• Published 24th Jun 2018
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The Fishbowl - Shrink Laureate



Vinyl remembers the doll. It's unmistakably hers. Except it's in Octavia's closet. Why do they have the same doll – and the same memory?

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18. Tartarus Rock

From: a.cinch@cpa.edu
To: celestia@canterlot-high-school.org
Subject: Friendship Games

Dear Miss Celestia,

I’m contacting you to arrange matters in advance of the upcoming Friendship Games. As I’m sure you remember, it will be Canterlot High School’s turn to host the event this year. Will you be able to construct a suitable course for the games in time, or would you rather allow Crystal Preparatory Academy to take care of it for you?

How is your sister settling into her role as your vice principal? Has she picked up her predecessor’s reins? We must catch up sometime – far away from the inevitable hostility of the competition, if possible.

Tonight, Dean Cadance and myself shall, of course, be attending the Grand Gathering Gala; but feel free to call me tomorrow to coordinate details.

Yours,

Abacus Cinch
Principal, Crystal Preparatory Academy

This email has been scanned for viruses and malware by Clover AntiVirus™.

A knock on Celestia’s door drew her attention from the important task of glaring grumpily at the screen. She straightened her back. “Come in,” she said, taking care to adopt a neutral expression.

“Hi, Tia!”

Celestia sighed. “Pinkie Pie, I’ve told you before not to call me…” She stopped and stared at the girl sauntering into her office. “How long have you had that blonde streak in your hair?”

“Surprise!”

“It certainly is surprising. I can’t say I like it, myself, but our philosophy here at Canterlot High is to allow students to explore these things in their own way. So what can I do for you?”

Pinkie looked awkwardly at the door. “Uh, well… I overheard a couple of the younger kids say they saw Sunset Shimmer running around the school naked. I kinda… thought you should know.”

Celestia narrowed her eyes. “Again?” She pushed her chair back from the desk and stood up. “I swear, it’s like that girl grew up without clothes or something. Where was this?”

“Somewhere near the gym, I think?”

Celestia headed out to find her most notorious problem student. She knew there was a good chance she’d simply be wasting her time, but she had to do it anyway.

Not long after that, Pinkie Pie left the office with Celestia’s keys.

“…everypony on the whole cell block
was dancing to the jailhouse rock!”

Abacus Cinch was not amused.

“Well, I hardly think that’s the sort of thing we want from—”

She broke off as her elbow was nudged by a couple slipping past her onto the dance floor.

“Ahem. From the prestigious Gala, that is to say. It is supposed to be—”

Another bump, another couple headed to the floor.

“Oh dear. Such disorder. I trust that you at least have the sense to eschew such activity, Dean Cadance.” She turned to where Cadance had been standing a moment ago. “Not again,” she muttered as she spotted Cadance and Shining Armor spinning across the dance floor with big grins on their faces.

The dancers could not be said to be organised. Gone was the orderly circuit of the waltzes and foxtrots. Gone was the formal unity. In its place was a jumble of impromptu variations and attempts at something fast and jazzy. More than a few couples collided, fell down, or lost all semblance of the song’s rhythm and simply moved at random. Yet so many of them were having fun.

Vinyl emerged from the door marked ‘Private’ with a head full of troublesome thoughts. She was surprised when Octavia took her by the hand and pulled her into a set of fast moves that left her increasingly dizzy. She tried to hold on and get a handle on the dance, but found herself spun around incessantly. Octavia only held her by one hand at a time, just a light touch with a few fingers, yet seemed able to control all her movements. She surrendered to the dance and found herself laughing, and Octavia laughing with her.

All too soon the song came to an end. The girls both looked up at the troupe of Pinkies up in the musicians’ booth, as did those dancers who weren’t preoccupied trying to catch their breath.

As the last bars of the song faded into the accumulated sound of breathing, footsteps and chatter, Vinyl’s eyes were drawn to the floor, where a white cloud had started rolling across the ballroom. People all around them started muttering, wondering what was going on, looking down at their shoes. Vinyl lifted one foot out of the mist.

“Is this dry ice?” she asked, a gentle kick sending a tuft of it rolling over Octavia’s feet. Or… what’s the stuff they use for that now? Glycerol something?

“WELCOME!” shouted Trixie’s amplified and distorted voice from the stage. “Welcome to the best Gala you’ve ever seen!” Vinyl could just about make out a little wireless microphone on her head.

“Oh no,” muttered Octavia as she closed her eyes. “What is she doing?”

A single light snapped on over Trixie’s head. “In fact,” she continued, “once you behold the unbelievable wonders about to be revealed by The Great and Powerful Trixie, you’ll be in no doubt at all that this was the best night ever!”

Behind Trixie the curtain began to rise and more spotlights spiralled around the stage, most of them indigo or blue. The audience muttered, unsure what to make of the interruption.

“I guess this is the surprise she was talking about,” said Vinyl uncertainly.

“Am I the only one who didn’t spend the last few days planning something?” wondered Octavia.

“But! The Great and Powerful Trixie does not work alone!” she proclaimed. “Before we begin, allow Trixie to introduce her glamorous assistant, the lovely Fluffle Puff.”

Fluffle Puff trotted to the front of the stage, daintily holding the sides of her tutu as she dropped down in a curtsey.

“And one more thing. Trixie will need… a volunteer from the audience. Let Trixie see…” She made a show of shielding her eyes from the spotlight and looking out over the uncertain faces.

Many of the audience avoided eye contact, waiting for somebody else to be picked, though a Pinkie Pie could be heard at the back of the room jumping up and down, yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!”

“Aha! Of course, who better than the most respectable fellow in town? Mister Cerberus, come on up here!”

Only two of Cerberus could be seen in the audience, spread out at opposite corners of the room, but a spotlight landed on the one who was standing nearest the stage. The tall, pale women in the matching light blue dresses that he’d been talking to all took a step back. Cerberus didn’t seem inclined to move until three girls emerged from the crowd, latched onto him and started pushing him onto the stage.

“Come on, Cerby,” said the one with the big frizzy haircut.

A few of the audience looked altogether too happy to see Cerberus inconvenienced, barely concealing smirks and sneers. Vinyl took careful note of who they were.

Cerberus reluctantly allowed himself to be pushed up the little steps onto the stage.

“So glad you could make it,” said Trixie, to subdued laughter.

Cerberus leaned down and whispered something in Trixie’s ear.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” said Trixie dismissively. “Hold this for me, please,” she said, handing him a black marker pen.

“You look hot in that suit. Aren’t you hot? I’m certainly hot.” With a flourish she produced a small paper fan, and proceeded to fan herself. Then with a flick of her hand the fan was replaced with a deck of cards fanned out. She presented the deck to Cerberus. “Pick one of these cards, any card, and do not show it to Trixie. Just write your name on it and put it back in the deck.”

Cerberus’ expression remained stern as he did so. He replaced the card while Trixie looked away, shielding her eyes.

“Thank you.” She carefully closed the deck, making sure the edges were tidy, then turned to her assistant. “Look after these for me, would you?”

She flung the whole deck at Fluffle Puff, who flailed in exaggerated motions, trying to catch the cards as they scattered all over the stage. Despite themselves, the audience laughed a little.

Near the back of the audience, another of Cerberus stood with his back to a wall. His attention was divided between the stage – where one of his selves was being dragged into a series of increasingly implausible situations – and the surrounding crowd that he scanned for signs of any sort of misdemeanor.

“’Scuse me!” said Pinkie Pie, squeezing past the bulky man. “Bye bye, Mister Cerberus. See you soon,” she called out as she waved and headed towards the exit.

Cerberus’ scowl deepened. “Now where does she—”

“—think she’s going?” wondered Cerberus. His eyes were lost in the cup of tea he held.

The Mayor looked up from her notes, peering at him over the top of her glasses. “Pardon?”

Cerberus focused on her. “I’m sorry, just talking to myself. Carry on.”

“All right,” she continued. “Now, these projections on homunculus population…”

“Let’s see what else is in Trixie’s hat, shall we?”

Fluffle Puff grinned and held out Trixie’s big, floppy hat. She shook it slightly. Trixie plunged her arm deep into the hat and rummaged around. Something squeaked like an animal’s toy. She pulled her hand out holding another white rabbit.

She frowned as she held the rabbit up to her nose. “That’s strange, Trixie doesn’t remember putting so many rabbits in there.”

As more of the audience got the joke they joined in the laughter. It was clearly the same rabbit as the last two times, with the same black patch on its left ear. Somehow, through sleight of hand and stage magic, Trixie was transferring it back into her hat each time.

Trixie shrugged. “Trixie may as well put it with the others,” she said. She walked over to the big purple box on wheels at the right side of the stage from which Cerberus’ legs were protruding, opened the lid and put the rabbit in. Cerberus twitched one foot as the rabbit landed on his leg inside the box.

At the far left of the stage was another box, from which protruded Cerberus’ head and shoulders.

Fluffle Puff shook the hat again, and Trixie returned to the centre of the stage, delved deep into it and emerged with the same white rabbit. She looked suspiciously back at the box where she’d deposited the rabbit just a second ago. She walked over to it again and opened the lid, but this time the lid of the other box – the one containing Cerberus’ upper body – opened at the same time. Three identical white rabbits emerged from it just as Trixie was putting the one she carried down.

The whole audience was laughing along now. She had the attention of the whole room, enough that nobody noticed the other Cerberus slipping quietly out.

“Oh Fluffle Puff, can you shut that box for Trixie?”

The pink girl nodded, dropped the big hat and hopped over to Cerberus’ upper end. Stuffing the rabbits in, they both slammed their lids shut at the same time.

Trixie walked to the middle of the stage, picked up her hat and dusted it off. “Let’s try that again, shall we?” She shook the hat.

Fluffle Puff reached in, and the audience were clearly expecting another rabbit. They weren’t expecting her to emerge with a single large feather: an iridescent, apparently real peacock feather.

“Hmm,” said Trixie thoughtfully. “Fluffle Puff, can you think of anything to do with this?”

The pink girl nodded enthusiastically. She took the feather, danced over to Cerberus’ feet, and started tickling them with the feather. His feet and head squirmed at the same time.

Slowly and with reverence, Fluttershy donned the heavy outfit. She slid the loose, stiff gloves on, making sure they were properly sealed, before picking up the helmet and placing it over her head, draping the veil over her face. So prepared, she opened the biology room door and stepped out to face the hive.

“Don’t worry, my little bees. Your queen will be free soon.”

The books and websites on apiaries that Fluttershy had read all said that bees only get angry if disturbed, but the bees at Canterlot High School were famously aggressive. They would swarm anyone who approached their hive, and students quickly learned not to take shortcuts anywhere near the apiary.

It took them only a few seconds to cover her. Hundreds of bees clung frantically to the outside of her veil, a frenetic moving carpet that nearly filled her vision. Every time she breathed out, the heat of her breath seemed to spur them to more activity. She walked slowly so as not to step on any of them. As she stepped up to the hives they grew ever louder.

“Oh, please don’t be mad at me. I’m here to help you.”

She lifted both arms, the baggy sleeves covered with bees, to carefully remove the roof of the hive and set it on the ground, followed by the top cover, the quilt box full of wood chips and the heavy boxes full of frames, setting each tier carefully down on the ground, until she reached the last one: the brood box.

She had to know if Octavia’s email was correct. If it was, she’d be able to solve the mystery of Canterlot High’s angry bees. She'd be able to relieve these poor creatures’ suffering.

“Pardon me,” she said, parting the frames. Sure enough, nestled between the frames of the brood box was a tiny wooden queen cage. It was small enough to fit comfortably into Fluttershy’s gloved hand, barely larger than a finger, yet it was the heart and soul of the whole hive. Turning it over to look through the grille, she saw that the queen was alone in her cage.

“Oh, you poor little thing. Don’t worry, I’ll have you out of there in no time.”

She took the knife from her pocket, slid the blade out of its sheath just one notch, and pushed it into the little cork plugging the end in the cage, using it to pull the cork out. Kneeling down in front of the brood box, she set the queen cage down on top of the frames and watched the queen crawl out of the cage.

The activity of the entire hive was centered on that one point, as thousands of bees poured into the hive to surround their queen. The frantic mass grew, until it forced Fluttershy to take a step back.

Lifting into the air, it formed a swirling ball in the air that continued to grow until the swarm was larger than Fluttershy. As it rose into the air, the mass took on a definite shape, somewhat like a bear with a longer torso and more legs.

“Oh dear,” whimpered Fluttershy. “I thought you’d be happy.”

The hive opened its mouth, made entirely out of bees, and roared.

Trixie and Fluffle Puff each grasped one of the big purple boxes on wheels. Trixie had the one with Cerberus’ head, while Fluffle Puff had his feet. They each gave a shove, trundling in from opposite sides of the stage, and pushed the boxes together with a satisfying clunk.

“There you go, Mister Cerberus. Good as new.” Trixie stood back and dramatically wiped the sweat from her brow, until she noticed Fluffle Puff pulling on her dress. “What is it?”

Fluffle Puff pointed down at the pair of boxes between them. Cerberus’ head was pointing to the left of the stage, but his feet were pointing towards the audience.

“Hmm. Do you think he’ll notice?” asked Trixie with a shrug.

The audience were laughing, crying and howling.

Trixie scooped up her oversized hat from on top of the box and walked forward. “Let Trixie see what else is in here,” she said, turning her hat over and shaking it. A ball of string, some confetti and a playing card fell out. “No rabbits!” she said triumphantly, to another round of laughter.

Fluffle Puff bent down to pick up the card, then showed it to Trixie, who examined it then turned to ask, “Hey, Cerberus! Tell me, is this your card?”

Though still trapped in the box, Cerberus peered at the card with his black signature scrawled on it, and nodded. “It is,” he said. The crowd cheered.

School was quiet on a Saturday afternoon, but there were still a few students around, mostly there for some sport or other activity. Sunset Shimmer was the only one who was there to rebuild the school.

Her hands were rough and scraped, her back ached, and her eyes watered. She’d spent the afternoon carrying heavy bags of mortar and sand for the work crew who were rebuilding the front doors of school. The workmen had left just a few minutes ago. From the corner of her eyes, she could see the scaffolding over the front door, green plastic sheets hanging off it, the piles of material covered for the night.

She leaned against the plinth, simply looking at the letter in her hands. It was written on thick paper, with a rich texture and subtle ivory colour. Instead of an envelope, the letter was folded closed and sealed with a blob of golden wax over the lip. Pressed into the wax was a familiar circular symbol: a stylised sun with eight points.

The letter had appeared in her locker at some point during the afternoon, with no sign of who put it there or when.

Sunset had some idea what the letter might say. In fact, she had hundreds of ideas, ranging from a loving plea for her return to a sentence of permanent exile. Barely a night had gone by since she had come to this world that she hadn’t wondered when this letter or one like it might arrive.

“Celestia…” she whispered.

“Yes?” said Principal Celestia from close to her ear.

“Gyah!” Sunset dropped the letter, turned and took a shaky step back.

Celestia stepped around the corner of the plinth into view. She stopped upon hearing a crunch and, looking down, realised she’d stepped on the letter. She knelt down to pick it up. “Oh, that’s strange. It has my mark on it,” she said. “Is this for me?”

“Wait! No, it’s… it’s not for you. It’s for me.”

“It’s for you… from me?” Celestia frowned. “I don’t remember sending this.”

“No, it’s, the thing is, it’s from the… other Celestia. At least, I think it is…” She trailed off.

“Oh. This is something to do with the other world you came from, isn’t it?”

Sunset nodded.

Celestia handed back the letter. “I still can’t say I understand it fully. But I take it there’s another person called Celestia over there, is that right?”

“There is.”

“And you two were friends?”

Sunset nodded. “I was her personal student.”

“Oh, so she’s a teacher too?” asked Celestia with a smile.

“Well… not exactly. She’s the Princess.”

Celestia burst out laughing, a high tinkle of joy.

Sunset looked shocked. “What are you—”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Celestia rested a hand on the plinth as she bent over. “It’s just the idea of myself as a privileged little princess. All innocent and pouty in a pretty dress.”

Sunset shook her head with a frown. “She isn’t anything like that. She’s wise and kind and… and I didn’t appreciate her. Not properly. Not when I had the chance.”

Celestia made an effort to subdue her laughter. “She sounds a lot like a teacher to me.”

“Yeah, I guess so. She does run a school, after all. In fact, that’s kind of what she does best, teaches ponies to be better.”

Celestia paused. “Ponies?”

“Yes.”

“You mean with the…” She lifted her hands, little fists pointing down, to resemble hooves.

“Yes.”

“And the…” She pulled forward from her nose to signify an elongated muzzle.

“Yes,” sighed Sunset, rolling her eyes.

“I see. So… there’s another me, and she’s a pony, and a teacher, and a princess,” Celestia muttered in amusement.

“She’s been doing that for more than a thousand years. Teaching ponies, making them better and then letting them go do it. Making a country that’s better. A world that’s better. She hardly has to rule at all any more.”

Celestia pondered a moment. “She’s the ruler? Not a Princess?”

“The word means something a bit different over there,” explained Sunset. “I got really confused by that when I first came over here. Like the first time I got arrested, I kept screaming at them, ‘Take me to your Princess!’ They didn’t take me very seriously, of course.”

Celestia narrowed her eyes. “You got arrested?”

“Oh. Uh…”

“More than once? I don’t remember seeing that on your file.”

Sunset looked shifty. “Yeah. I might have… forgotten to mention that bit.”

“Forgotten.”

Sunset coughed.

Celestia shook her head. She looked over at the construction work. “Never mind. I can see you’ve turned over a new leaf now, so I’m prepared to let the past be in the past.”

“Thank you,” said Sunset.

“So…” Celestia indicated the unopened letter. “Shall I let you read it in peace?” She turned away.

“Um… Actually, can you…” She paused.

Celestia smiled. “Of course.” She leaned back against the plinth alongside the girl.

Coughing a little, Sunset carefully broke the seal and unfolded the letter, the rich paper unfolding smoothly.

Celestia said nothing.

The sound of the street grew quiet as she read. “She… she wants to see me. It doesn’t say… I suppose I shouldn’t have expected it to…” Sunset wiped her eye.

Celestia said nothing.

She looked up at the street and frowned. “Hey, where’d everybody go?” She turned to Celestia.

Celestia said nothing.

The woman had a kindly smile on her face that was almost like her counterpart. She was silent, unmoving. She didn’t blink, she didn’t breathe.

“Celestia? Principal Celestia!” Sunset shook the teacher's shoulders, to no effect. Still the woman didn't move a muscle.

She turned to look around, frantically searching for help of some kind. A tall man in a dark suit was walking slowly towards her.

“Please, she needs help. I don’t know what…”

His pace unchanged, the man flicked his wrist. Celestia evaporated into white mist.

Sunset staggered back, her eyes wide. “What… what did you do to her?”

“She’s safe,” said the man in a deep voice. “Back where she belongs.”

Sunset turned, bolted, tried to run, tripped, scraped her hands on the hard tile. Scrambling to her feet, she turned to the side of the plinth facing the school. She pressed both hands to the cold surface, closed her eyes tight, and pressed. It wasn’t the right time for the portal to be open, but she had to try. Slowly her palms began to sink into its cold, polished surface. It was opening for her!

A large hand grabbed the back of her collar and yanked her away, throwing her down on the lawn. She tried to get up again but found her arms and legs stuck, unable to move. Her breathing was frantic as he knelt down in front of her.

“Don’t worry, little one,” he said softly as he placed a hand over her forehead. “You won’t remember a thing.”

“Why are you—? Why?”

“An old friend asked me—”

“—to look out for you.”

“I beg your pardon?” asked the Mayor.

“Hmm? Oh, you’ll have to excuse me. I was elsewhere,” said Cerberus, lifting his teacup.

“You really seem to be distracted this evening. Would you prefer to do this another time?”

Cerberus nodded and stood up. “I think it might be best. I should take care of another matter. If that’s all right?”

“Oh, yes, quite. It will give me a chance to see how Celestia is getting on with her guest.”

Cerberus sniffed at the air. “Vinyl has left the room already. Celestia is still in there. She smells… thoughtful.”

The Mayor didn’t get a chance to ask exactly what he meant, because he left the room in a bound.

The warmth of sunset spilled across the river as a sheet of gold, out of which the mass of Fillydelphia Hall cut a deep blue shadow. The lengthening silhouettes of the town’s hills edged out over the water.

The sweeping music from the grand dances of earlier had subsided into a gentle romantic lull. Vinyl and Octavia did likewise, swaying back and forth in a slow comfortable rhythm.

With a gentle pressure on Octavia’s back, Vinyl pulled her closer. Their bodies just barely touched, tiny tantalising points of contact. With a deepening smile, Octavia slid her left hand around Vinyl’s back and leant forwards to rest her head on Vinyl’s shoulder, facing away from her. Octavia’s long grey hair spilled over Vinyl’s white jacket.

“I’m not sure that’s the proper form,” said Vinyl.

Very quietly, Octavia said, “Fuck the proper form.”

Vinyl gasped in mock horror. “Tavi! I didn’t know you could.”

Octavia squeezed Vinyl’s left hand. She pulled a little closer, her body touching Vinyl’s in a dozen places as they continued to rock back and forth. “I can do anything I want to, Vinyl. You taught me that.”

I did? I mean, she’s been much more bold recently. More honest, too. Is that my influence?

They swayed in place as Vinyl thought about their years spent as friends. I’ve always been the wacky one. The one that got her in trouble, every time I went off chasing some dumb idea. The one who didn’t stop to think about what I was doing.

This time’s no different, is it? Something new caught my fancy so I chased after it, and she followed me. Is that really freedom, or have I just been dragging her along?

The movement of their bodies reminded her that she was supposed to be in this moment, not wandering the land of maybes.

Several times, Octavia opened her mouth, or took a breath, or started to clear her throat only to hold back. There’s something she wants to talk to me about, thought Vinyl. But she’s worried about what I’ll think.

She quietly asked, “What are you worrying about, Tavi?”

Octavia’s eyes darted up to hers, then quickly away as a moment of guilt crossed her face. She looked back as she took a breath, and replied, “I’m wondering what you’re going to decide.”

Vinyl frowned. “Decide?”

Octavia nodded. Her fingers pulled the material on Vinyl’s shoulder. “I mean, with Chrysalis’ escape plan. We followed her this far to get answers, but… when the time comes, how far will you go? Would you rather leave and see the outside, or stay here?”

“Oh.” Vinyl paused. She’s right. What are we going to do when this is over? Can we even go back to our lives after what we’ve seen? “Honestly, I hadn’t thought that far.”

Octavia relaxed and allowed herself to smile. “Well, yes. You wouldn’t be my Vinyl if you had a plan.”

‘My’ Vinyl? I suppose that doesn’t sound so bad.

“How about you? And Trixie?”

Octavia’s smile broadened. “Haven’t you realised yet? We’re both going to follow you. Whatever you decide.”

“Er… are you sure that’s a good idea? I don’t tend to make good decisions.”

“You never did,” said Octavia. “It’s always worked out anyway. I trust you.”

Vinyl felt suddenly guilty, as if she’d been caught in a lie. They trust me? How? I couldn’t trust Tavi when she kissed me. I couldn’t trust her feelings were real. I couldn’t trust her to…

“How?” she asked quietly.

“Hmm? How?” queried Octavia.

“How can you trust me? When… so much of what we are could be fake. I don’t even know where the real me ends and the fake begins.”

“Because you don’t need to.”

“What?”

“You’re more than just a book full of memories,” said Octavia. “You’re a soul. I see your soul in everything you do, I have for years. I saw it in the way you threw yourself at this little problem. I see it in your face now. I trust your soul.”

“Even though I…”

Octavia nodded sadly, but kept her eyes on Vinyl’s. “When I kissed you? You were honest with me. It wasn’t the answer that I wanted, but it was the honest truth. You weren’t trying to hurt me, but you couldn’t lie to me either. That’s why I can trust you, even now.”

Vinyl wanted to object, wanted to hide, wanted to squirm out from under the lens of Octavia’s gaze.

“Besides, it wasn’t entirely fair of me to spring it on you like that.”

Vinyl frowned. “Why did you? I mean, why now? You spent so many years keeping quiet. I should have realised it ages ago, but I didn’t.”

“No, you shouldn’t.”

“Huh?”

“I worked quite hard at it. You weren’t ever supposed to realise anything. That was the point.” She sounded oddly proud, and also a little put out. “Until I ruined the whole thing, of course.” She turned away. “I’m... sorry for lying to you.”

Vinyl shook her head. “That’s alright. Just…” She paused. “Were you… happy? Being friends and nothing more? Keeping it all in?”

Octavia took a second before answering, “Yes. Yes, I was happy. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”

“So what changed?”

It was Octavia’s turn to look sheepish. “Well... it was Chrysalis. She managed to get under my skin, I suppose. She implied that my longing for you wasn’t real love, just infatuation. I was offended, and I was feeling insecure, and I did something foolish.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, I make bad decisions too sometimes.”

“I guess that’s comforting, in a way.”

“Now we just need to get Trixie to admit to having ever made a mistake.” They shared a laugh.

I’ve always been the one with the crazy ideas, but I was never alone. Tavi’s always been the one who watched my back. I was always looking ahead, because I knew, whatever happened, she was looking out for me. She made all the crazy possible.

She made me feel safe.

It’s not the same. I know it’s not the same thing she feels for me. But could it be enough? I don’t want to be somebody who can’t love. I don’t want to be somebody who takes and doesn’t give anything back. Tavi trusts me, and that makes me want to be someone worthy of her.

Even in this, when she says she’ll follow me. Other people might see that as pressure, as making me decide for two. But that’s not it. What she’s saying is, she’ll be there either way. I can think clearly, look forwards, because I can trust her.

I trust her. I do. I’ve spent way too long not thinking about it properly, but underneath everything else, I totally trust her. And she trusts me, more than I trust myself.

I want to find it within myself to love Tavi the way she loves me. I want to be the person she sees in me. It’s not the same, but it’s good.

Vinyl lowered her face to gently plant a kiss on the top of Octavia’s head. A slight intake of air showed that it had been noticed.

“Whatever we see,” she whispered, “whatever we decide, we’ll decide together. I promise.”

Octavia raised her head to look directly into Vinyl’s, a silent question on her lips. Vinyl answered by meeting her lips with a gentle, forgiving pressure.

The setting sun washed the balloon in beautiful colours as it hung over Ponyville, a spectrum of subtle shades of which the Princess could be proud. The distant mountains were captured in a slowly moving silhouette.

The equipment filling the gondola added to the balloon’s weight, though it was offset slightly with thirty little party balloons tied to the sandbags. She let a little more sand out to adjust her height, then picked her way to the other side of the gondola.

An alarm clock went off somewhere among the pile of equipment, a little wooden owl popping out on a spring to ask, “Who? Who?” A little alligator sat perched on top of the clock, watching it go in and​ out.

“Who indeed?” wondered the bright pink pony. “At the end of the day, who are any of us?”

The alligator didn’t respond.

She turned to look over the edge of the gondola at the ground far below. “I think I’m in the right place, Gummy. Now we just need to wait for them to get here.”

She gazed out at the peaceful dusk as the sun settled over the horizon. Barely a whisper of sound disturbed the peace.

“I said, now we just need to—”

A door opened up in the sky just a few feet from where the balloon hung. The doorway wasn’t part of any structure, it simply sat in the sky. Beyond it was darkness, into which a gaggle of girls were pressed. All of them were pink, and all nearly identical save for slight differences in clothing and attitude.

The first girl, who was identifiable only by a yellow streak in her pink hair, leapt from the doorway into the balloon while screaming “Tally ho!” The gondola was sent rocking slightly as she landed face down and legs up. When she stood up a second later she had become a bright pink pony with golden yellow streaks in her poofy mane and tail. “Ooh, I get the balloons.” She quickly grabbed the string holding the party balloons in her mouth and proceeded to tie it around her barrel, until her hooves lifted slightly off the floor of the gondola. The first pony gave her a gentle shove, and she lifted all four hooves up to drift out into the open air. The remaining pony then stepped out the way so the next girl-turned-pony could land.

“Geronimo!” called one of the girls as she leapt.

“Look out below!” sang another.

With the help of her companions, one of the ponies strapped herself into the pedal-operated flying machine which was then tossed overboard. Pedalling like a madmare, she managed to get it upright and airborne, hovering near the balloon.

The rest of the ponies clustered in the gondola, squeezed tight and adding enough to its weight to make the balloon sink gradually down.

“Please tell me that’s all of you,” said the first pony, pressed uncomfortably between several of the others.

“That’s all of you,” replied one of the others, cheerfully.

“Okie dokie lokie! Down we go,” replied the first. She pulled a rope with her teeth to release some hot air from the balloon. The helicopter and balloon-hoisted pony followed, and together the flotilla of Pinkie Pies began to sail downwards.

Author's Note:

You should never do what Fluttershy does in this chapter. Seriously, this is not the correct way to introduce a queen bee into a hive. Always do your research and take proper care when handling wild animals.

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