder just a moment ago.

“Rarity!” she shouted, running out of her room and into her sister’s bedroom. Rarity wasn’t there, but now she could hear her in the bathroom, talking very loudly with somepony.

Sweetie pushed the door open. Rarity was there, dripping wet, with an angrily hissing and equally drenched Opalescence. “R-Rarity? What happened?”

Rarity grimaced. “I’m terribly sorry if I woke you up, Sweetie. It seems we are out of hot water this morning.”

“Uh, what happened to Opalescence?”

Rarity chewed her lower lip. “Never mind, dear, you should get ready for school.”

“But, there’s no school today!” Sweetie said.

“Nonsense, Sweetie,” Rarity huffed, using her magic wrap a towel around herself and another around Opalescence. “You must be confused. That is why I keep telling you to go to bed early. Now, get ready, remember to brush your mane, make sure your coat is clean, go eat some breakfast and grab your saddlebags. I think you were supposed to have a test today, right?”

“No, that was yesterday!”

“Sweetie Belle, get ready and meet me downstairs for breakfast,” Rarity all-but-snapped, still clearly in a bad mood over her shower.

Sweetie Belle huffed but followed her sister’s orders, and soon enough was munching on her toast when Rarity finally came downstairs. There was something odd though.

“So, sis...” Sweetie looked her sister over. “How was the Gala? Did you end up eating donuts at Donut Joe’s?”

“Donut who?” Rarity asked, absentmindedly heating up some water for her morning tea. “The Gala is tonight, Sweetie, so I can’t have any interruptions while I take care of the last minute details.” She smiled, letting out a giddy laugh. “To think that I could finally meet the stallion of my dreams!”

“Are you sure you didn’t drink too much last night, Rarity?” Sweetie asked.

Rarity blinked and glared at Sweetie Belle. “I’ll have you know that I don’t parta—”

A knocking on the door interrupted whatever Rarity was about to say, and she blinked in confusion at the door. “I wonder who that could be... it’s far too early for Scootaloo and Apple Bloom... Sweetie, be a dear and see who it is, would you?”

Sweetie sighed. “Sure, sis...” She paused. “Weren’t you going to talk to me about yesterday?”

Another knock called their attention and Rarity sighed, levitating several rolls of fabric and sipping her tea. “I’m sure we’ve discussed whatever you did at length, already, Sweetie Belle. The door, please.”

“Fine.”

Sweetie opened the door and standing right outside the boutique, with a silly grin on his face was Prince Blueblood.

“You!” Sweetie growled and narrowed her eyes at the vain stallion. Curiously, despite the clearly unfriendly tone of her voice, his smile only grew in response. Like he was happy to see her glare at him. “What is it that you want?”

“You haven’t noticed it yet,” he stated, speaking softly and slipping off to the side a bit. Rarity was already craning her neck to see who was at the door. “Think about it. Has anything seemed strange this morning?”

“Just you,” the filly growled before asking him a second time, “What do you want?”

“What a rude little filly,” Blueblood said with a bereaved and probably exaggerated sigh. “I suppose you’ll find out sooner... or later.” He raised his voice, “Is a Miss Rarity home?”

“Yes, I’m Rarity, who—” Two needles nipped betwixt her teeth and a length of lace hovering overhead, Rarity froze mid canter as she noticed who was at her door. For a long moment, the urge to run off and make herself more presentable warred with her need to find out why this pony, of all ponies, was at her door.

Sweetie frowned at Rarity’s reaction. Blueblood had been a complete jerk to her the last time, and Rarity had only had bad things to say about him, but... even if this was another world and the Gala had gone differently, why was she acting like she had never met him? He’d just dropped by yesterday, for Celestia’s sake!

“Be my date for the Gala, Miss Rarity?” Blueblood asked, gesturing with a hoof. One of his pegasus Royal Guards entered, bowed, and presented a package with a white-gold rose. The Canterlot stallion floated it out of the case and Rarity practically swooned with delight.

Seriously?” Sweetie asked, raising her voice. “What the—” Her mouth clamped shut when she noticed Rarity giving her a glare that would have frozen even a cockatrice in its tracks. Actually, it probably would’ve made a cockatrice lay an egg.

It didn’t take long for Rarity to reply an affirmative, giddy at both the gift and the request.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, winking not at his date, but at her little sister. “You’ll see what I mean then.”

Sweetie rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Whatever.”

‘What a weird pony.’

o.0.o

Talking with Rarity had become completely impossible after Blueblood’s invitation to the Gala that night, which was itself completely impossible, since the Grand Galloping Gala had happened the night before. Except now everypony had forgotten about that Gala, and Rarity and her friends were all getting ready for another one! Was this some sort of Gala-obsessed super-amnesiac universe?

“This world... it... it just doesn’t make sense!” Sweetie Belle muttered as she chewed on another piece of toast, on which she had dumped a considerable amount of peanut butter and strawberry jam. “Maybe in this universe it’s a three-night event?” she proposed to the fruit basket on top of the table. “That - that makes sense, right? But, if he behaved like he did in my universe, Rarity wouldn’t want anything to do with him!”

Sweetie groaned and rested her head on her hooves. “I need to sort this out. Maybe Twilight will know where to find the fragment. She might have heard a legend or something.”

Her musings were interrupted by a steady stream of knocks on the door. When she opened the door, she found herself face to face with Apple Bloom, who was quickly pushed out of the way by Scootaloo.

“Sweetie Belle!” the pegasus growled, grabbing Sweetie’s hoof. “What are you doing?! We’re going to be late for school!”

“School?” Sweetie asked. “We have class today? I thought Rarity was just delusional. Who has classes on a weekend?”

“You feelin’ okay, Sweetie?” Apple Bloom asked, pressing her hoof to her friend’s forehead.

“No time!” Scootaloo shouted, yanking Sweetie out of the Carousel Boutique and slamming the door behind them. “We need to go now, or we won’t make it in time!”

Throwing Sweetie into the pull wagon she had attached to her scooter, Scootaloo revved it up, barely giving Apple Bloom enough time to jump in as they shot across Ponyville.

“W-what’s going on? Do we have another test today? I don’t remember Miss Cheerilee saying anything about it, although she was a bit out-of-sorts yesterday.”

“What happened yesterday?” Apple Bloom asked. “Ah thought y’all went straight home.”

“Don’t you remember my essay on unicorn history?” Sweetie Belle asked. “After the test, Miss Cheerilee took me straight to Twilight to find out why I could do magic.”

Apple Bloom gave her an odd look. “You can do magic?!”

“She can do magic!?” Scootaloo shouted in surprise, turning to stare at them instead of the road.

“Shouldn’t you be paying attention to the road, Scootaloo?” Sweetie asked when they bumped onto a small rock. “You don’t want to end up in a dumpster like yesterday, do you?”

“What are you talking about!?” Scootaloo asked, just as Apple Bloom looked up at the road and noticed a small duck stepping into the road.

“Watch out!” Apple Bloom shouted, making Scootaloo turn around in a panic.

The pegasus barely had time to steer forcefully, but the speed and force made the scooter-pulled wagon catch on the road and turn violently on its side, sending Sweetie and Apple Bloom flying, while Scootaloo was caught in the tumbling wreckage.

“Scootaloo!” Sweetie and Apple Bloom shouted in horror, galloping up to their friend.

“Hey, Blank Flanks!” Diamond Tiara called, sneering. “Didn’t anypony tell you? You need to be alive to get a Cutie Mark!”

“Tiara!” Silver Spoon gasped, but neither Apple Bloom nor Sweetie heard them.

With a mighty blast of energy, Sweetie picked up the scooter and wagon and threw them to the side, uncovering Scootaloo, who had pulled herself into a small, bruised ball. The pair of friends kneeled next to the pegasus, checking over her wounds.

The sound of galloping hooves alerted them to Cheerilee, who had arrived with Silver Spoon to the scene.

“This is not good!” Cheerilee gasped, kneeling next to Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom. “Go get Nurse Redheart, quickly!” she ordered Silver Spoon and Apple Bloom over her shoulder. Not waiting to see if her order had been followed, she methodically checked Scootaloo, sighing in relief when she noticed the filly was still breathing.

“What happened?” she asked Sweetie Belle, who was closest to her.

“S-she was riding as fast as she could so we would make it in time and—” Sweetie gulped. “I-I mentioned that I could do magic and she must’ve forgotten she was going so fast because she got distracted and there was this duck and—”

“It’s okay, Sweetie,” Cheerilee said soothingly. “Calm down. It was an accident. I’ve told you three that you have to be more careful when riding on the wagon.” She sighed. “We’ll wait for Nurse Redheart to take her to the hospital, it shouldn’t be long.

o.0.o

After Scootaloo had been flown to the hospital following a quick check-up by Nurse Redheart, Sweetie and Apple Bloom had been ushered into the class to take their test.

Even knowing that Scootaloo was going to be okay - although she might not be able to move her left wing for a while - Sweetie could barely concentrate on taking her exam. Again.

Why...? Why did this happen? What’s going on? Sweetie thought, mind only half occupied by writing her essay. This... is a repeat of yesterday, for the most part, at least. I don’t get it. She sighed, putting down her quill and floating her essay to Miss Cheerilee’s desk. Sweetie then rested her chin on her hooves. This whole day doesn’t make sense! Rarity didn’t act like she went to the Gala last night, and Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were both surprised to hear about my magic.

Both bored and worried, Sweetie proceeded to practice one of the first exercises Twilight had shown her. Focusing on her quill, she levitated it and slowly floated it around her head. But why were they so surprised? We talked about it yesterday! And I showed them and Pinkie Pie some of my tricks when we tried to get our pastry chef cutie marks!

The inkwell followed the quill on its orbit around her head.

Is this some kind of joke? Or is everypony under a spell of some sort? Could they have just simply forgotten? A book, encompassed in her magic, slid out of her saddlebag and joined the other two objects. I should talk to Twilight, Sweetie decided, adding her ruler and an eraser to her practice. She can probably tell me if somepony cast a spell on... all of Ponyville.

Sweetie groaned at the stupidity of the thought.

No, wait! That got me in trouble once already! Think, Sweetie! There must be a rational explanation! Her pencil joined the satellites around her head, followed soon after by an apple from Miss Cheerilee’s desk. Sweetie shook her head angrily and the floating objects started twirling in place and making smaller circles as they continued their course. Maybe Blueblood is behind this. He seems to know more than he’s letting on. And he could be enchanting my friends! But... why would he do that? Is he trying to get revenge on Rarity for the cake?

Sweetie sighed, deciding that the answer was not something she would find until after school.

It was then that she looked up and found Miss Cheerilee staring at her, mouth agape. The other students followed the trajectory of the floating objects in mute fascination. That’s odd... it’s like they’ve never seen me—

“Hey! Is that a cutie mark?!” Snips asked, pointing at something. Sweetie followed his hoof down to her flank where she saw...

Nothing. Again.

The whole ensemble of school supplies that had gathered around Sweetie’s head clattered to the floor.

Sweetie Belle turned her gaze to Cheerilee. “I need to talk to Twilight.”

o.0.o

“Twilight,” Sweetie growled. “It’s been six hours since we started these experiments. Surely you’ve reached some conclusion by now.”

Twilight’s horn stopped glowing and she sighed, massaging her forehead, both mentally and magically exhausted. “Sweetie... I’ve tried everything I can think of. Nothing comes back with anything out of the ordinary! Fortune Finding and Fortune Fathoming, Considerate Chronological Conclusions, Eternal's Exhaustive Examinations and Estimations! They all agree that you’re moving normally forward through time!”

Falling back on her haunches, Twilight rolled her shoulders and took a long breath. “I guess... we could try Turner's Talented Time Tables again. It came back as inconclusive last time. Or you could go to Canterlot and we could try Turner's Terribly Tricky Time Tables instead. But we’d need to magically ground and then neutralize your magic first. That’s a big spell and I don’t have enough mercury here in the library to neutralize anything more than your horn. I’m-I’m honestly at a loss, Sweetie.”

Twilight laughed lightly for a moment, her weariness forgotten.

“I never imagined I’d actually be using these tests, and certainly not at the request of a filly your age.”

“You prepared for this possible scenario?” Sweetie asked, eyes widening.

“Well, yes,” Twilight admitted, blushing slightly. “I once thought about time-travelling to meet myself or the princesses and getting caught in the past and not being able to convince anypony that I was from the future... so I figured, if I knew all possible tests to prove that I was telling the truth, I could perform them or have them performed on me by competent peers or in the presence of the princesses to prove the validity of my story.”

Sweetie Belle shook her head. “I am not exactly sure what disturbs me the most about this conversation: the fact that you couldn’t find anything at all, judging from the look on your face; the fact that you’ve considered, seriously considered, going back to the past in wanton disregard of most magical laws against it; or the fact that you had considered a scenario where you would be casting six hours’ worth of spells just to validate your existence. Wait, I think the fact that it’s you thinking about all of that is what disturbs me the most. Just how many lists did you write for yourself about this?”

Twilight muttered something.

“I’m sorry, did you say twenty six?”

“Anyway,” Twilight snapped. “The point is, the only reason I agreed to this was because you knew a lot of things you shouldn’t, but I can’t find any excess buildup of chronometric magic on you. At all. Your etesian and even acronical counts are perfectly normal!”

“So I wasn’t sent to the past to inhabit my own body in an attempt to distort reality then...” Sweetie sighed. “Figures that things wouldn’t be that easy.”

Twilight blinked. “Wait, how is that easy?”

“It’s the story of my life lately,” Sweetie muttered, just loud enough for Twilight to hear.

“Now, I’m sure—”

Whatever Twilight was going to say was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. Sighing, the librarian walked up to the door and opened it, revealing a pair of royal guards in golden armor.

“Oh, you must be the ponies pulling our carriage to Canterlot!” Twilight said, smiling at the apparently expected company. “Thank you again for the help.”

Sweetie watched, curiously, as Twilight chatted briefly with the two guardsponies. This particular Gala, she’d forgone transmogrifying two of Fluttershy’s mice. By what Sweetie overheard, Twilight had been told to expect them this morning. Had Princess Celestia sent guards down from the city or... no, it couldn’t be—

“Once you’re ready, Miss Sparkle, please meet us outside the Carousel Boutique,” the more talkative of the pair said and took his leave. The other followed in lockstep after one last word, “Everything is arranged and ready for you and your guests.”

“I’ll see you then!” Twilight replied, waving to the stallions as they departed.

Once the guards were gone, Twilight turned to look at Sweetie Belle, a little contrite. “I’m afraid we’ll have to pick this up again tomorrow...”

“But—” Sweetie tried to object.

“I’m sorry Sweetie, but I really need to get ready,” Twilight said gently, nudging the filly apologetically back out the door. “And I’m sure Rarity needs to talk to you about tonight. We’ll talk about this again soon, I promise.”

Sweetie sighed. “Fine. See you tomorrow, Twilight.”

“See you tomorrow, Sweetie.”

o.0.o

Sweetie grumbled her way up to the hospital and quickly found Scootaloo’s room, with Apple Bloom already sitting beside the bed. Big Mac stood to the side, letting the fillies talk for a bit before taking Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom down to Sweet Apple Acres for the night.

“Hey, Sweetie,” Scootaloo waved from the bed, a little grumpy. “Thanks for joining us.”

Sweetie cringed. “I’m sorry, girls... I really needed to talk to Twilight about what’s happening...” She sighed, summoning a chair right next to the bed, earning a raised eyebrow from Big Mac, a frown from Apple Bloom, and a stare from Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle jumped on top of the chair and looked down at the sheets, avoiding Scootaloo’s eyes. “I’m really sorry, Scootaloo. This is all my fault.”

Scootaloo shrugged. "Doc said it's just a broken wing. Shouldn't be more than a week or two."

Sweetie flinched. “I-I’m sorry, I just... this is my fault. I shouldn’t have distracted you. I... I’ll get going... I know my way to Sweet Apple A—”

“Oh, shut up, you!” Scootaloo chided, leaning over with a wince to gently smack Sweetie on the head. “It was an accident, and I shouldn’t have been distracted! Plus...” she grinned excitedly, turning to her side so that Sweetie could see the cast, a familiar signature on it.

“Rainbow Dash signed it?” Sweetie Belle smiled. “That’s so nice!”

“I know!” Scootaloo grinned. “Isn’t it awesome?!”

Sweetie nodded. “I’m glad that it worked out!”

Apple Bloom nodded. “But that’s not the only cool thing!” she exclaimed. “Ain’tcha gonna tell us how you learned magic?”

Sweetie Belle frowned. “You don’t remember?” When all she got were blank looks, she sighed. “What’s happening in this screwy dimension?” she grumbled.

o.0.∞.0.o

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

Sweetie shot right up in her bed at the scream, a cold sweat running down her back, eyes wide and looking around for danger. She galloped out of her room and made her way to her sister’s bathroom, where Rarity was struggling with a wet Opalescence.

Again?” Sweetie all but cried out.

“I’m terribly sorry if I woke you up, Sweetie. It seems we are out of hot water this morning.”

Sweetie tuned her sister’s explanation out as her eyes widened and the cogs slowly started to work in her head. This isn’t different... this is exactly the same as before! In fact... if I remember correctly, I fell asleep on the way to Sweet Apple Acres, not in my own bed! So how did I get back here?

“...Sweetie?” Rarity asked, concerned, waving her hoof in front of her blankly staring sister. “Are you okay?”

“I-I’m fine... Think I’ll go... downstairs and... uh... get ready for school?” Sweetie Belle ventured.

Rarity nodded. “Oh, you do have a test today, don’t you? Did you study for it?”

“I did,” Sweetie replied weakly as she turned around. “I’ll... see you... downstairs...”

For the remainder of the morning, Sweetie played the quiet observer, noting with detachment the uncanny similarities, the disconcerting regularity of events. As certain events drew near, she found herself anticipating them with nigh perfect accuracy and thus, waiting and waiting, much longer than usual by her estimation, she flung open the door to the boutique before a second knock could sound in a fit of frustration.

"Now listen here Bluebl- You're not Blueblood!" She raised a hoof accusingly, barely eliciting the raise of an eyebrow from the royal guard before her.

"Miss Sweetie Belle?" the pegasus asked, terse and laconic as most guards were.

“That’s me,” Sweetie replied.

She was immediately given an envelope, and the guard nodded. “From His Grace.” That said, he turned around and left.

“Who was it, Sweetie?” Rarity asked, poking her head from her studio.

“N-nopony,” Sweetie stammered. She looked down at the envelope and opened it, extracting a card. On one side it read: “Tired of the same old routine? Drop by Sugarcube Corner!” She turned the card around, where she found it was signed “Sincerely, somepony who may or may not be a Prince.”

She trotted over to the kitchen table and sat down, gazing at the card. “This... can he really be the only other pony going through this?” she wondered before rolling her eyes at the thought. “Stupid. Stupid! Stupid! This is impossible. I’ll just get ready to go and visit Scootaloo at the hospital...”

“Oh, did something happen to Scootaloo?” Rarity asked, walking into the kitchen.

Sweetie hastily hid the note in her saddlebags. “Y-yeah, she was injured when we fell off the wagon yesterday, remember?”

Rarity frowned. “I... don’t remember you mentioning that, Sweetie,” she said after a moment of thought. “However, you should certainly make sure to visit her in the hospital if she’s hurt. Maybe I could make her a little something?”

“I’m not sure tha—” The knock on the door made both unicorns look up. “I think I’ll go check who it is,” Sweetie said, trotting up to the door and opening it. As she’d expected, and as a part of her had dreaded, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were outside, waiting for her.

Tilting her head, Sweetie Belle looked at Scootaloo’s wing. It was fine. Not a scratch on it, much less a cast.

It’s like yesterday... just never happened...

“Oh, hello girls!” Rarity greeted them , smiling. “Ready for school?”

“Yes, Miss Rarity!” Apple Bloom nodded.

“And Scootaloo! I’m glad to see you’re up and about!” Rarity added, nodding at the young pegasus.

“Huh?” Scootaloo blinked. “Why do you say th—”

“Oh, look at the time!” Sweetie Belle all but shouted, stepping in between Scootaloo and her sister. “We’d better get going, girls, we don’t want to miss that test, do we? See you later, Rarity!" She grinned nervously as she yanked the door with her magic, slamming it shut before hopping into the wagon with Apple Bloom.

Apple Bloom gave Sweetie an odd look, but soon enough they were on their way, bumping and bouncing as Scootaloo propelled them towards the schoolhouse. Sweetie Belle barely paid any attention to her surroundings until she heard Scootaloo shout.

"Watch out!"

The wagon took a hard turn to avoid the duck that had stepped out into the road. The forceful twist made the wagon slam into a large rock, sending all three crusaders flying up into the air in an uncontrollable spin to land smack-dab inside the large trash bin next to the school building.

“Oooh...” all three groaned as they struggled out from beneath the layer of garbage they had been forcibly buried in. The three fillies looked down at their dirty coats in dismay.

“Hey, Blank Flanks!” Diamond Tiara called, sneering. “Digging around in the trash for cutie marks? Bet you’ll find something that’ll fit you in there!”

“Just ignore them, Scoots...” Apple Bloom whispered when the orange-coated filly growled.

“Yeah, it’s not worth it, although it does get annoying.” Sweetie sighed, watching the pair of bullies laugh their way into the class. Her horn lit up and, with a small flash, all three fillies were completely clean. “There, let’s go in.”

She took a couple of steps, but then stopped when she realized Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were not following her. “What’s wrong?”

“Since when can you cast spells like that?” Apple Bloom asked. “Or at all for that matter?”

“T-that was awesome!” Scootaloo nodded.

Sweetie sighed. “It’s just a cantrip.”

A blank look.

“Beginner’s stuff. Level zero out of thirty. One point in the ‘matter’ sphere,” she elaborated. Then when they didn’t seem to get it, she groaned. “You know, a very basic spell any moron could cast?”

“Sooo...” Scootaloo ventured. “You can do magic?”

“Yes, Scoots.” Sweetie sighed, growing a little tired of the question. “I can do magic.”

“Www-ooow,” Scootaloo and Apple Bloom echoed as they entered the classroom.

Looking at the colts and fillies sitting down for a class she had already taken three times, Sweetie Belle made up her mind right there. She went up to Miss Cheerilee as Scootaloo and Apple Bloom took their seats.

“Miss Cheerilee?” she asked, planting her forehooves on her teacher’s desk. “I have something really important to do today, and I was wondering if I could take the test and go, um... help Twilight with some studies?”

Cheerilee raised an eyebrow. “You’re helping Twilight?”

Sweetie smiled as convincingly as she could. “Sort of! She’s been tutoring me in magic and I had a breakthrough today!” she said with as much excitement as she could. “I would really like to learn more about magic and since we’re really only doing the test today...”

Cheerilee chuckled. “We’ll see, Sweetie Belle, take your seat, write your essay and I’ll think about it in the meantime, okay?”

Sweetie Belle pouted. “Okay, Miss Cheerilee.”

Cheerilee waited until Sweetie had taken her seat before beaming a smile at all of her students. “Good morning, class!”

“Good morning, Miss Cheerilee!” came the droning reply.

“As you all know, today we have a test on unicorn history!” Cheerilee chimed with a steadfast smile despite the collective groan. “Now, I know you all did your homework, so it shouldn’t be too hard,” she said. “So, pull out your pencils and quills, a piece of paper and write me as much as you can remember of unicorn history.” She moved to the side, revealing a chair stacked high with blank paper. “If you need more paper to write, feel free to get some from here. Now, start!”

Sweetie didn’t waste a second. No longer caring about her magic being revealed too early or at all, she levitated several blank pages, her quill, and her inkwell. She wrote as fast as she could about general unicorn history, rushing the job, but still trying to put as much detail as she could into her self-imposed 5-page limit.

She was aware of the stares and the fact that nopony else was even attempting to write their own essays. She heard the murmurs as the first page floated to the side to dry, followed soon after by a second and third. When she was done, Sweetie used a bit of scribe’s sand and cast a minor breeze around the papers to quick-dry the ink completely before piling the pages neatly, making certain that the edges were crisply aligned, and setting them down on Cheerilee’s desk.

“Miss Cheerilee?” Sweetie called, snapping her teacher’s attention back to reality. “Can I go now?”

Cheerilee struggled to find words; her mouth opened and shut several times before she finally just nodded.

“Thanks!” Sweetie Belle chimed, jumping down from her seat and levitating her saddlebags onto her back. She turned to look at Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, who were staring at her, equally speechless. “See you girls later!”

And with that, she was gone, leaving her bewildered classmates behind.

“Miss Cheerilee?”

“Y-yes, Scootaloo?”

“Are pod ponies real?”

“I don’t... think so.”

"What about robo-ponies?"

o.0.o

Unlike most mornings, Sugarcube Corner did not appear to be open for business. In fact, it had a ‘closed’ sign on the front door, but for whatever reason, Sweetie noticed that many of Ponyville’s residents were surrounding the bakery, looking into it through the windows. A few of the more gossipy gossip-inclined ponies were trying to peek inside and one even had a camera, primed and ready. Two stoic Royal Guards had their wings crossed in front of the front door, as clear a sign as any that those inside were not to be disturbed.

Sweetie approached and looked inside, hopping up to grab the edge of a windowsill, having to shoulder past the cherry-faced Miss Punch in the process. Through a split in the drawn shades, she could see inside, and it didn’t take long for the filly to identify the source of everypony’s curiosity. Prince Blueblood was dancing with Pinkie Pie. Or stumbling. They were doing something that looked like dancing, in any case.

Taking a deep breath, Sweetie boldly marched up to the entrance and the two stolid pegasus guards who stood vigil there. One motioned for her to stop, but the other, who she recognized as the guard that had given her the letter that morning, wordlessly commanded the first to stand down. After a moment, their wings retracted to allow Sweetie to step inside.

Trotting past the guards, Sweetie found Sugarcube Corner its regular, festive self, save for the lack of ponies. As the door closed behind her, she found herself staring at Blueblood and Pinkie as the former instructed the latter by example. They continued on, working through their steps again and again before Sweetie loudly cleared her throat.

When the pair simply continued dancing, Sweetie frowned. “Hey!” She shook her head with a growl and without thinking, grabbed the gramophone with her magic, the needle coming free with an audible screech.

“Oh ho?” Blueblood remarked, just noticing their guest. “You’re finally here.”

“Hi!” Pinkie Pie greeted, waving one of her hooves excitedly. “I’m super sorry, but we’re closed for today! Somepony bought our entire stock of cakes and sweets and candies!”

“That somepony would be me,” Blueblood boasted, while managing to bring Pinkie’s wildly gesticulating hoof back down to torso-level. “Even without the music, you should be able to practice the steps, yes? One and two and three, side to side, then back, then side to side and forward. Mister Carrot Cake? Could you... oh, where is he?”

“They’re peeking at us from the kitchen!” Pinkie exclaimed, pointing over where two manes could just be seen the countertop. A little grudgingly, after a few muffled exchanges of words, the lanky Mister Cake emerged, grinning nervously.

“You’ve seen me do it, and you wouldn’t want your waitress here to look foalish at the Gala, now would you?” Blueblood said, gesturing the older stallion forward. “Please, dance with her while I attend to my little friend here. Remember, one, two, three, branle to retreat, one, two, three, branle to pass.”

“Uh... right...” Carrot Cake muttered.

“Do your best, honey bun!” Cup Cake egged him on, now leaning over the counter. “He’s our number one customer, after all!”

“No pressure or anything then!” Carrot yelled back, and holding Pinkie by one hoof, tried to imitate what he had seen. Blueblood, for his part, used a spark of magic to get the gramophone up and playing again. Ballroom dance music soon filled the air.

“What do you think?” he asked, directing the question at Sweetie Belle. “Is the branle too gauche a dance for the Gala? It really is the simplest thing I could teach to Miss Pie on such short notice. Being raised in Ponyville, you haven’t learned much courtly dance, have you?”

Sweetie Belle raised an eyebrow. “Uh, no, I don’t really know that dance...” She turned to look at Pinkie Pie and the stumbling Mr. Cake. “I guess it’s better than head-banging?”

“A shame,” Blueblood concluded, turning slightly to appraise the pair of Ponyville pastry practitioners. “All good unicorn fillies and mares should know how to acquit themselves in the ballroom. Your sister is quite the dancer, actually. Unpracticed, of course, but she has a natural grace and enthusiasm.”

Sweetie’s eyebrow twitched. “Yes... my sister. First you ask her to go with you to the Gala, then you teach Pinkie Pie how to dance... are you playing with—”

“Wait,” Blueblood cut her off, suddenly. “Did I take your sister to the Gala? You were there when I asked her, yes, but you know by now that she doesn’t remember it. Nopony does. Who is to say it happened at all?”

Sweetie frowned. “You would know. And I would... why are you doing this? Did you plan all of this? And why am I the only pony who remembers?”

“Planned? This? Moi?” He held a hoof over his mouth to stifle a laugh. “Since you’ve accepted that what we experience has some measure of reality to it, then let me tell you that before I ran into you, I had the pleasure of repeating this same day... hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. Not by choice, I assure you. Why am I doing this?” he asked, pondering the question and rocking his head to the left and right. “Why? I guess because I haven’t yet. Is that an answer?”

Sweetie grimaced as what he said truly sank in. “H-hundreds of times?” she asked weakly. “I can barely stand this after three days!”

“I thought something was odd... well, of course it was odd... that you suddenly remembered me,” he said, carefully lowering his manicured hoof back to the cleared wooden floor of Sugarcube Corner. “I’d bumped into you before in previous iterations of this blasted day, and you never had before. So you’ve been doing this for three days, then.”

“Well...” Sweetie hesitated. “I- yes. I...”

She sighed, mentally debating just how much information to share with the uncouth Prince Charmless of the Gala. Come on, he’s the only one so far that even remembers yesterday! Or whatever ‘yesterday’ was!

Sweetie nodded slowly, her mind made up. “I’m not the Sweetie Belle from around here... I was, literally, not on this world until three days ago.”

She watched Pinkie and Mr. Cake dancing with a small, twisted smile.

“I arrived from a very violent place... at first, I just thought I was imagining things, or that it was a memory spell, but yesterday one of my friends broke her wing and today it was as if nothing even happened. That’s not something average unicorns, or even extremely talented ones, can do at the same time they’re affecting everypony else.” Sweetie paused a moment to think.

“So... how was I, who was I, before I met you?” Sweetie asked and blinked. “Wow, that sounded weird.”

“You were just the little filly who answered the door, really.” Blueblood shrugged, dismissive. “My focus was on Miss Rarity when I visited.”

“Your... ‘focus’... was on her?” Sweetie asked, pointedly. “And just what does that mean?”

He smiled, all too amiably. “Well, when a stallion and a mare want to...” He noticed her frown and the smile broadened. “Oh, come on. I was merely teasing you. Look here. What do you think I’m doing with Miss Pie? She’s my ‘focus’ for today.”

“I don’t know,” Sweetie said tilting her head. “Are you trying to seduce her and then kidnap her to join your royal harem? So you can roll around in the sand kissing all day?”

“… ah. No.” Blueblood stole a strange look at the filly. “Where did you even…?”

“Not all of Twilight’s books are educational,” Sweetie replied, tapping her chin. “Though I did learn a lot from that book. Adults must really like to wrestle, but Miss Cheerilee always told us when we wrestle in PE class we’re not supposed to bite—”

“Miss Sparkle’s library is clearly more extensive than I thought,” Blueblood said, coughing into his hoof. “To answer your question, Sweetie Belle, no. I am not attempting to seduce Miss Pie.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“What about my sister?”

“… that one is more complicated.” The admission was clearly a little uncomfortable.

Sweetie frowned. “So what… are you and her…?” she asked, and then violently shook her head. “You know what, never mind. I don’t think I want to think about that anyway! Just tell me: what in the name of Celestia is happening, and why are we both trapped like this? Isn’t there a way out?”

“If I knew of a way out, I assure you, I would not be here,” he replied, snorting in frustration. He kept his eyes on Pinkie’s ballroom dancing, clearly not entirely pleased by what he saw. Pinkie was enthusiastic, but bouncing probably wasn’t part of this particular ballroom dance. “Just as sadly, I can’t say why I... why we... are caught repeating this same day.”

Sweetie’s eyes went wide, imagination running wild.

“So first it was just you, and now me, too. Do you think that... eventually everypony else is going to start doing the same thing and repeating the same day until everypony in Equestria is doing it and then we all think things have gone back to normal but we never grow up and if we get our cutie marks they will disappear the next day and we have to find the talent again and maybe it doesn’t happen, but nopony cares and how would the seasons work if that happened? I don’t think you can bring snow all the way from Cloudsdale in one day! And it would be gone the next!” Sweetie took a deep breath, ready to continue.

“Go on,” Blueblood prompted, hoof propped lazily against his cheek.

“But then, would there be a point in doing that? We would all be stuck in a point in time that cannot be altered regardless of what we do! The whole world would explode into chaos! It would be worse than Discord! There would be no consequences and—” Sweetie Belle’s eyes went wider still. “No... consequences...?”

She gave Blueblood a considering look. He was still just sitting there on his haunches, now, with both front hooves propped up against his cheeks. “Umm. Just... how crazy have you gotten?”

“How crazy is crazy?” he asked, momentarily looming over her with an odd, twisted grin on his face prompting a quick squeak from the little filly. A moment later and he returned to normal, or what passed for normal.

“I suspect I am a tad touched in the head,” Blueblood admitted, back to keeping an eye on the dancing Cake and Pie and what passed for normal. “I know I went... rather mad some time ago, but I think I got a little better. Or maybe I am still quite crazy, but less mad-mad. Either way, to make a dreadfully long story short, being completely insane was proving counterproductive so I tried to get it all out of my system.”

“I can see this being a psychologically deteriorating experience in which one needs to hit rock bottom before adapting...” Sweetie grumbled, channeling a little inner-Twilight. “Wait...! Does that mean I’m going to go insane, too?! Will I start burning down Ponyville and laughing while I levitate in the results of a bloodspell I’ve invoked to become goddess of this universe?”

“Maybe,” Blueblood admitted. “I’d plan around it.”

Sweetie Belle facehoofed. “But I don’t wanna be a crazy, blood-magic wielding goddess of supreme evil!” she whined, drawing the attention of the dancing ponies.

“Nevermind this silly filly, everypony,” Blueblood assured the proprietor and his assistant, both frozen in mid-dance. “Really. Don’t mind her. Dance. Dance, my puppets!”

“Ahh,” Mister Cake drawled. “Blood-magic?”

“Supreme evil?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“There is a supremely dark and evil blood magic spell to test for diabetes,” Blueblood explained, actually sounding like he knew what he was talking about. “That’s all.”

“Diabetes,” Pinkie Pie hissed, blue eyes narrowing. “My old nemesisisisis...sis...” The pink pony stuck out her tongue before shaking her head furiously. “Bluh, tongue twister.”

“Okay... okay,” Sweetie took a deep breath, muttering mostly to herself. “I’m okay now. I think. I just need to figure a way out of this universe. I’ve done it before.” She looked at Blueblood with panicked eyes. “Okay, tell me what to do. How do I not go crazy?”

Satisfied that Pinkie and Mister Cake were back to practicing the former’s dancing for the Gala, Blueblood gradually turned his attention back to the filly at his side. He had plainly heard her question, even the urgency in her voice, but he didn’t answer. Not right away.

“I’m hardly an expert myself, but, I’d say: occupy yourself,” he said, finally, a bit of tension under the muscles of his jaw. “Yes. Occupy yourself. And try, really hard, to remember who you are.”

Sweetie moaned and sank to her knees.

“Then I’m doomed!” she exclaimed. “I’m already not who I am! Twilight said so! And... I’ve seen so many other worlds! And I’m actually older than my counterpart here!” Her eyes lit up. “Maybe I should make a memory orb! That way I can remember who I was when I’ve lost... wait... it wouldn’t last till the next day!”

“No,” Blueblood told her, his response forced and bitter. “Nothing follows you through the loops. Even your own body. Believe me, I’ve tried.” Abruptly, he held out his hoof to help her up. “But enough about our dour circumstance. Let’s dance for a little bit. I’ll teach you a bit of branle,” he offered. “It’s easy, and at least this time I’ll have a student with more than a day to learn.”

Sweetie sighed miserably, but after a moment, she gathered herself enough to look Blueblood straight in the eye and accept his helping hoof. “I guess it’s better than going back to writing essays about unicorn history.”

“I’ll have to see about making it easier for you to play hooky,” he promised, leading her out to where Pinkie and Mister Cake were moving back and forth, forward and back. He was much too tall for her to really dance with, so Sweetie had to hold onto just his one outstretched hoof as he led her in an imitation of the dance he was teaching Pinkie Pie.

“Oh! And after this, I’ll teach you how to pony polka!” Pinkie interrupted, with an almost predatory smile. “Everypony should know how to pony polka!”

“Didn’t that start a riot last time?” Sweetie asked.

“No worse than one loop when she decided on heavy metal instead,” Blueblood remembered with a shiver.

“Heavy metal?” Pinkie Pie mused, her thoughts lost on Galas and mosh pits. “Oooo...”

“Sweetie Belle,” Blueblood whispered, leaning down so only she could hear him. “I know this is all quite a bit to digest. All you need to know for now is that you aren’t the only one stuck in this, and there are some upsides as well. There is no tomorrow here, and there are no consequences, as you’ve discovered already. Spend a few more days realizing what that means - really means. I’ll be here in Ponyville. When you want to talk, it won’t be hard to find me.”

Sweetie didn’t answer, limiting herself to following his lead, but her mind was already running through all the possibilities she could contemplate. That bomb-blasted Equestria was behind her. In fact, all of the heartache and fear and panic of those other worlds… it was all behind her, now, wasn’t it?

In this universe, she’d never age. Time never passed. Blueblood had only alluded to it, but it was possible she couldn’t even die here. And best of all, there were no consequences! No consequences and no mad scramble to collect the fragment before something smashed her head in or tried to hurt her.

I can do whatever I want, right? So... what should I do?

o.0.∞.0.o

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

The scream made Sweetie Belle sit right up in her bed, a cold sweat running down her back, eyes wide and looking around for danger. She then groaned and lay down in bed, listening to her sister complain and whine about the lack of hot water.

“So, this is my life,” she mused. “An endless repeat of waking up to a scream, the same stupid test every day...” She sighed before remembering Blueblood’s words from the previous day.

The previous loop.

“So, I can do whatever I want, right? Well, I don’t want to be here and-- and I don’t want to go to school today!” she declared.

Sweetie Belle slid out of bed and took a deep breath.

“Okay, if I can do anything I want... what is it that I can do here that I can’t do anywhere else?”

Slowly her eyes drifted to the window.

o.0.o

Sweetie Belle stood around the corner of a small windmill, looking towards the three-story house Rarity had told her on more than one occasion had belonged to her parents in her home universe. Two elderly ponies, a white coated stallion and a mare with a violet mane, were sitting in front at the side of a small lake, talking to each other, just outside her hearing range. The conversation seemed to be centered around a box of tackle and what may have been the lake’s lack of fish. Sweetie couldn’t hear them to be sure.

But she knew who they were.

She had seen their pictures. In fact, she had one in her room at the Carousel Boutique in her original world, hanging over her dresser. Those two ponies were her parents, and they were here. Alive. Just a few steps away from her.

Sweetie swallowed nervously and tried to approach them.

She tried, but she couldn’t move her legs. Her eyes stung and small tears formed as she tried to bring herself to move forward and talk to them. Embrace them and never let them go... she wanted to know so much about them.

But her legs wouldn’t budge.

Stubbornly, she shook her head and opened her mouth to call out to them... the words mom and dad ready to sprout out in a sob. But she couldn’t.

Her small frame shook as she looked down, biting her lower lip before looking at the pair again as they made their way into their home, presumably to pack for their trip.

Sweetie’s legs finally moved as she lowered her head in defeat, walking away from the house where the parents she had never met lived.

o.0.∞.0.o

Sweetie Belle fell onto the floor next to Scootaloo and Apple Bloom. “Well, that went well...”

Apple Bloom turned to stare at her. “How’d ya ever know there was a yeti on the mountain pass?”

Sweetie grinned. “I heard about it from somepony. But it was fun! Did we get our cutie marks?!”

All three eagerly looked at their rumps, only to frown in disappointment when nothing appeared.

“Oh drat,” Sweetie muttered.

“Hey, did you see what happened when the yeti ran through the park?” Scootaloo asked after a moment. “I think Lyra was kissing Bon Bon...”

“No...” Apple Bloom’s eyes were wide. “Aww, that’s so sweet! I wonder what it feels like!”

Sweetie Belle’s raised a hoof to her chin as she pondered Apple Bloom’s question. Lyra and Bon Bon? “Yeah... but who would you kiss? You can’t just kiss anypony.”

Lyra and Bon Bon were best friends. That was what everypony always said.

“Of course not!” Apple Bloom said, raising her hoof in a slightly condescending manner. “It’s like Granny Smith said, ‘y’all gonna find somepony to kiss ‘n be happy with, then it should be somepony special.’ Somepony that you like a lot, but also can trust.”

“That makes sense, but it also reduces the options we’d have,” Sweetie Belle said after a moment of thought. She gave her fellow crusaders a look that did not go unnoticed.

“Wait... what’re you thinking, Sweetie?” Apple Bloom asked.

“I—”

“Found you three troublemakers!” a voice interrupted Sweetie Belle. The three fillies looked up to see Applejack grumbling and making her way towards them. “Ah’ve got some things to say to y’all, so let’s get goin’!” she snarled. “Git!”

o.0.o

“...an' Ah really don't care what professional Yeti hunters do, and why!” Applejack snapped, prowling menacingly in front of the three fillies. “OR!” she interrupted before Sweetie could object again. “How many bits they make!”

“Drat.”

“Or how neat a cutie mark for catchin’ one would be.”

“Aww.”

“An’ Ah don't care why you thought it would be a good idea to bring that crazy critter down into Ponyville. Ah mean, how in tarnation didya manage ta FIND one in the first place?!” Applejack paced in front of the three scolded fillies, trying to wrap her head around the chaos they had caused. “As soon as Fluttershy sends it home, you three are cleaning up the downtown, rebuilding the barn, helping to reorganize the library, thatching a new roof on city hall, helping fix the bridge and the school! And be glad that y'all are not going to be fixing the rest of yer mess! It’d take y’all til next summer to fix the damage you done an’ you would be doin’ it too if’n I had my way!”

Beside Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom cringed and tried to seem as small as they could under Applejack's smoldering glare.

“What could you three possibly been thinkin’, bringin’ such a dangerous creature to Ponyville?! Y’all just lucky nopony was hurt!” Applejack shouted, her eyes almost burning with anger.

“Ah—” Apple Bloom stammered, but her thoughts and words were cut short as Sweetie Belle suddenly grabbed Scootaloo and kissed her full on the lips.

Apple Bloom's eyes widened while Applejack's jaw dropped open. The pair watched as, for several seconds, Scootaloo flailed around with her forelegs, her wings flapping violently and her eyes reflected her surprise and panic. Finally, Sweetie dropped her like a sack and used the back of a foreleg to clean her lips.

“Well, that was kinda weird.” Sweetie smiled at the gawking sisters but then just as quickly frowned at her rump. “I guess I won't get a Scootaloo-kissing cutie mark...”

o.0.∞.0.o

“An’ Ah don't care why you thought it would be a good idea to bring that crazy critter down inta Ponyville. Ah mean, how in tarnation didya manage ta FIND one in the first place?!” Applejack paced in front of the three scolded fillies, trying to wrap her head around the chaos they had caused. “As soon as Fluttershy sends it home, you three are cleaning up the downtown, rebuilding the barn, helping to reorganize the library, thatching a new roof on city hall, helping fix the bridge and the school! And be glad that y'all are not going to be fixing the rest of yer mess! It’d take y’all til next summer to fix the damage you done an’ you would be doin’ it too if’n I had my way!”

Besides Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom cringed and tried to seem as small as they could beneath Applejack's smoldering glare.

“What could you possibly be thinkin’, bringing such a dangerous creature to Ponyville?! We're lucky nopony was hurt!” Applejack shouted, her eyes almost burning with anger.

“I—” Apple Bloom stammered, but her thoughts and words were cut short as Sweetie Belle suddenly spun her around, and kissed her.

“Abba-ba...” Applejack stammered, trying to formulate words as her sister was snogged into first base by her best friend right in front of her.

Apple Bloom could barely struggle, being held by Sweetie Belle's forearms and magic and also being almost parallel to the ground. “Mhhhm! Mhmhm!”

“I KNEW IT!” Scootaloo shouted, prompting Sweetie to drop Apple Bloom on to the ground, much as Scootaloo had been dropped the day before.

“YOU DID NOT!” Sweetie accused, pointing her hoof at the pegasus. She was about to say something else when she felt a hoof press on her mane.

“Now then,” Applejack grinned. “If you're gonna be datin' my lil' sis, y'all need to have th' talk!”

“Wait... the what?” Sweetie blinked.

o.0.o

Blueblood couldn't stop laughing.

"Stop it." It was less than effective, but Sweetie persisted nonetheless as Blueblood pounded a hoof on the table. Relenting for a moment, Sweetie Belle simply glowered, furiously drinking her milkshake until a piercing pain cut through her prefrontal cortex. "Agh! Brain-freeze!"

It took a few frustratingly long seconds for Blueblood to compose himself and straighten up in his seat, but eventually he did so, ignoring the variety of amused and confused looks of the other patrons of Sugarcube Corner. This time around, he hadn’t reserved the store. ‘Keeping it interesting,’ he’d called it.

“My apologies, Sweetie Belle, but that was most amusing,” he said, another chuckle escaping his lips. “I mean, my own colthood friends would have killed me were I to try something like that now - though the sure-to-be-dumbstruck look on Shining’s face makes it a tad tempting - but what else did you expect to happen?”

“She didn't react like that when I kissed Scootaloo!” Sweetie retorted, making Pinkie Pie, who was passing by their table gasp and almost drop a tray of cookies. “She just grabbed Apple Bloom and told her 'Come along, Apple Bloom,'” she imitated Applejack's accent nigh flawlessly. “'Let yer friends have some privacy.'”

Blueblood shook his head, his smile still present. “Well, you weren't kissing her sister then, were you? Familial relations change things.”

Sweetie Belle snorted and took another tentative sip of her milkshake.

“So, are you a filly’s filly now?” Blueblood asked, raising an eyebrow.

Sweetie Belle shrugged. “I don't know. I didn't mind it, but I didn't particularly like it. I just think that... I don’t know... I just don’t like them in a kissy sort of way.”

“Well then! With your chaste innocence once again affirmed, what else have you planned for the next few days?”

Sweetie's horn lit up and her notebook appeared. She opened it and looked at the day’s checklist she had written down that morning, crossing out 'make out with Apple Bloom' and adding the note: never again.

She looked at the following item and grinned, turning the notebook around and showing it to Blueblood. Keeping his expression blank, Blueblood looked down at the list and blinked twice.

“A town-wide opera?” he asked.

Sweetie Belle shrugged. “I want to test how far ponies will follow a lead to sing.”

Blueblood nodded, inclining his head to the side as he looked at her. “It would hardly be the first time, though. I’ve seen Miss Pie get the whole town wrapped into a chorus. Quite a few times in fact.”

“Yes, but that's a little song. I want to see if we can get our hooves on an actual opera or play and have them sing the written lyrics without ever having read them. And do dance numbers! With perfect choreography and musical synchronicity!”

The Prince grinned, sensing the potential for mischief. “Fair enough. I’ve been meaning to take you on a few road trips, anyway. Broadwain, Manehattan has a few productions playing tonight that you may enjoy. Anything Goes, maybe. Ah, and Fillydephia is playing Donkey Oate around the time of the Gala. Then there’s this Indie production called Anthropology that’s had mixed reviews. I’ve seen every one already... multiple times... every play in the country actually. But we can start you with Manehattan.”

He tapped his chin, thoughtful. “If you want to get everypony singing... you may require the services of a music teacher...”

“A music teacher?” Sweetie jumped out of her seat to grab onto his leg. "Really?! Let's go get one! Go, go, go!"

o.0.∞.0.o

Sweetie Belle followed Sapphire Shores into the recording studio, where several ponies turned to greet the famous singer— only to end up staring in surprise at the young filly trotting next to her. Clearly, Sapphire Shores was not known for being around youngsters. Not at all.

“Very well, honey, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Sapphire Shores began as she stepped to the side of an open door and gently pushed Sweetie in. “We’re going to make sure to get a good DJ to help us out, and you are going to sing one of my songs, baby.”

“I uh, don’t really have any of your songs memorized and—”

“Oh, that’s nonsense darling, you know them, baby, you just don’t know you do.”

“That,” Sweetie said slowly, raising an eyebrow, “...sounds deep and yet makes absolutely no sense at all.”

Sapphire Shores smiled kindly at the filly. “Well, I am the Pony of Pop.”

“Touche.”

o.0.o

“I did say I didn’t know your songs,” Sweetie said slowly, patting the back of the sobbing Sapphire Shores.

“But... how? How could you not know even one of them? I’m the greatest singer to have ever graced Equestria, baby!” Sapphire Shores sniffled. “That song was on the Manehattan Top Ten for five months straight!”

“Well... I do spend a lot of time outside and at school, and I’m just a filly. I really have little exposure to contemporary music.”

Sapphire Shores shook her head, tears forgotten. “Darling, I know your sister; I will have words with her. A young mare like yourself should not live such a deprived fillyhood, baby! It’s unnatural.”

“But...” Sweetie protested, “I have books and I’m constantly having adventures!”

“Adventures? That’s not how it’s supposed to be, darling,” Sapphire Shores insisted. “A filly like yourself should be learning to paint her hooves! She should be finding out how to get the colts riled up! Singing songs from the radio! Going to concerts! Buying records! You're in my demo, Sweetie! Don't you understand? My demo!"

“O-kay...” Sweetie said slowly. “But, what about the singing lesson?”

The older mare took a long, deep breath, dispelling the horror that was some poor little filly not being exposed to the avant garde and cutting edge of the hip hop scene that was the one and only Sapphire Shores. She gave Sweetie a long, measuring look, as if trying to decide just how she could teach anypony to sing anything that wasn’t one of her own creations. It baffled Sweetie, really. She had heard Sapphire Shores sing the national anthem before. She clearly knew other songs.

“I-I’m sorry, baby,” the famous singer finally said, holding her head high. “But I can’t teach somepony who hasn’t even heard my songs! You go learn a couple of them and then we can talk lessons, I promise.”

o.0.o

“Stupid, self-centered...” Sweetie muttered darkly as she made her way through downtown Canterlot. “What did she expect? It’s not like I don’t have better things to do than listen to dumb pop songs!”

Sweetie stopped, closing her eyes and taking a deep, calming breath. “Okay, what should I do now?” she asked, opening her eyes. They settled on a record store with a giant cardboard cutout of Sapphire Shores looking at her. “Well, that’s convenient.”

o.0.∞.0.o

“Very well, darling, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Sapphire Shores began as she stepped to the side of an open door and gently pushed Sweetie in. “We’re going to make sure to get a good DJ to help us out, and you are going to sing one of my songs, baby.”

“Any of your songs? Is ‘I'm Not A Filly, Not Yet A Mare’ okay?”

“That one’s a bit... dated, but it should be fine. Let’s hear it.”

Sweetie took a deep breath.

o.0.o

“Well you asked me to sing!” Sweetie pointed out, frowning at the pop-singer, who was currently huddled in the far corner of the room.

“Sing, baby,” Sapphire Shores groaned after a moment, her hooves having replaced the headphones over her ears. “Not screech like a banshee.”

“I don’t know how!” Sweetie Belle pouted. “Sometimes I sing just fine, and sometimes I sound like a... like a crow suffering from spasmodic dysphonia!”

Sapphire Shores raised an eyebrow. “Is that right? Come here, darling, write down the lyrics for a song you have... actually sung correctly.” She waited patiently for Sweetie to finish before snatching up the piece of paper. “Okay now, hum me the tune...”

After a few seconds of Sweetie humming, she nodded, rhythmically tapping the heel of one of her hooves. “Got it, okay, I’ll start... First, we thought that Babs was so really, really sweet... A new friend to have then it seemed like such a treat...”

“But then, we found the truth; she's just a bully from the east...” Sweetie jumped in immediately, singing Scootaloo’s original part of the song. “She went from Babs, yeah, to a bully and a beast...” She paused, eyes wide. “Wait! How did it happen!?”

“Darling,” Sapphire Shores smirked. “The problem is... you’re trying too hard, baby!”

“I’m what?” Sweetie Belle blinked. “Aren’t I supposed to try my best?”

“There’s trying your best, and then there’s trying too hard, darling. Different things,” Sapphire Shore explained, waving a dismissive hoof. “What you’re doing is trying too hard.”

“But then, how do I stop myself from doing that?”

“You relax, baby!” Sapphire Shores all but cheered, smiling happily down at the little filly. “There’s nopony to impress, nopony to judge you and certainly nopony to think any less of you at all! Not in MY studio! You should practice singing because it feels good, because you love it! Not to get everypony’s attention. That comes later, you see.”

“Is that all there is to it?” Sweetie asked. Because it feels good, huh?

“Oh, heck no, baby! There’s a lot more to it than just that! But, we start with what we have. I’ll sing lead and you sing chorus, okay?” Sapphire Shore asked, waiting for Sweetie to nod before pulling down some sheets to read. “And once you get the beat down, don’t be afraid to move your body, too! Got to feel the music, baby!”

The pop star shook her world famous flank and winked.

o.0.∞.0.o

“I wanna know what looove iiiiiis!” Sweetie sang, very loudly, making Blueblood cringe with every vocal peak. “I want you to shooow me...!”

“Blegh!”

I want...! Hey! Are you okay? Blueblood? You don’t look so well.” Sweetie Belle frowned at the stallion’s lack of attention on the fruits of her labor over the last dozen loops. “Can you hear me?” she asked, seeing him start to cringe, eyes closed.

Luckily, she’d learned an easy way to remedy that.

“Hey!” she rudely jabbed him in the side with a hoof. “I’m talking to you!”

“You do know there are spells to mute ponies?” Blueblood asked, wincing. He brushed away her hoof and gave a pained, disgusted sound, like he was valiantly fighting the urge to retch. “I’ve heard there are spells to deafen oneself, too. It would be preferable. Do ponies really pay to hear these songs? Actual bits?”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “Yes, they do. Haven’t you heard the radio?” she grinned maliciously. “They play her songs every morning. Do you want me to sing ‘Equestria Girls’ instead?”

“NO.”

She sat down next to him and sighed. “Am I really that bad?”

“The problem is my ears, not your voice. I was not exactly raised on carnival music,” Blueblood explained, channeling his inner noblepony. Sweetie mentally counted down from three and, by the time she had hit ‘one,’ his nose was up in the air. It was the exact same posture Rarity liked to assume when cleaning Opalescence’s litter box... or when anypony alluded to anything she felt sufficient revilement for to strike a pose about it.

“Look, my options are kinda limited to what we have at hoof,” Sweetie pointed out. “And, other than askin' Applejack to teach me more country songs, Ah can’t think of nopony else.”

I can’t think of anypony else,” Blueblood corrected, and Sweetie poked him in the side again. “‘Ah’ is a country affection that has no place in Canterlot. Like somepony saying ‘milord’ instead of ‘my lord.’”

“But we’re not in Canterlot,” she reminded him.

Usually, it had been most convenient for the duo to meet in Ponyville at Sugarcube Corner, though today they’d met in a cafe across the street. It never took more than a Prince’s command and a generous bag of bits to win them some relative privacy to discuss the loops and what they’d done with them.

“Yes, well!” Blueblood shook his head, and the noble façade melted away as he reached up to scratch behind his mane. “It doesn’t so much matter what I think, does it? Sapphire is the most popular singer in Equestria. I’ve been told fillies all over Equestria aspire to be like her. To dress like her. To have high profile scandals like her. All that business. Name another, though, and of course I’ll see what I can arrange.”

“I had honestly never heard of her until Rarity started gushing about making her dresses,” Sweetie confessed. “But I really don’t think her style fits me.” She tapped her hooves together ponderously. “Are you really telling me there’s nopony you know in Canterlot that sings well enough to coach me a little? Princess Luna? One of the guards?”

“Auntie Luna can sing... yes,” he replied, chuckling a little at some memory. “But it would take quite a lot to convince her to do so where anypony can hear her. She’s a very private pony. Auntie Celestia on the other hoof?” He clucked his tongue in thought. “She’s more enthusiastic than skilled when it comes to song, but that’s just my opinion. A treasonous opinion, too, since heaven forbid Auntie is sub-par at anything she does ever.” Blueblood smirked at the thought.

“Who else at the Palace?” he wondered aloud, “Wait, you were kidding when you suggested my Aunties, weren’t you?”

Sweetie nodded, slowly. Given what she’d experienced in this universe, picking up either one as a tutor seemed unlikely. This day least of all, with the Gala only half a day away.

“All our guards are stallions,” he continued. “As for the castle staff... I don’t think any are what you are looking for. What are you looking for in a tutor?” he asked, glancing down at the filly next to him. “How would you feel about a classical mentor? I fund many such groups: orchestras, opera companies, the royal choir...”

“I don’t know,” Sweetie shrugged, suddenly barraged by new options. “Somepony who would be patient, maybe somepony with some experience mentoring or taking care of fillies...” She looked at the ceiling. “I mean, look at Miss Cheerilee... she really keeps calm and sometimes you don’t even know you’re learning, but you are.”

“Miss Cheerilee,” Blueblood said, testing out the name. “You know, of all the times I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve met her. And the way you’ve described her, she sounds... far too lenient to be a proper governess.”

“Governess? Umm. I... think your experience might have been very different from mine,” Sweetie said slowly. “If you were my age, I bet you’d be having a great time in her class.” She sighed, thinking back to her time in school, back before… everything. “But Miss Cheerilee doesn’t teach classical singing. Don’t you have cousins or even old teachers that could help us? Ponyville really doesn’t have anypony I can think of.”

Blueblood paused, and it was long enough that she could guess that he had thought of something; he just didn’t like it. For a few seconds, he worked his jaw, trying to come up with some sort of alternative.

“Yes. There may be one mare,” he finally admitted. “My step-sister, Cadance. Her voice is quite heavenly.”

“Princess... Cadance?” Sweetie blinked. “Really? I don’t remember her singing after the... uh...” She coughed. “I mean, I don’t remember her singing at all. But, from what Twilight said about her, she was a great foalsitter. She probably has lots of patience.” Sweetie giggled. “And imagine all of the stories about Twilight as a foal she can tell me!”

Blueblood looked surprised. “She wasn’t much of a singer in your universe?”

“Maybe?” Sweetie Belle shrugged. “I never really heard her do so... but I guess you would know her better, with her being your family and all. Even if she isn’t able to teach me, I’d love to talk to her.”

“You’d be wrong,” he said, grumbling now. “I don’t know her very well at all. We’re estranged, to be polite. I’m not even sure how to approach her to ask for her help. I suspect she’d reject any offer that came from my mouth.”

“Oh,” Sweetie hesitated. “Well, can you just introduce me to her as Twilight’s apprentice? I might be able to take it from there.”

“She and Shining Armor should be outside Canterlot at one of the lesser estates,” Blueblood said with a put-on sigh. “Give me a day to work things out and I’ll take you to her tomorrow. Don’t cry if she sends you home with a prompt ‘no.’ In fact, maybe I should find a way to send you there by yourself...”

o.0.∞.0.o

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

Sweetie yawned and stretched. As always, Rarity’s ear-piercing scream was the first thing she heard in the morning, which meant that she roughly had over an hour before Scootaloo and Apple Bloom would come over to pick her up. This in turn meant that she knew she had to hurry and get ready herself; if anything, Blueblood would always pick her up earlier than that.

She brushed her hair on the way to Rarity’s room. “Sis! I’m going to go out to Canterlot today!”

A thump, Rarity’s screech and Opalescence’s desperate meows were her replies.

“I guess I should leave her a note...” Sweetie muttered.

Soon enough, she was already outside her door when she noticed the carriage pulled by pegasi guards approaching. With a grace that she could only envy, the pair alighted just outside the Carousel Boutique, with Blueblood sitting proudly inside the carriage.

Just as she took the first step towards it, the door slammed open and Rarity rushed out, her mane still a mess and wearing her robe. She held the floating note accusingly up to Sweetie Belle. “What do you mean you’re going to Canterlot?!”

Slowly, Rarity’s eyes left Sweetie Belle and centered on the pegasi-pulled chariot and the smiling and waving Blueblood.

o.0.o

“Okay, she’s on the sofa now,” Sweetie said. “I’m good to go.”

“I do wonder what sort of impression these early morning excursions are... or would be engendering,” Blueblood wondered, helping the filly onto the chariot and motioning for the guards to take to the air. “How badly does Miss Rarity take it when you head off like this?”

“Usually she faints, or there was one time when she thought that I was going to become royalty...” She gave Blueblood a side-long glance. “It was not pretty.”

“Next time, tell her I’m taking you to meet your new fiancé,” he said, laughing. “I’m sure that’ll leave her wondering who for hours.”

Despite herself, Sweetie couldn’t help but giggle at the thought.

“Now, as for Cadance...” He grew serious again. “You’re in luck. The Princess is spending the day at Ptarmigan... a conservatory lodge outside Canterlot. Shining Armor’s father and mother are playing host to her along with a few other members of their esteemed clan. Having a Gala away from the Gala, I suppose. They’re Twilight Sparkle’s extended family. As her apprentice, you should be made welcome, though as I said before, a letter of introduction won’t endear you to Cadance herself. Not from me. Ah yes!” he remarked, remembering to ask, “Do you want to try and get Twilight to write you a letter instead, before we get to cruising speeds?”

Sweetie Belle blinked. “Wait, you think Twilight would agree to tell them that I’m her apprentice even if in this universe I’m not? Or should I just ask her to apprentice me? And then ask for the letter?”

“How long does it usually take to convince her that you’re jumping dimensions and all that?” He groaned, resting his forelegs against the rise of the chariot in front of them. “Perhaps it is more trouble than it is worth. I can make your introductions this loop, and we’ll see if it explodes in your face as a result.”

“I think I could convince her within an hour...” Sweetie mumbled. “But with your help, and my Letter of Acceptance from Nightmare Moon’s School for Gifted Unicorns, she might believe me quickly enough... Let’s see how it goes today without her letter. I know enough of Twilight’s life to convince them that I am her student. If that doesn’t work, then we can just wait things out and get one tomorrow.”

They flew in silence for a little while, but something kept bothering Sweetie. “Blueblood? How come you’re not on speaking terms with Cadance? If she’s your sister... shouldn’t you two be, I dunno, close?”

He shook his head.

“We aren’t like you and Miss Rarity, Sweetie Belle. Cadance was adopted when word got out about those wings on her back,” he sounded a little bitter about it. “She isn’t the first mortal alicorn the Blueblood line has... invested, but I don’t begrudge her that. It wasn’t as if she had a choice in the matter.”

“Wait... she was adopted just because she’s an alicorn?” Sweetie asked. “But... isn’t that kind of a pretty superficial reason…?”

“This is a bit of an oversimplification, but practically speaking, being an alicorn automatically makes one a Princess of the realm, whether that alicorn is born or transformed. It is for the security and well-being of Equestria,” Blueblood explained, snorting dismissively. “The truth is, winged unicorns are capable of certain things. Those ‘things’ are forms of magic that my family and Equestrian law keep from the rest of ponykind.”

“Imagine another alicorn... from some other part of Equestria or from another country, who finds out she can control some heavenly body or another. Or one that tries to move the sun or moon. Or, in my sister’s case, one who can manipulate the emotional state of ponies without them even noticing it, or enter the dreams of ponies as my Auntie Luna can. Princesses like Mi Amore Cadenza are taken to Equestria and fostered here, under the guidance of the royal family, so that they don’t become a threat or abuse their power. It is not very pretty, but that is the truth of it.”

“What about...” Sweetie almost hesitated to ask, “their families? Their real families? Do they just agree with this?”

Blueblood didn’t answer at first.

“It is a great honor to be invested and raised as a Princess of Equestria,” he said, at last. “One does not refuse such an honor. In the past, my family made sure no pony refused it.”

Sweetie frowned at the implications.

It sounded like something out of one of Twilight’s more ancient unicorn history books, and she wondered just how many ponies even knew about what Blueblood had just alluded to. Did Twilight? Did Rarity? Sweetie Belle wondered, but kept her thoughts to herself, turning towards Blueblood.

“Even... even if that’s the case, if you grew up with her, why did you get into a fight big enough for her not to like you?”

“It wasn’t... a fight, so much.” Blueblood set his mouth into a flat line for a time, as he wrestled with how to explain himself. “We didn’t grow up together, understand. She’s younger than me, and she wasn’t invested into the family until after my father died, after I became Prince, and after I spent my obliged years as a ward in Crown Roc in exchange for the Griffin Prince.”

He saw that only raised further questions, and tried to quickly clear them up.

“A foal of the royal family isn’t just a child; it is a symbol of the nation. Auntie Celestia obliges all of Equestria’s neighbors to send us their next generation of leaders: so they can know ponykind, understand harmony, learn friendship... you get the idea? Just the same, some of us must return the favor. My responsibility was to spend some years in Crown Roc, to build on the good relations between Equestria and the Griffins.”

“Ooh,” Sweetie said, nodding slowly. “I can see how that would be useful... so, she didn’t know you very well?”

“No.” Blueblood’s response was chilly, so much so that the alpine air that led up to Canterlot and the cragged mountain range on which it was situated were lukewarm by comparison. “My time in Crown Roc was actually cut short, unexpectedly. My mother died, you see. With permission, I returned to Canterlot and... found the only family I had left was a step-sister I had never met before. Cadance and my mother had...”

He licked his lips, teeth clenched tight.

“My mother had grown quite fond of her,” he muttered. “But that’s neither here nor there. The point is: Cadance and I never had a falling out or an argument we never got over. From the start, we...” He shook his head, forcefully. “I... was unkind to her. I never saw nor accepted her as my sister or my family. She wanted me to be, what was it? Her big brother best friend forever, I think? And I resented her terribly. It would eventually ruin my friendship with Shining Armor as well.”

“Oh.” Sweetie was silent for a moment, looking at Blueblood with more than a little pity. “I think... I’m sorry, Blueblood,” she finally said, wrapping her forelegs around one of his own. He stared down at the hug, momentarily confused.

“But—” he almost seemed to protest, but then he wrapped a foreleg around the little filly and hugged her back, if only for a few seconds. For all that he could be expressive about, Sweetie still found him to be very guarded when it came to his personal space.

“Thank you, Sweetie,” he whispered, patting her affectionately on the head to ruffle her mane. “I just wish I’d been nicer as a colt. Somepony you’d have counted as a friend, and not a bully. But that’s all in the past, and if I can, someday, I’ll see if Cadance can forgive me. She was like you, though, back then: very spirited and intelligent and inquisitive.”

“Was?” Sweetie muttered, but soon her questions were forgotten when she noticed what had to be their destination approaching. “Is that it?” she asked Blueblood, rushing to the side of their ride to take a better look.

“That’s it,” he said, stepping aside to give the filly ample room to see over the edge. “The Royal Estate of Ptarmigan and the House of Sparkle.”

Ptarmigan was a large manor house straddling a glittering waterfall, surrounded on all sides by soldier pine. It was a mountain retreat in the unicorn fashion - built on land that nopony would ever bother to farm on. It was a picturesque retreat, but Sweetie could see a number of other chariots and charioteers stabled next to the manor’s landing pad, extending like a balcony off an outcropping of stone and over a sheer cliff. The stables alone were twice the size of Rarity’s boutique; the manor house was a bit larger than Ponyville’s city hall. Banners hung liberally from over vertical drops displaying an asymmetrical eight pointed star - the heraldry of Twilight Sparkle’s family - and a pink and sable flag billowed beneath the standard of Equestria from a pole, indicating the Princess in residence.

Mi Amore Cadenza.

“Her title is ‘Her Serene Highness,’ not ‘Royal Highness,’” Blueblood warned as they came in for a landing. “Use a curtsy or quarter bow when you are introduced. She’s been moody of late, but try not to let it discourage you.”

“Princess Cadance...” Sweetie muttered under her breath. “Don’t tell me she’s…”

o.0.o

Sweetie Belle took a deep breath as they landed, glancing a bit nervously at the ponies around them, who were clearly a bit surprised at their sudden arrival. “So... how do I introduce myself to Twilight’s family? I mean, I’ve met them in my own universe but... that was a lot less formal.”

“I don’t know much about Lady Sparkle, but I have met Crescent Moon before.” As Blueblood replied, their chariot came in for the last leg of their approach, attendants at the platform already cantering over to see to the guards who pulled it, leading it to an idling station in the stable proper. “They’re a good noble family in the strict sense of the word. Be polite, not playful. Just like with Cadance, curtsy or bow first to the mare of the house, then to the stallion. You said you met them in your universe... what was the impression you got from them then? Were you meeting them at their home or in Ponyville?”

“I met them at Shining Armor’s wedding...” Sweetie said. “They were acting funny. But not serious at all. At least with me and the other crusaders, they seemed gentle and friendly.”

“Hmm. It might be a little pony thing, then. I’ve only interacted with them as, well...” He shrugged. “Ptarmigan is part of my domain, as both Prince and Grand Veneur. They owe me fealty. Feel free to experiment a bit once I’m out of the way. They may warm up to you.”

Sweetie nodded. “I will. I’m hoping they act the same...” She took another deep breath. “So... shall we? You’ll be a gentlecolt and lead me to the door, won’t you?”

“I will,” he agreed, and with a bit of magic, he opened one of the compartments near their hooves. “Just don’t go letting ponies know I’m going soft in my insanity. It’ll positively ruin my irresistible bad-boy image.”

A few moments later, and the Prince was dressed in a much more stately fashion. He’d whisked on an overcoat and buttoned up a doublet. A black, silken scarf wound around his shoulders like a snake, just barely concealing a chain of office as Grand Veneur. Sweetie hadn’t left home with much more than a well combed mane, but his magic fastened a pink-and-snow white cloak to cover her. It was filly-sized, but it felt much more constricting than the light Cutie Mark Crusaders cloaks she had copied from Rarity’s design catalogue.

The pair stepped off the chariot and exchanged a few pleasantries with the pair of guards who saw to the pegasus stallions who had flown them over. Blueblood smoothed over the transition, assuring the Royal Guards that he would be fine for a few moments at least. Sweetie took a minute or two to look around. She could see some of the uppermost spires of Canterlot around the corner of one of the mountain’s mottled green slopes, and a peek over the side - there was no railing to speak of - provided a glimpse of the waterfall that cascaded beneath the manor house itself.

“Quite a fatal fall, though not as far as taking a dip off the edge of The Serenity that runs under Canterlot,” she heard Blueblood say. Compared to that river and that massive waterfall, this was just a country stream. Still, it was impressive, and rather beautiful. Sweetie inhaled the mountain air. It was fresh and crisp.

“Shall we?” Blueblood asked, and she nodded, following close behind him as he headed towards the main building.

They were not made to wait.

A servant ushered them inside to a seating room next to a solar, and a minute or two later, both Lord Crescent Moon and Lady Star Sparkle joined them. Blueblood laid down the cover story: Sweetie was the younger sister of the Element of Generosity, one Miss Rarity, who Twilight’s parents must have heard of - they had - and he was here to introduce her to Cadance and to impose on the hospitality of the Sparkles before the Gala. The way he phrased ‘imposition’ left a very clear impression that there would be some recompense down the road for his ‘request’ and their cooperation.

Twilight’s parents were deferential and made some light talk about the Gala and, of course, about Cadance and Shining Armor’s approaching wedding, still half a year away.

For her part, Sweetie smiled and followed Blueblood’s earlier instructions on how to be respectful of Twilight’s parents. They were pleasant enough, but unlike the informal meeting she’d had with them through Twilight in her home dimension, here they were a bit... guarded.

Where before their smiles had been honest, here they seemed hesitant, as if they were expecting some sort of bad thing to happen if they accepted her as openly as in her home world. Sweetie found it intriguing, just how much could things could change depending on the pony making the introductions and the setting of their encounter. But at least, at heart, they seemed to be the same caring ponies she had met before. The difference was her: she wasn’t just a little flower-filly, here.

“Sweetie Belle,” Mrs. Sparkle said kindly as she led the filly into the house. “My little Twilight’s mentioned you and your sister Rarity in her letters, but she never mentioned she had taken you as an apprentice.”

Sweetie chuckled a bit nervously. “Well, you know Twilight, she’s a bit nervous about new things, and having a student is still new for us, even if it’s been a couple of weeks. I don’t think she even mentioned it to Princess Celestia until this morning.”

Mrs. Sparkle laughed at that. “That’s my Twilight. She always did get wrapped up in her projects. How is she as a teacher?”

Sweetie smiled, her eyes clearly not concentrating on anything as she thought back to her Twilight and her world. “I love learning with Twilight. She relies on books a lot, but she’s so patient and clear when she talks about spells.” She paused. “Well, I used to get confused, a lot, but then, when I started understanding what she was talking about, it was fascinating rather than confusing. She really knows magic... and listening to her talk about how a simple spell like levitation was the inspiration for so many other spells and magical effects... it just makes magic so much more... alive and interesting!”

Mrs. Sparkle nodded, happy to hear about her daughter.

“I’m surprised she would take you in so young,” she admitted after a moment, a euphemism for picking up an apprentice without a cutie mark.

“Well, to be honest, my sister insisted at first,” Sweetie confessed. “I would go once or twice a week after I started showing a little aptitude, but when Twilight noticed my magic growing, she got very excited at the idea... in Ponyville, we don’t have other unicorns that know as much magic as she does, and she thought I should learn as much as she could so... I’m her apprentice.” Her smile grew, broad and earnest as she remembered that day. “I was really happy when she told me that she’d sent a letter to the Princess, informing her.”

Mrs. Sparkle smiled kindly at her. “Well, I’m sure that Princess Cadenza will be happy to meet Twilight’s apprentice.”

Sweetie giggled. “You think Cadance will tell me about Twilight when she was a filly? I could use some stories!”

Mrs. Sparkle chuckled. “I’m sure she will; she foalsat our little Twily for years. She must have quite a few stories about those days!”

Sweetie followed Mrs. Sparkle up to a door in the back of the manor. Although Sweetie had been trying to pay attention, the twists and turns were so many, and the sheer amount of rooms so staggering, that by the time they had reached their destination, she had given up trying to figure out how they had gotten there in the first place.

“That... was more confusing than navigating the STABLE.” Sweetie grimaced.

“It is a little confusing at first,” Mrs. Sparkle laughed, “But you get used to it quicker than you might think. Here, allow me...” She knocked on the door. “Cadenza, dear? I have somepony I would like you to meet.”

“Mrs. Sparkle,” Cadance’s voice came from inside the room. “A moment, please.”

They heard hoofsteps approaching the door, and soon a magical aura turned the doorknob around, opening the door fully. Princess Cadance stood tall and regal inside the room, young but still taller than her soon-to-be mother-in-law.

The sitting room was part magical library and part parlor, a place where noble mares could relax, read, or chat with one another away from prying eyes and ears. The various emblems and crests of the Sparkle family, their ancestors and close relations, all hung from impressions near the ceiling. Cadance smiled pleasantly at Mrs. Sparkle, bowing her head politely in thanks and greeting. Only then did she glance briefly at Sweetie Belle. A delicate eyebrow arched in curiosity, but her expression did not change much as she looked back to Twilight’s mother.

“And this is?” she inquired. A little more frostily.

Sweetie raised an eyebrow herself. That attitude... It couldn’t be... not this early...!

“This is Sweetie Belle,” Mrs. Sparkle introduced her with a proud smile, and Sweetie lowered her head and eyes in a quarter bow. “Twilight’s Apprentice! Our little Twilight finally took a student! Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Twilight.” It sounded more question than statement. “Yes, yes, of course it is,” Cadance said, quickly, her eyes steady. “About time, too. Twilight has always been...”

“Hesitant?” Sweetie suggested, drawing both the mare’s eyes to herself. “You know, about taking a student?”

“Yes, of course, hesitant,” Cadance acknowledged quickly. “Not that I ever had any doubt she’d manage.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Sparkle, her motherly smile never dwindling, “I’ll leave you two alone. Do make sure you both make it in time for dinner, would you, Princess? Yours will be the place of honor at the table.”

Cadance nodded, and watched in silence as Mrs. Sparkle trotted away. She sighed and looked down at Sweetie Belle. “Well then, Sweetie Bells. What do you need?”

“That settles it,” Sweetie said quietly, shaking her head. She started pacing in front of Cadance, who watched her with an annoyed frown as she mumbled to herself. “Okay, on the one hoof, I think she might be able to help me.” Sweetie Belle shot Cadance a calculating look. “Um... do you know how to sing classical opera?” she asked after a moment.

“What.”

“Well, you see, the real Cadance does, and since you’ve convinced everypony you’re her, I thought—”

She was suddenly inside Cadance’s room, the door shut and a very angry-looking Princess was glaring at her. “What did you just say?

Suddenly - in spite of Blueblood's urgings that she would always reset safe and sound with the time loops - Sweetie didn't feel safe. Certainly not if this alicorn was who she knew she really was.

“Um... your disguise is very good?”

“You try my patience, little pony,” Cadance growled, eyes narrowing. She towered over the filly, wings flapping angrily and excitedly. “What do you think you know? What disguise?”

Sweetie gulped and quickly bowed deeply. “I-I’m sorry, Queen Chrysalis! I didn’t know you’d taken Cadance’s place already!”

Cadance’s eyes flashed green, as a small, predatory grin slowly grew on her face. “Queen Chrysalis?” she asked and licked her lips. A moment later she laughed, devoid of mirth or good cheer. “Who taught you that name? Who told you to call me that?”

Sweetie cringed. “Well, that’s who you are, aren’t you?” she asked, trying to step back. “Queen Chrysalis?”

Chrysalis, however, didn’t allow her to escape. She began to close the distance between them. “My, but you are a strange one, Sweetie Bells—”

“Belle. Sweetie Belle.”

“Whatever!” Chrysalis growled. “That name you so casually uttered...? You know what you shouldn’t know, and I want you to tell me how that is possible.” The supposed Princess smiled in perfect imitation of amiability, but her voice dripped with venom. It made the whole thing more frightening than reassuring. “Tell me,” she asked, still smiling. “And I promise I will allow you to live.”

Sweetie Belle clenched her teeth, and her horn flashed as she jumped to the side. The room was enveloped in thick darkness and Sweetie’s magic didn’t even affect it when she cast a second spell, allowing her to see in the shadows. She stepped away from Chrysalis, who stayed in place, looking almost amused.

“Come now. I know you’re here, little pony,” Chrysalis whispered loud enough for Sweetie to hear. “Even if I can’t see you... I will still find you. I can smell you, you know. I can taste your fear on the tip of my tongue, sweet and sharp.”

‘What should I do!?’ Sweetie thought in a panic. If she catches me, she might kill me! Even if I’ll be okay, I don’t want to die! Plus, I’m not entirely sure I… I won’t die, will I?

She tried to calm down, to control her breathing, hiding behind a desk and using a cantrip to drop a book on the other side of the room, drawing Chrysalis’ attention in that direction, just like she had done with that werewolf in what felt like ages ago.

Think Sweetie, think!

She watched in silence as Chrysalis leisurely made her way to the bookcase where Sweetie had cast the spell. Despite her being unable to see, the changeling Queen moved without much hindrance around the room. She seemed to know that, no matter what, the filly was still in the parlor, trapped with her. An old rhyme came to mind at that - ‘come into my parlor’ - and it wasn’t very encouraging. Those had been the words of the spider to the fly.

“I’ve hunted ponies before, you know. Clever little ponies, just like you,” ‘Cadance’ said aloud, and a baleful glowing green eye glanced over her shoulder. Sweetie shuddered at the sight. “Yes. I chased one for two days in the skin of her lover. That was when I was younger, and often found the desire to gorge on ponies’ terror... first I tasted their love, then the bitterness of imagined betrayal, and then I would enjoy a dessert of purest crystalline fear.”

Sweetie ducked back out of cover, eyes closed.

She can’t hurt me, she told herself. Blueblood said so. I’ll just wake up again, tomorrow.

Chrysalis sniffed the air, and Sweetie could hear the sound of her hoofsteps approaching.

‘What if... what if I tell her I’m on her side?’ Sweetie thought in a moment of clarity and calm, like the eye of an emotional storm. ‘If I tell her that... she could help me. Maybe even teach me something useful besides singing.’

Sweetie Belle gave Chrysalis a calculating look from behind her hiding place. She defeated Princess Celestia in my world... and she’s probably been feasting on Shining Armor’s love here as well. Could changeling magic be similar enough to use? But what would Blueblood say? I’m sure he would want to do something and maybe get the real Cadance back... but... what if I don’t tell him? That wouldn’t be right but... everything turned out okay in my world, in the end. What if my getting involved screws that up? What if I mess things up by interfering?

Sweetie cast the cantrip again, close to where Queen Chrysalis was, trying to keep her off her tracks. She turned around and slid behind the desk when the changeling paused, ears twitching like those of a stalking cat’s.

I mean... if I tell him, wouldn’t that affect the future? What if something really bad happens to Cadance because I did? She might be okay right now. And I know Twilight and the others defeated Chrysalis in Canterlot. Don’t those books on time travel always say not to try and change the future? I think it was even one of Starswirl’s Rules. So... maybe I’ll just join her side for now? Use her. She won’t remember anyway.’

Sweetie nodded to herself and looked over the desk to see where Queen Chrysalis was, only to find herself nose to nose with the changeling.

“Boo.”

Sweetie Belle yelped and scrambled back as Chrysalis carefully made her way around the desk. “You breathe too hard, little pony, and you smell...” Chrysalis whispered, her wicked grin firm in place and her eyes flashing once more. “Too delicious to lose in such a small room.”

Sweetie stopped and took a deep breath, looking at the queen approaching her. With a gulp and a resolute nod of her head, she dismissed the darkness spell. Chrysalis recoiled from the sudden blast of light and shook her head, blinking away until she could clearly see the filly standing in front of her. If she was surprised, she didn’t show it.

“Ready to talk?” she asked, and the predatory smile returned.

Sweetie Belle sighed, but nodded. “I studied changelings at one point; I live right next to the Everfree forest, so we have an extensive collection of books that talk about all sorts of creatures. And I saw a little flash of green when you were talking to Mrs. Sparkle.” Chrysalis frowned, clearly doubting Sweetie’s words, so the filly pressed. “But that’s not important. I-I want to work for you.”

“How funny,” Chrysalis stated, though she didn’t laugh, and her smile did not seem amused in the slightest. Only hungry. “I know ponies play with their food, but do you work with your oats and negotiate with your apples and hay? Do you bargain with a plate of sweets or a slice of cake? Work for me, you say?”

She reached for Sweetie Belle, and the filly sucked in a breath - a long one, the sort that always preceded a scream. The would-be Princess paused, hearing that and knowing what it meant.

“Only exceptional ponies are worth my time, and my good graces,” Chrysalis explained, but didn’t come any closer. “Make your offer. I will listen.”

“I’m a good magic student,” Sweetie began. “But more than that; I’m apprenticed under Princess Celestia’s own student, Twilight Sparkle, who I should tell you now, you foalsat when she was a filly.” Sweetie Belle smirked. “I’m already really in with royalty, my sister is one of the Elements of Harmony, you saw that I am capable of magic beyond my years... with some training and a bit of coaching from you to keep the ruse that you are teaching me to sing, we could both profit a lot from each other’s knowledge.”

Chrysalis almost snorted, but held her eyes steady on Sweetie Belle. “And what reason would a filly that has it all so good have to join forces with her natural predator?”

“I’m tired of being a shadow,” Sweetie said softly. “It’s always ‘Rarity’s sister’, or ‘Twilight’s apprentice’, or ‘Blueblood’s charge’.” She looked up at Chrysalis, locking eyes with her. “I don’t want to be a shadow anymore. I want to be myself! I don’t care what the cost is; I don’t want to be ‘goody’ Sweetie Belle who doesn’t even have a cutie mark! I want more! Even if the world changes around me, even if I have to see more death... I won’t be stuck here, as I am.”

Chrysalis leaned in, closer, allowing Sweetie a closer look at her disguise. Despite her language before, and her behavior, she looked very much like the real Princess Cadance, all the more twisted by the sharp teeth she displayed in her smile. Sniffing, she inhaled languidly from behind Sweetie’s ear, prompting it to twitch.

"You reek of love for them,” Chrysalis said, but still considered the filly’s words. “But then, the greatest hurt can come from the double-edged blade that is love. You may not necessarily be lying.”

“I’m not lying,” Sweetie growled. “You have no idea how long I’ve been somepony else’s shadow and not myself. This is my chance to do something and break that circle.” With a calm that surprised even her, Sweetie Belle looked straight into Chrysalis’ disguised eyes. “If you let me, you’ll find that you can trust me.”

“Trust takes time... and effort,” Chrysalis explained, and ran her tongue over her lips. “I will consider your offer if you can prove yourself useful.” She regarded Sweetie Belle for a moment, looking her over. “There are places a filly can go that an adult cannot, and even grown changelings cannot lose enough mass to take on your size. As I think on it, I may have something for you to do.”

“You’re giving me a test?” Sweetie asked.

“Yes. Just one, to start with,” Chrysalis replied, and her eyes narrowed even as her toothy grin widened. “Depending on how you do, I may reward you with a token of my affection. Or punish you for your incompetence. I consider both equally likely.”

Sweetie’s eyes narrowed in challenge. What was the worst that could happen? She’d just reset by the end of the night, anyway.

“Fine!” she replied, smirking confidently. “Just don’t forget your end of the bargain.”

o.0.∞.0.o

“Hello Sweetie Belle,” Blueblood nodded in greeting at the filly as she took a seat across from him at Sugarcube Corner. Though their meeting places varied, Sugarcube had grown to be far and away their mutual favorite. This, despite a certain pony’s tendency to randomly appear mid-conversation.

“So,” he continued, “I’ve been meaning to ask: how are your lessons going? Cadance was always said to be a fine foal sitter, but I don’t believe she’s taught anypony before.”

Sweetie smiled happily, Sugarcube’s cafe menu in her hooves. “They’re going great! It’s been an amazing month, Blueblood! Practicing every day, learning the magic that comes from your voice: Cadance is a really good teacher! Surprisingly good, actually.”

Blueblood smiled back, glad. “I’m happy to hear that, Sweetie Belle. I was actually a little worried... what did she start you with?”

“The national anthem.”

“Ah! An excellent choice,” Blueblood agreed with his step-sister’s selection. “Cadance sang it last month at the Canterlot Tourny, which is to say, a month before the original Gala. It was divine.” He floated his own menu face down, still smiling at Sweetie. “I’m looking forward to hearing you sing it.”

“I’m not there yet,” Sweetie warned, tempering any expectations, in spite of the note of confidence in her voice. “I think I’ll be ready in another dozen loops, maybe. But Cadance said that unless I learn Germane I won’t really be able to understand Opera.”

Blueblood stroked his chin. “Germane? I know Cadance is fluent in Prench and Bitalian, but when did she learn...” He shook his head, dispelling the forming question. It wasn’t pressing. “A Germane tutor shouldn’t be hard to find. I could likely teach you, even.”

“You speak Germane?” Sweetie asked, surprised.

“Oh, of course I do,” Blueblood replied, chuckling at the look on her face. “Sweetie Belle, recall that I am both Grand Veneur and a Prince of Equestria. I speak Prench, Germane, Old Equestrian, Bitalian and a pinch of Classical Romane. My griffin isn’t that bad, either.”

“Okay then!” Sweetie cheered. “Then you can teach me! And we can really impress other ponies! And imagine Cadance’s face the next time she asks me if I speak Germane! I guess you can teach me after her singing classes? Or every other day?” Sweetie started to bounce in her seat at the prospects. “Ooh! I can’t wait to see Rarity’s face the next time I ask for breakfast! You can teach me to read it, too, right?”

“Stars above, with an attitude like that, my teachers would be wishing you were their student in my stead,” He laughed at the knowledge-hungry filly. “I’ll bring some proper texts tomorrow, but I can teach you a few words today. Why don’t we start by translating some of the items on the menu here?”

He started with the first of Sugarcube’s lengthy assortment of deluxe and custom cupcakes. Trötchen...

“Blueblood?” Sweetie asked as he began, still leaning over the table.

“Hm?” he asked, perplexed by her long pause. “Yes, Sweetie?”

She blinked and glanced down at the table. When she spoke again, it was just a little whisper. “Thanks.”

Blueblood’s smile faded a bit, but he nodded. “I’m just glad to be able to help, Sweetie Belle. It’s been—” His eyes darted down to his hooves for a moment and he chuckled, self-consciously. “It’s been a long time since I felt useful.”

o.0.∞.0.o End Part 1 o.0.∞.0.o