• Published 14th Jun 2016
  • 1,813 Views, 51 Comments

Den Fjerde Væg - Meta Four

Ditzy Doo meets Ponyville's other secret agent. Twilight Sparkle learns an unsettling fact about her brother. Pinkie Pie meets her older sister. All of them live in the shadow of a wall...

  • ...

Act II. Walls of Doubt

The floorboards of the train station creaked beneath Twilight Sparkle’s hooves. They sounded real. The sunset’s light looked real as it glinted off the crystal ponies milling about. The station bakery put out a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls, and if that sweet aroma wasn’t real, then Twilight didn’t know what was.

Twilight spared a glance at the spires of the Crystal Empire, then scanned the crowd around her. As she adjusted the bulky pack on her back, a voice caught her attention.

“Excuse me?” A crystal mare stood in front of Twilight, looking at her hopefully. “Are you Twilight Sparkle? The Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I certainly don’t know of any others.”

“The assistant of the Great and Honorable Spike, the Brave and Glorious?”

Twilight chuckled. “Yes, of course.”

“Oh my goodness! My name’s Razzle Dazzle, and it’s so great to meet you! Can I take a picture with you?” She produced a camera, and Twilight nodded. They took five pictures before Shining Armor arrived.

“Twily!” he called. He effortlessly balanced a pack on his back, even larger than Twilight’s.

“Shining Armor!” Twilight quickly returned Razzle’s camera and rushed to her brother. She threw her forelegs around him, and he returned the embrace far more gently. Even in his relaxed state, Shining Armor’s muscular neck barely yielded as Twilight squeezed. She inhaled, wrinkling her nose at the odd mixture of scents: Shining’s sweat and vanilla shampoo, no doubt one that Cadance talked him into using.

“Hey, Twily?” he said.“You’re squeezing kind of tight ...”

“I am? Sorry!” Twilight released her grip and stepped away. “Just making sure you’re real, haha!”

He rolled his eyes. “Well, I’m not gonna do the ‘Sunshine, sunshine’ dance, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“Alright, alright, I’ll trust you ... this time.”

“Awww, that’s so cute!” Razzle Dazzle aimed her camera squarely at Twilight and Shining Armor. “Can you two hug again so I can get a picture?”

Twilight and Shining both smiled as they trotted away—not into the city, but towards the tree-covered foothills of the nearest mountain.

As the bustle of the train station faded into the distance, Twilight turned to look over her shoulder. Then Shining spoke. “So, what’s the occasion, Twilight?”

“Oh, no reason. Something just made me realize that we really don’t see each other enough.” Twilight faced forward again, and noticed her brother’s smirk. “Hey! Didn’t you say we should do something together that doesn’t involve me saving your rump? I’m just taking you up on that offer.”

“Sure, but ... camping?”

“I like camping!”

Shining telekinetically unzipped Twilight’s pack, then reclosed it. “Then why does all your equipment look brand new?”

Twilight blushed. “Well, I liked the camping trips we used to take. You know, with Mom and Dad.”

“I distinctly remember, on that first camping trip, you spent the entire walk to the park trying to convince us that reading about nature would be safer, more efficient, and just as much fun.”

“But I didn’t do that on our second camping trip, did I? Besides, I’ve done a lot more outdoorsy stuff since moving to Ponyville. You know, I joined the tri-county Running of the Leaves the last two years.”


“And you like camping. I wanted to do something you like.” Twilight glanced over her shoulder again.

“Still, you’ve got your serious face on.”

“I do not!”

“I know that face, Twily. Smile all you want, but there’s still that old look in your eyes. I know what you’re thinking: something like ‘Oh my goodness, this homework assignment! Clock is ticking!’”

Twilight looked at her brother, her brow furrowed. Shining continued, “And that’s your face from that time you read the Summa Philosophiæ and took a week to digest it.”

“Alright already!” Twilight snorted. “Yes, I’ve got something on my mind. But it’s something strictly need-to-know, so I can’t really tell you about it.”

“And helping my little sister deal with stress isn’t enough of a need?”

Twilight bumped her shoulder against Shining Armor’s. “You already are helping, you big lunk.” She glanced over her shoulder yet again.

“What are you looking at?” Shining asked.

“Nothing!” Twilight looked back at Shining. “I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, but it was nothing.”

“Okay ...”

The path ran through a creek. Twilight stepped carefully across the largest stones, so the water barely touched her fetlocks. Shining Armor charged through the deeper waters just downstream of the crossing, emerging on the other side soaked up to the middle of his shoulders.

“Ahhhh ... brisk!” he said, shaking the water off his limbs and tail.

Twilight leaped from the last stone to the shore. “Shining Armor, do you ever think about how things could have been if I hadn’t been born?”

“What?” Shining paused to give his sister an incredulous look. “Where did that come from?”

“Oh, I don’t remember.” Twilight resumed trotting down the path. “Something just got me wondering what it would be like, to be an only child.”

Shining, still dripping, caught up to Twilight. “Yeah, but that doesn’t make any sense, Twily. I was an accident, but Mom and Dad liked me so much they they decided to have another foal. Who turned out to be you.”

“Yeah ...”

“So me, without you, wouldn’t really be me. And the other way around.”

“Yes ...” Twilight scrunched her face in concentration. “But use your imagination! Pretend it were possible for one of us to exist without the other.”

“Nah, I’d rather not.” Shining shot her a smirk. “Really, is there any practical benefit to this mental exercise?”

“Um ...”

“Didn’t think so.”

Twilight sighed, then smiled back at her brother. The sky darkened as the two trotted side-by-side, deeper into the forest. A gust of wind rustled Twilight’s mane and made Shining Armor shiver.

Last week ...

Time Turner tapped the dome. “That’s glass, all right.”

“Good old Ponyville ...” Ditzy gazed at her hometown with a wry smile. “Can’t leave you alone for two weeks without something like this happening.”

Ditzy and Time Turner stood on the road leading into Ponyville—which had been aggressively redecorated in their absence. Underneath the massive glass dome that cut the town off from the outside world, statues of a caped unicorn lined the streets, and most buildings bore black-and-red banners.

Time Turner said, “How do you suggest we get inside?”

Ditzy scanned the dome for spatial irregularities. “Well ...”

Magic washed over the glass surface. The entire dome rose into the air, then winked out of existence. Both Ditzy and Time Turner blinked at the empty space.

A light blue unicorn galloped out of town, shouting, “Get out of Trixie’s way!”

Ditzy and Time Turner jumped back.

“Hi, Dizzy! Bye, Dizzy!” Trixie called as she sped past.

Ditzy and Time Turner watched, slack-jawed, as Trixie made for the horizon with all possible speed. Shouts of joy could now be heard from Ponyville.

“Oh, dear,” Time Turner said. “I’m getting thrown under the bus, aren’t I?”

“I’m fine, Twilight!” Rainbow Dash whined. “I told you, Trixie’s spell just tickled a bit. I’ve had noogies that hurt more.”

Twilight rolled her eyes as she cast one more spell across Dash’s body. “Yes, of course you’re too tough to get hurt. I’m just making sure there weren’t any unnoticed side effects.”

“What about Pinkie? She needs your help more than I do.”

Twilight gasped and spun to face her other friends. Applejack and Rarity were both busy washing bodypaint off their family members. Fluttershy, still disguised as Rainbow Dash, was deep in conversation with Angel bunny. All around Ponyville town square, excited groups of ponies pulled down Trixie’s banners and hung up much more festive ones. Squads of weather pegasi were already at work clearing the storm clouds from the sky.

There was no sign of Pinkie.

“Where is she?” Twilight called out. “Did anypony see where Pinkie Pie went?”

All the ponies who looked back at Twilight were confused or apologetic. Rarity spoke: “I’m sorry, Twilight, but I’ve just been so distracted with cleanup, I completely lost track of her.”

“Don’t worry,” Twilight said. “I’ll find her myself.” She visualized two spells, mentally linking locate pony to teleport self, then she cast. A few seconds passed, but the locator spell detected nothing. Furrowing her brow, Twilight pumped more energy into the spell, extending the search radius. Nearly a minute later, she finally detected the distinct, rubbery blue of Pinkie Pie’s magical signature.

Space warped around Twilight—Ponyville appearing to explode into individual atoms—then, an instant later, reformed. Teleportation was easy now, but Twilight suspected it would never become boring.

Twilight didn’t recognize this place at all, but Pinkie Pie was right there, and that was what mattered.

Pinkie faced the side, looking into a portal unlike any Twilight had ever seen before. She tried to say something but, with her muzzle erased from existence, her words came out as, “Mmm hhmm, mmm-hhmmm-hmm!”

Surprise lit up Pinkie’s face as Twilight stepped forward. Twilight smiled, her horn glowing with magic. She had seen Trixie’s original spell at work, so it was foal’s play to reverse it. With a quiet pop, Pinkie’s muzzle reappeared on her face.

Pinkie smiled and inhaled deeply. At that precise moment, the portal winked away. “Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh,” Pinkie exclaimed. “Twilight, this is amazing! I can’t believe it, only I can believe it because I see it right now and, and ... omigosh!”

Twilight blushed slightly. “Thank you, Pinkie, but reversing a spell like that really isn’t anything special ...”

“What?” Pinkie glanced down at the tip of her snout. “Yeah, thanks for giving me this back. But that’s not what I’m excited about! I’m super-duper mega-ultra psyched that somepony else in Ponyville knows about ...” She reared back, extending and waving her forelegs to encompass all the surroundings. “... this!

“Yeah, about that ...”

Twilight looked around, but there was absolutely nothing to see. Unbroken blackness surrounded her and Pinkie. The floor beneath her was just as black—with no horizon visible, she and Pinkie seemed to hover in a void. In spite of the darkness, both ponies were as brightly illuminated as if the noon sun shone on them.

Twilight thought she saw a white glow from the corner of her eye, but when she tried to look straight at it, it moved, hiding in the very edge of her peripheral vision. She wrote if off as her mind playing tricks on her, and she turned back to Pinkie.

“Where is this?” she asked.

“Whaaaa?” Pinkie fell on her back, wiggling her legs in the air for a few seconds before righting herself. “Oh, this old place? The other side of The Iris, I guess. It really isn’t much of a ‘where’ at all, if you ask me!”

“And what’s The Iris?”

Pinkie’s smile shrank slightly. “Twilight, you’re asking silly questions. Shouldn’t you already know that?”

Twilight shrugged. “I don’t know, should I?”

Pinkie stepped forward and placed one hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “Well,” she said, her ears folding back, “how long have you known about the Fourth Wall?”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “The separation between the characters of a stage play and their audience? We talked about it in high school literature class. But what does that have to do with this?”

“But …” Pinkie raised one eyebrow. “How did you get here?”

“I just used a teleport spell to follow you here, Pinkie. I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh no.” Pinkie’s eyes went wide as she backed away from Twilight. “No no no no no!”

“Pinkie, what’s wrong?”

Pinkie tripped over her own rear hooves. She made no attempt to rise, instead curling into the fetal position. “The fastest way to lose a friend ... the fastest way to lose a friend ... the fastest way ...” she muttered to herself.

Twilight knelt down and wrapped the hyperventilating pony in a hug, pulling Pinkie’s head against her own chest. “The fastest way …” Pinkie continued. “Broke a promise ... the fastest way ...”

“Shhh ...” Twilight said, hoping that she sounded more calm than she felt. Somepony needed to be level-headed in this situation. “I’m here for you. Whatever’s happening, we’ll get—”

“—through it together,” Twilight Velvet cooed, holding her sniffling filly tight against her chest. “It will be okay.”

“No, no, no,” Twilight Sparkle muttered, staring into the distance. “This is the worst. I can’t fix this.”

Mother and daughter rested on the kitchen floor. Little Twilight’s saddlebag slumped against the wall, the corner of a report card poking out of the open pocket.

Twilight Velvet ran her hoof through Twilight Sparkle’s mane and said, “Your dad and I can help you.”

“You can’t fix a C on my report card. That will never go away.”

“Dear, look at me.” When the filly obeyed, Twilight Velvet continued, “Your father and I will never stop loving you. You are our child, our only child, and no letter on a report card will ever take that away.”

“Even if I got an, an ...” Twilight Sparkle struggled to spit out the letter. “... an F?”

“Of course, dear.”

Tears formed in the corners of the filly’s eyes as she nuzzled her mother’s chest.

“Now,” Twilight Velvet continued, “it’s true we can’t make this one grade go away. But, with hard work and help from your father and me, you can make all your future grades the best they can be. Then nopony will care about one little old C!”

“But ...”

“What’s done is done. But your father and I can—”

“—help you get through this ...” Twilight Sparkle said.

What an odd thing to think about now, Twilight thought. And that wasn’t how it happened.

“Yes ...” Pinkie’s voice shook Twilight out of her thoughts. She pushed back against Twilight, then stood up on wobbling legs. “Yes, you can help me, Twilight!” Pinkie bounced up and down. “I need coffee!

“Of course,” Twilight said, standing up herself. “Coffee can be a great way to clear your head. I always feel better after drinking a cup.”

“I don’t need a cup.” Pinkie smiled—a grin so large, so devoid of joy that it almost hurt to look at. One of her eyes squinted until it nearly shut. “I need all the coffee you can get me! All the coffee in Equestria! I’m going to stay awake forever!

Twilight took a step back. “Pinkie, I know I haven’t set the best example when it comes to healthy sleeping habits, but what you’re suggesting—”

“I can’t sleep again!” Pinkie grabbed Twilight’s shoulders and shook. “Never, ever, ever! Don’t you get it?!”

Twilight telekinetically pushed Pinkie away, then lifted her a few feet in the air. “No, of course I don’t get it! You’re—”

“—not explaining anything, dad!

Night Light and little Twilight Sparkle stood on the back porch, a large telescope between them, unused. There would be no stargazing tonight, until this discussion was resolved.

Night Light gave his daughter a goofy grin, so large his teeth stood out even in the starlight. “Come on, would I ever mislead you?”

Twilight Sparkle scowled back. “You told me once that bees are baby birds! And that soccer balls grow on trees!”

“Yes,” Night Light said, “and if you wait too long to pick them, they mature into—”

“Pangolins,” father and daughter said together.

Smiling in spite of herself, Twilight gestured at the telescope. “So how am I going to be an astronomologist like you, if I think your telescope works because of ‘breezie magic’?”

“Pfffft!” Night Light waved a hoof dismissively. “Astronomy’s for chumps, like me. What kind of father would I be if I let my favorite foal grow up to be an astronomer, eh?”

“Da-a-a-ad, I’m your only foal.”

“Sweetie …” Night Light’s smile disappeared, and he closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. When he looked at Twilight again, he wore a serious expression. “You’re very smart, but there’s still so much you haven’t learned yet. And if I explained optics to you now, it would just sound like a bunch of gobbledygook.”

“No, it wouldn’t! I want to know!”

“Well ...” Night Light scratched his chin. “Do you know what a tangent is?”

Twilight beamed. “Yeah! It’s when you and mom talk about something, and then five minutes later you’re talking about something completely different, and you can’t remember how you got there.”

“No, not that kind. I mean the math kind of tangent.”

Twilight tilted her head, looking confused. She opened her mouth, but was interrupted.

“Honey ...” Twilight Velvet stood in the porch door. “Isn’t it Twily’s bedtime?”

“Just five more minutes!” both Night Light and Twilight Sparkle said, simultaneously. They looked at each other and giggled, while Velvet walked back into the apartment, shaking her head.

“How about we make a deal?” Night Light said, smiling once more. “I’ll tell you all about how the telescope works, as soon as you can tell me two things.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Twilight leaped in place. “What two things?”

“First: what a tangent is, and how to calculate it. Second: tell me what light is made of.”

Twilight stopped bouncing, her eyes wide. “Light ... is made of something else?”

Still grinning, Night Light leaned forward and ruffled Twilight’s mane. “That’s what you need to find out. Then I’ll give you—”

“—a full explanation!” Twilight said. She shook her head to clear out the unwanted, clearly erroneous memory.

Pinkie, still hovering in Twilight’s telekinesis, grabbed her own head in her hooves. “I broke my Pinkie Promise! And now she’s going to think I’m the worst secret agent ever, and she’ll probably hate me for the rest of her life”—her eyes widened and she flailed all four legs in the air below— “and oh my goodness that’ll be centuries and centuries! Twilight! What if she gets so mad she turns into Nightmare Moon again?! What if—”

Twilight placed her hoof over Pinkie’s mouth, silencing her. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down,” she said, shaking her head. “You … made a promise … to Princess Luna?

Behind the hoof, Pinkie stopped flailing and nodded.

“And you broke that promise.”

Pinkie nodded again, tears in her eyes.

“And me being here, has something to do with you breaking that promise.”

Pinkie closed her eyes.

“But …” Twilight pulled her hoof off Pinkie’s muzzle, and scratched her own chin with it. “You didn’t bring me here, Pinkie. I came here on my own.”

Pinkie raised one brow. “But, I ...”

“No, Pinkie, none of this is your fault!”

She released her telekinesis, and Pinkie landed awkwardly, falling forward until Twilight caught her. “I did this,” Twilight continued. “I used my magic to follow you here. So you didn’t break any promise! Right?”

“I ... I ... wow, Twilight, you’re right! Yaaaaaay!” Pinkie leaped backwards, landed on her rump, fell back, and proceeded to roll back and forth on the black ground. “Oh my goodness, that is such a relief! I thought I would have to organize my own ‘Going away from Ponyville forever’ party, and I didn’t like that one bit!”

Twilight gave a weak chuckle. “Yeah, I wouldn’t have liked that, either.”

Pinkie leaped back to her hooves. “Now, instead we can—”

“—eat all these marshmallows?” Twilight Velvet shook her head. “Are you crazy?”

“Come on, live a little!” Night Light said, hoisting the “Jumbo-Deluxe Family Size” bag he had bought.

Twilight Sparkle spared a glance at her parents, then focused on her own marshmallow, roasting over the fire.

The forest was truly dark now. The thick canopy blocked out the moon and the stars, so the fire was the camp site’s only illumination.

Night Light continued, “We’re gonna hike all these calories off tomorrow anyway ...”

“And candies like these always go straight to my thighs.”

“Yeah ...” A smile spread across Night Light’s face as he stared into space.

“Honestly, I planned to indulge a bit on this trip, but this much? It would throw off my meal plan for the rest of the ...” Velvet trailed off as she noticed her husband’s vacant expression. Waving a hoof in his face, she said, “Honey? Helloooo?

His mouth opened slightly, but he gave no answer.

“Hey Twily, look at your dad. Twily? Twilight Sparkle!”

“Huh, what?” The filly looked up from her stick, rotating the marshmallow over the fire with mechanical precision.

“Your dad spaced out again.”

“Haha! His face looks funny!” Twilight Sparkle glanced back at her stick. “So what’s he thinking about?”

“Well, I had just mentioned ... oh.” Twilight Velvet’s face flushed, and she bit her lip. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

Twilight Sparkle flopped her ears. “Another subject that I lack context to understand?”

“Yes, something like that. Anyway, I think it’s time he came back to the land of the living.”

Twilight Velvet leaned forward and kissed the tip of Night Light’s nose. His mouth snapped shut, and he blinked twice, his eyes refocusing. He looked at Twilight Velvet and said, “Ummm ...”

“... Twilight, say something!” Pinkie prodded Twilight Sparkle in the shoulder. “Now is not a good time to play ‘Shhh’!”

She reached for Twilight’s nose, but Twilight caught her hoof. “Sorry. Did I zone out there?”

“I’ll say! Are you okay, Twilight?”

“I guess?” Twilight shook her head. “I don’t know. These memories are all wrong!

Pinkie furrowed her brows and opened her mouth, but Twilight spoke again before she could. “When I got that bad grade, Shining Armor was also there, trying to console me.”

“So you’re saying—”

“He and I had an argument over whose turn it was to use the telescope that one time.”

“You mean he’s—”

“And Shining Armor went camping with us! That was the trip where he taught me how to make s’mores!”

“Uh oh.” Pinkie sat down. “Twilight, I think you’ve seen too much. You can’t go back to how things were before.”

“The way what was before?”

“You’ve always had an older brother, right?”

“Of course. He’s older, so by definition—”

“But have you always always had an older brother?”

Twilight scrunched her eyes shut. “Pinkie, are you serious?”

“The most serious! This is something I would never joke about! Cross my heart, hope to fly—”

“Okay, okay. But I really don’t understand what you’re implying.”

“Okay ... um. I’m sorry, Twilight, I’m not as good at this complex stuff as you are. Hey, let’s go back to my place! That’ll help, right?”

Pinkie reached down, then raised her hoof. A piece of the blackness lifted with it, like an impossibly dark curtain. Through the exposed space, a completely ordinary sight was visible: the beige interior of a house.

Twilight opened her mouth, then closed it again without a word. When Pinkie beckoned her, she walked through the opening and found herself in Pinkie’s bedroom.

Pinkie followed. Of the opening to that other place, no trace remained, not even a magical residue. There was just an ordinary wall, with photos, and a very modern painting that appeared shredded, and a poster for the Ponyville Community Theater’s performance of Baguette’s Feast. As Twilight glanced around the rest of Pinkie’s room, her stomach sank with the realization: the white glow was still in her peripheral vision. She had no more luck than before locating its source, and Pinkie’s voice drew her away from the fruitless effort.

“Want a cookie?” Pinkie asked as she trotted over to her nightstand, which bore a plate stacked with cookies: peanut butter and oatmeal raisin. “I can never do any hard thinking while I’m hungry.”

“No thanks, I’m good.” Twilight smirked. “And do you ever do anything hungry?”

“Hmmm ...” Pinkie considered that carefully. “Well, I can eat just fine!” She slammed her hoof on the edge of the plate, flipping it and its contents into the air. The cookies, she caught and devoured in seconds.

Twilight glanced around the room, fidgeting and biting her lip. However, she said nothing and waited. Meanwhile, Pinkie grabbed a small gem from a bookcase.

“Pinkie,” Twilight said, “where did you get that thaumoscopic stone?”

“The what?” Pinkie replied as she tapped the gem.

It rose from her hoof and began a standard magical scan. As its light swept over Twilight, it tasted like orange and chili powder.

“You know, that.” Twilight pointed at the gem as it fell back onto Pinkie’s hoof.

“Oh, this old thing?” Pinkie tossed it over her shoulder. It clattered on a bookshelf, eliciting a grimace from Twilight. “It’s standard issue. You know, to make sure meetings aren’t bugged. Oh! And before I tell you any more, you need to read this.” She slid a stack of paper over to Twilight. “Initial every page, fill in your personal information where indicated, then sign and date the last page.”

Twilight recognized these forms: official Equestrian authorization for access to sensitive information, with a thorough list of the penalties for compromising the same. The corners of her mouth curled up slightly as she devoured the words before her. Twilight had just visited a place that violated her mental model of the universe, and she now had reason to distrust her own memories of her family—so it was comforting to see some things were still the same. Bureaucracy? Bureaucracy never changes.

“Done!” Beaming, Twilight stamped the final page and levitated the stack back to Pinkie.

“Whoa! That was quick. Like, pshoooooo!”

“Well I do already have Top Secret clearance. But this is the first I’ve heard about the ‘Top Secret: Den Fjerde Væg’ category.”

“Yeah, well ... ‘Need To Know’ and all that ...”

“So, what does this have to do with my brother?”

“Well, imagine a super-duper unicorn wizard could cast a spell that created a pony from nothing.”

Twilight opened her mouth, but Pinkie raised a hoof and cut her off: “Yes, I know that’s impossible. That’s why we’re using our imaginations!”

Twilight shut her mouth. Pinkie continued, “Or, how about this? Imagine there’s another Mirror Pool that can create original ponies, not just copies. Either way, how do you tell the difference between a pony created by magic, and a pony born the normal way?”

Twilight had unconsciously assumed her classroom listening posture: seated, with her fore hooves directly between her rear hooves. At Pinkie’s question she started to raise a fore hoof, then caught herself. “Well,” she said, “first I’d look for the magic residue from the spell or Mirror Pool.”

Pinkie walked to the right. “And what if you haven’t seen either firsthoof?”

“Hmm, good point.” This time, Twilight did raise her hoof, gesturing idly as she spoke. “Without a reference, I couldn’t distinguish between the residue and a pony’s normal ambient magic. I guess I’d have to check the records for holes. Missing birth certificate, missing academic transcripts, missing medical records, that sort of thing.”

“Yes, yes.” Pinkie spun and walked to the left. “But what if the wizard made fake versions of all those records?”

“We have ways of testing for forgeries.”

“But what if the fakes pass the tests?” Pinkie spun once again, this time stomping the floor as she walked right again. “What if there’s no way to tell the difference between the fakey-fake and the real thing? How do you detect this phony pony, then?”

“I guess eyewitness testimony is my next best bet. If nopony’s ever seen this magic-created pony before a particular date, it would be suspicious.”

“Yes, very suspicious, indeed.” Pinkie reared back and waved her hooves in the air. “But what if the wizard’s spell could change memories? So everypony remembered that pony being there all along! Even though they weren’t.”

Twilight leaped to her hooves. “Pinkie, that’s even more impossible than the rest of this absurd situation! Mnemosynaptic spells are finicky enough already, so if you tried to cast one over that many ponies at once ...” Twilight shook her head. “Every pony’s mind is different. For at least one pony, the spell would not work on them.”

Pinkie rushed back to Twilight. “Bingo! And can you guess who that pony is?” Pinkie leaned forward and spoke-sang into Twilight’s ear, “Here’s a hint: her name starts with a P ...”

Twilight stepped back and stared.

Pinkie continued, “And now there’s a new one who starts with a T ...”

“I thought you said this scenario was just hypothetical.”

“No, I said imaginary!”

“That’s the same thing!”

“Oh. Then ...” The smile fell from Pinkie’s face as she said, “You remember, um, the day you got that invitation to Shining Armor’s wedding, right?”

“Of course!”

“Well, that was the first time I ever heard about Shining Armor. Can you remember anything clearly about him before that day?”

“Of course I can! We played Book Fort together when I was six ... I think? Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not so sure. But, but there was that time I broke my leg, and he carried me to the hospital on his back. Or, was it Dad who did that? Aaargh!” Twilight clasped both fore hooves to her head and fell to the floor.

Pinkie crouched and placed one hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “You’ve got two sets of memories, right? And they don’t fit together at all?”

“Am I going insane?”

“No, no, no!” Now it was Pinkie’s turn to hug Twilight. “You’re going through a perfectly normal reaction.”

“Reaction to what?”

“Discovering the world is insane!”

“That’s the opposite of reassuring,” Twilight grumbled.

“Umm ...” Pinkie leaned in and whispered, “I’m not very good at this! Haven’t had any chance to practice.” She leaned back and continued in a normal voice. “Wait, did I say insane? I meant cuckoo! Or loco! Or ... coco! Hey, Twilight, do you wanna drink some cocoa? That always makes me feel better!”

Sighing, Twilight pulled away from Pinkie and stood up. “Pinkie, are you implying that the reason I have two contradictory sets of memories is because ... my brother didn’t actually exist before I came to Ponyville?”

“Depends on what you mean by ‘before’!”


“Ugh ...” Pinkie threw her hooves to her forehead and scrunched her eyes shut. “Why does retroactive conjuration have to be so hard to talk about?”

Twilight began pacing the room. “Pinkie, just tell me: Which set of memories is real? Do I really have an older brother?”

Pinkie opened her eyes. “Of course you really have a brother, silly! Princess Cadance can’t marry an imaginary stallion, can she?”

“But what if Cadance isn’t real, either?”

“Then how is she the ruler of the Crystal Empire?”

“But what if that’s not real?” Twilight flailed a hoof without interrupting her pacing, somehow.

“Pssh!” Pinkie leaped into Twilight’s path, blocking her from any further pacing. “Why would the Equestrian railroad run to an imaginary city?”

“Oh.” Twilight sat down. “Yeah, that would mean a lot of wrecked trains, wouldn’t it? So, my memories of life as an only child—those are the fakes?”

“No, those are real, too.” Pinkie sat down as well, then rolled onto her back. “Or, at least they were real. Until reality fundamentally changed. You just ... remember how things were before the change.”

Twilight sighed. “I think we’re overlooking another obvious explanation for all this. It’s not a pleasant idea, but it’s much simpler—”

“You think it’s just in our heads, don’t you?” Pinkie scowled.

“Well, yes?” Twilight said, slightly taken aback by Pinkie’s tone. “Which is easier, a spell that just affects your memories and mine—or one that affects the memories of everypony in the world except us?”

“I used to wonder about that, too. But we aren’t the only ones!” Pinkie wiggled on her back, slowly waving all four hooves in the air. “All the princesses remember the way things were before, too!”

Twilight blinked.

Pinkie continued, “And there was also this random minotaur I met once. But still, the princesses!”

“Oh no, oh no …” Twilight shook her head. “This is bad, Pinkie. Do you have any idea how much power it would take to affect Princess Celestia’s and Princess Luna’s and Princess Cadance’s memories?”

“More than it would take to change everypony else’s memories?”

“Yes! Oh … I see.” Twilight looked down. Suddenly, the wood grain between her fore hooves was the most interesting thing in the world. “And those of us who can remember before the change … our memories are all consistent?”

Still on her back, Pinkie scooted across the floor until her mane brushed Twilight’s hooves and she could look into Twilight’s eyes. “Sure. But Shining Armor didn’t affect my childhood at all. So I remember a bunch of other stuff.”

“Like what?”

“Like ...” There was a pink blur, and suddenly Pinkie was back on three hooves. With her fourth, she pointed behind Twilight. “Oh my goodness, Twilight Twinkle! What’s that over there?!”

Twilight craned her neck to look. “Over where?” Then she snapped back to face Pinkie. “Wait, what did you call me?”

“That was your name, a long time ago. Remember?”

“Huh. That does sound familiar ...”

Pinkie extended her hoof. “It’s so nice to meet you, Twilight Twinkle. My name’s Surprise!”

In Twilight’s mind’s eye, another pony suddenly took Pinkie’s place: a white pegasus with a blonde mane. Yet the smile on her face was exactly the same as Pinkie’s, and the cutie mark on her haunch was still a trio of balloons. Twilight scrunched her eyes shut, then opened them to find she was shaking Pinkie’s hoof.

“Pinkie, you used to be a pegasus?”

“In a version of the world that technically never existed, yep!”

Twilight dropped Pinkie’s hoof and turned away. “There’s just one thing I don’t understand. How is this happening? We both agree that no unicorn magic can create a pony from nothing ...”

“Because it’s not unicorn magic, or any pony magic! It’s not not even from Equestria, so we don’t really know what it is!”

“What? Where is it from?”

“It’s from there.” Pinkie pointed to the side. Twilight’s gaze followed that direction, and she stared directly at the object that until now had been hiding in her peripheral vision. It was another portal, like the one Pinkie had been looking at on the other side of the Iris. Now that she could look directly at it, Twilight could distinguish different colors and shapes that made no sense.

“The Fourth Wall,” Pinkie said.

“What is it?”

“I dunno.”

“You know what?” Twilight turned away from the portal, back towards Pinkie. “I think that’s enough paradigm-shattering weirdness for one day.”

“What? Are you okay? The Twilight I know would have a million more questions about this!”

“Oh, I do.” Twilight sighed as she stood up. “But they can wait for now. What I really need is some time to process what you told me.”

She walked to the bedroom window and looked out. “And as soon as we’ve cleaned up Trixie’s damage, I think I need to take a break and visit my brother.”

“That’s a great idea!” Pinkie fiddled with the numerous locks on her bedroom door. “Oh, and you can expect a visit from one of the Princesses to talk about this.”

Next week ...

“And it took a whole day to clean up the parade grounds!” Shining Armor said.

Twilight chuckled. Her marshmallow rotated methodically over the campfire, but she wasn’t watching it. She spared a glance at the orange sky, with its bright blue stars and purple clouds, before looking back at her brother. Shining pulled his own marshmallow away from the fire and levitated the ingredients to make his s’more.

“Still eating double-decker s’mores, huh?” Twilight said with a smirk. “What would Cadance say?”

“What do you mean, ‘double-decker’?”

Twilight pulled her own marshmallow—roasted to a completely uniform shade of brown all over—away from the fire. “Turns out most ponies think one marshmallow, one chocolate square, and two graham crackers are enough.”

Shining Armor’s s’more already had four graham crackers, two marshmallows, three chocolates, three strips of hay bacon, two tomato slices, and a small pile of parsley leaves. “Philistines,” he muttered, as he balanced a hard-boiled egg atop the concoction.

Twilight drizzled some vinaigrette dressing over her own s’more and took a bite. As she chewed, green fire washed over Shining Armor. When the flame receded, a black-carapaced creature—a shocking mixture of equine shape and insectoid features—sat in his place. Twilight gulped, but the changeling simply took another bite of the s’more and chewed.

Twilight’s limbs froze. She tried to scream, but her lungs failed her, and all that came out was a faint whine.

“Is something wrong, Twily?” The changeling wore an expression of genuine concern. In fact, his eyes looked just like Shining Armor’s.

The changeling disappeared in another spurt of green flame—and Discord sat in his place. Twilight struggled harder against her paralysis, to no avail. The s’more fell from her grasp.

“Ooooooh, are you going to eat that?” Discord said, but he spoke with Shining’s voice. “Mind if I finish it off?” He snatched the s’more out of the dirt and shoved it—and his entire talon—into the base of the fire. As the treat caught fire, he snatched the flames off with his free paw and popped them into his mouth.

More green flames washed over Discord, leaving nopony in his place. Shining’s uniform—the distinctive barding and helmet befitting the Captain of the Royal Guard—was there, hovering in the air as though somepony were wearing it. But it was completely empty.

The empty space in the armor devoured the rest of Twilight’s s’more. “Really, Twily,” it said in Shining Armor’s voice, “you need some more carbs for all the hiking we’re gonna do tomorrow.”

Twilight Sparkle!

This was a new voice, which sounded nothing like Shining Armor, and she spoke with enough authority to break Twilight out of her paralysis. Above the fire, the smoke took the shape of an equine face, whose eyes stared right through Twilight. More smoke coalesced, forming her neck and mane, then her powerful shoulders, and then her wings. When her entire body had taken shape, she darkened and solidified into a night-blue alicorn.

As she landed next to the campfire, a name leaped into Twilight’s mind: “Princess Selena?”

At that, Princess Luna blinked twice. “Well, then.” Folding her wings back against her sides, she stepped towards Twilight. “I had hoped Pinkamena Diane Pie was mistaken, that she had simply misinterpreted some remark of yours. But there can be no doubt about that now.”

Twilight shook her head. “This is about that ‘Top Secret: Den Fjerde Væg’ stuff, right? Is it safe to talk here? In front of ...” She gestured at the empty suit of armor. It stood still, with a single horseshoe hovering near the brim of its helmet—Twilight took a few seconds to realize the armor was saluting.

Luna said, “At ease, Captain.”

The armor collapsed into a formless pile of metal plates.

“Okay, then ...” Twilight said. “Princess, I understand this is a matter of national security, but can we possibly wait a few days? I went on this trip with Shining Armor so I could stop worrying about this for a bit.”

Luna picked up the helmet in her telekinesis. “But you are still worrying, Twilight. Nay, I did not come to deal in the crowns’ secrets ...” She slipped the helmet onto Twilight’s head, covering her eyes. “I came on account of your troubled dreams.”

“Dreams?” Twilight angled the helmet back until she could see again. “You mean this is just a dream?”

“In the waking world, do you normally eat your ‘s’mores’ with salad dressing?”


“Now, I have many other dreams to visit tonight, and I’m sure you can figure most of this out on your own, Twilight, so I’ll spare you the full speech. But heed this!” Luna struck a pose, flaring both wings and raising one hoof, like a statue of an old warhorse. “Retroactive magic doesn’t work quite like you fear. It can conjure, but it cannot unmake.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide before she released a sigh. “Thank you, Princess Luna,” she said, looking down at her hooves.

“Now, as you wish, we will speak at length of what you have learned in a few days.” With her hoof, Luna raised Twilight’s chin until their eyes met.

“You do know it was my fault, not Pinkie’s, right?” Twilight asked.

“Haha!” Luna’s laughter was a quick bark, sharper than Celestia’s laughter ever had been, but the mirth in her eyes was unmistakable. “Nay, Twilight, neither my sister nor I see any reason to assign fault here. When next we meet, we shall not discuss punishment, but a new research assignment for you. Celestia assures me you enjoy those ...”

Twilight opened her mouth—but before she could reply, her eyes snapped open. She was awake, lying in her sleeping bag and looking straight up at the ceiling of Shining Armor’s tent. The faint starlight was just enough for Twilight to make out the shape of her brother, only a few feet away. She tried to reach for him, but the sleeping bag held her fore leg tight against her side. All her tossing and turning in her sleep had left the cover twisted and wrapped around her.

As she rested in its embrace and listened to Shining Armor’s breathing, Twilight pondered Luna’s words from her dream: “It can conjure, but it cannot unmake.” It was a comforting thought. Even if the past was mutable, her brother would not go away.

Well, if his duties as Prince of the Crystal Empire took him out of Equestria for an extended period, then he’d go away. Or if his duties simply made him too busy to see his sister. Or—Celestia forbid—if something terrible happened to him ...

Twilight frowned. This retroactive conjuration may have changed things, she thought, but it didn’t really change anything. My time with Shining Armor has always been ... uncertain.

Twilight wriggled and kicked herself free from the sleeping bag. So there’s really only one thing I can do, she thought. Quietly, she crept over to Shining Armor’s side, then she shook his shoulder.

“Hey, Shining Armor?” she whispered.

“Mwuuuh?” Shining mumbled. He lifted his head from the pillow and turned towards Twilight, but didn’t open his eyes. “Whannow?”

In a slightly louder whisper, Twilight said, “I’m really glad that you’re my brother. I just want you to know that.”

That made Shining open his eyes. He looked puzzled as he studied Twilight, but she just smiled at him.

Finally, he smiled back and wrapped his fore leg around Twilight. “And I’m really glad you’re my sister. You know why?” He hugged Twilight, then, with his free hoof, gave her a noogie. “Because you’re such a sentimental dork!”

“Hey!” Twilight said, but she smiled as she pushed away from Shining. His embrace held tight, but his hoof on Twilight’s head slowed, then stopped. Somehow, he had fallen asleep again.

Twilight started to wriggle free, but stopped. Instead, she drew closer and wrapped her own fore legs around her brother’s barrel. The two of them slept soundly for the rest of the night.